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World Peace Day, The Environment, and Pope Benedict XVI
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2010-01-01 10:07:27
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“If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation”

                                                                              --Pope Benedict XVI

A message has been delivered recently by the Pope to the world press to be widely disseminated on January 1st 2010, World Peace Day. It is a universal appeal directed to all men of good will, no matter their particular faith or no faith, and indeed, in as much as it concerns the whole of the human race to the whole earth.

In such a message the Pope points to a clear nexus between world peace and the environment as the above slogan suggests. As we all know, earlier this month leaders from most of the world’s nations met in Copenhagen for the UN Climate Change Conference to discuss reducing their carbon emissions. There is disagreement on how successful the conference was. It can safely be said that it did not overwhelm most knowledgeable observers, nevertheless, without offering technical or political advice, which is not his expertise or jurisdiction, the Pope even on that occasion said that solving the crises would require people to work together and take responsibility for their individual actions. Specifically, a solution would require “a lifestyle marked by sobriety and solidarity, with new rules and forms of engagement, one which focuses confidently and courageously on strategies that actually work, while decisively rejecting those that have failed”. Was anybody listening? One wonders.

I am willing to wager that the above statements of the Pope as well as the ones that will follow below will be promptly attacked and even derided and trivialized by environmental activists (those who wish humanity to survive but cannot explain why and what is the point of it all…), not because they don’t make perfect sense in themselves, as indeed they would if put in the mouth of an  environmentalist or a celebrity, or even uttered anonymously, but simply because they issue from a spiritual leader and the head of the Church. Unfortunately those are the times in which we live and have our being; times of relativism and political correctness replete with much cynicism and confusion on what is right and what is wrong. That confusion is mirrored in the catastrophe of the very environment we inhabit as the human species, much of it now of our own making. And that is the other insight of the Pope’s message: there is a definite nexus between the degradation of the environment, peace, and the survival of the human species and it has by now assumed the proportions of a serious moral problem. The degradation of the environment threatens peace and indeed the very existence of human-kind.

Be that as it may, the Holy Father does not glibly pronounce those words based merely on his authority as head of the Catholic Church; he bases them on a four thousand year old Judeo-Christian tradition and theological understanding of creation. Jews and Christians believe that the entire cosmos was created by God, who drew harmony out of chaos. Human sin – the desire to take the place of God and the refusal to recognize one’s creature-hood--disrupts that original harmony. When the Bible points out that God made man and woman in his image and gave them dominion over the earth, the Pope writes, it meant God called them to be stewards of creation, drawing from the earth what they needed and safeguarding its riches for future generations. It follows from this theological principle that the Church has a commitment to defending the earth, water and air, which are the creator’s gifts to humanity.

But rather than continuing with comments and interpretations, let us examine some brief excerpts from the message itself. In the very words of the Pope: “We cannot remain indifferent to what is happening around us, for the deterioration of any one part of the planet affects us all...” He than goes on to say that governments, multinationals and individuals all had an impact on the environment, and while the future of the world hung in the balance because of what people are doing today, the negative effects of pollution and environmental exploitation can already be seen. And he then pointedly and forcefully asks: “Can we remain indifferent before the problems associated with such realities as climate change: desertification, the deterioration and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifers, the loss of biodiversity, the increase of natural catastrophes and the deforestation of equatorial and tropical regions?”

And he continues: “Already the world is seeing the growing phenomenon of environmental refugees, people who are forced by the degradation of their natural habitat to migrate in search of food, water and unpolluted air. It is becoming more and more evident that the issue of environmental degradation challenges us to examine our lifestyle and the prevailing models of consumption and production, which are often unsustainable from a social, environmental and even economic point of view…” The Pope then touches on the “actual and potential conflicts involving access to natural resources,” and states that “Protecting the natural environment in order to build a world of peace is thus a duty incumbent upon each and all. It is an urgent challenge, one to be faced with renewed and concerted commitment; it is also a providential opportunity to hand down to coming generations the prospect of a better future for all.” [emphasis mine].

