First Thoughts on Laudato Sí

1 Comment
The Patriarch of Old Rome (L) and the Patriarch of New Rome (R)

The Patriarch of Old Rome (L) and the Patriarch of New Rome (R)

First and Foremost, here is the text of the Encyclical “Laudato Sí.” Please take the time to read it. I am only part-way through yet, and it is remarkable on many counts. We’ll talk some about that today.
My Brophy Prep classmate and friend, Dr. Bill Dunn, posted two articles that reacted to the Pope’s new Encyclical. One was favorable from Huffpost, which includes this hilarious–and insightful–video:

There was one unfavorable from the London Telegraph. Take a moment to skim through it, since the next several paragraphs are a critique of the Telegraph article.

Why the Telegraph Article is Useless

The Telegraph is committing what Fr. Naucke taught us in speech class at Brophy is the fallacy of ad hominem. literally “to/against the person,” the ad hominem logical fallacy attacks the person rather than the argument.
Rather than address the points The Pope is making, they are attacking his credibility and that of the Church. They also naively think that Popes always write their own Encyclicals. They are written by experts in the subject matter. We know that Francis has at his disposal some of the greatest scientific minds around, some of them Jesuits. I am not concerned whether or not you like the Church of Rome, I just want the facts out there.
During the last 24 hours I have seen a lot of craziness posted about this Encyclical. One angle is people saying that the Church doesn’t know anything about Science. Come now! This isn’t the corner storefront mission, this is THE Church, the original mega-Church.
Vatican Observatory, photo © Rb85z37

Vatican Observatory, photo © Rb85z37

Some may be surprised to learn that the Church has come a long way from the time of Galileo. The Vatican has two Observatories, one at Castel Gondolfo outside of Rome, and a telescope at The U of A’s Mt. Graham Observatory in Tucson AZ. Both are staffed by Jesuits. Wikipedia notes some of the illustrious Priest-Scientists who have staffed the Observatory:

“The Director of the Observatory is Father José Gabriel Funes, an Argentinian Jesuit. In 2008, the Templeton Prize was awarded to cosmologist Fr. Michał Heller, a Vatican Observatory Adjunct Scholar. In 2010, the George Van Biesbroeck Prize was awarded to former observatory director, the American Jesuit, Fr. George Coyne.”
In addition, in 1936, Pope Pius XI founded the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (Pontificia Academia Scientiarum), a successor to previous such institutions. It is nestled in the Vatican Gardens, and “holds a membership roster of the most respected names in 20th century science, including such Nobel laureates as Ernest RutherfordMax PlanckOtto HahnNiels Bohr and Charles Hard Townes.” This is the real deal. So the Pope has access to excellent science.
The Theological, philosophical and moral parts of the Letter could well be his own, but the science is from expert sources. He is reflecting on the overwhelming scientific consensus. Now I know that people I respect, like Tom Hill, another friend and BCP Classmate, holds that Climate Change is not due to human intervention, and he and I are dialoguing about it. Tom has good credentials to back him up. As you will see below, I don’t think Climate Change–yay or nay–is at the heart of the issue.
The Telegraph also says that the Church has been wrong about every social issue of modern times, citing gender and abortion among them. I myself do not agree with all of the gender and reproductive stances of the Church, however, if one reads the Social Teachings of the Catholic Communion of Churches from Leo XIII to Francis, one sees that the Church has been on the side of the Angels about capital and labor, the rights of the poor, liberation from oppression, the dignity of work, peace and war, etc. The Telegraph  cherry-picking examples. A more accurate statement would be, “The Social Teaching of the Roman Church is invariably progressive except for gender and reproductive issues.”

Now comes the coup de grace: Child Molestation and the cover up. No one hates what happened, and is still happening in some places, more than me. And the Church must, and has, repented. Recently, the Pope and his best friend, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM of Boston, finalized the regulations that will hold Bishops who cover up, responsible. There is still far to go, but again the Telegraph is using “Ad Hominem” instead of addressing the issues.

The Real Issue

Finally, whether or not one holds for human-caused Global Climate Change, there is a genuine theological and human issue here. For all of the Abrahamic Faiths–Judaism, Christianity, and Islam–our Scriptures unequivocally say that we have been made Stewards of our Garden

Denethor, the 26th and Last Steward of Gondor, played by John Noble.

Denethor, the 26th and Last Steward of Gondor, played by John Noble.

home. Stewards protect their charge and help it prosper. The way much–not all–of humanity has been acting toward Mother Earth, we are Stewards in the same way that Denethor was ruling as the Steward of Gondor: in madness. Denethor forgot that someday the King would return, and he would have to give account for his stewardship, just as we will.

