The Encyclical Ecology and Justice

The forthcoming Encyclical on Ecology and Justice is one of the most eagerly awaited Social Encyclicals in history. It is the first Papal Encyclical devoted to environmental and related social justice issues. John Vidal, the environment correspondent of The Guardian quotes Neil Thorns, the head of advocacy at the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD), as saying that “the anticipation around Pope Francis’s forthcoming encyclical is unprecedented. We have seen thousands of our supporters commit to making sure their MPs know climate change is affecting the poorest communities.”
The Encyclical will be supported by Catholics and many others who are more and more concerned about the deterioration of the environment right across the world. It will, however, be opposed by powerful groups associated with the fossil fuel industries. Vidal says that “Francis’s environmental radicalism is likely to attract resistance from Vatican conservatives and in rightwing church circles, particularly in the US – where Catholic climate sceptics also include John Boehner, Republican leader of the House of Representatives and Rick Santorum, the former Republican presidential candidate.” Even prominent Church ministers such as Cardinal George Pell, a former archbishop of Sydney is a campaigning climate change sceptic who I have criticized on numerous occasions because of his opposition to climate change.
During a press conference on board his plane to Manila on January 15, 2015, Pope Francis said “that he plans to have his much-anticipated encyclical on man’s relationship with creation finished in March. He told the journalists that the encyclical will be completed by the end of March and should be published in June or July.”
“A year ago this month, the Vatican had announced the Pope’s plans to write on the theme of “human ecology” – a phrase that was originally coined by retired pontiff Benedict XVI. Pope Francis told journalists Thursday that the first draft of the encyclical was completed by Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. “Then I worked on it,” the Pope said. “Then some theologians worked on the third version.” The document was then reviewed by the Vatican Secretary of State as well as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. “Three weeks ago, I received the responses – some rather vague,” he added. “Now I’ll take a week out in March to look at it.”
Many people would like to know – What is an encyclical? Traditionally, the word meant a circular letter. In today’s world it means a letter from the Pope. The most solemn form of Papal teaching was the Papal Bull which was exercised many times in the Medieval period. In recent times Pope Pius XII used a Papal Bull Munificentissimus Deus (the Most Bountiful God) to announce the teaching of the Dogma of the Assumption of Mary into heaven, on November 1st 1950. Not every Papal Bull was about spiritual matters. The English Pope Anrian IV, used the Bull Laudabiliter (Laudably) in 1155 AD to grant the Overlordship of Ireland to the English King Henry II. Popes have also used Decrees to address particular problems in the Church. Another instrument of Papal Teaching is often found in Apostolic Letters which normally have a pastoral focus to them. Encyclicals embody some of the features of all of the above, but they are generally longer and the arguments used are more extensive. Normally, encyclicals are addressed to the whole Church. Since the advent of the worldwide web they are normally posted on the Vatican website. The title of an Encyclical is found in the first two Latin words of the document which is written in Latin but translated into many languages.
The new encyclical is been eagerly awaited because it will address ecological issues in a way that other teaching did not.

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  1. Will this new encyclical review the misdiagnosis of over-consumption as ‘materialism’, I wonder, or simply repeat this unobservant trope? That mistake derives from a false dualism of matter and spirit – one of the reasons that the Catholic right is so completely dense on this issue.
    It is very late now for the church’s moral theology to be still in the wake of the Girardian redefinition of biblical covetousness as the desire we adopt unconsciously from the envied neighbour – mimetic desire – a phenomenon that envelops us daily. It lies at the root not only of domestic over-consumption but of the economic imperialism of the multinationals and the political inertia and corruption that is so slow to tackle that.
    The early fathers of the church knew mimetic desire as ’emulation’ – imitative rivalry – and critiqued it freely. That theme was dropped entirely when the envied neighbour became also the wealthiest patron of the church, following the Constantinian shift.
    Has anyone here ever heard a homily on the human susceptibility to unconscious imitation – the breeze that became a hurricane in Ireland with the advent of TV?
    The church – all of us – cannot become counter-cultural until we recognise that unconscious imitation lies at the root of all societal dysfunction. I look forward with great expectation to this coming encyclical, hoping it will mark the first papal recognition of the gift that Girardian insight is to the church.

  2. The earth will be here long after we are gone as a species. There have been mass extinctions on earth since the very first life forms appeared. Early species such as cells came and went and mutated, if this hadn’t happened we would not be here. When oxygen appeared it destroyed all other life that went before it. The primordial cells that inhabited the early earth had ‘unconscious imitation’ in spades. It was and is a survival mechanism. Unconscious imitation is in our genes, Richard Dawkins would call it the ‘selfish gene’. Christianity survived by emulating Constantine. Constantine had what Christianity wanted, protection, and Christianity had what Constantine wanted a warrior God who could protect his interests.
    It was win, win for both sides. The earth cannot sustain the explosion in population numbers. We are destroying our living environment, but so is forces beyond our control. All this has happened many times before in the earth’s history. We should treasure our lives, our beautiful planet, our relationships.

  3. #2 “The primordial cells that inhabited the early earth had ‘unconscious imitation’ in spades. It was and is a survival mechanism.”
    Until it becomes in the end a mechanism for extinction, as is happening to ‘homo sapiens’. Your account of evolution is curiously incomplete, Nuala, in failing to explore what the evolutionary purpose of consciousness could be – especially of a consciousness that becomes aware of the limitations and dangers of unconscious imitation.
    As you well know also, Jesus flatly refused to be a ‘warrior God’ – the reason he was crucified. Constantine had earlier ‘seen’ a vision of Mars, and his understanding of Jesus was always deeply influenced by the notion that military victory was the ultimate proof of divine support.
    Why are you arguing that this ‘deal’ was a ‘win’ for Christianity when you must know that all of the great scandals of Christendom flowed from it – as well as the Enlightenment / secularist reaction? The clout of the bishops that Constantine envied was based not on the protection of the state but on the reverse of that – an adversity that had not destroyed the warmth and vitality of the early Christian community.
    Chinese Christians who study western history have drawn the conclusion that the last thing they should pray for is the ‘protection’ of the state. They know from western experience that it is at that point that the deepest corruption will set in.
    As for Richard Dawkins, he denies that he ever meant to imply that genes could be consciously selfish. That title ‘The Selfish Gene’ was a rhetorical device intended to sell the book, and very bad science in imputing intentionality to entities incapable of it.
    Consciousness of the danger, and dispensability, of unconscious imitation is clearly what Jesus had and taught – his assault on worldliness. That surely is the evolutionary purpose of the Incarnation, and of the instruction to ‘stay awake’.
    You do get me going, don’t you? That has to be deliberate and tongue-in-cheek surely!

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