Natural Evil, Suffering, a New Encyclical and a New World Order. A Socio-Religious Perspective on the Spirit of "Fratelli Tutti"

Scientific Essay, 2020

29 Pages, Grade: 1.0



1. Introduction

2. Two Initial Appreciations of Fratelli Tutti

3. Christian Life Community as Fratelli Tutti in Action

4. Reception of Fratelli Tutti thanks to Covid-19 and a Papal Ideological Manifesto

5. New Bottles for New Wine and God’s Passibility in a Post Covid-19 Era

6. Natural Evil, Suffering, a New Encyclical and New World Order

7. Creation, Covid-19, Natural Evil, Suffering and the Cost of Evolution

8. Natural Evil, Suffering, the Cost of Evolution and the Christic Omega Point

9. Fratelli Tutti, Catholic Social Teaching, Covid-19 and a New World Order
i. Fraternity [ Fraternidad ], Social Friendship [ Amistad Social ] and Fratelli Tutti
ii. The Most Important Encyclical of St Francis’ Pontificate
iii. Brief Overview of the Encyclical Fratelli Tutti
iv. Fratelli Tutti in 550 Words

10. Africa Welcomes Fratelli Tutti

11. Five Takeaways from Fratelli Tutti
i. The Encyclical is no Quick Read for Partisan Spin
ii. The Encyclical is a Heavy Read
iii. The Encyclical is Bergoglio Redivivus
iv. There are no Bombshells in the Encyclical
v. The Encyclical is no Panacea for Solving World’s Problems

12. Conclusion


1. Introduction

This article draws out what my friend Josephine Shamwana-Lungu referred to as the “Spirit of Fratelli Tutti” a spirit of fraternity, solidarity, social friendship and subsidiarity, from the recent encyclical by Pope Francis. I provide a socio-religious or theological perspective on this new encyclical which is a call to humanity to unite and to build a brave new world order after the Covid-19 pandemic. I have limited myself to examining why the encyclical has been well-received (reception of Fratelli Tutti), how Covid-19 calls us to a new way of being human (New bottles for new wine and God’s passibility in a post Covid-19 Era) in which humanity is being challenged not to return to business as usual in the way we deal with each other; how natural evil, such as a pandemic, cannot thwart the plan of the creator; how the new encyclical factors into a new World Order (Fratelli Tutti and a new world order “thanks” to Covid-19), whether God suffers or not, the end point of evolution (Natural evil, suffering, the cost of evolution and the Christic Omega Point) and ending with five lessons I was able to cull from Fratelli Tutti (Five takeaways from Fratelli Tutti). Written, as the Pope says, when “the Covid-19 pandemic unexpectedly erupted, exposing our false securities” (Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti 2020: par 7). I use that as a jumping off point to challenge the age-old theologoumenon of the impassibility of God. I argue that God in fact does suffer as he has been suffering through the ages, even during the Covid-19 pandemic as part of the cost of evolution but he is not overwhelmed by suffering. Natural evil and suffering are par for the course. They are the birth pangs of a new heaven and a new earth. Fratelli Tutti calls for a new way of relating to each other as our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, as we head towards the Omega Point, to use Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s signature theory.

2. Two Initial Appreciations of Fratelli Tutti

Christine Allen, Director of CAFOD [Catholic Agency for Overseas Development], with its Head Office at Romero House, 55 Westminster Bridge Road in London, puts her finger on the socio-religious challenge of a pandemic such as Covid-19. She opines that the new papal encyclical by Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti 1 is a “radical blueprint for a post-coronavirus world.”2 The encyclical offers a “vision for real and lasting change, by calling on us to build community at all levels — personal, societal and global, where walls of fear and distrust are replaced by a ‘culture of encounter’ and our solidarity with others restores human dignity.”3 That, in a nutshell, is the spirit of Fratelli Tutti. It is about the kind of initiatives CAFOD has been promoting all along in campaigning “for global [and planetary] justice, so that every woman, man and child can live a full and dignified life.”4 According to Pope Francis, it is this “culture of encounter” or what the Brazilian poet, lyricist, essayist and playwright, Vinicius de Moraes, referred to as the “art of encounter” [Portuguese: arte do encontro ],5 which will spur us to build what the title of this article optimistically refers to, tongue-in-cheek, as a “brave new world order” as in the dystopian social science fiction novel by English author Aldous Huxley (1932), set in a futuristic World State, whose citizens are environmentally engineered into an intelligence-based social hierarchy. If Aldous Huxley were to allow me, I would add the word emotion after intelligence.

For Cardinal John Dew, Vice-president of New Zealand’s Catholic Bishops’ Conference, the spirit of Fratelli Tutti “is an invitation for everyone to broaden our perspective to view a world without borders and to view every single person on the planet, and yes, the planet itself, as brother and sister”6 as St Francis reminded us in the Canticle of the Sun.7 If this sounds Utopian [an imaginary state of affairs in which everything is perfect], it is because we are not there yet. Fratelli Tutti, as a roadmap to Utopia, is one way to phrase the argument of this article. Written during the Covid-19 pandemic, Fratelli Tutti challenges our theology of natural evil and suffering. I borrow this insight from the late Australian theologian Denis Edwards who argues that “Only a theology of the resurrection that is eschatologically transformative can begin to respond to the suffering that is built into an evolutionary universe” (Edwards 2006b: 817). While we draw breath this side of the Jordan, the keys to making that possible are in Fratelli Tutti: fraternity, solidarity, social friendship and subsidiarity through the art of encounter. I think the Jesuits already intuited this, a long time ago, by the formation of Christian Life Community (CLC) which forms a sort of preamble for this analysis of Fratelli Tutti.

