‘For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing’. (Luke 12:23)

Life

by

 Damien F. Mackey

 

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“We have had enough of ­immorality and the mockery of ethics, goodness, faith and honesty …. There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself,” the Pope writes.

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Introduction

A superficial reading of the Pope’s latest Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si’ (“Praise be to you” – On Care For Our Common Home), has led many to jump to the conclusion that this letter, addressed to all the people on earth, is entirely about the topical matter of climate change. But those who have read it more closely have appreciated that Laudato Si’ is only partially about that. Stephen P. White, for instance, a fellow in the Catholic studies program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC., has observed that it is more about something else (http://www.vox.com/2015/6/24/8834413/pope-climate-change-encyclical):

Given the media coverage since its release, and the political implications of the pope throwing his moral weight behind one side in a high-stakes debate about climate policy, one could be forgiven for thinking that Pope Francis’s new encyclical is mostly about climate change and what we need to do to combat it.

Except it is and it isn’t. In fact, mostly it isn’t.

What makes this encyclical controversial is its reading of contested questions of science, economics, and politics. What makes it radical — in the sense of going to the root — is the pope’s reading of the profound human crisis that he sees underlying our modern world. Abuse of our environment isn’t the only problem facing humanity. In fact, Pope Francis sees the ecological crisis as a symptom of a deeper crisis — a human crisis.

These two problems are related and interdependent. And the solution is not simply to eliminate fossil fuels or rethink carbon credits. The pope is calling on the world to rediscover what it means to be human — and as a result, to reject the cult of economic growth and material accumulation.

Reading the encyclical, one quickly realizes that the “pope fights climate change” narrative is far from the whole story. In fact, that line leaves out the most fundamental themes of the encyclical: the limits of technology and the need for what he calls an “integral ecology,” which “transcend[s] the language of mathematics and biology, and take[s] us to the heart of what it is to be human.”

[End of quote]

And Miranda Devine, a columnist with The Daily Telegraph (Sydney), depicts the Pope somewhat as a cagey fisherman, luring the Greens with a bait, before giving it a sharp twist. (“Thought Pope Francis was a warmist? Think again” (http://blogs.news.com.au/dailyteleg). Firstly, the lure is presented:

CLIMATE alarmists are cock-a-whoop over Pope Francis’s much-anticipated call to action on global warming.

Yes, the leader of the world’s 1.8 billion Catholics, agrees with Kevin Rudd. The planet is in crisis, and climate change is one of the greatest moral challenges, the Pope has written in his first solo encyclical. Man is to blame and fossil fuels are bad.

It couldn’t be a more political document, designed to ­influence the upcoming UN ­climate summit in Paris later this year. Christiana Figueres, the UN’s climate change head, has called it a “clarion call to guide the world”.

Looks like everyone’s a papist now.

Alarmists are revelling in what they hope is the discomfort of the climate sceptic, or agnostic faithful, especially the Prime Minister.

“Hopefully this is Tony Abbott’s come to Jesus moment on climate change,” Greens leader Richard Di Natale said.

“If Tony Abbott won’t listen to the science, I only hope he will listen to the leader of his church and see the light on climate change,” said independent MP Andrew Wilkie.

The same people who have flayed Abbott for taking orders from Rome, supposedly, when it comes to women’s ovaries or same-sex marriage are now ­demanding he obey the Pope and start spraying windmills across the landscape.

But now for that sharp twist of the lure. Devine continues:

But, as a Catholic and an ­optimist, I suspect the Pope is engaging in Jesuitical trickery.

When you read the encyclical, you see that climate change is a minor player, despite the media hype.

In 44,000 words, the word “climate” appears just 18 times. This is illustrated in a word cloud by the Catholic News Service, in which the size of a word correlates with the frequency of its use: “climate” is not visible. “Human” is the largest word, followed by “God”.

That is the cleverness of this popular, enigmatic Pope. He has used climate change as the “bait” to lure the chattering classes, the godless and the Gaia worshippers.

He gives them a bit of climate sustenance, then whacks them with a full-frontal attack on moral relativism.

