76 – Laudato si’ (III): “I would like to offer Christians a few suggestions for an ecological spirituality”

Being an important magisterial document, an Encyclical should be characterized by clear and defined ideas regarding the topic at hand, in order to delineate the path to be followed by the Hierarchy and the faithful; as well as, consequentially, by all men of good will – for the Church never ceases to be a moral reference point, even for those who don’t follow her. Which brings us to the question: how is it possible that Laudato si’ takes a position which, in certain points, contradicts the magisterial teaching of the Church regarding the ecological issue, while in other points it emphasizes these same teachings. It hurts us to say this, but it is a veritable hodgepodge of ideas…that seems suitable for such a ‘green’ encyclical.

This jumble is evident in many paragraphs that claim to disapprove of the views and principles of fundamentalist and radical ecology ( even citing documents of the preceding Magisterium regarding this topic), while at the same time leaving ample scope for ambiguities and irenicism: for example, on citing Teilhard de Chardin and the so-called ‘Earth Charter’ – documents of a dubious or manifestly pantheistic nature that do not harmonize with the doctrine of the Church on numerous points. Or even in going so far as to omit the mediation of Jesus Christ in a public and official prayer of his Vicar on earth! All of this opens the doors of the Church to the conception of an interdenominational, neo-pagan and universal religion, for it turns a blind eye to Catholic doctrine in its entirety, hiding important aspects that have already been defined, so as to come together with the world. It’s worthwhile to analyze these points and reveal these aspects, for as John Paul II so aptly affirmed, far more than the planet, the house common to all Catholics is the Holy Mother Church: ‘In the baptismal waters you were born to a new life, that inserted you within the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church, One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, the Ark of salvation and common house of those who invoke God as Father’ (John Paul II. Message to the Peoples of America, 12 de octubre 1992)

Francis

Quote A

The rich heritage of Christian spirituality, the fruit of twenty centuries of personal and communal experience, has a precious contribution to make to the renewal of humanity. Here, I would like to offer Christians a few suggestions for an ecological spirituality grounded in the convictions of our faith, since the teachings of the Gospel have direct consequences for our way of thinking, feeling and living. More than in ideas or concepts as such, I am interested in how such a spirituality can motivate us to a more passionate concern for the protection of our world. A commitment this lofty cannot be sustained by doctrine alone, without a spirituality capable of inspiring us, without an ‘interior impulse which encourages, motivates, nourishes and gives meaning to our individual and communal activity’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 261). Admittedly, Christians have not always appropriated and developed the spiritual treasures bestowed by God upon the Church, where the life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body or from nature or from worldly realities, but lived in and with them, in communion with all that surrounds us (LS 216). (Encyclical Laudato si’, On care for our common home, no. 216, May 24, 2015)

 Teachings of the Magisterium

Index

I – Suspicion of the Church regarding ‘integral ecology’; a new doctrine involving an ideology which in many points opposes the teachings of the Church

a) Legitimate concerns of the Church for the environment
b) Grave misgivings of the Magisterium in relation to an ‘ecological mentality’ contrary to the teachings of the Church
c) Humans are put at the apex of material and visible creation: they are image and likeness of God, with a body and immortal soul, and with a final end that is not in this world

II – The ecological problems of the planet are due to the neglect of the practice of the Commandments – immutable moral principles – by the greater part of humanity. The crisis of our world is a moral crisis, therefore, only a moral conversion will resolve ecological problems

a) The Christian should see the world as a setting where life evolves in accordance with moral principles, with his sights placed on eternity
b) The root of the environmental crisis is moral
c) The solution for the world crisis is found in a society based on the religious principles of Christian morals

III – An ecology of a spiritual and irenic character opens the doors toward a distortion of the Catholic religion, that must not – under the pretext of saving humanity and dialoguing with everybody, Catholics and non Catholics – adapt to ways of thinking which constitute doctrines truly contrary to unchanging teachings

a) Dialogue and drawing closer, without transgressing the truth and the faith
b) Authentic respect for nature and human beings will only exist within an authentically Catholic society
c) The Christian vision of the Triune God cannot be reconciled with the spiritualist mask of an ecology that appears to be open toward interreligious dialogue, but is interwoven with religious syncretism and pantheism

The ‘Earth Charter’: a document with notoriously pantheistic overtones


Table of Contents

I – Suspicion of the Church regarding ‘integral ecology’; a new doctrine involving an ideology which in many points opposes the teachings of the Church


a) Legitimate concerns of the Church for the environment


John XXIII– God said ‘Fill the earth, and subdue it.’ Nothing is said about destroying nature. On the contrary, it must be brought into the service of human life.

