The Theological and Ecological Vision of Laudato Si'

laudatoThe Theological and Ecological Vision of Laudato Si'
Editor: Vincent J. Miller
ISBN: 9780567673152
Price: £28.99
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Year: 2017
Publisher: Bloomsbury T&T Clark

It is over two years now since the publication of Pope Francis' encyclical on the care of creation, Laudato Si'. In the English-speaking world it is perhaps inevitable that the well-resourced Catholic academic world of the United States would lead the way in theological reflection about the Pope's ground-breaking letter, and the publication of another excellent collection of essays proves the point. Vincent Miller, based at Dayton University in Ohio, has brought together scholars who comment in an accessible way on the key themes which the Pope addresses, originally at a conference in Dayton at the same time as the encyclical was published (March 2015), although they seem to have been updated. The collection is divided into three parts: the first, 'Everything is connected', the second which looks at the themes of Laudato Si' and a third part, 'Responding in care to our common home'.

Professor Miller is an established authority on consumerism and globalisation. His opening essay, in many ways a keynote for the whole collection, is entitled 'Integral Ecology: Francis' spiritual and moral vision of interconnectedness'. Interconnectedness is one of the big themes of Laudato Si', and Miller looks at the depth and beauty of the Pope's teaching. He quotes this striking passage: 'Each creature has its own purpose. None is superfluous. The entire material universe speaks of God's love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything, as it were, a caress of God' (section 84). This reflects our belief in God the Holy Trinity. Miller identifies another favourite idea of the Pope - the image of the 'gaze of Jesus': the Lord gives us an example of 'serene attentiveness' for looking at the world in which we live. Integral ecology is not simply a spiritual path - it is deeply moral, demanding certain courses of action, and there are many obstacles in its path: the world economic system, exploitative approaches to technology (both discussed by the Holy Father), together with people's inability to understand the complexity of interconnections in the world. Miller shows that the idea of 'integral ecology' is one of the major and most original contributions of the encyclical to academic discourse. The remaining two essays in the first part of the book look at the science behind the encyclical: the first, by Miller's physicist colleague at Dayton, Robert Brecha, is a reasonably accessible explanation of the importance of climate change, and the second, by Terrence Ehrman, gives a detailed picture of the way in which species interact with each other and with the environment. Not just species but pharmaceuticals: did you know, for example, that the female contraceptive pill, when it ends up in the water system, affects fish population?

The central second section of the collection addresses specific topics in the Pope's letter - its theology of creation, its theological anthropology, its 'spirituality of solidarity', the relationship between creation and liturgy, its use of the 'option for the poor', and its economic vision. These are outstanding and take many of the letter's themes further. The essay dealing with Francis' theology of creation (by Elizabeth Groppe) makes extensive use of Dante, building on the Pope's quotation of the verse about 'the Love that moves the sun and the stars'; that by Sandra Yocum, 'Liturgy: The exaltation of creation', is a powerful reflection of the use of creation motifs in the Church's liturgy for the Sacred Triduum; and the final essay in part two by Anthony Annett shows the depth of the Pope's critique of the ideology behind the world economic system. The letter is 'a radical criticism against what he calls the myths of modernity-individualism, unlimited progress, competition, consumerism, a market without rules. These are the values that animate neoliberalism, and they are an inadequate basis for genuine human progres.' (p.172),

The third part of the book comprises four contributions which look at what can be done in response to the ecological crisis which Pope Francis addresses. In an essay covering 'concern for our global commons', Ottmar Edenhofer and Christian Flachsland relate the climate change issues to two fundamental principles of Catholic Social Teaching - the Common Good and the Common Destination of Goods. They also look at the practical implications of how the Church enters into dialogue with others about ecological issues, and at how decisions are made. I am not sure why they want to water down the meaning of the Pope's call (echoing Pope Benedict XVI in Caritas in Veritate) for a 'world political authority' (section 175), suggesting that it is merely a call for 'international co-operation and coordination among nation states' (p. 184). A good many right-wing Catholics in the United States certainly disliked what both Popes have called for - but one cannot deny the clear meaning of their words. A world political authority is a world political authority. In his second essay in the collection 'What is to be done?', the physicist Robert Brecha looks in detail at what can be done in scientific and economic terms to avert destruction, and reaches a surprisingly hopeful conclusion: 'it can be hoped that we are able to avoid negative impacts that we do have the ability to foresee' (p. 212). Daniel DiLeo, in 'Creation care through consumption and life choices' shows the importance of individual life choices as part of the wider picture: when one is trying to explain the vision of Laudato Si' to children and young people this approach is very useful (of course it may take years to get children to turn off lights or water taps). The final essay by Erin Lothes Biviano is very practical, exploring ways in which the Church can co-operate with others and take new initiatives.

Each essay in the collection is helpfully prefaced by a list of the relevant passages in Laudato Si' and finishes with suggestion questions for group discussion. This is a very helpful and brilliant book which should be used as much in this country as in the United States to try and encourage clergy and laypeople in parishes to take seriously what the Pope did in 2015, to challenge the widespread indifference and intellectual laziness which are so widespread.

Ashley Beck, St Mary's University, Twickenham

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