Laudato Si': Introduction

Summary: The Introduction sets up my commentary on Laudato Si', including the mission and the tone of the Papal Encyclical. Pope Francis calls for a deeply spiritual response to a gathering global catastrophe that threatens Earth and our humanity itself, as gifts of the Creator. The mission of this page is to extend and amplify the themes within Laudato Si': On Care for Our Common Home.

The Introduction to Laudato Si'

The first two paragraphs of the Encyclical indicate Pope Francis's concerns, context, and tone. The Holy Father states poignantly:

1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.[1]

2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.

(Please note: All quotations from Laudato Si' will be placed within a text box. All other quotations will be in blockquotes, indented on both margins.)

Subtitle: On Care for Our Common Home

The subtitle of Laudato Si' reveals an important focus of the Papal Encyclical: "On Care for Our Common Home". Two key terms stand out: Care and Common Home. Both carry subtle implications that point the reader to the hidden deeper meaning that runs through Laudato Si. The hermeneutic disclosure of hidden meanings will permeate my commentary, amplifying the significance of the Encyclical.

Care

Care implies an active, loving involvement that transcends stewardship. Care signals the larger human challenge that characterizes our times. Consider the quotation from Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana:

"Care goes further than 'stewardship'. Good stewards take responsibility and fulfill their obligations to manage and to render an account. But one can be a good steward without feeling connected. If one cares, however, one is connected. To care is to allow oneself to be affected by another, so much so that one’s path and priorities change. Good parents know this. They care about their children; they care for their children, so much so that parents will sacrifice enormously—even their lives—to ensure the safety and flourishing of their children. With caring, the hard line between self and other softens, blurs, even disappears."

The subtitle Care carries meaning that takes on significance as the Encyclical unfolds. Students of Martin Heidegger may recognize a latent meaning in the translation of Sorge, care. In Heidegger's ontology, the mission of Dasein, the authentic human being thrown within the unfolding of Being, means to care for Creation itself, no small challenge but congruent with Laudato Si'.

My mention of this semantic subtlety at the outset of my commentary signals that within the Papal Encyclical, and conveyed within the quote by Cardinal Turkson, is a rich tradition within ontology, the study of Being itself. This will become more significant when Pope Francis dives more deeply into the roots of what he calls the Technocratic Paradigm, as introduced by the teacher of Jorge Bergoglio, Peter Turkson, and Cardinal Ratzinger: Monseigneur Romano Guardino, a German-born philosopher of Italian heritage teaching philosophy in Munich.

This interpretation raises the stakes of Laudato Si': We are called upon to not only praise the Lord, but to take on an active role in caring for the gift of Creation with a special concern for the poor. I therefore quibble when I hear that Laudato Si' is "about the environment" (a dualism rooted in the Cartesian paradigm of modernity -- to be explained later) or the even further concern of climate change. Truly, the atmosphere, water, oceans, forests, and those other facets of Nature are central to the Encyclical, but to limit our responsibility to Creation to practices of environmentalism (as worthy as they are) gravely narrows the significance of not only the Encyclical, but of our responsibility as Creatures of a loving Creator. However, Pope Francis urges us to a spiritual conversion that calls for the re-inhabitation of Earth rooted in Care for all of humanity, especially the poor, and Nature, within which humanity dwells and flourishes. It is to this mission that Cardinal Turkson points.

Another way to express this spiritual conversion is to contemplate the pregnant words of Russian cosmologist Vladimir Vernadsky after a 1929 encounter in Paris with Fr Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit, a paleontologist, and the author of The Phenomenon of Man:

"The biosphere is the cradle of the Nöosphere."

To which I might add for context the words from the Gospel of Mary Magdalene:

"The Nous, that is the treasure."

The Encyclical itself points toward this horizon within the third topic in Chapter Two, III. The Mystery of the Universe:

83. The ultimate destiny of the universe is in the fullness of God, which has already been attained by the risen Christ, the measure of the maturity of all things. Here we can add yet another argument for rejecting every tyrannical and irresponsible domination of human beings over other creatures. The ultimate purpose of other creatures is not to be found in us. Rather, all creatures are moving forward with us and through us towards a common point of arrival, which is God, in that transcendent fullness where the risen Christ embraces and illumines all things. Human beings, endowed with intelligence and love, and drawn by the fullness of Christ, are called to lead all creatures back to their Creator.

It is toward this horizon, perhaps that identified as Omega by Fr Teilhard de Chardin, that we discover the significance of the Papal message, speaking as the new Noah. At various points in the Encyclical, Pope Francis invites us all to a universal dialog around the themes of Laudato Si'. The inclusion of all is a hallmark of this Pope.

Common Home

Our common home, of course, is planet Earth. While Pope Francis stresses care for the commons (shared resources) throughout his Encyclical, the Papal Commons is Creation itself --- a common responsibility of care for all of humanity.

Students of sustainability will recall the subtitle of the classic work that introduced world sustainability by Gro Harlem Brundtland, Our Common Future, issued in 1987. The report's important preface is "From One Earth to One World." See my overview. The institutional root of the Brundtland Report was the United Nations, but nonetheless carried a message consistent with Laudato Si', without the spiritual foundation.

Later, I will refer to the common home as Oikos, the Greek root of both ecology and economics. That thought will come later in this commentary. Oikos extends the notion of common home but will be joined by another keyword, the Commons.