3. Christian Life Community as Fratelli Tutti in Action

According to the CLC website, Christian Life Community is a global association of Christian men and women, adults and young people, of all social conditions, who, inspired by the life and teaching of St Ignatius of Loyola who want to be disciples of Jesus Christ more closely and work with Him for the building of the Kingdom of God — a kingdom of peace, love and justice. The genius of CLC was to intuit that “small is beautiful” by having members make up small groups but these small groups or cells are not insular or narcissistic. They form part of larger communities organised regionally and nationally, all forming one World Community. That is why CLC is present in all five continents, in more than sixty countries. As for its Ignatian ethos, I will let the website speak for itself. The spirituality is uncannily like the spirit of Fratelli Tutti.

The charism and spirituality of CLC are Ignatian. Thus, the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius are both the specific source of our charism and the characteristic instrument of CLC spirituality. The CLC way of life is shaped by the features of Ignatian Christology: austere and simple, in solidarity with the poor and the outcasts of society, integrating contemplation and action, in all things living lives of love and service within the Church, always in a spirit of discernment.8

I will let Manuel Martínez Arteaga express the CLC spirit which, as my friend Josephine Shamwana-Lungu says, is the “spirit of Fratelli Tutti” I have been harping on. Writing in Progressio, Manuel Martínez Arteaga reminds us, “Now, let’s talk about the latest embrace in these recent times. It is a type of embrace which takes on many forms, but which shares a common feature: it is a virtual or spiritual hug. Many of our national communities are living through the effects of the Covid-19 epidemic. Many of us have had to celebrate our World CLC Day on March 25 through the celebrations of the Eucharist on social networks. These community meetings are happening through different internet platforms, often through methods that we are not accustomed to using. However, this is a time that has awakened in us our creativity, our drive for community, our desire to be present and take care of each other, even at a distance. It has become a time to rediscover the important things inside our hearts, and to realize that despite the individual circumstances which we are all experiencing, we can all fill our days with deep meaning, and with a prayer that carries trust and hope: we shall embrace again.”9 If I was to tweak this message, my exhortation, pandemic or not is to keep embracing, virtually, spiritually or otherwise. That is one way to apply the message of Fratelli Tutti and to breathe its spirit.

4. Reception of Fratelli Tutti thanks to Covid-19 and a Papal Ideological Manifesto

The “thanks” to Covid-19 in the subtitle is tinged with a hint of sarcasm. But much less than the blessing, miracle, or gift that President Donald Trump attributed to Covid-19 when he posted a video on Twitter saying, “I want everybody to be given the same treatment as your President. Because I feel great, I feel perfect. I think this was a blessing from God that I caught it. This was a blessing in disguise. I caught it, I heard about this drug, I said, let me take it and it was incredible the way it worked. I think if I didn’t catch it, we’d be looking at that [ remdesivir ] like a number of other drugs but it really did a fantastic job. I want to get for you what I got and I’m going to make it free.”10 The Covid-19 pandemic, as a form of natural evil has been terrible in its devastation — 37, 423,660 confirmed cases, 1,074,817 confirmed deaths in 235 countries, areas or territories at the time of writing11 — but the Pope’s point in issuing Fratelli Tutti is to say that even evil, such as Covid-19, is capable of teaching humanity a few lessons on the future of our planet and of humanity. This article summarises and draws out a socio-religious perspective on the new encyclical by Pope Francis. This is truly a universal letter — to all people of good will —challenging humanity to be the best it can be, “thanks” to the Covid-19 pandemic. Its reception has been universally positive barring a few dissenting voices. What’s there to disagree about Fratelli Tutti ? I wonder.

Anna Rowlands, a British theologian invited to be part of the unveiling of the document at the Vatican, told Catholic News Service that the text’s “golden thread” is about discerning “what gives life” and “helps everyone to develop their full potential and flourish.” Commenting on Fratelli Tutti ’s second chapter, a stranger on the road, in particular, she says, “When people ask, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ Often what they really want to know is, “Who is not my neighbour?” or “Who can I legitimately say is not my responsibility?” In contrast, she says the teaching in the document “helps everyone to develop their full potential and flourish.”12

The Czechoslovakian-born Canadian Cardinal, Jesuit Michael Czerny, put it this way, “You could take a distance from the encyclical and say, ‘The Pope is trying to get us to recognize that all these people are our brothers and sisters.’ But it’s more than that. What he’s saying is, ‘You’ve got to be a brother and sister to everyone who needs us.’ The category isn’t out there; the category is here. Our human family and our common home needs me to be brother to the people who need me and needs you to be sister to these people.”13 I am my brother’s and my sister’s keeper.

Samuel Gregg, representing the dissenting voice, is less enthusiastic, calling Fratelli Tutti a “familiar mixture of dubious claims, strawmen, and genuine insights.”14 Samuel Gregg’s critique of the Pope’s economic message is blinkered and misses the point of an encyclical. “Also, insufficient — and, alas, this has characterised Francis’ pontificate from its very beginning — is Fratelli Tutti ’s treatment of economic questions,” he argues, “It seems that, no matter how many people (not all of whom can be characterised as fiscal conservatives) highlight the economic caricatures that roam throughout Francis’ documents, a pontificate which prides itself on its commitment to dialogue just isn’t interested in a serious conversation about economic issues outside a very limited circle.”15 This article begs to differ because it understands an encyclical’s purpose as exhortative. The Pope is not writing as an economist — he is no Amartya Sen — but a theologian and a pastor.

