“Here we have a splendid secret that shows us how to dream and to turn our life into a wonderful adventure. No one can face life in isolation… We need a community that supports and helps us, in which we can help one another to keep looking ahead. How important it is to dream together… By ourselves, we risk seeing mirages, things that are not there. Dreams, on the other hand, are built together. Let us dream, then, 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." (Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti)
Last year, in the midst of a global nightmare, Pope Francis invited the world to dream together of something different. He released Fratelli Tutti in October 2020—a message of friendship, dignity, and solidarity not just to Catholics, but "to all people of good will"—for the whole human community. In this episode, social ethicist Nichole Flores (University of Virginia) explains papal encyclicals and works through the moral vision of Fratelli Tutti, highlighting especially Pope Francis’s views on faith as seeing with the eyes of Christ, the implications of human dignity for discourse, justice and solidarity, and finally the language of dreaming together of a different world.
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- Read the entire text of Fratelli Tutti online here
- What is a papal encyclical? For “All people of good will”—not just Catholics
- Examining the signs of the times, e.g., Fratelli Tutti will always be connected to its global context during a pandemic.
- What is Fratelli Tutti? What does its title mean?
- Brothers and Sisters All: Using Italian, a particular language, as a pathway to the universal, rather than traditional Latin title
- Pope Francis’ roots in Latin America: How his particularity as Latin American gives him a universal message; local and communal belonging; neighborhoods contributing to the common good
- Seeing/Gazing: Faith as seeing with the eyes of Christ (Lumen Fidei)
- Undermining human dignity in social media discourse; the failure of grandstanding rather than encounter
- Solidarity as a dirty word: conflicts within Catholicism about how to understand and apply justice and solidarity in real life
- Solidarity requires encounter with the other
- Social friendship and fraternity
- Human dignity in the tradition of Catholic social ethics
- Dreaming together: fighting against the temptation to dream alone, inviting us to imagine; cultivating a conversation that forms collective imagination and aesthetic reality.
About Nichole Flores
Nichole Flores is a social ethicist who is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia. She studies the constructive contributions of Catholic and Latinx theologies to notions of justice and aesthetics to the life of democracy. Her research in practical ethics addresses issues of democracy, migration, family, gender, economics (labor and consumption), race and ethnicity, and ecology. Visit NicholeMFlores.com for more information.
Evan Rosa: For the Life of the World is a production of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture. For more information, visit faith.yale.edu.
Nichole Flores: Fratelli Tutti—such a wide-ranging document, covering everything from economy to politics, to dialogue. Pope Francis is really concerned about the central theme of what it means to be in community and to become friends with others across our boundaries of difference, whether that's difference of national belonging or religious belonging, neighborhood belonging. If we dream together, we're coming into relationship and using our imaginative capacities to dream what we might be as a society.
Evan Rosa: This is For the Life of the World, a podcast about seeking and living a life worthy of our humanity.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: I'm Ryan McAnnally-Linz with the Yale Center for Faith & Culture. On October 3rd, 2020, Pope Francis released an encyclical called Fratelli Tutti, translated by Francis as Brothers and Sisters All. The message came six months into a worldwide pandemic in the midst of an American political nightmare with dark clouds seeming to cover the entirety of the globe.
A papal encyclical is a letter from the Pope to the world, to all people of goodwill. When Fratelli Tutti came out, we thought this was an important opportunity to think about what all people, not just Catholics, can receive from this hopeful message. So we decided to interview a few Catholic thinkers about the moral vision of Fratelli Tutti. For everyone in the same spirit as the encyclical, we wanted to uncover the insight and encouragement of the Pope in ways that can, in the words of Pope Francis, "let us dream as a single human family, as fellow travelers, sharing the same flesh, children on the same earth, which is our common home."
So over the next few weeks, we'll be releasing a series of conversations on Catholic Social Teaching, especially as it lives in Pope Francis thought and his moral leadership on the global stage. We'll be talking to Nicole Flores, an ethicist who is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, Father Martin Schlog, Professor of Catholic Social Thought at the University of St. Thomas, and Sister Helen Alford, Professor at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas in Rome, who has been appointed by the Pope himself, the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, which advises the Pope on pressing social issues.
