74 – Laudato si’ (I): Collateral considerations: what is an Encyclical, what is the Social Doctrine of the Church, and finally what are the prerequisites of a Social Encyclical?

There are few images that so authentically and poetically reflect the relationship between God and mankind, as the shepherd and his flock. “I am the good shepherd, My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (Jn 10:14, 27). These unforgettable words of the Eternal Shepherd have instilled confidence and certainty in his sheep throughout the centuries. Yes, throughout all centuries, for the ‘echo’ of the voice of the Shepherd has consistently made itself heard among the faithful in different ways. Amongst these, an incomparable manner is, without doubt, through the Magisterium of the Church, which by the munus of teaching, projects the voice of the Divine Master for all time, leading the flock to fertile pastures and defending it from ferocious wolves. Even today, the ‘sheep’ know how to recognize who is speaking to them…

A short time ago Francis published his second Encyclical. The interest that preceded its publication was a clear symptom of the desire to find in it an ‘echo’ of the voice of Jesus Christ caring for his flock in these agitated times. The publication of ‘Laudato si’ – which Francis wishes to incorporate into the social doctrine of the Church – awakened a reaction, that is as wide as it is superficial, from the most diverse quarters, ranging from radical environmental groups, to political leaders and religious sectors: reactions of delight, of reserve, and of concern…
Therefore, in face of the importance of this document, the Denzinger-Bergoglio, as well as its English counterpart, present a study that is more exhaustive than our habitual endeavors. The structure of this study is similar to our usual form, but with new facets that help the reader to enter into the little mentioned meanders of the Encyclical so as to be able to arrive at a sound verdict about it, always in keeping with the immutable doctrine of the Church.
In this first part, it seemed opportune to make some collateral considerations, for those that are not entirely clear about certain essential premises when reading a pontifical document, principally that which is the object of analysis.

As Catholics, how should we consider this Encyclical? Do we find in it an authentic echo of the voice of the Good Shepherd, clarifying the social questions of our days? Let us leave it to the Magisterium itself to answer these questions.

Francis

Teachings of the Magisterium

Summary

I – A preliminary question: what degree of adhesion should the faithful offer to documents of the Church?
II –‘Laudato si’ and the social doctrine of the Church: the same purposes, objectives and foundations?

  1. The purpose of the social doctrine of the Church is the supernatural salvation of man, a concern that is not perceived in the ‘Laudato si’
  2. As the most formal documents of the Magisterium, Encyclicals deal with topics of key importance to the Church at a particular moment in history. In the Social Encyclicals the most important topic is the human person – image and likeness of God – not algae, worms and reptiles…
  3. The social doctrine of the Church forms part of Moral Theology; it offers principles of reflection, criteria of judgment and directives for action – not technical solutions
  4. The social doctrine of the Church takes its principles from Revelation, and how it has been understood by the Church throughout the centuries. Therefore, not among Her sources: orthodox patriarchs, sufi muslims and even less pantheistic documents like the Earth Charter
  5. To clarify moral action, social doctrine is based on eternal truths and not on contingent human authority, such as disputable scientific investigations regarding global warming and the greenhouse effect, the human causes of which have not been proven but rather are questioned in many circles

III – Within the social doctrine of the Church, legitimate ecological concerns should be considered with respect to God and the eternal salvation of man

  1. The ecological question may have serious moral implications, but may not take man from his true end which is God and eternity. The salvation of a soul is worth more than the entire created universe
  2. Care for creation demands a constant reference to the soteriological and eschatological truths of the faith and of God himself; only in this way will it be effective
  3. Saint Francis of Assisi: An ecologist in the Middle Ages? How should the love for creation of the Poverello of Assisi be understood?

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Table of Contents

I – A preliminary question: what degree of adhesion should the faithful offer to documents of the Church?


Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
– The mission of teaching is entrusted to the Magisterium so that all men may attain to salvation
– For this, Jesus Christ promised the assistance of the Holy Spirit to the Church’s Pastors – but there are degrees to be considered

Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace
– The same applies to the Church’s social doctrine

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
– To be believed: what is proposed as divinely revealed either by solemn pronouncement or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium; to be firmly accepted and held: to what is set forth definitively by the Magisterium regarding teaching on faith and morals
– An example of the ordinary and universal Magisterium that is binding is found in the ‘Instruction Donum vitae’ of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: the Magisterium does not offer opinions nor does it propose lines of dialogue, rather, by the authority of the Church, it defines the true doctrine or its application with regards to a particular question

Vatican Council II (Ecumenical XXI)
– ‘Religious submission of mind and will’: to the authentic teaching of the Magisterium that is proclaimed by a definitive act

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
– Does that mean that they cannot be questions? On questions of interventions in the prudential order, involving contingent and conjectural elements, it could happen that some Magisterial documents might not be free from all deficiencies


II –‘Laudato si’ and the social doctrine of the Church: the same purposes, objectives and foundations?


  1.  The purpose of the social doctrine of the Church is the supernatural salvation of man, a concern that is not perceived in the ‘Laudato si’


John Paul II
– Pastors have the principal duty to be Teachers of the Truth that comes from God, not politicians, scientists or technologists

Catechism of the Catholic Church
– The Church bears a mission distinct from that of political authorities – it is concerned with temporal aspects in the measure that they are ordered to God and the good of souls

John XXIII
– The Church constructs her social teaching on the principle that man is raised in the plan of Providence to the supernatural order

Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace
– Helping man on the path of salvation: the primary and sole purpose of the Church’s social doctrine


  1. As the most formal documents of the Magisterium, Encyclicals deal with topics of key importance to the Church at a particular moment in history. In the Social Encyclicals the most important topic is the human person – image and likeness of God – not algae, worms and reptiles…


Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace
– The object of social doctrine is the human person entrusted by Christ to the Church’s care

John Paul II
– The guiding principle of the Church’s social doctrine: a correct view of the human person, made in God’ own image and likeness

Catechism of the Catholic Church
– Being in God’ image, man is worth more than sparrows and sheep

Benedict XVI
– Man has an incomparable dignity: God did not hesitate to give his own Son for him
– More than defending the earth, water and air, the Church must above all protect mankind from self-destruction

Vatican Council II (Ecumenical XXI)
– In our days it is the human person that must to be preserved; human society to be renewed

John Paul II
– More than preserving the natural habitats of the various animal species threatened with extinction, greater effort must made to safeguard the natural and moral conditions of mankind


  1. The social doctrine of the Church forms part of Moral Theology; it offers principles of reflection, criteria of judgment and directives for action – not technical solutions


Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace
– The Church’s social doctrine is of a specifically theological-moral nature
– The Church’s social doctrine does not belong to the field of ideology, but of theology – it cannot be defined according to socio-economic parameters

John Paul II
– The Church’s social teaching is a valid instrument of evangelization, and only in this light does it concern itself with everything else

Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace
– Christ did not bequeath to the Church a mission in the political, economic or social order