Larry Chapp, retired professor of theology at DeSales University in Pennsylvania, is more guarded but as he confesses, “Those who know me well understand that I am not generally a fan of Pope Francis, who was elected to reform the Curia (so we are told) but has failed miserably so far in that regard. He has also appointed to high office individuals who seem like old guard, unreconstructed, post Vatican II liberals — which is a bad thing in my view.”16 Having read the encyclical several times, I see no evidence of “Pope Francis’ encyclical” suffering “in places with the kind of ambiguities this papacy has all too often engaged in. But it is not, despite what some critics claim, in any way ‘heretical’ or even ‘dangerous.’”17 I am not sure what’s so wrong with his “post Vatican II liberals” apart from being Larry Chapp’s own strawmen. And if you are Donald Trump, an encyclical that smells of socialism may well be “heretical” or even “dangerous.”

As is to be expected, Carlo Maria Viganò’s reaction has been the most vitriolic or malicious. Here is part of his reaction, first in Italian, followed by my translation in square brackets. “Ad una lettura cursoria del testo dell’enciclica Fratelli tutti si sarebbe indotti a credere che essa sia stata scritta da un massone, non dal Vicario di Cristo. Tutto quanto vi è contenuto è ispirato ad un vago deismo e ad un filantropismo che non ha nulla di cattolico: Nonne et ethnici hoc faciunt ? Non fanno così anche i pagani ? (Mt 5.47)”18 [At a cursory reading of the text of the encyclical Fratelli Tutti, one would be led to believe that it was written by a Mason, not by the Vicar of Christ. Everything in it is inspired by a vague deism and a philanthropism that has nothing Catholic in it: Nonne et ethnici hoc faciunt ? Do not even the pagans do the same? (Mt 5.47)]. His conclusion is: “Questa Enciclica costituisce il manifesto ideologico di Bergoglio — la sua Professio fidei massonicae — e la sua candidatura alla presidenza della Religione Universale, ancella del Nuovo Ordine Mondiale. Tanta attestazione di subalternità19 al pensiero mainstream gli potrà forse valere il plauso dei nemici di Dio, ma conferma l’inesorabile abbandono della missione evangelizzatrice della Chiesa. D’altra parte, l’abbiamo già udito: ‘Il proselitismo è una solenne sciocchezza’”20 [This Encyclical constitutes Bergoglio’s ideological manifesto — his Professio fidei masonicae — and his candidacy for the presidency of Universal Religion, handmaid of the New World Order. Such attestation of subalternity21 to mainstream thought may perhaps be worth the applause of the enemies of God, but it confirms the inexorable abandonment of the evangelising mission of the Church. On the other hand, we have already heard it: ‘Proselytism is solemn nonsense’].

Proselytism, solemn nonsense? Did Pope Francis really say that? I am afraid he did and I think he meant it, when he spoke to the founder of Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, Eugenio Scalfari. Proselytism wreaks of forced conversions and is everything that evangelisation is not. Pope Francis was right not to touch Proselytism with a badge pole. This is how Eugenio Scalfari reports part of the encounter. “The Pope comes in and shakes my hand, and we sit down. The Pope smiles and says: ‘Some of my colleagues who know you told me that you will try to convert me.’ It’s a joke, I tell him. My friends think it is you who wants to convert me. He smiles again and replies: ‘Proselytism is solemn nonsense, it makes no sense. We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. Sometime after our meeting I want to arrange another one because new ideas are born and I discover new needs. This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.”22 But it was Eugenio Scalfaro’s conclusion that ties this interview with the spirit of Fratelli Tutti, “We shake hands and he stands with his two fingers raised in a blessing. I wave to him from the window. This is Pope Francis. If the Church becomes what he thinks and wishes it to be, an epoch will have changed [ Se la Chiesa diventerà come lui la pensa e la vuole sarà cambiata un’epoca ].”23 If the world listens to Fratelli Tutti, or as my friend Josephine Shamwana-Lungu told me recently, adopts the “spirit of Fratelli Tutti,”24 surely, “it will be an epochal change.”25 But before that happens, there would need to be “new bottles for new wine” or “new wine into fresh wineskins” (Mark 2.21‒22 NRSV). The Palestinian Rabbi’s socio-economic world was as epochal as the one we are living in, pandemic or not. As Pope Francis pointed out in Fratelli Tutti, “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, is denying reality” (Fratelli Tutti 2020: par 8).

5. New Bottles for New Wine and God’s Passibility in a Post Covid-19 Era

Does God suffer? Has God been suffering during the Covid-19 pandemic, to take a current specific instance? This is a theological conundrum I hope to attempt to answer here. But first, Julian Huxley’s metaphor, which I adopt here, “new bottles for new wine” (Huxley 1951), is clearly an update and a variation on the Synoptic Gospel metaphor, first used by the Palestinian Rabbi, “new wine into fresh wineskins.” Mark reports Jesus teaching that “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins” (Mark 2.21‒22 NRSV).

James Edwards’ comment on the above two short parables helps us to appreciate what is going on in our own times as we stand on the verge of a post Covid-19 era which we seem to agree for a change that this cannot be a return to business as usual. The phrase “new normal” makes the same point. “The question posed by the image of the wedding feast and the two atom-like parables is not whether disciples will, like sewing a new patch on an old garment or refilling an old container, make room for Jesus in their already full agendas [ sic ] and lives. The question is whether they will forsake business as usual and join the wedding celebration; whether they will become entirely new receptacles for the expanding fermentation of Jesus and the Gospel in their lives” (Edwards 2002: 92). In a post Covid-19 era, the question is whether our society and Church structures can become “entirely new receptacles for the expanding fermentation of Jesus and the Gospel” (Edwards 2002: 92) in our lives. In Pope Francis’ case, the starting point was the Vatican itself, as in the smallest sovereign state. Just a year after his election, BBC News reported that “Pope Francis has dismissed the entire board of the Vatican’s financial regulator as he looks to reform the city-state’s banking practices following a corruption scandal. The move is also reportedly due to infighting among the ‘old guard.’ The Financial Intelligence Authority’s Italian, five-person board were due to see their terms expire in 2016. They are being replaced with four international experts from Italy, Singapore, Switzerland and the US. The Vatican said the new directors include Juan Zarate, a former national security adviser to US President George Bush, and Joseph Pillay, a civil servant and adviser to the president of Singapore. The other two board members are Maria Bianca Farina, an executive at the Italian postal service and Marc Odendall, a Swiss financial consultant.”26 Becoming “entirely new receptacles for the expanding fermentation of Jesus and the Gospel” (Edwards 2002: 92) in the life of the planet and of humanity is the challenge that faced Pope Francis as he reflected on what lessons Covid-19 could teach us.