“We have had enough of ­immorality and the mockery of ethics, goodness, faith and honesty … There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself,” the Pope writes.

He is down on abortion, contraception, embryonic research, sex changes and digital media, which gives “rise to a new type of contrived emotion which has more to do with devices and displays than with other people and with nature”.

He is all for the family, which he calls “the heart of the culture of life”.

So now that the Pope has the ears of the world, he’s relentlessly hammering us with unabashed Catholic teaching, sugar-coated with populist ­environmentalism.

Genius bait and switch.

[End of quote]

Restoring Human Dignity

“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,

because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned,

and revealed them to little children.

(Luke 10:21)

 

The Pope recently chose an audience of ‘little children’, and not the ‘wise and learned’, to speak of war and to reveal a dark secret (http://rt.com/news/257545-pope-francis-war-arms/): “Many powerful people don’t want peace because they live off war,” the Pontiff said as he met with pupils from Rome’s primary schools in the Nervi Audience Hall.

Talking to children during the audience organized by the Peace Factory Foundation, he explained that every war has the arms industry behind it.

“This is serious. Some powerful people make their living with the production of arms and sell them to one country for them to use against another country”. ….

The head of the Catholic Church labeled the arms trade “the industry of death, the greed that harms us all, the desire to have more money.”

“The economic system orbits around money and not men, women,” he told 7,000 kids present at the audience.

Despite the fact that wars “lose lives, health, education,” they are being waged to defend money and make even more profit, the Pope said.

“The devil enters through greed and this is why they don’t want peace,” 78-year-old Francis said.

But why tell this to children?

And why did Our Lady of the Rosary, at Fatima (Portugal) on July 13, 1917, also speak of war and reveal a dark secret to three shepherd children (Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco), and not to adults?

After showing them the terrifying vision of Hell – {Lucia: “That vision only lasted for a moment, thanks to our good Heavenly Mother, Who at the first apparition [May 13] had promised to take us to Heaven. Without that, I think that we would have died of terror and fear”} – the Lady told them:

‘You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The War is going to end; but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the pontificate of Pius XI. When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that he is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father’.

Well, did not Jesus himself reply to those who had asked him: ‘Do you hear what these children are saying?’ ‘Yes’ … have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?’ (Matthew 21:16)?

Now, Pope Francis is a teacher who has modelled himself on Jesus Christ. And Jesus Christ was one who had, directly against the customs of his time, exalted little children. This is how G. K. Chesterton told of it back in 1925, in his chapter “The Strangest Story in the World” (The Everlasting Man: http://www.worldinvisible.com/library/chesterton/everlasting/conten):

The exaltation of childhood is something which we do really understand; but it was by no means a thing that was then in that sense understood. If we wanted an example of the originality of the Gospel, we could hardly take a stronger or more startling one. Nearly two thousand years afterwards we happen to find ourselves in a mood that does really feel the mystical charm of the child; we express it in romances and regrets about childhood, in Peter Pan or The Child’s Garden of Verses. And we can say of the words of Christ with so angry an anti-Christian as Swinburne:

‘No sign that ever was given To faithful or faithless eyes

Showed ever beyond clouds riven

So clear a paradise.

Earth’s creeds may be seventy times seven

And blood have defiled each creed

But if such be the kingdom of heaven

It must be heaven indeed.’

But that paradise was not clear until Christianity had gradually cleared it. The pagan world, as such, would not have understood any such thing as a serious suggestion that a child is higher or holier than a man. It would have seemed like the suggestion that a tadpole is higher or holier than a frog. To the merely rationalistic mind, it would sound like saying that bud must be more beautiful than a flower or that an unripe apple must be better than a ripe one. In other words, this modern feeling is an entirely mystical feeling. It is quite as mystical as the cult of virginity; in fact it is the cult Of virginity. But pagan antiquity had much more idea of the holiness of the virgin than of the holiness of the child. For various reasons we have come nowadays to venerate children; perhaps partly because we envy children for still doing what men used to do; such as play simple games and enjoy fairy-tales. Over and above this, however, there is a great deal of real and subtle psychology in our appreciation of childhood; but if we turn it into a modern discovery, we must once more admit that the historical Jesus of Nazareth had already discovered it two thousand years too soon. There was certainly nothing in the world around him to help him to the discovery. Here Christ was indeed human; but more human than a human being was then likely to be. Peter Pan does not belong to the world of Pan but the world of Peter.

