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FRATELLI TUTTI: A NATURALIST LOWEST COMMON DENOMINATOR – as a program for disoriented humanity

Fratelli Tutti does not read like an encyclical but rather like the dialogue that Francis has maintained from the beginning of his pontificate with agnostics such as Eugenio Scalfari, Dominique Wolton, or Carlo Petrini in an attempt to convince them that the Catholic Church is compatible with atheistic modernity.

The encyclicals of previous pontiffs drew from the eternal truths of divine Revelation the teachings applicable to concrete situations, and especially to crises in the Church or society. In contrast, Francis’ “pages of reflection on universal fraternity” (n. 286) propose an infinite number of exclusively human analyses as a common denominator acceptable to all, despite religious or philosophical differences, since this Letter “is addressed to all people of good will, regardless of their religious convictions” (n. 56).

This search for the lowest common denominator with agnosticism is evident in the passage of the encyclical on “consensus and truth,” which emphasizes that the inalienable dignity of every human being “is a truth that corresponds to human nature apart from all cultural change.” He adds: “To agnostics, this foundation could prove sufficient to confer a solid and stable universal validity on basic and non-negotiable ethical principles that could serve to prevent further catastrophes. As believers, we are convinced that human nature, as the source of ethical principles, was created by God, and that ultimately it is he who gives those principles their solid foundation.” Perhaps to avoid any suspicion of religious proselytism, he makes it clear that “this does not result in an ethical rigidity nor does it lead to the imposition of any one moral system, since fundamental and universally valid moral principles can be embodied in different practical rules. Thus, room for dialogue will always exist” (n. 214).

This search for a lowest common denominator with agnosticism also shows that, in this profusely self-referential encyclical (170 quotations of himself, 43 of his predecessors, only 20 of Fathers and Doctors of the Church), one notices an absence of premises and even of supernatural or specifically Christian religious considerations. Fratelli Tutti adopts a clearly naturalist and interdenominational language. It practically omits man’s supernatural vocation, the wound that sin introduced into the world, the need for Redemption in Christ, the salvific role of the Church, divine grace as a requirement for individual perfection, and social progress and natural law as the foundation of the international order, which were the basis of the exhortations of previous pontiffs.

Naturalism and interdenominationalism are particularly evident in the basic idea of the encyclical, which is “a new vision of fraternity and social friendship” (n. 6) and the consequent “universal aspiration to fraternity” (n. 8) that Francis wants to revive starting from the recognition by all of the dignity of every human person. He makes no reference to God, apart from a brief mention of the conviction of believers, which accentuates the unusual tone of the document: “As believers, we are convinced that, without an openness to the Father of all, there will be no solid and stable reasons for an appeal to fraternity” (n. 272).

Even the parable of the Good Samaritan is interpreted in a purely humanist key: According to the Pope, the story “speaks to us of an essential and often forgotten aspect of our common humanity: we were created for a fulfilment that can only be found in love” (n. 68). “Jesus trusts in the best of the human spirit; with this parable, he encourages us to persevere in love, to restore dignity to the suffering and to build a society worthy of the name” (n. 71). The secular character of such love is accentuated by the consideration that a believer can “think he is close to God and better than others,” while “paradoxically, those who claim to be unbelievers can sometimes put God’s will into practice better than believers” (n. 74).

This love for one’s neighbor does not necessarily come from the love of God. The word “charity” is used 33 times in the encyclical. Still, it is never associated with “man’s friendship with God,” which is what it essentially consists of (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 23, a. 1, answer.), so that “God is the reason to love one’s neighbor” (Ibid. q.25, a.1, answer.). The omission of the mainly vertical character of charity goes so far as to affirm that for the acts of the moral virtues (such as fortitude, sobriety, industriousness, etc.) to be rightly directed, “one needs to take into account the extent to which they foster openness and union with others” (n. 91). No word about the love of God.

That said, Fratelli Tutti seems to fall largely within the critical judgment that St. Pius X passed on the writings of the Le Sillon movement in his encyclical Notre charge apostolique, in which he wrote that the movement promoted a non-Catholic concept of fraternity:

“Catholic doctrine further tells us that love for our neighbor flows from our love for God, Who is Father to all, and goal of the whole human family; and in Jesus Christ whose members we are, to the point that in doing good to others we are doing good to Jesus Christ Himself. Any other kind of love is sheer illusion, sterile and fleeting. Indeed, we have the human experience of pagan and secular societies of ages past to show that concern for common interests or affinities of nature weigh very little against the passions and wild desires of the heart. No, Venerable Brethren, there is no genuine fraternity outside Christian charity. Through the love of God and His Son Jesus Christ Our Saviour, Christian charity embraces all men, comforts all, and leads all to the same faith and same heavenly happiness. By separating fraternity from Christian charity thus understood, Democracy, far from being a progress, would mean a disastrous step backward for civilization” (n. 24, emphasis mine).