 Pius XI
The Church’s authority conferred by God is on the moral implications of different matters and on what leads to eternal happiness – not technical matters

Paul VI
– In the social sphere, the Church assists discovery of the truth and the right path to follow

Pius XII
– The Church should form the consciences of those who are called to seek the practical solutions for social problems in conformity to the divine laws

John Paul II
– For this, the social doctrine of the Church offers ‘principles for reflection,’ ‘criteria of judgment’ and ‘directives for action’


  1. The social doctrine of the Church takes its principles from Revelation, and how it has been understood by the Church throughout the centuries. Therefore, not among Her sources: orthodox patriarchs, sufi muslims and even less, pantheistic documents like the Earth Charter


Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace
– The Church’s doctrinal heritage has its roots in Sacred Scripture and Tradition

Benedict XVI
– Social doctrine is built on the foundation handed on by the Apostles to the Fathers of the Church
– Christians have their own contribution to make – in light of divine Revelation and in fidelity to Tradition

John Paul II
– The morally coherent world view is grounded in religious convictions drawn from Revelation

 Benedict XVI
Without the Tradition of the Apostolic Faith, social doctrine is reduced to merely sociological data


  1. To clarify moral action, social doctrine is based on eternal truths and not on contingent human authority, such as disputable scientific investigations regarding global warming and the greenhouse effect, the human causes of which have not been proven but rather are questioned in many circles


John Paul II
– There can be no genuine solution of the ‘social question’ apart from the Gospel, where there context for the proper moral perspective is found
– In order to know man, one must know God

John XXIII
– The moral order has no existence except in God; cut off from God it must necessarily disintegrate

Pius XII
– Caution must be used when there is question of hypotheses in scientific questions

Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace
– Circumstances of uncertainty and provisional solutions call for the applying not of rules but of guidelines


III – Within the social doctrine of the Church, legitimate ecological concerns should be considered with respect to God and the eternal salvation of man


  1. The ecological question may have serious moral implications, but may not take man from his true end which is God and eternity. The salvation of a soul is worth more than the entire created universe


Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace
– The human person transcends the limits of the created universe for his ultimate end is God himself

Paul VI
– The rational creature should direct his life to God

Pius XI
– The Author of nature established an orderly relationship – subordinating immediate purposes, like caring for nature, to our supreme and last end

Leo XIII
– God has given us this world as a place of exile, and not as our abiding place: concern for the ‘common home’ must be based on the ‘Father’s Home’
– Life on earth is only the way and the means of perfecting the soul, which is made after the image and likeness of God

Pius XI
– What are temporal upheavals, disasters, and calamities compared with the loss of souls?

Saint Thomas Aquinas
– The justification of the ungodly is greater than the creation of heaven and earth
– Greater than the good of nature in the whole universe: the good of grace in one person

Saint John Chrysostom
– Man alone is more precious in the eyes of God than the entire creation


  1. Care for creation demands a constant reference to the soteriological and eschatological truths of the faith and of God himself; only in this way will it be effective


Pius XII
– The harmony of the relationship between man and creation comes from its common origin, elevated by the Incarnation

Catechism of the Catholic Church
– The work of creation finds its meaning and summit in the greater work of Redemption

Pius XII
– Jesus Christ defeats sin, root of disharmony among men and nature

John XXIII
– Christianity is the meeting-point of earth and heaven; the earthly existence and the eternal life

John Paul II
– Man’s future depends on the understanding he has of himself and of his own destiny; and here is the Church’s specific and decisive contribution

Benedict XVI
– We cannot work well for the earth unless we take into account the Last Judgment, Purgatory, Hell and Heaven
– The relationship between humans and the environment ultimately stems from their relationship with God

Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace
– Without the relationship with God, nature is stripped of its profound meaning and impoverished

John Paul II
– Ecological imbalance is born of a misuse use of creatures, ignoring or rejecting the purpose that is inherent to the work of creation

Benedict XVI
– Creation awaits God’s children, who treat it according to God’s perspective


  1. Saint Francis of Assisi: an ecologist in the Middle Ages? How should the love for creation of the Poverello of Assisi be understood?


Congregation for the Doctrine and the Faith
– In the 12th and 13th centuries, the Cathars revived old dualistic positions, considering the material universe as evil, and constituted a real danger to the faith

Benedict XVI
– The mendicant orders were called to confont such heresies by their adhesion to the doctrine of the Church – In this context, Saint Francis’admiration for nature can be understood as a testimony of the goodness of creation

Saint Bonaventure
– In every created thing, Saint Francis perceived a trace of the Creator; and in loving creatures he used them as a ladder to ascend to the Beloved

Benedict XVI
– Saint Francis’ gazing at nature was a contemplation of the Creator; to understand it otherwise is to make Francis unrecognizable
– The ‘Canticle of the Creatures’ before being an invitation to respect creation, is a prayer, praise addressed to the Creator – Francis’ canticle, of obvious biblical inspiration, aspires towards the Creator, not at environment protection

Saint Francis of Assisi
– Parts of the ‘Canticle of the Sun’ ommitted in the ‘Laudato si’: Praise to God, considerations about death, sin and eternal salvation

Saint Bonaventure
– The piety that led him to love all creatures above all inclined him to the salvation of souls redeemed by the precious Blood of Christ Jesus

 


I – A preliminary question: what degree of adhesion should the faithful offer to documents of the Church?


Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

  • The mission of teaching is entrusted to the Magisterium so that all men may attain to salvation

As successors of the apostles, the bishops of the Church ‘receive from the Lord, to whom all power is given in heaven and on earth, the mission of teaching all peoples, and of preaching the Gospel to every creature, so that all men may attain to salvation…’ They have been entrusted then with the task of preserving, explaining, and spreading the Word of God of which they are servants (cf. Dei Verbum, n. 10). (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Donum Veritatis, no. 14, May 24, 1990)

  • For this, Jesus Christ promised the assistance of the Holy Spirit to the Church’s Pastors – but there are degrees to be considered

Jesus Christ promised the assistance of the Holy Spirit to the Church’s Pastors so that they could fulfill their assigned task of teaching the Gospel and authentically interpreting Revelation. In particular, He bestowed on them the charism of infallibility in matters of faith and morals. This charism is manifested when the Pastors propose a doctrine as contained in Revelation and can be exercised in various ways. […] Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and in a particular way, to the Roman Pontiff as Pastor of the whole Church, when exercising their ordinary Magisterium, even should this not issue in an infallible definition or in a ‘definitive’ pronouncement but in the proposal of some teaching which leads to a better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals and to moral directives derived from such teaching. One must therefore take into account the proper character of every exercise of the Magisterium, considering the extent to which its authority is engaged. (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Donum Veritatis, nos. 15; 17, May 24, 1990)

Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

  • The same applies to the Church’s social doctrine

Insofar as it is part of the Church’s moral teaching, the Church’s social doctrine has the same dignity and authority as her moral teaching. It is authentic Magisterium, which obligates the faithful to adhere to it (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2037). The doctrinal weight of the different teachings and the assent required are determined by the nature of the particular teachings, by their level of independence from contingent and variable elements, and by the frequency with which they are invoked (cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Donum Veritatis, 16-17, 23: AAS 82 (1990), 1557-1558, 1559-1560). (Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 80, May 26, 2006)

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

  • To be believed: what is proposed as divinely revealed either by solemn pronouncement or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium; to be firmly accepted and held: to what is set forth definitively by the Magisterium regarding teaching on faith and morals

When the Magisterium of the Church makes an infallible pronouncement and solemnly declares that a teaching is found in Revelation, the assent called for is that of theological faith. This kind of adherence is to be given even to the teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium when it proposes for belief a teaching of faith as divinely revealed. When the Magisterium proposes ‘in a definitive way’ truths concerning faith and morals, which, even if not divinely revealed, are nevertheless strictly and intimately connected with Revelation, these must be firmly accepted and held. (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Instruction Donum Veritatis, no. 23, May 24, 1990)

  • An example of the ordinary and universal Magisterium that is binding is found in the ‘Instruction Donum vitae’ of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: the Magisterium does not offer opinions nor does it propose lines of dialogue, rather, by the authority of the Church, it defines the true doctrine or its application with regards to a particular question

The style of Donum vitae corresponds to that of an authentic document of the Magisterium: it continually speaks in the name and with the authority of the Church (for example these meaningful expressions are used: the intervention of the Church [introduction, 1], the Church puts forward [ibidem], the Church offers [introduction 5], the Church prohibits [part 1,5], the Church is opposed [part 2,5], the Church reminds man [conclusion]) and right from the preamble it declares that it ‘does not intend to repeat all the Church’s teaching on the dignity of human life as it originates and on procreation, but to offer, in the light of the previous teaching of the Magisterium, some specific replies to the main questions being asked in this regard’ (Donum vitae, preamble). (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, On the Doctrinal Authority of the Instruction Donum Vitae, December 21, 1988)

Vatican Council II (Ecumenical XXI)

  • ‘Religious submission of mind and will’: to the authentic teaching of the Magisterium that is proclaimed by a definitive act be shown to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff when he is not speaking ex cathedra

Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking. (Vatican Council II, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, no. 25, November 21, 1964)

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

  • Does that mean that they cannot be questions? On questions of interventions in the prudential order, involving contingent and conjectural elements, it could happen that some Magisterial documents might not be free from all deficiencies

Finally, in order to serve the People of God as well as possible, in particular, by warning them of dangerous opinions which could lead to error, the Magisterium can intervene in questions under discussion which involve, in addition to solid principles, certain contingent and conjectural elements. […] The willingness to submit loyally to the teaching of the Magisterium on matters per se not irreformable must be the rule. It can happen, however, that a theologian may, according to the case, raise questions regarding the timeliness, the form, or even the contents of magisterial interventions. Here the theologian will need, first of all, to assess accurately the authoritativeness of the interventions which becomes clear from the nature of the documents, the insistence with which a teaching is repeated, and the very way in which it is expressed (LG, n. 25, §1). When it comes to the question of interventions in the prudential order, it could happen that some Magisterial documents might not be free from all deficiencies. (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Donum Veritatis, no. 24, May 24, 1990)


II – ‘Laudato si’ and the social doctrine of the Church: the same purposes, objectives and foundations?


  1. The purpose of the social doctrine of the Church is the supernatural salvation of man, a concern that is not perceived in the ‘Laudato si’


John Paul II

  • Pastors have the principal duty to be Teachers of the Truth that comes from God, not politicians, scientists or technologists

It is a great consolation for the universal Father to note that you come together here not as a symposium of experts, not as a parliament of politicians, not as a congress of scientists or technologists, however important such assemblies may be, but as a fraternal encounter of Pastors of the Church. And as Pastors you have the vivid awareness that your principal duty is to be Teachers of the Truth. Not a human and rational truth, but the Truth that comes from God, the Truth that brings with it the principle of the authentic liberation of man: ‘you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free’ (Jn 8:32); that Truth which is the only one that offers a solid basis for an adequate ‘praxis’. (John Paul II. Address for the Inauguration of the Third General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate, January 28, 1979)

Catechism of the Catholic Church

  • The Church bears a mission distinct from that of political authorities – it is concerned with temporal aspects in the measure that they are ordered to God and the good of souls

The Church makes a moral judgment about economic and social matters, ‘when the fundamental rights of the person or the salvation of souls requires it.’ In the moral order she bears a mission distinct from that of political authorities: the Church is concerned with the temporal aspects of the common good because they are ordered to the sovereign Good, our ultimate end. She strives to inspire right attitudes with respect to earthly goods and in socio-economic relationships. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2420)

John XXIII

  • The Church constructs her social teaching on the principle that man is raised in the plan of Providence to the supernatural order

The permanent validity of the Catholic Church’s social teaching admits of no doubt. This teaching rests on one basic principle: individual human beings are the foundation, the cause and the end of every social institution. That is necessarily so, for men are by nature social beings. This fact must be recognized, as also the fact that they are raised in the plan of Providence to an order of reality which is above nature. On this basic principle, which guarantees the sacred dignity of the individual, the Church constructs her social teaching. She has formulated, particularly over the past hundred years, and through the efforts of a very well informed body of priests and laymen, a social doctrine which points out with clarity the sure way to social reconstruction. (John XXIII. Encyclical Mater et Magistra, no. 218-220, May 15, 1961)

Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

  • Helping man on the path of salvation: the primary and sole purpose of the Church’s social doctrine

With her social doctrine, the Church aims ‘at helping man on the path of salvation’ [94]. This is her primary and sole purpose. There is no intention to usurp or invade the duties of others or to neglect her own; nor is there any thought of pursuing objectives that are foreign to her mission. (Note 94: John Paul II. Centesimus Annus, 54). (Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 69, May 26, 2006)


  1. As the most formal documents of the Magisterium, Encyclicals deal with of the topics of key importance to the Church at a particular moment in history. In the Social Encyclicals the most important topic is the human person – image and likeness of God – not algae, worms and reptiles…


Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

  • The object of social doctrine is the human person, entrusted by Christ to the Church’s care

The object of the Church’s social doctrine is essentially the same that constitutes the reason for its existence: the human person called to salvation, and as such entrusted by Christ to the Church’s care and responsibility. (Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 81, May 26, 2006)

John Paul II

  • The guiding principle of the Church’s social doctrine: a correct view of the human person, made in God’ own image and likeness

From this point forward it will be necessary to keep in mind that the main thread and, in a certain sense, the guiding principle […] and of the Church’s social doctrine, is a correct view of the human person and of his unique value, inasmuch as ‘man … is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself’. God has imprinted his own image and likeness on man (cf. Gen 1:26), conferring upon him an incomparable dignity. (John Paul II. Encyclical Centesimus annus, no. 11, May 1, 1991)

