The Human Ecology of the Catholic Church – Derek Jeter

October 4, 2012

St. Augustine formulated an adage that beautifully sums up the essentials of Christian anthropology: “O Lord, you have made us for yourself; therefore our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” A basic assumption of Biblical people is that everyone is hard-wired for God in the measure that everyone seeks a fulfillment that cannot be had through any of the goods of this world. Long before Augustine, the psalmist prayed, “only in God is my soul at rest.”

When personal freedom is reduced to sexual freedom, the Church’s moral teaching becomes an object of disdain and even at times of hatred. It is dismissed and then actively opposed. Dialogue with the world imposes therefore a constant search for ways to express the faith more effectively in shaping cultural situations. Since much of our moral theology, particularly what is taught about the protection of human life and the nature of the gift of human sexuality, is derived from the natural moral law, a comment that Pope Benedict XVI made when he spoke to the Bundestag in his recent trip to Germany needs to be further explored. Arguing against legal positivism, Pope Benedict spoke about the natural moral law less as an analysis of the natural finality of a human activity than as a moral theory that expresses a human ecology. In other words, he was saying, if I understood him correctly, that natural moral law can be expressed not only in terms of ends, but also in terms of relationships. This might insert moral theology into the theology of communion.
Francis Cardinal George, The Significance Of Vatican II

Alongside the ecology of nature, there exists what can be called a “human” ecology, which in turn demands a “social” ecology. All this means that humanity, if it truly desires peace, must be increasingly conscious of the links between natural ecology, or respect for nature, and human ecology. Experience shows that disregard for the environment always harms human coexistence, and vice versa. It becomes more and more evident that there is an inseparable link between peace with creation and peace among men.
Benedict XVI, World Day of Peace Message, 2007, no. 8)

“You have set your glory above the heavens.
   Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
   to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
   the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God,

   and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
   you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
   and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
   whatever passes along the paths of the seas.”
Psalm 8:2-8

When Francis Cardinal George refers to natural moral law, we know that it is sourced in general revelation and that there are certain knowable truths revealed by God through creation. Natural moral law advocates believe that there are certain moral laws or norms that are true and can be discerned by all men and women as men and women. The Declaration of Independence states as much when it claims certain truths are “self-evident.” Abraham Lincoln opposed slavery on precisely those terms. The pro-life movement roots its ultimate opposition to those who claim the “right” to abortion uses this same language: abortion is a moral wrong.

It is important to recall not so much the act of creation as the method and what that means to us as Catholics and Christians:

It was later theology, appealing to 2 Maccabees 7:28, which said that God created the world “from nothing.” This means that the world receives its entire being and constitutive identity from God, not from itself or from anything other than God. We are utterly dependent upon God. To be is to come to be from and with others, hence the “ex”in existence. Just as I owe my existence to other persons, the cosmos as a whole owes its being and life to another, God. Moreover, God is not merely the one who started it all going, but the one who at every moment holds it in existence. The most basic dimension of reality is this relationship.

The expression “creation from nothing” points to the mystery of being and of our contingency, which occasionally registers in our feelings of wonder and awe. In the last analysis, there is no reason why there is anything at all, except God’s gracious and free act. The cosmos of which we are a part is intended and desired by God. It is neither necessary nor arbitrary, a product of chance or chaos. The sovereign freedom with which God creates means that life is a gracious gift. I am invited to interpret my own experience of the indebtedness of existence as gift and grace.

But there is a second point which a bit of reflection on the notion of creatio ex nihilo reveals. In understanding reality as related to God in this radical way, Christian faith also believes that there is absolutely nothing in the nature of created reality which could be a constitutive principle of separation from or contradiction to God. While Paul’s words to the Romans were written in another context, they are nonetheless beautifully appropriate here:

“For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38)
John Sachs, The Christian View of Humanity

In Christ, God “tells” us that human flesh and blood are capable of divine life. Our real humanity, the same humanity which Jesus shared, is destined for a share in God’s own divine nature:

Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants in the divine nature.
2 Peter 1:4

Gaudium Et Spes: A Basic Christian Anthropology
Christian faith, therefore, has a particular vision of the world and of humanity, a vision that is founded upon the relationship between God and God’s creation as revealed in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ. Gaudium et Spes, one of the four Apostolic Constitutions resulting from the Second Vatican Council, sets forth a basic Christian anthropology in its first three chapters. The key elements are found in

(1)  the inviolable dignity of every human person,
(2)  the essential centrality of community and
(3)  the significance of human action.

