This transformative vision. The title Laudato si’ means ‘may you be praised’, the opening words of a canticle written by the Holy Father’s namesake and inspiration, St Francis of Assisi.
Damian Howard SJ
This cognitive dissonance is what Pope Francis seeks to tackle, touching and healing our self-understanding at a deep level with the power of the Gospel and so helping us to approach the ecological crisis and life itself more positively. To do so, he strikes out on a robust middle path between the twin extremes of anthropocentrism and misanthropic nihilism. The encyclical certainly upholds human dignity, refusing to deny our human uniqueness or the special value of the human person. In that sense, it follows a long line of papal documents which have staunchly defended human life against the threats of totalitarianism, relativism and unfettered capitalism. But Laudato si’ also relativises humankind in two ways: first by bluntly reminding us that ‘we are not god’, and second by affirming that our God-given ‘dominion’ over creation must be understood not as power to dominate but as a special kind of responsibility. Doggedly affirming our special dignity whilst at the same time putting us in our place by restoring God to His is doubly countercultural. The extent to which this move persuades its more sceptical readers might well prove to be the eventual measure of the successful reception of the whole encyclical.