Talking Points on the Care of Creation:
In the beginning, in the state of original justice, God created everything and placed man in the paradise of His earthly creation. He blessed him with the vocation, among other things, to till and to keep His earth. With the introduction of original sin, man experienced the loss of original justice; an alienation emerged between God and man, between men and women, and within ourselves and with creatures.
Four things are important to keep in mind.
First, lower creation is not directly implicated in the fall; it is not corrupted by sin. The order of lower creation, its interdependence and beauty, remains intact for us even now and is a sign of God’s loving and provident care. “The nature of animals [and other creatures],” Saint Thomas says, “was not changed by man’s sin.” (ST I.96.ad2) Instead, all natural things may be considered “God’s works of art.” (ST I.91.a3) As a work of art reflects the mind of the artist, so, too, does the created order, our beautiful earth and the universe beyond, reflect the wisdom and love of God. For centuries the Church has pointed to the beauty of the earth, its “measure, form and order,” as a gift of God’s provident love for us. For from the very beginning, Saint Paul tells us, God’s invisible attributes of wisdom and love can be discerned in the things He has made. (Rom. 1:20) Today, for so many, the first experience of God begins in the experience of awe before the beauty of creation. The sense that God is present through creation lies at the heart of Saint Francis’ love and praise to the Creator for “his brother, the sun; his sister, the moon,” and shapes the foundations for such theological masterpieces as St. Thomas’ Summa theologiae.
Second, in the visible cosmos, only the human creature is directly affected by original sin. The church speaks of the loss of man’s original justice, or the loss of the praeter natural gifts: of infused knowledge of creatures and things, of reason’s control over the passions, and of immortality.
Third, the consequence of original sin is understood to wound, but not completely destroy, our original human nature and dignity. As Saint John Paul II says, “But no darkness of error or of sin can totally take away from man the light of God the Creator.” (Veritatis Splendor, 1) The light of the creator, God’s wisdom, continues to be reflected in man despite the lingering presence of sin. Through his intellect and will man’s desire for truth and goodness is never totally erased, as his conscience bears witness to the moral order in every age and circumstance. Even in his body, through the capacities and powers he shares with the animals, namely nutrition, health, reproduction, and his senses, the wisdom of the creator shines through and is able to be discerned, though with difficulty.
For these reasons the church has had great confidence in man’s search for the truth, his desire of a good life and his quest for beauty — in all of its varied cultural expressions — because man, though wounded by sin, is capable of expressing something of the original goodness of the creator’s will. In his body, too, the divine wisdom of the original creation is manifest, despite sin, which is why sin itself was so often described as “contra naturam,” or against nature. The natural law tradition is also built upon this fundamental conviction that there are tendencies or inclinations which are inherent in any healthy human person: the inclination to maintain one’s health, to procreate, to seek communion, to seek God. To act against such inclinations is to act contrary to man’s nature, and thus to sin.
Fourth, hearing the message of creation, of the creator, is now very difficult due to sin; whether in the beauty and order of His universe, one’s body, or in the depths of one’s conscience, we need the grace of Christ and his church, to teach us what it means to be a human being in this glorious universe of God’s. As Gaudium et spes so eloquently put it: “Christ … fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.” (22)
This is the reason why the church has understood herself to be an “expert in humanity,” (Veritatis splendor, 3) and “the authentic interpreter of the natural law.” For Christ shows us what is natural to man, indeed, he discloses the meaning of nature: “For everything was created through Him, all was created for Him.” (Col.1:16).
Our Dominion over Creation:
Our dominion over the earth, then, is not that of a master who stands over a broken world. Rather, our status is that of caretakers, as stewards of the divine household, called “to till and to keep the earth,” to use its resources in accordance with the intentions of its one owner: God, the loving Father of us all.
The church’s tradition of the natural law ethic is another way of reflecting upon this issue: how do we, as rational creatures with intelligence and free will, flourish within this divinely arranged cosmos in a manner that respects the wisdom of our Father – in our use of things, in our regard for ourselves, and in our care for our neighbor, especially His poor?
Limitations Upon our “use” of the earth’s resources:
When our use of creation involves the manipulation of the very structures and natural processes of living things, as in the case of the trans-genetic modification of creatures, such an enterprise ought not be undertaken except: in deliberate deference to the order and wisdom of creation of which the creature is a part; with utmost care and prudent circumspection; when proportionate goods are clearly identified and reasonably anticipated; and all other reasonable alternatives have been considered, including the modification of one’s lifestyle. Indeed, one of the surest ways we can overcome the indiscriminate exploitation of the goods of the earth is to modify our own lifestyles of limitless consumption.
Our Life in Christ: from Stewards to Sons and Daughters:
In Christ, we are no longer mere slaves of a master, or mere stewards of the earth, but adopted sons and daughters of the one Father, the Creator of the heavens and earth. In Him we have an eternal destiny and thus an unsurpassable dignity. Through our honest labor, especially in the Eucharist, we glorify the Father and offer our first fruits back to the Him in gratitude. And so our dignity as stewards of the earth is not an occasion of boasting, but a call to serve Him, for while all things on this earth may be ours, Saint Paul says, “we belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.”
God, grant me the grace
to love the Lord and keep His earth,
to use it wisely and share it always.
For in giving more, and using less
I care for others
And love You today.