[End of quote]

Francis, like the popes before him – and John Paul II particularly comes to mind here – is all about restoring ‘the dignity of the human person’, in the face of global exploitation and the indifference of the rich. This is a pontificate that has put the poor again front and centre, recalling the Gospel’s mantra of preferential option for the poor.

It is a re-telling of the parable of ‘Dives and Lazarus’.

Stephen White well sums it up when he writes:  

Pope Francis sees the ecological crisis as a symptom of a deeper crisis — a human crisis As for who is responsible for all this, he places the burden at the feet of the developed world: “Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change.”

Francis warns especially of the damage that our “culture of waste” does to the poor. He dismisses attempts at population control while leveling broadsides against financial markets, inequality, and the indifference of the rich. Moreover, he sees all these disturbing trends as interconnected. A casual attitude toward material goods leads to a casual attitude toward people. A willingness to exploit creation is deeply connected to a willingness to exploit human beings.

[End of quote]

Such is the harsh reality of the modern, industrialised world, whose protagonists do not seem to care about – or sometimes even notice – its uglification of what was formerly beautiful. “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth,” the Pope writes. On climate change: “A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system.” He goes on to warn: “If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us.”

Some nine decades ago, G. K. Chesterton was uttering similar sentiments, when writing of (http://www.worldinvisible.com/library/chesterton/everlasting/content.htm):

… the wage-slaves of our morbid modern industrialism, which by its hideousness and in-humanity has really forced the economic issue to the front. ….

…. The human unity with which I deal here is not to be confounded with this modern industrial monotony and herding, which is rather a congestion than a communion. …. for that is characteristic of everything belonging to that ancient land of liberty that lies before and around the servile industrial town. Industrialism actually boasts that its products are all of one pattern; that men in Jamaica or Japan can break the same seal and drink the same bad whiskey, that a man at the North Pole and another at the South might recognise the same optimistic level on the same dubious tinned salmon. But wine, the gift of gods to men, can vary with every valley and every vineyard, can turn into a hundred wines without any wine once reminding us of whiskey; and cheeses can change from county to county without forgetting the difference between chalk and cheese.

[End of quote]

For those driven by the spirit of mammon, rather than by the Spirit of Charity (Luke 16:13), financial expediency, or ‘the bottom line’, is the only thing that matters – not truth, or beauty, or goodness, or kindness, or humanity. Chesterton, again, puts it better, telling of the alienating effect between neighbours (http://www.chesterton.org/lecture-5/):

Modern commerce, says Chesterton again, is about savagery of the rich, the hunger of the satisfied, and the sudden madness of the mills of the world. You cannot serve God and Mammon because — obviously — loving Mammon keeps you from loving God, thus breaking the first Great Commandment of Christ, but you neither can you love your neighbor if you are a slave of that blind and bogus god of money and materialism. Your neighbor becomes your competitor in that system, and your enemy.

[End of quote]

Obviously, this is not a state of affairs that a kindly pope such as Francis can support. And so: “There can be no ecology,” he writes, “without an adequate anthropology.” Chesterton, writing in less scientific and more paradoxical terms, contrasted “the flat creatures living only on a plane” with the multi-dimensional ideal of the Gospels pertaining to ‘the lilies of the field’ (http://www.worldinvisible.com/library/chesterton/everlasting/content.htm):

