Friday, November 13, 2015


There is an important continuity between Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis and it is in their appreciation of  Romano Guardini and his impact on today's "new evangelization. The following is from Crisis Magazine on Pope Benedict's appreciation of Guardini and how he shaped his academic life and papacy. Then following it is what Pope Francis said just this morning to a group meeting at the Vatican on Guardini and his relevance for today.

I find the first article interesting in terms of the fear of "modernism" of Pius X that impacted negatively some of what Guardini wrote. I have that part in bold.

Romano Guardini: Father of the New Evangelization

As Benedict XVI prepared to step down from his pontificate, he offered the following words to those who feared that his resignation marked a dangerous departure from tradition:  “The Church is not an institution devised and built at table, but a living reality. She lives along the course of time by transforming Herself, like any living being, yet Her nature remains the same. At Her heart is Christ.”

These words were not his own, but rather those of his intellectual mentor, Romano Guardini (1885-1968).  Much of Benedict’s writing has been, at least implicitly, a long meditation on the work of Guardini.  In some cases, the connection has been more explicit:  Benedict’s The Spirit of the Liturgy (2000) is in many ways an updating of Guardini’s own 1918 work, also titled The Spirit of the Liturgy.  That original work inspired a dialogue between Guardini and the phenomenologist Max Scheler, whom Karol Wojtyla would make the subject of his doctoral dissertation under Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange.  As a student in Munich during the 1980s, Jorge Mario Bergoglio considered writing his dissertation on Guardini himself; more recently, as Pope Francis, he invoked the legacy of Guardini in some of his earliest public addresses of his pontificate.

Who is this man who has had such a profound influence on our last three popes? How are we to understand his vision of the Church as a dynamic, living reality when such an understanding has so often served as a rationale for rejecting traditional understandings of Church doctrine?  Is not the turn to phenomenology and other philosophies of experience responsible for what Pope Benedict himself has called the “tyranny of relativism”?  Guardini’s work had a profound influence on the Second Vatican Council and can still induce anxiety among the kind of traditionalist who views any departure from mid-century Thomism as apostasy.   His distance from the dominant Thomism of his day was, however, a measure of his proximity to an older Augustinian tradition that seemed to offer the possibility of a more fruitful engagement with the modern world.  With his emphasis on the need for an intimate encounter with the person of Christ and his openness to seeing the good in the modern world outside of the Church, Guardini deserves to be considered among the earliest fathers of the New Evangelization.
Romano Guardini 1950Romano Guardini was born in 1885 in Verona, Italy.  Soon after his birth, his family moved to the city of Mainz, Germany, where his father went to pursue his career as an import/export merchant.  Guardini grew up in a faithful, if not excessively devout, Catholic home.  This merely conventional Catholic upbringing left him unable to respond to the intellectual challenges posed by the rampant agnosticism and atheism he encountered as a young man attending the University of Munich.  Guardini soon began to question his own faith and underwent a period of spiritual crisis that he would later compare to that of St. Augustine.  Guardini’s tolle lege moment came while on vacation from university at his parent’s home in Mainz while on vacation from university.  The scripture passage that drew him out of his confusion was Matthew 10:39:  “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Apart from all of the philosophical arguments for the existence of God stood the primary, existential submission of the will:
It became clear to me that there exists a law according to which persons who “find their life,” that is, remain in themselves and accept as valid only what immediately enlightens them, lose their individuality. If they want to reach the truth and attain the truth in their very selves, then they must abandon themselves….
Even as Guardini recognized the submission as a means to true freedom, he also realized the dangers of a freedom conceived apart from any communal authority; his personal conversion came with a renewed appreciation for the necessity of the Church as an objective referent giving meaning and order to freedom.

After resolving his crisis of faith, Guardini returned to his secular studies, but soon felt called to the priesthood, eventually receiving holy orders on May 28, 1910.  Over the next ten years, he held various parish assignments in Mainz as he pursued the degrees necessary to qualify him to teach in the German university system.  Never questioning the authority of the Church in matters of doctrine, Guardini would nonetheless devote his priestly and scholarly life to moving beyond narrowly juridical notions of the Church in favor of a fuller appreciation of the Church as the font of freedom and love.

Sadly, in the wake of Pius X’s condemnation of Modernism in 1907, words like freedom and love had acquired the odor of heresy.  Guardini chafed under the rigid discipline of the seminary at Mainz; the textbook Thomism devised as a bulwark against the errors of Modernism left him cold.  His decision to explore the Platonic/Augustinian tradition of the Church by writing his thesis on St. Bonaventure (rather than St. Thomas) brought him into conflict with his clerical superiors and eventually prevented him from securing a teaching position at the diocesan seminary.