John Paul II
– Christian culture has always recognized the creatures that surround man as gifts of God: unbridled exploitation is due to secularization

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church
– Science and technology are not of themselves the cause of the exasperated secularization that leads to nihilism; the problem is the evolutionist rejection Creation and the rupture of man with the Creator

Benedict XVI
– Respecting the environment means respecting the hierarchy within creation and not considering nature selfishly


b) Grave misgivings of the Magisterium in relation to an ‘ecological mentality’ contrary to the teachings of the Church


Pius XII
– A society that eliminates the idea of a Creator and His creatures loses the harmony of relations between man and the world and with his fellow men, based on Christian religious principles

John XXIII
– The risk of looking for solutions against the divinely established moral order, for example, to try to address the food-supply problem by violating the laws of human procreation

John Paul II
– Exaggerated ecological positions demand to limit the birth rate, or inspired by egocentrism and biocentrism propose an egalitarian ‘dignity’ of all living beings

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church
– One must not absolutize nature and place it above the dignity of the human person himself, divinizing nature or the earth

Benedict XVI
– The idea of evolutionary determinism leads to considering nature an untouchable taboo or to abusing it. To view nature as something more important than the human person leads to attitudes of neo-paganism or a new pantheism — human salvation cannot come from nature alone, understood in a purely naturalistic sense
– So-called integral ecology: egalitarian vision of the ‘dignity’ of living creatures that abolishes the superior role of human beings, opening the way to a new pantheism tinged with neo-paganism. Man must not abuse nature, but also may not abdicate his role of steward and administrator with responsibility over creation


c) Humans are put at the apex of material and visible creation: they are image and likeness of God, with a body and immortal soul, and with a final end that is not in this world


Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church
– Man, created in God’s image, received a mandate to subject to himself the earth and all that it contains, such that man himself and the totality of things be turned to the Lord and Creator of all

John XXIII
– A conception of ecology that appreciates the marvelous order placed by God in the world makes man realize his own greatness, as lord of creation, such that he can devise the means for harnessing natural forces for his own benefit as a gift received from God

Benedict XVI
– Authentic human development must include not just material but also spiritual growth, as the saints accomplished, since the human person is a ‘unity of body and soul’, born of God’s creative love and destined for eternal life

Sacred Scripture
– Humans are worth ‘more than many sparrows’; and so must not fear the death of the body but of the soul

Catechism of the Catholic Church
– The hierarchy of creatures is expressed by the order of the ‘six days’, from the less perfect to the more perfect; in creation God laid a foundation and established laws that remain firm, on which the believer can rely with confidence
– In God’s plan man and woman have the vocation of ‘subduing’ the earth as stewards of God

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church
– In interior life, man discovers that he is superior to the material world, having ‘a spiritual and immortal soul’ and is not merely a pantheistic speck of nature or a nameless constituent of the city of man
– God himself willed that man be the king of creation. The biblical message and the Church’s Magisterium represent the essential reference points for evaluating the problems found in the relationship between man and the environment


II – The ecological problems of the planet are due to the neglect of the practice of the Commandments – immutable moral principles – by the greater part of humanity. The crisis of our world is a moral crisis, therefore, only a moral conversion will resolve ecological problems


a) The Christian should see the world as a setting where life evolves in accordance with moral principles, with his sights placed on eternity


Pius XII
– The moral life does not belong only to the interior sphere, but also has an effect on the harmony of the world: even the most individual acts have a repercussion in the surrounding world

John XXIII
– Only the moral order has the solution of problems relating to man’s life as an individual and as a member of society, both those concerning individual states and their inter-relations
– The disunity among individuals and among nations, which contrasts to the perfect order in the universe, are the consequence of a moral crisis, of the abandon of the immutable laws inscribed by God in man’s nature
– Human society must be considered as being primarily a spiritual reality – and not a naturalistic one, whose spiritual values should exert a guiding influence on the relations between humans in all spheres
– Men must conduct themselves in conformity with the precepts of the moral order, obeying the providential designs of God regarding salvation, integrating the principal spiritual values with those of science, technology and the professions


b) The root of the environmental crisis is moral


John XXIII
– The frequent divorce between faith and practice in Christians – the root of the present crisis

