Poverty According to Francis. Virtue and Vice Together

It is the cornerstone of the magisterium of the pope. Who exalts it as a salvific value, but at the same time condemns it as an enemy to be fought. A philosopher analyzes this unresolved contradiction of the pontificate

by Sandro Magister

ROME, July 11, 2016 – The reception of the major magisterial acts of Pope Francis ranges between two extremes.

On one side there is the almost universal chorus of applause that his environmentalist encyclical “Laudato Si’” enjoys, especially outside of Catholicism.

On the other side there is the ever more conflictual dispute, in this case above all within the Church, stirred up by the post-synodal apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia.”

While in the middle there is the tranquil acceptance, without excesses for or against, of that other cornerstone of the pontificate of Francis which is presented above all in the exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” and is condensed in the formula of the “Church that is poor and for the poor.”

A couple of months ago, however, a book was released that, without making a splash but while garnering growing attention for the clarity and acumen of its analysis, puts this very question in the spotlight:

The author, Flavio Cuniberto, teaches esthetics at the university of Perugia. His studies range from philosophy to modern and contemporary literature, especially German, with forays into Platonism, into Judaism, into Islamic thought, and with particular interest in the questions of modernity.

In the poverty exalted by Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Professor Cuniberto sees a twofold contradiction, the first of a theological nature, the second of a practical character.

In the first case he observes that Francis, at the very same time as he elevates poverty to a theological category, on the model of the “kenosis” of the Son of God made man, in reality treats it as a material more than spiritual condition, in a markedly sociological sense: the poverty of the “peripheries” and of those excluded from wealth.

The second contradiction is instead between poverty as a salvific value and at the same time as an enemy to be fought, to defeat which Bergoglio moreover indicates remedies that “rehash old third-worldist templates” disconnected from reality.

There is no need, in fact, to be supporters of free market capitalism – Professor Cuniberto is not – to recognize that it has however lifted from poverty an endless mass of people who have become part of the new middle classes.

And this, for example, is precisely one of the facts that Pope Francis does not see.

On July 12, 2015, asked point-blank by a German journalist on the return flight from Paraguay to explain why he never talks about the middle classes, Francis effectively admitted the “mistake” of overlooking them in his analyses, but he added that in his judgment these classes “are becoming ever smaller,” crushed by the polarization between rich and poor.

Below is how Professor Cuniberto analyzes and contests these contradictions in some passages of the book, which naturally is much more thorough and a must-read.