Pope Francis recently said he believes the coronavirus epidemic is “nature’s response” to humanity’s failure to address human-induced climate change. Asked by British journalist and papal biographer Austen Ivereigh if the current crisis provided an opportunity for an “ecological conversion,” the pontiff repeated his previously stated belief that humanity had provoked nature by not responding adequately to the climate crisis.
This is just the latest of the pope's statements outlining a theological focus on nature, rather than the supernatural. With Francis at its helm, the Roman Catholic Church may be facing its worst crisis since the French Revolution, if not since the Reformation.
It is especially noteworthy that, in speaking with Ivereigh, Pope Francis quoted a proverb in Spanish, “God always forgives, we forgive sometimes, but nature never forgives.” He went on:
I don’t know if it is nature’s revenge, but it is certainly nature’s response. Every crisis contains both danger and opportunity: the opportunity to move out from the danger. Today I believe we have to slow down our rate of production and consumption and to learn to understand and contemplate the natural world.
In late March Francis presented similar ideas to a Spanish journalist, insisting that the epidemic was nature’s cry for humans to take better care of creation. Asked specifically whether it was nature’s way of taking revenge on humanity, the pope responded that “nature was calling for attention.” Three months earlier, in December 2019, the pontiff said that natural disasters were nature’s way of alerting us “to safeguard our common home.”
These comments echo the sentiments of Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical letter Laudato si’ (“On care of our common home”), the first major encyclical of his papacy, in which Francis calls for a “covenant between humanity and the environment.” In it, he asserts that earth “cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.” Loss of biodiversity and economic inequality “have caused sister earth, along with all the abandoned of our world, to cry out, pleading that we take another course.”
As an Orthodox who believes in the necessity of all Christian traditionalists to stand united against the cancer of posthuman postmodernia, I am instinctively reluctant to criticize the Bishop of Rome. The old family quarrel harking back to 1054 has cost us all dearly. As I wrote in Orthodoxy Today 16 years ago, we need to reassert and defend the common heritage of the Eastern and Western wings of the Christian civilization. The Western world, long split by the tragedy of the Great Schism, is beset by the rot of disbelief, Christophobia, and functional nihilism.
It is therefore in sorrow rather than anger that I take exception to Pope Francis personalizing nature and our planet, treating them as discrete thinking and feeling entities. In doing so he is strongly implying that nature is either distinct from the Creator with a separate will, or else that Creation so indistinct from Him that it is nature that we should focus our attention on, rather than God in heaven.
One wonders where Pope Francis locates the true vox Dei. Is it distinct from that of Mother Nature and Sister Earth? Perhaps the Throne of Peter suggests that the “voice” we are hearing is that of Spinoza’s Deus sive Natura (“God or nature”)—the ostensibly distinct two being but One, a singular, monist self-subsistent Substance.
Either way, there is little Catholic orthodoxy to be found in the Pope’s musings about nature; no Triune God of the Gospels and no magisterium of the Fathers. Sadly, this is to be expected from a pontiff who has repeatedly made confusing statements about Catholic dogma, which are always walked back to the edge of heresy by the Vatican’s public relations team. These include appearing to deny the doctrine of transubstantiation and the reality of hell; expressing unnerving ambivalence toward homosexuality and the sanctity of marriage; and suggesting that he (of all people) should not be “judgmental” about depraved modern lifestyles.
Pope Francis worries about biodiversity, but he is unconcerned about the loss of human diversity, cultural and biological, which will happen—tragically and irreversibly—if his strident advocacy of population replacement in Europe continues to bear fruit. His condemnation of “the arming of borders, the raising of walls” at an interfaith conference in Abu Dhabi on Feb. 3, 2018 is reminiscent of his assertion, three years earlier, that building walls “is not Christian.”
As I noted in these pages just over a year ago, had it not been for walls, Christendom would not have survived the onslaught of Islam—and it was a very close thing during the sieges of Vienna in 1529 and 1683. The walls of Belgrade, Famagusta, Valetta, and Candia also come to mind, defended gallantly, often against all odds and sometimes to the last man. The Vatican itself is surrounded by the Leonine Walls, 40 feet high and 12 feet thick, erected by St. Leo IV in 848–852 to defend against the marauding Saracens. They still stand, their gates protected by Swiss guards with metal detectors and other instruments of strict border security. Thank God for the walls!
Talking of that papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula, the Pontiff addressed the Muslim Council of Elders, which is the brainchild of Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Cairo’s Al-Azhar mosque and university. This was the fifth meeting between the two. In 2016 Pope Francis even claimed that his meeting with al-Tayeb at the Vatican was proof that Muslims “seek peace.” In his TV sermons, however, the sheikh presents a very different face to the faithful. He firmly asserts that a Muslim who abandons his Islamic faith “must either renounce his apostasy or else be killed.” He avers that he “cannot denounce ISIS as un-Islamic.” According to the Cairo Institute for Human Rights, among others, al-Tayeb has two faces: one directed at the West, another at Muslims.
And yet, at the end of the interfaith meeting last year, Francis and al-Tayeb signed a sugary statement affirming “human fraternity” and their hopes for world peace. It was accompanied by the pope’s remarkable claim that “authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.” That was a statement both willfully self-deceptive and demonstrably false. It came from a man who has been reluctant, ever since the beginning of his pontificate over seven years ago, to address unequivocally the persecution of Christians in Muslim countries, even though it is the most egregious case of human right violations in today’s world.
In an address 14 years ago to the Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California, I said that to regain the war-ravaged remnants of Christendom “it should be admitted by every Christian that people outside his particular tradition may share Christian virtues and lead good lives… They need to hang together, in these trying times, or else they will most assuredly hang separately.” Of this need I remain equally convinced today. It is therefore disheartening, in these trying times, to see the keys of St. Peter in such unsteady hands.