On Thursday, we will be finally treated to Pope Francis’ new encyclical on ecology or environment. I’ve been playing a game with myself trying to predict how this teaching will go. He is presenting this teaching as an encyclical. This means this is not just good advice but authoritative teaching binding on the conscience of the faithful.
The political left will be delighted at his prophetic stance against global capital and free markets and will claim him as their own. The political right will be divided. Some will feel confirmed that Pope Francis is the tool of bad guys. Others will do their best to read the encyclical as consistent with what John Paul II and Benedict have already written.
Here’s my prediction- again. It will be about the “dominion” mandate of Genesis 1 & 2 given on our behalf to Adam and Eve. It will conclude with the “gospel” mandate of Matthew 28:19 and Mark 16. Ecology of nature is dependent upon human ecology of spirit and morality. The Jewish Sabbath, for instance, extended not only to humans but to the earth and its creatures.
In a similar way, the gospel, according to Mark 16, is for all creatures. The destiny of the natural world depends on the people of God led by Jesus, the Last Adam. Our dominion over the earth will be restored and reconciliation with nature will follow reconciliation with God and with other humans.
Climate change will not be the central theme but, apparently, from all the reports flying around, it will be, at the very least, a striking illustration of humanity’s need to care for one another which means, in this case, caring for the earth. We need to be the caretakers we were created to be. Maybe that’s not a very risky prediction. Still it’s fun.
The reason I am confident about the basic thrust of this encyclical is because we already have a mound of papal teaching on our ecological responsibilities. The biggest difference will be that Pope Francis is using the encyclical form to elevate the authority of this teaching.
He will teach that God created human beings in His image to have dominion on the earth. Dominion is not domination. Dominion means executive decision-making in the development of the earth. To be God’s stewards and co-rulers over creation. Humanity was to cultivate, develop the earth. This will not be a “back to the Garden” manifesto. The biblical story begins in the Garden but ends in the Heavenly City, the New Jerusalem. Human development of the earth was always God’s purpose. We were told to multiply and fill the earth. That requires cultivation of the earth.
I hope he will make it clear that we are not Gaia worshippers. The earth is an object of human creative care and development not an object of our devotion. He will use St. Francis as the one who has this balance. Brother Sun, Sister Moon, etc.
He will congratulate the developed countries for their creativity and ingenuity. Then he will chastise them for forgetting the negative consequences of their pursuit of wealth and their attempt to intellectually colonize the poor. In all the genius and energy of the West, they have forgotten God and the poor. Now they are trying to push contraception and abortion as conditions of their assistance. This is a new colonization. My guess is that tying the poor into the ecology of the earth and the ecology of the human spirit will be his most significant contribution to the international debate.
The whole earth is groaning and travailing until the revelation of the sons of God, as St. Paul writes in the eighth chapter of his letter to the Romans.
I’m hoping he will develop the Last Adam teaching of St. Paul in Romans 5 & 1 Corinthians 15. Jesus comes as the Last Adam, that is, the One who will birth the new humanity just as Adam and Eve birthed fallen humanity. The dominion mandate of Genesis 1 & 2 is related to the gospel mandate of Matthew 28 and Mark 16.
With this thought, he will tie the whole thing to Christ, the Last Adam who is not only the Creator of all things but potentially the Redeemer of all things, including the earth.
In a few days, we will know.