In this episode, Nicole Flores explains papal encyclicals and works through the moral vision of Fratelli Tutti, highlighting Pope Francis's views on faith as seeing with the eyes of Christ, the implications of human dignity for how we talk with each other, justice and solidarity, and finally the language of dreaming together of a different world.
Nicole, thanks for taking some time to talk with us.
Nichole Flores: Thanks for having me.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: There's a lot, I feel like, we could learn from this conversation, starting with some really basic stuff. Could you start off by just telling us what exactly is a papal encyclical?
Nichole Flores: Essentially, an encyclical is a letter promulgated or sent out by the Pope in response to a set of issues that our society is facing. And not just one particular society, the distinctive feature of a Catholic Social Encyclical is that it's addressed to all people of goodwill, that it's not just addressed to Catholics. So the scope of these teachings aims to be relevant well beyond just what Catholics in the pews, in their particular parishes or in their archdioceses are concerned about. It really wants to reach a very broad audience. So if you're listening to this podcast and you are a person of goodwill and want justice for society and want good things for the society, you are a part of the audience. If you have any concern for a common good in our society.
So in that sense the encyclicals are really excitingly capacious in their audience. At the same time, it's important to recognize that the encyclicals, they draw on the Christian scriptural tradition. They are often building on millennia of Catholic theology, teaching, thoughts. And so to really understand them and understand their depth, there's a bit of work that needs to be done.
Catholic social tradition draws not just from scripture, but on the theological teachings of the church, on the moral teachings of the church, but also—this is a very important point—is concerned with examining the signs of the times, with looking at the world around us and seeing what are the challenges that face us today. So it's really remarkable, for example, that Fratelli Tutti will always be an encyclical that is identified with the year 2020 and these couple of years that we will be in the midst of pandemic. It's one that helps us to enter into conversation about the common good and about solidarity and about how we relate to others in our society, because this is the thing that is affecting us most profoundly on a global level, but also on the level of individual people, communities, countries.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: Yeah. So you mentioned the title, Fratelli Tutti—it's in Italian. How would you translate it and what is its significance?
Nichole Flores: The literal translation is Brothers All, or "We Are All Brothers." And Pope Francis in response to obvious criticism that he would receive and has received in addressing the documents, "To Brothers All" has emphasized that it's addressed to brothers and sisters all. And that it is inclusive at least of male and female identified people since he hasn't called it necessarily "People All" or "Siblings All." The use of an Italian title actually builds on the tradition that he already has in place from Laudato si where he moves away from the use of Latin in his encyclical titles and uses a particular vernacular language. And it doesn't translate the title into other languages. So when we receive the encyclical in English, it's not called "Brothers and Sisters All." It's called Fratelli tutti.
And this aspect of Francis's naming convention is really fascinating because it seeks to establish an intimacy with a particular community and a particular people. It's very important to recall that while Pope Francis is from Argentina—I take pride in this—he's from the Flores neighborhood of Buenos Aires, so he's porteño from Argentina, but he's from an Italian immigrant family. So Italian is a special language to him. But he also sees these naming conventions of using either Italian—or in the case of a recent exhortation on the Amazon, Querida Amazonia, he uses Spanish for a vernacular language title, which is a way of indicating a degree of familiarity and intimacy with a community rather than a Latin title that has more of a goal of being universal and being something that signals the universal applicability and not so much an emphasis on local identity.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: So that's, I think, really an enlightening window to view this through because the main themes of Fratelli tutti have to do with a universal scope of fraternity and social friendship. So you might think that a Latin title that's meant to instantiate universality would be the way to go. But Francis is choosing this particularity as his way of opening onto the universal implications. I'm wondering if you might say a little bit more about how, if at all, this theme of particularity and universality relates to Francis's papacy as a whole, and particularly to his roots in Latin America.
