Francis’ Four Postulates from his programmatic encyclical “Evangelii gaudium”

At Rorate today there is a piece, the title of which called to mind something I’ve posted in the past.  The interesting part of the title… “Strong Communiqué of the Chartres Pilgrimage: “Clericalism-Caudillism never works well…”

Note “Caudillism”.  Caudillismo.

This is a reference to the Hispanic and particularly Argentinian phenomenon of the caudillo, or “strongman”, “warlord”. The quintessential caudillo being Argentina’s Juan Manuel de Rosas (1793– 1877).  Rivaling de Rosas was, of course Juan Peròn (+1974).  When Juan died his wife Isabel took over, a lieutenant ramped up what was called the “Dirty War” against political opponents, who were “disappeared” in large numbers.

The first encyclical issued by popes is widely consider to be “programmatic”.  You might recall that when Francis released his first encyclical Evangelii gaudium, there were in it four postulates

  • time is greater than space
  • unity prevails over conflict
  • realities are more important than ideas
  • the whole is greater than the part

Juan Manuel de Rosas

In Juan Carlos Scannone’s ‘El papa Francisco y la teologia del pueblo’ (in Razón y Fe. 86) and in Tracey Rowland’s Catholic Theology (US HERE – UK HERE) we find the source of Francis’ postulates: a 1834 letter of the 19th c. Argentinian dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas sent to another Argentinian caudillo Facundo Quiroga (1788– 1835).

How might one in a swift and reductive way flesh out these postulates?  In a few words, what make’s Francis tick?

  • First, “wait them out”.
  • Second, “let there be chaos – eventually things will sort out, in a Hegelian way”.
  • Third, “lived experience trumps expressions of doctrine – eventually doctrine must adapt, in a Hegelian way, to lived experience.”
  • Fourth, “if there is a group that is not conforming to the larger group’s needs, reject them, because in a Rawlsian way the whole remains the whole even if you lop off a few limbs.”

Interwoven with caudillismo is personalismo, the practice of glorifying a single “strongman” while subordinating all other political interests to him.

I found an interesting summation of the connect of caudillismo and personalismo at American Diplomacy:


Personalismo, and its variant, caudillismo, are deeply rooted in Latin American, Spanish, and Portuguese history, and have dominated Latin American politics since the conquistadors (Cortez, Pissarro, etc.) and colonial rule. It was the entrenched political culture during the independence struggles with Bolívar, San Martín, O’Higgins, and others. Yet, the phenomenon is not unique to Latin America.

Elsewhere, personalismo is identified by “the cult of personality,” dictators, or autocrats (e.g. Stalin, Hitler and lesser examples like Mobutu, Qaddafi, and Sukarno). In ages past it was manifest in “the divine right of kings,” and in imperial rulers. Personalismo probably originated in prehistory, maybe as far back as the original “alpha-male.” But, in modern industrial democracy, it is a plague on society.

It elevates one individual, a caudillo (leader), to supreme leadership, often with demi-god status. His words and actions are accepted totally. Policies, programs and ideologies are created (PeronismoFidelismo, Sandinismo). In the personalismo culture, the glorified, charismatic leader turns institutions into personal tools of power. Any that resist are subverted or destroyed — except a few, kept as control mechanisms.

Besides neutered institutions, corruption is endemic, beginning with corruption of the law. The rule of law cannot exist without strong, independent political, judicial, and social institutions because the law is never self-implementing. It requires agents to make, interpret and execute it. In successful modern societies, separate civil institutions perform the three functions. Dictators, however, usurp all three functions. The corruption continues until the caudillo is above the law.

Caudillos come in all shapes, sizes, and flavors. They are tactically smart, superficial thinkers, who borrow ideologies that reflect the temper of their times. Early in the 20th century, they adopted national-socialist, “right-of-center” ideologies (Peron, Trujillo, Somoza, Batista). With fascism discredited, later caudillos moved leftward and embraced Marxism (Castro, Ortega, Chavez, Morales; Pinochet is the exception). Caudillos practice populism and repression, no matter where on the spectrum they are. Most are initially elected, but as their popularity weakens, brute force predominates, until the next caudillo cycle. Peaceful transitions are possible, but unusual.

Believe it or not, a century ago Argentina was considered THE rising power of the hemisphere. But, personalismo has so dominated Argentine politics that institutions have never grown strong enough to stabilize and modernize the nation. “Peronismo” has been a populist political force in Argentina for 70 years; yet Peron has been dead for over 40 years. Successive Peronist leaders freely redefine Peronismo to suit their needs and the party dutifully follows.



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Francis, The Drill and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Speaking of “realities are more important than ideas”, I wonder what the intended meaning of “realtà” is, in the antepenultimate paragraph of the ‘Letter […] that Accompanies the Apostolic Letter’, in the phrase “verificando caso per caso la realtà dei gruppi che celebrano con questo Missale Romanum” – “to determine case by case the reality of the groups which celebrate with this Missale Romanum” in the official English translation and “verificando caso por caso la realidad de los grupos que celebran con este Missale Romanum” in the official Spanish one.

  2. WVC says:

    Here’s a reality for everyone. My wife recently passed away after fighting cancer for 6 years. She grew up Presbyterian, entered the Church after we were married, and we have been devoted to the Traditional Latin Mass for the past 15 years. Not because of nostalgia, we’re only in our 40s, but because we sought and found the reverent, holy, and mysterious worship of God our souls had long desired in the Tridentine Mass. We’ve raised our seven children in this form of the liturgy, and they sing in the choir, serve at the altar, and have received the sacraments in this context.

    According to Pope Francis, the right thing to do would have been to either jerk all of these children into a bizarre, alien form of liturgy for their Mom’s funeral Mass, or kick that funeral Mass out of the Church so it could celebrated in something other than a parochial church. It is only thanks to the wonderful and compassionate pastor and bishop that, thank God, we did not have to add alienation, anger, and shock to the heavy load of grief with which these young children are already contending.

    I thank God I’ll never have to see Francis face-to-face. I’m not a strong enough man to resist such a temptation. This is nothing more than the last, desperate gasp of warped, frustrated old men who have lost the game and seek only to upturn the game board with an infantile tantrum. My family will continue to attend the Latin Mass and NOTHING BUT the Latin Mass whether it means we have to have the Latin Mass in our shed, our garage, the deep woods, or drive 5 hours one way to an SSPX chapel, or WHATEVER ELSE IT MIGHT TAKE.

    God willing, bishops (and cardinals – get in the game for goodness sake) will do the right thing and provide pastoral care to the sheep of their flock, regardless of the inhumane and contradictory blather spewing from the Vatican, but regardless me and mine will fight this thing out for as long as we have breathe in our lungs, so help us God.

  3. Traductora says:

    For those who read Spanish, there is a brilliant article in the recent edition of The Wanderer (Argentina). The title in English is The Post-Bergoglio Church and Institutionality, and the author states that over the course of several pontificates, starting with Pio Nono and Vatican I, the Church “has adopted a character closer to that of a movement than that of an institution,” and that the figure of the Pope has come to resemble that of a charismatic populist leader who is himself the focus of the “movement.” The author writes that “the Pope begins to define himself as a caudillo, and the Church as the religion of the Pope.”

    The Church as an institution and the Pope as an interchangeable individual filling an institutional position (in this case, Vicar of Christ) is replaced by a movement focused on the person of the Pope, and instead of allegiance to the Gospel message that the institution was established to protect and hand on (Tradition), people are led to have unconditional allegiance to the Pope himself and his “movement.” The current crisis is thus more than just the result of the actions of Bergoglio, it’s a crisis brought on by a flawed understanding of the institution and the Pope’s place in it. It’s a very interesting point and of course gets back to Vatican I and infallibility.

    Newman said there’d be problems with this!

  4. Maximillian says:

    Here in the Uk and Ireland the news is depressing for the TLM.

    A London priest writes:

    …”they (TLM) were setting up an alternative liturgy and a theology opposed to Vativan II. Francis had to act. He has stamped down so hard that I see no way back for them.”

    An Irish priest writes:

    The Latin Brigade have been out of order for too long. The issue is not just the aLtin Mass but its about the fact that he Latin Brigade reject the Second Vatican Council and the authority of post Vat 11 popes. f

    Anyway, Francis has drawn a line in the sand and cracked the whip.

  5. Johann says:

    This would explain a lot. And I believe Peronism (specifically as practiced by Peron himself and Nestor Kirchner) had a marked influence on Pope Francis’s political views.

  6. samwise says:

    A fallout of VCII was this contrast between “people of God” (walking together) & Communio (Ratzinger). Clearly the “People of God” theme is preferred over mutually enriching forms of communion, but this is shortsighted in the name of “unity”. Of Francis’s 4 ideals/criteria, Summorum Pontificum deserved more ” time is greater than space” to foster communion. Instead, the “part” was sacrificed for the whole. Or should I say the ROOT.

  7. mlmc says:

    Argentine politics has drawn a lot from Mussolini’s early Italian fascism- now I don’t mean March the Jews off to the gas chambers style- that was never Mussolini’s style-but it’s corporatist and syndicalist mentality. Almost everyone in Argentina claimed to be a Peronist- ie virtually a one party state (yet there was wide disagreements between “left” and “right” Peronists). In effect the system brought the state, big businesses & unions together to sit at the table and run the system- they were ALL insiders. The outsiders-ie the average citizen wasn’t in any position to wield much input. Anybody who was anybody was an “insider”- hence the wide range of Peronist party members actual beliefs- being inside trumped ideology- b/c if you are not inside you were nowhere. As the saying goes- if you are not at the table you are on the menu- so the little guy was systematically short changed. The large corporations were protected (high tariffs etc) b/c they employed the union members- who were thereby protected. Wages could be buttressed by limiting foreign competition. The state was large b/c it had to protect the interests of its supporters- big business & big unions. Prices were high and quality low- but competition was limited to protect existing corporation (since they employed large numbers of union members). This is Francis’ understanding of capitalism- he saw the corruption and blamed capitalism- which it wasn’t. Additionally, the disdain for outsiders (who by definition were little nobodies- all the important players were already “inside”) permeated the society- as it appears it does the Vatican (outsiders=traditionalists).

