What Pope Francis has to say about Dostoyevsky and Guardini

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1876, (L); Romano Guardini, c. 1920, (R). Credit: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1876, (L); Romano Guardini, c. 1920, (R). Credit: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

.- Pope Francis on Friday referred to the enduring relevance of two thinkers who have had a profound impact on his own thought: Romano Guardini, an early 20th century theologian, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, a 19th century novelist.

“I am convinced that Guardini is a thinker who has much to say to the people of our time, and not only to Christians,” the Pope said Nov. 13 at the Vatican's Clementine Hall.

He was addressing the Romano Guardini Foundation, which he said is “bringing Guardini’s thought into conversation with the spheres of politics, culture and science of today.”

Guardini was a priest who was among the leaders of the Liturgical Movement, and influenced the Second Vatican Council and both St. John Paul II and, particularly, Benedict XVI.

He is also a major influence on Pope Francis, who quoted him five times in his encyclical Laudato si', and once each in Lumen fidei and Evangelii gaudium. Francis has also quoted him in speeches and interviews.

Pope Francis has similarly referred to Dostoyevsky in Lumen fidei, speeches, and multiple interviews.

During Friday's speech, he began by referencing Guardini's own book The Religious World of Dostoyevsky.

He recalled that in the work, Guardini discussed an episode in Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov  evidencing mercy, in which a woman goes for spiritual guidance to the monk Elder Zosima. The Pope said that the priest “shows a way out” to the woman who is in despair: “Her life has meaning, because God will receive her at the moment of repentance.”

Pope Francis quoted the words of Elder Zosima to the woman: “Do not fear. Never fear, and do not be sad, so long as your remorse does not dry up, God forgives everything. There is no sin on the whole Earth that God will not forgive if you show true remorse. Man is unable to commit a sin that is too great for God’s unending love.”

The Pope commented, “In confession the woman is transformed and receives new hope.”

“The simplest people understand what this is about,” he continued. “They perceive the greatness that shines in [Zosima'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.”

He then quoted Guardini's work on Dostoyevsky, saying, “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.”

This, Pope Francis, said, “is the profound vision of Guardini,” suggesting it is the foundation of his first work of metaphysics.

“For Guardini, this 'living unity' with God consists in the concrete relationship of persons with the world and with others around them. The individual feels a part of the fabric of a people, that is, in an 'original union of men who by type, nation, and historical evolution in life and destinies are a unique whole',” he said, quoting from the author's The Meaning of the Church.

Guardini, Pope Francis stated, meant “a people” not in an individualistic sense inherited from the Enlightenment and a narrowed rationalism, but rather a “compendium of what in man is genuine, profound and substantial,” leading to the finding of God's will not in isolation but in a community.

“Perhaps we can apply Guardini's reflections to our own time, seeking to uncover the hand of God in current events,” he concluded.

“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 people, 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 Romano Guardini Foundation is attending a conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University celebrating the 130th anniversary of the birth of their namesake.

Pope Francis ended his address to them by thanking them for their work with Guardini's thought, which he said will help to ever more “understand the meaning and value of the Christian foundations of culture and society. From my heart I bless you, and I ask you to please pray for me.”

Tags: Dostoevsky