February 8, 2022

Fratelli Tutti: Gianni Vattimo in Dialogue with Debora Tonelli

On January 31, 2022 Georgetown University, La Civiltà Cattolica, and Filosofia in Movimento organized a dialogue on the encyclical Fratelli Tutti between the Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo and Dr. Debora Tonelli of the Georgetown University office in Rome.

Pope Francis smiling at an audience
Pope Francis smiling at an audience

Moderated by Antonio Cecere, vice president of Filosofia in Movimento, the conversation was part of the webinar series "Questions of Civilization.”

A Post-Metaphysical Christianity

At the outset, Vattimo reflected on the harmony between post-metaphysical Christianity and Fratelli Tutti, noting that both open up the possibility of a Christianity closer to the human being in which the individual is continually called to take a stand and respond as a person. The dialogue drew out the revolutionary aspects of Fratelli Tutti– Francis’ effort to free religiosity and the experience of faith from rigid institutionalizations, to renew tradition, and to encourage dialogue among different peoples and cultures.

In the context of a wider discussion of the relationship between humanity, Jesus, and God, Vattimo and Tonelli shared perspectives on Pope Francis who, in continuity with the Ignatian tradition, invites us to look at the "other" with the eyes of God and to become a neighbor to anyone. According to Tonelli,

The example of Jesus the man prevents us from using the human limitations we face every day as an excuse.

This approach forces a change in the vision of the "neighbor," who is no longer bound to an emotional, cultural, political proximity. Vattimo stressed the importance of interior conversion which allows us to become close to the "other" in practice.

Gianni Vattimo, Debora Tonelli, and Antonio Cecere in conversation
Gianni Vattimo, Debora Tonelli, and Antonio Cecere in conversation

The Church of the Future

Asked about the Church of the future, Vattimo imagined some continuity with the present – for example the parish and the Sunday Mass – but wondered how Christianity might look overall. He suggested that much will depend on how today's Christians face challenges and whether they choose a radical Christianity or are content with a quiet life. Social control through new technologies, globalization, the challenges of international politics, are some of the issues that today's Christian must face. Christianity is renewed and grows in the small daily gestures and particular choices. In this context, Vattimo stressed the need for the Church not to let itself be fascinated by worldlines or to abandon the depth and value of its tradition for knowledge that offers immediate results but does not lay the foundations for the future.

Spirituality and Politics

The dialogue shifted to political terrain when Tonelli urged Vattimo to reflect on the political translation of brotherhood into "citizenship." Drawing a link between Laudato Si and Fratelli Tutti, Vattimo developed the idea of a new ecumenism, which does not have to do with the conversion of people under a single shepherd, but with mutual acceptance in brotherhood. Only through spirituality, Vattimo insisted during the dialogue, is it possible to revolutionize politics and the economy. Attention to the inner dimension of human experience can allow the realization of a politics in which being human is the ultimate end.