A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Is Francis a Balthasarian?

Theologians quoted in this Globe & Mail story try to make the argument for Papa Bergoglio as a disciple of von Balthasar:

In order to understand what Benedict XVI was about, and what John Paul II was about, one must recognize the impact of Balthasar on their thought. Balthasarian themes are woven all through their papacies, said Carolyn Chau, a theologian at Kings University College at the University of Western Ontario. I can certainly see some continuity in terms of Balthasar being received by the current pontiff.She said Pope Franciss frugality and emphasis on serving the poor links him to a key facet of the Swiss theologians work. Balthasar has written about the need for the church to shed some of the riches that have become more of a burden than a witness. There is much in Balthasars theology that also speaks of the simplicity of holiness.

The piece wends around in this way, and tries to figure out Balthasar himself, but I'm not sure that it ever really pegs Francis as a Balthasarian -- whatever that is. Maybe the bigger question is whether he can be pegged as anything in particular.He seems to be at heart a Jesuit (as distressing as some find the prospect!) who has found wisdom in sources ranging from Romano Guardini to Luigi Giussani, and yes, Balthasar maybe as well.Perhaps what some are trying to wrap their heads around is the idea that for the first time in a long time we don't have a theologian-pope or philosopher-pope who has a long trail of scholarly writings that place him squarely in one "school" or another. Rather, he is a pastor-pope.Claretian Father Gustavo Larrazbal, an old friend of Pope Francis, was recently asked by U.S. Catholic whether Bergoglio is a theologian as well as a shepherd:

"He is, above all, a shepherd, which is not to say that he is not a theologian. But his interest is very pastoral. For example, for all his attention to social issues and to the poor, he has never supported liberation theology, but he does not put brakes on it either. He says, speaking about catechesis, 'As a shepherd, I allow things to happen. I prefer that there not be a single catechesis, because that makes for a richer situation. I allow for things to flow, provided things are within the scope of the doctrine of the church, and do not fall into heresy or absurd ideas.' I think this applies to his approach to liberation theology. He did not reject it nor advocate for it."

He seems rather omnivorous. I like that, but in a pope it's relatively new for us.

About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

To be allowed to have one's ideas "flow" would be a liberating experience for many liberation theologians, or so it would seem. To have had the initial positive response of Pope Paul VI abruptly overshadowed by the condemnations of JPII, who seemed to mistake what he heard for the (hated) Socialism of his youth, had to be demoralizing. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Francis's reference to de Lubac in his speech to the conclave was interesting. (Garry Wills dedicated Why Priests "To the Memory of Henri de Lubac, S.J." and refers to him often throughout the book.)

My guess is that, just as everyone's a little bit racist, every Pope will now be a little bit Balthasarian.

I know this is the second or third joke made at the expense of Fr. Imbelli's post on religious as bishops, but I think it is wrong to suppose that Fr. Imbelli has a sort of Jesuit-phobia, given his place of employment and his work with scholastics over the years. Perhaps a more generous "hermeneutic" would look at the question itself--religious as bishops, not Jesuits as popes--and take into account Fr. Imbelli's experience of a diocesan priest towards his diocesan bishop. I think that would be the sort of generosity Francis himself models...A few years ago at the CTSA (a conference of theologians) I suggested that what much of modern Catholic theology really has in common, from the more Rahnerian to the more Balthasarian, is Henri de Lubac. Balthasar's own correspondence lists Rahner as an "ally" in disseminating de Lubac's thought in Germany. I think we can say that many of us have a fair bit of de Lubac in us!

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment