Acton’s Director of Research, Samuel Gregg, offers some fresh thoughts on Pope Francis today at Crisis Magazine. Gregg points out that there has been much talk about “poverty” and the “poor” since the election of Pope Francis, but that this is nothing new in the Catholic Church.
…Francis isn’t the first to have used the phrase “a poor church of the poor.” It’s also been employed in a positive fashion by figures ranging from the father of liberation theology, Gustavo Gutiérrez, to critics of Marxist-versions of the same theology. In a 2011 meeting with German Catholic lay associations, for instance, Benedict XVI challenged the very wealthy—and notoriously bureaucratized—German Church to embrace poverty. By this, Benedict meant the Church detaching itself from “worldliness” in order to achieve “liberation from material and political burdens and privileges,” thereby breaking free of the institutional-maintenance mindset that plagues contemporary German Catholicism and opening itself “in a truly Christian way to the whole world.”
Gregg discusses Jean Daniélou, a Jesuit cardinal, whom he calls “one of the twentieth-century’s best Catholic theologians,” and Daniélou’s contribution to Catholicism’s understanding of poverty.
Daniélou brought unique perspectives and experiences to this question. The son of a politician from an anti-clerical family (who wasn’t baptized until his twenties) and an aristocratic mother (a formidable Catholic intellectual in her own right), Daniélou was famed for his independence of thought. When many French Catholics opted for Marshal Pétain and Vichy in 1940, for example, Daniélou chose Charles de Gaulle and Free France. Viewed with suspicion before Vatican II, Daniélou served as a peritus at the 21st ecumenical council because of his contribution to reviving patristic studies.
It is this cardinal who informs, in part, Pope Francis’ theological understanding of poverty:
For the Jesuit cardinal, proclaiming and defending the truth entrusted to Christ’s poor church was in no way incompatible with that very same poor church reaching out to those in need. And that, in many ways, sums up the evangelical challenge now being presented to us by our Jesuit pope: to keep open the “field hospital,” as Francis recently called it, where sinner’s wounds are bound up, so that, as Francis said in the same interview, “we can talk about everything else.” That “everything else” is, of course, the fullness of the truth revealed by the one who is Divine Mercy Himself.