The words of St. Pius X shed the necessary light to highlight another aspect of Francis’ latest encyclical: the relativistic synthesis of the coexistence of opposites which, through dialogue, must serve as a support for universal fraternity and social friendship. St. Francis of Assisi is supposedly the model of a “culture of encounter” (mentioned 6 times in the text) and “dialogue” (mentioned 46 times), as he “did not wage a war of words aimed at imposing doctrines” but was rather a true father to the extent that he approached people “not to draw them into his own life, but to help them become ever more fully themselves” (n. 4).

Today, on the contrary, “It becomes easier to discredit and insult opponents from the outset than to open a respectful dialogue aimed at achieving agreement on a deeper level” (n. 201). In fact, we must think that “differences are creative; they create tension and in the resolution of tension lies humanity’s progress” (n. 203).

For Pope Francis, that would not be relativism, since this objective truth remains valid: each human being is sacred (n.207), so that human rights are inviolable (n.209) and a permanent, transcendent and non-negotiable value (nos. 211 & 273). As for the rest, “What we call ‘truth’” (single quotes are from the encyclical) “is primarily the search for the solid foundations sustaining our decisions and our laws” (n.208). So, “In a pluralistic society, dialogue is the best way to realize what ought always to be affirmed and respected apart from any ephemeral consensus” (n. 211).

From there comes a culture of encounter, working “to create a many-faceted polyhedron whose different sides form a variegated unity … where differences coexist, complementing, enriching and reciprocally illuminating one another” (n. 215). This requires, on the one hand, “the ability to recognize other people’s right to be themselves and to be different” (n. 218) and, on the other, “a social covenant,” which “demands the realization that some things may have to be renounced for the common good” (221).

“No one can possess the whole truth or satisfy his or her every desire since that pretension would lead to nullifying others by denying their rights” (n. 221). This is dialogue realism “on the part of men and women who remain faithful to their own principles while recognizing that others also have the right to do likewise” (idem) and allows us to dream together “as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all” (n. 8).

For Francis, this is neither syncretism nor absorption of one into the other, but striving “rather for a resolution which takes place on a higher plane and preserves what is valid and useful on both sides” (n. 245), which seems a particular form of Hegelian dialectics in which synthesis remains as an unreachable horizon.

It is easy to see that all this does not harmonize with what St. Pius X taught when condemning the Le Sillon movement for moving away from Catholic doctrine: “The same applies to the notion of Fraternity which they found on the love of common interest or, beyond all philosophies and religions, on the mere notion of humanity, thus embracing with an equal love and tolerance all human beings and their miseries, whether these are intellectual, moral, or physical and temporal. But Catholic doctrine tells us that the primary duty of charity does not lie in the toleration of false ideas, however sincere they may be, nor in the theoretical or practical indifference towards the errors and vices in which we see our brethren plunged, but in the zeal for their intellectual and moral improvement as well as for their material well-being” (n. 24, emphasis mine).

The tone of philosophical relativism and religious interconfessionalism of Fratelli Tutti extends equally to relations between the Catholic Church and other religions. Since they deem “each human person as a creature called to be a child of God,” the different religions “contribute significantly to building fraternity and defending justice in society” (n. 271). From this aspect, all religions are supposedly equal: “From our faith experience and from the wisdom accumulated over centuries, but also from lessons learned from our many weaknesses and failures, we, the believers of the different religions, know that our witness to God benefits our societies” (n. 274).

The Bible is also part of this equation because, for Francis, all “religious classics can prove meaningful in every age; they have an enduring power” (n. 275). He later adds, “Others drink from other sources. For us, the wellspring of human dignity and fraternity is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (n. 277).

Moreover, God has no preferential option for the baptized in general (who are the only true children of God), nor for the Catholic faithful, members of His Mystical Body in particular, but rather “God’s love is the same for everyone, regardless of religion. Even if they are atheists, his love is the same” (n. 281).

From these religious and philosophical premises – in the search, as mentioned at the beginning, of a lowest common denominator for all men – the encyclical Fratelli Tutti mainly draws two practical consequences that will give rise to malaise, if not open an even greater breach, between Pope Francis and a large part of the Catholic faithful: the promotion of immigration as a condition for an open society, and a one-world government to solve global problems.

For Francis, “a love capable of transcending borders is the basis of what in every city and country can be called ‘social friendship.’ Genuine social friendship within a society makes true universal openness possible” (n. 99). His universalism is not confused with globalization that favors a “bland, uniform and standardized, based on a single prevailing cultural model” (n.144), but that builds a multifaceted society “in which the value of each individual is respected, where ‘the whole is greater than the part, but it is also greater than the sum of its parts’” (n.145). As in the case of dialogue, for the pope “a healthy openness never threatens one’s own identity,” as “a living culture, enriched by elements from other places, does not import a mere carbon copy of those new elements, but integrates them in its own unique way. The result is a new synthesis” (n. 148).

