Notebook

Autonomy = Freedom?

Romano Guardini was the subject of Pope Francis’s doctoral research. It has often been said that his influence on the pontificate is great. One listens attentively, then, when one of the finest living experts on Guardini, and his biographer, comments on trends in the Church. In a recent conference, Professor Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz offered a global perspective on the Synodal Path, in which she participates with vigour and intelligence. It unfolds, she observed, in a context that absolutises autonomy. Our sense of autonomy is now so strong ‘that whatever God (or the Church) puts before me in terms of commandments, counsels, or wishes is defined as heteronomous. Only when it accords with my own autonomy will I follow it.’ We say no to self-transcendence. We assume that freedom affirms itself against God, perceived as an Adversary — or simply refashioned in our image. Largely lost are light-charged, revealed notions of God and humanity. We’re surrendered to our own obscure longwindedness. Our time’s radical questioning, says Gerl-Falkovitz, is like a thermometer revealing an infection that has long, perhaps since the Enlightenment, been latent. It would seem that what we really need is not self-help, but a Physician.