John Allen, Jr. Gives Fascinating Background on Laudato Si

John Allen, Jr. Gives Fascinating Background on Laudato Si June 18, 2015

One of the things that often puzzles people about developments in Church teaching is that they cannot see how the Church gets from where it was to where it is. Because of this, many imagine that the developments of doctrine are just sudden eruptions in which a Pope or Council just capriciously changes its mind.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The Ents of Rome typically take forever and a lot of hooming and homming before they finally formulate a conclusion to their decades- and centuries-long deliberations over stuff. Witness, for example, how long it is taking the Church to make a final statement about Medjugorje. Or the three centuries it took the Church to formulate the Nicene Creed. Or the 15 centuries it took for the Church to define the canon of Scripture. As Mike Flynn once remarked, the Church is not the Rapid Response Squad.

So Allen does us a favor by showing us all the theological homework and argumentation that has been going on in the Church for the past 40 odd years as environmentalism has pushed to the fore of our consciousness.

Some might ask, “Isn’t this a novelty since it’s only about 40 years old?” Nope. The formulation of teaching into a coherent whole is that recent (since it was only in the mid to late 20th century that people began to realize that there was a real threat to the natural world in unbridled human destruction being visited on nature). But the roots of the Church teaching stretch back centuries. The awareness that human sin can damage creation is as old as “cursed is the ground because of you;/in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life” (Ge 3:17). In the same way, the Church’s social doctrine begins with Rerum Novarum, a mere century ago. That doesn’t mean it is a novelty. It means that only in the late 19th century had our thinking developed to the point that people were beginning to ask urgent questions about things like the relationship between economics and politics, the nature of capitalism, the arguments about communism, and so forth.

At any rate, the piece is very valuable in showing the long slow process of deliberation as the Church formulated the teaching now on display in Laudato Si.

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  • Athanasius2

    I like John Allen, have read his books, met him at conferences at which I have spoken, etc., but he is wrong in one regard in this column. The tide did not turn, in 1971, against Lynn White’s famous 1967 essay on “The ecological Roots of the Environmental Crisis” (it blamed the Judeo-Christian worldview) because White was ALWAYS wrong. Francis gets it right in this encyclical: it was the culture of MODERNITY – as when Pope Benedict XVI wrote about the Baconian view of mastering nature as the cause – that gave us the idea that we could dominate nature. Genesis was NEVER read in the Church in that way. See the Benedictine monasteries, which the new encyclical also mentions. I can’t fit a life’s work in a combox, but the literature is fascinating. White based his view on the utterly false view of Heidegger, who misundertsood Christian creation. White also made St. Francis into a political figure by reading back his own leftist views, never mentioning that the Canticle of the Sun says “Woe to those who die in mortal sin” and that Francis thought sins against the Mass were the really heinous sins.
    Anyway, Allen did not mention anything that literally everyone I know didn’t already know – this stuff has been written about for years – but it was nice to see it in one place for the masses, even if he was wrong about White.

    • antigon

      This encyclical also neglects that crucial closing of San Francesco’s magnificent poem.

      • Athanasius2


  • Petey

    Alot of hemming and hawing too.

  • iamlucky13

    “Because of this, many imagine that the developments of doctrine are just
    sudden eruptions in which a Pope or Council just capriciously changes
    its mind.”

    Not to dispute the point being made about development of doctrine, but it seems oddly placed, because from what I’ve read in Laudato Si so far, I haven’t found anything that sounds like a declaration of a new doctrine. It appears to primarily be commentary on existing doctrine and how it applies to interactions with the environment, in particular on ways our actions may harm others.

    Also, I couldn’t help but notice Pope Francis committing one of Mark’s apparent pet peeves and promoting the lesser of two evils in paragraph 165, although not specifically the lying to Nazis example.

    Actually, if you read the full paragraph, it is clear that lesser of two evils was the incorrect term, and he almost certainly meant to relate the use of fossil fuels to principle of double effect while emphasizing the obligation to pursue courses of action without harmful side effects where possible.

  • Marthe Lépine

    I have just read the linked article by John Allen, and my attention was drawn to another story linked to it (on the left-hand column) about Sister Dorothy Stang, also written by John Allen. I would strongly recommend people to read it also.