Nichole Flores: Absolutely. I should confess here my own situatedness as Latina in the United States, one with great interest in Latin America. So this is particularly exciting to me. But Pope Francis of course, is the first Latin American Pope. He arrives at the papacy with experiences that have shaped him specifically from his Argentinian culture and with relationships that have formed him not just theologically, but pastorally, socially, politically from a different part of the world. So we see Catholicism, and Christianity in general, really burgeoning in and continuing to burgeon in not just Latin America, but in Africa and other Global South contexts. So it's a really big deal, I think, that he is from Latin America. And really, what has happened is that his particularity as a Latin American has given him this space to really hone in on the theme of particularity and local cultures in a way that I think ends up creating the context for this more universal message that he has.
He says it so beautifully at different points in Fratelli tutti. He talks about the way that the local is something that we can take pride in, and that in cultivating our local identities, we cultivate something that we can contribute to the entire common good. This is a very Latino, Latin American anthropology in which he is thinking about these questions often in Latin American families or in Latinx contexts in the United States of the sense of communal belonging. There's an attempt to balance that sense of communal belonging with the particularity and the particular gifts and identities of each person.
Accents on the local and the attention that he gives, not just to the existence of the local, but to the particular beauty of each local context really sets the stage for him saying now each locality, each individual, each particular nation or community, or—he's been using the language of neighborhood—is giving something to the common good that helps to form this universal, to which we all are obligated and a part and benefit from even as individuals.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: Can I ask what would you say are the two to three biggest, most momentous things that Francis says in this encyclical? Where do you see it breaking new ground, or really saying something that's going to have lasting significance?
Nichole Flores: That's a really interesting and challenging question because in some ways the encyclical, as I've read it, seems to encapsulate some of his previous thought and bring it to greater cohesion. At the same time, I think what Francis is doing here that is really different is developing a way of looking at the world in a way that invites us to see difference while also emphasizing the necessity of us being a part of a global community and balancing those differences together.
And I think he does this through how he defines faith. So in Lumen fidei—it's an encyclical letter where he stresses the role of faith as seen with the eyes of Christ. So he has this aesthetic way of even framing what faith is that we train ourselves to see with the eyes of Christ. And in this document, he in Fratelli tutti uses that language of seeing or of gazing over and over again to frame how we come into relationship and how we should be in relationship with other people in the world, whether within our own local communities, within our national communities or around the world. He is inviting us to open our eyes and to see what's in front of us and to see the faces of other people in society. Relating to others within our current global context requires being able to see them.
But at the same time seeing itself is not enough. And he really takes on digital media and social media and other ways of relating to people that really undermine human dignity. And this is a constant theme, not just in Fratelli tutti but throughout Catholic social thought and teaching, is the inherent dignity of the human person. But in this document, I see him taking further steps to say the way we have discourse in society and the way that we treat people in our economy, and our politics, in our laws undermines human dignity. And he really takes on the ways that social media reduce our ability to relate to others.
He uses the example of dialogue. And dialogue is a crucial theme for him in this encyclical as well, the importance of dialogue, that we need that in order to relate to one another and to understand each other's arguments and positions. And he says that this dialogue, more often than not, is not happening on social media that we're having our own grand standing in tandem rather than actually having any kind of encounter with others.
And I think one way to really encapsulate what he's doing in this work is to stress the necessity of encountering others, and not just in a way that is making an instrument or an object out of another person, but is really encountering the humanity of another person and learning to be a person in both a fully human and a humane way.
But also, I think he's saying some important things about solidarity here that are worth thinking about in terms of developing the church's teaching. Pope Francis points out a conflict about solidarity. He says that solidarity is sometimes treated as a dirty word. There are important and significant chasms among Catholics ourselves about the best way to go about pursuing justice and solidarity and the common good.
And some of those conflicts are playing out in the United States in real time, concurrent to the promulgation of this in cyclical. As we see the intra-Catholic debates over whether or not a Catholic can vote for a democratic candidate, or how a Catholic must relate to the nomination of a fellow Catholic to the Supreme Court—Amy Coney Barrett. There's all of this Catholic infighting that happens and some of it influences how this word "solidarity" has been interpreted among various branches of the Catholic family, for lack of a better word here, that there's been a lot of conflict and frustration over the meaning of solidarity.