In many places, humanity rapes the Earth for her resources,withdeforestations, polluting the air, water and land. Throw Global Climate Change off the table, the Encyclical still holds water. This is the only planet we’ve got, as the

Taken in Singapore's "Gardens by the Bay" (3/3/2013)

Taken in Singapore’s “Gardens by the Bay” (3/3/2013)

Anglicans say in one of their Anaphoras:  “…this Island Earth, our fragile Home.” And of course, what is driving this rape of the earth is some people’s lust for money and power, not everyone’s. See the video above.

We have the means, technologically and politically, to create a sustainable system, and still live prosperously, and much more healthily. There is no threat to American prosperity here, we just have to shift our lifestyles and approaches a bit to do what we do in harmony with nature for everyone’s sake.

Singapore, where Chris and I visited a few years ago, is a wonderful example of how property and sustainability and ecology go hand in hand. Since 1965 Singapore has deliberately gone Green. Their goal is to make the City State, which is a major hub of the Asian Economy, The City in a Garden. Read their inspiring story!
My alma mater Yale has also gone green, and he School of Forestry is now also the Ecology School.
Yale's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (Taken 8/20/14)

Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (Taken 8/20/14)

A Huge Religious Consensus

The religious coalition involved here is truly amazing. We have the world’s largest Communion of Churches, the Catholic, and the second largest, the Orthodox, represented. I have no doubt that the Oriental Orthodox and the Church of the East teach similar things. St. Ephrem the Syrian was a poet praising how the Divine is manifested in Nature.
Holding similar positions are most of the Anglicans and High Church Protestants (Lutherans, Methodist, Presbyterians, etc.). There is even a “Good Stewardship” movement among progressive Evangelicals.

EPSON scanner Image

The Romanian Orthodox Church and the Syrian Orthodox Church of India have been doing Eco-Theology for decades. Some outstanding examples of this may be found in Theology and the Church by Dumitru Staniloae (Eastern Orthodox), and the writings of Paulos Mar Gregorios (Oriental Orthodox). Staniloae was the outstanding theologian of the Romanian Orthodox revival, and arguably one of the greatest theologians of the 20th Century. Mar Gregorios was a Metropolitan in the Orthodox Church of India (Malankar). For a fascinating beginning in learning about the riches of Indian Christianity (which dates from St. Thomas the Apostle), see the Orthodox Wiki article.

The vocal Right-Wing Fundamentalist Christians of the U.S. are a tiny footnote to Christianity, not the majority voice at all. Many U.S. Right-Wing Catholics are just as much Cafeteria Catholics as I am (which I fully admit to being). There are–and I know some–non-Cafeteria Catholics, and I salute you!
Many Jewish groups believe in harmony with nature. I can’t imagine the Dalai Lama being critical of harmony with nature, nor Hindus. And the Pagan community, Druids, Wiccans, Shamanic practitioners, and Aboriginal Peoples, etc. are all for it. One of my favorite authors, the Sufi scholar, mystic and philosopher S.H. Nasr has written very impressively on the subject of humanity and nature.

The Rosicrucian approach is demonstrated in the latest two Manifestos: The Positio Fraternitatis and the Appellatio Fraternitatis:

How indeed can you want all human beings to be happy, without concerning yourself with the conservation of the planet on which they live? Yet each of us knows that it is in danger and that humanity is largely responsible for this: various types of pollution, the destruction of ecosystems, excessive deforestation, and the massacre of animal species, etc. — Appellatio

To sum it up: There is an impressive religiously- and philosophically-based consensus that we must live in harmony with Nature.

A Remarkable Encyclical

No Papal Encyclical before has dedicated more space to the writing of a Patriarch with whom the Pope is not in communion at present. Francis quotes Bartholomew at length:
“…inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage,” we are called to acknowledge “our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation.” He has repeatedly stated this firmly and persuasively, challenging us to acknowledge our sins against creation: “For human beings… to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins.” For “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God.”
Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Jovan. Photo © Ohrid Archbishopric

Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Jovan. Photo © Ohrid Archbishopric

And for those averse to Sin-talk among my friends, please take note that in the Eastern, Byzantine tradition of Christianity, we know that sin (ἁμαρτία, hamartía, missing the mark) is a failure to hit the bullseye. We see the Church as the hospital for those who are not fully healthy (as does Francis, who was the Bishop for the Eastern Catholics without their own Bishops in Argentina).

