By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, 18 APRIL 2010 (ZENIT)
In the five years since he was
elected Pope, Benedict XVI has repeatedly spoken out on issues
concerning ecology. As a result some have taken to calling him
the "Green Pope," but such a label does not do justice to his
A useful guide to what the current Pontiff has said on creation
and our responsibility toward it came in a book published last
year by journalist Woodeene Koenig-Bricker. In "Ten Commandments
for the Environment: Pope Benedict XVI Speaks Out for Creation
and Justice," (Ave Maria Press), she collects the Pope's
comments, and intersperses it with her own personal opinions on
The phrase "Ten Commandments for the Environment" is not
Benedict XVI's, but was the title of an address given in 2005 by
then Bishop Giampaolo Crepaldi, secretary of the Pontifical
Council for Justice and Peace. [Archbishop Giampaolo Crepaldi is
currently the bishop of Trieste, Italy.]
The primary message of these commandments is that we must be
responsible stewards of God's creation, and this corresponds to
what the Pontiff has subsequently said, Koenig-Bricker
"Today, we all see that man can destroy the foundations of his
existence, his earth, hence, that we can no longer simply do
what we like or what seems useful and promising at the time with
this earth of ours, with the reality entrusted to us," the Pope
said July 24, 2007, when answering questions from the priests of
the northern Italian dioceses of Belluno-Feltre and Treviso.
This care for creation is founded on a conviction that goes a
lot deeper than just a concern for the ecology. Benedict XVI
made this clear on answering a question during his summer
holidays the following year. At his meeting with the clergy of
the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone on Aug. 6, 2008, he stated
that there is an "indissoluble bond" between creation and
Subdue the earth
"The Redeemer is the Creator and if we do not proclaim God in
his full grandeur
as Creator and as Redeemer
we also diminish the value of the Redemption," the Holy Father
affirmed after mentioning that unfortunately in preceding
decades the doctrine of creation had almost disappeared from
Christians have been accused, Benedict XVI observed, of being
responsible for the destruction of creation because of the words
in Genesis, "subdue the earth."
This charge is false he argued, as if we see the earth as God's
creation: "the task of 'subduing' it was never intended as an
order to enslave it but rather as the task of being guardians of
creation and developing its gifts; of actively collaborating in
God's work ourselves, in the evolution that he ordered in the
world so that the gifts of Creation might be appreciated rather
than trampled upon and destroyed."
This linkage between the natural and supernatural, between faith
in God and respect for creation was something Benedict XVI
returned to in his interview with journalists on the plane trip
to Sydney, Australia, on July 12, 2008.
"We need the gift of the Earth, the gift of water, we need the
Creator; the Creator reappears in his creation. And so we also
come to understand that we cannot be really happy, cannot be
really promoting justice for all the world, without a criterion
at work in our own ideas, without a God who is just, and gives
us the light, and gives us life," he said.
The role of the Redeemer was mentioned by the Pope in his
Midnight Mass homily of 2007. Christ, he said, "came to restore
beauty and dignity to creation, to the universe: This is what
began at Christmas and makes the angels rejoice."
Christmas is a feast of restored creation, the Earth is made new
and we celebrate that heaven and earth, and man and God are
united, he commented.
Just after the publication of Koenig-Bricker's book came the
Pope's encyclical "Charity in Truth." A few paragraphs in the
encyclical were dedicated to the environment and among other
points the Pontiff warned of viewing nature from a purely
materialistic perspective. Human salvation cannot come from
nature alone, he pointed out.
We have a legitimate stewardship over nature, Benedict XVI
affirmed, which involves a duty to hand over to future
generations an earth that is in good condition.
This is not just a matter for science or economics, he added,
but needs to be integrated into a human ecology that includes
all that shapes our existence.
"The book of nature is one and indivisible: it takes in not only
the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family,
social relations: in a word, integral human development," the
There is a fundamental contraction in our mentality if, on the
one hand, we insist on respect for the natural environment
while, on the other hand, not respecting the right to life and
to a natural death, Benedict XVI insisted.
This linkage between respect for the environment and respect for
life has been a recurring theme in the Pope's statements on the
"The great and vital moral themes of peace, non-violence,
justice, and respect for creation do not in themselves confer
dignity on man," he told the new Irish ambassador to the Holy
See on Sept. 15, 2007.
Human life has an innate dignity, he explained. "How disturbing
it is that not infrequently the very social and political groups
that, admirably, are most attuned to the awe of God's creation
pay scant attention to the marvel of life in the womb," the Pope
Ecology and peace
Earlier in the year, in his World Day of Peace Message for 2007,
Benedict XVI also linked respect for the ecology and peace.
"Alongside the ecology of nature, there exists what can be
called a 'human' ecology, which in turn demands a 'social'
ecology," he observed. "Experience shows that disregard for the
environment always harms human coexistence, and vice versa," he
"It becomes more and more evident that there is an inseparable
link between peace with creation and peace among men. Both of
these presuppose peace with God," the Pope concluded.
This relationship between ecology and peace returned as the
central theme of the World Day of Peace Message in 2010.
The environment is God's gift to all peoples he said and neither
nature nor humans should be seen as mere products, the Pope
affirmed. He urged a greater solidarity among nations in dealing
with ecological problems and to examine our lifestyle and models
of consumption and productions.
Once more he warned against a pantheism or neo-paganism in which
our salvation is seen as being achieved in the natural world
alone. Benedict XVI stated that the Church has grave misgivings
about an ecocentric or biocentric vision of the environment. The
danger with these approaches is that they do not see any
difference between the human person and other living creatures.
"In the name of a supposedly egalitarian vision of the 'dignity'
of all living creatures, such notions end up abolishing the
distinctiveness and superior role of human beings," he adverted.
In concluding the message, Benedict XVI observed that Christians
contemplate the cosmos and its marvels in the light of the
creative work of the Father and the redemptive work of Christ.
Care for the environment, respect for human values and life, and
solidarity among all are thus linked to our faith in God,
creator and redeemer. A complex vision of the natural and
supernatural that goes far beyond the idea of simply being