Catholic Leaders, Writers, and Theologians

(Laypersons and Religious) on ecology and environmental justice

Presented by the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Conservation Center




Origin (185-232)

    "Hear ye deaf, and ye blind look up that ye may see."  Now the blind see, when they see the world and from the exceeding great beauty of the things created they contemplate the Creator corresponding in greatness and beauty to them; and when they see clearly "the invisible things of God Himself from the creation of the world, which are perceived through the things that are made;" that is, they see and understand with care and clearness.

                                                    -COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW




Monsignor Charles M. Murphy

At Home on Earth (excerpts from the book)

    The thesis of [the book: At Home on Earth: Foundations for a Catholic Ethic of the Environment] is that the earth was created by God to be our home, as the Book of Genesis says it was, that we humans are "made of earth," that we are by nature earthly creatures and that the earth, our home, has a future that we can responsibly determine....

    A Christian ethic, whether of the environment or of any other aspect of our life, must be based upon the values of the coming reign of God which Jesus preached.  That reign encompasses not only personal salvation of individual believers but of society as well, the body and the soul, the heavens and the earth....  

    The world for the Christian is not an illusion but God's own creation with a structure and a goodness that cannot be vitiated even by sin.  The God of the creation and the God of the redemption are one, as the Creed professes: "I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and of earth, and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary...."  The Christian faith, then, is a decidedly "worldly" faith....

Earth    The Book of Genesis ... attests that it is by God's will and design that the earth and everything that is in it have been made specifically to be our home, and that God has made us his surrogates in caring for it and tending it.  "You have made us the masters over all your creatures," Psalm 8 declares; "you have put everything under our feet."  We are invited by Genesis to delight with God in his creation and to find it "good."

    But even more than our home, according to Genesis, the earth was made to be the home of God.  He is the Creator of the heavens and the earth.  It is he who at the beginning walks in its gardens in the cool of the evening.  It is he who enjoys his Sabbath rest after all things are made and who invites his creatures to join him in it.  It is to him that the eyes of all his creatures hopefully look, and he gives them their food in due season; he opens his hands and satisfies the desire of every living thing.  The beauty of the creation betrays traces of its Maker, for the "heavens declare the glory of God and all the firmament discloses his handiwork."  It was furthermore into this world that God's creative Word became incarnated in Christ, the temple of his glory, so that through his Spirit the whole world might become his dwelling place once more.

    In the past the development of science and the encouragement of human inventiveness were made possible by a religious belief in God's transcendence from his creatures having their own "objectivity."  Similarly today, many believe, the religious belief in God's immanence within his creation as his home -- even more than it is ours -- can have enormous impact upon our renewed sense of respect for the world and the setting of proper ethical limits upon its human use and manipulation.  To be avoided, of course, is any blurring of the distinction between God and creation as in the old pantheist heresies....

    The mystery hidden from the ages that is now revealed is that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.  It is a mystery that is expressed in the eucharistic sacrament and is related to the sacramentality of the universe itself.  These sacramental moments are anticipations, present signs of the kingdom's coming....

    Ethics, as the tragic history of the world shows, does not arise out of logic but out of the religious imagination....

    For the religious person, in any age, nature is never just "nature" but retains a sacred quality as "creation," something made and sustained by God.  Nature as creation is a sacrament [more correctly a "sacramental"], a visible representation of God, to whom it ultimately belongs....

    It is possible ... for Christians to discuss rationally the right ordering of nature with nonbelievers because nature apart from grace has its own rationality.  But such rational discourse does not exhaust the full meaning of nature which must be seen, from the Christian viewpoint, as both created and redeemed by God.  Nature is alive with its own life and with the life of God....

    The author of the First Letter of Peter addressed his disparate flock and told them "once you were no people, but now you have become the people of God."  They were "no people" because they did not form one ethnic group as did Judaism of old.  We moderns, or postmoderns, are "no people" for other reasons as well.  In our greed, individualism, and selfishness, we, like the epistle's "no people," have a need, an even more urgent one, to acquire the virtues it regards as hallmarks of the Christian life: "brotherly and sisterly affection, kindness, and humblemindedness."  The letter concludes, "Above all, keep your love for one another at full strength....  Be hospitable to one another without complaining.  Whatever gift each of you may have received, use it in service to one another, like good stewards dispensing the grace of God in its varied forms....  Indeed, all of you should wrap yourselves in the garment of humility towards each other because God sets his face against the arrogant but favors the humble."  How exotic this catalog of virtues.  Yet they comprise not just a survival kit for continued life upon the earth.  They are the first lights of the dawning kingdom of God.