Catechism of the Catholic Church

  • Being in God’ image, man is worth more than sparrows and sheep

The hierarchy of creatures is expressed by the order of the ‘six days’, from the less perfect to the more perfect. God loves all his creatures (Cf. Ps 145:9) and takes care of each one, even the sparrow. Nevertheless, Jesus said: You are of more value than many sparrows’, or again: ‘of how much more value is a man than a sheep’ (Lk 12:6-7; Mt 12:12)! (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 342)

Benedict XVI

  • Man has an incomparable dignity: God did not hesitate to give his own Son for him

Man, created in the image of God, has an incomparable dignity; man, who is so worthy of love in the eyes of his Creator that God did not hesitate to give his own Son for him. (Benedict XVI. Address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See for the traditional exchange of New Year Greetings, January 8, 2007)

  • More than defending the earth, water and air, the Church must above all protect mankind from self-destruction

The Church has a responsibility towards creation and she must assert this responsibility in the public sphere. In so doing, she must defend not only earth, water and air as gifts of creation that belong to everyone. She must above all protect mankind from self-destruction. There is need for what might be called a human ecology, correctly understood. The deterioration of nature is in fact closely connected to the culture that shapes human coexistence: when ‘human ecology’ is respected within society, environmental ecology also benefits. (Benedict XVI. Encyclical Caritas in veritate, no. 51, June 29, 2009)

Vatican Council II (Ecumenical XXI)

  • In our days it is the human person that must to be preserved; human society to be renewed

Though mankind is stricken with wonder at its own discoveries and its power, it often raises anxious questions about the current trend of the world, about the place and role of man in the universe, about the meaning of its individual and collective strivings, and about the ultimate destiny of reality and of humanity. Hence, giving witness and voice to the faith of the whole people of God gathered together by Christ, this council can provide no more eloquent proof of its solidarity with, as well as its respect and love for the entire human family with which it is bound up, than by engaging with it in conversation about these various problems. The council brings to mankind light kindled from the Gospel, and puts at its disposal those saving resources which the Church herself, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, receives from her Founder. For the human person deserves to be preserved; human society deserves to be renewed. (Vatican Council II, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, no. 3, December 7, 1965)

John Paul II

  • More than preserving the natural habitats of the various animal species threatened with extinction, greater effort must made to safeguard the natural and moral conditions of mankind

In addition to the irrational destruction of the natural environment, we must also mention the more serious destruction of the human environment, something which is by no means receiving the attention it deserves. Although people are rightly worried — though much less than they should be — about preserving the natural habitats of the various animal species threatened with extinction, because they realize that each of these species makes its particular contribution to the balance of nature in general, too little effort is made to safeguard the moral conditions for an authentic ‘human ecology’. Not only has God given the earth to man, who must use it with respect for the original good purpose for which it was given to him, but man too is God’s gift to man. He must therefore respect the natural and moral structure with which he has been endowed. (John Paul II. Encyclical Centesimus annus, no. 38, May 1, 1991)


  1. The social doctrine of the Church forms part of Moral Theology; it offers principles of reflection, criteria of judgment and directives for action – not technical solutions


Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

  • The Church’s social doctrine is of a specifically theological-moral nature

The Church’s social doctrine is therefore of a theological nature, specifically theological-moral, ‘since it is a doctrine aimed at guiding people’s behaviour’ (John Paul II. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 41). ‘This teaching … is to be found at the crossroads where Christian life and conscience come into contact with the real world. [It] is seen in the efforts of individuals, families, people involved in cultural and social life, as well as politicians and statesmen to give it a concrete form and application in history’ (John Paul II. Centesimus Annus, 59). (Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 73, May 26, 2006)

  • The Church’s social doctrine does not belong to the field of ideology, but of theology- it cannot be defined according to socio-economic parameters

The Church’s social doctrine ‘belongs to the field, not of ideology, but of theology and particularly of moral theology’ (John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 41). It cannot be defined according to socio-economic parameters. It is not an ideological or pragmatic system intended to define and generate economic, political and social relationships, but is a category unto itself. It is ‘the accurate formulation of the results of a careful reflection on the complex realities of human existence, in society and in the international order, in the light of faith and of the Church’s tradition. Its main aim is to interpret these realities, determining their conformity with or divergence from the lines of the Gospel teaching on man and his vocation, a vocation which is at once earthly and transcendent; its aim is thus to guide Christian behaviour’ (John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 41). (Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 72, May 26, 2006)

John Paul II

  • The Church’s social teaching is a valid instrument of evangelization, and only in this light does it concern itself with everything else

Thus the Church’s social teaching is itself a valid instrument of evangelization. As such, it proclaims God and his mystery of salvation in Christ to every human being, and for that very reason reveals man to himself. In this light, and only in this light, does it concern itself with everything else: the human rights of the individual, and in particular of the ‘working class’, the family and education, the duties of the State, the ordering of national and international society, economic life, culture, war and peace, and respect for life from the moment of conception until death. (John Paul II. Encyclical Centesimus annus, no. 54, May 1, 1991)

Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

  • Christ did not bequeath to the Church a mission in the political, economic or social order

The Church does not assume responsibility for every aspect of life in society, but speaks with the competence that is hers, which is that of proclaiming Christ the Redeemer (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2420): ‘Christ did not bequeath to the Church a mission in the political, economic or social order; the purpose he assigned to her was a religious one. But this religious mission can be the source of commitment, direction and vigour to establish and consolidate the community of men according to the law of God’ (Gaudium et Spes, 42). This means that the Church does not intervene in technical questions with her social doctrine, nor does she propose or establish systems or models of social organization (John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 41). This is not part of the mission entrusted to her by Christ. (Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 68, May 26, 2006)

Pius XI

  • The Church’s authority conferred by God is on the moral implications of different matters and on what leads to eternal happiness – not technical matters

Certainly the Church was not given the commission to guide men to an only fleeting and perishable happiness but to that which is eternal. Indeed ‘the Church holds that it is unlawful for her to mix without cause in these temporal concerns’ (Pius XI. Encyclical Ubi Arcano, Dec. 23, 1922); however, she can in no wise renounce the duty God entrusted to her to interpose her authority, not of course in matters of technique for which she is neither suitably equipped nor endowed by office, but in all things that are connected with the moral law. (Pius XI. Encyclical Quadragesimo anno, no. 41, May 15, 1931)

Paul VI

  • In the social sphere, the Church assists discovery of the truth and the right path to follow

In the social sphere, the Church has always wished to assume a double function: first to enlighten minds in order to assist them to discover the truth and to find the right path to follow amid the different teachings that call for their attention; and secondly to take part in action and to spread, with a real care for service and effectiveness, the energies of the Gospel. (Paul VI. Apostolic Letter Octogesima adveniens, no. 48, May 14, 1971)

Pius XII

  • The Church should form the consciences of those who are called to seek the practical solutions for social problems in conformity to the divine laws

