June 23, 2015

Laudato Sii?  Nooo!  I Think Not…

Now that the Holy Father has come out quite strongly against air conditioning, maybe he will consider scrapping the popemobile and restoring the old eco-friendly sedia gestatoria, which relied solely on human  muscle power. Perhaps while he’s about it he might bring back the flabella—those  decorative processional  ostrich feathers which used to flank  every  pope right up until the time of Pius XII.  They must have been deliciously cooling in a Roman summer, and so cheap and easy to operate. Just a couple of gentle flaps every few seconds.

                           The flabella: the ecologically-sound solution to all a Pope’s cooling needs

I can’t really claim credit for this wheeze, which comes from the Catholic archiblogipoios  Fr John Zuhlsdorf.  But in the  Brandsma Review quite a few years ago  I did once call for the return of the sedia gestatoria,  only for a rather different reason:

I can’t help feeling it was a mistake for the post Vatican II Church to set its face so firmly against what used to be called ‘pomp’. Gone are the Noble Guard, the ostrich feathers—even the papal tiara which recalled the Pope’s three-fold role of ruling, teaching and sanctifying.

Now that the old Latin Mass has been given its proper, honourable place, I suppose there’s no chance of getting such things back? Did any of them prevent conversions to the Faith, or drive anyone away from the Church? I don’t think so.

The old sedia gestatoria, which was used for carrying the Pope on important occasions, actually had a very practical use. It wasn’t to make the Pope feel superior; it was to enable the crowd actually to see him. When I attended the beatification of a St John of God Brother in St Peter’s, you couldn’t see Pope John Paul II at all. In the old days, borne on the shoulders of retainers, he would have been clearly visible.

I suppose it’s too much to hope  that the Noble Guard will be brought back into existence, but why not pay  a dozen or so unemployed young Romans to carry the sedia and the flabella? That way, Pope Francis would be helping to alleviate youth unemployment, which he has described as one of  the “most urgent” problems facing the Church, and one of the “most serious” of the evils  afflicting the world today.

As for the general message of Laudato Sii you will no doubt be expecting me  to try to say something profound. I have to  echo, rather wearily, a combox comment by one Nicholas Bellord, an old school fellow of mine, in response to Fr Hunwicke’s warning that one should take great care to deal respectfully with all papal teachings:

The problem is,  what is teaching which we should treat with respect and what is just some very strange assertions about  technology etc.  I can accept the teaching that we should take care of God’s creation but am I obliged to respect the  idea that air-conditioning is a bad thing?

There is much that is profound, and indeed beautiful , in the encyclical, whose title comes from a hymn of St Francis of Assisi, the Pope’s patron, which praises “Brother Sun”, “Sister Moon”, “Brother Wind” etc.  The Holy Father’s  criticism of a Western world hyper-stimulated by its own wealth and clever ideas should impress not just his fellow-Catholics but the rest of the world as well.  Charles Moore, a Catholic and editor of the Daily Telegraph believes Laudato Sii  is timed to appeal to public opinion in the run-up to the next big UN climate change conference in Paris in December.

If past form is anything to go by, Brother Wind will be working overtime at the Paris conference, but Mother Earth will not benefit. There is a fundamental reason for this. and I am afraid that the Holy Father does not confront it.

Why is the developed world rich? The answer lies in the name: it developed more than other places.  Development happens by uniting the resources of the earth with the capacities of the human brain and the institutions of human society.   The resulting innovations are driven by energy, the cheaper the better. Hence the overwhelming (and present) importance of fossil fuels…

…The encyclical contains an attractive passage reminding us that Jesus Himself was a carpenter, working with his hands ‘in daily contact with the matter created by God’. but it misses the interesting  conclusion that lurks in that thought.  What craftsman on the precarious edge of the Roman Empire would not have welcomed technology that improved the qualities of his tools, improvements in forestry that ensured the plentiful supply of wood, market demand increased by rich colonials? If you truly see things from the point of view of the have-nots, the desire to make natural resources work better becomes overwhelming: a tractor becomes preferable to an ox virtually every time…

…Any Christian is naturally shocked by the disparity between the advantages God gives us and the mess we make of them; but it should be acknowledged that modern industrial society does many things better than any previous form of social organisation.  One of these is self-correction. Even ‘bad’ things sometimes have good effects. Petrified forests (otherwise known as coal) stopped us cutting down all the remaining living ones for heat. The scientific ingenuity which produced the internal combustion engine also increased the means to increase its fuel efficiency. It is true, as the song says, that you won’t get to heaven in an old Ford car, but it does not follow that our technology is sending us to hell in a handcart.






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