Message of 'The Young Pope': 'I Am No One. Only Christ Exists'

The Young Pope, an Italian show filmed in English and carried in the United States by HBO, is fascinating and confusing. If the first episode is a bait-and-switch, the second (released at the same time) is almost a sermon.

The show tells the story of Lenny Belardo (Jude Law), the first American pope. He is also the first pope in recent times to hide his face from the public. In a fascinating exchange with the Vatican's head of marketing, Sofia (Cécile De France), he explains why.

The exchange happens after Sofia presents a plate, which the Vatican intends to sell for 45 euros once an image of Belardo's face — as that of Pope Pius XIII — has been added. Belardo scoffs at this idea.

Belardo: "I do not have an image, young lady, because I am no one. Only Christ exists, only Christ, and I am not worth 45 or even 5 euros. I am worth nothing."

Sofia: "I don't understand, Holy Father."

Belardo: "Of course you don't, because as you said earlier, you studied at Harvard, and Harvard is a place in decline, where you are taught to lower yourselves. Whereas here, in the Vatican, we try to elevate ourselves."

Make no mistake — though this show may be airing on HBO, Lenny Belardo is a conservative pope, and he may indeed become a hero to many conservative Roman Catholics watching this show. At the first mention of Harvard, he warns Sofia, "Don't sound so cocky. The word 'Harvard' may impress people around here, but to an American it means one thing only, decline." Cue the applause.

Now, many of Belardo's decisions are made out of cunning and not just piety. Later in the conversation — after the pope has declared "Only Christ exists" — he explains that his decision to hide his face from the public is also a cunning marketing ploy. He argues that the most important popular figures also hid their faces, and that far from "media suicide," that decision enhanced their intrigue and appeal to the broader public.

The fascinating thing is, Belardo carries this mix of piety and cunning to his papal address (at the end of the second episode), and it is both shocking and intriguing.