Moved by the profound conviction that the Church not only has the right, but also the duty to pronounce its authorized word on social questions, Leo XIII directed his message to the world. It is not that he sought to establish norms of purely practical, or we could almost say technical character, of the social constitution; for he knew well and it was evident to him […] that the Church does not attribute to Herself such a mission. […] It is on the other hand, undoubtedly, the prerogative of the Church that aspect of the social order where it comes close to and in contact with the moral field, to judge whether the bases of an existing social order are in accordance with the immutable order that God, Creator and Redeemer, has shown through natural right and Revelation: a double manifestation, to which Leo XIII refers to in his encyclical. […] Because the Church, guardian of Christian supernatural order, in which nature and grace converge, must form the consciences, even of those who are called to seek solutions for the problems and the duties imposed by social life. On the form given to society, conforming or not to divine laws, depends and influences also the good and evil in souls, that is to say, that if men, all called to be vivified by the grace of Jesus Christ, inhale either the healthy and vital air of the truth and moral virtue or the harmful and often lethal bacteria of error and depravation in the situations of the course of the earthly life. (Pius XII. Radio message for Pentecost – on the 50th anniversary of Rerum Novarum, nos. 4-5, June 1, 1941)

John Paul II

  • For this, the social doctrine of the Church offers ‘principles for reflection,’ ‘criteria of judgment’ and ‘directives for action’

In addition, the social doctrine of the Church has once more demonstrated its character as an application of the word of God to people’s lives and the life of society, as well as to the earthly realities connected with them, offering ‘principles for reflection,’ ‘criteria of judgment’ and ‘directives for action’ (cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Libertatis Conscientia, n. 72; Paul VI Octogesima Adveniens). (John Paul II. Encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, no. 8, December 30, 1987)


  1. The social doctrine of the Church takes its principles from Revelation, and how it has been understood by the Church throughout the centuries. Therefore, not among Her sources: orthodox patriarchs, sufi muslims and even less pantheistic documents like The Earth Charter


Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

  • The Church’s doctrinal heritage has its roots in Sacred Scripture and Tradition

In her continuous attention to men and women living in society, the Church has accumulated a rich doctrinal heritage. This has its roots in Sacred Scripture, especially the Gospels and the apostolic writings, and takes on shape and body beginning from the Fathers of the Church and the great Doctors of the Middle Ages, constituting a doctrine in which, even without explicit and direct Magisterial pronouncements, the Church gradually came to recognize her competence. (Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 87, May 26, 2006)

Benedict XVI

  • Social doctrine is built on the foundation handed on by the Apostles to the Fathers of the Church

The Church’s social doctrine illuminates with an unchanging light the new problems that are constantly emerging. This safeguards the permanent and historical character of the doctrinal ‘patrimony’ (John Paul II. Laborem Exercens) which, with its specific characteristics, is part and parcel of the Church’s ever-living Tradition (John Paul II. Centesimus Annus). Social doctrine is built on the foundation handed on by the Apostles to the Fathers of the Church, and then received and further explored by the great Christian doctors. (Benedict XVI. Encyclical Caritas in veritate, no. 12, June 29, 2009)

  • Christians have their own contribution to make – in light of divine Revelation and in fidelity to Tradition

If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation. The quest for peace by people of good will surely would become easier if all acknowledge the indivisible relationship between God, human beings and the whole of creation. In the light of divine Revelation and in fidelity to the Church’s Tradition, Christians have their own contribution to make. They contemplate the cosmos and its marvels in light of the creative work of the Father and the redemptive work of Christ, who by his death and resurrection has reconciled with God ‘all things, whether on earth or in heaven’ (Col 1:20). (Benedict XVI. Message for the celebration of the 43rd World Day of Peace, no. 14, January 1, 2010)

John Paul II

  • The morally coherent world view is grounded in religious convictions drawn from Revelation

Many ethical values, fundamental to the development of a peaceful society, are particularly relevant to the ecological question. The fact that many challenges facing the world today are interdependent confirms the need for carefully coordinated solutions based on a morally coherent world view. For Christians, such a world view is grounded in religious convictions drawn from Revelation. (John Paul II. Message for the 23rd World Day of Peace, no. 2, January 1, 1990)

Benedict XVI

  • Without the Tradition of the Apostolic Faith, social doctrine is reduced to merely sociological data

A fresh reading of Populorum Progressio, more than forty years after its publication, invites us to remain faithful to its message of charity and truth, viewed within the overall context of Paul VI’s specific magisterium and, more generally, within the tradition of the Church’s social doctrine. Moreover, an evaluation is needed of the different terms in which the problem of development is presented today, as compared with forty years ago. The correct viewpoint, then, is that of the Tradition of the Apostolic Faith [13], a patrimony both ancient and new, outside of which Populorum Progressio would be a document without roots — and issues concerning development would be reduced to merely sociological data. (Note 13: Cf. Benedict XVI. Address at the Inauguration of the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, Aparecida, 13 May 2007). (Benedict XVI. Encyclical Caritas in veritate, no. 10, June 29, 2009)


  1. To clarify moral action, social doctrine is based on eternal truths and not on contingent human authority, such as disputable scientific investigations regarding global warming and the greenhouse effect, the human causes of which have not been proven but rather are questioned in many circles


John Paul II

  • There can be no genuine solution of the ‘social question’ apart from the Gospel, where there context for the proper moral perspective is found

It was out of an awareness of his mission as the Successor of Peter that Pope Leo XIII proposed to speak out, and Peter’s Successor today is moved by that same awareness. Like Pope Leo and the Popes before and after him, I take my inspiration from the Gospel image of ‘the scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven’, whom the Lord compares to ‘a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old’ (Mt 13:52). The treasure is the great outpouring of the Church’s Tradition, which contains ‘what is old’ — received and passed on from the very beginning — and which enables us to interpret the ‘new things’ in the midst of which the life of the Church and the world unfolds. […] Now, as then, we need to repeat that morally coherent, and that the ‘new things’ can find in the Gospel the context for their correct understanding and the for judgment on them. (John Paul II. Encyclical Centesimus annus, no. 3; 5, May 1, 1991)

  • In order to know man, one must know God

The Church receives ‘the meaning of man’ from Divine Revelation. ‘In order to know man, authentic man, man in his fullness, one must know God’, said Pope Paul VI, and he went on to quote Saint Catherine of Siena, who, in prayer, expressed the same idea: ‘In your nature, O eternal Godhead, I shall know my own nature’ (Paul VI, Homily at the Final Public Session of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, December 7, 1965: AAS 58, 1966, 58). (John Paul II. Encyclical Centesimus annus, no. 55, May 1, 1991)

John XXIII

  • The moral order has no existence except in God; cut off from God it must necessarily disintegrate

