L’autorevole settimanale inglese The Tablet ha dedicato la copertina del numero del 10 febbraio, seguita da un mio intervento nelle prime pagine, al volume sul pensiero di Jorge Mario Bergoglio. È certamente una segnalazione importante, indice dell’interesse nel mondo anglosassone e non solo verso un pensiero come quello di papa Francesco, che non si può riassumere in facili schemi. Aumenta la consapevolezza che approfondire il pensiero del Papa è un aiuto essenziale per comprendere la reale portata dei temi portanti del suo pontificato. Ecco il testo dell’articolo.
FEATURES / Bergoglio’s intellectual journey
Books that emphasise Pope Francis’ qualities as master of the dramatic gesture have allowed his critics to suggest that he lacks substance and judgement. But now a new study of his theological formation shows the coherence and depth of his thinking / By MASSIMO BORGHESI
Living with contradiction
WHEN I BEGAN writing my book, Jorge Mario Bergoglio: una biografia intellettuale, one thing was already clear to me. Pope Francis’ thinking is both original and profound, and it drives and colours all his speeches and documents – but it does so in such a way as to remain mostly hidden from view. It is a kind of underground torrent that seldom breaks through to the surface.
Biographies and profiles tend to characterise Pope Francis as a charismatic man of vibrant faith: an eloquent preacher, forceful leader and maestro of the dramatic gesture, but someone not inclined to extended intellectual reflection. They have given legitimacy, often unwittingly, to the image common among his critics: someone who, whatever his virtues, lacks the cultural, theological and philosophical hinterland of his recent predecessors. It was the work of Austen Ivereigh, who expertly documents the many writers and ideas that have shaped the intellectual formation of Bergoglio in The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making ofa Radical Pope, which first made me reconsider this incomplete portrait of a complex and elusive figure.
My conversion was reinforced when I actually came to read the many talks, homilies and articles by Bergoglio himself when he was Jesuit Provincial in Argentina during the 1970s. At the time, he was seeking to move beyond the violent dichotomies – on the one side, a brutal military junta, on the other, ruthless revolutionary guerrillas – that were tearing Argentina apart. The Jesuits were divided in their sympathies. The young Provincial wanted them to transcend their differences and work to bring unity to a shattered people. The Church, in Bergoglio’s emerging vision, was called to be a compleúo oppositorum, holding together what seemed to be logically irreconcilable views. Catholicism was called to find a way of living with apparently contradictory poles in tension, without either of them being destroyed.
THE ITALIAN-GERMAN theologian Romano Guardini wrote of the unresolved “polar opposites” inherent in human nature, and I knew that Bergoglio had gone to Frankfurt in 1986 to study for a doctorate on Guardini’s philosophy. But Guardini’s name does not appear in Bergoglio’s writings in the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s. Where, therefore, did Bergoglio get this idea of Catholicism as a “synthesis of opposites” from?
I decided to ask the Pope himself. I sent Francis a series of questions via a mutual friend, explaining that I was writing a book that would explore his intellectual formation. To my astonishment, he answered all of them. Between January and March last year, he sent me four audio recordings. A world was opened to me which would otherwise have remained behind closed doors: the laboratory of Bergoglio’s thinking.
The missing link that connected his thought of the 1970s with that of Guardini in the 1980s now had a name: the French Jesuit theologian Gaston Fessard, an associate of another great French Jesuit theologian, Henri de Lubac, also a point of reference for Bergoglio. It was Fessard who developed a Catholic form of dialectics – very different to Hegelian dialectics – in which Christ is the unifier of men and women, Jews and pagans, the enslaved and the freed. Fessard is the author at the origins of Bergoglio’s thought.
It was Miguel Angel Fiorito SJ, Bergoglio’s professor of philosophy at the Colegio Màximo in Buenos Aires, who introduced him to Fessard. As the Pope told me: “The writer … who had a major influence on me was Gaston Fessard. I read many times his La dialectique des Exercices spirituels de Saint Ignace de Loyola along with other things of his. He gave me so many of the elements that later got mixed.”
This is a revelation of great significance: the Pope is giving us a key to understanding the genesis of his thought, the golden thread that holds it together. In a book first published in 1956 Fessard analyses the spirituality of St Ignatius by starting from the tension between grace and freedom, between the infinitely big and the infinitely small, between contemplation and action. Rather than choosing one or the other, the Christian life is found in the unresolved tension between them. Bergoglio has remained profoundly influenced by this dynamic interpretation of the Exercises. He uses the Spanish word tensionante to describe a way of thinking that recognises opposite poles and seeks to hold them in tension, rather than to resolve the apparent contradiction between them.
