On the Greenness of Catholicism & Its further Greening
December 1989By Stratford Caldecott
Stratford Caldecott is a senior editor with Collins Publishers in London. Copyright 1989 Stratford Caldecott.
Pope John Paul IIs recent encyclical, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (On Social Concerns), has enshrined ecological concern as a vital element in Catholic social teaching. Indeed, it has given encouragement to all those who have been laboring to create a Catholic Green movement.
The heart of the Popes remarks on ecology is found in sections 29, 30, and 34 of the encyclical. He first explains that humanity has been given a task by the Creator: to cultivate the garden of the earth. The task is described in the Book of Genesis as to till the ground.
The dominion Genesis granted us over the other creatures, the Pope explains, is not an absolute power. There is a moral limit to the use we can make of the other creatures. The Pope implies that their value is not merely a function of the commercial use to which we can put them. They have an inherent value of their own, by virtue of their relationship to God. We have to respect this relationship, and our own vocation is partly to help them achieve the fullest expression of the value they represent. In this way we polish the divine image in ourselves, by submitting ourselves to the rule of God.
Thus, in the vision of Genesis, our own interests and those of the rest of nature ultimately coincide. Something of this can be glimpsed wherever the landscape has been shaped by men and women in love with the earth, respecting the materials with which they build. Compare this with a landscape shaped by men in love only with superficial pleasure or profit: the average seaside resort or industrial site. We can either degrade the earth to below the natural level, or raise it to a new level of harmony and grace.
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