What is this? An official press photo of the Pope and the President. The President is doing what is expected of all politicians in official photographs: he is grinning. But the Pope has decided not to grin. I wonder why. Isn't he always benign and smiling? Doesn't he spend his time kissing babies? Why can't he conjur up a smile while standing with the President? I am sure he has a reason. Perhaps the answer may be found in this article by Sandro Magister of chiesaexpresso.
His name is Alberto Methol Ferré. It is from him that Bergoglio draws his inspiration in evaluating the world and contrasting the new dominant culture: "libertine atheism." The pope's strict side with Obama
by Sandro Magister
ALBERTO METHOL FERRE
ROME, March 31, 2014 – In his meeting with Barack Obama a few days ago, Pope Francis was not silent on what divides the American administration from the Church of that country on weighty questions like “the rights to religious freedom, life, and conscientious objection.” And he stressed this in the statement issued after the discussion.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio does not like direct conflict, in public, with the powerful of the world. He lets the local episcopates take action. But he does not conceal his own disagreement, and he is careful to maintain his distance. In the photos of his official meetings he poses with a stern expression, unlike the exaggerated smiles of his counterpart of the moment, in this case the head of the world's greatest power.
Nor could he do otherwise, given the radically critical judgment that Pope Francis fosters within himself regarding today's worldly powers.
It is a judgment that he has never made explicit in a complete form. But he has offered many glimpses of it. For example, with his frequent references to the devil as the great adversary of the Christian presence in the world, seeing him at work behind the curtains of the political and economic powers. Or when he lashes out - as in the homily of November 18, 2013 - against the "sole form of thought" that wants to enslave all of humanity to itself, even at the price of "human sacrifices," complete with "laws that protect them."
Bergoglio is not an original thinker. One of his literary frames of reference, to which he has often referred, is the apocalyptic novel "Lord of the World" by Robert Hugh Benson, an early twentieth-century convert, son of an Anglican archbishop of Canterbury.
But at the origin of Bergoglio's view of the world today there stands above all a philosopher.
His name is Alberto Methol Ferré. An Uruguayan from Montevideo, he often crossed the Rio de la Plata to visit his friend the archbishop in Buenos Aires. He died in 2009 at the age of eighty. A book-length interview of 2007 has been reprinted in Argentina and now also in Italy, of capital importance for understanding not only his vision of the world but also that of his friend who went on to become pope:
> Alberto Methol Ferré, Alver Metalli, "Il papa e il filosofo", Edizioni Cantagalli, Siena, 2014
> Alberto Methol Ferré, Alver Metalli, "El Papa y el filósofo", Editorial Biblos, Buenos Aires, 2013
In presenting the first edition of this book in Buenos Aires, Bergoglio praised it as a text of "metaphysical profundity." And in 2011, in the preface to another book by a close friend of both men - Guzmán Carriquiry Lecour, the Uruguayan secretary of the pontifical commission for Latin America, the highest ranking layman at the Vatican - Bergoglio once again offered his gratitude to the "brilliant thinker of the Rio de la Plata" for having laid bare the new dominant ideology after the fall of the Marxism-inspired forms of messianic atheism.
It is the ideology that Methol Ferrè called "libertine atheism." And that Bergoglio describes as follows:
"Hedonistic atheism and its neo-Gnostic trappings have become the dominant culture, with global reach and diffusion. The constitute the atmosphere of the time in which we live, the new opium of the people. The 'sole form of thought,' in addition to being socially and politically totalitarian, has Gnostic structures: it is not human, it recycles the different forms of absolutist rationalism with which the nihilistic hedonism described by Methol Ferré expresses itself. It dominates the 'nebulized theism,' a diffuse theism without historical incarnation; even at its best it produces Masonic ecumenism."
In the book-length interview that has now been republished, Methol Ferré maintains that the new atheism "has radically changed its face. It is not messianic, but libertine. It is not revolutionary in a social sense, but complicit with the status quo. It has no interest in justice, but in all that permits the cultivation of radical hedonism. It is not aristocratic, but has transformed itself into a mass phenomenon."
But perhaps the most interesting element of Methol Ferré's analysis is in the answer that he gives to the challenged posed by the new hegemonic thinking:
"This is what happened with the Protestant Reformation, with Enlightenment secularism, and then with messianic Marxism. An enemy is defeated by taking the best of his intuitions and pushing them further."
And what is his judgment of libertine atheism?
"The truth of libertine atheism is the perception that existence has an intrinsic destination of enjoyment, that life itself is made for satisfaction. In other words: the deep kernel of libertine atheism is a buried need for beauty."
Of course, libertine atheism "perverts" beauty, because "it separates it from truth and from goodness, and therefore from justice. But - Methol Ferré warns - "one cannot redeem libertine atheism's kernel of truth with an argumentative or dialectical procedure; much less can one do so by setting up prohibitions, raising alarms, dictating abstract rules. Libertine atheism is not an ideology, it is a practice. A practice must be opposed with another practice; a self-aware practice, of course, which means one that is equipped intellectually. Historically the Church is the only subject present on the stage of the contemporary world that can confront libertine atheism. To my mind only the Church is truly post-modern."
There is a stunning harmony between this vision of Methol Ferré and the program of his disciple Bergoglio's pontificate, with his rejection of "the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be imposed with insistence" and with his insistence on a Church capable of "making the heart burn," of healing every kind of illness and injury, of restoring happiness.
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.