Reflections on chapter one of the Pope’s encyclical letter, Laudato Si’

Phil cafaroBy Philip Cafaro
Email: philip.cafaro@colostate.edu
Website: http://www.philipcafaro.com/

Phil writes on environmental ethics, 
consumption and population policy, and 
biodiversity preservation. He is the author
of Thoreau’s Living Ethics, and recently 
co-edited Life on the Brink: Environmentalists
Confront Population Growth.

Published June 26, 2015

There is a lot to chew on in the Pope’s encyclical released today, LAUDATO SI’, ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME. Having just finished the first chapter (of six), I’d like to call your attention to several particularly intriguing paragraphs below.

In response to Pope Francis’ appeal for “a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet (paragraph 14), I also make some comments in italics and in red):

Link to the full text of the encyclical: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html#_ftnref28

11. [Saint] Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human. Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. He communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them “to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason”.[19] His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists. His disciple Saint Bonaventure tells us that, “from a reflection on the primary source of all things, filled with even more abundant piety, he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’”.[20] Such a conviction cannot be written off as naive romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behaviour. If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.

The Pope here and elsewhere in his letter claims (correctly in my view) that our relationship to the rest of nature can and should involve love, appreciation and even “awe” at the beauty and mystery of life. A techno-managerial approach to the world is insufficient, in part because by itself it is “unable to set limits” on humanity’s demands on nature.

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