So I think that Pope Francis is trying to acknowledge that ongoing frustration and those ongoing conflicts, and to work through that to say, "This is what solidarity is, and it requires the encounter of the other, and it requires us to re-imagine our politics and our economics and our culture." Yeah, I think those are three of the major contributions that I see, or developments happening within the work.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: The concept of human dignity, the inherent and incommensurable value of human beings, has an incredibly important role in Catholic social thought. This is a deeply important concept in Fratelli tutti and acts as a foundational idea for Pope Francis's appeal to our common life as a single human family. He suggests that our commitment to seeing the dignity in each other will enable us to "contribute to the rebirth of a universal aspiration to fraternity and social friendship."
Nicole, social friendship and human dignity are both very significant in Fratelli tutti. Let's start with social friendship and fraternity. What's their place in the encyclical?
Nichole Flores: Of course, social friendship is in the subtitle for this document. And in important ways, Pope Francis, while it's such a wide-ranging document, covering everything from economy to politics to dialogue, he's really concerned about the central theme of what it means to being community and to become friends with others across our boundaries of difference, whether that's difference of national belonging or religious belonging, neighborhood belonging even, so it's really an orienting theme for the entire document.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: Okay. Yeah. What about human dignity? Not just the ethical concept, but the theological roots of it. How does Catholic social thought make human dignity central and what's the theological backdrop for that?
Nichole Flores: Human dignity is of course central to Catholic social teaching, and that begins even in the earliest documents of the tradition where we're thinking about the rights of workers, the rights and responsibilities. And it's rooted in a concern for them as humans.
In the late 1800s with this encyclical promulgated by Pope Leo the 13th, Rerum novarum, he sets out an agenda for the church on thinking about justice for workers, justice in terms of wages and earnings, the rights and responsibilities of both workers and their employers. These themes continue to resonate in these encyclicals.
But of course, those of us who are familiar with Hebrew scripture are aware that the theological underpinnings for this teaching are not new to Catholic social thoughts. They emerge in Genesis 1 when we think about human beings made in the image and likeness of God, that this teaching and the Scripture becomes central to Catholic social teaching and becomes a focal point for not just Catholic ethics, but Christian ethics more broadly construed.
So when you see references, in whether Fratelli tutti or other Catholic social encyclicals, to human dignity, you're seeing a gesture or a reference to a much deeper tradition, both theologically within Catholicism to the dignity of the human person, but also the scriptural witness of dignity, of the human person based on our creation in God's image.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: And what kind of implications does Francis draw out from this principle of human dignity in the encyclical?
Nichole Flores: I think it becomes the basis for reasserting rights, not just of the most powerful in society, but of those who are vulnerable. And this is an important context for understanding his teaching from how we're responding to COVID, to the economy, to even to dialogue that it's necessary in our society to foreground the inherent dignity of those who are most vulnerable in society, in part because the dignity of those who are in power and those who already have wealth and have a lot of things isn't under as direct of an assault.
I don't think he would say, ”Oh, our dignity isn't undermined in any significant ways.” I think that every member of society, this document arguments our argues has our we all have our dignity undermine in important ways on a daily basis. But the effects of that for those who are on the economic margins of the global economy, or are on the social margins of their societies, say, black people in the United States of America, dignity is not something that can be taken for granted.
This is the importance of the slogan often treated as controversial, but that is theologically true that black lives matter. Black lives do matter. This is not theologically controversial and Catholic Social Teaching has the resources for comprehending that both scripturally, but also within the tradition of Catholic social thought. And we do see Francis making a bit of a gesture to the situation of black communities, not just black Catholics but black people in general, in the United States in the significance of reasserting dignity in our context today. But it takes a little bit of effort to draw out that theme a little bit in order to see it's very clear relevance for our racial situation in the United States.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: Throughout Fratelli tutti, Pope Francis uses the inspiring language of dreaming together. Nicole pointed this out to me during our conversation, and it's beautifully expressed in the encyclical. Writing in the introduction about the very point of this letter to all people of goodwill, he says:
"Here we have a splendid secret that shows us how to dream and to turn our life into a wonderful adventure. No one can face life in isolation... We need a community that supports and helps us in which we can help one another to keep looking ahead. How important it is to dream together... By ourselves, we risk seeing mirages, things that are not there. Dreams, on the other hand, are built together. Let us dream, then, 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."