--At Home on Earth: Foundations for a Catholic Ethic of the Environment, by Charles M. Murphy, The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1989 (an excellent book!)

    The disparities between human beings who live in squalor and those who have everything money can buy are glaring in a world brought closer together through amazing advances in communication.  This great disparity denies social justice, leads to ecological tragedy, and most of all, creates a misperception of what the good life really is, which ultimately makes excessive consumption a religious question.  

--Monsignor Charles Murphy is pastor of St. Pius X Church in Portland, Maine (1995), and author of the book, At Home on Earth: Foundations for a Catholic Ethic of the Environment.



Meister Eckhart (1260-1329)

   APPREHEND GOD in all things,

   for God is in all things.


   Every single creature is full of God

   and is a book about God.


   Every creature is a word of God.


   If I spent enough time with the tiniest creature--

   even a caterpillar--

   I would never have to prepare a sermon.

   So full of God is every creature.



WE OUGHT TO understand God equally in all things, for God is equally in all things.

All beings love one another.

All creatures are interdependent.



ALL CREATURES speak of God the way I have.



EARTH CANNOT escape heaven, 

    Flee it by going up,

        or flee it by going down,

    heaven still invades the earth,

        energizes it, 

            makes it sacred.

    All hiding places reveal God.

    If you want to escape God

        He runs into your lap.


    God is at home.

    It is we who have gone out for a walk.    



IF I WERE ALONE in the desert and feeling afraid,

I would want a child to be with me.

For then my fear would disappear and I would be made strong.

This is what life in itself can do because it is so noble, so full of pleasure and so powerful.


But if I could not have a child with me,

I would like to have at least a living animal at my side to comfort me.



let those who bring about wonderful things in their big, dark books take an animal - perhaps a dog - to help them.


The life within the animal will give strength in turn.

For equality gives strength in all things and at all times.



WHEN WE SAY "God is eternal," we mean: God is eternally young, God is ever green, ever verdant, ever flowering.

Every action of God is new, for he makes all things new.

God is the newest thing there is; the youngest thing there is.

God is the beginning and if we are united to him we become new again.



THIS IS SALVATION: When we marvel at the beauty of created things and praise the beautiful providence of their Creator or when we purchase heavenly goods by our compassion for the works of creation.



IF THE ONLY PRAYER you say in your entire life is "Thank You," that would suffice.




    God lies on a maternity bed

    giving birth

The essence of God is birthing.




is not to be learned

by flight from the world,

by running away from things,

or by turning solitary and going apart

from the world.


we must learn an inner solitude

wherever or with whomever we may be.

We must learn to penetrate things and find God there.



ALL GIFTS of nature and grace

have been given us on loan.

Their ownership is not ours, but God's.



AT EVERY DEED, however puny,

that results in justice,

God is made glad,

glad through and through.

At such a time

there is nothing in the core of the Godhead

that is not tickled through and through

and that does not dance for joy.


--Meister Eckhart was a mystic who lived in the 14th century.  (Mysticism in the Catholic tradition is the knowledge of God through experience.) 




Angelus Silesius (1624-1677)

    AS IN THE flint the fire, as in the seed the tree, so is God's likeness hidden in everything I see.

-Quoted in Catholic Digest, July 2002



Venerable Charles De Foucauld (1858-1916)

    Let only Your will be done in me, and in all Your creatures.



John Scotus Eriugena (810-877)

    Christ wears 'two shoes' in the world: scripture and nature.  Both are necessary to understand the Lord, and at no stage can creation be seen as a separation of things from God.



MoonChristopher Derrick

The Delicate Creation

    WE DO HAVE an urgent practical need to rediscover, reassert, and enact more fully our old lost awareness that God's delicate creation is a good and holy thing, a work and presence of divinity, not dead and empty of all objective values, not by any means evil, not an enemy.  Fully recovered and deeply felt, this awareness would lead almost automatically to a radically different handling of Nature, on lines more symbiotic and less exploitive, less appropriate to an enemy and more appropriate to a mother [or sister]:  to adapt a phrase from Bertrand Russell, it would bring us back to a needed sense and practice of "cosmic piety."


    WE SHOULD SEE the environmental crisis as a warning, alerting us to a basic religious fact that we had forgotten, a basic religious duty in which we had been remiss.  We need to accept the warning given, but then to forget all about the crisis and the danger, attending chiefly or only to the duty of giving to our environment the much more respectful handling that it actually deserves, and for no reason beyond its actual deserving.