I now want to place the insights of the new encyclical in the context of natural evil, which is what any pandemic is. As far as I am aware, none of the commentators on Fratelli Tutti are taking on this conundrum. Part of the problem is that most theological reflections on natural evil suffer from one Achilles Heel. They are married to the doctrine of the impassibility of God and I am not, especially as a biblical scholar who has to explain a God who gets upset, changes his mind and is even described as jealous. “Roughly, the impassibility thesis is the claim that God does not undergo sensory experience including suffering and pain, nor is God subject to corruption, substantial essential change or to external agency” (Taliaferro 1989: 217). It has often been seen as a consequence of divine aseity, whereby “God is accordingly absolutely self-sufficient, depending upon nothing outside of himself, but purely moved by his own will” (Peckham 2012: 91‒92). The doctrines of God’s aseity and impassibility raise the theological conundrum of natural evil, such as Covid-19 and how they square up in God’s loving plan and omnipotence for the planet and for humanity which will be dealt with in the course of this article. I think the problem with the impassibility and aseity doctrines is that they suffer from literal anthropomorphism. Literal anthropomorphism is the simplest form of anthropomorphism, referring to when something is understood literally as acting like a human being. This is the premise of fairy tales when trees and animals speak. Metaphorical anthropomorphism, which I think applies to the Bible and theology and is a case of personification. It makes the point that something is like something else. What literal anthropomorphism forgets is that when A is like B, it is also true that A is not like B. This is clearly the case with theological anthropomorphism. If A standing for God is like B, humans, it does not follow that this relationship can be presented in the form of an equation A=B. God is sentient, able to suffer or feel but is not overwhelmed by emotion but transcends it. It’s time we got over it, God does get upset but does not get unhinged as we do.

6. Natural Evil, Suffering, a New Encyclical and New World Order

I started working on this socio-theological or religious reflection as soon as Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni confirmed rumours on Saturday, 5 September 2020 that Pope Francis was set to release a new encyclical on human fraternity. I had no inside knowledge of the content of the new papal encyclical Fratelli Tutti. Only the translators did and they were all sworn to pontifical secrecy but if I was a betting man, I would have put my money on contextualising this new encyclical as the fruit of the Pope’s meditation on a new world order post Covid-19. As Claire Giangravé wrote in Religion News Service on 8 September 2020, “While some people spent the months-long lockdowns making bread, knitting or watching Netflix, Francis seems to have pondered a plan for a new economic model”27 underpinned by the common good. The choice of the title and launching of the encyclical at Assisi all pointed to a sort of human, global and planetary solidarity new deal. One possible hint what we were to expect from the new encyclical was an interview the Pope gave to the Spanish review Vida Nueva [New Life] in April 2020. I highlight one theme, that of solidarity, from the Pope’s meditation. First, this is how the Vida Nueva sums up the Pope’s meditation entitled, Un Plan Para Resucitar [A plan to resurrect], followed by the Pope’s words.

“The Pope writes in ‘ Vida Nueva,’ an unpublished reflection for an Easter marked by the coronavirus. Starting from the ‘rejoice’ of Jesus to women, he affirms the civilisation of love. Francisco calls for getting ‘the necessary antibodies of justice, charity and solidarity’ for reconstruction on the day after the pandemic. ‘It is the Risen One who wants to resurrect all of humanity,’ he asserts in this roadmap that the Bishop of Rome gives to the readers of the magazine, to the Church and to society.”28 “At this time, we have realised the importance of ‘uniting the entire human family in the search for sustainable and integral development.’ Each individual action is not an isolated action, for better or for worse, it has consequences for others, because everything is connected in our common house; and if the health authorities order confinement in homes, it is the people who make it possible, aware of their co-responsibility to stop the pandemic. ‘An emergency like Covid-19 is defeated in the first place with the antibodies of solidarity.’”29

It is worth noting that Pope Francis’ meditation, using metaphors, was a reflection on the good news of Easter, starting with Jesus’ greeting to the women who witnessed the resurrection. The NRSV says, “Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’” (Mt 28.9a). I think the imperative “Χαίρετε” [ Chairete ] ought to have been translated “rejoice, be glad, rejoice exceedingly, be well, thrive.” The good news the Pope was sharing with us in April 2020 is the same good news we can expect from his new encyclical Fratelli Tutti; that we can be whole and healed as humanity only through solidarity by being our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. While I hear the arguments, both for keeping and jettisoning the title Fratelli Tutti, I was hoping that a last-minute endnote 1 by the translators would put us all out of our misery. Alas, no last-minute endnote 1 by the translators was forthcoming when the encyclical was released on 4 October 2020. Instead endnote 1 turned out to be a reference to Admonition VI without any further explanation but in defence of the Pope, nothing in the encyclical wreaks of sexism or gender bias. Even what it says about women cannot be further from mansplaining. If anything, the phrase “brothers and sisters” is used 28 times. Fratelli Tutti appears only twice: in the title and the incipit, without translation. Its function is to act as a peg with which to hang the document on the line. On this peg hangs part of the argument of this article that only a positive theology of creation, suffering, passibility of God, theological anthropomorphism, natural evil and what Denis Edwards refers to as “the cost of evolution” (Edwards 2006a; 2006b and 2019) will yield what I am referring to as “a brave new world order.”