Benedict XVI continues: “…humanity needs a profound cultural renewal; it needs to rediscover those values which can serve as the solid basis for building a brighter future for all... Our present crises – be they economic, food-related, environmental or social – are ultimately also moral crises and all of them are interrelated…Sad to say, it is all too evident that large numbers of people in different countries and areas of our planet are experiencing increased hardship because of the negligence or refusal of many others to exercise responsible stewardship over the environment.”

Those are strong words indeed. The cynics and so called Machiavellian “realists” with biased views about the Church and its mission will surely denigrate them as so much mythology and empty idealism. The wiser among us, even if bereft of the gift of faith, will side with hope in the future, which translates in Hebrew as “faith,” that is to say, faith in the future. They may even join in the plea with which the Holy Father ends his message to all men of good will, “to raise a fervent prayer to God, the all-powerful creator and the father of mercies, so that all men and women may take to heart the urgent appeal: if you want to cultivate peace, protect creation”.


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Thanos2010-01-01 13:26:37
"solving the crises would require people to work together and take responsibility for their individual actions" I have to say that in this phrase we can see where Copenhagen failed. Taking "representative" collective responsibility and leaving others represent is in the crisis is like avoiding our individual responsibility and actually that shows how deep in general is the cultural crisis in our hyper-consuming (in every sense) society. Oddly we got to the point where the crisis has made the words society-culture-environment meet and even though a ...non-believer I agree that "…humanity needs a profound cultural renewal; it needs to rediscover those values which can serve as the solid basis for building a brighter future for all..."

Thanos2010-01-01 13:31:31
I wanted to write:
...represent "us" in the crisis is...

Emanuel Paparella2010-01-01 17:10:51
Indeed, Thanos, let's hope somebody is listening, that in itself is a faith of sort. The ancient Greeks had faith in the aboility of the intellect to find the truth and invented philosophy. We too, "enlightened" people, need in our ability of individual men to make a difference as well as our ability to persuade the cynics and the so called "realists" that a better just world is possible. Silone called it a "conspiracy of hope," ongoing since Plato's Republic and responding to the inbuilt aspiration of the human heart for peace buttressed by justice.

Emanuel Paparella2010-01-01 17:13:20
Errata: ability; need faith in the ability of individual men;

Marco Andreacchio2010-01-01 17:49:32
There are at least two unsettling and essentially modern elements in the Papal appeal as quoted and represented in the article above:

1) The appeal to building world peace independently of our faith, but on the basis of shared/our collective "values" is of Machiavellian-Hobbesian extraction. From St. Thomas' perspective, e.g., there is and can be no universal moral code that is not rooted in Biblical revelation, and thereby in God . A universal moral code independent of an overtly divine, supra-human support must rely upon human propaganda for its effectiveness: it must appeal to essentially secular ends by taking its bearings from an evil beginning, i.e. a beginning to be overcome or "corrected" (viz., social inequality, not to speak of Nature proper, and human nature in particular). It thus requires the replacement of traditional Religion with modern Propaganda. (It also deserves being pointed out that for Biblical Christianity peace is the gift of God/Grace, not something built by a collective. As far as classical political thought goes, universal peace, which coincides with the rise of the Universal (totalitarian or global) State is a virtual impossibility the establishing of which would require massive deception proliferated through unforeseeable means/instruments of mass propaganda.)

The identification of "Creation" with "our environment" sempliciter is of an unequivocally materialistic stamp (it entails a materialistic, anti-Biblical reading of Biblical idealism), insofar as Creation proper cannot be endangered by man (no more than the Garden/Paradise can). From a Biblical point of view, man may FALL from Creation into wretchedness; he cannot destroy what God created.

Of course, none of the above is new to the ears of a Pope who most likely is painfully aware of the weight of the compromises he is compelling himself to make with the "wisdom" seculorum.


