We’ve all heard about the Papal Encyclical issued last month by Pope Francis. It’s titled “On Care for our Common Home,” and bears the common name “Laudato Si,” a Latin phrase taken from St. Francis’ famous prayer, The Canticle of Creation:
St. Francis goes on to praise God for the moon and stars, the wind and air, the water and fire, the earth and for human forgiveness, and even for death, which we all must face.
By invoking the title Laudato Si, Pope Francis is attempting to capture his namesake’s sense of oneness with the whole creation, and God’s love for and presence in all that he has made.
Now, this encyclical is no small thing. It runs for 180 pages, and has some 250 sections, organized into six major chapters.
This isn’t the first authoritative statement on creation care and climate change that has come from the Christian Church in recent years. In 2010, the Reformed Christian Church (CRC) adopted at their general synod a comprehensive 130-page Environmental Stewardship report. At Cape Town, South Africa, the worldwide evangelical Lausanne Movement included creation care, and the threat of climate change, in both their declaration of fatih and their call to action. And these have been preceded by the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI), the Evangelical Declaration on Care of Creation, the Micah Declaration on Care of Creation and Climate Change and the Oxford Declaration on Global Warming. And in addition to all of these, there are the many, many statements by the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Anglican Communion, and mainline Protestant denominations.
These documents vary in length and scope, from the CRC’s careful approach to science, controversy and mission, to the ECI’s actionable commitments. But I would say that Laudato Si is so much different from these that it will likely be considered apart from them all. Here are a few reasons:
- It is addressed to 1.2 billion people, the world’s Roman Catholic faithful. That’s a lot of people.
- It is a meditative, quotable, beautiful letter. I fully expect that Hallmark Greeting Cards is setting up a department now, dedicated to the encyclical.
- It’s authoritative. No one asked American evangelicals if they planned to obey the Lausanne Cape Town commitment when it called on the global church to “engage in radical action to address climate change and reduce greenhouse gases, the harm from which falls most heavily on the poor.” The evangelical world doesn’t speak that way. But the authority of Laudato Si is already being discussed in the Catholic Church, and it carries enormous weight.
- It is riskier than most other declarations. It borrows the language of St. Francis, which some will misread as pantheistic; and it challenges the existing world economic and technocratic orders in ways that others will misread as socialist.
- Finally, its scope is very broad, and links the calls to ecological discipleship with virtually every other aspect of social and personal holiness. If I had to choose a few words to summarize the Pope’s message, it would be this: Everything in God’s world is connected to everything else, and to Him. This is not theologically new, but I believe you’ll find that it goes beyond the previous creation-care declarations.
But here’s the thing: You’re not going to read it. Who has time? And who do you know who’s actually read an encyclical (besides me)?
Okay, okay. Some of you probably will. And if you want to read it all, then you can download the PDF for free right here: just click, and read for hours.
Or, if your time is tight just now, you can have the digest I’ve put together for you. Every single section is in there, but in synopsis, with all the most compelling quotes (or so I think). So go ahead, click on the link below, and get to know this wonderful letter.