7. Creation, Covid-19, Natural Evil, Suffering and the Cost of Evolution

But how does natural evil, such as Covid-19, especially the suffering engendered by it, factor in the Pope’s encyclical. In two words — a lot. The word suffering or sufferings appears 27 times in the encyclical (par 16, 38, 50, 65x2, 67x2, 68x2, 69, 71, 81, 116, 137, 138, 165, 179, 186x2, 193, 246, 248, 251x2, 253, 274 and 287). Although these 27 instances do not debate how suffering squares up with a loving God or his impassibility, I find that they cohere with Australian theologian Denis Edwards who argues that “Only a theology of the resurrection that is eschatologically transformative can begin to respond to the suffering that is built into an evolutionary universe….A second requirement is that this divine action be understood in a noninterventionist way….The third requirement for a theology of divine action that might offer some response to the costs of evolution would involve an understanding of God’s power as constrained by God’s love and respect for creatures” (Edwards 2006b: 817). This is the kind of theology and eschatology that Paul grapples with in 1 Corinthians 15. Denis Edwards goes so far as to say that “In such a view of divine power, the love that defines the divine nature is understood as a love that waits upon creation, living with its processes, accompanying each creature in love, rejoicing in every emergence, suffering with every suffering creature, and promising to bring all to healing and fullness of life” (Edwards 2006b: 818 — italics in the original). Yes, God suffers with every suffering creature. God has been and is suffering during the Covid-19 pandemic. Denis Edwards has made the same point in “Every Sparrow that Falls to the Ground: The Cost of Evolution and the Christ-Event” (Edwards 2006a). St Paul had grappled much earlier with what Denis Edwards refers to as “a love that waits upon creation” in an iconic passage from his letter to the Romans. “18 I consider [Λογίζομαι] that the sufferings [παθήματα] of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory [δόξαν] about to be revealed [ἀποκαλυφθῆναι] to us.19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God;20 for the creation was subjected [ὑπετάγη] to futility [ματαιότητι], not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope21 that the creation itself will be set free [ἐλευθερωθήσεται] from its bondage [δουλείας] to decay [φθορᾶς] and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning [συστενάζει] in labour pains [συνωδίνει] until now;23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption [υἱοθεσίαν], the redemption [ἀπολύτρωσιν] of our bodies.24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” [ὑπομονῆς] (Rom 8.18‒25 NRSV).

The above words of Paul can be summarised as follows: In v18 we are informed that we suffer now, even from Covid-19, hurricanes and tsunamis. Natural evil is a fact of life but in the grand scheme of things our present troubles are nothing in comparison to the glory that awaits us. This passage tells us that in the future, God will show us our evolved fullness, both as a planet and as human beings. In v19 everything that God created waits eagerly for that evolutionary peak. Then God will reveal the true identity of his children. In v20 the world that God created suffered apparent defeat, as it must have appeared during the Covid-19 pandemic. This was not the fault of the world itself. But God allowed this because there is a future hope built into the DNA of creation, not because he was impassible. In v21 God promised that he would heal the world. God would free the world so it would not end up in futility. He would free the world so that it can share in the wonderful freedom of God’s children. In v22 St Paul then tells us that we know how deeply everything suffers. Everything that God created is crying in pain right up to now, pain like the pain of a mother who is giving birth to a child. V23 assures us that the birth pangs are not the end of the story. We ourselves already have the Holy Spirit as a promise of future blessing. But we are crying inside as we wait eagerly for God to adopt us completely as his children after our alienation through natural evil and sin. Then he will free our bodies as he raises them to a new life through the resurrection and bring creation to a full circle because he has suffered in solidarity with the rest of his creation. V24 reminds us that God saved us because we had this hope in our DNA, shot into us at creation like a vaccine. This would not be hope if we had already received these things. Nobody hopes for what he has already, St Paul argues. In v25 we hope for what we do not have already. So, we wait for it patiently. In short, we wait for the resurrection patiently.

Just before he died on 5 March 2019, Australian theologian Denis Edwards, wrote, and this may be a fitting conclusion to this section on “Creation, Covid-19, natural evil, suffering and the cost of evolution” that “If we were simply to observe nature today, in the light of science, and leave aside Christian revelation and other religious beliefs, I think we would need to say that the experience of the natural world is deeply ambiguous. The natural world is unspeakably beautiful, wonderfully bountiful, endlessly fascinating, a place of interconnections and cooperation. But it is also a place of competition, violence, predation, suffering, and death. In this ambiguity, I believe it is the good news of God revealed to us in Jesus that is decisive for Christians. It is not the natural world itself, but the Word made flesh in Jesus that tells us that competition, suffering, and death are not the ultimate meaning of creation. In Jesus, God is revealed as Love that embraces suffering creation, transforming it from within, bringing it to liberation and fulfilment. It is only in Christ, I believe, that we can dare to say that, in the face of the ambiguity we find in the natural world, that Love is the meaning of the whole creation” (Edwards 2019: 31).