Guardini’s search for a way to bring freedom, love and unity together within the Church eventually led him to the liturgical movement. The movement began as part of the renewal of Benedictine monastic life in nineteenth-century France. By the early twentieth century, Pius X sought to direct the movement outward to the parishes in the service of cultivating a more conscious, active participation of the laity at Mass.  In his classic The Spirit of the Liturgy, Guardini presented the experience of the liturgy as an antidote to the cold rationalism and narrow moralism that he saw afflicting the Church of his day.  Against these, Guardini sees in the spirit of the liturgy a spirit of playfulness:  “The soul must learn to abandon, at least in prayer, the restlessness of purposeful activity; it must learn to waste time for the sake of God, and to be prepared for the sacred game with saying and thoughts and gestures, without always immediately asking ‘why?’ and ‘wherefore?’”  The liturgy is, to be sure, serious play, with set rules and complex symbols, but these are all in service of at deeper experience of God.  This experience, while personal, is never private. Guardini feared that the popular devotions that had energized the Catholic revival of the nineteenth century had fostered a spiritual individualism in which prayer had become simply a tool for accruing merit in the quest for individual salvation. Against this, the spirit of the liturgy is above all a spirit of community, uniting the faithful with each other even as it unites them to God.

Guardini would develop this theme of community more fully in his next major work, The Church and the Catholic (1922). Based on a series of lectures delivered to a meeting of the Catholic Academic Association, the book nonetheless addressed a problem facing the broader Western world:  the absence of community.  Modernity had destroyed the bonds of traditional society and marginalized the Church as a source of social unity, leaving in its wake the anarchic individualism of liberal capitalism.  Communism offered an alternative to this anarchy, but only at the expense of eliminating individual freedom.  Against the extremes of Communism and individualism, Guardini held up the idea of the Church as the Body of Christ, an organic union of persons that made possible the full flourishing of the “free personality,” which is “the presupposition of all true community.”  Guardini’s Catholic message struck a chord with the non-Catholic world, earning him the chair of Philosophy of Religion and Catholic Weltanschauung at the very Protestant, and still largely anti-Catholic, University of Berlin.

Guardini’s academic position at a non-Catholic university put him in an unusual position with respect to the intellectual life of the Church.  His ideas on community and liturgy would find papal approbation in Pius XII’s Mystici Corporis (1943) and Mediator Dei (1947), yet his fellow Catholic academics largely ignored him. He did not speak the language of Thomism and generally avoided the axe-grinding, triumphalist apologetics that were the stuff of mainstream Catholic “engagement” with the world.  His lectures did, however, attract some of the brightest young minds of his day, including Josef Pieper, Hans Urs von Balthasaar and Hannah Arendt.  In reaching out to the world, Guardini looked for theological themes in places where Thomists feared to tread—namely modern literature and Eastern religions. In these explorations, Guardini often found himself perceived as too “liberal” for mainstream Catholics and too Catholic for mainstream secularists.  In writing on non-Catholic figures such as Friedrich Hölderlin, Eduard Mörike and Rainer Maria Rilke, Guardini was able to express an appreciation for the depth and beauty of their accounts of human experience, yet still hold them accountable to Catholic truth.  Similarly, at a time when so many intellectuals were abandoning Christianity for Eastern religions, Guardini saw the need to acknowledge the truth and goodness in Buddhism while insisting on the absolute uniqueness of Christianity.  Jesus Christ is not a wise man who points us to the truth; He is the Truth.  Christianity is not based primarily on a set of dogmas, but on the person of Jesus Christ.

Guardini’s vision of Catholicism and its relation to the modern world won him many accolades from the non-Catholic world.  Though hardly a “representative” figure of early-twentieth century Catholic theology, his writings, along with those of the French ressourcement movement, had a profound effect on shaping the vision of the Second Vatican Council.  Like so many of those French theologians, Guardini recoiled at the early efforts to implement the vision of the Council, most especially the liturgical innovations that worked directly against his understanding of the spirit of the liturgy.  Those who directed the life of the Church in the decades following the Council were bad Thomists without being good Augustinians.  It would take good Augustinians and careful readers of Guardini such as Josef Ratzinger to help set the Church back on the right path.

This path, however, involves neither a return to the pre-Vatican II Church nor a “conservative” interpretation of the Council.  Guardini, Ratzinger, Wojtyla and Bergoglio have all in various ways sought to fashion a Catholic modernity, a new Catholicism appropriate to our time yet faithful to tradition.  Catholics since the Council have largely either retreated into a fortress of unchanging, timeless truth or surrendered to the tyranny of relativism.  Our Church offers us another way to think about living in time and embracing historical particularity.  No one age can embody the entire truth of the faith.   God gives us each age as a gift embodying the particular aspect of the faith most needed at a particular time.  Romano Guardini was one of the first to offer to the modern world a vision of the Church nurturing the flourishing of free personality within community.  If secular modernity has yet to recognize this vision, it is perhaps because Catholics themselves have yet to embrace it.


