74 – Laudato si’ (I): Collateral considerations: what is an Encyclical, what is the Social Doctrine of the Church, and finally what are the prerequisites of a Social Encyclical?

There are few images that so authentically and poetically reflect the relationship between God and mankind, as the shepherd and his flock. “I am the good shepherd, My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (Jn 10:14, 27). These unforgettable words of the Eternal Shepherd have instilled confidence and certainty in his sheep throughout the centuries. Yes, throughout all centuries, for the ‘echo’ of the voice of the Shepherd has consistently made itself heard among the faithful in different ways. Amongst these, an incomparable manner is, without doubt, through the Magisterium of the Church, which by the munus of teaching, projects the voice of the Divine Master for all time, leading the flock to fertile pastures and defending it from ferocious wolves. Even today, the ‘sheep’ know how to recognize who is speaking to them…

A short time ago Francis published his second Encyclical. The interest that preceded its publication was a clear symptom of the desire to find in it an ‘echo’ of the voice of Jesus Christ caring for his flock in these agitated times. The publication of ‘Laudato si’ – which Francis wishes to incorporate into the social doctrine of the Church – awakened a reaction, that is as wide as it is superficial, from the most diverse quarters, ranging from radical environmental groups, to political leaders and religious sectors: reactions of delight, of reserve, and of concern…
Therefore, in face of the importance of this document, the Denzinger-Bergoglio, as well as its English counterpart, present a study that is more exhaustive than our habitual endeavors. The structure of this study is similar to our usual form, but with new facets that help the reader to enter into the little mentioned meanders of the Encyclical so as to be able to arrive at a sound verdict about it, always in keeping with the immutable doctrine of the Church.
In this first part, it seemed opportune to make some collateral considerations, for those that are not entirely clear about certain essential premises when reading a pontifical document, principally that which is the object of analysis.

As Catholics, how should we consider this Encyclical? Do we find in it an authentic echo of the voice of the Good Shepherd, clarifying the social questions of our days? Let us leave it to the Magisterium itself to answer these questions.

Francis

Teachings of the Magisterium

Enter in the various parts of our study

ContentsI – A preliminary question: what degree of adhesion should the faithful offer to documents of the Church?II – ‘Laudato si’ and the social doctrine of the Church: the same purposes, objectives and foundations?III – Within the social doctrine of the Church, legitimate ecological concerns should be considered with respect to God and the eternal salvation of man

I – A preliminary question: what degree of adhesion should the faithful offer to documents of the Church?
II –‘Laudato si’ and the social doctrine of the Church: the same purposes, objectives and foundations?

  1. The purpose of the social doctrine of the Church is the supernatural salvation of man, a concern that is not perceived in the ‘Laudato si’
  2. As the most formal documents of the Magisterium, Encyclicals deal with topics of key importance to the Church at a particular moment in history. In the Social Encyclicals the most important topic is the human person – image and likeness of God – not algae, worms and reptiles…
  3. The social doctrine of the Church forms part of Moral Theology; it offers principles of reflection, criteria of judgment and directives for action – not technical solutions
  4. The social doctrine of the Church takes its principles from Revelation, and how it has been understood by the Church throughout the centuries. Therefore, not among Her sources: orthodox patriarchs, sufi muslims and even less pantheistic documents like the Earth Charter
  5. To clarify moral action, social doctrine is based on eternal truths and not on contingent human authority, such as disputable scientific investigations regarding global warming and the greenhouse effect, the human causes of which have not been proven but rather are questioned in many circles

III – Within the social doctrine of the Church, legitimate ecological concerns should be considered with respect to God and the eternal salvation of man

  1. The ecological question may have serious moral implications, but may not take man from his true end which is God and eternity. The salvation of a soul is worth more than the entire created universe
  2. Care for creation demands a constant reference to the soteriological and eschatological truths of the faith and of God himself; only in this way will it be effective
  3. Saint Francis of Assisi: An ecologist in the Middle Ages? How should the love for creation of the Poverello of Assisi be understood?

 

 


I – A preliminary question: what degree of adhesion should the faithful offer to documents of the Church?


Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

The mission of teaching is entrusted to the Magisterium so that all men may attain to salvation
For this, Jesus Christ promised the assistance of the Holy Spirit to the Church’s Pastors – but there are degrees to be considered

Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

The same applies to the Church’s social doctrine

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

To be believed: what is proposed as divinely revealed either by solemn pronouncement or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium; to be firmly accepted and held: to what is set forth definitively by the Magisterium regarding teaching on faith and morals
An example of the ordinary and universal Magisterium that is binding is found in the ‘Instruction Donum vitae’ of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: the Magisterium does not offer opinions nor does it propose lines of dialogue, rather, by the authority of the Church, it defines the true doctrine or its application with regards to a particular question

Vatican Council II (Ecumenical XXI)

‘Religious submission of mind and will’: to the authentic teaching of the Magisterium that is proclaimed by a definitive act be shown to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff when he is not speaking ex cathedra

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

Does that mean that they cannot be questions? On questions of interventions in the prudential order, involving contingent and conjectural elements, it could happen that some Magisterial documents might not be free from all deficiencies
 


II – ‘Laudato si’ and the social doctrine of the Church: the same purposes, objectives and foundations?


The purpose of the social doctrine of the Church is the supernatural salvation of man, a concern that is not perceived in the ‘Laudato si’


John Paul II

Pastors have the principal duty to be Teachers of the Truth that comes from God, not politicians, scientists or technologists

Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Church bears a mission distinct from that of political authorities - it is concerned with temporal aspects in the measure that they are ordered to God and the good of souls

John XXIII

The Church constructs her social teaching on the principle that man is raised in the plan of Providence to the supernatural order

Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

Helping man on the path of salvation: the primary and sole purpose of the Church’s social doctrine

As the most formal documents of the Magisterium, Encyclicals deal with of the topics of key importance to the Church at a particular moment in history. In the Social Encyclicals the most important topic is the human person – image and likeness of God – not algae, worms and reptiles…


Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

The object of social doctrine is the human person, entrusted by Christ to the Church’s care

John Paul II

The guiding principle of the Church’s social doctrine: a correct view of the human person, made in God’ own image and likeness

Catechism of the Catholic Church

Being in God’ image, man is worth more than sparrows and sheep

Benedict XVI

Man has an incomparable dignity: God did not hesitate to give his own Son for him
More than defending the earth, water and air, the Church must above all protect mankind from self-destruction

Vatican Council II (Ecumenical XXI)

In our days it is the human person that must to be preserved; human society to be renewed

John Paul II

More than preserving the natural habitats of the various animal species threatened with extinction, greater effort must made to safeguard the natural and moral conditions of mankind

The social doctrine of the Church forms part of Moral Theology; it offers principles of reflection, criteria of judgment and directives for action – not technical solutions


Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

The Church’s social doctrine is of a specifically theological-moral nature
The Church’s social doctrine does not belong to the field of ideology, but of theology- it cannot be defined according to socio-economic parameters

John Paul II

The Church’s social teaching is a valid instrument of evangelization, and only in this light does it concern itself with everything else

Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

Christ did not bequeath to the Church a mission in the political, economic or social order

Pius XI

The Church’s authority conferred by God is on the moral implications of different matters and on what leads to eternal happiness – not technical matters

Paul VI

In the social sphere, the Church assists discovery of the truth and the right path to follow

Pius XII

The Church should form the consciences of those who are called to seek the practical solutions for social problems in conformity to the divine laws

John Paul II

For this, the social doctrine of the Church offers ‘principles for reflection,’ ‘criteria of judgment’ and ‘directives for action’

The social doctrine of the Church takes its principles from Revelation, and how it has been understood by the Church throughout the centuries. Therefore, not among Her sources: orthodox patriarchs, sufi muslims and even less pantheistic documents like The Earth Charter


Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

The Church’s doctrinal heritage has its roots in Sacred Scripture and Tradition

Benedict XVI

Social doctrine is built on the foundation handed on by the Apostles to the Fathers of the Church
Christians have their own contribution to make - in light of divine Revelation and in fidelity to Tradition

John Paul II

The morally coherent world view is grounded in religious convictions drawn from Revelation