I think Italian scholar, Gianfranco Longo, makes a similar point but uses the concept of original sin to underpin his theory of redemption in the face of Jesus’ suffering on Calvary. But I think Gianfranco Longo’s language is more laboured, even in the original Italian version of the following formulation which I give in translation. “In creating humanity and the world, completed and realised by God, the multiplicity of the form of becoming, the development and transformation of the world and of humanity in the world emerges from an initial reflection. This fact, often glimpsed sociologically as progress, biologically as evolution, etc., is actually characterised by the plurality of phenomena originating from the only possible form from which that whole had its origin and foundation: the faith of God the Father in the love of Jesus for the salvation of the initial fiat, a faith to which the Son of God, Jesus, responds through the hope and love of his own immolation, marking Calvary the instant of the New Creation through which Christ re-gives humanity to the world, re-creates and re-composes humanity as a new and redeemed humanity, precisely in the event of love in which Jesus himself gives His Life” (Longo 2013: 17 — my translation).

What Denis Edwards and Gianfranco Longo try to explain about suffering or natural evil was already attempted in Jürgen Moltmann’s The Crucified God, first published in 1972 when he was professor of theology at the University of Tübingen. Writing in the foreword to the 40th edition of the book, Miroslav Volf had this to say: “This simple and profound thought [of a God who suffers in solidarity with afflicted creatures and redeems them through that suffering] lies at the heart of the book [ The Crucified God ] — difficult and unacceptable to many, especially among trained theologians committed to God’s impassibility, and hopeful and comforting to many more, especially among the afflicted, whether they live in fear for life in war torn cities, eke out a miserable existence in shantytowns, wait for death in the cruel belly of prisons, or struggle against an illness eating away their body or soul” (Moltmann 2015: ix) or plucked away by Covid-19. From a scriptural point of view, especially the Hebrew Bible, God is “passible,” he feels our pain but he transcends it. The argument of Fratelli Tutti is that natural evil, such as Covid-19 is part of God’s plan to renew and transform the earth and humanity and we can play our part through solidarity or fraternity and social friendship. In fact, to say it is part of the plan is callous. I think Denis Edwards expresses it better, it is the “the cost of evolution” (Edwards 2006a; 2006b and 2019). It is the conviction that suffering and natural evil exist but God suffers in solidarity with creation and humanity all along the way. They are “the costs of evolution” (Edwards 2006a; 2006b and 2019) but at the end of the day, they will cooperate with the creator in the transformation of creation and humanity. The lesson of Calvary is not the triumph of evil but the triumph of love.

8. Natural Evil, Suffering, the Cost of Evolution and the Christic Omega Point

At the risk of opening a theological Pandora’s Box but since I have already connected natural evil, such as Covid-19, suffering and cosmic evolution, I might as well rope in a priest-scientist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955) who brought evolution to its logical Christological conclusion: Omega Point. Whatever pangs creation may be going through, in the words of St Paul, it is part of the cost of evolution towards its highest point — the Omega Point. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin believed at the time that evolution was anathema in the Catholic Church that creation is on a march towards its final point of unification. The Omega Point was effectively the Johannine Logos, namely Christ, who, in Johannine terminology was drawing all things to himself. I think the reading “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself” must be preferred to “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12.32 NRSV).30 This was the same Logos who in the words of the Nicene Creed [Σύμβολον τῆς Νικαίας], was “God from God” [Θεὸν ἐκ Θεοῦ], “Light from Light” [Φῶς ἐκ Φωτός], “True God from true God” [Θεὸν ἀληθινὸν ἐκ Θεοῦ ἀληθινοῦ], and “through him all things were made” [γεννηθέντα οὐ ποιηθέντα]. This is the same Logos who describes himself three times in the book of Revelation as “the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end” (Rev 1.8; 21.6 and 22.13). This is what Pierre Teilhard de Chardin says of the Omega. “If we left any contribution or support from Revelation, the only conclusion we could deduce from the existence, once that is accepted, of Omega is that the tide of consciousness of which we form a part is not produced simply by some impulse that originates in ourselves. It feels the pull of a star, upon which, individually and as one whole, we are completing in one union in our process of interiorization. The layers of the world around us take on a vastly richer and more penetrating radiance when they are seen in the context of a Christic-type creation (one, that is, in which a divine involution steps down to combine with the mounting evolution of the cosmos)” (Teilhard de Chardin 1948: 190‒191). This Christic Omega point is in the language of Apocalypse, the new heaven and new earth. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (Rev 21.1 NRSV). It is truly a new world order in a much deeper sense than intended or understood by Woodrow Wilson’s “new order of the world.”31

9. Fratelli Tutti, Catholic Social Teaching, Covid-19 and a New World Order

Fratelli Tutti [Brothers all] is described as a social encyclical. Social encyclicals, according to the “Social Encyclicals” entry in Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought, Social Science, and Social Policy are a “large-scale, detailed letter sent out by the Pope to everyone in the world, treating social issues (usually economic ones) with a combination of critique and counsel, defining paramount principles, pointing out urgent problems suggesting a direction for solutions” (Coulter 2007: 978). They often address oppression, the role of the state, subsidiarity, social organisation, concern for social, global and planetary justice, and issues of wealth distribution [distributism]. The foundations of Catholic Social Teaching [ CST ] are widely considered to have been laid by Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical letter Rerum Novarum, which advocated economic distributism. Distributism is an economic theory which asserts that the world’s resources and wealth should be widely owned and shared rather than concentrated in the hands of a few. It is now associated with the principles of Catholic social teaching, especially the teachings of Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891) mentioned above and Pope Pius XI in Quadragesimo anno (1931). Distributism views both laissez-faire Capitalism, epitomised by the countries of the so-called developed global North, and state socialism, at one time associated with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics [ USSR ] and Cuba, as equally flawed and exploitative. Distributism favoured economic mechanisms such as cooperatives and member-owned mutual organisations as well as small businesses and large-scale competition law reform such as antitrust laws. As Holger Bonus says, “By agreeing to set up an enterprise of their own through which transactions are made, the members of a cooperative internalize crucial transactions and escape threats to the quasi-rent to the quasi-rent of their investments by outside opportunists. The benefits of collective organization, then, (and thus the centripetal force that ties the cooperative together), consist in utilizing transaction-specific assets without depending on outside companies, which potentially could jeopardize the quasi-rent of their investments” (Bonus 1986: 334 — italics in the original). According to Alexandra Twin, “Antitrust laws are regulations that monitor the distribution of economic power in business, making sure that healthy competition is allowed to flourish and economies can grow. Antitrust laws apply to nearly all industries and sectors, touching every level of business, including manufacturing, transportation, distribution, and marketing.”32

