Some notable appreciations and critiques of Laudato Si’

Over at The Josias I defend the section of Laudato Si’ on world government, in the introduction a section of Henri Grenier neo-scholastic proof of the necessity of such an institution. At the same time, however, I wriggle out of the conclusion that the UN’s authority ought to be expanded by claiming that such a world government could only be just if it recognized the social kingship of Christ.

I have only read a fraction of the responses to the encyclical so far; links to some that I found most notable follow.  Some of the best appreciative commentary on the encyclical has come from the Anglican literature professor Alan Jacobs. In one post he points to a key early passage in the encyclical:

“Technology, which, linked to business interests, is presented as the only way of solving these problems, in fact proves incapable of seeing the mysterious network of relations between things and so sometimes solves one problem only to create others.”

And comments:

That there is such a mysterious network of relations is central to Franciscan spirituality, and this concept points to a wholly different understanding of “network” than our technocracy offers.

He closes with an attractive idea for a class on Pope Francis and Guardini:

A book frequently quoted in this encyclical is Romano Guardini’s The End of the Modern World. Pope Francis has long been interested in and influenced by Guardini, who was also a major influence on Benedict XVI. If I had my way, I’d spend the next couple of months preparing to teach a class in which this encyclical — a far richer work than I had expected it to be, and one that I hope will have lasting power — would be read alongside Guardini’s book, with both accompanied by repeated viewings of Mad Max: Fury Road. The class would be called “Who Killed the World?”

In another post he emphasizes the importance of the Holy Father’s term ‘our common home’:

All the economic questions he explores later in the encyclical are therefore grounded in the etymology of “economy”: the governance of the oikos, the household. Such domestic language is a powerful means of fighting the abstracting effects of any attempt to “think globally.” Francis seems to be saying that if you want to act globally, you should think locally: think of the earth as your home, one you share with others to whom you are accountable.

Jacobs’s points are taken up and deepened by Thomas Hibbs in The Catholic World Report. Hibbs absolutely nails the key point that Laudato Si’ is a protest against modern cosmology and natural philosophy as being at the root of so many modern problems:

Laudato Si’ is an ambitious document, one that seeks nothing less than the re-imagining of the place of human persons in the entirety of the created cosmos. Francis discerns beneath the contemporary ecological crisis a crisis of the human person, who is now lost in the cosmos, increasingly alienated from self, others, nature, and God. Ecological threats are but one symptom of a much broader crisis: “If the present ecolog­ical crisis is one small sign of the ethical, cultural, and spiritual crisis of modernity, we cannot pre­sume to heal our relationship with nature and the environment without healing all fundamen­tal human relationships” (119). The most audacious claim in the encyclical is not the affirmation of the reality of climate change, but the insistence that to have a coherent and effective environmental philosophy requires both an anthropology and a cosmology.

Hibbs also refers to Charles De Koninck, which immediately disposes me to agree with his argument. At Vatican Radio, Patrick Deneen also takes up the theme of natural philosophy, and invokes Aristotle:

The theme that runs through [the Encyclical] is, I think, a very Aristotelian theme – not surprisingly – a Thomistic and Aristotelian theme: how human beings live in and with and through nature, in ways that do not fall into what Pope Francis calls, again and again, the twin temptations of, on the one hand, viewing human beings as separate from nature in our capacity to dominate nature, [and] on the other side, a kind of anti-humanism which regards human beings as equally foreign to nature, but now as a kind of virus that has to – in some ways – be eliminated.

Christopher Malloy agrees in his series at Theological Flint: “Could we say that there is an implicit: Back to Aristotle! Back to metaphysics! in this encyclical?” I think we could.

Fr. Robert Barron invokes Aristotelian natural philosophy as well, and ties it to Guardini’s delightful early work, Briefe vom Comer See:

To get a handle on Guardini’s worldview, one should start with a series of essays that he wrote in the 1920′s, gathered into book form as Letters from Lake Como. Like many Germans (despite his very Italian name, Guardini was culturally German), he loved to vacation in Italy, and he took particular delight in the lake region around Milan. He was enchanted, of course, by the physical beauty of the area, but what intrigued him above all was the manner in which human beings, through their architecture and craftsmanship, interacted non-invasively and respectfully with nature. When he first came to the region, he noticed, for example, how the homes along Lake Como imitated the lines and rhythms of the landscape and how the boats that plied the lake did so in response to the swelling and falling of the waves. But by the 1920′s, he had begun to notice a change. The homes being built were not only larger, but more “aggressive,” indifferent to the surrounding environment, no longer accommodating themselves to the natural setting. And the motor-driven boats on the lake were no longer moving in rhythm with the waves, but rather cutting through them indifferently. In these unhappy changes, Guardini noted the emergence of a distinctively modern sensibility. He meant that the attitudes first articulated by Francis Bacon in the sixteenth century and René Descartes in the seventeenth were coming to dominate the mentality of twentieth-century men and women. Consciously departing from Aristotle, who had said that knowledge is a modality of contemplation, Bacon opined that knowledge is power, more precisely power to control the natural environment. This is why he infamously insisted that the scientist’s task is to put nature “on the rack” so that she might give up her secrets.

