Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, right, now Pope Francis, is pictured traveling by subway in Buenos Aires in 2008. (CNS photo/Diego Fernandez Otero, Clarin handout via Reuters)
sent me a book chapter entitled “For Man.” Its author was Jorge Mario
Bergoglio. The book, Generative
Thought: An Introduction to the Works of Luigi Giussani
University Press, 2003; edited by Elisa Buzzi), is an appreciation of Msgr.
Luigi Giussani’s own book, The
Msgr. Giussani is the founder of Communion e Liberazione
, a dynamic religious
movement now found in some sixty countries. [Editor: Bergoglio’s chaper
in PDF format
struck Bergoglio about Giussani’s influential book was that it hardly ever
spoke of God, of any of the normal questions about his existence or meaning.
Rather it was about man. Reminiscent of John Paul II’s Redemptor Hominis and many writings of Benedict
XVI, the issue was the being of manof whether he bore within himself the image
of God, of the nature of human knowledge.
time this essay was written, John Paul II had just published Fides et Ratio. Bergoglio cites the
famous beginning passage of this powerful document wherein John Paul lists the
important questions about the meaning of human life and death, of evil and
good, of our final destiny. Pope Wojtyla had noted that such questions are
present in almost all human cultures and traditions, not merely in Christian
ones. He concludes from this survey that these very questions reveal something
basic about human nature. They must be asked and considered if we are to face
what we really are.
and other philosophers had asked: “Why is there something rather than nothing?”
and “Why is this
thing not that
thing?” Many philosophers such as Eric Voegelin took up this same theme, as did
several documents of Vatican II. Of course, these questions also go back in
their own way to Plato, Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas. The theme of Giussani
that Bergoglio especially liked was that, to know what we are, we have to take
into consideration more than just scientific or systematic reasoning. Benedict
had often pointed out that the range of our reason includes intuitive and
practical knowledge that is real enough but cannot be reduced to a rationalism
based on mathematics. The sciences are justly based on the fact of matter but
things exist that are not simply matter. Our intelligence itself is one of
bothered Bergoglio was the fact that so many people are not bothered by
these ultimate questions and the answers they seek. Citing Reinhold Niebuhr, we
discover that many keep in their souls “unasked questions”questions such as
“Why do I exist?” and “What is death?” We cannot pretend that such questions go
away simply because we refuse to or are afraid to ask them. Bergoglio writes:
“But if we wish to answer questions that we do not dare to answer, do not know
how to answer, or cannot formulate, we fall into absurdity.” In other words, a
human being who refuses to ask of himself what he really is essentially rejects
his own nature.
classical notion of knowledge of the heart rather than of only the head,
Bergoglio, in effect, associates himself with Benedict who insisted in this
breadth of our knowledge capacity that included all of reality. There are many
things we know that cannot be reduced to a scientific formula. There is nothing
wrong with scientific methods, except when these methods are considered
adequate for what is not matter.
This enables Bergoglio to say, “The drama of the world today is the
result not only of the absence of God but also and above all of the absence of
humankind.” What does this “absence” of man mean? It means that we refuse to
ask what kind of beings we really are. Why do we do this? Largely, I think,
because we are afraid that the proper answer to the unasked questions will
require us to live in a truth we do not want to accept.
speaks of a reason “open to reality in all its factors and whose starting point
is experience, whose starting point is this ontological foundation that awakens a restlessness in the heart.” It is being itself that makes us
uneasy, yet curious. What is this but Aquinas, with his stress on what is, on beginning with
experience, and Augustine with his restless hearts? We cannot, Bergoglio adds,
raise the question of God “calmly,” as if it were not a burning drive we find
in our souls. Indeed, it is this spiritual lethargy in our souls that most
seems to bother Bergoglio. How is it possible not to wonder what we are?
How can we
be certain about these “mysterious” things about our being? Bergoglio speaks of
a community in which we see a “moral certainty” about what we need to live
together. We do not need to think that we can answer all our questions by
ourselves. We live among those who have thought about them. “Certainty does not reside in the human
head but in the harmony of all human faculties.” Faith itself is primarily a trust in the authority of
another. Most of the things anybody knows, he knows by trust in the testimony
of others. Our religious faith depends on the witness of the Apostles and their
faithful handing down what they saw.
is “not contrary to reason.” Faith in fact is directed to reason. And reason is
always concerned with the intelligibility of what is presented in
revelation. “Faith is reasonable,
which does not imply that it can be deduced to mere reasoning. It is
reasonablelet us push the termbut not reasoning.” Perhaps this rather
enigmatic statement is clearer if we simply say that what we do not know about
something is not unintelligible but that we just do not yet grasp its full
intelligibility. Omne ens est scibile.
to the great questions: “Why is there pain, why death, why evil? Why is life
worth living? What is the ultimate meaning of reality, of existence? What sense
does it make to work, love, become involved in the world? Who am I? Where did I
come from? Where am I going?” It is always good to see these questions spelled
out for us. By not asking them of ourselves and of our fellows, we cease to be
what we are. Young and old,
believers and non-believes ask these questions that “cannot be uprooted.” Yet,
and this seems to be Bergoglio’s view, they can be ignored or suppressed in
such a way that we cease to be really human.
“Human beings cannot be content with
reductive or partial answers that force them to censor or neglect some aspect
of reality.” If they do, as their freedom allows them to do, they are only
“running away from themselves.” Human beings in fact possess a “yearning for
the infinite.” He even talks of a
“homesickness” that we have. Here I detect not just the shadow of Odysseus,
whom Bergoglio cites, but of Chesterton’s “Why do we feel homesick at home?”
Bergoglio is said to have belonged to a Chesterton Society in Argentina. “The
human heart proves to be the sign of a Mystery, that is, of something or
someone who is an infinite response. Outside the Mystery, the needs for
happiness, love, and justice never meet a response that fully satisfies the
human heart. Life would be absurd if this response did not exist.”
short treatise ends with what is in effect a recapitulation of Aristotle’s
notion of wonder as the beginning of knowledge. “The beginning of every
philosophy is wonder, and only wonder leads to knowledge.” Bergoglio here cites
Pope John Paul Iwho also had a letter to Chesterton in his Illustrissimi. Pope Luciani once remarked:
“The drama of contemporary Christianity lies in the fact that it puts
categories and norms in place of wonder.” In modern philosophy, what replaced
the search of what is was a system concocted by the human mind to explain things
by itself without reference to reality.
thing I would remark in conclusion about this insightful essay of Pope Francis
in his earlier days is that Samuel Johnson once wrote an essay about wonder.
But Johnson noticed that many people do wonder but they refuse to do anything
more than wonder. They do not take the next step to examine the facts and
depths of reality. This failure seems to be really Bergoglio’s point about the
modern world composed of men and women who wonder about all sorts of things
excerpt what is really important to them.