John Paul II
– A moral question: the environmental problem results from unheeding the Creator’s will that man should communicate with nature as an intelligent and noble ‘master’ and ‘guardian’
– The true nature of the evil which faces us with respect to the development of peoples: it is a question of a moral evil, the fruit of many sins which lead to ‘structures of sin’
– Fragments of the Centessimus annus omitted in the Laudato Si’: the root of the ecological problem is the loss of the sense of God the Creator, whereby man thinks that he can make arbitrary use of the earth

Benedict XVI
– Human beings interpret and shape the natural environment through culture, which in turn is given direction by the responsible use of freedom, in accordance with the dictates of the moral law
– Fragments of Caritas in Veritate omitted in the citations of Laudato Si’: The ecological system is based not only on a good relationship with nature, but also on respect for a plan that affects the health of society – the decisive issue is the overall moral tenor of society


c) The solution for the world crisis is found in a society based on the religious principles of Christian morals


John Paul II

– More parts of the Centesimus annus ‘forgotten’ in the citations of Laudato Si’: More than preserving the natural habitats of threatened species, greater effort must be made to safeguard the moral conditions of mankind
– Even more elements of Centesimus annus ‘forgotten’ in the citations of Laudato Si’: An ‘integral ecology’ presents an idea of the family that contrasts with the Catholic ideal, which is founded on marriage, cradle of the moral formation of man
– The ecological question finds in the Bible clear and strong ethical direction, leading to a solution which respects the great good of life

Benedict XVI
– If the relationship between human creatures and the Creator is forgotten, matter is reduced to a selfish possession; man becomes the ‘last word’
– There is a need to safeguard the human patrimony of society that originates in and is part of the natural moral law, which is the foundation of respect for the human person and creation
– Prerequisite for saving the ecology: saving our spiritual ozone layer and especially saving our spiritual rainforests – a real conversion, as faith understands it, toward the will of God

Catechism of the Catholic Church
– Use of the natural resources cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives . Some parts of the Catechism not cited in Laudato Si’

 CELAM – Document of Aparecida
– The best way to respect nature is to promote a human ecology open to transcendence to recapitulate all things in Christ and praise the Father with Him

John Paul II
– True conversion fosters a new life, in which there is no separation between faith and works in our daily response to the universal call to holiness


III – An ecology of a spiritual and irenic character opens the doors toward a distortion of the Catholic religion, that must not – under the pretext of saving humanity and dialoguing with everybody, Catholics and non Catholics – adapt to ways of thinking which constitute doctrines truly contrary to unchanging teachings


a) Dialogue and drawing closer, without transgressing the truth and the faith


Catechism of Saint Pius X
– We should beg graces of God in the Name of Jesus Christ because He is our Mediator, and it is through Him alone that we can approach the throne of God

John Paul II
– True ecumenical activity in no way means giving up or diminishing the treasures of divine truth, constantly confessed and taught by the Church

Paul VI
– The desire to come together as brothers must not lead to a watering down or whittling away of truth: our dialogue must not weaken our attachment to our faith

Pius IX
– A very grave error: to believe that men living in error, and separated from the true faith and from Catholic unity, can attain eternal life
– Errors condemned by the Syllabus

Catechism of the Catholic Church
– Jesus openly entrusts to his disciples the mystery of prayer to the Father: ‘ask in his name’

John XXIII
– In relations with non-Catholics, Catholics, Catholics bear themselves as Catholics, and must do nothing to compromise religion and morality


b) Authentic respect for nature and human beings will only exist within an authentically Catholic society


John XXIII
– Our concern is with the doctrine of the Catholic and Apostolic Church, whose light illumines, enkindles and enflames. Every age hears her warning voice, vibrant with heavenly wisdom, with effective remedies for the increasing needs of men, and the sorrows and anxieties of this present life

Benedict XVI
– Goodwill alone is not enough…Without God man neither knows which way to go, nor even understands who he is. The strength to fight and suffer for the common good comes from the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ: ‘Apart from me you can do nothing’
– It becomes more and more evident that there is an inseparable link between peace with creation and peace among men. Both of these presuppose peace with God
– Without a transcendent foundation founded on moral values – which are Christian values – society is a mere aggregation of neighbors, not a community of brothers and sisters called to form one great family

Vatican Council II
– The union of the human family is possible only founded on Christ, uniting all as of the family of God’s children – the innermost nature of the Church


c) The Christian vision of the Triune God cannot be reconciled with the spiritualist mask of an ecology that appears to be open toward interreligious dialogue, but is interwoven with religious syncretism and pantheism


