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The Pope Francis’ Encyclical letter on Ecology (First part)

Last year Pope Francis promulgated the enciclical letter “Laudato sii“. The encyclical letter is dedicated to the relationship between man and his environment. At the beginning of the letter there are the teachings on ecology of St. John XXIII, Paul VI, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI. The are also the teachings of the Orthodox Patriarch Bartolomew. The letter contains some important St. Francis’ thoughts too.

After having exhorted all men and women to a renewed interest in the ecological themes, the Pope offers an overview on “What is happening to our common home”. This is the first chapter of the letter.

The first chapter is devoted to the pollution and climate changes, the issue of the water, the loss of biodiversity, the decline in the quality of human life and the breakdown of society, the global inequality, the week rsponses and the variety of opinions on these very important problems.

The second chapter’s title is “The Gospel of Creation” and it suggests to study the ecological issues from a faith’s perspective. The first’ chapter section contains the biblical teachings about ecology. I’m particularly interested in this part of the encyclical letter:

65. Without repeating the entire theology of creation, we can ask what the great biblical narratives say about the relationship of human beings with the world. In the first creation account in the Book of Genesis, God’s plan includes creating humanity. After the creation of man and woman, “God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good” (Gen 1:31). The Bible teaches that every man and woman is created out of love and made in God’s image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26). This shows us the immense dignity of each person, “who is not just something, but someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with other persons”. Saint John Paul II stated that the special love of the Creator for each human being “confers upon him or her an infinite dignity”. Those who are committed to defending human dignity can find in the Christian faith the deepest reasons for this commitment. How wonderful is the certainty that each human life is not adrift in the midst of hopeless chaos, in a world ruled by pure chance or endlessly recurring cycles! The Creator can say to each one of us: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jer 1:5). We were conceived in the heart of God, and for this reason “each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary”.

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To assert the human being’s dignity the Pope quotes the first part of the Genesis verse on mankind’s creation: ““Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness” (Gen 1:26).

At the peak of the creationw’s week, we find a special God’s act. This act is described by a plural verb: “let us make”. So were the Hebrew polytheists?  Not at all. The human being is not God and he can’t to be like God, because God is totally different from all that he has created. To say that the human being isn’t like God, the biblical author said that the human being was created in the likeness of the “heaven court”.

Among Ancient Israelites was common the idea of  an “heaven court” of which God was the King. In the book of Job (1:6) this image is well present: “One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them.” It is highly probable that in the Genesis’ book the author has intended something like that. At the presence of his angels  – the “sons of God” (cf. e.g. Gen 6:1) – God decided to create the human being so that he could have in themselves something of the God’s world.

In Hebrew “image” means a sort of bodily resemblance to God. The term “likeness” instead means a spiritual and inner resemblance to God. The human being was created in the likeness to “God and the spiritual beings that live with him”. So men and women have a sort of “God’s trademark” that gives them a dignity superior than that of all other living beings. Men and women are able to overcome their egoism to love other people like themselves. Men and women have the possibility to escape from chaotic situations and to live in a new dimension.

To underline the human being’s great dignity the Pope quotes another very important biblical text : «Before I formed you in the womb I knew you» (Jer 1:5). The hebrew verb “to know” means not only “to think”, but also “to experience, to love, to will”. All verbs that are present in a wonderful speech of Benedict XVI quoted by Pope Francis: “each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary” (to be continued)

Simone Venturini

Scrittore

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