The roots of both Catholic Social Teaching in general and distributism in particular can be traced to the writings of Catholic thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas and Augustine of Hippo, and are also derived from concepts present in the Bible and the cultures of the ancient Near East from which the Bible grew. St John Paul II pointed out in his 1999 Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in America, that through “social doctrine, the Church makes an effective contribution to the issues presented by the current globalised economy” and quoted the Synod of Bishops, Second Extraordinary General Assembly, Final Report Ecclesia sub Verbo Dei Mysteria Christi Celebrans pro Salute Mundi (December 7, 1985) which declared in its Propositio 74 that the moral vision of the Church, expressed in its social doctrine “rests on the threefold cornerstone of human dignity, solidarity and subsidiarity.” Just to confirm that for the current encyclical, human dignity is mentioned 9 times (par 22, 25, 37, 125, 127, 168, 207, 268 and 277) solidarity, 20 times (par 11, 36, 75, 114x3, 115, 116x4, 127, 132, 138, 146x2, 152, 168, 169, 187, 205x2, 243, 249) and subsidiarity 3 times (par 142, 175 and 187).

For Pope Francis, Catholic social teaching, “has underscored the error of the neoliberal dogma which holds that the economic and moral orders are so completely distinct from one another that the former is in no way dependent on the latter.”33 He said this on 8 October 2020 when he spoke to representatives of Moneyval, the Council of Europe’s anti-money laundering watchdog, who were in Rome conducting an annual review of the Vatican, following a year of money-related scandals. “In light of the present circumstances, it would seem that the worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose,” he said, insisting that “financial speculation fundamentally aimed at quick profit continues to wreak havoc.”34

The new social encyclical is inspired by the Pope’s namesake, St Francis’ Admonition VI35 and is the first encyclical to be signed outside Rome. It was signed on 3 October 2020 at the tomb of St Francis in Assisi. It was then officially released on 4 October 2020 after the midday Angelus at the Vatican in Rome. As Junno Arocho Esteves of Catholic News Service wrote on 4 October 2020, “At the Vatican’s Oct. 4 presentation of the encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship, [Pietro] Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said the document shows that ‘fraternity is not a trend or a fashion which develops over time or at a particular time, but rather is the result of concrete acts.’”36 Fraternity must be in our DNA. Clearly, the lengths that some people went to during Covid-19 must underscore Pietro Parolin’s words.

The original language of the encyclical is Spanish, the Pope’s native tongue, which was then translated into the main European languages, German, Portuguese, Italian, French, Polish as well as Arabic. Apart from English, I have also consulted the Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and French translations for this summary. The full title of the encyclical in English is “Encyclical Letter Fratelli Tutti of the Holy Father Francis on the Fraternity and Social Friendship.” The definite article on “fraternity” was probably not as necessary in English as it was in the Latin languages. An encyclical is the highest classification of any papal document but my experience in the Catholic Church is that encyclicals rarely get to reach the ordinary Christian in the pew. This encyclical — the third of his 7-year-old pontificate — is Francis’ diagnosis of the social problems plaguing our world as well as his proposed prognosis which are the fruit of prayer and reflection. Pope Francis started writing the encyclical long before Covid-19 “erupted” as he says but once the ever-new pandemic was in full flow it managed to change and give more impetus to his message about a new world order. As Austen Ivereigh points out, “Although he did not pen Fratelli tutti in response to the COVID-19 crisis, the virus hovers over its first chapter, in which he grimly surveys a world sliding back into fragmentation, egotism, and polarization, incapable of the consensus needed to cope with the challenge. But the encyclical was conceived in response to a much broader crisis in modernity, not just the pandemic, and it is on the persuasiveness of its diagnosis and prescription that it will be judged.”37


1 The English version of “Encyclical Letter Fratelli Tutti of the Holy Father Francis on Fraternity and Social Friendship,” with provision for the Spanish original, German, Portuguese, Arabic, Polish, Italian and French, is found on, (Accessed on 04.10.2020)

2 Devin Watkins (6 October 2020), “‘ Fratelli tutti:’ A radical blueprint for post-Covid world,” Vatican News, (Accessed on 09.10.2020)

3 Ibid. The phrase “culture of encounter” appears 7 times in Fratelli Tutti (par 30x2, 215, 216, 217x2 and 232).

4 CAFOD (2020), “What does CAFOD do?” (Accessed on 11.10.2020)

5 Vinicius de Moraes, Samba da Benção, from the recording Um encontro no Au bon Gourmet, Rio de Janeiro (2 August 1962)

6 Devin Watkins (6 October 2020), “‘ Fratelli tutti ’: A radical blueprint for post-Covid world,” Vatican News, (Accessed on 09.10.2020)

7 The Canticle of the Sun or the Canticle of Creatures was the inspiration behind Pope Francis’ second encyclical Laudato Si’. A text of the canticle can be found on this link, (Accessed on 15.10.2020)

