Thomas Farrell (University of Minnesota Duluth) e il pensiero di Bergoglio

Ed ecco un’altra recensione, questa volta proveniente dagli Stati Uniti, sul sito operdnews e a firma di Thomas James Farrell. Farrell è professor emeritus di writing studies all’University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD).

An Intellectual Biography of Pope Francis (REVIEW ESSAY)




Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) October 28, 2018: In the new book The Mind of Pope Francis: Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s Intellectual Journey, translated from the Italian by Barry Hudock (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press Academic, 2018; orig. Italian ed., 2017), Massimo Borghesi of the University of Perugia in Italy details the intellectual development the Argentine Jesuit Jorge Mario Bergoglio (born in December 1936), who rose through the ecclesiastical ranks to become Pope Francis in 2013.

Pope Francis is the first pope to take the name of Francis in honor of the Italian St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), the founder of the Franciscan religious order; the first pope from Latin America; and the first Jesuit pope. The Jesuit order was founded by St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), author of the short book of instructions for guided imagistic meditation and contemplation known as the Spiritual Exercises, a minor classic in our Western cultural history that has been translated in to various languages by various Jesuits. Jesuit missionaries worked in Latin America. The 1986 movie The Mission, starring Robert de Niro and Jeremy Irons, commemorates the work of Jesuit missionaries in Latin America.

Now, the Uruguayan lay Catholic author and activist Guzman Carriquiry Lecour (born in 1944), who was appointed by Pope Francis in 2014 to serve as vice-president for the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, supplies the foreword in Borghesi’s book (pages ix-xiv).

In Borghesi’s book, complete bibliographic references are given in the footnotes at the foot of each page. Where a certain work has been translated into English, the English translation is given first, followed by the bibliographic information for the original work. However, many of the books that Borghesis discusses have not been translated into English.

Borghesi repeatedly quotes Austen Ivereigh’s book The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope (New York: Henry Holt, 2014).

But I suspect that many readers of Borghesi’s book might find it helpful to consult the “Bergoglio Timeline before the papacy” in Paul Vallely’s book Pope Francis: Untying the Knots: The Struggle for the Soul of Catholicism, 2nd ed. (New York: Bloomsbury, 2015, pages 426-433).

Drawing on Vallely’s timeline, I would highlight the following points in Bergoglio’s life: On December 17, 1936, he was born in Flores, Buenos Aires; on March 11, 1958, the year in which Pope John XXIII was elected pope, Bergoglio entered the Society of Jesus; from 1971 to 1973, he served as the novice master at the Jesuit novitiate; on July 31, 1973, he became the Provincial of all the Jesuits in the Argentine Province (a six-year term of office, 1973-1979); from 1979 to 1986, Bergoglio served as the Rector of the Colegio Maximo; in 1986, he lived in Germany for a few months to work on a doctoral dissertation on the Italian-born German priest Roman Guardini, which he did not complete; in 1987, he was elected Procurator of the Jesuits; in 1990, he was exiled from the Jesuit community in Cordoba; in 1992, Bergoglio was appointed as Auxiliary Bishop of Buenos Aires; in 1997, he became the Coadjutor Archbishop of Buenos Aires; on February 28, 1998, he became the Archbishop of Buenos Aires; on February 21, 2001, he was made a Cardinal; on March 13, 2013, he was elected Pope.

Now, in Borghesi’s “Introduction” (pages xv-xxx), he says, “In this complex relationship between unity and diversity lies the nucleus of Bergoglio’s ‘Catholic’ thought. Here, its three polar pairs (fullness/limit, idea/reality, globalization/localization) take shape with four principles: time is superior to space; unity is superior to conflict; realities are superior to ideas; the whole is superior to the part” (page xxvi; also see pages 103-104). But what exactly does Bergoglio/Francis mean by these three polar pairs, and what exactly does he mean by these four principles? Borghesi’s book is devoted to explaining Bergoglio/Francis’ terminology.

Arguably the most effective way for me to give you an overview of Borghesi’s narrative of Bergoglio/Francis’ life and thought is to quote the table of contents with additional material incorporated in square brackets.

Borghesi’s first chapter is titled “A Horizon Marked by Profound Contrasts” (pages 1-55). The subsections include the following:

“At the Origins of a System of Thought: [the French Jesuit Hegel scholar] Gaston Fessard and the Theology of ‘As If'” (pages 1-19);

“[Argentine President] Juan Domingo Peron and the Church” (pages 19-28);

“The Unity of Universal and Particular, Center and Periphery: The Lesson of [Argentine Hegel Scholar] Amelia Podetti” (pages 28-36);

“City of God and Earthly City: The Relevance of Augustine [of Hippo]” (pages 36-44);

“The Pueblo Fiel as Theological Source” (pages 44-55).