There is perhaps nothing so perfect in all language or literature as the use of these three degrees in the parable of the lilies of the field; in which [Jesus] seems first to take one small flower in his hand and note its simplicity and even its impotence; then suddenly expands it in flamboyant colors into all the palaces and pavilions full of a great name in national legend and national glory; and then, by yet a third overturn, shrivels it to nothing once more with a gesture as if flinging it away ‘ . . . and if God so clothes the grass that today is and tomorrow is cast into the oven-how much more. . . .’ It is like the building of a good Babel tower by white magic in a moment and in the movement of a hand; a tower heaved suddenly up to heaven on the top of which can be seen afar off, higher than we had fancied possible, the figure of man; lifted by three infinities above all other things, on a starry ladder of light logic and swift imagination. Merely in a literary sense it would be more of a masterpiece than most of the masterpieces in the libraries; yet it seems to have been uttered almost at random while a man might pull a flower. But merely in a literary sense also, this use of the comparative in several degrees has about it a quality which seems to me to hint of much higher things than the modern suggestion of the simple teaching of pastoral or communal ethics. There is nothing that really indicates a subtle and in the true sense a superior mind so much as this power of comparing a lower thing with a higher and yet that higher with a higher still; of thinking on three planes at once. There is nothing that wants the rarest sort of wisdom so much as to see, let us say, that the citizen is higher than the slave and yet that the soul is infinitely higher than the citizen or the city. It is not by any means a faculty that commonly belongs to these simplifiers of the Gospel; those who insist on what they call a simple morality and others call a sentimental morality. It is not at all covered by those who are content to tell everybody to remain at peace. On the contrary, there is a very striking example of it in the apparent inconsistency between Christ’s sayings about peace and about a sword. It is precisely this power which perceives that while a good peace is better than a good war, even a good war is better than a bad peace. These far-flung comparisons are nowhere so common as in the Gospels; and to me they suggest something very vast. So a thing solitary and solid, with the added dimension of depth or height, might tower over the flat creatures living only on a plane.

[End of quote]

We are still in the Gospel realm of Luke 12 that titles this article.

Human industry cannot replicate the beauty of God’s nature (v. 27): ‘Consider how the wild flowers [or ‘lilies of the field’] grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these’. Sadly, were he to appear today, the fabulously wise and wealthy Solomon, instead of being clothed, perhaps, like his queen, “in gold of Ophir” (Psalm 45:9) and the like, would probably be wearing labels titled

and

For it seems that even the more artistic or beautiful aspects of life (e.g. fashion, clothing, architecture) have become, so to speak, ‘industrialised’.

Earlier in Luke 12, in vv. 13-21, Jesus gave a disturbing parable most relevant to all of this:

The Parable of the Rich Fool

 

Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’

Jesus replied, ‘Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?’ Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.’

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Here the Gospel labels the Mammonite a ‘fool’.

Now just as Jesus was, in this parable, urging a simpler life, one free from excess worry and anxiety, so today pope Francis seems to be calling for a return to simplicity. As White puts it: “We need to take up an ancient lesson, found in different religious traditions and also in the Bible. It is the conviction that “less is more”.”

And Chesterton was of the same mind-set, here (The Everlasting Man) echoing Luke 12:

But there is a deeper fallacy besides this obvious fact; that men need not live for food merely because they cannot live without food. The truth is that the thing most present to the mind of man is not the economic machinery necessary to his existence; but rather that existence itself; the world which he sees when he wakes every morning and the nature of his general position in it. There is something that is nearer to him than livelihood, and that is life. For once that he remembers exactly what work produces his wages and exactly what wages produce his meals, he reflects ten times that it is a fine day or it is a queer world, or wonders whether life is worth living, or wonders whether marriage is a failure, or is pleased and puzzled with his own children, or remembers his own youth, or in any such fashion vaguely reviews the mysterious lot of man. This is true of the majority even of the wage-slaves of our morbid modern industrialism, which by its hideousness and in-humanity has really forced the economic issue to the front. It is immeasurably more true of the multitude of peasants or hunters or fishers who make up the real mass of mankind.

