black and white photo of Romano GuardiniRomano Guardini (1885-1968) was a German Catholic priest and philosopher who was one of the most important influences on Catholic intellectual life in the 20th century.  His work influenced Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict) and Jorge Mario Bergoglio (later Pope Francis), who made Guardini’s work the focus of his doctoral dissertation (which was never completed).  Pope Paul VI offered to make him a cardinal in 1965, but he declined.

Guardini was notable for his ability to integrate Catholic faith with many significant figures in the history of both ancient and modern philosophy, including Plato, Dante, Pascal, Dostoyevsky, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche.  His views on the stages of life were articulated in his book Die Lebensalter (The Periods of Life), written in 1944, which unfortunately has yet to be translated into English.

His view of the human life cycle was unique in the sense that he regarded each stage of life as sufficient unto itself (i.e. each stage could not be deduced from either the preceding stage or the subsequent one), while at the same time mirroring and supporting the entire life span.  He wrote:  ”Every phase exists for the benefit of the whole, and for the benefit of every other phase; if it is damaged, both the whole and every individual phase suffers” (Quoted in Bernard Lievegoed, Phases:  Crisis and Development in the Individual, p. 39).  The phases or stages he described include the following [note: I have replaced the word ”man” in three of his stages with ”human” and noted this with brackets]:

  1. Life in the womb, birth, and childhood
  2. The crisis of the years of maturation (puberty)
  3. The young person (adolescence)
  4. The crisis of experience (the transition from adolescence to expansionary adulthood)
  5. The emancipated [hu]man (the thirties)
  6. The crisis of limitations (the beginning of the forties)
  7. The sobered [hu]man
  8. The crisis of new freedom
  9. The wise [hu]man

Guardini wrote that ”Life consists  not in a joined series of loose parts, but is a single whole which is present at any given moment of its course” (quoted in Lievegoed, p. 39).  He died in Germany in 1968.


For more information about different thinkers’ views and cultural perspectives on human development, see my book The Human Odyssey: Navigating the Twelve Stages of Life.

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