IT WAS IN starting out from Fessard that Bergoglio in 1986 came across Guardini’s work on the reconciliation of “polar opposites”. Guardini’s Der Gegensatz, in particular, served to confirm Bergoglio’s approach, yet at the same time broadened and deepened his conceptual frame. It was while Bergoglio was working on his doctoral thesis (never completed) that Guardini became his second teacher, one who provided him with the categories he applied in his ecclesiology, and in his approach to society and politics.
Moving between Fessard and Guardini, Bergoglio began to locate himself within a creative and dynamic current of Catholic thought with its origins in the work of Johann Adam Móhler and the Tübingen School in the nineteenth century, but which came to include de Lubac, Fessard and a third Jesuit, Erich Przywara, as well as Guardini. It is marked by a way of thinking that conceptualises the Church as coincidentia oppositorum, a tension of opposites within a unity.
It is the same thinking that we find in someone who can be thought of as Bergoglio’s third “teacher”: the Uruguayan thinker Alberto Methol Ferré, who was himself deeply marked by Fessard’s dialectical thinking. Bergoglio met Methol, perhaps Latin America’s most significant and original twentieth-century Catholic thinker, in the run-up to the third General Conference of Latin American bishops, held in Puebla, Mexico, in 1979.
FROM THEIR MEETING was born a collaboration and mutual esteem that intensified in the 1980s and 1990s, when Methol’s journal Nexo became an important platform for leading Latin-American intellectuals. Methol became Bergoglio’s informal “philosopher”: a visionary who designed an ecclesial geopolitics, the dreamer of a patria grande, or vision of a united and integrated continent. The political and ecclesial sensibility of the future pope owes a great deal to Methol.
Another key figure who inspired Francis’ thinking was Amelia Podetti. After studying in Paris under Jean Wahl, Paul Ricoeur, Ferdinand Alquié and Henri Gouhier, she returned to Buenos Aires determined to challenge the hegemony of scientism and Marxism. Her idea was to give life to a current of social thinking based on Argentina’s cultural tradition, one that would challenge European continental philosophy at the highest levels.
A SCHOLAR OF HEGEL, Podetti was a major influence on Bergoglio in a key area: the “peripheries”. It was from her that the future Pope began to learn that one’s vision of the world changes when it is looked at from the outside – from the margins, from those points of the world that are most fragile and in pain. Those in the “centre”, in the heart of the metropolis, fail to grasp the drama of history, its faultlines and points of rupture, and therefore the impending earthquakes. Bergoglio’s entire social and Gospel vision presupposes a “peripheral” perspective – looking at the world from the point of view of those that are discarded and shut out.
Fessard, Guardini, Methol Ferré and Podetti are among the major characters in Bergoglio’s “intellectual biography”. The mixture of European and Argentinian/Uruguayan influences undermines the thesis sometimes heard that Pope Francis’ formation was restricted by the parameters of South America.
The last character in the story of Bergoglio’s theological education I want to mention is also European: Hans Urs von Balthasar. Bergoglio encountered the Swiss theologian in the 1980s, when he was involved in the question of inculturation of the Gospel, an issue that turns on the polarity of unity and diversity. He came across Balthasar again towards the end of the 1990s, when his theological aesthetics offered Bergoglio a means of presenting the Christian encounter in a context of secularisation.
Balthasar’s doctrine of Being that is at one with the three transcendentals of beauty, goodness and truth would come to underpin Bergoglio’s thinking. Being Christian in the contemporary world would increasingly come to revolve around the polar relationship of mercy and truth.
Francis’ dialectical thinking is the key to understanding this papacy, both the exhilaration it engenders in his supporters and the exasperation of his critics. The inversion of the centre and the peripheries, the unrelenting search for reconciliation, and the holding together of faithfulness to church doctrine with a pastoral approach to individual situations: this is the Pope of tensionante, a way of thinking that seeks to hold opposites in tension. Article translated by Daniele Palmer.
Massimo Borghesi is professor of moral philosophy at Perugia University. His book Jorge Mario Bergoglio: una biografia intellettuale is published in Italy by Jaca Book.
Ecco le pagine del settimanale inglese