The First Encyclical Wholly From Francis Overturns Expectations

By Angela Ambrogetti

VATICAN, June 19, 2015 (CNA/EWTN News) -- 'Laudato si' is not only an example of the Magisterium's social teaching: it also represents the birth of a new literary genre among papal documents.

Pope Francis speaks to the crowds gathered in St. Peter's Square for the Angelus, June 14, 2015. Credit: L'Osservatore Romano.

Pope Francis speaks to the crowds gathered in St. Peter's Square for the Angelus, June 14, 2015. Credit: L'Osservatore Romano

Normally in the modern epoch, Popes have included in encyclicals doctrinal themes. But 'Laudato si' is not a doctrinal text -- it is rather a pastoral letter based on the classical Latin American method: see, judge, act.

Pope Francis begins his encyclical by inviting readers to marvel, like St. Francis of Assisi, before creation, which he says is the only path toward an integrated ecology. He then explains what his encyclical will do.

“I will begin,” the Pope writes, “by briefly reviewing several aspects of the present ecological crisis, with the aim of drawing on the results of the best scientific research available today, letting them touch us deeply and provide a concrete foundation for the ethical and spiritual itinerary that follows. I will then consider some principles drawn from the Judaeo-Christian tradition which can render our commitment to the environment more coherent. I will then attempt to get to the roots of the present situation, so as to consider not only its symptoms but also its deepest causes.”

“In light of this reflection, I will advance some broader proposals for dialogue and action which would involve each of us as individuals, and also affect international policy. Finally … I will offer some inspired guidelines for human development to be found in the treasure of Christian spiritual experience.”

There is no better synthesis. The Pope's aim is to give people information that they might become conscious of the necessity of an “ecological conversion,” an expression borrowed from St. John Paul II.

Thus the Pope chose to cite not only Church Fathers and Scripture, but bishops conferences and some modern thinkers. He made room also for the thought of the Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, and even cited, though merely in a footnote, a Sufi thinker, Ali al-Khawas.

It is the same method as in 'Evangelii gaudium', though an apostolic exhortation certainly has a different magisterial value than does an encyclical. In 'Evangelii gaudium' the Pope had suggested that bishops conferences could be given a doctrinal power they do not have at the moment. The last papal document on the subject was St. John Paul II's 1998 motu proprio 'Apostolos Suos', and his post-synodal apostolic exhortation 'Pastores gregis'.

But Pope Francis seems to want to go farther. In this sense, the “green” encyclical of the Pope seems to be a manual, a text to use in catechesis, and in international policy forums to combat lobbies and powers.

The practical directives which dot the text of the encyclical are a radical change in style.

Public transportation, air conditioning, and recycled paper seem, a first glance, of little importance in a magisterial text. But for Francis, they are the very purpose of the text – a purpose principally pastoral, as pastoral as the directives to pray at meals, or to “adopt” city monuments and to care for them, for the benefit of all.

And pastoral care is the central idea of integral ecology, which is the care of both the earth and of mankind.

It is not only directives, however. The Pope inserts in the text all the classic themes of “human ecology,” while adding in such directions.

Moreover, the encyclical, as are all encyclicals of recent decades, is aimed at all men of good will. Thus the choice of the two prayers at the encyclical's closing: one shared “with all who believe in a God who is the all-powerful Creator,” and the other a uniquely Christian prayer.

Bergoglio's method, with many dramatic descriptions of reality which leave one to think in the end that the Christian faith is an invitation to joy: “Let us sing as we go. May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope.”



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