G aston Fessard’s two-volume study (1956 and 1966) of the dialectic of St. Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises has not been published in English translation. But see the French Jesuit Edouard Pousset’s book Life in Faith and Freedom: An Essay Presenting Gaston Fessard’s Analysis of the Dialectic of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius [Loyola], translated and edited by the American Jesuit Eugene L. Donahue (St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1980).

Borghesi’s second chapter is titled “A Philosophy of Polarity” (pages 57-99). The subsections include the following:

“The Society of Jesus as Synthesis of Oppositions” (pages 57-68);

“Jesuits and Dialectical Thought: [the Polish Jesuit Theologian Erich] Przywara, [the French Jesuit theologian Henri] de Lubac, [the French Jesuit Hegel scholar Gaston] Fessard” (pages 68-85);

“The Dialectical Thomism of [the Uraguayan Lay Catholic Writer] Alberto Methol Free” (pages 85-99).

Borghesi’s third chapter is titled “The Theory of Polar Opposites: Bergoglio and [Italian-Born German Priest] Romano Guardini” (pages 101-141). The subsections include the following:

“[Bergoglio’s Never Completed] Doctoral Thesis on Guardini” (pages 101-107);


“Principles and Polarity: Similarities between Bergoglio and Guardini” (pages 107-122);

“Polar Opposition and the Common Good: Sineidetic Thought” (pages 122-130);

“Power, Nature, Technology: Guardini in [Pope Francis’ 2015 Encyclical] Laudato Si’” (pages 131-141).

Now, according to Borghesi, not only was Pope Francis deeply influenced by Romano Guardini’s thought, but so were Pope John-Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

For a historical study of polarity, see G. E. R. Lloyd’s book Polarity and Analogy: Two Types of Argumentation in Early Greek Thought (Cambridge University Press, 1966).

Now, Borghesi’s fourth chapter is titled “Church and Modernity: [the Uruguayan Lay Catholic Writer Alberto] Methol Ferre and the Catholic Risorgimento in Latin America” (pages 143-186). The subsections include the following:

“Vatican II as the Overcoming of the Reformation and the Enlightenment” (pages 143-151);

“From Medellin to Puebla: The Latin American Catholic Risorgimento” (pages 151-162);

“Catholicism and Modernity: The Lesson of [the Italian lay thinker] Augusto Del Noce” (pages 163-177);

“Libertine Atheism and the Critique of the Opulent Society” (pages 177-186).

Borghesi’s fifth chapter is titled “A World without Bonds: The Primacy of the Economy in the Era of Globalization” (pages 187-221). The subsections include the following:

“Globalization and the Latin American Patria Grande: [the Uruguayan Lay Catholic Thinker] Methol Ferre and Bergoglio” (pages 187-197);

“Pope Benedict XVI’s [2009 Encyclical] Caritas in Veritate” (pages 197-205);

“[Pope Francis’ 2013 Apostolic Exhortation] Evangelii Gaudium‘s Critique of Inequality” (pages 206-221).

Because certain American Catholics imagine Pope Francis to be teaching things that are supposedly at odds with the teachings of Pope Benedict XVI, Borghesi’s subsection on Pope Benedict XVI’s 2009 encyclical strikes me as a prudent discussion by Borghesi.

Borghesi’s sixth chapter is titled “At the School of Saint Ignatius [Loyola]: Life as Witness” (pages 223-253). The subsections include the following:


“Narrative Thought and Theologia Crucis: An Ignatian Tension” (pages 223-236);

“[The French Jesuit Scholar] Michel de Certeau’s Biography of [the Early Jesuit] Peter Faber” (pages 236-243);

“Being and Unity of the Beautiful, the Good, and the True: Bergoglio and [the Swiss Catholic Priest and Theologian] Hans Urs von Balthasar” (pages 244-253).

Pope Francis canonized Peter Faber (1506-1546) on December 17, 2013.

Borghesi’s seventh chapter is titled “Christianity and the Contemporary World” (pages 255-302). The subsections include the following:

“Mercy and Truth: [Pope Francis’ 2016 Apostolic Exhortation] Amoris Laetitia and the Morenita’s Gaze” (pages 255-275);

“Encounter as ‘Beginning’: The New Balance between Kyrygma and Morality” (pages 275-291);

“Aparecidia: The Christian Style in the Twenty-First Century” (pages 291-302).

