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  • Reflections of a Green Thomist on Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’
  • John Cuddeback

My intention here is to reflect on a few themes in Pope Francis’s 2015 Laudato Si’ that strike me as foundationally important for our age. I am a self-proclaimed “Green Thomist.” What I mean by this is that I am a disciple of Thomas Aquinas and I have a particular interest in applying sound philosophical and theological principles to pressing issues of the environment, or more precisely of human stewardship of creation. I also have a conviction, rooted in what I take to be fundamental principles of Aquinas’s moral theory, that man’s relationship with the natural world around him (we could call it our common home) bears more serious moral reflection than it commonly receives from Catholic thinkers.

I will not address how this encyclical should be understood in light of the tradition of social teaching of the Catholic Church. I will refrain from addressing controversial aspects of the encyclical such as the fittingness of the Pope’s invoking particular scientific positions on global warming and other environmental issues or the fittingness of various specific suggestions at the political or macro-economic level.

As a disciple of St. Thomas, I approach the encyclical with, among others, especially two convictions that I take as given. First, the natural world is a primordial avenue of God’s communication to man, conveying fundamental truths of who God is, who we are, and how we should live. And second, the human relation to the world that can be captured by the term “steward” is not only a significant aspect [End Page 735] of the human vocation, but also an archetype of that vocation.1 In short, standing in right relation to the natural world2 is in no sense a peripheral moral issue.

In this article I have chosen to highlight a few points from the encyclical that strike me as insights worthy of special notice. I will divide these into two parts: first, speculative truths about God, creation, and human vocation, and second, practical points that indicate a need to change our lives. Under the former, I include God as father and owner, man as instrument, and economics as intrinsically moral, and under the latter, our personal responsibility in relation to the environment and meaning and implications of the “technocratic paradigm.”

Speculative Truths about God, Creation, and Human Vocation

Chapter 2, “The Gospel of Creation,” gives the key theoretical underpinning of the encyclical, and in its second section, titled “The Wisdom of the Biblical Accounts,” Francis gives what I take to be the lynch pin of his overall approach. The final paragraph reads:

A spirituality which forgets God as all-powerful and Creator is not acceptable. That is how we end up worshipping earthly powers, or ourselves usurping the place of God, even to the point of claiming unlimited right to trample his creation underfoot. The best way to restore men and women to their rightful place, putting an end to their claim to absolute dominion over the earth, is to speak once more of the figure of a Father who creates and who alone owns the world. Otherwise, [End Page 736] human beings will always try to impose their own laws and interests on reality.


A few pages later in this chapter we find:

The created things of this world are not free of ownership: “For they are yours, O Lord, who love the living” (Wis 11:26). This is the basis of our conviction that, as part of the universe, called into being by one Father, all of us are linked by unseen bonds and together form a kind of universal family.


In both of these texts, Francis emphasizes God as father and as owner. The personal being who is creator of the world at once has absolute authority (and sovereignty or lordship) and also exercises it for our good as loving father. The notion of “owner” points to the unique, primordial prerogative of the creator, while the notion of “father” especially conveys that the creator rules out of love, for the good of the governed.3

I find it significant...


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