the 2015 encyclical of Pope Francis
The second document for consideration is Laudato si’, Pope Francis’s 2015 Encyclical on “care for our common home.” It is a wide-ranging and challenging document which offers a theological understanding of the ecological crisis the world faces and provides a theological framework for our responses to this crisis.
An encyclical is one of the most authoritative documents a Pope can produce. Usually, they are directed to Catholic clergy and laity as statements of the church’s teaching. This encyclical, however, broke new ground in that Pope Francis addressed this encyclical to “every person living on this planet” (#3). Its call has been heard: it has been praised by people of other denominations, other faiths and atheists.
The title, Laudato si’ (Praise be to you) is taken from the “Canticle of the Creatures” written by St. Francis of Assisi, and on which the English hymn, “All Creatures of our God and King” is based. Taking his cue from St Francis, Pope Francis encourages us to look to creation as our sister, through and with whom we offer our praise to God. Pope Francis reverses the human tendency to place ourselves at the centre of creation with this key claim: “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” (# 83)
The document reflects conversations with biblical, economic, political and technological perspectives. It accepts the scientific evidence for human-generated climate change. It notes the disproportionate effects of climate change on the world’s poor, and in seeking deeper knowledge of creation there is a special summons to dialogue with Indigenous peoples (#146). It is very pointed in its critique of consumerism and its “throw away culture” (#22). It is expansive in the vision it offers “to help us escape the spiral of self-destruction which currently engulfs us” (#163). The encyclical adopts a posture that is repentant, prophetic and hopeful.
The Encyclical has received various levels of endorsement from the World Council of Churches, the Lausanne Movement, the Christian Reformed Church of North America, and various secular leaders and institutions, including the Ecological Society of America. None of those organisations would agree with all the theological claims in the document. Neither is the Uniting Church being asked to do so. Rather, we are being asked to make it a recognised source of wisdom from which we would learn and by which we would be provoked to act.
In many ways, Laudato si’ is fine example of what Paragraph 11 of the Basis of Union summons the Uniting Church to do: to join with the “world-wide fellowship of Churches” to “stand in relation to contemporary societies in ways which help it understand its own nature and mission.”
For the Uniting Church to adopt this document would also be a remarkable development. Our 16th century Reformation forebears were quick to denounce the Pope and the papacy. For us to commit to learning from the wisdom of Pope Francis would be a form of healing itself.
The Continuing Witness Task Group has developed these liturgical resources for presbytery worship as you engage with the document.
Questions for Discussion
The link below takes you to a form containing questions for discussion. Please complete the form to provide your feedback to the Continuing Witness Task Group.