Pius XII
– Christian action cannot renounce its title and character to collaborate with a ‘human’ action that signifies agnosticism toward Religion and the true values of life, which would be equal to a request of abdication, to which a Christian cannot consent

Vatican Council I (Ecumenical XX)
– God, Creator and Lord of heaven and earth

Saint Bonaventure
– The things of this sensible world lead one to transcend and pass-over to Christ, and the hidden Sacrament of God

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church
– Only in dialogue with God does the human being find his truth, from which he draws inspiration and norms to make plans for the future of the world

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
– Solutions that propose a salvific action of God beyond the unique mediation of Christ would be contrary to Christian and Catholic faith

Catechism of the Catholic Church
– The true spirituality for all Christians in any state or walk of life: called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity. All are called to holiness, in mystical union with Christ

Pius XII
– The perfection and the order of the world of some sort of immanent process, which is a return to the old superstition that deified nature; but is a vital happening of the same history as the divine Word – the form of this world passes and its final destiny to the glory of the Father and the triumph of the Word

John XXIII
– There will be no peace nor justice in the world until men return to a sense of their dignity as creatures and sons of God; separated from God a man is but a monster, in himself and toward others
– Scientific and technical progress: goods of this kind must be valued according to their true nature, as instruments used by man for the better attainment of his end in the natural and the supernatural order

Pontifical Council for Culture and Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue
– The growing conviction that there exists an essence of truth in the heart of every religious experience has led to the idea that they must gather elements from different religions in order to reach a universal form of religion

The ‘Earth Charter’: a document with notoriously pantheistic overtones, proposing the foundations of a new global society, that should change ‘values, institutions, and ways of living’, in other words a new universal ecological religion in which ‘the forces of nature make existence a demanding and uncertain adventure, but Earth has provided the conditions essential to life’s evolution.’


I – Suspicion of the Church regarding ‘integral ecology’; a new doctrine involving an ideology which in many points opposes the teachings of the Church


Laudato si’A contradiction:
Care for biodiversity to safeguard other forms of life; above all human beings need to change, for they lack awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone – but ‘biocentrism’ entails adding yet another imbalance, failing to solve present problems and adding new ones

76 - A laudato-si400In the protection of biodiversity, specialists insist on the need for particular attention to be shown to areas richer both in the number of species and in endemic, rare or less protected species. Certain places need greater protection because of their immense importance for the global ecosystem, or because they represent important water reserves and thus safeguard other forms of life (LS 37)

 76 - A laudato-si400Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone. This basic awareness would enable the development of new convictions, attitudes and forms of life. A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal (LS 202)

76 - A laudato-si400A misguided anthropocentrism need not necessarily yield to ‘biocentrism’, for that would entail adding yet another imbalance, failing to solve present problems and adding new ones. Human beings cannot be expected to feel responsibility for the world unless, at the same time, their unique capacities of knowledge, will, freedom and responsibility are recognized and valued (LS 118)


a) Legitimate concerns of the Church for the environment


John XXIII

  • God said ‘Fill the earth, and subdue it.’ Nothing is said about destroying nature. On the contrary, it must be brought into the service of human life

Genesis relates how God gave two commandments to our first parents: to transmit human life—‘Increase and multiply’ (Gen. 1:28)—and to bring nature into their service—‘Fill the earth, and subdue it’. These two commandments are complementary. Nothing is said in the second of these commandments about destroying nature. On the contrary, it must be brought into the service of human life. (John XXIII. Encyclical Mater et Magistra, nos. 196-197, May 15, 1961)

John Paul II

  • Christian culture has always recognized the creatures that surround man as gifts of God: unbridled exploitation is due to secularization

Ecology, which arose as a name and a cultural message more than a century ago, very soon caught the attention of experts and is demanding ever greater interdisciplinary efforts from biologists, physicians, economists, philosophers and politicians. It takes the form of a study of the relationship between living organisms and their environment, and especially between man and his surroundings. […] At the same time, biblical anthropology has considered man, created in God’s image and likeness, as a creature who can transcend worldly reality by virtue of his spirituality, and therefore, as a responsible custodian of the environment in which he has been placed to live. The Creator offers it to him as both a home and a resource. The consequence of this doctrine is quite clear: it is the relationship man has with God that determines his relationship with his fellows and with his environment. This is why Christian culture has always recognized the creatures that surround man as also gifts of God to be nurtured and safeguarded with a sense of gratitude to the Creator. Benedictine and Franciscan spirituality in particular has witnessed to this sort of kinship of man with his creaturely environment, fostering in him an attitude of respect for every reality of the surrounding world. In the secularized modern age we are seeing the emergence of a twofold temptation: a concept of knowledge no longer understood as wisdom and contemplation, but as power over nature, which is consequently regarded as an object to be conquered. The other temptation is the unbridled exploitation of resources under the urge of unlimited profit-seeking, according to the capitalistic mentality typical of modern societies. (John Paul II. Address to the participants in the International Congress on ‘Environment and Health’, no. 1, 3-4, March 24, 1997)

