3.4.1 Beginnings

Back to 3.3.8

Unit 3 Contents



In the reading at the end of the last section, Henning refers a number of times to a major statement by Pope John Paul II in 1990.  He also refers to a more recent contribution by Pope Benedict XVI.  Against the background of all we have looked at so far in this unit, we now turn to the main papal and other ‘official’ Catholic documents specifically on ecological issues.

In fact some of these statements have already been set as reading:

  • parts of the Compendium
  • the Philippine Bishops’ document, ‘What is Happening to our Beautiful Land’
  • Pope John Paul II’s 2001 statement, ‘God Made Man the Steward of Creation’.

You are asked to do longer readings in this section, so be ready for this.  The earlier parts of this unit should have prepared you for digesting and assessing the material you will encounter.

The first pope to speak about the challenge of ecological crisis was Paul VI, in 1971. Octagesima Adveniens (which was quoted near the end of Unit 2: 2.3.1) included a powerful statement that can be seen as agenda-setting for the subsequent development of CST in this area.  Referring to a “dramatic and unexpected consequence of human activity”, he said:

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.

The Christian must turn to these new perceptions in order to take on responsibility, together with the rest of men, for a destiny which from now on is shared by all. (Octagesima Adveniens #21)

This statement has been frequently quoted since, including by Benedict XVI in his Message for the 2010 World Day of Peace (#3), which we shall come to shortly.

The document Justitia in Mundo, issued in the same year by a worldwide Synod of Bishops, included similarly strong statements.

[P]eople are beginning to grasp a new and more radical dimension of unity; for they perceive that their resources, as well as the precious treasures of air and water – without which there cannot be life – and the small delicate biosphere of the whole complex of all life on earth, are not infinite, but on the contrary must be saved and preserved…. (#8)

Furthermore, such is the demand for resources and energy by the richer nations, … and such are the effects of dumping by them in the atmosphere and the sea that irreparable damage would be done to the essential elements of life on earth, such as air and water, if their high rates of consumption and pollution, which are constantly on the increase, were extended to the whole of humanity. (#11)




End of 3.4.1

Go to 3.4.2 Pope John Paul II


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