In the first chapter of Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, he shared an overview of his perspective on how he views the current environmental health of the world. Moving into chapter two, he changes his focus to speak directly to “believers,” those of us who consider ourselves Christians. In my last post on “The Light Offered by Faith,” the Pope pointed out the fact that our obligation and responsibility to care for creation should come easily from our convictions to live our lives as Christians. Now in this next section, he directs us to scripture to identify our place in God’s world.
Understanding Pope Francis on “The Wisdom of the Biblical Accounts”
Through these next ten paragraphs of his encyclical, Pope Francis walks us through scripture to remind us that “A spirituality which forgets God as all-powerful and Creator is not acceptable.” And it is only when we recognize that God is the creator and lover of all things, that we can find balance and harmony in our relationship with him, our neighbors and the earth.
Related Post: Do Christians Have to Be Green & Eco-friendly?
Paragraph 65: Our God Given Dignity
Pope Francis starts this section at the beginning of time, in the beginning of scripture, in Genesis chapter 1. “God saw everything that he made, and behold it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). From this all-important statement, the Pope points out and clarifies the God-given dignity of humanity. He says, “This shows us the immense dignity of each person, “who is not just something, but someone.” And to conclude the point, he shares the words of Pope Benedict the XVI saying, “each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.”
Paragraph 66: Our Relationships are Damaged
When looking at the creation stories in Genesis, Pope Francis explains that these stories from the Bible, tell us a lot about our humanity. They explain our relationship with God, with other people, and with nature and then explains that these relationships are “fundamentally and closely intertwined.” Once sin entered the picture, our relationships were damaged. He says, “The harmony between Creator, humanity, and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations.” It was that first sin that distorted our understanding of what God expects of us when we are commanded to “till and keep” (Gen. 2:15) in our dominion over the earth. With this being said, the Pope then offers the example of Saint Francis of Assisi because “through [his] universal reconciliation with every creature, St. Francis in some way returned to the state of original innocence.”
Paragraph 67: “We are Not God” and He Alone is the Owner of the Earth
“We are not God,” the Pope says and “the earth was here before us and it has been given to us.” These words he explains help us to properly understand our role. Being created in God’s image with “dominion” over the earth (Gen. 1:28), does not justify “absolute domination over other creatures.” To “till and keep,” (Gen. 2:15) he notes, is more about working the land while “caring, protecting, overseeing, and preserving” it responsibly. We are only temporary caretakers of this land and God is the ultimate owner.
Paragraph 68: God is our Creator and the Creator of the Law
Continuing, he again emphasizes our obligation to care for the earth and our relationships with all living beings and creatures. He says that we “must respect the laws of nature” and the sensitive balance needed to maintain it. Quoting Psalm 148, Deuteronomy 22:4, and Exodus 23:12, he expects us to see and understand that God not only created human beings and all other living creatures, but he also established a relational, natural “law which cannot pass away.”
Paragraph 69: All of Creation Reflects God’s “Wisdom and Goodness”
The natural law demands our obligation to respect the value of all living things. Quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis writes, “by their mere existence they bless and give him glory” (CCC 2416) and “the Lord rejoices in all his works” (Ps 104:31). This understanding of the value of life expects us to remember that because all creatures have their own dignity that reflect God’s “wisdom and goodness,” we cannot use them for our own disordered will (CCC 339).
Paragraph 70: Everything and Everyone is Connected through God
When looking at both the story of Cain and Abel (Gen. 4:9-11) and then of Noah (Gen. 6:13), Pope Francis explains that Cain and Abel are an example of “life being endangered” by a lack of justice. Able was “cursed from the ground” after killing his brother and damaged his relationship with himself, his brother, God and with nature. In the Noah story, humanity constantly failed “to fulfill the requirements of justice and peace,” so much so, that God was ready to end all of humanity. These stories, the Pope writes that “everything is connected” and “our relationships with nature are inseparable from fraternity, justice, and faithfulness to others.”
Paragraph 71: Respect Nature and Be Renewed
The same story of Noah also points the direction to our hope. The Pope continues his reflection on Noah to show that “through Noah who remained innocent and just,” God offered the earth a second chance. The earth was given renewal through “recovering and respecting the rhythms inscribed in nature by the hand of the Creator.”
In this same paragraph, he gives further example by describing the Sabbath, when God commanded Israel set aside one day for rest (Gen. 2:2-3, Ex. 16:23, Ex. 20:10), an extended rest for the land during the Sabbath year (Lev. 25) and the “Jubilee” year which “was celebrated as a year of general forgiveness and liberty” for all of Israel (Lev. 25:10). He points out that these times of commanded rest for people, rest for the earth, and times of forgiveness, were “attempts to ensure balance and fairness in relationships with others and with the land on which they lived and worked.” During these times, those who worked the earth were expected to be generous with their harvests by “leaving [some] for the poor and the sojourner” (Lev. 19:9-10) in recognition that the earth and its “fruit” is for all.
Paragraph 72: All of Creation Praises the Creator
The Psalms are so beautiful and Pope Francis shows us here examples of their beauty relating to all his creatures of the earth. He shares quotes from Psalms 136:6 and Psalms 148:3-5 to emphasise that all of his created creatures should praise him from the stars in the heavens to the waters of the earth, “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created” (Ps. 148:5).
Paragraph 73: God’s “Affection and Strength are Joined”
Directing us to the Old Testament prophets, Pope Francis notes, “The writings of the prophets invite us to find renewed strength in times of trial by contemplating the all-powerful God who created the universe.” With quotes from Jeremiah 32:17, 21 and Isaiah 40:28-29, he wants us to see that it is our same God, the creator of the Universe, who gives us both power and love.
Paragraph 74: Trials Can Lead to Deeper Faith
Lastly, the Pope ends with examples from the Babylonian captivity and persecution by the Roman Empire. He tells us that despite the “spiritual crisis” that may come from times of trial and persecution, it is often the trials that lead us to “deeper faith in God.”
With all of these scriptural references and teachings of the Church, the Pope makes his point in this final paragraph of the section when he writes, “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.”
In our next post in this series, we will look at part three of Chapter two titled, “The Mystery of the Universe”. If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more from our Laudato Si’ study series, you can find our main study page here.