Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Theological Ecology

WHILE IN THE BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE MAN is given dominion over all things, it is a "pretension" to think that this is an "unconditional dominion" that may be "heedless of any moral considerations." All human activity, including that activity that relates to how man deals with his environment, is subject to moral consideration. There is no realm in which man can act without regard to morality.

There is without doubt a tendency in man to use, or perhaps better, exploit those natural resources over which he gains control. This tendency has been exacerbated, even institutionalized, as the result of historical and cultural process. Necessarily, this can affect his environment, as he leaves the detritus as it were of his exploitation.

Modernly, as a result of both the increase in the population of man and his ability better to exploit the natural world through technology, we confront a serious threat to our environment, even a "critical point" in our history which mandates action. (Compendium, No. 461) "Nature appears as an instrument in the hands of man, a reality that he must constantly manipulate, especially by means of technology." (Compendium, No. 462)

Particularly during the Industrial Revolution, man's dominion over nature was given a "reductionist conception," one largely predicated upon a false supposition that "an infinite quantity of energy and resources [were] available," that it was "possible to renew them quickly," and that "negative effects of the exploitation [could] be easily absorbed." (Compendium, No. 462)  We were blinded to the effects of the constant "strokes of havoc," our constant hacking and racking on, hewing on and delving into, the environment, not unlike those who felled Gerard Manley Hopkins's "Binsey Poplars":
MY aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
All felled, felled, are all felled;
Of a fresh and following folded rank
Not spared, not one
That dandled a sandalled
Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow and river and wind-wandering weed-winding bank.
O if we but knew what we do
When we delve or hew --
Hack and rack the growing green!
Since country is so tender
To touch, her being só slender,
That, like this sleek and seeing ball
But a prick will make no eye at all,
Where we, even where we mean
To mend her we end her,
When we hew or delve:
After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.
Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve
Strokes of havoc únselve
The sweet especial scene,
Rural scene, a rural scene,
Sweet especial rural scene.
Perhaps one of the most egregious instances of this reckless neglect of nature, one typical of what the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church is referring to, is related by Donald Culross Peattie in his book, A Natural History of North American Trees, when he describes the exploitation of the beautiful pecan trees of Texas:
Until almost the turn of the last century, pecans reached the market largely from wild trees. The harvesting methods in early times consisted in nothing less heroic and criminal than cutting down gigantic specimens--the bigger the better--and setting boys to gather the nuts from the branches of the fallen giants. It seemed to the pioneer then, as it did to every American, that the forests of this country were inexhaustible. Thus it came about that the wild Pecan tree had become rare before men began to realize how much was lost.*
 Underlying this reckless attitude was the mechanistic view of nature ushered in by the Enlightenment, a utilitarian ethic which measured everything in terms of cost and benefit, and the consumerism mentality which modernly has reached absurd proportions.  Through both these philosophical, historical, cultural, and individual attitudes, we have alienated ourselves from our environment.  "Primacy is given to doing and having rather to being, and this causes serious forms of human alienation."  (Compendium, No. 462).

The problem is not science or technology itself; it is rather what the Church in the Compendium calls "scientism and technocratic ideologies" that cause the problem of man's alienation from his environment and the lack of prudence, indeed even reckless irresponsibility, in exploiting the goods of the earth.

While recognizing the serious environmental problems confronting man, the Church warns us of going overboard in our reactions.  We see this attitude in many environmentalists, in many intellectual leaders of the "green" parties and "New Agers." In addressing the problem, there is a line we ought not to cross.  We must not "absolutize nature and place it above the dignity of the human person himself."   Indeed, there is a notable tendency in many ecologically-concerned groups to "divinize nature or the earth."  (Compendium, No. 463)

As the Compendium puts it:
The Magisterium finds the motivation for its opposition to a concept of the environment based on ecocentrism and biocentrism in the fact that "it is being proposed that the ontological and axiological difference between men and other living beings be eliminated, since the biosphere is considered a biotic unity of undifferentiated value. Thus man's superior responsibility can be eliminated in favor of the egalitarian consideration of the 'dignity' of all living beings."**
(Compendium, No. 463)  Unless moderated, the reaction to the past exploitation of nature may be as foolish and as detrimental as the exploitation itself.  In a fool's bargain, we will be trading one foolishness for another foolishness.

What is worse is the modern tendency to address this problem without reference to God.  The loss in a belief in the doctrine of Creation will lead to confusion and errors in judgment.

A vision of man and things that is sundered from any reference to the transcendent has led to the rejection of the concept of creation and to the attribution of a completely independent existence to man and nature. The bonds that unite the world to God have thus been broken. This rupture has also resulted in separating man from the world and, more radically, has impoverished man's very identity. Human beings find themselves thinking that they are foreign to the environmental context in which they live. The consequences resulting from this are all too clear: "it is the relationship man has with God that determines his relationship with his fellow men and with his environment. This is why Christian culture has always recognized the creatures that surround man as also gifts of God to be nurtured and safeguarded with a sense of gratitude to the Creator. Benedictine and Franciscan spirituality in particular has witnessed to this sort of kinship of man with his creaturely environment, fostering in him an attitude of respect for every reality of the surrounding world." There is a need to place ever greater emphasis on the intimate connection between environmental ecology and "human ecology."***

(Compendium, No. 464)**

While the Church warns of philosophical and ideological errors in the matter of man and his environment, she also quite strongly advocates efforts at re-injecting a moral component into our use and exploitation of natural resources so that their use may be responsible and may accord with principles of just use
The Magisterium underscores human responsibility for the preservation of a sound and healthy environment for all. "If humanity today succeeds in combining the new scientific capacities with a strong ethical dimension, it will certainly be able to promote the environment as a home and a resource for man and for all men, and will be able to eliminate the causes of pollution and to guarantee adequate conditions of hygiene and health for small groups as well as for vast human settlements. Technology that pollutes can also cleanse, production that amasses can also distribute justly, on condition that the ethic of respect for life and human dignity, for the rights of today's generations and those to come, prevails."**
(Compendium, No. 465)

There is a lot of lost time man must make up for.  "Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures . . . "

*Donald Culross Peattie, A Natural History of North American Trees (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2007), 181.
**The Compendium here quotes from John Paul II, Address to participants in a convention on "The Environment and Health" dated March 24, 1997.
*** The term "human ecology" is derived from John Paul II's encyclical Centesimus Annus, 38.

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