Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Gospel of Creation

"Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God"
The second chapter of Laudato si is called "The Gospel of Creation".  It begins, "Why should this document, addressed to all people of good will, include a chapter dealing with the convictions of believers?"  It might seem strange for a pope to ask this question!  Aren't "the convictions of believers" part of his job description? But it is clear that Francis has a broader audience in view.  The deeply relational perspective he has on the whole of creation (which finds expression in the key phrase integral ecology, a phrase which will later get a whole chapter to itself) leads him to hope that the most wide-ranging possible dialog will be intense and fruitful.

Still, this chapter is addressed to Christians in particular.  "I would like from the outset to show how faith convictions can offer Christians, and some other believers as well, ample motivation to care for nature and for the most vulnerable of their brothers and sisters".  Under the heading, "The wisdom of the biblical accounts", Francis expounds the creation stores of Genesis, the sabbath and other ecological laws, and the Psalms (like Psalm 104) which call on all creation to give praise to God.  Then, in the next sections, he turns to a sort of natural theology: what does the interrelated nature of the universe that we perceive tell us about the God who creates it? "The universe as a whole, in all its manifold relationships, shows forth the inexhaustible riches of God".  Section VI is 'the common destination of goods".  "The earth is essentially a shared inheritance whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone...the Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable."  Those who would like to see Francis as some kind of revolutionary socialist may focus on this section, but the doctrine that he is restating is a commonplace of Catholic moral theology: see section 179 in this Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church from 2004.  Finally, the last section, "The Gaze of Jesus", looks at Jesus' earthly life as an example of harmony with creation.  "The very flowers of the field and the birds which his human eyes contemplated are now imbued with his radiant presence."

Christian thinking about creation care faces two significant dangers.  On the one hand, some have read the dominion mandate of Genesis 1:28 as a license to treat the nonhuman creation as mere "raw material", fit for nothing until humans have shaped it.  (This is bound up with the question of private property of course, via Locke's idea that property rights are conferred by the "mixing" of private human labor with the common stuff of creation.)  On the other hand, awareness of the intrinsic value of the nonhuman creation and the damage that sinful humans have wrought can pass over into a devaluation of humanity or even into regarding people as an "invasive species".  Here's Pope Francis threading the needle:
A spirituality which forgets God as all-powerful and Creator is not acceptable. That is how we end up worshiping earthly powers, or ourselves usurping the place of God, even to the point of claiming an unlimited right to trample his creation underfoot. The best way to restore men and women to their rightful place, putting an end to their claim to absolute dominion over the earth, is to speak once more of the figure of a Father who creates and who alone owns the world. Otherwise, human beings will always try to impose their own laws and interests on reality.... A sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings.
Earlier posts in this series here and here.

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