Bergoglio among the Phenomenologists: Encounter, Otherness, and Church in Evangelii gaudium and Amoris laetitia

Kristóf Oltvai 1
  • 1 University of Chicago Divinity School,, Chicago, United States of America


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.

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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.