The most practical appreciation of the encyclical that I have seen so far is Bob Waldrop’s guest post at Cosmos in the Lost— embodies the best of the tradition of Dorothy Day.

Of the more critical approaches to the encyclical some of the most interesting have been ones that criticize it for being too anti-modern. Jan Grossarth argues in the Frankfurter Allgemeine that the pope doesn’t appreciate the good of industrialism, and that the papal anti-liberal, Franciscan ideal is “eine schreckliche Vorstellung.”  Catholic commentators give a more balanced critique of the Holy Father’s anti-progrssivism. Rusty Reno at First Things (whom I linked in an earlier post), Matthew Schmitz at The Washington Post (though more approvingly), and Josiah Neeley on RStreet all compare the new encyclical to Bl. Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus ErrorumRoss Douthat agrees that our civilization deserves a “deep critique,” but disagrees that the current course is entirely unsustainable.

A good number of traditionalists have been critical as well, but for different reasons. Yves Daoudal, for instance, gives an impressive critique of Laudato Si’s use of the documents of episcopal conferences, in which he quotes the following lines from Cardinal Sarah’s new book:

A cause de la diversité des opinions sur des questions graves, de la perte des valeurs et de la désorientation des esprits provoquée par le relativisme, nous commettrions un grave péché contre l’unité du Corps du Christ et de la doctrine de l’Eglise en donnant aux conférences épiscopales une autorité ou une capacité de décision sur des questions doctrinales, disciplinaires, morales.

Daoudal is also upset about the citation of Teilhard, and makes a somewhat mean-spirited use of Luke 6:26 to mock the reception of the encyclical by the world. Christopher Ferrara gives lists of parts that he considers bad and parts that he considers good at Life Site News. Among the good he mentions:

Nods to distributism, including the desirability of small producers (¶¶ 94, 129). Perfectly legitimate criticisms of hyper-capitalism and globalization, boundless technocracy, orgiastic consumerism, and the disastrous impact on social life of the digital culture.

And among the bad he lists the Holy Father’s acceptance of the idea of climate change. In the Remnant Ferrara gives a fuller critique, in which he focuses on the influence of Teilhard. One of these days I want to read some Teilhard, so that I can judge better about his influence.

6 thoughts on “Some notable appreciations and critiques of Laudato Si’

  1. Very interesting article Pater, for in my soon to be published novel Tower of Ivory and across its sequels, the confrontation between a holy empire based on subsidiarity and a totalitarian United Nations is played out. At the same time, in a post about the necessity of a Holy Roman Empire of Christendom (, I made (more briefly) some of the main points you made in you recent article about World Government. I would greatly appreciate your opinion of my post.

    About the encyclical itself, it seemed to me that it was the right encyclical at the wrong time. Though the citation of Teilhard de Chardin was insignificant and cited nothing heretical, yet the common acceptance of Chardin makes me worry, for on the purely social-political level he appears to have been a Marxist-Fascist Racist, and his spirituality was even worse, for he believed that the entire universe was evolving into what is, when you strip away the pseudoscientific and pseudo-philosophical language, essentially God. That being said, I think the Remnant article’s criticism unfounded, firstly because the encyclical is about the physical rather the spiritual part of man (though of course the two are inseparable until death), secondly because the encyclical was not about evolution, and finally because the article’s author’s unqualified justification of man’s absolute use of animals (though he later qualifies it, yet then again falls back on his own argument) is unfounded in Christian teaching and even contradicted by the teaching which he cites.

    Sorry for the long comment. May God bless you and grant you a blessed day, Pater.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. To the list of critiques I would add two: First, the length really seems unnecessary. If the Encyclicals are to reach the mass of men, indeed, even if they are to reach all priests, would not a shorter encyclical be more effective? Particularly given how the press has loved to distort the teachings of this pope, giving them a 190+ page encyclical is surely only going to aid them in their endeavor. Second, I would have had more references to pre Vatican II magisterial teachings. This would go a long way quiet the great chorus of “rupture, rupture” which seems to come from both sides of the aisle.

    I hope to read the encyclical soon, but it looks v. promising, and full of good sense. Indeed, many of the criticisms are so wildly misplaced as to be comical.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Laudato Si’, the Natural Philosopher, and the Common Good | John G. Brungardt, Ph.L.

  4. Pingback: Some remarks on Kaveny and Neuhaus | Semiduplex

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