Reality Is Greater Than Ideas

Commonweal - 03-19


It isn’t easy to write an intellectual biography of a man who frequently asserts that “realities are more important than ideas.” There is no doubt that Pope Francis is a highly intelligent and supple thinker, but unlike his two immediate predecessors, he did not earn a doctorate in either theology or philosophy. As anyone who has read his encyclicals and apostolic exhortations will know, this pope prefers rhetoric, the art of persuasion, to dialectic, the science of conclusive proof. That said, it would be a mistake to draw the contrast too strongly. As Massimo Borghesi shows in his comprehensive survey of the sources that have shaped the pope’s thinking, Francis has read broadly over the course of five decades. This reading informs the way he looks at the world and how he exercises the Petrine Office.