An Interesting Convergence between Popes Benedict and Francis
Francis made an address to a conference in Barcelona organized by Argentine theologian Carlos Maria Galli and others about how God lives in the big cities. This theme is very important to the current pontiff. It can be found in Aparecida (A 409-519) and in Evangelii Gaudium (#71-75). This remarkable development in Church teaching suggests to me that the theology of the people presupposes a phenomenology of urban life. This approach was the one that Lucio Gera and Rafael Tello used when they combined Scheler’s and Guardini’s phenomenology with the pastoral needs of the poor living in the peripheries of Buenos Aires, a point that Juan Carlos Scannone has illuminated amply in an article published recently in La Civiltà Cattolica.
Pope Francis confirmed in his return trip from Korea that he expects soon to promulgate an encyclical on the confluence of ecological and economic concerns. Two topics are important for understanding the relationship between Pope Benedict and Pope Francis on these issues. The first has to do with the environment. John Allen dubbed the term the Green pope to refer to Pope Benedict, and a book even appeared in English with the Pope Emeritus’s thoughts on protecting the environment. The press has covered improvements like putting more solar panels in the Vatican and the like. However, the Green Pope can also be seen in the theology of the grammar of creation in Caritas in Veritate (CIV), a theme underscored by environmental theologian Sr. Damien Marie Savino in her forthcoming essay in a collection I have just edited with Eerdmans Press. More fundamentally, however, the way of thinking of the German Green Pope can also be seen in the relational theology of creation that Pope Benedict developed at a very early stage. His grasp of the relational dimension of creation can be seen both in his reading of Genesis (in the collection of homilies published in English as In the Beginning) and in his proleptic liturgical account of the new creation in his book on Eschatology.
The second major issue where Francis will be able to draw on Benedict’s Neo-Augustinian wisdom is the phenomenology of the gift. Benedict self was not a phenomenologist; however, Scannone has shown in his contribution to a CELAM volume on Trinitarian anthropology for our peoples that the phenomenology of economic life in Emmanuel Levinas can illuminate the notion of a gift in CIV. Pope Benedict sketches a tripartite logic in his encyclical: the logic of equivalent exchange in markets, the logic of public obligation imposed by the State, and the logic of giving and forgiving preached by Jesus and promulgated by the Church. Introducing such gratuity into economic life is a message to which we should attend. Scannone shows through a reading of Levinas’s Totality and Infinity in a Trinitarian key how realities on the ground like the male-female relationship in the oikos can be impacted and deepened by the logic of the gift and how this interpenetration is already present in the phenomenology of economic life in CIV. The “joy of Gospel” thus augments, purifies, and overcomes the joy that I seek in a consumerist attitude of spontaneous egoism. Embodied ethical relationality beginning with the male-female pairing can serve as an opening to the fostering of a new community of creation. This reflection also suggests a new way to think about the convergence between the theme of the current Synod and the forthcoming encyclical (a topic also addressed in my collection by Julie Hanlon Rubio). In other words, the economy of grace developed by Scannone in his reading of CIV would serve Pope Francis well as he develops a socio-ecology of the God who lives in the big cities.