I have had a chance to skim the long-awaited papal letter from His Holiness, Francis, entitled “Laudato Si” (Praise to you, our Father), or “Care for our Common Home”. The English text can be found here. There is a useful overview of the encyclical’s message offered by the New York Times here.
While some politicians have already pushed back and said that the Pope should mind his own business, there is a long tradition in Christian theology of reflection on creation as God’s gift to humanity and indeed as the medium through which we, as created beings ourselves, experience our relationship with God. This emphasis is true of Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant teaching. For example, Karl Barth’s monumental systematic theology, Church Dogmatics, devotes an entire volume (3) to the subject of Creation.
There is much to admire here. While a divine belief in creation is often supposed to be antithetical to scientific, empirical belief, Francis has much to say about the value of science. What I appreciate most about Laudato Si is its emphasis on interconnectedness, of us to the earth, of we humans to one another, and of God’s presence in all of those relationships. In this excerpt, the interconnectedness of the Trinity, of the persons of God, is held up as the model, and indeed the animating force, of creation.
VII. THE TRINITY AND THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CREATURES
238. The Father is the ultimate source of everything, the loving and self-communicating foundation of all that exists. The Son, his reflection, through whom all things were created, united himself to this earth when he was formed in the womb of Mary. The Spirit, infinite bond of love, is intimately present at the very heart of the universe, inspiring and bringing new pathways. The world was created by the three Persons acting as a single divine principle, but each one of them performed this common work in accordance with his own personal property. Consequently, “when we contemplate with wonder the universe in all its grandeur and beauty, we must praise the whole Trinity”.
239. For Christians, believing in one God who is trinitarian communion suggests that the Trinity has left its mark on all creation. Saint Bonaventure went so far as to say that human beings, before sin, were able to see how each creature “testifies that God is three”. The reflection of the Trinity was there to be recognized in nature “when that book was open to man and our eyes had not yet become darkened”. The Franciscan saint teaches us that each creature bears in itself a specifically Trinitarian structure, so real that it could be readily contemplated if only the human gaze were not so partial, dark and fragile. In this way, he points out to us the challenge of trying to read reality in a Trinitarian key.
240. The divine Persons are subsistent relations, and the world, created according to the divine model, is a web of relationships. Creatures tend towards God, and in turn it is proper to every living being to tend towards other things, so that throughout the universe we can find any number of constant and secretly interwoven relationships. This leads us not only to marvel at the manifold connections existing among creatures, but also to discover a key to our own fulfilment. The human person grows more, matures more and is sanctified more to the extent that he or she enters into relationships, going out from themselves to live in communion with God, with others and with all creatures. In this way, they make their own that trinitarian dynamism which God imprinted in them when they were created. Everything is interconnected, and this invites us to develop a spirituality of that global solidarity which flows from the mystery of the Trinity.