Emanuel Paparella2010-01-01 18:47:28
"As far as classical political thought goes, universal peace, which coincides with the rise of the Universal (totalitarian or global) State is a virtual impossibility the establishing of which would require massive deception proliferated through unforeseeable means/instruments of mass propaganda.)"


Marco, I wonder if you see the contradiction between the first Machiavellian statement and the second Franciscan statement. Or is there a reconciliatio oppositorum which I miss here?

Would you wish the Pope to speak universally to all the men of good will, with faith or no faith or covert atheism, by preaching the theology of St. Thomas, a doxtor of the Church? Did not St. Thomas write that grace builds on nature, and so one starts with is univerally appealing to the "common sense" of all the people, exoterically so to speak rather than esoterically, with a hidden nihilistic agenda? Perplexed and wondering...

Emanuel Paparella2010-01-01 18:51:42
Errata: that which is universally appealing to the "common sense' of all the people, i.e. universal reason and imagination,...

Marco2010-01-01 19:06:47
Dear Emanuel,

In a recent "Comment" posted at
I noted that:

It would seem that the only rationally effective response to power-politics doctrines rests in the recovery of a pre-modern, classical understanding of "the Political" on account of which man's practical life is not yet abstracted from its NATURAL ENDS.

The return to a pre-modern, classical understanding of political life IS a return to COMMON SENSE.

"PAX ET BONUM" was meant in the light of an order of things that is NOT secular. I am aware of the option of believing that the secularist's attempt to "build World Peace" is compatible with Franciscan teachings.


Emanuel Paparella2010-01-01 21:00:32
Dear Marco,
secular/sacred? To my ears, this notion is redolent of the Cartesian duality body/mind and may be the root of the problem as Vico and Husserl indeed intuited. Enter Marx: let us leave the sacred and the transcendent to social idiots who believe in rewards after this earthly life (the opium of the people...) and let us bravely deal with our secular poliical concerns and struggles, such as social justice. Enter the Platonic academic: let us support religion for the naive masses, conceal our nihilism, cynicism and Machiavellism under overt aspirations of social justice but let not delude ourselves covertly (the truth only known by few elitists) that war will ever be eliminated and that perpetual peace can be achieved outside the cemetery, and in so doing the masses will be kept docile with promises of after life rewards and life will be so much more comfortable for us secret nihilists in the comfortable halls of academia.

Indeed the god of the philosophers, even that of Aristotle and Plato is in the final analysis a self referential abstract idol, a product of one's intellect to be worshipped as an idol of sort, having precious little to do with the personal God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

ap2010-01-02 00:04:43
Mr. Paparella, Pope Benedict XVI would not be the first example, coming to my mind, of a saint man who doesn't have as personal god a 'self referential abstract idol'. But I see that now your crusade is against the philosophers themselves... and you found a very able interlocutor.

Marco Andreacchio2010-01-02 00:14:15
Dear Emanuel,

The suggestion that "the Platonic academic" is support[s] religion for the naive masses, conceal[s his] nihilism, cynicism and Machiavellism under overt aspirations of social justice" strikes me as groundless/gratuitous and false. Let us try to avoid ad hominem assaults.

There is no reason to believe that the Platonic idea that as long as there will be men there will be war, is nihilistic.

Insofar as the nihilist rejects the idea of an original/natural Order of things transcending the "historical" (human) or conventional order of things, the nihilist is the ultimate anti-Platonist.

On the other hand, political Platonism or Socratism understands the conventional order of things to be rooted in or to presuppose a Natural Order (taxis physeos), which is The Standard for discerning just laws from unjust laws. In short, political Platonism presupposes a turn to Natural Right, whereas nihilists deny that there is any such thing as natural right (so that all right is assumed to be "positive" or "legal").

