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Life Arts    H3'ed 5/9/21

What Makes Pope Francis Tick? (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) May 9, 2021: Because Pope Francis' 2015 eco-encyclical has been so widely read, we can think of his as a public intellectual, but with a deeply religious orientation and message.

Indeed, we can think of Pope Francis in connection with the American rhetorician Steven Mailloux's 2021 book chapter "Political Theologies of Sacred Rhetoric" in the April 2021 book Responding to the Sacred: An Inquiry into the Limits of Rhetoric, edited by Michael Bernard-Donals and Kyle Jensen (Penn State University Press, pages 77-98), in which Mailloux discusses Pope Francis.

For further discussion of Mailloux's fine book chapter, see my 4,000-word online review essay "Steven Mailloux's 2021 Essay 'Political Theologies of Sacred Rhetoric,' and Walter J. Ong's Thought" that is available through the University of Minnesota's digital conservancy:


For my profile of Pope Francis as doctrinally conservative, see my OEN article "Pope Francis on Evil and Satan" (dated March 24, 2019):

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Now, before the Argentine Jesuit Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected the first Jesuit pope in March 2013, and took the name Pope Francis, he gave a preached retreat to his brother bishops in Spain. The July 2013 book In Him Alone Is Our Hope: Spiritual Exercises Given to His Brother Bishops in the Manner of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, edited by Romain Lize; translated by Vincent Capuano, S.J., and Andrew Matt (New York, Paris, Madrid, Oxford: Magnificat) is a record in English of his presentations.

In my estimate, the text of this short 135-page July 2013 book contains the most coherent expression of Pope Francis' Catholic spiritual beliefs. In addition, the text is stylistically attractive.

The subtitle hints that Cardinal Bergoglio is creatively and, at times, playfully (i.e., by playing on certain other forms of words used by St. Ignatius Loyola) constructing his own Spiritual Exercises for the Spanish bishops and other practicing Catholics today, on the one hand, but, on the other hand, that he is also honoring the famous Spiritual Exercises of the Spanish mystic St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), the founder of the Jesuit order (known formally as the Society of Jesus). Cardinal Bergoglio creative play on words includes his adaptations of the word "Foundation" from the famous introductory passage known as Principle and Foundation (standardized numbered section 23 in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola).

Because Cardinal Bergoglio quotes and explicates certain key passages from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, the English translations in this book are from the Jesuit Louis Puhl's 1951 scholarly translation titled The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius: A New Translation, Based on Studies in the Language of the Autograph (Westminster, MD: Newman Press), which includes a helpful "Alphabetical Index" (pages 199-216). (But Cardinal Bergoglio's 135-page July 2013 book does not have an index.)

In addition to quotes from scripture, Cardinal Bergoglio also quotes other authors and works including Dante's Paradiso (pages 22 and 23) and Pope Paul VI's 1975 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (Evangelization in the Modern World). The interested reader may be able to access the 47-page English translation of this 1975 papal document at the Vatican's website.

In the 135-page July 2013 book In Him Alone Is Our Hope, among other things, Cardinal Bergoglio says that the mystery of the Cross is of the utmost importance for practicing Catholics to understand and live by. He says that "the key for interpreting life" is the mystery of the Cross (page 108), and he advises practicing Catholics to "forsake every other hermeneutic of life" to embrace the mystery of the Cross (page 109) - in short, to embrace the Paschal sense of life that the mystery of the Cross represents, as each of them proceeds in his or her own unique journey in life in this world by following Jesus (who has called them to follow him).

So there is a bit of a paradox here. On the one hand, Cardinal Bergoglio claims that there is only one hermeneutic of life for practicing Catholics. On the other hand, following this one-size-fits-all practicing Catholics will enable them to develop their own unique journeys in life following Jesus Christ.

For further discussion of following Jesus Christ, see the American Jesuit Walter J. Ong's essay "Mimesis and the Following of Christ" in the journal Religion and Literature (University of Notre Dame), volume 26, number 2 (Summer 1994): pages 73-77; it is reprinted in volume four of Ong's Faith and Contexts, edited by Thomas J. Farrell and Paul A. Soukup (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1999, pages 177-182).

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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; Ph.D.in 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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