The Catholic Tradition of Environmental Care
~ by Joanne M. Pierce, by The Conversation by Religion News Service
Pope Francis led dozens of religious leaders on October 4 in issuing a plea to protect the environment warning that “future generations will never forgive us if we miss the opportunity to protect our common home.” The appeal, which calls for net-zero emissions, was released after months of meetings leading up to the United Nations’ November climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland.
The pope has voiced support for green policies before, including his 2015 encyclical letter to the encyclical letter to the entire Catholic Church “Laudato Si’ on Care for Our Common Home.”
But Francis is not the first Catholic leader to emphasize care for the planet. In fact, every pope for the past half century – except John Paul I, who died after just one month in office – has addressed environmental issues in his official publications.
The Early Tradition
One of the basic beliefs of Christianity is that the material world was created directly by God, and thus is fundamentally connected with God’s goodness.
As God completes each element of the world – day, night, land, sea, etc. – God sees that “it was good.” On the sixth day, when God creates human being in God’s own image, they are given “dominion” or “rule” over everything that lives on the Earth.
The Benedictine Tradition
One Benedictine saint has become especially connected with environmental concerns: St. Hildegard of Bingen, who died in A.D. 1179.
This German abbess was one of the most accomplished women of the Middle Ages. An expert on herbal medicines and botany, she also wrote religious plays and composed liturgical chants and hymns. She insisted that God loved the Earth as a husband loves a wife and espoused a kind of “green” theology called viriditas, condemning the harm that human activity could do to nature.
Hildegard has been acclaimed as an unofficial patron said or environmentalists.
The Franciscan Tradition
St. Francis of Assisi has over the centuries become renowned for his love of the natural world.
One of Francis’ few documents is a poem, the “Canticle of the Sun,” which lyrically expressed his belief in the kindship between human beings and the rest of the natural world. Even the Sun and the Moon are addressed as “brother” and “sister.”
In 1979, Pope John Paul II named St. Francis as the patron saint of ecology because he “revered nature as a wonderful gift of God.” And in 2015, Pope Francis used the first words of “Canticle of the Sun,” Laudato Si’ to open his encyclical on the environment and serve as its official title.
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