Care for Environment: Christianity

The Cross of ChristAs part of the Interfaith Call to Action auspiced by United Nations Environment Program and other multifaith organisations, we will, each month, present the view of one religion on the Environment and Care for the Environment. Religions to be covered include Indigenous Traditions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, the Bahá’í Faith, Hinduism, the Jain Religion, Buddhism, the Sikh Religion, Confucianism, Daoism, Shinto, and in summary, Environmental Ethics: Points of Agreement among the World’s Religions. This month, Care for the Environment features the teachings of Christianity.


Christianity

For Christians, the Hebrew Bible is part of Scripture, along with the New Testament. Selections from the Hebrew Bible that are relevant to a religious and spiritual understanding of the natural world and to environmental ethics are given in the preceding section. Below are selections from the New Testament. (All New Testament passages are from Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version with Apocrypha.)

GOD declared everything to be good, indeed, very good. He created nothing unnecessarily and has omitted nothing that is necessary … creatures have received their mode of existence by the will of the Creator, whose purpose is that through their interdependence they should bring to perfection the beauty of the universe. It is the very nature of things considered in itself, without regard to man’s convenience or inconvenience, that gives glory to the Creator.

Man’s dominion cannot be understood as license to abuse, spoil, squander or destroy what God has made to manifest his glory. That dominion cannot be anything other than a stewardship in symbiosis with all creatures… At the risk of destroying himself, man may not reduce to chaos or disorder, or worse still, destroy God’s bountiful treasures.

Every human act of irresponsibility towards creatures is an abomination. According to its gravity, it is an offence against that divine wisdom which sustains and gives purpose to the interdependent harmony of the universe.

In his personalised relationship with all creatures, St. Francis recognised his duty to reciprocate divine love, with love and praise, not only in the name of creatures, but in, with and through them. For St. Francis, work was a God – given grace to be exercised in that spirit of faith and devotion to which every temporal consideration must be subordinate. All human effort in the world must therefore lead to a mutual enrichment of man and creatures. — The Christian Declaration on Nature: Father Langfranco Serrini, Minister General, OFM Conv., Assisi 1986.

Christ of St John of the Cross
The opening of the Gospel of John presents the cosmic Christ as the Word.

Creation of All Things by God’s Word

The opening of the Gospel of John presents the Cosmic Christ as the Word.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being was life, and the life was the light of all people.

The same divine Word that gives light and life to all has been united with the material world when “the Word became flesh” in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. John 1.1-5, 14

Redemption will be of All Creation

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now. Romans 8.22

The Eucharist or Holy Communion

The central sacrament of Christianity makes God present in bread and wine, things of Earth.

Blessed are You, Lord God of all creation, for through Your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life. — The Roman Missal: English Translation According to the Third Typical Edition for use in the Dioceses of the United States, p. 529.
This reflects an understanding of all creation as sacrament: God’s Presence in the material world.

The Eucharist joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation. — Pope Francis, Laudato Si’ (236)

Blessed Hildegard von Bingen.
Blessed Hildegard von Bingen. Image by Zvonimir Atletic/shutterstock.com

Sister of Wisdom

St. Hildegard of Bingen was a Benedictine abbess, theologian, composer, and artist who lived in the 12th century. She was both canonised and declared a Doctor of the Church in 2012. A mystic whose visions and theology were one, she often illustrated her visions and composed songs.

God Speaks as the Holy Spirit

I, the fiery life of divine essence, am aflame beyond the beauty of the meadows, I gleam in the waters, and I burn in the sun, moon, and stars. With every breeze, as with invisible life that contains everything, I awaken everything to life … I remain hidden in every kind of reality as a fiery power. Everything burns because of me in the way our breath constantly moves us, like the wind-tossed flame in a fire. — Hildegard of Bingen’s Book of Divine Works, with Letters and Songs, pp. 9-10. hildegard praises the holy spirit

O Fire of the Spirit, the Comforter, life of the life of all creation, holy are You, giving life to the Forms… O mighty course that penetrated all, in the heights, upon the earth, and in all abysses … From you clouds overflow, winds take wing, stones store up moisture, waters well forth in streams – and earth swells with living green. — Barbara Newman, Hildegard of Bingen, Symphonia: A Critical Edition of the Symphonia armonie celestium revelationum, 2nd ed., p. 151.

Canticle of the Creatures

Most High, all-powerful, good Lord, Yours are the praises, the glory, and the honour, and all blessing,
To You alone, Most High, do they belong. and no human is worthy to mention Your name.
Praised be You, my Lord, with all Your creatures, especially Sir Brother Sun, Who is the day and through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour; and bears the likeness of You, Most High One.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars, in heaven You formed them clear and precious and beautiful.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind, and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather, through whom You give sustenance to Your creatures.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water, who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom You light the night, and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.
Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs. —St. Francis of Assisi, “Canticle of the Creatures,” in Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, Vol. 1, pp. 113-114.

Francis
Courtesy of RedwoodsMonastery.org.

