Because Jorge Bergoglio’s (Pope Francis’s) pontifical texts depart from his predecessor’s Thomistic vocabulary, critics claim his works deploy an “improvisational” style. Closer analysis reveals, however, that Francis deploys the terminology of French phenomenology after the “theological turn.” In fact, Evangelii gaudium and Amoris laetitia frame the event of interpersonal encounter using three concepts drawn from Emmanuel Levinas’s and Jean-Luc Marion’s philosophical projects: the gaze, the face, and the other. Without ruling out a direct textual influence, I argue that Bergoglio’s theology of encounter highlights recent phenomenology’s implications for Catholic moral theology and ecclesiology. Faith is born of an encounter with the merciful gaze of a specific other - Jesus Christ. The Church, as the community that bears witness to this gaze, is thus called to eniconize this same gaze for “the least of these” (Matt 25:40). Not obviating the need for moral precepts, the encounter with the particular other becomes the condition of their possibility; moral norms only cohere within the context of the pastoral “face-to-face.” The main ecclesiological consequence of the “pastoral turn” Bergoglio initiates is thus a “kerygmatic hermeneutic” of the Church: the community of believers turns outward to encounter the other in mercy, evangelizing by example and charity.
Finnis, John, and Germain Grisez. “The misuse of Amoris laetitia to support errors against the Catholic faith” (open letter). November 21, 2016. <http://www.twotlj.org/OW-MisuseAL.pdf>
Lévinas, Emmanuel. “Ethics as First Philosophy.” In The Lévinas Reader, edited by Seán Hand, 75-87. Oxford: Blackwell, 1989.
Lévinas, Emmanuel. Totality and Infinity. Translated by Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1969 .
Marion, Jean-Luc. In Excess: Studies of Saturated Phenomena. Translated by Robyn Horner and Vincent Berraud. New York: Fordham University Press, 2002 .
Marion, Jean-Luc. Givenness and Revelation. Translated by Stephen E. Lewis. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.
Marion, Jean-Luc. Prolegomena to Charity. Translated by Stephen E. Lewis. New York: Fordham University Press, 2002 .
Ratzinger, Joseph (Benedict XVI). Caritas in veritate. Encyclical letter. June 29, 2009. Vatican website <http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20090629_caritas-in-veritate.html>
Reno, Russell Ronald. “Francis’s Improv Theology.” First Things, June 17, 2016. <https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2016/06/franciss-improv-theology>
Reno, Russell Ronald. “Theology After the Revolution.” First Things, May 2007. <https://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/05/theology-after-the-revolution>
Zizioulas, John. Communion and Otherness: Further Studies in Personhood and the Church. Edited by Paul McPartlan. New York: T&T Clark, 2006.
Open Theology is an international Open Access, peer-reviewed academic journal that welcomes contributions written in English addressing religion in its various forms and aspects: historical, theological, sociological, psychological, and other.