In October 2019, traditionalist Catholics vandalized several indigenous folk statues that had been used ceremonially to commence the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region in Rome. The vandalism marked the symbolic zenith of opposition to the Amazon synod and Pope Francis’s vision of a synodal church; a church that listens. This essay argues the opposition had roots in a colonialist theological paradigm. It compares the words and deeds of anti-synod bishops, journalists, and activists to the theological project of sixteenth-century missionary to Peru, José de Acosta. According to Duke cultural anthropology and romance studies professor Walter Mignolo and Yale theologian Willie James Jennings, Acosta articulated a Eurocentric view of indigenous knowledge and practices as valueless, superstitious, and sinful. Acosta theologically joined Christian mission to colonialism’s forcible reordering of native lives, land, and culture according to Old World ideals. Drawing from Jennings’s decolonial theological reading of Acosta and Scottish-American philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s work on epistemic crises and traditions of inquiry, this essay argues Acosta’s imposition on native worlds arose from a defensive eschewal of epistemic vulnerability facing the New World’s radical challenge to Old World understandings. This essay describes Acosta’s refusal as a refusal of wonder, and it argues that the synod critics in 2019, fearful of change, repeated that refusal precisely. Colonialism’s Eurocentric, defensive epistemic closure has stymied the Catholic intellectual tradition’s capacity for wonder and change. This essay proposes Pope Francis’s openness to wonder as a source to move the Catholic intellectual tradition beyond Acosta’s epistemic sclerosis. Francis’s wonder, the essay argues, finds deep roots in his intellectual and spiritual formation as a Jesuit seminarian and priest. The distinctive sources of Francis’s wonder give his thinking a determinate, yet always expectant character; ever ready to die to old understandings and rise again to more intimate encounter with reality.
Primary Advisor's Department
Stander Symposium, College of Arts and Sciences
Institutional Learning Goals
Traditions; Critical Evaluation of Our Times
"Dying and Rising in Wonder: Epistemic Vulnerability and Closure in Pope Francis and His Critics" (2023). Stander Symposium Projects. 3007.