Needless to say, Vico's defense of natural right (DIRITTO NATURALE, or JUS NATURALIS) appeals to Platonic political philosophers AGAINST modern a-political AND anti-Platonic philosophers (AND, in general, to some extent, against "monastic philosophers"). Rather than calling for the rise of a One World State, Vico called for the recognition of the principles of civility of every nation. He presented Platonism (cf. esp. both the SN25-44 and the Autobiography) as key to the conservation of every nation among other nations. We can indeed work towards peace, but only by working towards internal or "domestic" peace, i.e. only by making ourselves better. To the extent that there can be no nation of mystics or contemplatives in complete harmony with the ultimate Order of the Universe, there can be no universal peace among nations. There can be only imperfect peace or moderate war. In short, the classics would find it absurd to call people to bring about the End of all Wars. Instead, they invite us to bring peace within ourselves by rising toward the eternal--NOT to bring peace upon others by imposing the eternal upon them. They call us to cultivate justice as a virtue, rather than impose our authority upon others deficient in virtue.

Nor does the political turn in ancient Platonism reject the primacy of contemplation (THEOREIN) over "practice" (PRAXIS). To wit: Socratism amounts to the discovery of the eternal within the temporal, and thereby (to speak with Vico) the discovery of the True Civil Nature of the sensory/physical world. What this means is that the eternal is recognized as essential element of the constitution of our common sense experience.

But turning back to the call for a Universal State, let us not forget that the Nazi were prophets of a World Order and thus of Universal Justice as global spiritual Self-Realization of Mankind. The Nazi swore by the possibility of realizing a Universal State AND they were nihilists.

In fact, nihilism goes hand in hand with the modernist attempt to establish Heaven on earth, i.e. to provide a political solution to The Problem of The Political. In effect this means that the Jew and the Christian will be One (fully reconciled) through man's own efforts--hence the "secular" character of the modern project.

Now, if we study our sources carefully, we will see that the appeal to the universal or secular (or, theologically speaking, "profane") state is NOT of Christian, but of Machiavellian origin (a separate discussion would be required to adequately assess Dante's DE MONARCHIA). For the Christian AS Christian, Justice is consummated ONLY at the End of Time by God (through the Christ/Logos). The End of Time is NOT brought about by man, nor is it "realized" in time. (The "foolish" idea that it might be brought about by Mankind is of course adumbrated already in the Hebrew account of Babel.)

It is easy to see that the modern quest for establishing the Universal State entails disenchantment with the lofty idealism of pre-modern thought, and thereby of both the God of philosophy and the God of the (Hebrew) Bible. By attacking the God of philosophy as a self-referential idol, we play straight into modernist (from Machiavelli to Marx) anti-Platonism, moving against the very idea of Philosophy as the ascent from the temporal to the eternal. We thereby deny to the classics the importance they held in the eyes of medieval Christian theology (from St. Augustine to St. Thomas), which was certainly no less speculative or intellectually contemplative than classical philosophy.

The modern turn against the primacy of contemplation over praxis is a turn against all pre-modern idealism--Christianity included. The turn in question is based on the fundamental intuition that there is no (relevant) order outside of the one established by man through his labor. As with Hobbes, the only order is the one WE MAKE. There is no natural right or justice. The Meaning of things is defined by praxis abstracted from any Natural Ends. There is no end "by nature." All ends are "constructed" in the context of an inherently meaningless or purely "material" existence. Any "ascent" to the eternal is assumed to be absurd and vain, not to say dangerous and nefarious.

In short, the modern turn against the Platonic primacy of contemplation (and of intellect over the imagination) rests upon a nihilistic intuition.

In the modern world, hardly anyone has brought this "foundation" to light with more passionate decisiveness than Nietzsche. Nietzsche exposed the lie of a Biblical moralist who did away with an "objective" (not metaphoric or poetic) Biblical God. Sooner or later the belief in God as spiritual Symbol, as Spirit of the imagination, or as metaphor for the Will of Mankind--in short, as the imaginative "Concept of God"--falls as a mask, revealing its hypocritical upholders in their nakedness as nihilistic vehicles of the Will to Power. But now that the mask has fallen, the nihilist takes a leap, embracing Power AS God. He is no longer a nihilist; he is the vicar of a new god or new gods.

