“I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.”
First of all, the Church is One because she is a people united in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. She is One also through the three-fold bonds of faith, Sacramental worship, and ordained governance.
Then: the Church is Holy since she is a Body united with its head Jesus Christ, and also she is the beloved Bride chosen for himself by the Lord. The Church is Holy also because she rejoices always in the guarantee of Christ’s abiding presence, and in the guidance of his Holy Spirit.
Then: the Church is Catholic because in principle she embraces all people of all times; not at all confined to any particular time or nation or party. She is Catholic also in that she possesses the fullness of faith, and the fullness of the means of salvation.
Finally, the Church is Apostolic because she is founded on the Apostles. She faithfully keeps their teaching, and faithfully hands it on. She is Apostolic also because the successors of the Apostles continue to teach, sanctify and guide her, until Christ comes again in glory (cf. CCC 857).
Ever looking back to her origins, and to the inspired Word by which she lives, the Church wants us to celebrate the Feast of SS. Peter and Paul with devotion and joy. So today we acknowledge our debt to these great Apostles. We express our gratitude to them, we affirm our living communion with them, and we pledge once again our determination to remain faithful to their teaching and example.
We who are Roman Catholics believe that in a particular way, and by divine institution, the ministry and leadership of St. Peter continues on in his successor. The Bishop of Rome exercises Petrine authority over the whole Church, and he acts as a special bond of unity between the Churches. St. Peter’s current successor, Pope Francis, as we all know, has recently issued a major teaching document, addressed to everyone without exception, on the subject of the natural environment.
I have no credentials whatever to comment on this document: I have so far not even clapped eyes on a copy, let alone actually read it. But I’m aware that some sections of it have generated controversy; that some people like it a lot, and others less so.
One comment I’ve read about the new Encyclical I found interesting, so I propose to share it with you now. The author of the comment, with what authority I cannot say, claims to find a dominant influence behind the thought of the Pope. He notes that in 1986 Jorge Bergolio went to Germany to begin doctoral studies. His subject was the theology of Romano Guardini. He never completed these studies, but he certainly came under Guardini’s spell, as had, much earlier, the young Joseph Ratzinger.
Guardini’s comments on the environment can most accessibly be found in his book written in the 1920's, Letters from Lake Como. There Guardini, on holiday in North Italy, speaks of his delight in the beauty of his natural surroundings. And he also praises the way the Italians had traditionally always lived, built and worked in harmony with all that. But then he goes on to express his dismay at seeing that harmony wilfully discarded. Guardini observed modern, technological - one might add Fascist - man now seeking only to dominate nature; aggressively to impose his own ideas on it; ready, if necessary, to destroy whatever in nature might stand in his way. Guardini finds this attitude rooted in the philosophers of the 16th and 17th centuries. Where Aristotle had defined knowledge as a mode of contemplation, Bacon and Descartes saw knowledge as power. Nature for them is something we have to master, to manipulate for our own purposes, to exploit or discard as we will. More or less contemporary with Guardini were the English writers C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein. Very much of the same mind, they used fiction as their own means of protesting against the modern technocratic violation of nature.
The author of the article I read about all this warns against us focussing too much on any single issue in the Encyclical. If, with some of the Press headlines, we think of it as an Encyclical about Global Warming, he says, we have missed the forest in favour of one particular tree.
Pope Francis, according to this view, has a broad and coherent vision which underlies any particular issue he addresses: and it’s a vision rooted especially in the thought of Romano Guardini. What the Pope wants, it is suggested, is to recover a “properly cosmological sensibility”, whereby mankind and all his projects can live in integrated relation with the world that surrounds him. Failure to do this will result not only in oppression, and ugliness, and increased poverty, but also in global catastrophe.
Here is what Francis himself says, in number 11 of his book-length text:
“If we approach nature and the environment without [a spirit of] openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs... The poverty and austerity of St. Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.”
Celebrating the Feast of SS. Peter and Paul, we are reminded once again that what the world really needs is Jesus Christ. With Christ there is always hope: without him, really, none. The present successor of St. Peter speaks only as a witness to Christ, and as his servant: and because of that as a servant of the whole Church, and of all mankind. Let us pray then today especially for him, and for all the Pastors of the Church. May the Lord bless their ministry. Through them may the whole world be blessed. And may that all be for the salvation of souls, for the good of us all, and for the greater glory of God.