Francis, Lucio Gera, Walter Kasper… and Cardijn

In his 2015 book, Pope Francis’ Revolution of Love and Tenderness, German Cardinal Walter Kasper offers some interesting insights on the sources of Pope Francis’ thought, particularly regarding the Argentine theologian and jocist chaplain, Lucio Gera.

“Only from the perspective of this background can one understand the theology that has shaped Pope Francis,” he says.

Kasper goes on:

Referring to “the  bleak peripheries and the slums of the poor” that once characterised Buenos Aires, Kasper notes that “the evangelization of these pluralistic urban cultures, and especially those on the periphery, was a challenge and a pressing concern for Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio.”

His most important theology teacher was Lucio Gera (1924—2012) How very much Archbishop Bergoglio held him in esteem emerges from the solitary fact that, after his death in 2012, Archbishop Bergoglio allowed him to he interred in the episcopal crypt of the Buenos Aires cathedral in order to honor him as the father of Argentine theology.

Lucio Gera, together with Gustavo Gutierrez, who is regarded as the father of liberation theology, and others took part in the conference in Petropolis in 1964 that had been convened by the Latin American Episcopal Conference (CELAM).

It is regarded as the hour in which liberation theology was born. At this conference, Lucio Gera gave a paper on the theme, “The Meaning of the Christian Message in the Context of Poverty and Oppression.” This theme has become foundational for all forms of liberation theology. They all operate according to the method of see, judge, act.

Socio-political and economic relations versus the culture of the people

However, Gera gave Argentine liberation a different stamp from that in other Latin American countries, Kasper says:

The Argentine type of liberation theology, through the decisive influence of Lucio Gera, has nevertheless followed its own path and developed its own profile. Different from other forms that are generally better known to us, Argentine liberation theology does not proceed from an analysis of sociopolitical and economic relations or from antagonisms in society in order then to interpret them with Marxist categories, in the sense of a theory of dependence.

Here Kasper is obviously referring to strains of liberation theology associated with another Cardijn disciple, particularly the Belgian Marxist François Houtart, who believed that Cardijn was himself greatly influenced by Marx. 

Gera, on the other hand, began with culture, notes Kasper:

Rather, it proceeds from a historical analysis of the culture of the people, who are united by a common ethos. It is a theology of the people and of culture.

In doing so, it does not want to lecture the people, but rather it wants to listen to the people’s wisdom. Therefore, a higher value is assigned to popular piety. Naturally, this theology of the people does not overlook the existing social antitheses, but it is not guided by the idea of class warfare, but by the thought of harmony, peace, and reconciliation.

This concern shines forth again and again in Pope Francis’ responses to conflict situations, as for instance at the impressive vigil for peace in the Middle East on September 7, 2013 in St. Peter’s Square, when he spoke of the world as God’s creation, as the house of harmony and peace, in which everyone finds his or her place and can feel at home.

And Kasper makes a particularly interesting observation regarding the sources of this thinking:

This understanding of the people corresponds to the spirit of democratic romanticism that found its way into Argentina at the end of the nineteenth century and superseded the previous politics of culture, which was in the mode of the European Enlightenment.

In France, this democratic romanticism is linked to writers such as Chateaubriand, who wanted to “reconcile religion and modern democratic society” and his successors, notably Lamennais, Tocqueville, de Vigny, Hugo, Lamartine and many others.

As we know, Lamennais in particular was very important for Cardijn too.

In any event, it’s clear that both strains of liberation theology have deep connections to jocism of which the see-judge-act is simply the most evident manifestation.

Finally, Kasper notes that Gera did his doctoral studies at Bonn, Germany on “a classical, Scholastic topic, The Development of the Doctrine of Transubstantiation from Thomas to Duns Scotus.”

Here Gera was influenced by “Arnold Rademacher, who earned his doctorate in Tubingen in 1900” and thus “became familiar with the ecclesiology of the Tubingen School of the nineteenth century, especially with Johann Adam Mohler (1796-1831) and his teaching about the spirit of the people.”

“The parallels between this Romantic teaching of the early Tubingen theologians about the national spirit, which goes back to Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803), and the Argentine theology of the people are striking and clearly not accidental,” Kasper believes.

“The relation just shown makes clear how the Argentine form of liberation theology is to be classified in the international context of Catholic theology and in the universal, ecclesial context,” he concludes.

Stefan Gigacz