But I found only one passing reference in Borghesi’s book (page 76, footnote 54) to the French Jesuit paleontologist and religious writer Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955). Teilhard’s posthumously published works stirred up a lot of excitement in the late 1950s and 1960s and later. Granted, young Bergoglio may not have been interested in Teilhard’s thought — or perhaps Borghesi himself was not interested enough in Teilhard’s thought to ask Pope Francis about it. But Borghesis refers frequently (esp. pages 75-81) to the French Jesuit theologian Henri de Lubac (1896-1991), who was made a Cardinal in 1983 by Pope John-Paul II. However, in the English-speaking world, Henri de Lubac was widely known for his books in the 1960s about Teilhard’s thought:

(1) The Religion of Teilhard de Chardin, translated by Rene Hague (New York: Desclee, 1967; orig. French ed., 1962);

(2) Teilhard de Chardin: The Man and His Meaning, translated by Rene Hague (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1965; orig. French ed. 1964);

(3) Teilhard Explained, translated by Anthony Buono (New York: Paulist Press, 1968; orig. French ed., 1966);

(4) The Eternal Feminine: A Study on the Poem by Teilhard de Chardin, Followed by Teilhard and the Problems of Today, translated by Rene Hague (New York: Harper & Row, 1971; orig. French ed., 1968).

De Lubac also contributed notes and commentary to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Maurice Blondel’s Correspondence, translated by William Whitman (New York: Herder and Herder, 1967; orig. French ed., 1965).

Incidentally, according to Borghesi (pages 8-9), Maurice Blondel’s thought inspired Gaston Fessard’s two-volume study (1956 and 1966), mentioned above, of the dialectic of St. Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises.

In addition, de Lubac contributed a preface to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s Letters from Egypt, 1905-1908, translated by Mary Ilford (New York: Herder and Herder, 1965; orig. French ed., 1965).

Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope, refers to Teilhard’s evolutionary christology in his eco-encyclical. In footnote 53, the pope says, “Against this horizon [of the ultimate destiny of the universe, mentioned in paragraph number 83], we can set the contribution of Fr. Teilhard de Chardin.”

For further discussion of Henri de Lubac, see Rudolf Voderholzer’s short book Meet Henri de Lubac, translated from the German by Michael J. Miller (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008; orig. German ed., 1999).

Also see my lengthy essay “Rudolf Voderholzer’s Book on Henri de Lubac and Walter J. Ong’s Thought” that is available through the University of Minnesota’s digital conservancy:

Speaking of things not mentioned in Borghesi’s book, he does not mention the priest-sex-abuse scandal and cover-up. Nor does Borghesi say anything about Bergoglio/Francis’ intellectual development might help us understand why Pope Francis seems not to grasp how the roles played by bishops in the past in the cover-up have undermined the trust of the faithful in the current bishops.

Now, in the last subsection of chapter two (pages 131-141), Borghesi says that each of three of Bergoglio/Francis’ writings (1989, 2011, and 2013) “manifests Bergoglio’s ‘agonic’ vision of social life” (page 133; also see page xxiv). The word “agonic” is formed from the Greek word “agon,” meaning contest, struggle. In Walter J. Ong’s 1981 book Fighting for Life: Contest, Sexuality, and Consciousness (Cornell University Press), the published version of his 1979 Messenger Lectures at Cornell University, Ong uses the word “agonistic” to describe contesting behavior.

Borghesi quotes Bergoglio as saying in his 2011 essay “We as Citizens, We as People” (which evidently has not been translated into English, except for the passages in Borghesi’s book): “‘To be citizens means being assembled for a choice, called to a struggle, this struggle of belonging to a society and to a people; to stop being a mass of people in order to be a person, a society, a people. This presupposes a struggle. In the correct resolution of these bipolar tensions there is struggle. There is an agonic construction'” (page 131).

Now, Borghesi quotes Pope Francis as saying the following:

“‘When you express too much, you run the risk of being misunderstood. The Society of Jesus can be described only in narrative form. Only in narrative form do you discern, not in a philosophical or theological explanation, which allows you rather to discuss [and engage in dialogic encounter?]. The style of the Society is not shaped by discussion, but by discernment, which of course presupposes discussion as part of the process. The mystical dimension of discernment never defines its edges and does not complete the thought. The Jesuit must be a person whose thought is incomplete, in the sense of open-ended thinking'” (quoted on page 133).

Borghesi is quoting Pope Francis from page 24 of the book of interviews that the pope did with the Italian Jesuit Antonio Spadora, the editor of the Jesuit-sponsored journal La Civilta Cattolica, in 2013 titled My Door Is Always Open: A Conversation on Faith, Hope, and the Church in a Time of Change, translated by Shaun Whiteside (London: Bloomsbury, 2014).

What Pope Francis here refers to as open-ended thinking is basically equivalent with what Ong means by open closure in his 1977 essay using systems terminology “Voice and the Opening of Closed Systems” in his book Interfaces of the Word: Studies in the Evolution of Consciousness and Culture (Cornell University Press, 1977, pages 305-341); his essay is reprinted in volume two of Ong’s Faith and Contexts (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1992b, pages 162-190). Using systems terminology, Ong works with the contrast of closed-systems thought versus open-systems thought, and he comes out in favor of what he terms open closure (in the final analysis, completely open-systems thinking would not be a tenable position).