Here, Nichole reflects on this language of dreaming together and its significance in Fratelli tutti.
You mentioned a while back that Francis is inviting or challenging us into different dreams. And I wondered if you might be willing to reflect on what ways you feel yourself particularly challenged in your life by this text to dream differently. In what directions are you dreaming prodded by Francis?
Nichole Flores: When I was thinking about this encyclical with a couple of friends the other day, I was really ruminating on this and meditating on this use of the language of dream that Francis employs throughout. And I said, "He's really inviting us to dream." And my friend intervened and he said, "He's inviting us to dream together."
And that, I think, is the more meaningful dimension of the language. Because often when we think about dreaming, it's an individual thing. "Oh, when I was young, I dreamt of becoming a firefighter," or whatever. I have a young child. So now we talk about dreams all the time. "Oh, what did he dream about last night?" It's a very individualized thing. I'm in my sleep. It's a time when I'm by myself. A dream is an actual thing that happens in an individual brain. So there's a way in which the language of dreaming can become very individualized, but that he's inviting us to dream together implies not only a conversation as he emphasizes, but I think for me, and related to the scholarship that I've done in solidarity and aesthetics, it's a way of forming our imaginations and even our aesthetic realities that attune us to the realities of others, within what at least in the United States have often become very individualized realities.
Maybe I'm in a distinct case because I don't live near people from my originating culture group. I'm Mexican American. I live in Virginia. So I live very far from the center of gravity from my originating culture. But if I chose to, I wouldn't have to really leave my little bubble of other university professionals or young professionals with families who lived in my general neighborhood. I wouldn't have to; I have everything I need right at my fingertips. And unless I seek to encounter people who are different from me, I don't really have to.
And I think that language of dream does more than just say, "Oh, let's have a romantic vision of how reality could be for us." If we dream together, we're coming into relationship and using our imaginative capacities to dream what we might be as a society. And now one risk of that language both for Papa Francisco and for myself is that it can be fairly romantic. His teaching on politics is simultaneously really enticing to me, but also very challenging. It's beguiling because he's saying, "Oh, we need a kind of a politics of tenderness." And a part of me says, "Yes, let's dream about that politics of tenderness; what does that look like?" And then another part of me lives in the United States in 2020 and sees—we as a society have borne witness to how brutal politics can be.
I might say one thing four years ago with my fingers crossed behind my back about what I think is right and good and what should be the norm. But when I have the opportunity to exercise power, I'm going to do it. We have on one hand, the reality of where we are and this invitation, perhaps a beguiling one, to dream of what things might be. And I think for me, as someone who wants to have a political, economic vision, social vision that takes into account reality, this encyclical is not just inviting me, but really even challenging me to imagine something different, or as my colleague at UVA, Ashon Crawley, says, "imagine an otherwise possibility." What does our world look like if we suspend this need to constantly be grounded in the real and start to entertain what else might be?
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: Nicole, thanks so much for introducing us to Fratelli tutti.
Nichole Flores: You're welcome.
Ryan McAnnally-Linz: That's it for this episode, but we'll be back with another installment of our exploration of Fratelli tutti. In the coming weeks, we'll continue our conversations with Nicole Flores, Sister Helen Alford, and Father Martin Schlog on economics, work, and personal property. Thanks for listening, friends.
Evan Rosa: For the Life of the World is a production of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture at Yale Divinity School. This episode featured social ethicist, Nicole Flores, and theologian, Ryan McAnnally-Linz. I'm Evan Rosa and I edited and produced the show. For more information, visit us online at faith.yale.edu. We produce a new episode every Saturday and you can subscribe through any podcast app. We're grateful that you're listening to this podcast. We're passionate about making this work consistently accessible to people who are genuinely concerned about the viability of faith in a world racked with division, contested views about what it means to be human, and what it means to live life.
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