Pope Francis on the Environment: First of a Series

August 2015. Pope Francis released an encyclical on the environment.

Pilot_Mountain-distant.jpgFrancis’s recent encyclical on the environment has the English sub-title “Care of our Common Home,” namely our planet Earth. The encyclical text is one hundred and eighty pages long. However it is written in clear language that is familiar to Christians. In this review I summarize two of Francis’s major themes, as I see them from a Moravian perspective.

More than Just the “Environment”

If all that the encyclical said was “clean up your filth” (as headlined in one newspaper article) such a long document would not have been needed. The encyclical is about much more than the natural “environment.” Francis writes about our social and spiritual environments as well, and how the natural, social, and spiritual environments interact.   

Francis makes reference to many Christian writings to support his position. He didn’t quote Comenius, but he would have found support from Comenius too (see HMC Earth Stewardship column for September 2014, archived in the Earth Stewards’ blog). Comenius saw sin making humans into adversaries and exploiters of nature. Sin shows up as greed, the insatiable desire for more than is necessary for a good life. Both Comenius and Francis agree that harm to the environment starts as a spiritual problem—setting our hearts on the things of this world.

Comenius (implicitly) and Francis see the healing of humans’ bad relationship with nature to require more than just a technological fix. Only a spiritual conversion gets to the root problem. Technology alone is insufficient to deal with a problem that involves spirit and society, as well as nature.   

Comenius wrote that opening of the heart to Christ also opens one’s eyes to the true character of nature—as God’s creation, which praises its Creator. Likewise, Francis emphasizes that the entire creation attests to God. And that the worth of creation (just as the worth of humanity) depends on God’s love for what he created. Francis notes that the first Francis (Francis of Assisi) addressed birds and animals as brothers and sisters, signifying the relationship of all creatures in God’s creation.

Francis on the Values of Contemporary Society

Francis says that the value-system of modern culture does not respect nature as God’s good creation, but values nature only for how useful it is to humans. And, “useful” to the worldly mind means that nature provides the resources, and dumping ground, for materialistic consumption. Over and over, Francis reminds readers that the meaning of life is not found in consumption. And that Earth cannot long sustain the levels of consumption that we in the rich countries demand.

Materialistic values also produce social evil-- for the poorest among the world’s people suffer as such values destroy nature. In short, a bad value system alienates nature, humanity and God from each other, and people from each other. 

Moravians are familiar with this idea, but we state it positively. At the close of an affirmation of faith (p. 29 of the Moravian Book of Worship) we say, “I will seek to live in harmony with God, with people everywhere, and with all of creation. Amen.” 

You can read the encyclical in its entirety by clicking here.

In addition to our own interests, here are a few other reasons we are called to stewardship of God's creation.  Click here.

—Donald Frey for HMC Earth Stewards