In this case, sometimes the name God is retained, but the meaning of the name is found at the bottom of the existentialist's appeal to the Power of Existence--an appeal that originates among outright atheists (cf. Heidegger).

Best regards,

Betsy Franz2010-01-02 05:01:37
Here's a wonderful little book that goes along with the Pope's message:

Emanuel Paparella2010-01-02 13:29:16
Thanks for the lead Ms. Franz and for taking us back to the issue at hand,i.e.,peace, the environment and man's responsibility for his own survival. It does look like a good book to complement the Holy Father's message. Unfortunately, as predicted those with a crusading spirit against religion have already begun the villification. I am convinced, nonethless, that the issue will has much less to do with Man's idolatrous relationship to the products of his intellect (the Stoic Platonic natural law or "nous" and Nietzsche's will to power and the announcement of God's death...) as important as that might be, and much more to do with the relationship of saintly persons, all the saintly persons of any age any place on eath to the personal God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Emanuel Paparella2010-01-02 13:54:32
The suggestion that "the Platonic academic" is support[s] religion for the naive masses, conceal[s his] nihilism, cynicism and Machiavellism under overt aspirations of social justice" strikes me as groundless/gratuitous and false. Let us try to avoid ad hominem assaults."


To the contrary this issue of the academic right-wing fringe has been dealt with a rather thorough article in this very magazine (open link above) titled “The Politics of Philosophy” which begins by reporting and documenting the taking to task by some of the same group of the critique of Professor Shadia Drewry of the premises of the thought of Leo Strauss with the rather unacademic and gratuitous designation of such an academic as “the bitch of Calgary.” So much for arguments ad hominem.

Marco Andreacchio2010-01-02 18:33:10
This wouldn't be the first time that Religion is used to push environmentalist agendas.

The fear of God has become the mask of the fear of death or the loss of health.

Best regards.

Emanuel Paparella2010-01-03 00:26:37
Assuming that you consider yourself a good rationalist, and that the papal message was to all men of good will, the question naturally arises: does the message stand on its own under the scrutiny of reason or do you have some kind of a hatchet to grind against religion and the Church? That would be a paradox of sort coming from a rationalist since bias is never a very rational operation.

Emanuel Paparella2010-01-03 08:34:14
For those readers who are still following this line of thought so far which includes allusions to Providence, Nietzsche, rationalism and imagination here is some food for thought: an excerpt from an article by Randall E.Auxien in Humanitas, Vol X, n.1, 1997, titled "Imaginative and Historical Knowledge in Vico: A Critique of Leon Pompa Recent Work":

Insofar as Pompa has assumed the superiority of philosophy without God (a post-Nietzschean phenomenon), is he not guilty of the error Vico warned against: the conceit of scholars and nations? Vico says:

. . . whenever men can form no idea of distant and unknown things, they judge them by what is familiar and at hand. This axiom points to the inexhaustible source of all the errors about the principles of humanity that have been adopted by entire nations and by all the scholars. For when the former began to take notice of them and the latter to investigate them, it was on the basis of their own enlightened, cultivated, and magnificent times that they judged . . . (SN, 122-123).[continued below]

Emanuel Paparella2010-01-03 08:35:11
Not only do we have a clear indication of Pompa’s error here, but also of the character of Vico’s historicism in relation to knowledge. It is not that scholars cannot know the past; rather, they are their own worst enemies in the attempt to do so, owing to a sort of metaphysical provincialism. In Pompa’s case, what sorts of concerns call forth such extravagant effort to minimize the role of providence for twentieth-century Anglo-American sensibilities? Is providence as Vico saw it not understandable in terms of some idea in our own time which is viable in our view? There is work to be done here before judgments are made, and my suspicion is that it has not even been begun. It is highly unlikely that the notion of providence as Vico understood it has vacated our present thinking about the problem of historical knowledge, but it has likely changed."

