Arts and Culture

Pope Francis and The World

Eighth in a series

ONE OF THE nice bonuses for me in studying Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’” has been to discover that the philosophy of person that underlies Pope Francis’ theological reflections in the encyclical seems to be similar to the philosophy of person that I teach to students at St. John’s University. It’s nice to discover that in the philosophy of person, the Holy Father and I seem to be on the same page.

In his excellent essay in Commonweal (Oct. 9, 2015, pp. 13-15) “Embracing Our Limits: The Lessons of Laudato Si’,” Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, states succinctly a vision of what it means to be a human person in the world.

Archbishop Williams writes the following:

“The argument of these opening sections of Laudato si’ repeatedly points us back to a fundamental lesson: We as human beings are not the source of meaning or value; if we believe we are, we exchange the real word for a virtual one, a world in which – to echo Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty – the only question is who is to be master. A culture in which managing limits is an embarrassing and unwelcome imperative is a culture that has lost touch with the very idea of a world, let alone a created world (i.e., one in which a creative intelligence communicates with us and leads us into meanings and visions we could not have generated ourselves).” (p. 13)

Loss of Meaning

Archbishop Williams stresses that one of the encyclical’s underlying issues is the loss of meaning. A culture that believes that the human person is the total source of meaning can justify just about anything that seems convenient to a person.

I was delighted to read the praise that Archbishop Williams bestows on the thinker whom, apart from previous popes, Pope Francis most often quotes in the encyclical. Apparently the great German theologian, Romano Guardini, has been a strong influence on the Holy Father’s thinking. As mentioned previously in this column, when I was a student in the major seminary in the 1950s, Guardini was one of the spiritual authors who was popular among seminarians.

I don’t know who is reading him today, but my guess is that as his influence on Pope Francis’ thinking becomes better known, we will see a revival of interest in this truly great theologian. As I write this column, I am thinking of how much I profited from Guardini’s insights that seemed to leap off the page at me.

Archbishop Williams suggest that Guardini represents the ecclesially and liturgically informed theology that came to fruition just before Vatican II. He thinks that Guardini’s theology “presents a coherent, imaginatively vivid, socially and politically critical worldview profoundly rooted in a highly traditional dogmatics, looking back to those patristic and monastic sources in which ethics, liturgy, spirituality, and doctrine were not separated.” (p. 15)

Emphasizing that Pope Francis’ thought is a development of Pope Benedict’s, Archbishop Williams notes that Guardini was also admired by Benedict. What I recall vividly from my reading of Guardini many years ago is both the depth and clarity of his writing. Recently, I looked through the section on my bookcase that contains the books by Guardini. I could not find his exceptionally readable classic, “The Lord.” I must have loaned it to someone years ago. Whoever it was, I hope he or she profited from reading it.

I am especially pleased by the fact that many who are not Roman Catholics admire Pope Francis and find his speeches and writings inspiring. For several reasons, I find it encouraging that the distinguished former archbishop of Canterbury is enthusiastic about Pope Francis’ encyclical. One is that Archbishop Williams is an excellent theologian. Another is that his enthusiasm bodes well for the ecumenical movement. The following is how he ends his essay:

“The pope’s cultural revolution is about restored relationship with the creation we belong with and the creator who made us to share his bliss in communion; it is about the unbreakable links between contemplation, eucharist, justice, and social transformation. It constitutes a major contribution to the ongoing unfolding of a body of coherent social teaching, and a worthy expansion and application of the deeply impressive doctrinal syntheses of Pope Benedict’s major encyclicals.” (p. 15)

I think that Archbishop Williams makes an especially important point in describing the links between contemplation, Eucharist, justice and social transformation as “unbreakable.” There should be a profound relation between contemplation and Eucharist, each nourishing the other. Both should lead to justice and social transformation. The archbishop is correct to state that the Holy Father is working toward a cultural revolution. The pope’s vision is appealing because it is so beautiful. It speaks to the deepest needs and desires of people.

Father Robert Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and author of “Pope Francis’ Spirituality and Our Story” (Resurrection Press).