Pope Francis issued his first social encyclical, Laudato Si’ in 2015. It takes its name from St Francis of Assisi’s famous Canticle of the Creatures and is also known by the English title On Care for Our Common Home. By 2015 most scientists were convinced that climate change was causing an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events, rising sea levels, threatening the existence of some species due to changes in habitat, and causing an increase in the global mean temperature. The twenty-first conference of parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) was to take place in Paris 30 November – 11 December 2015. The timing of the encyclical seemed intended to encourage Catholic action in the lead up to this important event and to keep the spotlight on the need for effective international action. But Laudato Si’ is not just an encyclical on climate change.
Several key themes recur throughout the encyclical in a variety of ways. They are:
- the intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet,
- the conviction that everything in the world is connected,
- the critique of new paradigms and forms of power derived from technology,
- the call to seek other ways of understanding the economy and progress,
- the value proper to each creature,
- the human meaning of ecology,
- the need for forthright and honest debate,
- the serious responsibility of international and local policy,
- the throwaway culture and the proposal of a new lifestyle (LS, 16).
These themes are taken up in relation to several key issues including:
- climate change,
- water quality and availability,
- the loss of biodiversity,
- the decline in the quality of human life,
- global inequality, and
- the weakness of responses so far.
The cry of the poor and the cry of the earth are deeply interrelated for Pope Francis. The poorest people and communities are often the most affected by ecological issues, and their poverty may influence behaviour that contributes to them. Any response to environmental issues must also address social issues, inequality, and poverty. Hence Francis proposes an integral ecology.
Francis provides general lines of approach and action but calls the Church specifically to focus on education and ecological spirituality. He emphasises that human beings are part of creation, called to live in a sublime communion with all of God’s creatures.
Francis adopts an historically conscious and inductive ethical approach. He does not apply principles to reality deductively, but rather draws wisdom from the tradition – and from beyond the tradition – to respond to reality. Francis begins not from principles or experience, but by introducing his major dialogue partners – St Francis of Assisi and Patriarchy Bartholomew. He then contemplates reality, considers faith sources, analyses the situation, and then places all of these elements in dialogue in order to draw conclusions and provide guidance for action.
Laudato Si’ does not employ a duty ethic of stewardship but rather a virtue ethic of care and kinship. This is a major shift from previous social teachings.
In a first for a social encyclical, Laudato Si’ quotes from the ecological teachings of Bishops Conferences from every continent, especially those of non-western countries. A mutuality and reciprocity between the local and universal social magisterium, and between universal principles and experience in context is at play.
Contribution to CST
Laudato Si’ is the first encyclical to be devoted entirely to ecological questions. It adds depth and detail to existing teachings on ecology.
A key contribution of Laudato Si’ is its promotion of integral ecology which insists on the interconnectedness of everything and stresses the value of creation in itself rather than only as an instrumental good (LS, 140). Laudato Si’ is far less anthropocentric than previous teachings, stressing the creaturely nature of human beings, and it extends the principle of the common good, making it intergenerational.
Laudato Si’ also gives greater explicit attention to the spirituality of Catholic Social Teaching than most previous social encyclicals.
Overview of Laudato Si’ Chapter by Chapter
Contemplating the Ecological Crisis
Chapter 1 contemplates the ecological crisis. Pope Francis reflects on problems such as pollution, waste, the throw away culture, climate change, the water crisis, loss of biodiversity, links between ecological degradation and inequality, urbanisation, and the weak international political responses that have been made to date.
Along with wisdom from other sciences, Francis believes that faith has a contribution to make. Chapter 2 sets out a Biblical vision of creation and the place of human beings within it.
The Human Origins of the Crisis
In Chapter 3, Pope Francis stresses that the roots of the ecological crisis are human in origin. He discusses what he calls a technocratic paradigm, and anthropocentrism. Francis says that a technocratic paradigm that treats everything as an object to be used to generate profit has become globalised. He also criticises anthropocentrism which leads human beings not to value and respect the intrinsic dignity of other creatures and elements of creation.
In Chapter 4 Francis sets out an alternative vision of integral ecology. It stresses the interconnections between the environment and the human and social dimensions of the current crisis. He calls for an integral and sustainable human development which respects intergenerational justice.
Approaches to Action
Chapter 5 identifies five approaches to action: dialogue on the environment in the international community; new national and local policies and laws; transparent political processes; a dialogue between politics and economy for the sake of human fulfilment; and a dialogue between science and religion.
Spirituality & Education
Pope Francis concludes that above all it is human beings that must change. In Chapter 6 he calls us all to turn away from consumerism and to adopt a simpler, more sustainable lifestyle. Francis also calls for ecological education and also an ecological conversion. Christian spirituality can foster a new understanding of quality of life, and a deeper appreciation of the interconnectedness of all of God’s creation.
Access the full text of the encyclical here
Resources on Laudato Si’
Visit our Laudato Si’ Resources Page for videos, articles and more.
Laudato Si‘ Prayers & Reflections
We celebrated the first anniversary of the encyclical with a series of morning and evening prayers responding to quotes from Laudato Si’. Each one is accompanied by questions for reflection. Access the material here.