The Pope on the current relevance of Romano Guardini

Vatican City, 13 November 2015 (VIS) – This morning in the Clementine Hall the Pope received in audience members of the Romano Guardini Foundation attending the Congress promoted by the Pontifical Gregorian University to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the birth of the Italian-born German priest, theologian and writer. During the audience the president of the foundation, Professor Ludwig von Pufendorf, announced the imminent publication of a previously unpublished text by Guardini who, as the Holy Father affirmed, “has much to say to the people of our time, and not only Christians”.

Francis recalls that Guardini, in his book “The Religious World of Dostoevsky”, cites the episode in “The Brothers Karamazov” in which a peasant confesses to the starec (the spiritual guide of orthodox monasteries) that she had killed her sick husband who had mistreated her throughout his life. The starec notes that the woman, desperately aware of her guilt, is entirely closed in on herself and that any reflection, comfort or counsel would meet this wall. The woman is convinced she is condemned; however, the priest shows her the way out. Her life has meaning, because God will receive her at the moment of repentance. He urges her not to be afraid since there is not, and there cannot be, a sin on earth that God cannot forgive to those who repent sincerely, nor can there be a sin so great that it exhausts God's infinite love. In confession the woman is transformed and receives new hope.

“The simplest people understand what this is about”, said the Pope. “They perceive the greatness that shines in the starec's wisdom and the strength of his love. They understand what holiness means, that is, an existence lived in faith, able to see that God is close to man, that He holds their life in His hands. In this respect, Guardini says, that by accepting with simplicity existence in the hand of God, personal will transforms into divine will and in this way, without the creature ceasing to be only a creature and God truly God, their living unity is brought about”.

For Guardini, this “living unity” with God consists of the concrete relationship of people with the world and with others around them. “The individual feels a part of the fabric of the population, that is, in an original union of men that by type, country and historical evolution in life and destinies are a single entity”. The author of “The Meaning of the Church” considered the concept of “population” as the “compendium of what in man is genuine, profound and substantial. We are able to recognise in the population, as in a mirror, “field of the force of divine action”.

“Perhaps we can apply Guardini's reflections to our own time, seeking to uncover the hand of God in current events”, observed the Holy Father. “In this way we will perhaps be able to recognise that God, in His wisdom, sent us, in rich Europe, the hungry to be fed, the thirsty to slake their thirst, the stranger to be welcomed and the naked to be clothed. History then shows this: if we are a population, we will certainly welcome these as our brothers; if we are merely a group of individuals, we will be tempted only to save our own skins, but we will have no continuity”.

The Pope greeted the members of the Foundation, expressing his hope that Guardini's work will help them increasingly to understand the meaning and value of the Christian foundations of culture and society”.


Marc said...

In The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky excoriates the papacy as a manmade institution grasping for temporal power that came about as the logical consequence of the Latin West's acceptance of the filioquist heresy.

It is interesting, then, that the pope would see fit to quote Dostoevsky, who seems to have detested the Latin West's legalism for some of the reasons brought out in the passage the pope is discussing.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Marc, it makes perfect sense as Pope Francis has constantly excoriated the small minded rules of the Phrasiees which in modern Catholicism is canon law and its doctors like Cardinal Burke. You see what happened to him and quickly. I don't see The Full Communion of the Churcg, meaning the east and west under Peter going the way of the Schismatic east as it concerns the Filioque clause though.

Gene said...

Francis is seeking allies anywhere he can find them...even among Catholics who quote the likes of Rilke and Holderlin, two favorites of the neo-prot movement. The human will does not and cannot "transform" into the divine will. Where did these people study theology/philosophy? This just gets worse all the time.

Marc said...

Francis appears to detest rules qua rules as an external imposition of another's will. Setting aside the incompatibility of that ideology with his leftist leanings, his thinking is flawed in that it is rooted in precisely that moralizing that he is railing against. In other words, he is not moving beyond moralizing, as Dostoevsky and the Orthodox seek to do, he is merely seeking to knock down the rules for their own sake or for the sake of a supposed freedom of individual conscience. His ideas are post-Christian in that sense because Christiantiy is, in part, a morality system (even when it moves beyond moralizing). This explains why he has an inconsistent understanding of who the Pharisees are and his misplaced use of that caste as an analogy to those who oppose his ideology.

Anonymous 2 said...

Father McDonald:

Thank you for this fascinating post. I enjoyed reading it and learned a lot from it despite the now routinely expected negative, discouraging, and demoralizing comments from the neo-alchemists on the blog who seem to look for any and all opportunities to attack Pope Francis and perversely turn gold into lead. For those who would like more of the gold here is an interesting analysis of Guardini’s “The End of the Modern World”

John Nolan said...


