La recensione di Austen Ivereigh al volume sul pensiero di papa Francesco

Nella rivista “Theological Studies”, 80(3), 2019, pp. 721-723, è comparsa una bella recensione in inglese firmata da Austen Ivereigh, biografo di Papa Francesco, al mio volume su Bergoglio. La recensione così conclude: «Eppure nulla di ciò che è stato pubblicato sulla vita intellettuale del papa si avvicina da nessuna parte alla ricerca completa e smagliante di Borghesi, superbamente tradotta da Barry Hudock. Insieme hanno aperto il mondo cattolico anglosassone al modus cogitandi riccamente strutturato del papa».

The Mind of Pope Francis: Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s Intellectual Journey. By Massimo Borghesi. Trans. from Italian by Barry Hudock. Foreword Guzmán Carriquiry Lecour. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2018. Pp. xxx + 310. $29.95.

The election of Pope Francis in 2013 posed a conundrum to church intellectuals accustomed to academics steering the barque of St. Peter. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI were exemplars of particular schools—personalism and communio theology, respectively—with prominent roles at the Second Vatican Council. But Francis came with no such history, and even experts in post-Medellín Latin American theology were perplexed: Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s closeness to the so-called pueblo theology, a national-popular alternative to liberationism, rendered him obscure to the North-Atlantic world, and anyway Bergoglio’s doctoral work was on Guardini’s dialectics. Some concluded that the effort to consider Francis an intellectual at all was futile, and settled for a simple narrative that contrasted Benedict the professor with Francis the pastor.

Massimo Borghesi’s magnificent unveiling of the pope’s intellectual life lays that idea to rest. Francis is a highly accomplished and original thinker, in the “philosophy of action” tradition of Maurice Blondel, who speaks out of a rich Catholic eclectic tradition of both European and Latin American philosophy and theology. This is not a system; leadership roles from a young age kept Bergoglio from the academy. Yet his intellectual output as a Jesuit—dozens of journal articles, lectures, and retreat notes, collected in three books before 1992—provides a rich seam for B. to mine. But the heart of the book is concerned with what Bergoglio never published: his doctoral thesis on Romano Guardini’s dialectics. Too consumed by major governance roles in the Society of Jesus (novice master, provincial, rector) to progress his doctoral work, Bergoglio finally got the chance to write it up in note form in his fifties, but was made a bishop before he had the chance to finish and defend it. It remained his ambition to do so after retiring as cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires in 2013, but the call to leadership again intervened.

B. has not seen the thesis, entitled “Polar Opposition as Structure of Daily Thought and of Christian Proclamation,” but his dialogue with the pope about it and his elucidation of its key ideas are fascinating and illuminating. B.—probably Italy’s leading expert on Guardini—explains with great clarity how the German’s philosophical anthropology of living polarities in his 1925 Der Gegensatz (“Contrasts”) has become a key overarching idea for Francis, one that guides his leadership of the church and is at the core of his fertile originality as a teacher. Its most visible fruit are the famous four principles in Francis’s 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (nos. 217– 37), which are essentially discernment criteria for navigating Guardini’s polar pairs mentioned in Bergoglio’s 2010 essay (fullness–limit, idea–reality, global–local) in such a way as to maintain the tensions between them without allowing them to fall into contradiction. The originality of B.’s thesis is in his application of this “in-tension thinking” to the building-up of institutions and apostolic bodies.

The book’s first half turns on Bergoglio’s anti-Hegelian dialectical thinking that led him to Guardini, first via key French and German Jesuit influencers of the early twentieth century—Gaston Fessard and Henri de Lubac, but also Erich Przywara—but also two formidable intellectuals from Bergoglio’s backyard: the Argentine philosopher Amelia Podetti, who died young in the 1970s, and the Uruguayan thinker and historian Alberto Methol Ferré, who would be a lifelong friend and influence. Chapter 4, on Methol Ferré’s ingenious grasp of Latin America’s place in the contemporary world, is essential for grasping Francis’s discernment of modernity, one that transcends the stale alternatives of resistance or capitulation in favor of an alternative or “baroque” modernity that draws on the reservoir of popular religiosity.

The final three chapters focus on Bergoglio as bishop and pope: his reading of globalization and technocracy (strongly shaped again by Guardini and Methol Ferré), as well as his understanding of evangelization under the influence of Hans Urs von Balthasar and Luigi Giussani, and the way these flow into his pontificate’s attempt to recover a new balance of kerygma and morality, truth and mercy. B. rightly ends in Aparecida, Brazil, where in 2007 the Latin American church met in its historic fifth general conference and sketched the outlines of what would be, in essence, the Francis pontificate.

Brilliant as they are, these final chapters are inevitably incomplete. For example, readers can learn from Philippe Bordeyne (see Emmanuel Falque and Laure Solignac, eds., François, Philosophe [Paris: Salvator, 2017]) how Paul Ricoeur shaped Francis’s understanding of moral action within constraints, a key to understanding Amoris Laetitia. Equally, Cardinal Bergoglio’s rich thinking on politics deserves more attention. Yet nothing so far published on the pope’s intellectual life comes anywhere close to B.’s comprehensive and dazzling inquiry, superbly translated by Barry Hudock. Together they have opened the Anglo-Saxon Catholic world to the pope’s richly textured modus cogitandi.

Austen Ivereigh

Campion Hall, Oxford

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