  8. KateD says:

    If Space has three dimensions;
    And time has one dimension.

    Then space is in greater than time.

    Therefore postulate # 1 is a fallacy and contradicts
    postulate #3.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong.

  9. samwise says:

    @KateD–excellently valid syllogism! Three cheers for your deductive logic

  10. Pingback: PopeWatch: Pope Caudillo – The American Catholic

  11. Pingback: VVEDNESDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

  12. Semper Gumby says:

    WVC: Great comment.

    Traductora: Great comment. Good quote: “the Pope begins to define himself as a caudillo, and the Church as the religion of the Pope.” That is indeed a serious problem.

    We will serve the Lord, not the pagan hostile Bergoglio SJ regime.

    In Mad Max 2 Mel Gibson and his band are defending a desert fort. Lord Humungus and his motley crew pull up to the fort, intent on pillaging it. Strapped to the hood of their cars are several captives. Toadie introduces Lord Humungus to the fort, shouting:

    “The Lord Humungus, warrior of the wasteland, the ayatollah of rock-and-rollah! Listen to him, he’s a reasonable man.”

    Lord Humungus: “…But I offer a compromise…just walk away.”

    Molon Labe

  13. Semper Gumby says:

    From an interview of Marcantonio Colonna, author of “The Dictator Pope,” by La Verita:

    “In 1991, when Father Jorge Bergoglio was appointed as Auxiliary Bishop of Argentina, a report by the Superior General of his Order, Father Kolvenbach, was needed. The response of Father Kolvenbach, based on the opinion of other members of his order, was that Bergoglio was not fit to be appointed bishop. Pater Kolvenbach claimed that Bergoglio’s psychological balance was lacking, that he had a deceitful character and that during his time as Provincial, he had divided Argentina.”

    “Secondly, the broken promise to take action against the scandal of pedophile priests: there are cases of well-known priests who are protected by senior representatives of the Curia. Thirdly, the complete cessation of the financial reform that was expected when the new Economic Secretariat, headed by Cardinal Pell, was set up.”

    “I could refer again to Cardinal Müller. He tried to defend his three subordinates when they were dismissed. He received the answer from the Pope: “I am the Pope and I owe no explanation for any of my words.” This is not the way in which the popes traditionally exercise their authority. In calling Pope Francis a dictator, I also wanted to show the close parallels between his style and that of Juan Peron, the dictator of Argentina in Bergoglio’s youth. His influence is crucial to explain the style of Francis. As I say in the book, it is the ecclesiastical implementation of Juan Peron.”

  14. Semper Gumby says:

    Fratelli tutti, October 2020, by Jorge Bergoglio SJ:

    “”Fratelli tutti.” With these words, Saint Francis of Assisi addressed his brothers and sisters and proposed to them a way of life marked by the flavour of the Gospel.”

    “This saint of fraternal love, simplicity and joy, who inspired me to write the Encyclical Laudato Si’, prompts me once more to devote this new Encyclical to fraternity and social friendship.”

    “St. Francis did not wage a war of words aimed at imposing doctrines; he simply spread the love of God.”

    “It is my desire that, in this our time, by acknowledging the dignity of each human person, we can contribute to the rebirth of a universal aspiration to fraternity.”

    “Amid the fray of conflicting interests, where victory consists in eliminating one’s opponents…”

    “This way of discarding others can take a variety of forms…”

    “It frequently becomes clear that, in practice, human rights are not equal for all.”

    “Together, we can seek the truth in dialogue, in relaxed conversation or in passionate debate. To do so calls for perseverance; it entails moments of silence and suffering, yet it can patiently embrace the broader experience of individuals and peoples.”

    “Today we have a great opportunity to express our innate sense of fraternity, to be Good Samaritans who bear the pain of other people’s troubles rather than fomenting greater hatred and resentment.”

    “Our world is trapped in a strange contradiction: we believe that we can “ensure stability and peace through a false sense of security sustained by a mentality of fear and mistrust.””

    “The best way to dominate and gain control over people is to spread despair and discouragement, even under the guise of defending certain values.”

  15. samwise says:

    @Semper Gumby: thanks for these quotes. A self fulfilling prophecy on his part “trapped in a strange contradiction ” AKA logical fallacy per @KateD

  16. Semper Gumby says:

    mlmc and KateD: Good comment.

    samwise: You’re welcome and good point. To say there is a double standard is an understatement.

Comments are closed.