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Catholic Social Teaching: Stewardship of Creation and the Enviroment

Thursday, May 15, 2014

When the Catholic Church discusses environmental questions she often speaks about the Stewardship of Creation, God has put man over the word to govern it in his name. What this stewardship entails is fairly obvious: humanity should use the earth’s resources responsibly to facilitate the flourishing of peoples whilst respecting creation in light of its Creator.

The Dodo paid the price
for irresponsible stewardship.
But unpacking this basic common sense principle is like opening Pandora’s Box. Environmental questions aren’t all as simple as whether or not we should bother about saving tigers from extinction. Questions like ‘what is the acceptable impact of international food production upon the environment at local and global levels?’, are a bit more tricky. Indeed environmental question can appear fearsome. This can put many of us off giving much thought to the environment, besides, isn’t it all for eco-warriors and tree huggers? What does the environment really have to do with a Catholic’s journey to heaven? Perhaps if we see caring for the environment through a more personal lens, rather than in its literally global scale, we can come to appreciate the importance of being good stewards.

When we let people into our homes we do so with an expectation that they will behave a certain way. We expect people to keep their feet of the couch, to not break the fine china and leave things more or less as they found them; though it would be nice if they cleaned the dishes. When we look around us we should remember what the Psalmist says ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.’ (Psalm 24:1)

Not only does the world belong to God but it speaks to us about him. As St Paul said, the existence of God, his power and nature are clearly perceived in the things that have been made. (Romans 1:20)

Gregory XVI
However, the world doesn’t only communicate God’s existence and goodness; it also speaks of man’s relationship with the Almighty. In his 1832 encyclical Mirari Vos Pope Gregory XVI decried the moral and social decline of society and quoted the prophet Isaiah as saying: ‘the earth mourns and wastes away… infected by its inhabitants for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant.’ (Isaiah 24: 4-6) How we act towards God is, partly, reflected in how the world responds to our presence in it. This isn’t to say that all environmental change has miraculous causation; God grants us the dignity of letting the effects of our actions reflect the nature of our behaviour.

So, considering the environment pushes us to think about our Creator and about everything he has made. We see ourselves as not merely individual agents but as being intimately connected, through God, to all that is around us.

For Catholics environmental questions strike at the core of what it means to be a creature. By contemplating creation we are forced to examine where we place God place in our lives and in our societies. The respect owed to creation comes from the dignity of the one who made it, and thus, when Catholics think about the environment seriously they fall upon the core principle of Catholic Social Teaching:  that Jesus Christ is the Creator-King of all that is. As the Catechism puts it: ‘The beauty of creation reflects the infinite beauty of the Creator and ought to inspire the respect and submission of man's intellect and will.’ (CCC: 341)

Jordan Scott OP


Louise P commented on 20-Jun-2015 04:18 PM
Such beautiful words, you are truly inspired, how did you achieve such depths of wisdom? I am touched. God bless you.

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