Methol Ferré: the philosopher who inspired Pope Francis
“The Pope and the Philosopher,” a book-interview with Alberto Methol Ferré -- an Uruguayan philosopher who influenced Jorge Bergoglio -- has been recently reprinted in Spanish and Italian.
“At the origin of Bergoglio's view of the world today there stands above all a philosopher. His name is Alberto Methol Ferré,” Vaticanista Sandro Magister wrote March 31 in L'Espresso. “An Uruguayan from Montevideo, he often crossed the Rio de la Plata to visit his friend the archbishop in Buenos Aires.”
The book was first published in 2007, and explores Methol Ferré's thought in an interview with Alver Metalli. Magister wrote that the work is “of capital importance for understanding not only his vision of the world but also that of his friend who went on to become pope.”
Bergoglio presented the book when it was first published, calling it a text of “metaphysical profundity,” and he was gifted a new copy last year by Jose Mujica, president of Uruguay. Receiving the book and recalling the long friendship they both had with Methol Ferré, Pope Francis told Mujica that the philosopher “had taught us how to think.”
Methol Ferré was born in 1929, and was raised the son of an agnostic. At age 19, he converted to Christianity thanks to the influence of the writings of G.K. Chesterton. He then taught both history and philosophy. He died in 2009 at the age of 80.
After Pope Francis' election, Metalli decided to reprint their interview, now with a lengthy preface about the friendship between Methol Ferré and the Pope.
Pope Francis and Methol Ferré first met in 1979, during the a conference of Latin American bishops; at the time, Bergoglio was the Jesuit's Argentine provincial.
The philosopher's thought mixes liberalism and “theology of the people.” A founder of the magazine “Nexo,” in 1967 Methol Ferré was called to be co-editor of the magazine “Vispera,” commenting on the Latin American revolutions then ongoing.
In 1969, Methol Ferré was appointed member of the Latin American bishops' conference department for laymen, and in 1975 became a member of its theological ministry faculty.
In that capacity, he strongly criticized liberation theology, which he knew well from his time at Vispera – liberation theology's 'founder,' Gustavo Gutierrez, wrote for the journal. Methol Ferré criticized Marxism for its materialism, and thus also the strains of liberation theology founded upon it.
Metalli writes that Methol Ferré supported instead “a liberation theology rooted in the views of the Argentine pastor Lucio Gera,” with whom “Methol Ferré reciprocates the accentuation of the theme of the religion of the people, of the poor, of Latin American culture and history, developing a more comprehensive approach in understanding the Latin American realm.”
Preparing for the 1979 meeting of Latin American bishops, Methol Ferré advocated for popular religion, a culture centered on the Christian vision of the human person, a re-evaluation of the Church's social teaching, and the perception of “libertine atheism” as a new enemy.
Methol Ferré said in the newly-released book that atheism now “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.”
He proposed that to counter such atheism, one has to find the “best of its intuitions,” and that “the deep kernel of libertine atheism is a buried need for beauty.”
While this atheism separates beauty “from truth and from goodness, and therefore from justice,” this can be countered only by practices which promote true beauty, and which make reference to truth, goodness, and justice.
“There is a stunning harmony between this vision of Methol Ferré and the program of his disciple Bergoglio's pontificate,” Magister wrote: “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.”