    [OUR] PRIME CONCERN will therefore be to reconnect the idea of God with the ideas of creation and immanence.  While having no pantheistic tendency, without compromising God's transcendence and the immense ontological gulf between the Creator and every creature, it will also -- and more urgently -- stress the other side of that ultimate dialectic, the creative and loving presence of God in all his works, all his possessions, and the consequent holiness of the phenomenal universe....  This world belongs to God, not to us: "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof."  In one sense, the whole environmental crisis arises from our habitual but extraordinary assumption that it belongs to us, to the human race, and to this generation in particular.  We treat it in a fashion which is not only contemptuous but proprietorial, which is a great folly.  By no conceivable title does this world belong to us.  We did not make it: we cannot understand or control it except in the most marginal way: individually and collectively, we are catapulted into it by no choice of our own, allowed to occupy it for a short time, and then ejected: the environmental crisis shows up the unreality of any claim that we own it by right of conquest....  There should be preached to us a more realistic idea of our own standing, a habitual awareness that we live here not as freeholders but as tenants and stewards, responsible always to somebody else, somebody who ... loves this world and cares furiously about what happens to it.


    DOCTRINALLY SPEAKING, an environmental theology will therefore put first things first.  In a fashion highly "traditional" and somewhat alien to the present-day thinking of many Christians, it will concentrate initially upon the paradoxical things said and implied at the very beginning of the Bible and in the opening words of either Creed -- God's creative presence in his dearly-loved work; the consequent holiness of matter, our own persons included, and the given circumstances of our ordinary life; the Fall, our collective and culpable spoiling of an otherwise happy scene.  Only upon that foundation, firmly established and deeply entrenched, will it erect the lofty structure of redemption and sacrament and of the additional and extraordinary goodness thus made available.... 

     In the field of applied religion, of morals as against doctrine, this will involve the supplementary preaching of two rather unpopular virtues.  In the first place, it will urge upon mankind a certain collective humility.  This does not mean that it will take a low total-depravity view of human nature, or deny the old doctrine of man's special dignity and vocation, his qualified lordship over this world.  Humility does not work like that.  The humble man is not the man who has a poor opinion of himself: he is, rather, the man whose merit and standing, whatever it may be, is not the object of his own habitual and anxious attention -- the man, therefore, who feels no particular need to assert himself or dominate.  At present, in its fretful desire to conquer this planet and outer space as well, our race displays collectively the vulgar assertiveness that we can sometimes observe (but never with much admiration) in the insecure, under-confident, alienated individual.  Such collective behavior is not called for: it is a loutishness.  Perhaps, like much individual loutishness, it calls for sympathy and reassurance rather than for rebuke.  At the merely natural level, "cosmic piety" suggests that man is a very exceptional and splendid and sacred thing indeed, a lord of creation certainly and already, while Christianity develops this idea to almost extravagant heights.  A sound environmental theology will offer us both reassurance and a degree of pained rebuke, a hint that we might do well to forget the boring obsession with conquest and think of happier things.  It will suggest for man, in this life, a more gentle and indeed a more aristocratic role than that of the chip-on-shoulder lout, the swaggering bully, the exploiter, the tyrant: it will beseech him to enact, towards the rest of creation, the high relaxed courtesy that comes naturally to the humble.

    In the second place, it will suggest for us a degree of practical asceticism [self-denial]:  applied in daily life, it will certainly involve us all in a definitely simplified mode of existence, such as might seem alarmingly austere by the fat standards of today.  It will probably be a much happier mode of existence, once we have got used to it; but in the early stages, it will dictate a rather painful mortification of the desire to control and the desire to dominate, and of general self-indulgence too.  It will encourage us to be less greedy, less demanding, to have a more positive attitude towards existence as such, towards experience as given: if we still use the expression "standard of living," this kind of theology will help us to give it a meaning less ridiculous than it has now.  Thus sobered, we would shed many of the fretful complexities of present-day life -- with reluctance at first, but soon with relief.

    This would not be the kind of asceticism that despises and rejects the world:  it would have exactly the opposite character, being rooted in an awareness of the enormous good that resides in even a very little -- in commonplace things and small quantities and familiar routines....  You criticize the given universe if you make impatient demands upon it, if you call for modification and particular arrangements: cars and champagne are excellent things, but if you call for them too insistently, you will be denying the more radical goodness of feet and water.


    IT WILL BE our most practical course of action to put ... religious motivation first, worrying much less about a survival that is temporary at the best, and worrying hardly at all about progress and development and conquest and our precious "standard of living."  The important thing will be the cultivation of an objectively worthy and well-mannered handling of the environment, considered as God's work and property.  If we thus seek first the Kingdom, those other things will, up to a point, be added unto us: otherwise, they are likely to prove very elusive indeed.  The great lesson taught by the environmental crisis is that they cannot be captured forcibly in the course of a violent war against Nature.  Our temporal well-being will be achieved lovingly or not at all.


