In Laudato si’ Pope Francis encapsulates and develops the thrust of the social Magisterium on the ecology issue

Presented below is the full text of the presentation delivered by Archbishop Giampaolo Crepaldi at the “Kick-off seminar – Key areas for European social dialogue”, held in Malta on 2-3 December 2015. Archbishop Crepaldi is the chairperson of the Caritas in veritate commission of the CECE (Council of the Episcopal Conferences of Europe).


The social teaching of the Church is very much like a majestic river flowing along and bringing its waters into contact with ever new shores. Nothing in that river is lost, everything is conserved, and renewed at the same time. The only true way to conserve is to renew, and this means to live. The Church’s social teaching on the ecology issue also dates back in time[1] and has travelled a long journey in the bed of this river. Now that the waters of this river have become deeper and the treasure of that teaching has built up in magnitude and dimension, Pope Francis summarizes, launches anew, systemizes,  and projects his gaze into the future. Laudato sì’, as Pope Francis writes, “is now added to the body of the social teaching of the Church”[2]. The spring of this Encyclical Letter is far upstream, and it now prepares – this is our hope – to nourish the immense sea of concrete social life by flowing into it.

The metaphor of the big river is intended to be a visual translation of the nature of the Social Doctrine of the Church , which is always the same and yet always new in the same sense.[3]. In fact, it is the announcement of Christ[4], and Christ is not an outstanding personality of the past. In the light of the faith of the Church, He is alive in our midst today like the Vine and the branches.   

Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter Laudato sì on care for the common home, on the ecology,[5], is nourished by the major principles of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Among them, in addition to the principle of the common good[6], considerable importance is assumed in this case by the principle of the universal destination of created goods. I would like to recall John Paul II’s decision that the main theme of the centennial celebration of Rerum novarum back in 1991 was to be this universal destination of created goods[7]. In the mind of St. John Paul II,  that principle had to be rethought and rendered timely with respect to two important issues. The first of these was that having a common destination are not only material goods like underground resources or land, but also intellectual goods like the results of research, entrepreneurial and economic know how, science and art, nowadays called immaterial goods. The second was that the universal destination of goods called for solidarity among generations so each generation could hand down to its offspring a planet still able to be inhabited by  man.  Inhabitable has a environmental-humanistic sense as well as an environmental-natural one.

Twenty-five years later, we can now say that Laudato sì’ evokes these requirements and brings them to fulfillment[8]. We can say it brings both of them to fulfillment in their interdependence. In fact, it is not a matter of handing down to our children and grandchildren a non humanized and uncultivated planet not managed with justice for the good of all. Care for the common home does not mean abandonment, negligence, the forswearing of man’s role to make the planet bear fruits for the benefit of all, or, even worse, impoverishment. The care of the common home calls for wisdom and has to blend science and technology, economy and production with due prudence. In other words, it requires giving thought to how to share knowledge and nature, human values and natural resources, since their common destination is universal. Both evident and demanding in Laudato sì’ is this intertwining of human and natural elements, spiritual and material elements. This is encapsulated in the concept of “integral ecology” with which Pope Francis inherits and processes anew the concept of “human ecology” of John Paul II[9]. Integral ecology requires the combination of knowledge with the laws of nature, but also calls for a moral and religious attitude towards created reality. This moral and religious attitude consists first and foremost in respect for life and the family. This is what John Paul II had taught when speaking of human ecology, sustaining that the family was the first structure of human ecology. He had also done so when evoking the duty to respect life. Society, he wrote in Evangelium vitae, is not a mass of individuals placed side by side[10], and the natural environment is not just a mass of rocks. There is an order in the things that speaks to us, and it is the fruit of the Creator’s wisdom and love. Pope Francis as well speaks repeatedly in Laudato sì’ about those persons excluded from life, those who are discarded: human embryos, babies aborted before seeing the light of day, elderly persons driven to exit life through “sweet death”. In Caritas in veritate, Benedict XVI had sustained that no attitude of true openness and care is possible if it is not above all practiced in respect for nascent life and the complementarity of matrimony, from which the family is born[11].  Pope Francis now bolsters all this, arguing that either ecology is integral and concerns the whole person and all persons, and not just the safeguarding of the equilibrium inherent in nature, or else it will not even exist in that realm. Integral means it either applies everywhere, or exists nowhere. In fact, the world is a system of a myriad of interconnections that are not just horizontal, but vertical to an even greater degree.