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church

  • Science and technology are not of themselves the cause of the exasperated secularization that leads to nihilism; the problem is the evolutionist rejection Creation and the rupture of man with the Creator

Primacy is given to doing and having rather than to being, and this causes serious forms of human alienation. Such attitudes do not arise from scientific and technological research but from scientism and technocratic ideologies that tend to condition such research. The advances of science and technology do not eliminate the need for transcendence and are not of themselves the cause of the exasperated secularization that leads to nihilism. With the progress of science and technology, questions as to their meaning increase and give rise to an ever greater need to respect the transcendent dimension of the human person and creation itself. […] A vision of man and things that is sundered from any reference to the transcendent has led to the rejection of the concept of creation and to the attribution of a completely independent existence to man and nature. The bonds that unite the world to God have thus been broken. This rupture has also resulted in separating man from the world and, more radically, has impoverished man’s very identity. Human beings find themselves thinking that they are foreign to the environmental context in which they live. (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 462; 464)

Benedict XVI

  • Respecting the environment means respecting the hierarchy within creation and not considering nature selfishly

We need to care for the environment: it has been entrusted to men and women to be protected and cultivated with responsible freedom, with the good of all as a constant guiding criterion. Human beings, obviously, are of supreme worth vis-à-vis creation as a whole. Respecting the environment does not mean considering material or animal nature more important than man. Rather, it means not selfishly considering nature to be at the complete disposal of our own interests, for future generations also have the right to reap its benefits and to exhibit towards nature the same responsible freedom that we claim for ourselves. (Benedict XVI. Message for the 41st World Day for Peace, no. 7, January 1, 2007)


Laudato si’ – Another contradiction:
A universal communion: all of us are linked by unseen bonds and together form a kind of universal family, a sublime communion which fills us with a sacred respect – but this is not to put all living beings on the same level nor does it imply a divinization of the earth

 76 - A laudato-si400This is the basis of our conviction that, as part of the universe, called into being by one Father, all of us are linked by unseen bonds and together form a kind of universal family, a sublime communion which fills us with a sacred, affectionate and humble respect. Here I would reiterate that ‘God has joined us so closely to the world around us that we can feel the desertification of the soil almost as a physical ailment, and the extinction of a species as a painful disfigurement’ (Evangelii Gaudium, 215) (LS 89)

76 - A laudato-si400This is not to put all living beings on the same level nor to deprive human beings of their unique worth and the tremendous responsibility it entails. Nor does it imply a divinization of the earth which would prevent us from working on it and protecting it in its fragility. Such notions would end up creating new imbalances which would deflect us from the reality which challenges us. At times we see an obsession with denying any pre-eminence to the human person; more zeal is shown in protecting other species than in defending the dignity which all human beings share in equal measure. (LS 90)


b) Grave misgivings of the Magisterium in relation to an ‘ecological mentality’ – contrary to the teachings of the Church


Pius XII

  • A society that eliminates the idea of a Creator and His creatures loses the harmony of relations between man and the world and with his fellow men, based on Christian religious principles

If this foundation of the spirit is removed, and as a consequence the image (in man) and the vestige (in creatures lacking reason) of the divine Being in created things, the harmony within the relations among man and the world are also lost. Man would be reduced to a simple point and the localization of an anonymous and irrational vitality. He would no longer be within the world as in his own home. The world would become something foreign, dark, dangerous, always inclined to lose the character of instrument and to become his enemy. And what would the regulating relations of life in society be without the light of the divine Spirit and without taking into account the relationship of Christ with the world? To this question answers the bitter reality of those who, preferring the obscurity of the world, declare themselves adorers of the exterior works of man. Their society achieves only, under the iron discipline of collectivism, to maintain the anonymous existence of some alongside others. Very different is the social life based on the example of the relations of Christ with the world and with man: a life of fraternal cooperation and mutual respect for the rights of others, a life worthy of the first principle and of the final end of every human creature. (Pius XII. Christmas message to the faithful, December 22, 1957)

