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Is Pope Francis Ready to Fight the Dragon -- the American Catholic Right?

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) March 5, 2015: Pope Francis is working on an official papal encyclical about climate change, which will be the first such papal encyclical when it is promulgated and published.

It should come as no surprise to liberals and progressives that the American Catholic right has already begun decrying the pope's anticipate encyclical. Who does the pope thinks he is anyway issuing an unprecedented encyclical about climate change when the American Catholic right represents climate-change deniers?

But Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope, took the name "Francis" to honor the well-known medieval saint, St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), a mystic and the founder of the Franciscan religious order and the author of the "Canticle of Brother Sun."

St. Francis of Assisi could be considered to be the patron saint of Roman Catholics today who are concerned about climate change.

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In the book The Canticle of Creatures: Symbols of Union: An Analysis of St. Francis of Assisi, translated by Matthew J. O'Connell (1977; orig. French ed., 1970) Eloi Leclerc, O.F.M., perceptively discusses the "Canticle of Brother Sun."

But it strikes me as extremely unlikely that Pope Francis ever read Leclerc's book.

However, there can be no doubt that Pope Francis is quite familiar with the short book known as the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), a mystic and the founder of the Jesuit order. The culminating spiritual exercise in this book sets forth instructions for contemplating and meditating on creation.

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No doubt the so-called exercises in the book emerged historically out of the same medieval Christian cultural matrix out of which St. Francis of Assisi and his "Canticle of Brother Sun" had emerged in an earlier century.

However, for my present purposes, I want to turn first to another aspect of the medieval Christian cultural matrix, before I return to discussing St. Francis of Assisi, St. Ignatius Loyola, and Pope Francis further.

In the book Mysterium Conjunctionis: An Inquiry into the Separation and Synthesis of Psychic Opposites in Alchemy, second edition, translated by R. F. C. Hull (1970), C. G. Jung, M.D. (1875-1961), surveys the thought of numerous medieval Christian alchemists as set forth in their published writings. (In the present essay I am not going to italicize all the foreign-language terms that Jung uses in this book. I am not going to alter any quotes from Jung in which he uses masculine terms in a generic sense.)

I should note that Jung at times uses the descriptor "medieval" to describe certain thinkers who lived well after 1450, the conventional date used today to mark the end of the Middle Ages. In other words, today we would refer to certain thinkers discussed by Jung as living and writing in the early modern period. St. Ignatius Loyola lived in the early modern period, after 1450. (The Gutenberg printing press emerged in the 1450s.)

No doubt all of the medieval Christian alchemists Jung surveys were faithful and orthodox Christians. As a result of their cultural conditioning in medieval Christian culture, they assumed that God had created the cosmos, including all matter. Like other medieval Christians, the alchemist thought of the material world created ultimately by God somehow also included the spirit of God, as though God had as it were left part of himself behind in creation (page 490-491). The alchemists referred to the part of God that was left behind in creation as the anima mundi, or the anima media natura (they used these two Latin expressions interchangeably).

Of course the medieval Christian alchemists did not have our modern understanding of chemistry. As a result, they devoted an enormous amount of time and effort to their invariably futile attempts to turn material components into gold, by which term they did not mean our ordinary substance known as gold.

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They thought of themselves as working on a supposedly chemical opus. Of course "opus" means work. So the way in which I just worded my sentence contains a bit of redundancy. Nevertheless, we should explicitly recognize that they were working on a work. Today in psychotherapy, the expression of working through something can be understood as capturing and expressing the sense of working on a work.

In any event, Jung came up with the bright idea of interpreting what the alchemists say about the work supposedly going on in their retorts (containers) as somehow analogous to the work of certain psychodynamics going on at different times in our human psyches (which we can think of as containers of a sort). So based on this bright idea, Jung set to work to examine numerous alchemical treatises and align certain points in the treatises with certain alleged developments in the human psyche.

Now, the alchemists thought of their work with material substances in their retorts as representing certain alleged features that they thought of as three stages in the anticipated transformation of the material in the retorts: (1) the unio naturalis, (2) the unio mentalis, and (3) the unio mundus, or unio mystica (the alchemists used these two terms interchangeably). By far, the most extensive part of their writings centered on the unio mentalis.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)
 

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