Some weeks ago, a kind person pointed out that I could no longer evade reading Laudato si, since the normative Latin text was now available. Thank you! I had been very busy recently; but have now got round to looking at it. Goodness, isn't it long? But it will substantially augment the Lexicon Recentis Latinitatis, since it is full of neologisms. They are mainly simple latinisations of common modern terms based on Latin or Greek roots, such as oecosystema. I approve of this; I fundamentally disliked the preference of the Lexicon to favour clumsy and prolix circumlocutions rather than grasping the nettle of creating servicable neologisms. I am perhaps a little less happy about those terms which mingle Latin with Greek, but, as the Duke of Wellington put it, In for a penny, in for a pound.
One such hybrid neologism is Biodiversitas (paragraph 32 and others). I homed in on this section, because a little while ago the retiring Vice-Chancellor, in his final October Oration, revealed that this University (I'm not making this up) had produced its own brand of genetically modified mosquito called OxitecGM. These "insects are incapable of reproducing effectively. The idea is that if they are introduced into the wild, the native disease bearing mosquito population will collapse", says he. Does this invention constitute an increase of biodiversitas by the addition of a new species, or the possible reduction of biodiversitas because of the threats it poses both to the present mosquito population, and to the well-being of the Malaria bug?
I wonder how lucid other readers found this section of the encyclical. It seemed to me to lack a clear explication of exactly what the term means; and of any basic or unifying reason why biodiversitas is a good thing. Sometimes the reason given for the preservation of a species seems aesthetic: our descendants will otherwise miss some types of beauty which we enjoy (but if Beauty is subjective, how do we know what they will find beautiful?). Sometimes it appears to be suggested that species simply glorify God sua existentia. (The Oxford zoologists who have created OxitecGM seem unaware that malarial mosquitos, and Malaria itself, glorify God by their mere existence.) Sometimes thoroughly utilitarian reasons are given: the most improbable species may, to put it baldly, on some unforeseeable occasion be of use to pharmaceutical firms (or biological warfare manufacturers?).
Does the Roman Pontiff mean that some species are justified by one reason, others by a different reason? So that we identify which reason justifies which species and make pragmatic decisions accordingly? Or do all the reasons have to be valid in each case? Or does the sua existentia argument cover everything? God made it, whatever it is, so it glorifies him by its mere existence, so it is ipso facto good, period? If this last, how does Pope Francis expect to persuade non-theists, who are among those addressed by this document, to favour a biodiversitas which appears to be based upon Christian, or at least theistic, dogma?
As well as the Mosquito and Malaria, what, for example, about the smallpox virus? Does biodiversitas require that it should be spread liberally all around the world, to be widely experienced by large numbers of humans? So that our descendants can admire its beauty? I gather that it has now been exterminated except for small specimen amounts of it kept in conditions of the highest security in two laboratories, one in Russia, one in North America. Do those minute specimen amounts function satisfactorily for the purpose of 'glorifying God' by their mere, minimal laboratory existence? If so, what does this phrase actually mean? The campaign for biodiversitas would seem to be reduced to something very like Philately ... doing ones best to put together and to preserve a complete set of all the different varieties of the Tuppenny Blue, or whatever. Except that God doesn't command us to collect postage stamps. Or will that be the next development of the Papal Magisterium?
Because if Darwin's theory of evolution is factual, we live in a world in which some species are continually going out of existence for reasons of 'Natural' Selection, giving place to other evolving species. Is it really our duty to secure, by hook or by crook, the survival of specimen samples of all the 'naturally' disappearing species so that they can for ever fulfill all or at least one of the purposes which the Holy Father has listed? That seems a new and onerous moral obligation to place upon our race. And many non-Catholics might wonder how exactly the Roman Pontiff has the right, despite Dignitatis humanae, to impose moral obligations motu proprio upon the human race, and imperiously to demand submission. And I would wonder why it, and the whole concept of moral obligation which it appears to drag along with it, are not also imposed upon every other species. Centipedes, for example, and Great White Sharks. Or are we supposed to educate them all in the morality of the new ideology? Gosh, what a job!!
Or is it to be accepted that 'naturally' some species displace others ... that's 'natural' so that's OK ... so that our only obligation is to be careful ourselves not to cause the disappearance of other species? But why should that be? Are we not a species, ourselves part of the oecosystema, part of what's 'natural'? You could get round this by invoking the Christian doctrine that Man is a radically different kind of species totally set apart from all the others, in the mind and dispositions of the Creator in whose image he is made; but, once again, the atheists and agnostics to whom the Encyclical is also addressed would be justified in calling "Cheat" if one thus arbitrarily smuggled in Catholic Dogma in order to leap across such a dodgy logical gap.
I must confess that I am completely at sea in all this stuff. As Callimachus didn't say, of ideologopoia there appears to be no end. Perhaps I'd better just leave it to megabrains such as Dr Dawkins and Papa Bergoglio. If the ideology (or theology or philosophy?) of Oecologia is all as hard going as this, I think I'll stick to recondite liturgical and Classical minutiae. Tally Ho for the lacunae in Henry Bannister's Reichenau Fragment and the function of the digamma in the latest Sappho papyrus. And what was the Sequence of Colours in the diocese of Nidaros in the late 1380s?