John XXIII

  • The risk of looking for solutions against the divinely established moral order, for example, to try to address the food-supply problem by violating the laws of human procreation

The resources which God in His goodness and wisdom has implanted in Nature are well-nigh inexhaustible, and He has at the same time given man the intelligence to discover ways and means of exploiting these resources for his own advantage and his own livelihood. Hence, the real solution of the problem is not to be found in expedients which offend against the divinely established moral order and which attack human life at its very source, but in a renewed scientific and technical effort on man’s part to deepen and extend his dominion over Nature. The progress of science and technology that has already been achieved opens up almost limitless horizons in this held. […] We must solemnly proclaim that human life is transmitted by means of the family, and the family is based upon a marriage which is one and indissoluble and, with respect to Christians, raised to the dignity of a sacrament. The transmission of human life is the result of a personal and conscious act, and, as such, is subject to the all-holy, inviolable and immutable laws of God, which no man may ignore or disobey. He is not therefore permitted to use certain ways and means which are allowable in the propagation of plant and animal life. Human life is sacred—all men must recognize that fact. From its very inception it reveals the creating hand of God. Those who violate His laws not only offend the divine majesty and degrade themselves and humanity, they also sap the vitality of the political community of which they are members. (John XXIII. Encyclical Mater et Magistra, nos. 189; 193-194, May 15, 1961)

John Paul II

  • Exaggerated ecological positions demand to limit the birth rate, or inspired by egocentrism and biocentrism propose an egalitarian ‘dignity’ of all living beings

Today we often witness the taking of opposite and exaggerated positions: on the one hand, in the name of the exhaustibility and insufficiency of environmental resources, demands are made to limit the birth rate, especially among the poor and developing peoples. On the other, in the name of an idea inspired by egocentrism and biocentrism it is being proposed that the ontological and axiological difference between men and other living beings be eliminated, since the biosphere is considered a biotic unity of indifferentiated value. Thus man’s superior responsibility can be eliminated in favour of an egalitarian consideration of the ‘dignity’ of all living beings. (John Paul II. Address to the participants in the International Congress on ‘Environment and Health’, no. 5, March 24, 1997)

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church

  • One must not absolutize nature and place it above the dignity of the human person himself, divinizing nature or the earth

A correct understanding of the environment prevents the utilitarian reduction of nature to a mere object to be manipulated and exploited. At the same time, it must not absolutize nature and place it above the dignity of the human person himself. In this latter case, one can go so far as to divinize nature or the earth, as can readily be seen in certain ecological movements that seek to gain an internationally guaranteed institutional status for their beliefs. The Magisterium finds the motivation for its opposition to a concept of the environment based on ecocentrism and on biocentrism. (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 463)

Benedict XVI

  • The idea of evolutionary determinism leads to considering nature an untouchable taboo or to abusing it. To view nature as something more important than the human person leads to attitudes of neo-paganism or a new pantheism — human salvation cannot come from nature alone, understood in a purely naturalistic sense

Today the subject of development is also closely related to the duties arising from our relationship to the natural environment. The environment is God’s gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole. When nature, including the human being, is viewed as the result of mere chance or evolutionary determinism, our sense of responsibility wanes. In nature, the believer recognizes the wonderful result of God’s creative activity, which we may use responsibly to satisfy our legitimate needs, material or otherwise, while respecting the intrinsic balance of creation. If this vision is lost, we end up either considering nature an untouchable taboo or, on the contrary, abusing it. Neither attitude is consonant with the Christian vision of nature as the fruit of God’s creation. Nature expresses a design of love and truth. It is prior to us, and it has been given to us by God as the setting for our life. Nature speaks to us of the Creator (cf. Rom 1:20) and his love for humanity. It is destined to be ‘recapitulated’ in Christ at the end of time (cf. Eph 1:9-10; Col 1:19-20). Thus it too is a ‘vocation’ (John Paul II, Message for the 1990 World Day of Peace, 6). Nature is at our disposal not as ‘a heap of scattered refuse’(Heraclitus of Ephesus, Fragment 22B124), but as a gift of the Creator who has given it an inbuilt order, enabling man to draw from it the principles needed in order ‘to till it and keep it’ (Gen 2:15). But it should also be stressed that it is contrary to authentic development to view nature as something more important than the human person. This position leads to attitudes of neo-paganism or a new pantheism — human salvation cannot come from nature alone, understood in a purely naturalistic sense. This having been said, it is also necessary to reject the opposite position, which aims at total technical dominion over nature, because the natural environment is more than raw material to be manipulated at our pleasure; it is a wondrous work of the Creator containing a ‘grammar’ which sets forth ends and criteria for its wise use, not its reckless exploitation. (Benedict XVI. Encyclical Caritas in veritate, no. 48, June 29, 2009)