[End of quote]

Quality Over Quantity

What appeals to me personally about the pope’s Laudato Si’ encyclical letter is the resonance I find in parts of it with my favourite book on the philosophy of science, Dr. Gavin Ardley’s Aquinas and Kant: The Foundations of the Modern Sciences (1950). The book can be read at:

http://brightmorningstar.blog.com/2008/10/21/gavin-ardleys-book-aquinas-and-kant/

Whereas the ancient sciences (scientiae) involved a study of actual reality, the more abstract modern sciences (e.g. theoretical physics), involve, as Immanuel Kant had rightly discerned, an active imposition of a priori concepts upon reality. In other words, these ‘sciences’ are largely artificial (or ‘categorial’) – their purpose being generally utilitarian.

Ardley tells of it (Ch. VI: Immanuel Kant):

Kant’s great contribution was to point out the revolution in natural science effected by Galileo and Bacon and their successors. This stands in principle even though all the rest of his philosophy wither away. Prior to Galileo people had been concerned with reading laws in Nature. After Galileo they read laws into Nature. His clear recognition of this fact makes Kant the fundamental philosopher of the modern world. It is the greatest contribution to the philosophia perennis since St. Thomas. But this has to be dug patiently out of Kant. Kant himself so overlaid and obscured his discovery that is has ever since gone well nigh unrecognised.

We may, in fact we must, refrain from following Kant in his doctrine of metaphysics. The modelling of metaphysics on physics was his great experiment. The experiment is manifestly a failure, in pursuit of what he mistakenly believed to be the best interests of metaphysics.

But, putting the metaphysical experiment aside, the principle on which it was founded abides, the principle of our categorial activity. Later, in Ch. XVIII, we will see in more detail how this principle is essential to the modern development of the philosophia perennis.

Kant was truly the philosopher of the modern world when we look judiciously at his work. As a motto for the Kritik Kant actually quotes a passage from Francis Bacon in which is laid down the programme for the pursuit of human utility and power. [Footnote: The passage is quoted again in this work on [Ardley’s] p. 47.] As we saw in Ch. IV, it was Bacon above all who gave articulate expression to the spirit behind the new science. Now we see that it was Kant who, for the first time, divined the nature of the new science. If Bacon was the politician of the new régime, Kant was its philosopher although a vastly over-ambitious one.

 

It appears to be this very sort of Baconian “régime” that pope Francis is currently challenging, at least, according to Stephen White’s estimation:

While much has been said about the pope’s embrace of the scientific evidence of climate change and the dangers it poses, the irony is that he addresses this crisis in a way that calls into question some of the oldest and most basic assumptions of the scientific paradigm.

Francis Bacon and René Descartes — two fathers of modern science in particular — would have shuddered at this encyclical. Bacon was a man of many talents — jurist, philosopher, essayist, lord chancellor of England — but he’s mostly remembered today as the father of the scientific method. He is also remembered for suggesting that nature ought to be “bound into service, hounded in her wanderings and put on the rack and tortured for her secrets.” Descartes, for his part, hoped that the new science he and men like Bacon were developing would make us, in his words, “masters and possessors of nature.”

At the very outset of the encyclical, before any mention of climate change or global warming, Pope Francis issues a challenge to the Baconian and Cartesian view, which sees the world as so much raw material to be used as we please. Neither Descartes nor Bacon is mentioned by name, but the reference is unmistakable. Pope Francis insists that humanity’s “irresponsible use and abuse” of creation has come about because we “have come to see ourselves as [the Earth’s] lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will.”

Not truth, but power lust, will be the prime motivation of these, the Earth’s “lords and masters”, or, as Ardley has put it, “not to know the world but to control it”:

What was needed was for someone to point out clearly the ‘otherness’ of post-Galilean physical science, i.e. the fact that it is, in a sense, cut off from the rest of the world, and is the creation of man himself. The new science has no metaphysical foundations and no metaphysical implications. Kant had the clue to this ‘otherness’ in the categorial theory, but he took the rest of the world with him in the course of the revolution and hence only succeeded in the end in missing the point.

Most people since then, rightly sceptical about Kant’s wholesale revolution, have been quite hostile to the Kantian system in general. Others, perhaps without realising it, have rewritten the revolution in their own terms, and thus have perpetuated Kant’s principal errors (as e.g. Wittgenstein in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus).

