While well-educated and academically trained, it can be said that Pope Francis does not belong to any one “school.” He is not strictly an “Augustinian” or a “Thomist,” though he cites Aquinas quite liberally. However, one person to whom we can likely grant a place of honor is Romano Guardini, to whom Francis devoted his doctoral studies. Guardini, of course, was one of the great thinkers of the early 20th century whose work heavily influenced the theology underlying the Second Vatican Council and many other prominent Catholic theologians.
Italian-born, Guardini grew up in Germany where he had a special role in the formation of young Pope Benedict XVI. Coincidentally, therefore, Guardini’s influence can be felt in both Pope Benedict’s and Pope Francis’ writing. Many of the contributions Francis has made to the Church are substantively in continuity with this school of thought that can be traced from Benedict and Communio through Paul VI and Vatican II to Guardini.
Three main themes from Guardini’s writings that can be found in the thought of Pope Francis are the importance of individual relationships (“I-thou”); theonomy; and the locus of faith being the Church.
(I apologize in advance for the lengthy and frequent quotations. My goal here was to show development and overlap, not write a book. I hope the selected passages help to illustrate for the reader some commonalities between Pope Francis and Guardini. In various places, I’ve added commentary to explain or show how Francis’s teachings are supported by the underlying theology.)
Like Guardini, Francis understands the human person in terms of “I-Thou.” As he writes in Laudato Si’, if we get relationships right, then, and only then, can we get the world right (cf. LS, 119). Ultimately, this means never “weaken[ing]… the transcendent dimension of our openness to the “Thou” of God.” But it also means recognizing the inherent dignity in each person, “each of whom is a ‘thou’ capable of knowing, loving, and entering into dialogue.”
Reactionary enemies of Francis have no use for dialogue, which they regard as a sissy word and a capitulation of Holy Mighty Church to enemies. Catechesis is, for them, the Church telling people what to believe and people saying “Yes” or “No” (questioning in any way = “No”). It is essentially monological. It goes without saying that this does not apply to the enemies of the Pope or the Council, who may not only question, but freely accuse the Holy Father of heresy and the Council of being a worse-than-useless thing to be despised and overturned. But this does not mean dialogue is on the table for such Reactionaries. Rather, it simply means that when the Church departs from them, they retain the right to monologue at their victims and reject the Church.
Catholic tradition, meanwhile, is dialogical to the core. It starts with Jesus, after all, who engaged in endless–and deeply Jewish–arguments with practically everybody he meets. He argues with disciples, Pharisees, Sadducees, Herod Antipas, and Pilate. His method of teaching typically involves asking questions and expecting his students to do the math, not giving them answers. And when they get the answers wrong at his trial, he gives them their freedom to the point of letting them murder him. Rather the way Francis kept silent while his enemies tried a coup against him last August. What strikes me again and again is how little trust the Greatest Catholics of All Time have in God. They act constantly out of the believe that if they do not use force and law and punishment and fear to get their way, the Church will collapse and Jesus will fail. “Dialogue” gives power to people who are not You and Reactionaries greatly fear that. The faith that the Church is a body of different members with a variety of gifts through whom the Spirit works is deeply problematic for Reactionaries and enemies of Francis.