In all truthfulness, Laudato sì’ is not just an ecological encyclical, but rather a Christological encyclical. In even clearer terms, it deals with ecology, but in an eminently Christological way. Just like St. Francis, Pope Francis also sees creation as illuminated by the Word and destined to be recapitulated in Christ: “the destiny of all creation is bound up with the mystery of Christ”[12]. This perspective is what distinguishes a Catholic vision from the many other visions now present in the marketplace of social culture. At a time when the theology of creation is somewhat in the shadows for many reasons, this vision proposed by Pope Francis strikes me as being extremely important, and especially as concerns the encyclical second’s chapter, which attributes created reality, light reflected, to the Creator, the original and full light.  Underway for many centuries has been an effort to separate nature from the Creator, but, as Vatican Council II says, “without the Creator, the creature vanishes”[13]. This also applies with respect to created realty, nowadays so often transformed into mere “nature”. What Pope Francis wants to tell us is that the ecology issue says more about itself. Material crises are never just material. They indicate a sense of both wisdom-related and practical confusion experienced by man. Pope Francis speaks about an issue very much on the mind of everyone. The Magisterium had already addressed it, but not in such a complete and organic manner. In so doing, the Holy Father places himself on the terrain of the sensitivity of man today, speaks about what is dear to his heart, tunes in with his vivid concerns, and then dilates the viewpoint unto making this issue become not the problem of man, but of Christ and the Gospel. In methodological terms, this is not a dimension to be underestimated.  Many lay minds have taken a superficial approach to Laudato si’, interpreting it as an encyclical situated at the level of problems, a “lay” encyclical in both language and themes. Pope Francis harbors utmost consideration for some scientific interpretations and embraces some of today’s concerns, which, albeit still under discussion, are widely shared[14]. Nonetheless, at the very moment when he delves into the problem with the use and aid of all the motives of lay reasoning, he proposes a Christocentric interpretation of it, situates it within a powerful vision of faith, and uplifts it to a perspective unprecedented for “the professionals of ecologism”. Many were those who sang the praises of Laudato si’ all too hastily, thereby hoping to draw it within their system of thought, for which it would have constituted a sort of confirmation. But they were disappointed, because the perspective of Christ does not fit within any school of human thought.  

The feature most proper to Laudato si’ may be seen in the fact that it doesn’t offer indications for daily practices, but develops an “ecological spirituality” whose center is not the ecology; the center is Jesus Christ, He through whom everything was done (Jn 1:3). It is necessary to promote this new gaze of the soul focusing on the created things alongside us and which we use each day. Laudato si’ brings attention to bear on the outstanding issues of economy, finance and politics, and in this sense deals with institutions. Benedict XVI had been taken to task for not having done so in an opportune manner in Caritas in veritate. The encyclical, however, also deals with little and ordinary daily gestures whereby at work, at home with the family or during our free time we relate with the environment and through it with other persons and with God. This is precisely the point: consider that when we relate with things, we are also relating with other persons and with the Creator. Coming into being here is an ecological spirituality which has nothing at all to do with current new age syncretic trends, or new ecologically sustainable consumerism. The sustainability of which Laudato si’  speaks is an ecological, human and Christian sustainability.

According to this encyclical of Pope Francis, the “ecological spirituality” should assume concrete form in an “ecological conversion”[15]. This expression has often been read and understood as a conversion “to the ecology”, almost as if our land, this planet and factors of environmental balance were the object of conversion. Certainly, in the face of concrete action revealing grave and harmful scorn for nature it is possible to speak about a need to change the outlook driving action, that is to say, a conversion. This, however, has to be understood in a limited sense bereft of the religious meaning the selfsame word assumes in a Christian context. The object of this conversion, however, is neither water, which has to be wisely used, nor air, which is not to be polluted, because otherwise the perspective becomes one of rendering nature divine. The object of this conversion is God, who also demands of us a change in the way of looking upon creation. The conversion consists in seeing creation “in God”, within His plan of salvation and in the light of His providential Will, and therefore not in adhesion to forms of ecologism. Here as well the model remains St. Francis of Assisi[16].