The root cause of so much mistrust is the presence of ideological differences between nations, and more especially between their rulers. There are some indeed who go so far as to deny the existence of a moral order which is transcendent, absolute, universal and equally binding upon all. And where the same law of justice is not adhered to by all, men cannot hope to come to open and full agreement on vital issues. Yes, both sides speak of justice and the demands of justice, but these words frequently take on different or opposite meanings according to which side uses them. […] But the moral order has no existence except in God; cut off from God it must necessarily disintegrate. Moreover, man is not just a material organism. He consists also of spirit; he is endowed with reason and freedom. He demands, therefore, a moral and religious order; and it is this order—and not considerations of a purely extraneous, material order—which has the greatest validity in the solution of problems relating to his life as an individual and as a member of society, and problems concerning individual states and their inter-relations. (John XXIII. Encyclical Mater et Magistra, nos. 205-206; 208, May 15, 1961)

Pius XII

  • Caution must be used when there is question of hypotheses in scientific questions

It remains for Us now to speak about those questions which, although they pertain to the positive sciences, are nevertheless more or less connected with the truths of the Christian faith. In fact, not a few insistently demand that the Catholic religion take these sciences into account as much as possible. This certainly would be praiseworthy in the case of clearly proved facts; but caution must be used when there is rather question of hypotheses, having some sort of scientific foundation, in which the doctrine contained in Sacred Scripture or in Tradition is involved. If such conjectural opinions are directly or indirectly opposed to the doctrine revealed by God, then the demand that they be recognized can in no way be admitted. (Pius XII. Encyclical Humani generis, no. 28, August 12, 1950)

Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

  • Circumstances of uncertainty and provisional solutions call for the applying not of rules but of guidelines

The authorities called to make decisions concerning health and environmental risks sometimes find themselves facing a situation in which available scientific data are contradictory or quantitatively scarce. It may then be appropriate to base evaluations on the ‘precautionary principle’, which does not mean applying rules but certain guidelines aimed at managing the situation of uncertainty. […] The circumstances of uncertainty proper moral perspective make it particularly important that the decision-making process be transparent. (Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 469, May 26, 2009)


III – Within the social doctrine of the Church, legitimate ecological concerns should be considered with respect to God and the eternal salvation of man


  1. The ecological question may have serious moral implications, but may not take man from his true end which is God and eternity. The salvation of a soul is worth more than the entire created universe


Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

  • The human person transcends the limits of the created universe for his ultimate end is God himself

The human person, in himself and in his vocation, transcends the limits of the created universe, of society and of history: his ultimate end is God himself (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2244), who has revealed himself to men in order to invite them and receive them into communion with himself (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dei Verbum, 2). (Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 47, May 26, 2009)

Paul VI

  • The rational creature should direct his life to God

Just as the whole of creation is ordered toward its Creator, so too the rational creature should of his own accord direct his life to God, the first truth and the highest good. […] United with the life-giving Christ, man’s life is newly enhanced; it acquires a transcendent humanism which surpasses its nature and bestows new fullness of life. […] Man’s personal and collective fulfillment could be jeopardized if the proper scale of values were not maintained. (Paul VI. Encyclical Populorum progressio, nos. 16; 18, March 26, 1967)

Pius XI

  • The Author of nature established an orderly relationship – subordinating immediate purposes, like caring for nature, to our supreme and last end

But it is only the moral law which, just as it commands us to seek our supreme and last end in the whole scheme of our activity, so likewise commands us to seek directly in each kind of activity those purposes which we know that nature, or rather God the Author of nature, established for that kind of action, and in orderly relationship to subordinate such immediate purposes to our supreme and last end. (Pius XI. Encyclical Quadragesimo anno, no. 43, May 15, 1931)

Leo XIII

  • God has given us this world as a place of exile, and not as our abiding place: concern for the ‘common home’ must be based on the ‘Father’s Home’

Exclude the idea of futurity, and forthwith the very notion of what is good and right would perish; nay, the whole scheme of the universe would become a dark and unfathomable mystery. The great truth which we learn from nature herself is also the grand Christian dogma on which religion rests as on its foundation – that, when we have given up this present life, then shall we really begin to live. God has not created us for the perishable and transitory things of earth, but for things heavenly and everlasting; He has given us this world as a place of exile, and not as our abiding place. (Leo XIII. Encyclical Rerum novarum, no. 21, May 15, 1931)

  • Life on earth is only the way and the means of perfecting the soul, which is made after the image and likeness of God

Life on earth, however good and desirable in itself, is not the final purpose for which man is created; it is only the way and the means to that attainment of truth and that love of goodness in which the full life of the soul consists. It is the soul which is made after the image and likeness of God; it is in the soul that the sovereignty resides in virtue whereof man is commanded to rule the creatures below him and to use all the earth and the ocean for his profit and advantage. ‘Fill the earth and subdue it; and rule over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and all living creatures that move upon the earth’ (Gen 1:28). (Leo XIII. Encyclical Rerum novarum, no. 33, May 15, 1931)

Pius XI

  • What are temporal upheavals, disasters and calamities compared with the loss of souls?

Minds of all, it is true, are affected almost solely by temporal upheavals, disasters, and calamities. But if we examine things critically with Christian eyes, as we should, what are all these compared with the loss of souls? (Pius XI. Encyclical Quadragesimo anno, no. 130, May 15, 1931)

Saint Thomas Aquinas

  • The justification of the ungodly is greater than the creation of heaven and earth

A work may be called great in two ways: first, on the part of the mode of action, and thus the work of creation is the greatest work, wherein something is made from nothing; secondly, a work may be called great on account of what is made, and thus the justification of the ungodly, which terminates at the eternal good of a share in the Godhead, is greater than the creation of heaven and earth, which terminates at the good of mutable nature. Hence, Augustine, after saying that ‘for a just man to be made from a sinner is greater than to create heaven and earth,’ adds, ‘for heaven and earth shall pass away, but the justification of the ungodly shall endure.’ (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica I-II, q. 113, a. 9)

  • Greater than the good of nature in the whole universe: the good of grace in one person

But the good of grace in one is greater than the good of nature in the whole universe. (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica I-II, q. 113, a. 9, ad 2)

Saint John Chrysostom

  • Man alone is more precious in the eyes of God than the entire creation

Who, then, indeed is he who is about to be created, that he should enjoy such honor? It is man, that great and marvelous living being and one who is more honored in God’s sight than all creation; on whose account exist heaven and earth and sea and the rest of creation, and God has given so much importance to his salvation that he has not spared his only Son for him. For God has not ceased to do all that was possible so that man would arise to him and sit at his right hand. (Saint John Chrysostom. Homilies in Genesim, Sermon 2, 1: PG 54, 587-588)


  1. Care for creation demands a constant reference to the soteriological and eschatological truths of the faith and of God himself; only in this way will it be effective


Pius XII

  • The harmony of the relationship between man and creation comes from its common origin, elevated by the Incarnation