8 Christian Life Community (2020), “Christian Life Community (CLC),” (Accessed on 28.11.2020)

9 Manuel Martínez Arteaga (2020), Editorial, Progressio [Number 1, 2020], page 1

10 James Bickerton (8 October 2020), “Donald Trump says catching coronavirus was a ‘gift from God’ after leaving hospital,” Express, (Accessed on 08.10.2020)

11 World Health Organisation (2020), “Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic” (Accessed on 12.10.2020)

12 Pax Christi (6 October 2020), “Fratelli Tutti: A new encyclical,” (Accessed on 14.10.2020)

13 Gerard O’Connell (13 October 2020), “Cardinal Czerny on ‘Fratelli Tutti:’ Pope Francis addresses a world ‘on the brink,’” America Magazine, (Accessed on 14.10.2020)

14 Samuel Gregg (10 October 2020), “Fratelli Tutti is a familiar mixture of dubious claims, strawmen, genuine insights,” The Catholic World Report, (Accessed on 11.10.2020)

15 Ibid

16 Larry Chapp (9 October 2020), “Fratelli Tutti and its critics,” The Catholic World Report, (Accessed on 14.10.2020)

17 Ibid

18 Carlo Maria Viganò (5 October 2020), “Perché critico l’enciclica Fratelli Tutti,” Smart Magazine, (Accessed on 14.10.2020)

19 Carlo Maria Viganò uses the Italian term subalternità [subalternity] in its popularr sense of subordination but in its postcolonial sense it carries the sense of Marxist struggle against hegemonic dominance and is understood positively, especially in its use by Antonio Gramsci. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, however, understands it more negatively. As Mieke Verloo writes, “Subaltern as a concept is best understood as related to issues of domination and power, democracy and citizenship, resistance and transformation. According to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, subalternity is a position without identity, a position ‘where social lines of mobility, being elsewhere, do not permit the formation of a recognizable basis of action’ (Spivak 2005: 476).” (Verloo 2016: 1).

20 Carlo Maria Viganò (5 October 2020), “Perché critico l’enciclica Fratelli Tutti,” Smart Magazine, (Accessed on 14.10.2020)

21 See endnote 17 above.

22 Eugenio Scalfari (1 October 2013), “The Pope: how the Church will change,” La Republicca,, accessed on 14.10.2020. The original interview was in Italian, “Papa Francesco a Scalfari: così cambierò la Chiesa,” (Accessed on 16.10.2020)

23 Ibid. I have touched up the translation for syntactical and translational accuracy.

24 Josephine Shamwana-Lungu (13 October 2020), telephone conversation

25 Eugenio Scalfari (1 October 2013), “The Pope: how the Church will change,” La Repubblica, (Accessed on 14.10.2020)

26 BBC News (6 June 2014), “Pope Francis replaces Vatican financial watchdog board,” (Accessed on 14.10.2020)

27 Claire Giangravé (8 September 2020), “Pope Francis launches his post-COVID agenda with announcement of new encyclical,” Religion News Service, (Accessed on 12.10.2020)

28 Papa Francisco (17 April 2020), “Un Plan Para Resucitar: Una Meditación,” Vida Nueva, (Accessed on 29.09.2020)

29 Ibid.

30 The Greek text reads, “κἀγὼ ἐὰν ὑψωθῶ ἐκ τῆς γῆς, πάντας ἑλκύσω πρὸς ἐμαυτόν” [And when I should be lifted up from the earth, I will draw all to myself]. Most commentators conclude that since πάντας is accusative masculine plural, it must be referring to people. I suggest it was an intentional ellipsis capable of including people and the entire cosmos personified.

31 Woodrow Wilson (9 September 1919), “Address at the University of Minnesota Armory in Minneapolis,” Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project (Accessed on 02.12.2020)

32 Alexandra Twin (7 October 2020), “Antitrust,” Investopedia,,and%20give%20consumers%20more%20options (Accessed on 09.10.2020)

33 Elise Ann Allen (8 October 2020), “As Vatican faces financial review, pope condemns ‘idolatry’ of neoliberal economy,” Crux, (Accessed on 08.10.2020)

34 Ibid

35 Admonition 6, 1, “Let us all, brothers, consider the Good Shepherd who, to save His sheep, bore the suffering of the Cross. The sheep of the Lord followed Him in tribulation and persecution and shame, in hunger and thirst, in infirmity and temptations and in all other ways; and for these things they have received everlasting life from the Lord. Wherefore it is a great shame for us, the servants of God that, whereas the Saints have practised works, we should expect to receive honour and glory for reading and preaching the same” (Talbot 2019: 59).

36 Junno Arocho Esteves (4 October 2020), “Encyclical highlights need for fraternity to counter war, cardinal says,” Crux, (Accessed on 06.10.2020)

37 Austen Ivereigh (4 October 2020), “Pope Francis’ Call to Fraternity: The making of ‘ Fratelli tutti,’” Commonweal, (Accessed on 18.10.2020)

Excerpt out of 29 pages


Natural Evil, Suffering, a New Encyclical and a New World Order. A Socio-Religious Perspective on the Spirit of "Fratelli Tutti"
Kwame Nkrumah University
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
natural, evil, suffering, encyclical, world, order, socio-religious, perspective, spirit, fratelli, tutti
Quote paper
Dr Tarcisius Mukuka (Author), 2020, Natural Evil, Suffering, a New Encyclical and a New World Order. A Socio-Religious Perspective on the Spirit of "Fratelli Tutti", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Look inside the ebook
Title: Natural Evil, Suffering, a New Encyclical and a New World Order. A Socio-Religious Perspective on the Spirit of "Fratelli Tutti"

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free