Today we remember the birth, on 9 September 1828, of Lev Nikolàevič Tolstoy, or Leo Tolstoy, together with his vast work and his profound and complex Orthodox Christian life. It was certainly in his autobiographical essay The confession that the author of War and peace expressed his dramatic quest to find a transcendent meaning to life. The Russian writer was faced with a profound and tearing spiritual crossroads. In fact, at the age of fifty he experienced a crisis of existential faith that brought him to the brink of suicide. In his wandering between his traditionalist religious experiences and his own and others’ contradictions between faith and Christian action, he wrote this fundamental document. As we will see in this brief reflection on The confession, his pilgrimage found peace and end in the discovery of the simple faith of the poor and working people, in its coherence and in its sense of transcendence. He thus expressed, without knowing it, what more than two centuries later would be called the “theology of the people”. This hermeneutic key of the Christian faith, born in Latin America, crosses the evangelizing and missionary vision of Pope Bergoglio.
It is in Evangelii gaudium that Pope Francis develops his universal thought of the evangelizing work by and for the simple people, and of the latter as a mythical theological subject. In this apostolic exhortation we find paragraphs such as the following: “For this reason I desire a poor Church for the poor. They have a lot to teach us. In addition to participating in the sensus fidei, with their own sufferings they know the suffering Christ. It is necessary that we all allow ourselves to be evangelized by them. The new evangelization is an invitation to recognize the saving power of their lives and to place them at the center of the Church’s journey. We are called to discover Christ in them, to lend them our voice in their causes, but also to be their friends, to listen to them, to understand them and to welcome the mysterious wisdom that God wants to communicate to us through them “(n. 198) .
This basis of faith of the simple and working people, which Tolstoy presented in contradiction and opposition to the circle to which he belonged, led him to discover the true meaning of life. He expressed it thus: «The whole life of the believers of our circle was in contradiction with their faith and the whole life of believers and workers was the confirmation of that meaning of life that was given by the knowledge of the faith. And I began to look carefully at the life and beliefs of those men, and the more I studied them, the more I became convinced that they possessed the true faith and that faith was indispensable for them and it alone gave them the meaning of life and the possibility. to live. Contrary to what I saw in our circle, where life without faith is possible, and where hardly one in a thousand professes to be a believer, in their environment there is hardly one in a thousand unbelievers. Contrary to what I saw in our circle, where all life is spent in idleness, entertainment and the discontent of life, I saw that the whole life of those men was spent in hard toil and that they were less discontented with life than not. the rich. Contrary to the fact that the men of our circle resisted and protested against fate due to deprivation and suffering, these men accepted illnesses and pains without any perplexity, without any rebellion, but with quiet and firm conviction that all this had to be so and it could not be otherwise, that all this was well. Contrary to us, who the more intelligent we are, the less we understand the meaning of life, and see a kind of evil mockery in the fact of having to suffer and die, these men live, suffer and approach death with tranquility, most of the time with joy”. In the apostolic exhortation cited above, Pope Francis uses images of geometric social and hermeneutic contrast such as the polyhedron to support this search for the spiritual common good of the theology of the people. «The model is not the sphere, which is not superior to the parts, where each point is equidistant from the center and there are no differences between one point and another. The model is the polyhedron, which reflects the confluence of all the partialities that maintain their originality in it. Both pastoral action and political action seek to gather the best of each in this polyhedron. There the poor are inserted, with their culture, their projects and their own potential. Even people who can be criticized for their mistakes have something to contribute that must not be lost. It is the union of peoples, which, in the universal order, retain their peculiarity; it is the totality of people in a society that seeks a common good that truly incorporates everyone. To us Christians, this principle also speaks of the totality or integrity of the Gospel that the Church transmits to us and sends us to preach. Its full wealth incorporates academics and workers, entrepreneurs and artists, all of them. The “popular mysticism” welcomes the whole Gospel in its own way and incarnates it in expressions of prayer, fraternity, justice, struggle and celebration “(nos. 236 and 237).
Similarly, Tolstoy takes up the book ofEcclesiastes and the futility or vanity that Solomon denounces in the course of the biblical sapiential account. He too uses the image of contrasts, but now with a tragic look but at the same time full of hope in the simple faith of noble peoples. “Contrary to what happens in our circle, where a quiet death, a death without terror and despair is a very rare exception, a restless, rebellious, sad death is a very rare exception among the people. And of these men, deprived of all that for me and for Solomon constitutes the only good in life and who nevertheless enjoy the deepest happiness, there is an immense multitude … I examined the life of enormous masses of men, both past and contemporary ones … In complete contrast to my ignorance they knew the meaning of life and death, endured privations and sufferings, lived and died seeing in this not vanity, but good. And I was taken with love for those men. The more I penetrated into their lives as living men and into the lives of men who were already dead, of whom I read or heard about, the more I loved them, and the easier it became for me to live ».
At number 124 of Evangelii gaudium, Pope Francis traces from Aparecida to the present day a pilgrimage of popular piety which is incarnated in the people and which considers the life and culture of the simple as a final and definitive missionological object. «The Aparecida Document describes the riches that the Holy Spirit unfolds in popular piety with his gratuitous initiative. In that beloved continent, where so many Christians express their faith through popular piety, the Bishops also call it “popular spirituality” or “popular mysticism”. It is a true ‘spirituality embodied in the culture of the simple’. It is “a legitimate way of living the faith, a way of feeling part of the Church, and of being missionaries”; brings with it the grace of being missionary, of going out of oneself and of being pilgrims: “Walking together towards the shrines and participating in other manifestations of popular piety, also bringing children or inviting other people, is in himself an act of evangelization “. We do not coerce or pretend to control this missionary force! ».
At the end of the aforementioned chapter of his autobiographical spiritual work, Leo Tolstoy wanders among this simple people and resorts to the understanding of his proto-theology to accept the mystical and “incultural” sense of the full spiritual life. “I understood that one should not seek a meaning in all this. Instead, what the working people did, who build life, seemed to me the only occupation worthy of respect. And I understood that the meaning attributed to that life was the truth, and I accepted it ».
from Marcelo Figueroa