The relationship of man with the world enjoys the clear light of the eternal Spirit, communicated by the Creator to creation. In this way, the Incarnation conserves and augments the dignity of man and the nobility of the world over the foundation of its same origin in the divine Spirit, font and unity, order and harmony. If, on the contrary, this foundation of the spirit is removed, and, in consequence, the image (in man) and the trace (in irrational creatures) of the eternal divine Being in created things, the harmony is also lost in the relationship of man with the world. (Pius XII. Radio message for Christmas, December 22, 1957)

Catechism of the Catholic Church

  • The work of creation finds its meaning and summit in the greater work of Redemption

Thus, the work of creation culminates in the greater work of redemption. The first creation finds its meaning and its summit in the new creation in Christ, the splendour of which surpasses that of the first creation. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 349)

Pius XII

  • Jesus Christ defeats sin, root of disharmony among men and nature

The profound darkness and disharmony, roots of all others, that the Incarnate Word had come to illuminate and recompose, consists in the rupture produced by original sin, that dragged the entire human race, and the world, its house, into its bitter consequences. […] However, the hope of a return to the primitive condition was never extinguished in man and in the world, following the divine order, expressed, according to the expression of the Apostle, with the cries of all creatures (cf. Rom 8:22), for despite slavery to sin, man always remains an image of the divine Spirit, and the world, property of the Word. Christ has come to revive that which the fault had killed, heal that which had been wounded, illuminate that which had been darkened, in man as well as in the world. (Pius XII. Radio message for Christmas, December 22, 1957)

John XXIII

  • Christianity is the meeting-point of earth and heaven; the earthly existence and the eternal life

Christianity is the meeting-point of earth and heaven. It lays claim to the whole man, body and soul, intellect and will, inducing him to raise his mind above the changing conditions of this earthly existence and reach upwards for the eternal life of heaven, where one day he will find his unfailing happiness and peace. (John XXIII. Encyclical Mater et Magistra, no. 2, May 15, 1961)

John Paul II

  • Man’s future depends on the understanding he has of himself and of his destiny; and here is the Church’s specific and decisive contribution

Thus the first and most important task is accomplished within man’s heart. The way in which he is involved in building his own future depends on the understanding he has of himself and of his own destiny. It is on this level that the Church’s specific and decisive contribution to true culture is to be found. […] The Church renders this service to human society by preaching the truth about the creation of the world, which God has placed in human hands so that people may make it fruitful and more perfect through their work; and by preaching the truth about the Redemption, whereby the Son of God has saved mankind and at the same time has united all people, making them responsible for one another. (John Paul II. Encyclical Centesimus annus, no. 51, May 1, 1991)

Benedict XVI

  • We cannot work well for the earth unless we take into account the Last Judgement, Purgatory, Hell and Heaven

In the Encyclical Spe Salvi I wanted to speak precisely about the Last Judgement, judgement in general, and in this context also about Purgatory, Hell and Heaven. I think we have all been struck by the Marxist objection that Christians have only spoken of the afterlife and have ignored the earth. […] Now, although it is right to show that Christians work for the earth – and we are all called to work to make this earth really a city for God and of God – we must not forget the other dimension. Unless we take it into account, we cannot work well for the earth: to show this was one of my fundamental purposes in writing the Encyclical. When one does not know the judgement of God one does not know the possibility of Hell, of the radical and definitive failure of life, one does not know the possibility of and need for purification. Man then fails to work well for the earth because he ultimately loses his criteria, he no longer knows himself – through not knowing God – and destroys the earth. All the great ideologies have promised: we will take things in hand, we will no longer neglect the earth, we will create a new, just, correct and brotherly world. But they destroyed the world instead. We see it with Nazism, we also see it with Communism which promised to build the world as it was supposed to be and instead destroyed it. In the ad limina visits of Bishops from former Communist countries, I always see anew that in those lands, not only the planet and ecology, but above all and more seriously, souls have been destroyed. Rediscovering the truly human conscience illuminated by God’s presence is our first task for the re-edification of the earth. This is the common experience of those countries. The re-edification of the earth, while respecting this planet’s cry of suffering, can only be achieved by rediscovering God in the soul with the eyes open to God. (Benedict XVI. Address to the Parish Priests and the Clergy of the Diocese of Rome, February 7, 2008)

  • The relationship between humans and the environment ultimately stems from their relationship with God

The relationship between individuals or communities and the environment ultimately stems from their relationship with God. When ‘man turns his back on the Creator’s plan, he provokes a disorder which has inevitable repercussions on the rest of the created order’ (Message for the 1990 World Day of Peace, 5). (Benedict XVI. Message to the participants of the Seventh Symposium of the Religion, Science and the Environment Movement, September 1, 2007)

Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace

  • Without the relationship with God, nature is stripped of its profound meaning and impoverished

The attitude that must characterize the way man acts in relation to creation is essentially one of gratitude and appreciation; the world, in fact, reveals the mystery of God who created and sustains it. If the relationship with God is placed aside, nature is stripped of its profound meaning and impoverished. If on the other hand, nature is rediscovered in its creaturely dimension, channels of communication with it can be established, its rich and symbolic meaning can be understood, allowing us to enter into its realm of mystery. This realm opens the path of man to God, Creator of heaven and earth. The world presents itself before man’s eyes as evidence of God, the place where his creative, providential and redemptive power unfolds. (Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 487, May 26, 2006)

John Paul II

  • Ecological imbalance is born of a misuse use of creatures, ignoring or rejecting the purpose that is inherent to the work of creation

The ecological imbalance […] is born of an arbitrary – and overall harmful – use of creatures, whose laws and natural order are violated, ignoring or rejecting the purpose that is inherent to the work of creation. Also this way of behavior is derived from a false interpretation of the autonomy of earthly things. When man uses these things ‘without any reference to their Creator’ – to use the words of the conciliar Constitution – he does incalculable damage even to himself. The solution to the problem of the ecological threat is in intimate relation with the principles of the ‘legitimate autonomy of the earthly realities,’ that is to say, ultimately, with the truth regarding creation and regarding the Creator of the world. (John Paul II. General Audience, no. 4, April 2, 1986)

Benedict XVI

  • Creation awaits God’s children, who treat it according to God’s perspective

Rather, wherever the Creator’s Word was properly understood, wherever life was lived with the redeeming Creator, people strove to save creation and not to destroy it. Chapter 8 of the Letter to the Romans also fits into this context. It says that the whole of Creation has been groaning in travail because of the bondage to which it has been subjected, awaiting the revelation of God’s sons: it will feel liberated when creatures, men and women who are children of God, treat it according to God’s perspective. I believe that we can establish exactly this as a reality today. Creation is groaning – we perceive it, we almost hear it – and awaits human beings who will preserve it in accordance with God. […] And the wasting of creation begins when we no longer recognize any need superior to our own, but see only ourselves. It begins when there is no longer any concept of life beyond death, where in this life we must grab hold of everything and possess life as intensely as possible, where we must possess all that is possible to possess. I think, therefore, that true and effective initiatives to prevent the waste and destruction of Creation can be implemented and developed, understood and lived only where creation is considered as beginning with God; where life is considered as beginning with God and has greater dimensions – in responsibility before God – and one day will be given to us by God in fullness and never taken away from us: in giving life we receive it. (Benedict XVI. Address to the Clergy of the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone, August 6, 2008)


  1. Saint Francis of Assisi: an ecologist in the Middle Ages? How should the love for creation of the Poverello of Assisi be understood?