Laudato si’

The encyclical of Pope Francis, Laudato Si – On Care for Our Common Home has been a turning point in public awareness and discussion of the crisis of Earth, the home we all share. It was promulgated on May 24, 2015 and takes its title from the opening words of “The Canticle of the Creatures” of St. Francis. Broad in scope and searchingly analytical, the encyclical covers ecology, economics, politics, education, theology, and spirituality. Proposing the perspective that the Pope calls “integral ecology,” Laudato Si’ affirms that concern for the natural world and for social justice are indivisible, rigorously critiques contemporary society, and calls for a conversion to ecological ways of knowing and living. The encyclical has been a milestone in establishing that the environmental crisis, including climate change, is an ethical and spiritual issue. Research (Meyers, et al.) suggests that since it was published, public perception of climate change as a moral issue has increased significantly and more people have been motivated to take action.

from Laudato si’

Faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet. (3)

The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. (13)

We have to realise that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. (49)

It cannot be emphasised enough how everything is interconnected… We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature. (138-139)

The majority of people living on our planet profess to be believers. This should spur religions to dialogue among themselves for the sake of protecting nature, defending the poor, and building networks of respect and fraternity. (201)

What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up? (160)

Laudato Si’ is available to read online and download at https://laudatosi.com/watch. A list of resources for the study of Laudato Si’, along with selected media coverage and other materials can be found at the website of the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology: http://fore.yale.edu/laudato-si-resources.

Pope Francis
Photo by Ashwin Vasvani.

A Prayer for Our Earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognise that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love, and peace.
— Pope Francis, Laudato Si’ (247)

Green Children
Photo by Courtney Mooney. www.courtneymooney.com

The Ten Green Commandments of Laudato si’

Using the “See, Judge, Act” method of discernment…
Seeing
1. Earth, our common home, is in peril. Take care of it.
2. Listen to the cry of the poor who are the disproportionate victims of the crisis of our common home.
Judging
3. Rediscover a theological vision of the natural world as good news (gospel).
4. Recognise that the abuse of creation is ecological sin. 5. Acknowledge the human roots of the crisis of our common home.
Acting
6. Develop an integral ecology as we are all interrelated and interdependent.
7. Learn a new way of dwelling in our common home and manage it more responsibly through a new economics and a new political culture.
8. Educate toward ecological citizenship through change of lifestyles.
9. Embrace an ecological spirituality that leads to communion with all of God’s creatures.
10. Care for our common home by cultivating the ecological virtues of praise, gratitude, care, justice, work, sobriety, and humility. —Fr. Joshtrom Isaac Kureethadam, The Ten Green Commandments of Laudato Si’.

The Green Patriarch

Known for decades as “The Green Patriarch,” His All-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew likes to emphasise that the environment is primarily a religious and spiritual issue, not only a political or technological one. He relates the environment to the familiar icons that decorate Orthodox churches. Creation itself is like an icon, just as the human person is created “in the image and likeness of God” (Gen. 1.26 and Col. 1.15). The Patriarch invites people to contemplate the Creator God through the icon of the created world (Col. 1.16-18). He refers to human beings as endowed by God to serve as “priests,” stressing that personal responsibility for the physical world and the slightest action of even the feeblest among us can change the world for the better. — The Reverend Archdeacon John Chryssavgis, Theological Advisor on Environmental Issues (https://www.patriarchate.org/the-green-patriarch)

Ecological Sin

To commit a crime against the natural world is a sin. For human beings to cause species to become extinct and to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests, or by destroying its wetlands; for human beings to injure other human beings with disease by contaminating the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life, with poisonous substances — all of these are sins. — His All-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew,
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, called the Green Patriarch.

A Joint Message

The human environment and natural environment are deteriorating together, and this deterioration of the planet weighs upon the most vulnerable of its people. The impact of climate change affects, first and foremost, those who live in poverty in every corner of the globe. Our obligation to use the earth’s goods responsibly implies the recognition of and respect for all people and all living creatures. The urgent call and challenge to care for creation are an invitation for all of humanity to work toward sustainable and integral development…

On this occasion, we wish to offer thanks to the loving Creator for the noble gift of creation and to pledge commitment to its care and preservation for the sake of future generations. After all, we know that we labour in vain if the Lord is not by our side (cf. Ps. 126-127), if prayer is not at the centre of our reflection and celebration. Indeed, an objective of our prayer is to change the way we perceive the world in order to change the way we relate to the world. The goal of our promise is to be courageous in embracing greater simplicity and solidarity in our lives…

We urgently appeal to those in positions of social and economic, as well as political and cultural, responsibility to hear the cry of the earth and to attend to the needs of the marginalised, but above all to respond to the plea of millions and support the consensus of the world for the healing of our wounded creation. We are convinced that there can be no sincere and enduring resolution to the challenge of the ecological crisis and climate change unless the response is concerted and collective, unless the responsibility is shared and accountable, unless we give priority to solidarity and service … — Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew, from the Joint Statement on the World Day of Prayer for Creation, September 1, 2017

Christians are called “to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbours on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet.” — Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, as quoted by Pope Francis in Laudato Si (9)

Icon of the Creation of the Cosmos

Creation of the Cosmos,
Creation of the Cosmos, Land, Water, and Plants, Orthodox Christian Icon, by the hand of Rev. Father Luke Dingman (lukedingman.com).

Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let the birds fly over the earth… —Genesis 1:20-21
Orthodox icons teach the theology of Christianity through images of the Gospel and the saints.

The World Evangelical Alliance:
Statement on Creation Care

Established in 1846, the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) is a network of national evangelical church alliances in 129 countries and over 100 international evangelical organisations. The WEA provides a worldwide identity, voice, and platform to more than 600 million evangelical Christians. At the 2008 WEA General Assembly in Thailand, the globally gathered evangelical community ratified the WEA Statement on the Care of Creation (https://www.weacreationcare.org/wea-statements-on-creation-care). The statement represents the WEA’s core beliefs about creation care. It concludes:

We recall Jesus’ words that our lives do not consist in the abundance of our possessions, and therefore we urge followers of Jesus to resist the allure of wastefulness and overconsumption by making personal lifestyle choices that express humility, forbearance, self-restraint, and frugality, and stand alongside all who suffer as a result of environmental degradation.

In Christ, the presence of the kingdom of God is marked not only by renewed fellowship with God, but also by renewed harmony and justice between people and the rest of the created world.

Therefore we call upon all Christians to reaffirm that all creation is God’s, that God created it good, and that God is renewing it in Christ.

We also call upon Christians to listen to and work with all those who are concerned about the healing of creation with an eagerness both to learn from them and also to share with them our conviction that the God whom all people sense in creation is known fully only in the Word made flesh in Christ the living God who made and sustains all things… — World Evangelical Alliance Sustainability Centre, Bonn, Germany
Bird

World Council of Churches General Secretary:
from the Pastoral letter on the climate emergency

Let us redouble our efforts to make a meaningful contribution to averting the most catastrophic consequences of further inaction and negative actions by governments. Let us join in confronting this global crisis through concerted advocacy for climate change mitigation and adaptation, zero fossil fuel use, and a “just transition.”

Let us press relentlessly for public officials and governments and business to keep faith with the people and their future. Let us advocate with our national governments to pursue the goals for addressing climate losses and damages, mobilising sufficient and additional finances, and radically reducing emissions to keep global warming to 15° by celsius.

Wealthy nations — as well as the new and emerging carbon emitters — need to pave the way to provide financial support in solidarity with vulnerable communities around the world facing loss and damage due to climate change. Countries that produce fossil fuel must develop plans for downscaling this pillar of their economy and proactively change their focus to global sustainability and renewable energy.

Nations and international agencies, we need you to step outside your transient comfort zones, to transform policies, take responsibility, and act against the unbridled consumption pattern that is destroying our planet. Sea level rise, greenhouse gases, hurricanes, cyclones, and droughts cannot be stopped at national borders. Destruction of ecosystems and dispossession and displacement of Indigenous Peoples sap the very life out of our one living planet.

As individual Christians, let us pray for our planet and each other, critically interrogating our own lifestyles and economies to discern what is most needed in our families, communities, and local contexts, and then committing with others to addressing them head-on. As people of faith and goodwill, let us unite across religious traditions and divides to nurture and protect creation for all living creatures today and for generations to come. — Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary, World Council of Churches (December 19, 2019)

Sisters of Earth Network

Genesis Farm,
Genesis Farm, in Blairstown, New Jersey. © Angela Evancie. Courtesy of Kosmos Journal.

Many communities of vowed Catholic religious women or nuns have committed themselves to a way of life based on ecological spirituality, eco-justice, and sustainability, answering “the call of the Earth.” Since the early 1980s, this movement of “green sisters” congregations — including Dominicans, Franciscans, Benedictines, and many others

— have turned their communal lands and properties into centrers for “Earth literacy,” sustainability, conservation, and environmental advocacy. Today there are more than 50 such centres in the United States and Canada, with others in Europe, Latin America, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, and elsewhere. They emphasise preservation and restoration of farmland and open space; the importance of providing “sanctuary” for diverse species, including heirloom seeds and educational programs in organic agriculture; avoiding harm to nature in general; and living in sustainable relationship with “the Earth community.”

Many of these green sisters are informed by the ideas of Thomas Berry and see their work in the context of Earth within the journey of the universe. They create liturgy, art, and meditations to express and contemplate this vision. They renew and expand the ancient vocation of monastic life by taking routine daily actions as spiritual disciplines — saving water, not using toxic substances, choosing food that is not harmful when produced or eaten, composting, and recycling. The green sisters’ centres also work with their neighbours, involving them in community-supported gardens and farming, education, and spiritual resources, including retreats. The global Sisters of Earth network holds a gathering every two years (https://www.sisters-of-earth.net).


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