By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Literary and Classical Pope Francis

That's the impression I get from perusing a book written in Spanish entitled Pope Francis: Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio by Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti (with an introduction by a Jewish rabbi). In my experience, it is rare to come across a priest making these types of references. Moreover, they are not pedantic references; but rather references that illuminate the present.

In an earlier post, I noted the very nice allusion to Vergil by the Pope when he describes endurance and patience in the face of difficulties: (see

I have also noticed his attachment to the German poet Friedrich Hölderlin--recently highlighted by the German chancellor when she gave Francis a text of Hölderlin's work. He quotes Hölderlin on nostalgia in the first chapter of the book.

But in discussing the nostalgia of his Italian relatives who settled in Argentina, I like better his reference to Homer and the Odyssey:

The origin of the word nostalgia--from the Greek nostos algos ["homecoming pain or grief"]--has to do with the desire to return to a place; the Odyssey speaks about this. It is a human dimension. What Homer does in the course of the story of Ulysses is to sketch the return to the bosom of the land, to the maternal bosom of the land that saw our birth. I think that we have lost nostalgia as an anthropological dimension. But we also have lost it when we fail to educate, for example, in nostalgia for the home. When we put our elders in a convalescent facility with mothballs, as if they were a coat or a cloak, we have, in some way, a dysfunctional sense of the nostalgic dimension because to encounter our grandparents is to embrace a reencounter with our past.

Francis, Kindle Location 299 (blogger's translation).

Anyone fortunate enough to have grown up with grandparents (in some households, we were lucky enough to have some of them actually live with us) knows what Francis means. In that healthy nostalgia, we find ourselves and our future. We also acquire a place from where we can say to so many mindless fads and present-day customs: "Not so fast--I know a different way!" And that is what classics are for: to give us a place apart on which to stand, outside of the whirlpool of mindlessness. And, by the way, Benedict XVI, of course, was and is a first-class intellectual; in comparison, our new Pope may be an underestimated intellectual. But it is good to be underestimated! It makes for surprises, especially for the smug.

(Image of Ulysses on the island of Calypso in public domain)