This is why it is necessary to “envisage and engender an open world” (the title of chapter 3 of the encyclical), in which “rights without borders” are in force (the subtitle of a section), since “No one, then, can remain excluded because of his or her place of birth, much less because of privileges enjoyed by others who were born in lands of greater opportunity. The limits and borders of individual states cannot stand in the way of this” (n.121). The universal destination of the earth’s goods not only burdens private property with a social function, for  “if we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all” (n.122), but it also conditions the sovereignty of nations on their own territory, so that “each country also belongs to the foreigner, inasmuch as a territory’s goods must not be denied to a needy person coming from elsewhere” (n. 124).

In reality, the goods of that country must be available not only to the needy, because “we are obliged to respect the right of all individuals to find a place that meets their basic needs and those of their families, and where they can find personal fulfillment” (n.129). This would mean that anyone considering himself a new Picasso or a new Einstein would have the right to demand to move to Paris or Massachusetts to fully develop his artistic or scientific talents at the Écôle des Beau Arts or MIT.

If many people emigrate simply to seek a better future, in this encyclical – unlike  what Pope Francis has sometimes said, albeit summarily – he is not concerned about the right of each country to regulate the migration phenomenon according to its respective possibilities. He simply says that “The arrival of those who are different, coming from other ways of life and cultures, can be a gift, for ‘the stories of migrants are always stories of an encounter between individuals and between cultures. For the communities and societies to which they come, migrants bring an opportunity for enrichment and the integral human development of all’” (n. 133). And he insists: “Immigrants, if they are helped to integrate, are a blessing, a source of enrichment and new gift that encourages a society to grow” (n.135).

The encyclical makes no reference to the risk of massive and destabilizing immigration, as is happening in Europe, where a strong Muslim population refuses to integrate, to the point that President Macron has had to launch an initiative against “Islamic separatism” in urban peripheries where not even the police dare to enter.

Francis, on the contrary, deems it necessary to highlight the risk of “local narcissism, which is “is born of a certain insecurity and fear of the other that leads to rejection and the desire to erect walls for self-defence” and “frets over a limited number of ideas, customs and forms of security” (n.146). Life on the local level “grows weary and infirm” (idem), since “to attain fulfilment in life we need others” (n.150).

Therefore, migrations are not only good in themselves, but “will play a pivotal role in the future of our world” (n. 40). In turn, the Covid-19 health care crisis is a great opportunity to emerge from “egotistic self-preservation.” “God willing, after all this, we will think no longer in terms of ‘them’ and ‘those’, but only ‘us’, so that “our human family can experience a rebirth, with all its faces, all its hands and all its voices, beyond the walls that we have erected,” (n.35) since “the true worth of the different countries of our world is measured by their ability to think not simply as a country but also as part of the larger human family” (n.141).

Now, “the development of a global community of fraternity based on the practice of social friendship on the part of peoples and nations calls for a better kind of politics, one truly at the service of the common good” (n. 154), demostrating the need “for a greater spirit of fraternity, but also a more efficient worldwide organization” (n. 165). In this context, “it is essential to devise stronger and more efficiently organized international institutions” and “and empowered to impose sanctions.” It is not a “world authority” of a personal kind, but institutions “equipped with the power to provide for the global common good” (n. 172). Since the following paragraph is dedicated to the need for a reform of the U.N., it is to be understood that, in the spirit of Francis, it is up to that organization to play this role, so “there is need to prevent this Organization from being delegitimized” (n.173).

At a time when very serious economic and social crises loom on the horizon as a result of the hysterical response of the WHO and individual governments to the Covid-19 challenge, the spectre of a world dictatorship emerges – first, a health dictatorship, and later, a political one. This is neither imaginary nor the product of “conspiracy theory” but the realization of the Enlightenment dream of a Universal Republic brooded in Masonic lodges even before the French Revolution. The encyclical indirectly evokes it in one of its subtitles: “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity” (n.103).

It is not out of place to evoke Freemasonry at the conclusion of this general vision of Fratelli Tutti. The January issue of the magazine Nuova Hiram, the quarterly organ of the Grand Orient of Italy, published an article by Pierluigi Cascioli with a commentary on the document “Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together,” signed in Abu Dhabi by Pope Francis and Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb, the main source of inspiration for the drafting of the new encyclical (n. 5), which incorporates various passages of that joint declaration.

Although Pierluigi Cascioli wonders whether Catholicism and Sunni Islam will carry the declaration to its ultimate consequences (by giving full access to women in their respective hierarchies and admitting the legitimacy of homosexual relations), he emphatically recognizes that the two religious leaders “express avant-garde positions” and that the values of universal brotherhood contained in the document are not only compatible with the specific faith of the two signatories, but that “these values can also be fully shared by others, on the basis of a ‘lowest common denominator’ constituted by reason,” since “every single human being has infinite dignity.”

After insisting that “the Freemasons, who have as their center of gravity the fraternity, will be unable not to face this Document,” the writer of Nuovo Hiram explains that the latter invites one “to adopt the culture of dialogue as a way” (a commitment present in Fratelli Tutti) and concludes by asking: “On applying this principle, will Catholics and Sunnis want to dialogue with Masons?”

Translated by the staff of Fatima Today.

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