Thomas Kadmon, ICR
image from Getty Images.
Laudato Si' means "Praise Be!", a recurring phrase in St. Francis of Assisi's 'Canticle of the Sun'. It is also the name of a 2015 encyclical by Pope Francis - a letter to the whole world ,'on care for our common home'.
It is an interesting place where ecology dialogues with theology. It is a place believers can go to sort out their attitudes and practices around environmentalism. Christians are sometimes criticised for holding a destructive "dominion" view on man's lordship over the earth and its creatures, whereas in fact their faith tradition, like most, teaches adherents to be good stewards over God's creation. The ultimate objective of these Laudato Si blog posts is to differentiate the theologising that leads to the "dominion" mindset from the theologising that leads to the "good steward" mindset, noting their practical outworkings. That's the destination, but where I'd like to start is to investigate the "Francis"connection.
Although Pope Francis, the first southern hemisphere and Latin American pope, was a Jesuit, he took the name of the founder of the Franciscan Order.
Now St. Francis of Assisi was a religious friar who lived around 1200, and is the patron saint of ecology. The current pope, Francis, has already developed a reputation for being the pope of the environment and ecology. He is keen to be seen as such. St. Francis of Assisi founded the first mendicant order in the history of the Church, where the religious brothers weren't cloistered in a monastery, but moved freely among normal townsfolk, ministering to them and relying on them in turn for sustenance. This was a radical development, because mendicancy brought into conjunction closeness to God and closeness to the world. Before this time they were largely opposed in the collective consciousness of the west. Likewise, Pope Francis is attempting to live a similar (environmental) ethic: drawing closer to God, not by removing himself more from the world, but by immersing himself more deeply into the world, its problems, and its peoples.
St. Francis of Assisi lived the incarnational gospel, bringing heaven and earth together. He modelled human kinship with all kingdoms of nature and pastoral concern for them. His kindness didn't stop at human beings; it continued to Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Fire, Sister Water, and all the living creatures. His followers would preach to the birds and fish! This continuum of beings to be related to and cared for is also apparent in Pope Francis' encyclical. Laudato Si' 139 states:
"We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature."
The nativity scene that we all take for granted at Christmas - with the ox and the ass, and the baby in the manger - was introduced into the culture by St. Francis of Assisi around 1200. Christmas is the definitive reminder of the Incarnation: of the God who wants to dwell intimately in his creation. G.K.Chesterton wrote "...the whole philosophy of St. Francis revolved round the idea of a new supernatural light on natural things, which meant the ultimate recovery not the ultimate refusal of natural things." The ethos is shared by Pope Francis. Everything on earth is transfigured by the Incarnation - from the straw in the manger to the Amazon Rainforest. It becomes sacred and deserving of care.