Contemporary Issue: Natural Environment


The Ecological Issue: Our Natural Environment

One of the first statements regarding the preservation of our natural environment to appear in magesterial texts was Pope Paul VI's foreboding declaration concerning the environment in Octogesima Adveniens:

"Man is suddenly becoming aware that by an ill-considered exploitation of nature he risks destroying it and becoming in his turn the victim of this degradation. Not only is the material environment becoming a permanent menace - pollution and refuse, new illness and absolute destructive capacity - but the human framework is no longer under man's control, thus creating an environment for tomorrow which may well be intolerable. This is a wide-ranging social problem which concerns the entire human family." (OA, 21)

Saint John Paul the Great exhorted us to consider the seriousness of man's impact upon the natural environment, first in the encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, where he carefully clarified man's place within - and use of the resources within - his natural environment at large:

"Nor can the moral character of development exclude respect for the beings which constitute the natural world, which the ancient Greeks - alluding precisely to the order which distinguishes it - called the "cosmos." Such realities also demand respect, by virtue of a threefold consideration which it is useful to reflect upon carefully.

The first consideration is the appropriateness of acquiring a growing awareness of the fact that one cannot use with impunity the different categories of beings, whether living or inanimate - animals, plants, the natural elements - simply as one wishes, according to one's own economic needs. On the contrary, one must take into account the nature of each being and of its mutual connection in an ordered system, which is precisely the cosmos."

The second consideration is based on the realization - which is perhaps more urgent - that natural resources are limited; some are not, as it is said, renewable. Using them as if they were inexhaustible, with absolute dominion, seriously endangers their availability not only for the present generation but above all for generations to come.

The third consideration refers directly to the consequences of a certain type of development on the quality of life in the industrialized zones. We all know that the direct or indirect result of industrialization is, ever more frequently, the pollution of the environment, with serious consequences for the health of the population." (SRS, 34)

His Holiness later addressed man's consumption of natural resources in Centesimus Annus:

"In his desire to have and to enjoy rather than to be and to grow, man consumes the resources of the earth and his own life in an excessive and disordered way…In this regard, humanity today must be conscious of its duties and obligations towards future generations." (CA, 37)

The Environment and Integral Human Development

When we see evidence of disordered consumption in the world, it reflects an insufficiency of integral human development within society– an insufficiency that CST seeks to confront:

"Man, who discovers his capacity to transform and in a certain sense create the world through his own work, forgets that this is always based on God's prior and original gift of the things that are. Man thinks that he can make arbitrary use of the earth, subjecting it without restraint to his will..." (CA, 37) 


"A true concept of development cannot ignore the use of the elements of nature, the renewability of resources and the consequences of haphazard industrialization - three considerations which alert our consciences to the moral dimension of development." (SRS, 34)

Pope Benedict XVI reiterated the gravity of integral human development with regards to the environment. Environmental conservation was a concern that he championed consistently throughout his pontificate:

“The earth is a precious gift of the Creator, who has designed its intrinsic order, thus giving us guidelines to which we must hold ourselves as stewards of his creation. From this awareness, the Church considers questions linked to the environment and its safeguarding as profoundly linked with the topic of integral human development.” (Benedict XVI, General Audience, 26 August 2009)

He went on to say,

“I referred to these questions several times in my last encyclical "Caritas in Veritate," reminding of the pressing moral need for renewed solidarity" (49) not only in relations between countries, but also between individuals, as the natural environment is given by God to everyone, and its use entails a personal responsibility towards the whole of humanity, in particular, towards the poor and future generations. (Cf. 48)”. (Benedict XVI, General Audience, 26 August 2009)

Benedict even made this topic the theme for his 1 January 2010 World Day of Peace message, where he made the most developed magisterial case to date on the topic of the environment.

Related Thoughts on Natural Environment

The Catholic Social Doctrine has its place where faith and politics meet. The Church’s aim is to not replace the State, but to simply help purify reason and to contribute, here and now, to the acknowledgment and attainment of what is just. Taken from "Adult Faith Formation in Catholic Social Teachings"
I invite you to look around at the new things which surround us and in which we find ourselves… (Saint John Paul II, Centesimus Annus, 1991) Taken from "Catholic Social Teaching 101"
Solidarity helps us transcend cultural, political, social and geographic boundaries to embrace the other as thyself. Indeed, Solidarity is Radical (But not in a Political or Ideological Sense). The principle of solidarity is truly radical. Taken from "Solidarity Flows From Faith!"

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Just a Thought
The Catholic Social Doctrine has its place where faith and politics meet. The Church’s aim is to not replace the State, but to simply help purify reason and to contribute, here and now, to the acknowledgment and attainment of what is just. Read more