  • So-called integral ecology: egalitarian vision of the ‘dignity’ of living creatures that abolishes the superior role of human beings, opening the way to a new pantheism tinged with neo-paganism. Man must not abuse nature, but also may not abdicate his role of steward and administrator with responsibility over creation

There exists a certain reciprocity: as we care for creation, we realize that God, through creation, cares for us. On the other hand, a correct understanding of the relationship between man and the environment will not end by absolutizing nature or by considering it more important than the human person. If the Church’s magisterium expresses grave misgivings about notions of the environment inspired by ecocentrism and biocentrism, it is because such notions eliminate the difference of identity and worth between the human person and other living things. In the name of a supposedly egalitarian vision of the ‘dignity’ of all living creatures, such notions end up abolishing the distinctiveness and superior role of human beings. They also open the way to a new pantheism tinged with neo-paganism, which would see the source of man’s salvation in nature alone, understood in purely naturalistic terms. The Church, for her part, is concerned that the question be approached in a balanced way, with respect for the ‘grammar’ which the Creator has inscribed in his handiwork by giving man the role of a steward and administrator with responsibility over creation, a role which man must certainly not abuse, but also one which he may not abdicate. (Benedict XVI. Message for the 43rd World Day of Peace, no. 13, January 1, 2010)


c) Humans are put at the apex of material and visible creation: they are image and likeness of God, with a body and immortal soul, and with a final end that is not in this world


Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church

  • Man, created in God’s image, received a mandate to subject to himself the earth and all that it contains, such that man himself and the totality of things be turned to the Lord and Creator of all

The biblical vision inspires the behavior of Christians in relation to their use of the earth, and also with regard to the advances of science and technology. The Second Vatican Council affirmed that man ‘judges rightly that by his intellect he surpasses the material universe, for he shares in the light of the divine mind’. The Council Fathers recognized the progress made thanks to the tireless application of human genius down the centuries, whether in the empirical sciences, the technological disciplines or the liberal arts. Today, ‘especially with the help of science and technology, man has extended his mastery over nearly the whole of nature and continues to do so’. For man, ‘created in God’s image, received a mandate to subject to himself the earth and all that it contains, and to govern the world with justice and holiness, a mandate to relate himself and the totality of things to him who was to be acknowledged as the Lord and Creator of all. Thus, by the subjection of all things to man, the name of God would be wonderful in all the earth.’ [The Council teaches that] ‘throughout the course of the centuries, men have labored to better the circumstances of their lives through a monumental amount of individual and collective effort. To believers, this point is settled: considered in itself, this human activity accords with God’s will’. (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 456)

John XXIII

  • A conception of ecology that appreciates the marvelous order placed by God in the world makes man realize his own greatness, as lord of creation, such that he can devise the means for harnessing natural forces for his own benefit as a gift received from God

Peace on Earth—which man throughout the ages has so longed for and sought after—can never be established, never guaranteed, except by the diligent observance of the divinely established order. That a marvelous order predominates in the world of living beings and in the forces of nature, is the plain lesson which the progress of modern research and the discoveries of technology teach us. And it is part of the greatness of man that he can appreciate that order, and devise the means for harnessing those forces for his own benefit. But what emerges first and foremost from the progress of scientific knowledge and the inventions of technology is the infinite greatness of God Himself, who created both man and the universe. Yes; out of nothing He made all things, and filled them with the fullness of His own wisdom and goodness. Hence, these are the words the holy psalmist used in praise of God: ‘O Lord, our Lord: how admirable is thy name in the whole earth!’ (Ps 8:1) And elsewhere he says: ‘How great are thy works, O Lord! Thou hast made all things in wisdom’ (Ps 103:24). Moreover, God created man ‘in His own image and likeness’ (cf. Gen 1:26), endowed him with intelligence and freedom, and made him lord of creation. All this the psalmist proclaims when he says: ‘Thou hast made him a little less than the angels: thou hast crowned him with glory and honor, and hast set him over the works of thy hands. Thou hast subjected all things under his feet’ (Ps 8:5-6). (John XXIII. Encyclical Pacem in Terris, nos. 1-3, April 11, 1963)