Emanuel Paparella2010-01-03 08:53:58
P.S. Another important excerpt from the same source:

"This point cannot be put any better than Friedrich Ueberweg put it well over a hundred years ago. Ueberweg said that, for Vico, "Providence, acting in no mysterious way, but through the spontaneous development of human activity, is the basis of all history, which reveals itself in the evolution of language, mythology, religion, law and government." 38 On Pompa’s interpretation, nature must remain an adorable mystery, for he thinks of human consciousness and creativity as entities which stand over against nature and which take the measure of nature by reflecting upon the mind (as in Descartes), rather than as entities which unfold within nature in accordance with providence (as in Vico)."

Marco Andreacchio2010-01-16 13:51:27
Reflections on the Foundations of Environmentalism:

The Ancients were unambiguously suspicious of technical advances. The only ones they saw fit to accept were military ones. Underlying the ancient--especially philosophical--suspicion against technical advances in general, was the understanding that means ought to be proportionate to one's capacity to handle them. But one's capacity to handle a means depends primarily upon one's understanding of the nature or proper end of the means--as of that for the sake of which, to begin with, the means is there "ready-at-hand." But one's understanding of the nature of the means is proportionate to one's effort to reach said understanding. Only by dedicating our whole life to the understanding of the "nature" or inherent end of "art"--i.e. only by philosophizing "full time"--might we ever attain to an adequate understanding of the nature of art, thereby becoming fit to make judicious or wise use of virtually any technically advanced "machine."

Needless to say, very few if any of us philosophize "full time." The Ancients would thus seem to have had good reason to remain suspicious of technical progress. For one thing, the Ancients did not believe in the concrete or realizable possibility of a City (or Nation) of philosophers. Nor did they believe it in any way likely that a City would ever come to be ruled by philosophers. For all practical purposes, they saw technical advance to be advance of means of coercion, or of deception--and especially of self-deception. Far from being the open-ended end that it becomes in the eyes of much of our Age, technical advance, or progress in "art," was looked down upon by the Ancients as outright dangerous--not because it was feared that "technical" progress would destroy man's "environment," but because--as all good old farmers sense--said progress tends to damage the moral fiber of non-philosophers, and especially of the young who are decisively more likely to be fascinated and seduced by art than by the checks placed upon it by law or public morality.

In the modern world it becomes progressively evident that technical progress is inseparable from modern science. Partly as a result of the realization of the "technical" character of modern science, thinkers such as Rousseau came to see science sempliciter as dangerous for public morality. They took for granted that modern science was superior to ancient science with respect to fundamentals; consequently they tended to ignore or to underestimate the capacity of ancient science to pursue Truth without endangering public morality.

"Art" or "technique" ceases to appear as a problem for us to the extent that we adhere to a conception of Truth on account of which science or knowledge advances always "technologically" or through the "logic" of techne. Needless to say, the Ancients did not understand science in the modern sense: they did not know of any "technology," properly because they had no intention to "apply" science, or to convert science into a means "to improve the quality of life." "Technology" comes to light as an essentially modern phenomenon where science comes to be understood in the manner of "art," and where "art" is regarded after pre-Socratic conventionalists, as radically incommensurate with Nature-as-standard, or as inherently unintelligible (devoid of any end "by nature"). Thereupon, science comes to be the attempt to "realize" ends, or to make ends "practicable." But the realization of "ends" presupposes a new understanding of ends, and specifically a vision of ends as rooted in the human spirit or will, as "values" that have no objective reality by nature. Modern science emerges as a "technology" aimed at "correcting" or overcoming a "nature" devoid of objective meaning or end. In order to regain sight of the general character of modern "technological-science," one might fair no better than by studying Giacomo Leopardi's Operette Morali, and especially Leopardi's short satirical story about the modern attempt to reground man in artifice, or to replace classical (teleological) nature, with technology. This same attempt stands at the root of the contemporary appeal to the "preservation of the environment"--an appeal that sometimes makes use of theological terms (such as "Creation") to make itself more convincing.

Best regards,
Marco Andreacchio

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