In the afternoon session of a seminar today, we are continuing consideration of the encyclical of Pope Francis, Laudato si’. Fr Bruce Duncan explicates the theology of the document: the glory of God is human beings, fully alive, in accord with the famous parable of Matthew 25. Is this Vatican 2, part two? … or, Reformation, part two?? An intriguing suggestion …
Certainly, this document challenges the long tradition within Christian theology, to place human beings at the centre of our world, to regard humanity as the crowing pinnacle of creation, and to foster the sense that “we need to take care” of the creation. On the contrary, we are a part–an integral part–of that creation, interconnected, no less and no more important than the other creatures and ecosystems of this world. This, to me, is the big change–and big challenge–that this encyclical provides.
Bruce explained that groups of eminent scientists and social scientists have worked with the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace in the preparation of the document, which is thus grounded in the very best of current scientific understanding. At its launching, a group of Muslim scholars published their parallel statement in accord with Laudato si’. The orientation is to foster human wellbeing across, not just denominations, but other world religions. It is about what we all have in common.
Dialogue with indigenous peoples, right around the world, is also integral to the approach taken in the document. This is a highly important matter in South America, in particular in relation to the region of the Amazon—the area of the world from where Pope Francis comes. The indigenous contact with nature is vitally important if we are to shape a sustainable future.
Emily Evans (who works with the National Council of Churches in Australia) then offered an ecumenical perspective. Churches have been working towards justice, peace, and the integrity of creation for four decades. These are three aspects of the one reality; three perspectives on the one unified matter.
Numerous meetings of the full World Council of Churches and its justice commission have reaffirmed and developed this commitment from all the member churches. Ongoing actions and statements have furthered the work of seeking conversion about how we relate to, and live within, the created world. The WCC is now calling people across the world to join in a Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace, to engage in transformative actions together.
There are three intersecting and overlapping journeys involved: via positiva, celebrating the gifts; via negativa, visiting the wounds; and via transformata, transforming the injustices. These are particularly in view each year during the Season of Creation, which runs from 1 September to 4 October (the Feast of St Francis).
Of particular relevance to the theology of the document are these sections:
68. This responsibility for God’s earth means that human beings, endowed with intelligence, must respect the laws of nature and the delicate equilibria existing between the creatures of this world, for “he commanded and they were created; and he established them for ever and ever; he fixed their bounds and he set a law which cannot pass away” (Ps 148:5b-6). The laws found in the Bible dwell on relationships, not only among individuals but also with other living beings. “You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and withhold your help… If you chance to come upon a bird’s nest in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs and the mother sitting upon the young or upon the eggs; you shall not take the mother with the young” (Dt 22:4, 6). Along these same lines, rest on the seventh day is meant not only for human beings, but also so “that your ox and your donkey may have rest” (Ex 23:12). Clearly, the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.
69. Together with our obligation to use the earth’s goods responsibly, we are called to recognize that other living beings have a value of their own in God’s eyes: “by their mere existence they bless him and give him glory”, and indeed, “the Lord rejoices in all his works” (Ps 104:31). By virtue of our unique dignity and our gift of intelligence, we are called to respect creation and its inherent laws, for “the Lord by wisdom founded the earth” (Prov 3:19). In our time, the Church does not simply state that other creatures are completely subordinated to the good of human beings, as if they have no worth in themselves and can be treated as we wish. The German bishops have taught that, where other creatures are concerned, “we can speak of the priority of being over that of being useful”. The Catechism clearly and forcefully criticizes a distorted anthropocentrism: “Each creature possesses its own particular goodness and perfection… Each of the various creatures, willed in its own being, reflects in its own way a ray of God’s infinite wisdom and goodness. Man [sic] must therefore respect the particular goodness of every creature, to avoid any disordered use of things”.