Catholic Belief

The 1990 World Day of Peace Message of Pope John Paul II was foundational in establishing a list of principles for facing environmental issues. This list has since been amplified and systematised in the Catechism and the Compendium of Catholic Social Teaching.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explores the place of creation in God’s providence. [1] It explicitly rejects past Scriptural interpretations that justified ideas of unrestrained domination of the environment, declares as erroneous the utilitarian reduction of nature to something to be manipulated and exploited, and says there is an ever-greater need to respect the transcendent dimension of creation itself. [2]

The Compendium of Catholic Social Teaching has a whole section on environmental care, which updates Catholic social principles to embrace the ecological dimension and identify it as ‘integral to faith’. [3] Such social teaching is a significant move away from an exclusively human-centred perspective.

The ecological conversion spoken of by Pope John Paul II will require courage as believers choose to make sacrifices and change lifestyles to reconnect with nature’s rhythms. [4]

A modern Catholic spiritual journey not only embraces the natural world, including the reality of climate change, but revels in the mystery it reveals. When launching Catholic EarthcareAustralia, Archbishop John Bathersby said:

The entire life of Christians is an exploration into Christ. Each generation pushes back ever so slightly the envelope of his mystery … One of the most significant developments in Catholic understanding of the Christian mission in more recent times is its embrace of creation in all its beauty and vitality.

The mystery of God immanent in Earth makes lesser spiritual aims seem paltry. Pope John Paul II, in a November 2000 statement, said:

‘Within the movement of nature, tranquil and silent but rich in life, there continues to palpitate the original delight of the Creator.’

[1] Multiple entries the Catechism’s index link the material and the spiritual worlds in an integral way.

[2] Compendium of Catholic Social Teaching, St Pauls, Homebush, 2004, Chapter 10, specifically Nos. 461–463.

[3] To quote the words of Pope John Paul II, World Day of Peace Message, 1990.

[4] John Paul II: ‘The Jubilee is a further summons to conversion of heart through a change of life. It is a reminder to all that they should give absolute importance neither to the goods of the Earth, since these are not God, nor to man’s domination or claim to domination, since the Earth belongs to God and to him alone (Leviticus 25:23)’. Bull Proclaiming Great Jubilee 1998, No. 12.