In a recent interview with the Catholic magazine America, Pope Francis took some time to discuss his interesting tastes in literature and art. Speaking about his appreciation for a wide variety of authors, Francis remarks, “I love very much Dostoevsky and Hölderlin.” It’s certainly interesting that the pontiff would be a fan of Dostoevsky, the 19th-century Russian Orthodox existentialist who is widely regarded by scholars to have been a strong critic of Roman Catholicism.
His respect for Dostoevsky’s literary contributions, though, seems to lie in Francis’ understanding of creative art’s integral role in expressing human concerns. Pope Francis turns out to be not only a big fan of Dostoevsky, but also of composers throughout history like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, authors like Miguel de Cervantes, and visual artists like Salvador Dalí.
In terms of music, the pope says he has a great admiration for Mozart, who he says “fulfills” him, as well as the works of Beethoven, Bach, and Wagner. His favorite of these, however, is undoubtedly Mozart, whose music he extols as the type which “I cannot think about … I have to listen to it.”
On literature, Francis notes, “I love tragic artists, especially classical ones.” He goes on to discuss the parallel between his own view of classics and one that was articulated by the character of Sansón Carrasco in the novel Don Quixote: “Children have it in their hands,” says Carrasco, “young people read it, adults understand it, the elderly praise it.” Pope Francis calls this statement “a good definition of the classics.”
But the fact that Pope Francis is a big fan of Mozart, Dostoevsky, Cervantes, and the like, goes far beyond a mere personal appreciation. He also talks about his history as an Argentinean high school educator. On the role of teaching literature to those students, Francis remarks that “It was a bit risky” because of their propensity for being drawn to more “racy” works instead of the established canon of classical literature. This was not altogether negative, though, because “by reading these things they acquired a taste in literature, poetry, and we went on to other authors. And that was for me a great experience.”
Asked about creativity and its importance for individuals, Pope Francis exclaims that it is “extremely important” for him as as a longtime member of the Jesuit religious order. “A Jesuit,” he adds, “must be creative.”
Especially because of his background in secondary education, Francis has long been acquainted with the creative arts throughout history, seeing their change in various ages as a reflection of “humans try[ing] to understand and express themselves better.” During the interview with America, the pope pointed to an excerpt from the Commonitorium Primum of St. Vincent of Lerins: “Even the dogma of the Christian religion must follow these laws,” the passage read, “consolidating over the years, developing over time, deepening with age.” He uses this quote to demonstrate the idea that humans continually “grow in the understanding of the truth.”
So what has caused Pope Francis to remain such a big fan of the likes of Mozart, Dostoevsky, and Cervantes? Ultimately, it’s their contribution to human understanding. Both society and the church, Francis believes, should always be striving to “recover genius” in order to reveal the distinction between “brilliance” and “deceived thought.”
Written by Chris Bacavis