But Francis is not speaking merely to the world. The bulk of his address seems to be aimed at those who will probably never read more than a snippet of his grand, sprawling encyclical. Individuals are his focus. He does not believe that some mighty one world authority nor recycling efforts will fix what is, for Francis, a spiritual crisis as much as an ecological one.
All in all I am not sure what to make of this encyclical in terms of its take on its subject. Perhaps the best of Francis words are his rejection of the idea that this is merely a problem to be addressed and solved. Life is not a series of problems to be resolved and such a focus is not really living at all. At the same time, Francis does not let us off the hook for our personal accountability for the problems and our personal responsibility to bequeath to our children a world less tainted by our excess and abuse. In the end, though, it would seem to Francis that his version of ecology almost requires a Christian mindset. That being the case, what is being asked of the reader is more than the practical adoption of some theses for a better stewardship of the earth. Rather, Francis seems to be asking for a wholesale conversion of spirit and values to conform to Christianity. That may give his words more authenticity in the minds of some but it will surely distance his words from influencing others.
All of this only points out how hard it is for churches to address the science and technology of our world with a call to repentance and faith. I can think of no one who has broached this subject with much success. So in that respect Francis is no worse and perhaps somewhat better at the task than some of the others who have gone before him. Whether his encyclical will be remembered or forgotten, only time will tell.
What I can point out are some of the things now institutionalized for the Roman Catholic Church within the encyclical that, while not part of the major thrust of what was said, are profound changes nonetheless.
- Francis implies that people have a relationship with the earth -- something not different from their relationship with God and with their neighbor and that the Genesis account is “symbolic and narrative,” not literal; "The creation accounts in the book of Genesis contain, in their own symbolic and narrative language, profound teachings about human existence and its historical reality. They suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself.” Thus the Pope has institutionalized the liberal theology that discounts fact and history over myth and story.
- Francis rejects any notion that human beings have “dominion” over nature; “Our ‘dominion’ over the universe should be understood more properly in the sense of responsible stewardship.” and “The Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.” In other words, Francis sees dominion exclusively in terms of stewardship and rejects any and all ideas that man is above nature or acts as lord of creation in the stead of God. Dominion to Francis means preservation.
- Francis seems to advocate a “mystical nature panentheism.” “The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things.” It is as if the Pope has read the script from Avatar or Lord of the Rings and made nature somehow more noble and pure in its expression of the Creator's will and purpose than mankind has.
BTW if you disagree with me, you can read anyone or all of the following who also think they know what the Pope really said or should have said or could have said...
- "Encyclical Letter Laudato Si' of the Holy Father, Francis, On Care for Our Common Home" (Vatican website, May 24, 2015)
- "A guide to Laudato Si" (ICN, June 18, 2015)
- Fr. Ashley Beck, "No Catholic is free to dissent from the teaching of Laudato Si'" (Catholic Herald, June 19, 2015)
- "The Five Things You May Have Missed in the Pope's Newest Encyclical" (Humanum, June 18, 2015) [See also this background on Humanum]
- Fr. George W. Rutler, "Mixing Up the Sciences of Heaven and Earth" (Crisis, June 18, 2015)
- R.R. Reno, "The Return of Catholic Anti-Modernism" (First Things, June 18, 2015)
- "11 Things You Probably Won't Hear about Pope Francis' Encyclical" (The Stream June 19, 2015)
- Kathryn Jean Lopez, "Consider Accepting Pope Francis’s Invitation to a View of Human Creation in Full" (National Review, June 18, 2015).
- George Weigel, "The Pope’s Encyclical, at Heart, Is About Us, Not Trees and Snail Darters" (National Review, June 18, 2015).
- Austen Ivereigh, "Laudato Si': a landmark in modern church teaching that will shape a new future" (Catholic Voices Comment, June 17, 2015).
- Christopher White, "Pope Francis' new encyclical is about climate change -- and much more" (New York Daily News, June 18, 2015)
- "Editorial: Care for our home" (Our Sunday Visitor June 18, 2015)
- Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley, "Laudato Si': Protecting 'our common home' and the dignity of the poor" (Echoes, June 18, 2015)
- Fr. Raymond J. de Souza, "Pope calls for action on climate change. Is it his most radical move yet?" (National Post, June 16, 2015)
- Fr. Raymond J. de Souza "Laudato Si: The Cheers and the Challenges" (National Catholic Register, June 18, 2015)
- Mark Shea, "John Allen, Jr. Gives Fascinating Background on Laudato Si" (Patheos, June 18, 2015)
- "Fr. Barron on Pope's Francis' Encyclical 'Laudato Si'" [video via Mark Shea on Fr. Barron's "typically intelligent commentary"]
- Christopher A. Ferrara, "On the Pope's Encyclical, 'Laudato Si’: Talk to the Animals - After All, You’re One of Them" (The Remnant June 18, 2015)
- Dave Armstrong, "Critique of Chris Ferrara's Radical Reactionary Hit-Piece in Opposition to Pope Francis' Christian Environmentalism"(Biblical Evidence for Catholicism, June 20, 2015)
- Louie Verrechio, "The single most important lesson of Laudato Si" (Harvesting the Fruit of the Vatican II, June 19, 2015)
- Samuel Gregg, "Laudato Si': Well intentioned, economically flawed" (Acton Institute blog, June 19, 2015>
- Jimmy Akin, "Pope Francis' Environmental Encyclical: 13 Things to Know and Share" (National Catholic Register, June 18, 2015)
- Fr. Robert Sirico, "The Pope's Green Theology" (Wall Street Journal, June 18, 2015), by founder of the Acton Institute [representing Austro-Libertarian "free-market" economics]
- Michael Sean Winters, "Laudato Si' - Magistra No" (National Catholic Reporter, June 19, 2015)
- John Vennari, "EcoEncy - Noah and Justice and Peace, Oh My" [video] (Catholic Family News, June 18, 2015)
- Atila Sinke Guimarães, "Who Is Inspiring Francis on Ecology?" (Tradition in Action, May 29, 2015)
- Anthony Annett, "Ten Quick Takeaways from Laudato Si'" (Commonweal, June 18, 2015)
- William L. Patenaude, "'Laudato Si' focuses on the heart of man and the disorders of our age" (Catholic World Report, June 18, 2015)
- Boniface, "The Curiosity of the Modern Encyclical" (Unam Sanctam Catholicam, June 18, 2015)
- Aaron Taylor, "Pope Francis's Conservatism of Joy" (Ethika Politika, June 22, 2015)