Benedict XVI

Without the Tradition of the Apostolic Faith, social doctrine is reduced to merely sociological data

To clarify moral action, social doctrine is based on eternal truths and not on contingent human authority, such as disputable scientific investigations regarding global warming and the greenhouse effect, the human causes of which have not been proven but rather are questioned in many circles


John Paul II

There can be no genuine solution of the ‘social question’ apart from the Gospel, where there context for the proper moral perspective is found
In order to know man, one must know God

John XXIII

The moral order has no existence except in God; cut off from God it must necessarily disintegrate

Pius XII

Caution must be used when there is question of hypotheses in scientific questions

Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

Circumstances of uncertainty and provisional solutions call for the applying not of rules but of guidelines
 


III – Within the social doctrine of the Church, legitimate ecological concerns should be considered with respect to God and the eternal salvation of man


The ecological question may have serious moral implications, but may not take man from his true end which is God and eternity. The salvation of a soul is worth more than the entire created universe


Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

The human person transcends the limits of the created universe for his ultimate end is God himself

Paul VI

The rational creature should direct his life to God

Pius XI

The Author of nature established an orderly relationship - subordinating immediate purposes, like caring for nature, to our supreme and last end

Leo XIII

God has given us this world as a place of exile, and not as our abiding place: concern for the ‘common home’ must be based on the ‘Father’s Home’
Life on earth is only the way and the means of perfecting the soul, which is made after the image and likeness of God

Pius XI

What are temporal upheavals, disasters and calamities compared with the loss of souls?

Saint Thomas Aquinas

The justification of the ungodly is greater than the creation of heaven and earth
Greater than the good of nature in the whole universe: the good of grace in one person

Saint John Chrysostom

Man alone is more precious in the eyes of God than the entire creation

Care for creation demands a constant reference to the soteriological and eschatological truths of the faith and of God himself; only in this way will it be effective


Pius XII

The harmony of the relationship between man and creation comes from its common origin, elevated by the Incarnation

Catechism of the Catholic Church

The work of creation finds its meaning and summit in the greater work of Redemption

Pius XII

Jesus Christ defeats sin, root of disharmony among men and nature

John XXIII

Christianity is the meeting-point of earth and heaven; the earthly existence and the eternal life

John Paul II

Man’s future depends on the understanding he has of himself and of his destiny; and here is the Church’s specific and decisive contribution

Benedict XVI

We cannot work well for the earth unless we take into account the Last Judgement, Purgatory, Hell and Heaven
The relationship between humans and the environment ultimately stems from their relationship with God

Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

Without the relationship with God, nature is stripped of its profound meaning and impoverished

John Paul II

Ecological imbalance is born of a misuse use of creatures, ignoring or rejecting the purpose that is inherent to the work of creation

Benedict XVI

Creation awaits God’s children, who treat it according to God’s perspective

Saint Francis of Assisi: an ecologist in the Middle Ages? How should the love for creation of the Poverello of Assisi be understood?


Congregation for the Doctrine and the Faith

In the 12th and 13th centuries, the Cathars revived old dualistic positions, considering the material universe as evil, and constituted a real danger to the faith

Benedict XVI

The mendicant orders were called to confont such heresies by their adhesion to the doctrine of the Church - In this context, Saint Francis’admiration for nature can be understood as a testimony of the goodness of creation

Saint Bonaventure

In every created thing, Saint Francis perceived a trace of the Creator; and in loving creatures he used them as a ladder to ascend to the Beloved

Benedict XVI

Saint Francis’ gazing at nature was a contemplation of the Creator; to understand it otherwise is to make Francis unrecognizable
The ‘Canticle of the Creatures’ before being an invitation to respect creation, is a prayer, praise addressed to the Creator – Francis’ canticle, of obvious biblical inspiration, aspires towards the Creator, not at environment protection

Saint Francis of Assisi

Parts of the ‘Canticle of the Sun’ ommitted in the ‘Laudato si’: Praise to God, considerations about death, sin and eternal salvation

Saint Bonaventure

The piety that led him to love all creatures above all inclined him to the salvation of souls redeemed by the precious Blood of Christ Jesus
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