But what Pope Francis here describes as the position that the modern Jesuit today must take seems to me to be the position that the Roman Catholic Church, in effect, expected lay Catholics around the world to take in response to the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).

Now, if we were to construct a spectrum of technophiles and technophobes with a mid-point, Pope Francis would be on the technophobe side of the mid-point. So would the French Protestant lay theologian and anarchist Jacques Ellul (1912-1994), whose influential book The Technological Society, translated from the French by John Wilkinson (New York, Knopf, 1964; orig. French ed., 1954) — a work that Borghesi does not mention even though Pope Francis’ critique of technology is strikingly similar to Ellul’s.

But the American Jesuit Renaissance specialist and cultural historian Walter J. Ong (1912-2003; Ph.D. in English, Harvard University, 1955), who taught English for three decades at Saint Louis University, the Jesuit university in St. Louis, Missouri (USA), would be on the technophile side of the mid-point. Ong published two commentaries on Ellul’s critique of technology: (1) “Ideas of Technology: Commentary [on Jacques Ellul’s Paper]” in the journal Technology and Culture, volume 3, number 4 (Fall 1962): pages 459-462; and (2) an untitled review of Jacques Ellul’s 1985 book The Humiliation of the Word in the Journal of Communication, number 36, number 1 (Winter 1986): pages 156-158.

If you like Ellul’s critique of technological society, you will probably like Pope Francis’ critique of technological society — and vice versa. But Ong develops a more positive understanding of technological society, but without being entirely uncritical of technology. In this respect, Ong is not an extreme technophile, but a moderate technophile.

In the preface to his 1977 book Interfaces of the Word: Studies in the Evolution of Consciousness and Culture (pages 9-13), mentioned above, Ong explicitly sets forth his thesis about cultural history, which I refer to as his technology thesis: The thesis, he says, “is sweeping, but is not reductionist, as reviewers and commentators, so far as I know, have all generously recognized: [my] works do not maintain that evolution from primary orality through writing and print to electronic culture, which produces secondary orality, causes or explains everything in human culture and consciousness. Rather the thesis is relationist: major developments, and very likely even all major developments in culture and consciousness are related, often in unexpected intimacy, to the evolution of the word from primary orality to its present state. But the relationships are varied and complete, with cause and effect often difficult to distinguish” (pages 9-10).

Major cultural developments would include modern science, modern capitalism, modern democracy such as our American experiment in representative democratic government, the Industrial Revolution, and the Romantic Movement in philosophy, literature, and the arts.

But is the recent globalization of modern capitalism also another major development, or just the expansion of the earlier historical emergence of modern capitalism around the time of the emergence of the Gutenberg printing press in the mid-1450s? And can the recent globalization of modern capitalism be related to the impact and influence of what Ong refers to as secondary orality, the orality fostered by the critical mass of our contemporary communications media that accentuate sound?

Now, Borghesi refers to the American Catholic neocons such as the late Michael Novak (1933-2017) who criticize Pope Francis’ critique of the capitalist economic system (pages 201 and 218-220). However, Borghesis does not happen to advert explicitly to Damon Linker’s book The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege (New York: Doubleday, 2006).

In even more sweeping terms, Borghesi implies that Pope Francis’ thought offers the alternative to be preferred to the thought of an array of other people’s thought, including Zbigniew Brzezinski (pages 34 and 178-187), Francis Fukuyama and Samuel Huntington (pages 178-179), and the so-called theology of secularization advanced in the 1970s by Friedrich Gogarten, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Robinson, and Harvey Cox (page 144).

In somewhat sweeping fashion, I myself have suggested that Ong’s thought is to be preferred to Samuel Huntington’s in my article “The West Versus the Rest: Getting Our Cultural Bearings from Walter J. Ong” in the journal EME: Explorations in Media Ecology (published by the Media Ecology Association), volume 7, number 4 (2008): pages 271-282.

Also see my essay “Getting Our Bearings about Western Culture and the World Today: Walter J. Ong Versus Sayyid Qutb as Guide” in the book Valuation and Media Ecology: Ethics, Morals, and Laws, edited by Corey Anton (Cresskill, New Jersey: Hampton Press, 2010, pages 205-237).

Just as I prefer Ong as a guide instead of Qutb, so too I prefer Ong as a guide instead of Pope Francis. Of course, as a good Jesuit, Ong would not set up a framework of explicitly disagreeing with a pope. Instead, Ong would try to find something in the pope’s thought with which he could agree. I will try to do this as well.

In conclusion, Borghesi has ably examined and explained Pope Francis’ thought.

(Article changed on October 28, 2018 at 18:07)



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