Benedict XVI

  • Authentic human development must include not just material but also spiritual growth, as the saints accomplished, since the human person is a ‘unity of body and soul’, born of God’s creative love and destined for eternal life

One aspect of the contemporary technological mindset is the tendency to consider the problems and emotions of the interior life from a purely psychological point of view, even to the point of neurological reductionism. In this way man’s interiority is emptied of its meaning and gradually our awareness of the human soul’s ontological depths, as probed by the saints, is lost. The question of development is closely bound up with our understanding of the human soul, insofar as we often reduce the self to the psyche and confuse the soul’s health with emotional well-being. These over-simplifications stem from a profound failure to understand the spiritual life, and they obscure the fact that the development of individuals and peoples depends partly on the resolution of problems of a spiritual nature. Development must include not just material growth but also spiritual growth, since the human person is a ‘unity of body and soul’ (GS, 14), born of God’s creative love and destined for eternal life. The human being develops when he grows in the spirit, when his soul comes to know itself and the truths that God has implanted deep within, when he enters into dialogue with himself and his Creator. When he is far away from God, man is unsettled and ill at ease. (Benedict XVI. Encyclical Caritas in veritate, no. 76, June 29, 2009)

Sacred Scripture

  • Humans are worth ‘more than many sparrows’; and so must not fear the death of the body but of the soul

And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Mt 10:28-31)

Catechism of the Catholic Church

  • The hierarchy of creatures is expressed by the order of the ‘six days’, from the less perfect to the more perfect; in creation God laid a foundation and established laws that remain firm, on which the believer can rely with confidence

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). Man is the summit of the Creator’s work, as the inspired account expresses by clearly distinguishing the creation of man from that of the other creatures (cf. Gen 1-26). […] In creation God laid a foundation and established laws that remain firm (Heb 4:3-4), on which the believer can rely with confidence, for they are the sign and pledge of the unshakeable faithfulness of God’s covenant (cf. Jer 31:35-37; 33:19-26). For his part man must remain faithful to this foundation, and respect the laws which the Creator has written into it. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 342-343; 346)

  • In God’s plan humans have the vocation of ‘subduing’ the earth as ‘stewards of God’

In God’s plan man and woman have the vocation of ‘subduing’ the earth (Gen 1:28) as stewards of God. This sovereignty is not to be an arbitrary and destructive domination. God calls man and woman, made in the image of the Creator ‘who loves everything that exists’ (Wis 11:24), to share in his providence toward other creatures; hence their responsibility for the world God has entrusted to them. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 373)

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church

  • In interior life, man discovers that he is superior to the material world, having ‘a spiritual and immortal soul’ and is not merely a pantheistic speck of nature or a nameless constituent of the city of man

Through his spirituality man moves beyond the realm of mere things and plunges into the innermost structure of reality. When he enters into his own heart, that is, when he reflects on his destiny, he discovers that he is superior to the material world because of his unique dignity as one who converses with God, under whose gaze he makes decisions about his life. In his inner life he recognizes that the person has ‘a spiritual and immortal soul’ and he knows that the person is not merely ‘a speck of nature or a nameless constituent of the city of man’. Therefore, man has two different characteristics: he is a material being, linked to this world by his body, and he is a spiritual being, open to transcendence and to the discovery of ‘more penetrating truths’, thanks to his intellect, by which ‘he shares in the light of the divine mind’. The Church affirms: ‘The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the ‘form’ of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature’. Neither the spiritualism that despises the reality of the body nor the materialism that considers the spirit a mere manifestation of the material do justice to the complex nature, to the totality or to the unity of the human being. (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 127-128)

  • God himself willed that man be the king of creation. The biblical message and the Church’s Magisterium represent the essential reference points for evaluating the problems found in the relationship between man and the environment

If man intervenes in nature without abusing it or damaging it, we can say that he ‘intervenes not in order to modify nature but to foster its development in its own life, that of the creation that God intended. While working in this obviously delicate area, the researcher adheres to the design of God. God willed that man be the king of creation’. In the end, it is God himself who offers to men and women the honour of cooperating with the full force of their intelligence in the work of creation. The biblical message and the Church’s Magisterium represent the essential reference points for evaluating the problems found in the relationship between man and the environment. The underlying cause of these problems can be seen in man’s pretension of exercising unconditional dominion over things, heedless of any moral considerations which, on the contrary, must distinguish all human activity. (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, no. 460-461)

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