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ARC Home > Faiths and Ecology > Christianity > Catholic statement :

UK Catholics: The Call to Creation



The Canticle of the Creatures - A prayer by St Francis of Assisi

This text is an edited version of: THE CALL OF CREATION: GOD'S INVITATION AND THE HUMAN RESPONSE which was first published in 2002.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales wishes to add its voice to the many calling for urgent action to protect our earthly home from further destruction.

We are partners in God's creative enterprise, called to 'renew the face of the earth' until there is peace and harmony, sparkling life-giving water, the 'trees of life' that give health and the messianic banquet that can be shared by all the inhabitants of the earth. Then 'the curse of destruction will be abolished' (Revelation 22: 1-3). For further quotations to explain Christian environmental theology please link here.
A way of life that disregards and damages God's creation, forces the poor into greater poverty, and threatens the right of future generations to a healthy environment and to their fair share of the earth's wealth and resources, is contrary to the vision of the Gospel.

The environmental crisis is especially complex since it involves not only many branches of scientific knowledge, but also politics and economics. The Church recognises and respects the 'autonomy of earthly affairs' in all these disciplines (Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, 1965, Section 36). Its own task is to 'read the signs of the times' and uncover the spiritual and moral issues that lie at the root of the challenges of our time.

The Common Good

In Catholic social teaching, the concept of the common good “implies that every individual, no matter how high or low, has a duty to share in promoting the welfare of the community as well as a right to benefit from that welfare” (Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, The Common Good and the Catholic Church's Social Teaching, 1996, Section 70). If the environmental crisis affects us all, each of us has the responsibility to play our part in addressing that crisis.

On Private Ownership

One key principle of Catholic social teaching is that of the 'universal destination of material goods'. In the fourth century, the great bishop St Ambrose wrote:

"If God's providence bestows an unfailing supply of food on the birds of the air which neither sow nor reap, we ought to realise that the reason for people's supply running short is human greed. The fruits of the earth were given to feed all without distinction and nobody can claim any particular rights. Instead, we have lost the sense of the communion of goods, rushing to turn these goods into private property." (On the Gospel of St Luke)

The right to private ownership, therefore, has strict limits, set in particular by the urgent need of others. The environment is a prime example of a good that is essentially shared, and is not to be monopolised by powerful individuals and groups.

Understanding the 'Signs of the Times'

Whatever we do, whatever choices we make, other people and the earth itself are affected. By regarding the natural world merely as the 'setting' in which we live, and by treating the gifts of creation solely for the satisfaction of our supposed needs as consumers, we have become alienated from the earth and from each other, and so also from God.

To recover health and harmony these broken relationships must be restored and healed. The plight of the earth demonstrates that an individualistic materialism cannot be allowed to drive out responsibility and love, and that care for those in need, and respect for the rights of future generations, are necessary to sustain a proper life for all.

It is encouraging, though, that many people already recognise these deeper implications. In Seoul in 1990 the World Council of Churches called all Christians to embrace the cause of 'Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation' and to work to achieve a sustainable way of life. Many Churches, people from other religious traditions and from none, have advocated a new attitude towards the environment, and recent popes have echoed the words of St Ambrose, quoted above, by stressing that the earth and its resources are given for the whole of humankind, including future generations, not just for the privileged few of today.

Considering the Environmental Implications

An organisation such as CAFOD makes no grant for development or humanitarian work without considering its environmental implications. All these persons represent an 'ecological conversion which in recent decades has made humanity more sensitive to the catastrophe to which it has been heading.

Rediscovering Moral and Scriptural Foundations

Christians see the world through the lens of faith. Our responses to the environmental crisis will therefore draw on our own moral and religious foundations, as well as on other rich traditions of faith.

1. Creation has value in itself

We believe that God is the Creator of everything there is and that this creation is good, reflecting God's own goodness (Genesis 1-2). God loves creation for its own sake, and God's love holds everything in existence for its own mysterious purpose (Psalms 104:29-30). Our destructiveness can silence creation's song of praise to God, our care for creation can be a true expression of our own praise. Such a perspective challenges any narrowly economistic view that the gifts of creation have value except as a 'factor of production'.

2. Creation has value because it reveals God

In the thirteenth century, St Thomas Aquinas argued that the diversity of the extraordinary array of creatures roaming the earth revealed the richness of the nature of God. And because one single creature was not enough, he produced many diverse creatures, so that what was wanting in one expression of the divine goodness might be supplied by another; for goodness, which in God is single and all together, in creatures is multiple and scattered. Hence the whole universe less incompletely than one alone shares and represents his goodness' (Summa Theologica, ia 47.1).

When we allow creation to be degraded and damaged, therefore, we lose our sense of God's very self.

3. Human Beings are dependent but responsible

Human beings are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), and have the special gift and challenge of sharing in God's creative activity. We use, and by using we transform, the natural world. As 'co-creators', then, our acts should reflect God's own love for creation. We ourselves are part of creation, formed out of the earth, and dependent on the rest of creation for our continued existence: so we are made aware that caring for creation is part of caring for ourselves (Genesis 2:15).

