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Pope Francis, Ents and Inklings

If you want vivid images for this, turn to the pages in The Lord of the Rings dealing with the battle between Saruman and the Ents or to the section of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe detailing the permanent winter into which Narnia had fallen.

It is only against this Guardinian background that we can properly read the Pope’s latest encyclical. Whatever his views on global warming, they are situated within the far greater context of a theology of nature that stands athwart the typically modern point of view. That the earth has become “piled with filth,” that pollution adversely affects the health of millions of the poor, that we live in a “throwaway” culture, that the unborn are treated with indifference, that huge populations have little access to clean drinking water, that thousands of animal species are permitted to fall into extinction, and yes even that we live in housing that bears no organic relation to the natural environment – all of it flows from the alienated Cartesian subject going about his work of mastering nature. In the spirit of the author of the book of Genesis, the Biblical prophets, Irenaeus, Thomas Aquinas, Francis of Assisi – indeed of any great pre-modern figure – Pope Francis wants to recover a properly cosmological sensibility, whereby the human being and her projects are in vibrant, integrated relation with the world that surrounds her.

What strikes the Pope as self-evident is that the nature we have attempted to dominate, for the past several centuries, has now turned on us, like Frankenstein’s monster. As he put it in a recent press conference, “God always forgives; human beings sometimes forgive; but when nature is mistreated, she never forgives.” These lessons, which he learned many years ago from Romano Guardini, are still worthy of careful attention today.