Yesterday, March 1, there was a presentation in Rome with great fanfare, at the curia of the Society of Jesus, of the book “A Pope Francis Lexicon,” published in the United States by Liturgical Press and edited by Joshua McElwee and Cindy Wooden, the latest in a substantial series of studies on the key words of Pope Francis, on his language, on his communication style, which are in fact extremely different from those of his predecessors.
Settimo Cielo as well, a few days ago, called attention back to the oratory of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, in particular to the highly uncommon way in which at the beginning of this Lent, speaking off the cuff to the priests of Rome, he reviewed his own life:
In these autobiographical remarks of his, Francis confessed that from time to time he had experienced feelings of omnipotence and of desolation, of disorientation and of the desire for compensation, in a psychological equilibrium that was never resolved.
And his account also seemed to proceed in disorder, on a par with his thought. When Bergoglio speaks off the cuff he is never linear, concise, direct, unequivocal. He does the exact opposite. He says and does not say, restates, contradicts himself.
One glaring recent example of this tortuous expression of his was the inflight press conference on the trip back from Peru to Rome:
But perhaps the unsurpassed example of his sibylline speech – yes, no, I don’t know, you figure it out – remains the response that he gave at the Lutheran church of Rome on November 15, 2015, to a Protestant woman who had asked him if she and her husband, a Catholic, could receive communion together:
To what extent and in what sense does this manner of Bergoglio’s expressing himself reveal his personality?
The post from Settimo Cielo on the pope giving an account of himself has stimulated a series of comments in this regard.
First of all, the doubt has been removed that Bergoglio may speak in a disorderly way only in Italian but not in Spanish, the language that is most natural to him.
We have received messages from Argentina:
“Even in Spanish Francis is rather disorderly when he improvises, although perhaps a bit less than in Italian.
And from Spain:
“He is disorderly and confused even when he speaks in Spanish. Sometimes he does not finish his sentences. He uses many expressions typical of Argentina, excessively local and informal.”
Having established this, an Italian reader has gone to the heart of the matter like this:
“I believe that Bergoglio’s disorderly and sloppy improvisation is intentional. His jumping from tangent to tangent makes it difficult for the interlocutor to come to grips with anything. This is the case, for example, of the inflight interviews, which he constructs and measures with undoubted political and manipulative skill. A skill that however in the end turns out to be to be short-lived, at least when the journalist presses him.
“As for his recent autobiographical account, the fact that he describes as an age of ‘omnipotence’ the period in which he was a superior makes one think. It reveals an affective approach to power that turns out to be problematic to say the least. The periods that he calls ‘dark’ in his life are in practice those in which he has no position of authority.”
From Argentina we received this other analysis:
“In the first place, Bergoglio’s methodological-expository disorder begins with an idea or a concept, but then moves on to another, sometimes in forced forms.It is not a ‘scholastic’ exposition in the Thomist manner. As a Jesuit he was trained to use images and representations, rather than concepts.
“In other words, his exposition is similar to his way of thinking. Rather than reflecting in an orderly deductive way, he describes situations or moments that are useful to him in exposing or imposing an idea or an image, and he talks about them. This is why his way of expressing himself is ‘disorderly’ or ‘disorganized.’ It is also in part why he often does not arrive at a conclusive idea: it is the listener or the reader who must deduce it.
“At bottom, he is not a trained thinker, he is an intellectual with an acute ability to read the other person psychologically, he knows very well to whom he is speaking and what he has to say to this person. His way of formulating something is of strong impact, it startles, but it does not have behind it a substance that one could grasp to ‘fill the soul.’
“Personally, I have not been able to fully read ‘Amoris Laetitia.” I can not connect ideas or concepts, it does not have a common thread in its formulations. It does not measure up to the writings of St. John Paul II, let alone Benedict XVI.
“At bottom, his thought and way of reflection does not create a school, nor does he make disciples.The people around him are less than mediocre. Only he must shine, unlike the previous popes, who surrounded themselves with outstanding colleagues, apart from a few exceptions.”
From Spain there are those who agree with this analysis of the Argentine reader, except on one point:
“I agree, except on the ability of Bergoglio to read people psychologically. If he really knew how to do this, he would understand that people expect something more to keep listening to him: not a large number of words juxtaposed in an extravagant way, but clear and true content.”
Also from Italy:
“From an overall perspective, I would say this. There is in Bergoglio the typically Jesuit formative-cultural element, oriented more to the image than to the concept, heightened by a personality that seeks impact rather than real sharing – in keeping with his authoritarianism – all supported by a very acute psychological penetration.
“However, the way in which he has recounted his life reveals a basic ambivalence. That which is the exercise of a power of suggestion and of impression is, at the same time, the expression of an unresolved, fragile personality, with pockets of poorly digested rancor. His political and psychological skills allow him to manage this instability socially. But the result is not constructive. I think that with Pope Francis it may never be possible to define in a clear and crisp manner – and even he does not know this – how much in him is the calculated exercise of a consciously destabilizing power, aimed at setting ‘processes’ in motion, and how much is the expression of a personality like his own, unstable and thirsty for compensation.”
And finally, for now:
“In many ways Bergoglio reminds me of Marcial Maciel, the charismatic founder of the Legionaries of Christ. He too, the pope, must be deciphered from a psychological rather than a theological point of view. I am convinced that part of his secret lies in his family of origin, of which, on balance, we know very little and about which he himself says little and in an evasive manner. I am struck, among other things, by the figure of his sister, Maria Elena [in the photo], with that homeless look and oddball mannerisms.
Both Bergoglio and Maciel have, had in common a strong personality, charismatic, but with that surface charisma proper to unstable personalities. Both are, were allergic to going deeper, to intellectual work. Both are, were masters of the art of dissimulation and with a special intuition in grasping the vulnerable points of interlocutors and bending them to themselves. Both with a mental energy out of the ordinary. Both implacable and vindictive towards the enemies, when these are weaker than they.”
(English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.)