Are those your views on Canon Law and Cardinal Burke, or are you suggesting that the Pope holds them? I see what has happened to the cardinal (who is in London this weekend and celebrating the Usus Antiquior in the capital's two most important churches, Westminster Cathedral and the Oratory). No previous American cardinal has had such an impact world-wide.

Marc said...

A2, did you read an attack on Pope Francis in my comments here?

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

I am projecting onto the pope. Clearly Cardinal Burke is a legalistic in the pope's eyes.

Anonymous 2 said...


Is it possible you are unaware of it? Try: appears to detest rules qua rules, leftist leanings, flawed thinking, seeking to knock down rules for their [sic] own sake in furtherance of his post-Christian ideology.

Yes, I read an attack on Pope Francis.

Marc said...

A2, surely you know that there is a difference between a critique and an attack. I thought my points were rationally stated without polemics and without name calling.

Marc said...

A2, could you do me a favor and explain why you put "sic" in your quotation of my post? I'm not understanding why you think "their" is the incorrect word, which is what you're implying.

Anonymous 2 said...


Regarding the semantic point about word choice, my understanding is that the word attack can be used in the sense of strong criticism. Perhaps, too, my word choice was colored by the contemporaneous context provided by your postings on the thread “Fasten Your Seatbelts” which I had read and in which, in addition to impugning all the popes after Pius XII, you specifically refer to Pope Francis as a “terrible” pope (“Francis is doing a bang-up job of proving how terrible popes can be”) (12:21 p.m. today).

Regarding the “sic,” I thought that your intent was to refer to the antecedent “knock down the rules” (thus: to knock down the rules just for the sake of knocking them down), which would require the singular, and not knocking down rules for the sake of the rules, which made no sense to me. Perhaps I misunderstood your intent.

Gene said...

Anon 2 should be a state defense attorney. He can come up with more BS ways to defend the indefensible, twist logic, and advocate in favor of irresponsibility, unproductive behavior, and falsehood than the best in fiction and on TV. Besides, he could feel even better about himself because he would be among the "poor" and "misunderstood" elements of society that his favorite Pope loves so much and who his favorite President, Obama, wants to turn loose into society. Who needs enemies when you have Anon 2?

Gene said...

RE: Anon 2's fantasy about having lunch and talking face to face..I would not meet with the likes of Anon 2 and Kavanaught if I were starving and they were the last two people on earth and had steak.

Anonymous 2 said...


I leave the BS to you. No-one could even begin to compete with a true master of BS such as yourself.

And you may say that now about being the last person on earth because that is the usual expression but, yes, you would. In fact, I have written an article that includes that very thought experiment. You might like to know that I had you in my mind as one of my reality checks. Would you like me to send it to you? =)

Gene said...

Actually, Anon 2, in such a situation that we were the last three people on earth and you and Cavy Gnaw had steak, I'd just kill you both and take the steak.

Gene said...

It might be tricky, though...Anon 2, you have a "talk 'em to death" range of @ 100 yds. I could stuff leaves in my ears and charge really fast. I could get to Cavy Gnaw by hanging garlic around my neck and holding up a Crucifix.

Gene said...

BTW, for those who do not know. A Cavy is a short-tailed South American rodent...close enough. LOL!

Jusadbellum said...

Getting back on track,

What is the bed rock presumption of all those who were active at the Council?

That their proposed "pastoral" reforms would simultaneously help current (1962-65) Catholics become more mature and profound and less rote and impersonal about the Catholic faith, in other words, interiorize the faith for their own growth in holiness AND that these same reforms would attract the non-Catholic world to lower their defensive shields, lower their hostilities and look with new, curious and eager eyes at the Catholic Church in a way that would lead at a minimum to peaceful co-existence and at a maximum to mass conversions.

Was that not their bed rock presumption and goal?

Now, if neither happened...if the typical result in most Western Countries was a collapse of the practice and acceptance of the faith AND a secular explosion in immorality and hostility towards not just Christendom but Christ, with the rest of the world repelled not attracted to the whole spectacle, then how can we not conclude that all these "experts" were wrong? Sincere perhaps, but sincerely mistaken?

All the religious orders that lost their collective minds (and charisms) were wrong and the proof is in their dearth of vocations.

All the formerly growing local Churches with seminaries bursting at the seams...have collapsed. All their "initiatives" have proven fruitless. Mass attendance has dropped in HALF since 1970. Demographic changes - fewer children per woman, fewer stable marriages, fewer healthy bodies and minds and souls all point to a permanent decline and in some cases ethnographic extinction and replacement by fertile foreigners who worship a different god (Allah is not Yahweh).

They would have us feel shame for being Pharisees and "older brothers" but have they no empathy, no sense of their own situation - a self-inflicted wound of their own doing? Where is the shame for the status quo which is entirely the doing not of 'traditional conservatives' but of heterodox would-be "expert" progressives?