As presented in Laudato si’, ecological spirituality is the assumption of the perspective of ‘giftness’. In this sense I see a rather meaningful continuity between Caritas in veritate[17] and  Laudatosi’.  Carried forward and developed is the principle whereby receiving goes before doing.  Benedict XVI had made this Christian rationale of ‘giftness’ the point of reference also for a renewal of economic institutions, indicating itineraries for revisiting our traditional concepts regarding enterprise, entrepreneurs and profit. When looked upon in this position, the spirituality of Laudato si’ cannot remain a merely intimate and spiritual spirituality, and with its categories actually expands to impact the construction of society at large.  Hence, the prayer with which Pope Francis concludes this encyclical letter becomes the source of true and concrete hope, a factual and ‘organized’ hope for the good of all persons.


[1]Tra i principali insegnamentidel magistero precedenti la Laudato sì, ricordiamo almeno i seguenti: Giovanni Paolo II, Lett. Enc. Centesimusannus, nn. 37-40; Giovanni Paolo II, Messaggio per la Giornata mondiale della pace, 1 gennaio 1990: “Pace con Dio creatore, pace con tutto il creato”; Pontificio Consiglio per la giustizia e la pace, Compendio della Dottrina sociale della Chiesa, nn. 451-487; Benedetto XVI, Lett. Enc. Caritas in veritate, nn. 48-51.

[2]Laudatosi’, n. 15.Sull’enciclica Laudatosi’ di Papa Francesco, si può vedere: EDITORIALE, Lettre encycliqueLaudatoSi’sur la sauvegarde de la maison commune, “Nova &Vetera”, XC (2015) 3, pp. 245-250; FARES, Diego S.I., Povertà e fragilità del pianeta, “La Civiltà Cattolica”, n. 3961, 11 luglio 2015, pp. 23-34; LARIVERA, Luciano S.I., L’enciclica oltre le critiche ideologiche, “La Civiltà Cattolica”, n. 3961, 11 luglio 2015, pp. 23-34.; SPADARO, Antonio S.I., “Laudatosi’”. Guida alla lettura dell’enciclica di Papa Francesco, “La Civiltà Cattolica”, n. 3961, 11 luglio 2015, pp. 3-22.

[3] Giovanni Paolo II, Lett. Enc. Sollicitudo rei socialis, n. 3

[4] Ivi, n. 41; Id., Lett. Enc. Centesimusannus, n. 5.

[5] Sulla questione ecologica nella Dottrina sociale della Chiesa si vedano: SEQUERI, Pierangelo, Custode, non tiranno. Per un nuovo rapporto fra persona e creato, EMI, Bologna 2014; DE LARMINAT, Stanislav, L’écologiechrétienne n’est pas ce quevouscroyez, Préface de Mgr. André-Joseph Léonard, Salvator, Paris 2014; DE LARMINAT, Stanislas, Vers l’écologiehumaine?, “Libertépolitique”, n. 59, mars-avril 2013, pp. 11-28; CREPALDI Giampaolo – TOGNI, Paolo, Ecologia ambientale ed ecologiaumana. Politiche dell’ambiente e Dottrina sociale della Chiesa, Cantagalli, Siena 2007.

[6]Laudatosi’, nn. 156-158.

[7]CfBELLAVITE, Enrico e FONTANA, Stefano (a cura di), La destinazione universale dei beni. Atti del Simposio internazionale nel centenario della Rerum Novarum del Pontificio Consiglio della Giustizia e della Pace, Edizioni Cercate, Verona 1992.

[8] Papa Francesco si rifà esplicitamente al principio della destinazione universale dei beni nel paragrafo VI del secondo capitolo, nn. 93-95.

[9] Giovanni Paolo II, Lett. Enc. Centesimusannus, 38.

[10] Giovanni Paolo II, Lett. Encicl. Evangelium vitae, n. 20.

[11] Benedetto XVI, Lett. Enc. Caritas in veritate, n. 28.

[12]Laudatosi’, n. 99.

[13] Concilio Vaticano II, Cost. Past. Gaudium et spes, n.

[14] Si veda soprattutto il capitolo I dell’enciclica.

[15]Laudatosi’, nn. 216-218. L’espressione era già stata usata da Giovanni Paolo II nel Messaggio per la Giornata mondiale della pace del 1 gennaio 1990.

[16]Laudato sì’, n. 218.

[17]Cf CREPALDI, Giampaolo, Introduzione alla lettura dell’enciclica Caritas in veritate, in Benedetto XVI, Caritas in veritate, Cantagalli, Siena 2009, pp. 9-42.