Among the numerous merits of Pope Francis’ extraordinary Encyclical Letter Praised Be, there is also the fact that it offers us a vision of the world in contrast to the current collective imagination, also from an economic and social perspectives. The underlying theme of the entire speech is beauty. The Encyclical talks about it at the beginning (par. 1), recalling that “the common house is like a beautiful mother who welcomes us into her arms,” and gets back to this topic frequently. One such moment, for instance, is when we are reminded that “soil, water, mountains, everything is God’s caress” (par. 84). Or else, when it reads that “God has written a wonderful book, whose letters are the multitude of creatures in the universe” (par. 85).
Beauty is something every man “perceives” intuitively. A manual cannot express the concept of beauty; education can only be received through contemplation of beautiful things. On the other hand, ugliness – the opposite of the concept of beauty – is intuitive too. We understand it as the perception of lack of beauty, or a bundle of imperfections, which arouses indifference or displeasure, or even provokes rejection.
Pope Francis’ choice to maintain beauty as a fixed point has also the meaning, so to speak, of simple and direct communication. There is a common element in the traits of all things we define as “beautiful”: “harmony” between the various components of the object and between the object and the natural environment where it is located. In this regard, the reference Praised Be makes to St. Francis of Assisi is very accurate: “He showed special attention towards the creation of God, for the poor and abandoned. He loved and was loved for his joy, his selfless dedication, and his universal heart. He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived simply and in a wonderful ‘harmony’ with God, the others, nature, and with himself” (par. 10).
Harmony and balance are universal principles, which govern the entire universe. This is a quality of both the natural world and the world of human activity. Balance, harmony, and beauty thus appear as closely related concepts. Hence, we can understand why some scholars have spoken of beauty referring also to forms of government, or political strategies, such mathematical models. Pope Francis’ encyclical points out that “the biblical legislation puts forward different standards for human beings, not only in relation to other human beings, but also in relation to other living beings” (par. 68). It has also “sought to guarantee balance and fairness in human relationships with the others and with the land where Man lived and worked,” emphasizing that “the Earth’s gifts and its fruits belong to all people” (par.71).
The encyclical remains on the same path to affirm that “politics should not submit to economy. The latter, in its turn, should not submit to the dictates and the efficiency paradigm of technocracy. Today, thinking of the common good, we urgently need politics and economics to be in dialogue with each other and to serve life, especially human life.” (par.189). Also according to the Pope, the time has come to oppose strongly “the idea of an ‘infinite or unlimited growth’, which has made economists, finance theorists, and technology so enthusiastic.” This means removing “the false assumption that there is an unlimited amount of energy and resources, that their immediate regeneration is possible, and that the negative effects of nature’s manipulation can be easily absorbed” (par. 106). On the other hand, Pope Francis said, “economic powers continue to justify the current world system, in which speculation and profit prevail and have a tendency to ignore any context and the effects on the environment and on human dignity.” Today, the “interests of the deified market, transformed into absolute rule” prevail (par.56). Whereas the biblical texts – Pope Francis insists – invite us to “till and keep” the garden of the world in communion.
The encyclical directly enters the legal field too, saying that “Christian tradition has never recognized the ‘right to private property’ as absolute or inviolable, and has highlighted the ‘social function’ of all forms of ownership.” “God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favoring anyone.” “A kind of development that does not respect and promote human, personal and social, economic and political rights, including the rights of nations and peoples, would not be truly worthy of man”.
Paolo Maddalena, Vice President Emeritus of the Constitutional Court