Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Trinitarian foundations of Christian Environmentalism

This post, like some others on this blog, will introduce themes to which I will return occasionally.  One *could* write a Summa about Christian environmentalism, and some have, but this is neither the time nor place for such.

The Creed, in case you hadn't noticed, proceeds in Trinitarian fashion:

Father
Son
Holy Spirit



Looking west down the Mohawk River valley from the North American Martyrs' Shrine in Auriesville, New York.

OK, so what?  Well, attend to language:  



First, stating our belief in God the Father, "maker of Heaven and Earth, of all things visible and invisible."  All reality comes from the Father.  Creation itself is a gift, the care of which God entrusts to us.  Catechism #341:   "The order and harmony of the created world results from the diversity of the relationships that exist among them."  Then #343:  "Man is the summit of the Creator's work" as Scripture indicates.

So the world itself, in all its diversity, reflects the handiwork of God.  At its roots creation is not an impersonal array of forces at the mercy of which we live.  No, the world is God's.

Second, our belief in Jesus Christ affirms that through Him "all things were made." This personalizes and sharpens our appreciation of creation even more.  The world is not merely "God's" in some broad sense, but rather is God's through Christ, which means the life, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus--the very story of our salvation--also shapes creation.  It's not that Christians, because of the story, see the world differently (although, at one level, we do), it's rather that the world itself exhibits a Christ-like identity.  No, this does not divinize creation.  Niagara Falls is not God, nor is some mountain or a beach.  When we see beautiful views of nature (like the Mohawk Valley above), that's more than just "God"--some bland, nondescript name for some spiritual reality--but actually the God Christ reveals to us that moves us.  So yes, what motivates us at Yellowstone or Yosemite is, ultimately, Yeshua.  More on this later.  Catechism #349:  "But for us a new day has dawned:  the day of Christ's Resurrection.  The seventh day completes the first creation.  The eight day begins the new creation.  Thus, the work of creation culminates in the greater work of redemption.  The first creation finds its meaning and its summit in the new creation in Christ, the splendor of which surpasses that of the first creation."

Third, our belief in the Holy Spirit affirms that the Spirit, Who proceeds from the Father and the Son, as the Lord, the Giver of Life.  So the Spirit is the Person, the means, by which God accomplishes creation through Christ.  Catechism #687 quotes 1 Corinthians 2:11 and then states: "Now God's Spirit, who reveals God, makes known to us Christ, his Word, his living utterance, but the Spirit does not speak of himself....We know him [the Spirit] only in the movement by which he reveals the Word to us and disposes us to welcome him in faith."

Summarizing:  our appreciation of creation--the world itself in all its diversity and natural beauty--steams from the foundational mystery and truth God reveals:  the Holy Trinity.  Creation is not just 'created,' but exudes the Trinitarian identity of the God Who made it.  Within that reality, of course, function the myriad and still partially unknown ways in which "science" functions.  So there is real science to be done--to help the world itself as well as all that live within it, including humanity itself.

To be clear, though, nature is not a substitute for God.  No, we return to God through the means God gave us and that is, first and foremost, the Church.  Catechism #688:  "The Church, a communion living in the faith of the apostles which she transmits, is the place where we know the Holy Spirit", including Scripture, Tradition, the Church's teaching authority, liturgy, prayer, and the lives of the saints."

So that audacious claim--one of many--within the Lord's Prayer: "Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done on earth as it is in Heaven" reveals an additional, environmental meaning.  It is in this world, the one God made, that God's kingdom will be fully and finally revealed.  That revelation has already started; Catechism #2824 reminds us "In Christ, and through his human will, the will of the Father has been perfectly fulfilled once for all."  So Jesus Christ, through Whom all things are made, also brings the world to its fruition.  The Book of Revelation 21 details the New Jerusalem in all its symmetric glory, a new city within a new creation lit by God Himself through the Lamp that is the Lamb, Christ Jesus.

And it has already started.  The Catechism, in no few words, instructs that the integrity of creation must be respected.  While animals, plants, and minerals are destined for human usage, that dominion, given by God the Creator, is not absolute.  Respect for current and future generations and neighbors, as well as creation itself require an environmental ethic.  Pope Francis, of course, spoken extensively about this in Laudato Si', but even before St. John Paul II saw environmental concerns appearing within the discussion of Catholic social justice and the dignity of both men and work itself (Centesimus  Annus 37-38).  Almost a century ago American Catholics, confronted with the ravages of the Dust Bowl and social displacements both urban and rural, constructed a spirituality of farming and rural life that sought to heal both the American nation and the land itself.  There's even a plethora--more than one group--of Christian vegetarians.  The broader Church should not fear such groups, for the very creedal and prayerful foundations of the religion itself prompt us to view creation anew.

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