Pope Pius IX’s 1854 Syllabus of Errors condemned modernity and was only finally brought into balance by the Second Vatican Council. This is the background to R. R. Reno’s assessment that Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on the environment amounts to the reissuing of the 19th century condemnation.
“The Syllabus of Errors is exquisitely succinct,” writes Reno. “Laudato Si is verbose. But in a roundabout way Francis makes his own case against the modern world.”
I have reviewed the encyclical and, even though there are some very important passages in the encyclical, on the sweeping prudential judgments made in the encyclical on scientific, economic, and political matters I don’t think Reno is very far off the mark. But I am linking to another similar assessment by Rich Lowry, which speaks for itself.
Speaking for myself, I have linked Lowry’s article with a photo of the altar of the Chair of Peter at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It is important because it depicts the chair — with no one sitting in it. Catholics have managed to maintain the unity that is indispensable to their catholic witness by seeing that unity personified in the man who sits in the chair of Peter and following him when he exercises his custodial role as the preserver of core Catholic teaching on doctrine and morals. Whatever his personal competence, Catholics owe him the courtesy of giving serious attention to his opinions on more worldly matters. The faithful are obliged to defer to papal statements on the doctrine of the Trinity or the sanctity of life or the obligation to care for the poor and the weak. His opinions on how best to care for the poor or to organize society or fulfill sundry other worldly obligations cannot be dismissed, but neither need they be accorded the respect due to statements more directly concerning faith and morals. Especially given the Church’s history, a pope’s statements on scientific matters are even more subject to the scrutiny of the faithful and others, for — familiar declarations to the contrary notwithstanding — science is very rarely settled, however enthusiastically a scientific hypothesis might be popularly embraced. My main disappointment with regard to this encyclical is that it appears at a moment when quite obviously the most pressing problem facing the Church and the world is the reawakening of Islamic supremacy and the violence that accompanies it. The encyclical’s concern for the poor notwithstanding, the real emergency facing so many people today is hardly the existence of too many air conditioners. The pope has laid himself and our Church open to mockery, and no Catholic can be sanguine about that.