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Life Arts    H3'ed 10/10/19

The Road Not Taken by Pope Francis (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Pope Francis Visits the United States Capitol
Pope Francis Visits the United States Capitol
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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) October 10, 2019: When Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (born in 1936) of Argentina was elected in March 2013 by his fellow cardinal-electors to be the new pope of the Roman Catholic Church, he took the name Pope Francis in honor of the medieval Italian St. Francis of Assisi, who founded the Franciscan religious order (whose missionaries named San Francisco after him). However, even though Cardinal Bergoglio had been a contender in the previous election of a pope in 2005, he was not well known beyond South America. Consequently, journalists set to work writing books and articles about the telegenic new pope whose charisma includes projecting kindness and joy.

For further reading about St. Francis of Assisi as an exemplary medieval Christian, see the French Franciscan priest Eloi Leclerc's 1970 book in French The Canticle of Creatures: Symbols of Union: An Analysis of St. Francis of Assisi, translated by Matthew J. O'Connell (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1977). In my estimate, St. Francis of Assisi's sense of relationship with inanimate creatures (e.g., "brother sun," "sister moon") is remarkable. No wonder the English Catholic convert and prolific writer and public speaker and debater G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) celebrates him as one of the towering figures in Western cultural history in his famous 1924 book St. Francis of Assisi (New York: George H. Doran)!

For a relevant discussion of the medieval Christian cultural synthesis out of which St. Francis of Assisi emerged, see Pope Francis' favorite 1950 book in German by the Roman Catholic priest and theologian Romano Guardini (1885-1968), The End of the Modern World, 2nd ed., translated by Joseph Theman and Herbert Burke (Wilmington, Delaware: ISI Books/ Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 1998; translation first published in 1956 by Sheed & Ward).

Actually, both Guardini's 1950 book in German The End of the Modern World, translated by Joseph Theman and Herbert Burke, and his 1951 book in German Power and Responsibility, translated by Elinor C. Briefs, are reprinted in the 1998 American edition referenced above. Each translation was originally published as a separate book (in 1956 and 1961, respectively). In addition, I should mention that Pope Francis in his 2015 eco-encyclical repeatedly refers to Guardini's 1950 book in German The End of the Modern World, providing specific page references to the ninth German edition (1965) and to the 1998 American edition in end-notes 83, 84, 85, 87, 88, 92, 144, and 154.

Now, in the "Author's Introduction" in the 1998 American edition (pages xxiv-xxvi), Guardini says, "The reader will not find this work a treatise; rather, it is a series of [three] successive lectures which were first offered during the winter session (1947-1948) at Tubingen, then during the summer session (1949) at the University of Munich" (page xxvi). The three lectures are titled "The Sense of Being and the World Picture of the Middle Ages" (pages 1-27), "The Birth of the Modern World" (pages 28-49), and "The Dissolution of the Modern World and the World Which Is to Come" (pages 50-113).

Then Guardini says, "I should also add that the ideas presented in this book are related to those developed in the following studies [in German]: Briefe com Comer See (1927), Welt und Person (1937), and Freiheit, Gnade, Schiksal (1948)" (page xxvi).

Guardini's 1927 book in German has been published in English as Letters from Como Lake, translated by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1994); Guardini's 1937 book in German has been translated as The World and the Person, translated by Stella Lange (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1965); and Guardini's 1948 book in German has been translated as Freedom, Grace, and Destiny, translated by John Murray (New York: Pantheon Books, 1961).

The end of the modern world that Guardini refers to in the title of his 1950 book in German announces the emergence of what is commonly referred to today as post-modernism. On the one hand, I myself happen to agree with Guardini that what is known as "the modern world" has in a certain sense come to an "end," but with the residual forms of that multi-faceted cultural constellation living on in the cultural conditioning of many people in Western culture today, including perhaps most conservative American Catholics. On the other hand, the "post-modern" cultural constellation is still in the process of emerging and probably will continue to be in the process of emerging for years to come. Because Pope Francis sees the Christian gospel message as trans-cultural leaven (yeast) for all human cultures, he wants to lead his faithful followers, and perhaps some other Christians as well, in contributing a leavening influence today in the emerging post-modern cultural constellation.

If the goal of inculturation of the supposedly trans-cultural Christian message is to leaven and thereby leverage each culture in its practices, then this goal would presumably apply to American culture. However, from the earliest colonial times onward to this day, American culture has been a Protestant-majority culture historically, Roman Catholics have been and still are a minority.

Now, the London-based Roman Catholic journalist Austen Ivereigh wrote the well-informed 2014 book The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope (New York: Henry Holt), in which he reports that fifty-year-old Father Bergoglio learned German and studied Guardini's writings in Germany with the idea in mind of perhaps writing a doctoral dissertation on Guardini's thought (pages 197-200).

Dr. Ivereigh says, "There were affinities [between Bergoglio and Guardini]: Guardini was the son of Italian emigres [as was Bergoglio] who studied chemistry [as did Bergoglio], and who remained faithful despite intense pressures, not least from Nazis to his 'inner authority' [as did Bergoglio]. Bergoglio's specific interest was in Guardini's early (1925) text Der Gegensatz ("Contrast"), a critique of Marxist and Hegelian dialectics that Bergoglio believed could be useful for conceptualizing the dynamics of disagreement" (page 198).

In the 1997 book Romano Guardini: A Precursor of Vatican II (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press), the American priest and theologian Robert A. Krieg of the University of Notre Dame discusses Guardini's 1925 book in German Der Gegensatz, which has not been translated into English (pages 14-16). Krieg says, "In speaking of the polarities of personal existence, we must however distinguish between the category of opposition (Gegensatz) and the category of contradiction (Widerspruch). According to Guardini, an opposition is that 'peculiar relation, in which two elements exclude each other and are nevertheless bound together, indeed . . . presuppose each other. For example, although the solitary character and the communal character of personal existence stand in opposition, they are both essential to a person's life" (page 15; the ellipsis is in Krieg's text).

Krieg also says, "By contrast, a contradiction or Widerspruch occurs when two elements exist not within an inherent unity but with one always negating the other. Good and evil stand not in opposition but in contradiction to each other. Romanticism errs, therefore, when it locates the conflict between good and evil within the category of opposition. This mistaken acceptance of evil as part and parcel of life is manifest, Guardini notes, in the writings of Hegel, Goethe, Hermann Hesse, Thomas Mann, and Carl Jung" (page 15).

Perhaps Guardini would include in his listing of people supposedly manifesting "[t]his mistaken acceptance of evil as part and parcel of life" the Israeli-German Jungian analyst Erich Neumann's 1949 book in German Depth Psychology and a New Ethic, translated by Eugene Rolfe (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1969). In any event, I see nothing in Guardini's work with the contradictory moral concepts of good and evil that approximates Jung's perceptive account of how the "shadow" aspect of the human psyche works.

In any event, as noted above, Ong read in German Guardini's 1950 book The End of the Modern World. However, I do not know if Ong ever read Guardini's 1925 book Der Gegensatz. But from the early 1950s onward, Ong worked with the aural-visual contrast in cognitive processing, which he explicitly acknowledges in his 1958 book Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue: From the Art of Discourse to the Art of Reason (page 338, note 54) that he borrowed from the French lay Catholic philosopher Louis Lavelle (1883-1951).

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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