The dignity of all men and women, created in God’s image, is grounded in their unique relationship of intimacy with God (12). Human persons are spiritual, embodied creatures (14-15) who, above all, are blessed with freedom which, guided by conscience (16), comes to its fulfillment in love of God and neighbor. Because this freedom has been damaged by sin and is threatened by death, it can only come to its fulfillment through God’s grace (13, 17). Its fulfillment is an endless sharing in God’s own divine life (18).

Because the dignity of human persons is rooted and perfected in God, faith’s recognition of God is not hostile to human freedom and dignity, as some forms of atheism claim. Christians must work with all who labor for the dignity of human beings and basic human rights (19-21). In a spirit of dialogue and cooperation, they look to Jesus Christ, the final Adam, where for the eyes of faith, the mystery of humanity is revealed (22).

The dignity of every human person does not diminish the fact that one can be human only in community with others. Apart from relationships to others, we can neither live nor develop. From the very beginning humanity is created as community and all men and women are called as a single family to universal communion with one another and with God (23-24). This requires a social order based not on individualist ethic (30) but on the common good. It must be “founded on truth, built on justice, and animated by love” (26). Social structures must grow from and express a basic reverence for others, especially for those who think or act differently, so that the basic equality of all is recognized (27-29), and the fruitful participation of all in society is ensured (31).

Human action is understood to be an unfolding of God’s own creative work (34). Therefore, Christian faith demands that human beings labor to build up the world, attending to the genuine good of the human race and so develop themselves as truly human persons according to the divine plan (35). The rightful autonomy of the different arts and sciences is willed by God and to be respected by all (36). Christians will, however, adopt a critical attitude in their endeavors recognizing the real and pervasive power of sin.

The perfection and happiness which God wills for the creation cannot be identified naively with “progress,” especially where technology is developed and implemented without moral principles (37). Finally, the transformation of the world can come only from the power of love. Convinced in faith that the effort to bring about a universal communion of justice and peace is not a hopeless one, the church summons believers to dedicate themselves to the service of the earth and its peoples and so to prepare for that final act in which God will receive the world and bring it to perfection as God’s Kingdom (38). The expectation of the “new earth” is precisely what should strengthen concern for cultivating this earth, in which the Kingdom is already present and growing in mystery (39).
John Sachs, The Christian View of Humanity

The world is here to be saved, or as Christopher Dawson saw it, to be sanctified:

The Life Of The World Is Always A Life That Must Be Saved
The life of the world is always a life that must be saved.
It must be chosen intentionally, labored and sacrificed for. It is life that must be rescued from the many powers of death and destruction which threaten it. As Christians, we are part of a biblical tradition that asserts this explicitly of God. The world has a future because in Jesus Christ it has been chosen intentionally, labored and sacrificed for by God. God so loves the world (John 3:16). The key word here is world, not just me, certainly not just my soul, not even us or our collective souls.

The Christian understanding of salvation must recover its inherent universality and inclusiveness. It is something which involves not just human beings, but the whole of creation.

But it is important to consider for a moment what it really means to say that God wishes to save the world. If the reality of the world as a living, active, intentional and self-constituting whole is what God wishes to save, then it seems to me that God’s saving activity is not something that happens alongside or instead of but in and through the world’s activity, especially in and through human action.

Therefore, the necessity that salvation come from God and the necessity that human beings take responsibility for the world’s well-being are directly proportional. The greater our belief in salvation from God, the greater the obedience of faith to acknowledge our active responsibility for the world. God does not wish to save us from doing. God wishes to save us from all that would prevent us from doing.

According to the Yahwist narrative, humankind is intimately related to the Creator in a way that distinguishes it from the rest of God’s creatures. This is not because human beings are enlivened by the breath of God (Genesis 2:7), for God has breathed this breath into all the animals (Genesis 7:22). Rather, the dignity of human beings is especially evident in their partnership with God in caring for creation. As tenders of the garden and stewards of creation, human beings are not mere underlings with a task to perform. If they are superior to the other creatures, it is because through them the creative, divine Spirit is present and active in a unique way. As a result, humans are more capable of and responsible for the well-being of the creation. Human beings are from God and the earth as well as with God for the earth. Thus the salvation which God desires and promises the world as its sure future is precisely what makes us acknowledge our human responsiblity for the world.
John Sachs, The Christian View of Humanity

God’s Word does not call creation into some kind of merely factual existence, but to being-with-God. To be means to live with God, to participate in some way in God’s life. When we withdraw from the world or find our lives without relationship, we encounter a living death and what has been prophesied as Hell in a later life.

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