Reflections on Fratelli Tutti

You would have to be living under a rock to not have heard already that Pope Francis wrote a new encyclical titled Fratelli tutti. There is a lot of commentary and thought being thrown around online from all factions within and from outside of the Roman Catholic Church. I’ve read the document once over fully and I’ve spent the past week going back and rereading certain parts and paragraphs as people have cited various sections in their own commentary.

One thing stands out for me about the encyclical itself. It is not unique or new. While the substance of the letter itself, dealing with capitalism, free markets and the broader globalization of economies around the entire world, the crux of the message and the core of the dogma remain completely in line with the existing body of catholic social teaching. Namely, that all forms of man-made political systems are flawed and are incapable of providing any “silver bullet” to save humanity and provide for all of our needs. In fact, that all fail to provide for the real needs of humans around dignity and spiritual development/growth. The encyclical focuses on the present day and our struggle with neo-liberalism largely because this political ideology remains today the dominate one in the world. But the letter can be added to the litany of letters, sermons and teachings from church fathers of the past that condemned and called out political ideologies of the past, such as socialism and communism. It is certainly not an endorsement of any man-made political ideology.

And this is where the Pope did not veer to the left or the right with his letter. The idea that Christians are apolitical but not apathetic is from Christ and is a Gospel message present within the entire body of catholic social teaching. We are called to be in this world but not of this world because His Kingdom is not of this world. And Francis acknowledges the body which his encyclical is added into at the very start of his letter.

6. The following pages do not claim to offer a complete teaching on fraternal love, but rather to consider its universal scope, its openness to every man and woman. I offer this social Encyclical as a modest contribution to continued reflection, 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. Although I have written it from the Christian convictions that inspire and sustain me, I have sought to make this reflection an invitation to dialogue among all people of good will.

Fratelli tutti (3 Oct 2020)

I am reading a lot of commentary from very learned people about how the document is the Pope endorsing socialism (with some even going so far as to say that he endorses communism). But that misses the mark. And those people ought to have a reread of the Gospel for this past Sunday. We are all tempted to impose our own vision of the Son of David on to Christ, but He was quick to turn the tables on the leaders of the relevant political factions in Jerusalem during His time and He continues to do the same through our church fathers today.

While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”

“The son of David,” they replied.

He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
under your feet.”’

If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Matthew 22: 41-46

Fundamentally when I read the new encyclical I do not see the Pope moving to any single political ideology. I see him reminding us that capitalism, our most popular and often-touted most successful political ideology, has significant flaws that must be addressed. But his letter was not written in isolation, it is part of a large body of catholic social teaching that has condemned all forms of human political ideology. And furthermore, it is rooted in the Gospels which are clear in articulating our place in this world as followers of Jesus Christ.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.