Congregation for the Doctrine and the Faith

  • In the 12th and 13th centuries, the Cathars revived old dualistic positions, considering the material universe as evil, and constituted a real danger to the faith

At the end of the 12th century and the beginning of the 13th a number of professions of faith had urgently to reaffirm that God is creator of beings ‘visible and invisible’, that he is the author of the two Testaments, and to specify that the devil is in no way evil by nature but by choice. The old dualistic positions enshrined in vast doctrinal and spiritual movements constituted at this time a real danger to faith, both in the South of France and Northern Italy. (Congregation for the Doctrine and the Faith. Christian Faith and Demonology, June 26, 1975)

Benedict XVI

  • The mendicant orders were called to confont such heresies by their adhesion to the doctrine of the Church – In this context, Saint Francis’admiration for nature can be understood as a testimony of the goodness of creation

These two great saints [Francis of Assisi and Dominic de Guzmán] were able to read ‘the signs of the times’ intelligently, perceiving the challenges that the Church of their time would be obliged to face. A first challenge was the expansion of various groups and movements of the faithful who, in spite of being inspired by a legitimate desire for authentic Christian life often set themselves outside ecclesial communion. […] Furthermore, to justify their decisions, they disseminated doctrine incompatible with the Catholic faith. For example, the Cathars’ or Albigensians’ movement reproposed ancient heresies such as the debasement of and contempt for the material world the opposition to wealth soon became opposition to material reality as such, the denial of free will and, subsequently, dualism, the existence of a second principle of evil equivalent to God. […] This personal and community style of the Mendicant Orders, together with total adherence to the teaching and authority of the Church, was deeply appreciated by the Pontiffs of the time, such as Innocent III and Honorious III, who gave their full support to the new ecclesial experiences, recognizing in them the voice of the Spirit. And results were not lacking: the groups of paupers that had separated from the Church returned to ecclesial communion or were gradually reduced until they disappeared. (Benedict XVI. General Audience, January 13, 2010)

Saint Bonaventure

  • In every created thing, Saint Francis perceived a trace of the Creator; and in loving creatures he used them as a ladder to ascend to the Beloved

Of the ardent love that glowed in Francis, the friend of the Bridegroom, who can avail to tell? He seemed utterly consumed, like unto a coal that is set on fire, by the flame of the love divine. For, at the mere mention of the love of the Lord, he was aroused, moved, and enkindled, as though the inner chords of his heart vibrated under the bow of the voice from without. […] That he might by all things be stirred up unto the divine love, he triumphed in all the works of the Lord’s hands, and through the sight of their joy was uplifted unto their life-giving cause and origin. He beheld in fair things Him Who is the most fair, and, through the traces of Himself that He hath imprinted on His creatures, he everywhere followed on to reach the Beloved, making of all things a ladder for himself whereby he might ascend to lay hold on Him Who is the altogether lovely. For by the impulse of his unexampled devotion he tasted that fountain of goodness that streameth forth, as in rivulets, in every created thing, and he perceived as it were an heavenly harmony in the concord of the virtues and actions granted unto them by God, and did sweetly exhort them to praise the Lord, even as the Prophet David had done. (Saint Bonaventure. The life of Saint Francis of Assisi, Ch. IX, no. 1)

Benedict XVI

  • Saint Francis’ gazing at nature was a contemplation of the Creator; to understand it otherwise is to make Francis unrecognizable

Francis himself suffers a sort of mutilation when he is cast as a witness of albeit important values appreciated by contemporary culture, which overlooks the fact that his profound decision, we might say the heart of his life, was his choice for Christ. […] In Francis everything started from God and returned to God. His Praises of God Most High reveal his constantly enraptured heart in conversation with the Trinity. […] His gazing at nature was actually contemplation of the Creator in the beauty of his creatures. His actual hope of peace is thus modulated as a prayer, since the way in which he was to express it was revealed to him: ‘May the Lord give you peace’ (2 Testament 23). Francis was a man for others because he was a man of God through and through. To seek to separate the ‘horizontal’ dimension of his message from the ‘vertical’ would make Francis unrecognizable. (Benedict XVI. Address to the Clergy and men and women Religious, Cathedral of San Rufino, June 17, 2007)

  • The ‘Canticle of the Creatures’ before being an invitation to respect creation, is a prayer, praise addressed to the Creator – Francis’ canticle, of obvious biblical inspiration, aspires towards the Creator, not at environment protection  

In a word, Francis was truly in love with Jesus. He met him in the Word of God, in the brethren, in nature, but above all in the Eucharistic Presence. […] As with concentric circles, the love of Francis for Jesus extends not only to the Church but to all things seen in Christ and for Christ. Here the Canticle of the Creatures is born in which the eye rests on the splendour of creation: from brother sun to sister moon, from sister water to brother fire. His interior gaze became so pure and penetrating as to perceive the beauty of creation in the beauty of creatures. The Canticle of Brother Sun, before being a great work of poetry and an implicit invitation to respect creation, is a prayer, praise addressed to the Lord, Creator of all. (Benedict XVI. Address during the meeting with youth in the square in front of the Basilica of St Mary of the Angels, June 17, 2007)

Saint Francis of Assisi

  • Parts of the ‘Canticle of the Sun’ ommitted in the ‘Laudato si’: Praise to God, considerations about death, sin and eternal salvation

Most high, omnipotent, good Lord,
Praise, glory and honor and benediction all, are Thine.
To Thee alone do they belong, most High,
And there is no man fit to mention Thee. […]
Praised be my Lord for our sister, the bodily death,
From the which no living man can flee.
Woe to them who die in mortal sin;
Blessed those who shall find themselves in Thy most holy will,
For the second death shall do them no ill.
Praise ye and bless ye my Lord, and give Him thanks,
And be subject unto Him with great humility. (Saint Francis of Assisi. Praises of the Creatures or Canticle of the Sun)

Saint Bonaventure

  • The piety that led him to love all creatures above all inclined him to the salvation of souls redeemed by the precious Blood of Christ Jesus

That true godliness which, according unto the Apostle, is profitable unto all things, had so filled the heart of Francis and entered into his inmost parts as that it seemed to have established its sway absolutely over the man of God. […] And as by this piety he was touched with kindly feeling for all things, so above all, when he beheld souls redeemed by the precious Blood of Christ Jesus being defiled by any stain of sin, he would weep over them with such tenderness of compassion as that he seemed, like a mother in Christ, to be in travail of them daily. (Saint Bonaventure. Life of Saint Francis of Assisi, Ch. VIII, no. 1)

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