Saturday, November 27, 2021

Caring for the environment has a long Catholic tradition – hundreds of years before Pope Francis.

Pope Francis, on October 4, 2021, led dozens of religious leaders to advocate for the environment, warning that “future generations will never forgive us if we miss the opportunity to protect our common home.”

The call for zero emissions came after months of meetings leading up to the November UN climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

The Pope has spoken out in support of green politics in the past, including in his 2015 encyclical letter to the entire Catholic Church “Taking care of our common home”.

But Francis is not the first Catholic leader to emphasize caring for the planet. In fact, every Pope in the past half century, with the exception of John Paul I, who died after just a month in power, has addressed environmental issues in his official publications.

As a scholar with a focus on the medieval church, I see that many of these issues are deeply rooted in the history of the Catholic tradition.

Early tradition

One of the basic beliefs of Christianity is that the material world was created directly by God and is thus fundamentally related to His goodness.

This is clearly expressed in the creation account in Genesis, a portion of scripture shared by Christians and Jews. When God complements every element of the world – day, night, land, sea, etc. – he sees that “it was good.” On the sixth day, when God creates people in the image and likeness of God, they are given “authority” or “authority” over everything that lives on Earth.

The early Christians insisted that the beauty of creation reflects God’s glory. But as Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire, they had to defend this view of the basic virtue of creation when challenged by another religious view.

This movement, called Gnosticism, from the Greek word meaning “knowledge,” taught that the physical world was not created directly by God, but by a lesser spiritual being out of malice or ignorance. At its best, the material world was a useless distraction; at worst, an evil trap for human souls. Gnostic teachers suggested teaching their followers how to free their spirit from attachment to the physical body and the material world. Thus, after death, they could return to the realm of spiritual reality and reunite with the divine.

Many theologians and bishops have criticized this interpretation of their faith. Some of them wrote long and detailed critical reviews of Gnostic teachings; They believed that the salvation of souls was at stake.

The most famous of these was Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, who lived in the second century AD. On October 7, 2021, Francis announced that he would declare Irenaeus “Doctor of the Church,” a title reserved for saints whose labors had a profound impact on the life of the Church.

In Irenaeus’s treatise Against Heresies, a passionate defense of the teachings of the scriptures and the apostles, he argues that creation itself reveals God and God’s glory; the only supreme revelation is Jesus Christ himself.

In the early Middle Ages, however, a suspicion of “worldly things” persisted in Western Christianity, despite this early emphasis on the core virtue of material creation.

Hildegard of Bingen did everything: music, botany, medicine, drama and theology.
Miniatur aus dem Rupertsberger Codex des Liber Scivias / Wikimedia Commons

Benedictine tradition

By the third century, some Christians began to seek a more God-centered life, withdrawing from society to pray and work together in community groups. This type of monasticism spread throughout Western Europe during the Middle Ages.

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The most influential of these monastic orders were the Benedictines, who balanced their lives between daily prayer services and work, which often involved agriculture and the environment. Each monk or nun promised to stay in one monastery for life, unless his abbot or abbess, the monk or nun in charge of this, ordered them to move to another. Because of this, the Benedictines became known as “place lovers.”

Today, one Benedictine saint has become particularly associated with environmental problems: Saint Hildegard of Bingen, who died in 1179 AD. This German abbess was one of the most educated women of the Middle Ages. An expert in herbal medicine and botany, she also wrote religious plays, composed liturgical chants and hymns, and composed theological works and poems based on her mystical experiences. She insisted that God loves the earth as a husband loves a wife, and she adhered to a kind of green theology called viriditas, denouncing the harm that human activities can do to nature.

Hildegard has been recognized as the unofficial patron saint of environmentalists. In 2012, Pope Benedict XVI declared her “Doctor of the Church,” like Irenaeus.

The fresco shows Saint Francis preaching to a group of birds under a tree while another monk looks at him.
Saint Francis, patron saint of animals and ecology, preached a famous sermon to the birds.
Giotto di Bondone / Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi / Wikimedia Commons

Franciscan tradition

Saint Francis of Assisi, son of an Italian textile merchant, has become famous over the centuries for his love of the natural world. After being a soldier and a prisoner of war, Francis underwent a spiritual conversion. Giving up on his father’s wealth, he chose to live in extreme poverty and public preaching until his death in 1226 AD. Initially, the male members of his new mendicant movement, the Franciscans, took religious vows, but traveled from city to city without any restrictions. lodging, begging for food and lodging.

One of Francis’s few documents is the poem “Song of the Sun”, which lyrically expresses his belief in the relationship between humans and the rest of the natural world. Even the sun and moon are addressed as “brother” and “sister.” It is said that when he lay dying, he asked to be laid on the bare Earth.

Legends of his sermons and miracles were widely spread, and some of them concerned his caring for and treating animals with the same dignity as with humans. One story says that he preached to the birds and convinced the evil wolf to live in peace with the neighboring townspeople.

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In 1979, Pope John Paul II named St. Francis the patron saint of ecology, because he “revered nature as a miraculous gift from God.” And in 2015, Pope Francis used the first words of the Song of the Sun, Laudatio si ‘, to open his encyclical on the environment and serve as its official title.

Although he is often overshadowed by the notion that the material world is just a passing distraction, reverence for a creature deeply loved by God has also been an important part of the Catholic tradition. Modern environmental science is only its latest expression.

This article is republished from – The Conversation – Read the – original article.

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