4. Creation reveals human sin Our capacity to marvel at the earth, but also to develop and utilise its resources through, for instance, the application of science and technology, has greatly enriched our lives. However, it is also part of Catholic faith to recognise that we are sinners: in our present context, this truth means that sin has distorted the human relationship with the natural world: we have disturbed the balance of nature in radical and violent ways.

As the prophets of the Old Testament testify, such sin is reflected in the earth's suffering: 'The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers; the heavens languish together with the earth. The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant' (Isaiah 24:4-5).

5. Creation participates in our redemption

In thinking of the environment, we can say that the antidote to the sin of exploitative greed is found in the virtue of care and respect. It is partly in this sense that St Paul daringly argues that the earth itself shares in our redemption and salvation. 'Therefore creation too waits with eager longing…that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom and the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now' (Romans 8:19 seq).

6. Creation in the world to come

Our present life already participates in the life to come. Jesus says: 'The Kingdom of God is among you' (Luke 17: 21), and we have been given the vision of the new heavens and the new earth as an inspiration for the present as well as a sign of hope for the future.

Responding to the Cry of Creation

The cry of creation prompts us all to ask 'What then should we do?' (Luke 3:10). What is needed is 'not merely a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the hardships of many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit ourselves to the common good: that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual because we really are responsible for all.' (Pope John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 1988, Section 38).

Education towards ecological responsibility

We need an education that helps liberate people from enslavement to a way of life that values consumption, convenience, wealth, status and economic growth above all else, an education that begins to give them the freedom to make different choices. 'This education is not something that can be based on emotion or vague aspirations. Its goal can be neither ideological nor political, and its programme cannot rest on a rejection of the modern world or on the vague desire to return to a "paradise lost". True education about responsibility involves a genuine conversion in the way we think and behave' (Pope John Paul II, World Peace Day Message, 1990, Section 13).

Personal Responsibility

“It is not wrong to want to live better. What is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed towards having rather than being and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself.” Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, Section 37.

We are called to reflect on our individual roles and purposes in life and ask ourselves what we need to develop our human qualities, to grow in love of God and neighbour. In a context of environmental justice, this reflection will allow us to make serious choices - including the choice not to consume what we do not need and, above all, what is likely to harm others.

Simplicity of Life

All religious traditions encourage simplicity of life, often even a certain austerity. The desire for affluence, for more and more possessions, for almost anything new, can begin to dominate us. In a consumerist age, the pressure exerted on us by the advertising industry and by the visibility of luxury goods all around us encourages the assumption that it is our right to use the gifts of creation entirely as we wish. It will require continuing reflection about how our habits of life can all too easily become excessive and wasteful, and how they affect the well-being of others, to counter these pressures.

Individual actions may seem insignificant but together the small steps of many people can have an astonishing impact. Each person's joyful choices can be a visible example to others and give them courage to follow. Public pressure becomes powerful when it reflects a mature moral vision that respects the rights of others to a decent life now and in the future.

Acting in Partnership: Faiths

Many Christian groups have already come together to support and encourage each other towards environmental justice. These include: the Environmental Issues Network of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland; Christian Ecology Link (with an active Catholic section); the European Christian Environmental Network. Christians can also give common witness to creation with other faiths, including Judaism and Islam, which share our belief in God, the loving Creator of all that is.

Acting in Partnership: Civil Structures

Environmental problems cross state boundaries: so governments, particularly those of the rich countries of the world, need to co-operate to develop common policies to limit environmental damage and to promote environmental protection, as well as to confront together the injustice of excessive wealth in a world where there is abject poverty. Developing countries cannot be expected to forego their own economic progress so that the rich can exploit the earth's resources unchallenged.

Conclusion

In the ancient Eucharistic prayer over the gifts of bread and wine we praise God our Creator, and remember that these material goods are given to us by God and are fashioned through the co-operation of Creator and creature: so our own daily living is to reflect our gratitude for the gifts that have been given to us.

Again, in the Eucharist we join in the self-giving, the sacrifice, of Christ himself, and in this sense the offering of our own lives - time, convenience, money - for the good of others can itself be Eucharistic, a 'sacrifice' for the good of others. In the Eucharist we, the priestly people, the Church, are empowered to transform and use what we have been given. This act of transformation is a sacred act. But it is for all, to nourish all, for the life and salvation of all.

LINKS:

The full text of The Call for Creation

Link here for an article in American Catholic about the Catholic response to the environment.

The Sound of Many Waters year-long Catholic event in the UK, running from September 2007 to October 2008.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales.

The Christian Ecology Link.

The Churches Together in Britain and Ireland.

The CTBI Environmental Issues Network.

For further quotations to explain Christian environmental theology please link here.

Link here for news article from September 2007 about Pope Benedict's public stance on climate change.


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