A thorough sifting out of Kant has long been required in order to separate the gold from the dross.

…. Kant’s mistake was to think that the world had to be transformed to know it. The truth is that the world may be transformed, if we so dictate, and then it is not to know the world but to control it. ….

[End of quote]

From what follows, I wonder if the pope – or at least White in his comments – may have read Ardley’s book. Dr. Ardley had (on p. 5) pointed out that there are two ways of going about the process of analyzing or dissecting something, depending on one’s purpose. And he well illustrated his point by comparing the practices of the anatomist and the butcher. When an anatomist dissects an animal, he traces out the real structure of the animal; he lays bare the veins, the nerves, the muscles, the organs, and so on. “He reveals the actual structure which is there before him waiting to be made manifest”. The butcher, on the other hand, is not concerned about the natural structure of the animal as he chops it up; he wants to cut up the carcass into joints suitable for domestic purposes. In his activities the butcher ruthlessly cleaves across the real structure laid bare so patiently by the anatomist. “The anatomist finds his structure, the butcher makes his”.

Thus White: “Put another way, Pope Francis insists that the material world isn’t just mere stuff to be dissected, studied, manipulated, and then packaged off to be sold into service of human wants and needs”. And again: “The utilitarian mindset that treats creation as so much “raw material to be hammered into useful shape” inevitably leads us to see human beings through the same distorted lens”.

White continues:

The pope repeatedly warns against the presumption that technological advances, in themselves, constitute real human progress. In a typical passage, he writes, “There is a growing awareness that scientific and technological progress cannot be equated with the progress of humanity and history, a growing sense that the way to a better future lies elsewhere.” The pope writes critically of “irrational confidence in progress and human abilities.” He writes hopefully of a time when “we can finally leave behind the modern myth of unlimited material progress.”

Nevertheless:

This isn’t to say that Pope Francis is anti-technology or even, as some have suggested, anti-modern, but he is deeply critical of both our technological mindset and modernity’s utilitarian propensities. While he acknowledges with gratitude the benefits humanity has derived from modern technology, which has “remedied countless evils which used to harm and limit human beings,” he also calls into question — forcefully — the idea that utility is the proper measure of our interaction with creation.

[End of quote]

 

There may be a better way of doing things in the pursuit of what pope Francis calls an “integral ecology [which] transcend[s] the language of mathematics and biology, and take[s] us to the heart of what it is to be human”. A too rigid mathematics can make for a cruel master.

Stephen White well sums up the Pope’s outlook:

 

An integral, human ecology

“Everything is connected” is a constant refrain in this encyclical, and it serves to underscore the way Pope Francis understands the vocation — the calling — of the whole human race. We were made by God and for God. His gift of creation is also part of that vocation and comes with responsibility for its care and development. We’re part of creation, but also is custodians. Creation’s greatest beauty is in its ability to reflect the glory of its maker.

Christians believe in a God who entered into his own creation in order to redeem it Most religions understand that reality is not limited to physical existence; there are also spiritual realities. But Christians, and Catholics in particular, have always insisted that while the spiritual and physical are distinct, they aren’t so easily separated. Even material reality is more than just material.

Many Christians, and certainly Catholics, take a sacramental view of reality: a view in which mere things are never just mere things. All that exists is shot through with meaning, since it bears the fingerprints of the one who made it. Pope Francis quotes Scripture to this effect: “Through the greatness and the beauty of creatures one comes to know by analogy their maker” (Wisdom 13:5).

Moreover, Christians believe in a God who took on human flesh — entered into his own creation — in order to redeem it. “For Christians,” Pope Francis writes, “all the creatures of the material universe find their true meaning in the incarnate Word, for the Son of God has incorporated in his person part of the material world, planting in it a seed of definitive transformation.”

This sacramental view of the world changes the way Catholics estimate the worth and value of things, which have their own intrinsic worth and meaning apart from any utility they might hold for us. Because creation is the gift of a loving God, entrusted to us all for its care and maintenance, we are not free to simply do with it as we please. For Pope Francis, the world is most definitely not what we make of it; it’s much more.

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