Pope Francis released his latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, on Sunday, one day after traveling to the Umbrian town of Assisi, where he signed the document at the Basilica of St Francis of Assisi after celebrating Mass at the tomb of the poverello.
Over the eight chapters of Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis gives a statement of his social thought inspired in its title by the Admonitions of the pope’s sainted namesake.
Some early indications suggested the focus of the letter would be the world’s response to the coronavirus emergency – Pope Francis does discuss the pandemic here and there throughout the document – but it emerges in the opening section and is clear throughout the effort that the pope considers the global health crisis and the world’s response to it to be symptoms of deeper ills calling for more incisive and sustained address.
“Aside from the different ways that various countries responded to the crisis,” Francis writes, “their inability to work together became quite evident.” The pope says we have seen first-hand the ways in which the fragmentation of global community has made resolution of common problems more difficult. “Anyone who thinks that the only lesson to be learned was the need to improve what we were already doing, or to refine existing systems and regulations,” writes Pope Francis, “is denying reality.”
Fratelli Tutti: general themes and scope
Fratelli Tutti is “a modest contribution to continued reflection,” which the Holy Father offers, “in the hope that in the face of present-day attempts to eliminate or ignore others, we may prove capable of responding with a new vision of fraternity and social friendship that will not remain at the level of words.”
The document takes up and develops some of the major themes Pope Francis explored with Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb of al-Azhar, widely considered the foremost Sunni legal authority, in the Document on Human Fraternity they jointly signed in 2019. “This was no mere diplomatic gesture,” Francis writes in the encyclical letter’s introduction, “but a reflection born of dialogue and common commitment.”
Beginning with an analysis of current circumstances characterised by “dark clouds over a closed world”, Fratelli Tutti proceeds to articulate a vision of an open world, calling for individual and social conversion of heart.
“If the conviction that all human beings are brothers and sisters is not to remain an abstract idea but to find concrete embodiment,” Pope Francis writes, “then numerous related issues emerge, forcing us to see things in a new light and to develop new responses.”
Francis focuses particularly on the challenge of migration, calling for the development of “a form of global governance,” ie mid- and long-term planning at the national, international and possibly supranational levels that goes beyond emergency response and includes frameworks for “effective assistance for integrating migrants in their receiving countries, while also promoting the development of their countries of origin through policies inspired by solidarity, yet not linking assistance to ideological strategies and practices alien or contrary to the cultures of the peoples being assisted.”
The fifth chapter is an extended meditation on “a better kind of politics” that renews Pope Francis’s frequent warnings against forms of populism and also explores “the benefits and limits of liberal approaches”.
“[T]here is no one solution, no single acceptable methodology, no economic recipe that can be applied indiscriminately to all,” Pope Francis writes, but “true charity” will foster the expansiveness of mind necessary to face the challenges of this and every age. “Thinking of those who will come after us does not serve electoral purposes, yet it is what authentic justice demands.”
Internationally, Pope Francis calls for reform of the United Nations “to prevent this Organization from being delegitimized, since its problems and shortcomings are capable of being jointly addressed and resolved” Francis also recalls the reflection of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, regarding “the possibility of some form of world authority regulated by law,” and says such an authority need not be a “personal” one. “Still,” Francis writes, “such an authority ought at least to promote more effective world organizations, equipped with the power to provide for the global common good, the elimination of hunger and poverty and the sure defence of fundamental human rights.”
War and the death penalty
The final three chapters consider dialogue and friendship, renewing paths toward healing and reconciliation, and the service religions can offer to the cause of brotherhood.
In the seventh chapter, Pope Francis reiterates his assertion of the inadmissibility of the death penalty and recalls the commitment of the Church to its abolition worldwide. He does not attempt to clarify what he means by “inadmissible” in connection with the death penalty, but he does say, “The firm rejection of the death penalty shows to what extent it is possible to recognize the inalienable dignity of every human being and to accept that he or she has a place in this universe.”
The discussion of the death penalty comes in a section that also considers war.
Pope Francis rehearses recent papal and other Church teaching on the evil of war and the difficulty of using moral criteria developed by the Church over centuries in ages past, in order to justify the use of war in the modern age, especially in light of humanity’s increased capacity for mass destruction. “[I]t is very difficult nowadays to invoke the rational criteria elaborated in earlier centuries to speak of the possibility of a ‘just war’,” Francis writes.
In a footnote, Pope Francis downplays the usefulness, in the present day, of the Church Father generally recognised as the chief architect of Christianity’s just war tradition of thinking. “Saint Augustine [of Hippo, Bishop and Doctor of the Church],” writes Pope Francis, “who forged a concept of ‘just war’ that we no longer uphold in our own day, also said that ‘it is a higher glory still to stay war itself with a word, than to slay men with the sword, and to procure or maintain peace by peace, not by war’.”
That is note 242 of Fratelli Tutti, one of 288 in the letter, which runs to 77 justified pages, single spaced, and 287 continuously-numbered paragraphs. It is too early to say whether n. 242 will spark significant discussion among theologians and moral and political philosophers (as well as the commentariat), but it would not be the first footnote in the literary history of this pontificate to become the focus of controversy.
Toward a Christian vision of universal brotherhood
Fratelli Tutti concludes with an acknowledgment of non-Catholics who inspired Pope Francis in the writing of the letter, including Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, and Mahatma Gandhi.
The pope then offers a brief, intense meditation and on Blessed Charles de Foucauld, and an exhortation to take up his example. “Blessed Charles,” he writes of the 19th century French viscount and cavalryman, adventurer and geographer, who became a Trappist hermit-priest in Algeria where he lived among the Tuareg peoples and died a martyr’s death, “directed his ideal of total surrender to God towards an identification with the poor, abandoned in the depths of the African desert.
“In that setting,” Pope Francis continues, “[Blessed Charles] expressed his desire to feel himself a brother to every human being, and asked a friend to ‘pray to God that I truly be the brother of all ‘. He wanted to be, in the end, ‘the universal brother’.” Francis goes on to write, “[O]nly by identifying with the least did he come at last to be the brother of all. May God inspire that dream in each one of us.”
Two prayers – one to the Creator and the other an ecumenical Christian prayer – form a coda to Pope Francis’s reflection. They are reproduced below in their entirety. The full text of Fratelli Tutti may be found in its official English translation on the Vatican website.
A Prayer to the Creator
Lord, Father of our human family, you created all human beings equal in dignity: pour forth into our hearts a fraternal spirit and inspire in us a dream of renewed encounter, dialogue, justice and peace. Move us to create healthier societies and a more dignified world, a world without hunger, poverty, violence and war. May our hearts be open to all the peoples and nations of the earth. May we recognize the goodness and beauty that you have sown in each of us, and thus forge bonds of unity, common projects, and shared dreams. Amen.
An Ecumenical Christian Prayer
O God, Trinity of love, from the profound communion of your divine life, pour out upon us a torrent of fraternal love. Grant us the love reflected in the actions of Jesus, in his family of Nazareth, and in the early Christian community. Grant that we Christians may live the Gospel, discovering Christ in each human being, recognizing him crucified in the sufferings of the abandoned and forgotten of our world, and risen in each brother or sister who makes a new start. Come, Holy Spirit, show us your beauty, reflected in all the peoples of the earth, so that we may discover anew that all are important and all are necessary, different faces of the one humanity that God so loves. Amen.
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