And no Encyclical has ever quoted a Sufi Mystic before: “The spiritual writer Ali al-Khawas stresses from his own experience the need not to put too much distance between the creatures of the world and the interior experience of God. As he puts it: “Prejudice should not have us criticize those who seek ecstasy in music or poetry. There is a subtle mystery in each of the movements and sounds of this world. The initiate will capture what is being said when the wind blows, the trees sway, water flows, flies buzz, doors creak, birds sing, or in the sound of strings or flutes, the sighs of the sick, the groans of the afflicted…” (EVA DE VITRAY-MEYEROVITCH [ed.], Anthologie du soufisme, Paris 1978, 200).:”

St. Maximos the Confessor

St. Maximos the Confessor

By all means, read the footnotes. Nothing from the Vatican has every been like this. Episcopal Conferences are frequently quoted, demonstrating the Collegiality of the teaching. It is also remarkable in how it shows the continuity of this teaching about the Divine Manifestation in the world throughout Christian history. The Quotes are amazing!

In this regard, I have something to add. St. Maximos the Confessor (ca. 580-662) is one of the great theologians of Orthodox Christianity. Although venerated by the Roman Church as a Father of the Church, he is unfortunately little known in the West today, but that was not always so. In the 9th Century, the Irish theologian Johannes Scotus Eriugena translated his work. I bring up Maximos because one part of his deeply moving theology concerns Christ as the reconciler of all opposites, including Humanity and Nature. His work can be the basis of an Eco-Theology.

The final amazing thing is that this is the first Papal Encyclical addressed to all humanity.

Preserving the Earth in Our Mythopœia and Stories

Our modern myth making is pretty clear about who the good guys and the bad guys are in regard to respect for our common home. Let’s look at a few examples. Mythopœia, by the way, may well have been coined by J.R.R. Tolkien in his 1931 publication Tree and Leaf. It is directly from the Hellenistic Greek μυθοποιία, μυθοποίησις “myth-making” mythopœia, mythopœsis. In essence, it is creating a densely detailed secondary world with total verisimilitude, as did Tolkien, and as George R.R. Martin is currently doing in his Westeros novels, A Song of Ice and Fire, so popular in its HBO adaptation A Game of Thrones. Wikipedia has a well-done essay on Mythopœia. 

Tolkien’s Middle-Earth
One of Professor Tolkien’s life concerns was that the overuse and misuse of technology and industrialization was having a dehumanizing effect on us, and an unnatural effect on the world. He wasn’t a Luddite, he was simply concerned, as he wrote, that it is sad that in the modern world, people tend to feel that a car is more “real” than a horse, or a centaur. Cars and Centaurs are both human creations. A horse is not (even if it is cloned). In Thomist Metaphysics, the Horse has intrinsic unity because it alive and has a soul which organizes all of its biological and metaphysical parts. A car has extrinsic unity: it is a collection of parts which we have organized and given unity and functionality from the outside.
The Tower of Orthanc, my current Lego Project.

The Tower of Orthanc, my current Lego Project.

We make because we are made in the Image and Likeness of THE Maker. In Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, the Vala Aulë secretly created the Dwarves in Middle-Earth without Ilúvatar’s permission. When he was called to account, Aulë prepared to destroy his creations, but Ilúvatar stays his hand, and tells him that the Dwarves could not have been brought to life with souls if Ilúvatar had not been with them from the beginning. (Note the mythic similarity with the story of Abraham and Isaac in the Hebrew Scriptures.)  So too, we may eventually create those like Lt. Cmdr. Data or the Holographic Doctor in the world of Star Trek, artificial creatures whom we have imbued with so much of ourselves that they come to life, be it non-biological. That is the myth of Pinocchio.

