Juan Carlos Scannone and the Theology of the People

Paul Gilbert, SJ

 Paul Gilbert, SJ / Church Thought / 5 January 2021

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Juan Carlos Scannone, an Argentine Jesuit born in 1931 and who died in November 2019, was a one of the great figures of the Church in Argentina and Latin America. He was also very aware of the problems of the universal Church. He obtained a doctorate in theology with a thesis written in Innsbruck, directed by Karl Rahner, and one in philosophy with a dissertation on Maurice Blondel, presented in Munich.

He was a keen reader of the French phenomenologists and a member of many ecclesial institutions where reflection focused on the reality of the life of the Church and its tradition. He animated with unusual energy many study groups, whereby he gradually deepened his reflections at the service of the Church.

After his course of formation in the Society of Jesus, he taught, from 1967, in Buenos Aires, at the Colegio Máximo of San Miguel (the Faculties of Philosophy and Theology of the Jesuit Province in Argentina). A certain Jorge Bergoglio studied theology there. Scannone already knew him. At the end of the 1950s, in the period preceding his entry into theology, he had given him lessons in ancient literature at the diocesan seminary. Having become a Jesuit, Bergoglio later became his provincial in 1973, then rector of the College, and finally parish priest of the parish he had created a stone’s throw away.  

He then left Buenos Aires to go to Córdoba and, after a period of study in Germany, returned to the Argentine capital in 1992 as auxiliary bishop. Relations between Scannone and Bergoglio were constant – even after the latter was elected pope in 2013 – but more through exchanges of ideas than institutional ties. What united them was an equal sensitivity to the originality of the Argentine Church.

Both know and love their people. The Argentine Church has the reputation of developing an original theology, the “Argentine theology of the people.”[1] It does not ignore liberation theology, but gives it an emphasis less centered on the economic-social dialectic than in other Latin American countries. This is what we will see shortly in setting out the main aspects of Scannone’s thought. But first we want to dwell on the term “people.”

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