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Middle Ages without borders: a conversation on medievalism

Tommaso di Carpegna Falconieri
Pierre Savy
Lila Yawn

d) The Pope, the planet and the medieval past


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1This panel considers the modern papacy as a form of “planetary medievalism,” exploring the role of medievalism in contemporary papal self-fashioning, and how it underwrites the institution’s claim to planetary leadership. Although the Papacy’s claim to authority is grounded in an appeal to the Eternal, it is also multi-temporal. Whilst its founding Petrine dispensation was scriptural, the Church elaborated much of its core doctrine during the High Middle Ages. More recently, the papal encyclical, birthed in the nineteenth century, reveals the Papacy’s conviction that it can offer a corrective to the depredations of global modernity. Famously, in 2015, with the encyclical Laudato si’, Pope Francis took the papacy into the realm of the planetary. Imploring the world to address the ravages of climate change, Laudato si’ reveals how Francis’s pontificate draws upon medieval tropes and precedents, most obviously in relation to his namesake, Francis of Assisi. This medievalism distinguishes him from his immediate predecessors John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who offered a contrasting image of the medieval past characterised by a reverence for Aquinas as the maker of dogmatic orthodoxy. This panel considers the papacy’s plea for a planetary environmental consciousness, assessing both the necessity and the innovation of its medievalism in the context of the very long history of papal uses of the Middle Ages.

© Publications de l’École française de Rome, 2021

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