In Middle-Earth, Tolkien’s ecological vision is clear. Elves are the ultimate one who are in harmony with nature, but so too are Tom Bombadil (who may be Nature itself), Gandalf, Radagast, the Ents, and to a slightly lesser extent, Men, Hobbits and Dwarves. The servants of Morgoth, principally Sauron and later Saruman (both Maiar once associated with Aulë, the “Technician” of the Valar) create Blake’s “Dark Satanic Mills,” destroying the surrounding ecosystems and creating monstrosities like the Uruk-hai through breeding and genetic manipulation. Since they were once the companions of Aulë, they knew from the inside how Middle-Earth works and chose to use that knowledge for power and domination. We know which are good and which are evil in Middle-Earth. Sorry Koch Brothers: when I’m not calling you Cthulhu, you are Sauron and Saruman to me!
Independence Day (1996) and Avatar (2009)
This pair of films provide a very interesting contrast even though–or perhaps because–they were made 13 years apart. In the first film, the Locust-like Aliens migrate from planet to planet, stopping them of their natural resources and leaving them dead. Then they move on to rape another world.
In Avatar, humans are the aggressive species. By 2154 we have exhausted Earth’s natural resources, and are now mining the paradise-like Moon Pandora in the Alpha-Centauri system. The Na’vi, the natives of the moon, are fully and totally in harmony with Nature. Eventually the whole Eco-System fights back and defeats the humans, led by humans disgusted with our avarice.
Again: those in harmony with Nature are the good guys, and the world-rapers are the bad guys. Pretty clear message!
The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008 remake)
day-the-earth-stood-stillIn the original 1951 file, which I liked better overall, Klaatu (Michael Rennie) was on a mission to stop Nuclear War, which was the imminent threat to humanity then. In the 2008 version Klaatu (Keanu Reeves) is an Emissary from an alien coalition which warns us to stop damaging the Earth, since planets capable of sustaining complex life are rare. When he says he is a friend of the Earth, he means the Planet, not us. He eventually stops the eradication of humanity, but we lose the use of electricity. Thus, this is a cautionary tale about the dangers of not respecting the Earth. Both films, by the way, were inspired by the 1940 classic science fiction short story “Farewell to the Master” by Harry Bates. Klaatu Barada Niktu!

Star Trek
In the Universe of Star Trek, Humanity has virtually achieved the Rosicrucian Utopia (Roddenberry was a Rosicrucian for a time). Poverty and disease has been eliminated, as well as money, and the Earth is once again almost a Paradise. True, the weather and seismic problems are technologically controlled, but overall humanity has returned–more or less–to harmony with nature.
Baker Beach in SF, looking at the Future home of Star Fleet, to be founded in 2161. (Taken 6/19/15)

Baker Beach in SF, looking at the Future home of Star Fleet, to be founded in 2161. (Taken 6/19/15)

The Endnotes

As usual, I have a couple of endnotes.
The title Pope has an interesting etymology: From Middle English popepopa, from Old English pāpa, from Vulgar Latin papa (title for priests & bishops), from early Byzantine Greek παπᾶς (papâstitle for priests & bishops), from late Ancient Greek πάπας (pápastitle for priests & bishops, in the sense of spiritual father), from πάππας (páppaspapadaddy).
Pope Tawadros II. Photo: EPA

Pope Tawadros II. Photo: EPA

Gradually, these terms which originally applied to all Presbyters (Priests) and Bishops, came to be use for only two Church officials. Around the 3rd Century is was used for the Patriarch (Archbishop) of Alexandria, the scientific capital of the Roman Empire, and by the 8th Century, to the Patriarch of Old Rome. Today, we have the Roman Pope Francis and the Coptic Pope Tawadros II (Theodoros II).

In the ancient Communions of Churches there are Minor Clergy (Readers, Acolytes, Sub-Deacons), and three degrees of the Priesthood: Deacons, Presbyters (Priests), and Bishops. Any higher titles, such as Archbishop, Metropolitan, Patriarch, Pope, and for the Romans, Cardinal are merely an indication of how the person functions in the administration of Church work. There are parallels in Anglican polity, and in some Protestant Churches.
Women were ordained Deacons in the ancient Churches (remember the New Testament’s Phoebe), and the usage never died out entirely in Eastern Orthodoxy. Deaconesses today serve in some Women’s Monasteries, in Greece and Russia, and perhaps elsewhere. In the current usage of the Eastern Churches, a man must be married before being Ordained to the Diaconate, or else he must remain celibate. There are exceptions in the Church of the East if the priest is widowed, he can be allowed to re-marry for the sake of his children. Bishops were originally married men, like Peter. Today they are not in the ancient Churches.
Bishop Gene Robinson and Mark Andrew

Bishop Gene Robinson and Mark Andrew

Anglican Bishops and Protestant Bishops are generally married, and in American Episcopal Church, Gay and Lesbian married/partnered men and women can be consecrated a Bishop, as well as non-partnered people. Gene Robinson served as the Anglican Bishop of New Hampshire 2004-2013, and Mary Douglas Glasspool is currently Suffragan Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. In the Anglican Church, ordination to the Diaconate does not stop the possibility of future marriage.

