Given that Catholic Social Teaching (CST) is getting a lot of play in this election season, I thought it would be good to review some of Benedict XVI’s writings about one CST issue: stewardship for the environment. This book compiles writings, speeches, homilies, and other statements given by Benedict XVI on the environment. Contrary to those who feel that “environmentalism” is an end in itself, those who think we need to “save the ______” (insert endangered animal or plant name here), Benedict XVI reaffirms that an authentic CST understanding of respect for the environment begins with respect for the human person.
What is often lost on those who promote CST is that the Church’s teaching is premised on respect for the human person. Benedict XVI returns to that theme time and again as the centerpiece of an authentic understanding of CST:
Our duties toward the environment are linked to our duties toward the human person, considered in himself and in relation to others. (Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, No. 51)
Human beings interpret and shape the natural environment through culture, which in turn is given direction by the responsible use of freedom, in accordance with the dictates of the moral law. (Caritas in Veritate, No. 48)
It is necessary first of all to rediscover the meaning of the human person, in his individual and community dimensions, from the founding of family life, a source of love and affection from which the sense of solidarity and sharing develop. (Benedict XVI, Message to the General Director of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, October 13, 2008)
If environmentalism is unmoored from the dignity of the human person, it loses its fundamental value. The solidarity of the human community impels us to protect the environment for the benefit of future generations. The world’s resources are not only for us alive today, but for those yet to come. Our responsibility for creation harkens back to our first parents and the command to exercise dominion over creation. “Dominion” is not a license to abuse creation, but the ability to exercise our ability to be co-creators with God. By furthering the beauty of God’s creation–and respecting the resources we are given–we give honor to our Creator and show man’s greatest dignity.
For those who are searching for a clear and concise presentation of the Church’s teaching on the protection of the environment, this compilation is a perfect primer. Benedict XVI covers a wide range of issues within the environment, including economic issues related to the proper use and distribution of resources. And yet, Benedict XVI grounds each of these themes in the human person as both the beginning and end of the inquiry. Benedict XVI’s explanation of this important issue is particularly helpful in light of modern debates.
This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on The Environment. The Catholic Company is a great resource for tools to help you participate in the Year of Faith, including Year of Faith bible studies and exclusive Year of Faith personalized gifts. The Catholic Company also has all your Advent needs in stock, such as Advent calendars and Advent wreaths.