The word, so much in the news just now, is from the Late Latin encyclicus, from Ancient Greek ἐγκύκλιος (enkuklioscircular, general), from εν− (en−) + κύκλος (kúkloscircle). κύκλος is in turn from From Proto-Indo-European *kʷékʷlos (circle, wheel). Cognates include Sanskrit चक्र (cakra), Latin colus, Tocharian A/B kukäl/kokale, Old Church Slavonic коло (kolo), Lithuanian kãklas, and Old English hwēol (English wheel).
In the Catholic Communion, Encyclicals are letters from the Pope, usually to his Bishops. The practice began with Pope Pius VI (1775–1799). As we have seen, Laudato Sí is the first one addressed to all humanity, although, the Social Encyclicals have generally has wider applicability. An Encyclical is the second highest form of Papal Document, just below an Apostolic Constitution.
In the Eastern Orthodox Communion, An Encyclical is an important document issued occasionally by one or more Hierarchs and/or Synods. In 2012, Patriarch Bartholomew issued his own Encyclical on Ecology.
In the late 19th Century, the form of Encyclical was revived in the Anglican Church.
Catholic Communion of Churches
Some may wonder why I use the expression “Communion of Churches.” The actual structure of the ancient Christian Churches was one of Communion (Ancient Greek κοινωνία (koinōnía), commonness, a collective, communion). That is, the Churches recognized one another’s validity, even though Liturgies and customs were different. Metropolitan John Zizioulas who was in Rome for the new Encyclical’s proclamation, wrote a wonderfully enlightening and inspiring book, Being as Communion which I read years ago. He has written many more, and is probably Orthodoxy’s greatest living scholar.
Catholic Patriarchs and Major Archbishops at a Papal Liturgy with Pope Francis at the Vatican

Catholic Patriarchs and Major Archbishops at a Papal Liturgy with Pope Francis at the Vatican

The term Church is used in various ways. It can mean the Church building, as in “St. Anne’s Church.” It can mean the Church in a particular place, as in “The Church of Phoenix.” It also can mean a Patriarchate, Autocephalous, Autonomous, or Dependent groups as in “The Church of Rome,” “The Church of Finland,” “The Church of Antioch.”
Today, with the historical schisms, the ancient Christian bodies are divided into four Apostolic Communions:
The Catholic Communion (21 Churches, one Western and 20 Eastern)
The Eastern Orthodox Communion (15 Churches)
The Oriental Orthodox Communion (6 Churches)
The Church of the East (2 Churches)
Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew are both eager to end these separations. What took centuries to separate will be slow to re-unite. The Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox have de facto Communion today, if not yet de sure. The Church of the East has closer relations with the Catholic Communion, and the tragedies in the Middle East are bringing all the Chaldean Christians there, and here, closer.
International Catholic - Oriental Orthodox Dialogue

International Catholic – Oriental Orthodox Dialogue

I know that there are plenty of other Christian Churches, and the Anglicans use the term Communion as well: “The Anglican Communion.” Here I am dealing with those Christian communities that have linear descent from the earliest Christians.

A Final Question and a Poll

I do have a question that I think I might know the answer to, but for me to supply an answer would risk the logical fallacy of “the straw man,” putting words into my interlocutor’s mouth so as to more easily argue against them. So I put it to you:
Putting aside the question of Global Climate Change: If you object to cleaning up the pollution of air, water, and land, stopping the very dangerous deforestations which will greatly harm humanity and other creatures, extinctions of eco-systems, etc., creating systems that do not needlessly deplete the Planet’s resources, please tell me why. I will collect those responses for a future Blog post.
And a Poll:


I know that not all of my readers on Facebook will agree with this post. That is perfectly fine, and I welcome everyone’s civil  and respectful responses. Uncivil and disrespectful responses will be deleted summarily.
It is not acceptable, nor good debating style to indulge in ad hominem attacks and silly name-calling.
Illogic will also be frowned upon: To want to preserve the Earth is not Marxist. The Soviets were among the worst polluters ever. They killed more than one Eco-System in their madness. It is also not Anti-Capitalist. See my previous Blog posting. There are good capitalists and bad capitalists. I know two sterling examples of very good capitalists who fit the guidelines in the previous Posting: my best friend Robert Doyle from the Class of ’72 at Brophy, and his wife Giuli, who own and operate Canyon Records in Phoenix, the largest Native American music producer and distributor, and my dear friends and fellow Lodge members, Mike and Marie Shaluly, who own and operate Mastercut Tools, an international, world-class manufacturer of rotary cutting tools in the lovely town of Safety Harbor, FL. I would venture to say that many if not most small businesses, and some large ones are good capitalists.
Thanks for reading!
Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant

One thought on “First Thoughts on Laudato Sí

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s