    WE NEED TO assert and enact not only the goodness of this world but also the ontological goodness of its chief inhabitant, flawed and damaged though he plainly is, tiresome though he can often be to ourselves.  Too easily, we forget his continuing splendor, detecting it perhaps in small children or at the time of first love, but forgetting it otherwise.  Towards a recovered sense of reverence before humanity, no program of charity and courtesy and ceremonial would be too much. 


    THE STRONGEST OF ALL remedies is the daily habit of appreciative gratitude.  We may not feel this naturally; but intellectually at least, we can recognize it as an appropriate response to the wholly surprising and undeserved gift of existence, and to this rather amazing world, and to all the apples, frogs, bears, cathedrals, fountains, worms, fireworks, icebergs, skyscrapers, flamingoes, snowflakes, bridges, alligators, honeycombs, girls, books, diamonds, ships, flames, hedgehogs, deserts, butterflies, and wine that we find within it.  And for the Christian, a list of this kind will only be a preliminary, of relatively small account.  Where this appreciative gratitude is not felt naturally, it should be cultivated...  Even in lesser matters, we know that we owe thanks to our benefactors.  Where the sentiment is not felt, there is a loutishness of the soul that may not be culpable; but if we refuse even the words and the outward forms of gratitude, we are guilty of bad manners in the highest degree.  The necessity of prayer -- and even the rule of its first formulation -- might be considered to begin at this point: gratias agamus....  It would be good manners, on our part, to make this a daily habit -- to make it the whole of our prayers, if it comes to that, but at least their starting-point.  And then, on some windy morning, we might open our eyes and for the first time catch sight of this world, our rare and fragile home. 

--The Delicate Creation: Towards a Theology of the Environment, by Christopher Derrick. 1972. Old Greenwich: Devin-Adair. 


C. S. Lewis

    What we call Man's power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument....  At the moment, then, of Man's victory over Nature, we find the whole human race subjected to some individual men, and those individuals subjected to that in themselves which is purely "natural"--to their irrational impulses....  Man's conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be Nature's conquest of Man.  

The Abolition of Man, by C.S. Lewis, pp. 40, 47.  London, Geofrey Bless, 1962.



Thomas Merton

    ONE OF THE MOST important discoveries of our time could be called the ecological conscience, which is centered in an awareness of the human's true place as a dependent member of the biotic community.  The tragedy that has been revealed in the ecological shambles created by business and war is a tragedy of ambivalence, aggression, and fear cloaked in virtuous ideas and justified by pseudo-Christian clichés.  Or rather a tragedy of pseudo-creativity deeply impregnated with hatred, megalomania, and the need for domination.  Its psychological root doubtless lies in the profound dehumanization and alienation of modern Western humanity, which has gradually come to mistake the artificial value of inert objects and abstractions for the power of life itself.


    ALL BEING IS from God.  This is not simply an arbitrary and tendentious "religious" affirmation which in some way or other robs being of autonomy and dignity.  On the contrary, the doctrine of creation is, when properly understood, that which implies the deepest respect for reality and for the being of everything that is.

    One who apprehends being as such apprehends it as an act which is utterly beyond a complete scientific explanation.  To apprehend being is an act of contemplation and philosophical wisdom rather than the fruit of scientific analysis.

    My being is given a source of joy, growth, life, creativity, and fulfillment...not as an arbitrary affliction.


    WHAT IS SERIOUS to men is often very trivial in the sight of God.  What in God might appear to us as "play" is perhaps what God takes the most seriously.  At any rate the Lord plays in the garden of creation, and if we could let go of our own obsession with what we think is the meaning of it all, we might be able to hear God's call and follow in the mysterious, cosmic dance.  We do not have to go very far to catch echoes of that game, and of that dancing.  When we are alone on a starlit night; when by chance we see the migrating birds in autumn descending on a grove of junipers to rest and eat; when we see children in a moment when they are really children; when we know love in our own hearts; or when, like the Japanese poet Basho we hear an old frog land in a quiet pond with a solitary splash -- at such times the awakening, the turning inside out of all values, the "newness," the emptiness and the purity of vision that make themselves evident, provide a glimpse of the cosmic dance.

    For the world and time are the dance of the Lord in emptiness.  The silence of the spheres is the music of a wedding feast.  The more we persist in misunderstanding the phenomena of life, the more we analyze them out into strange finalities and complex purposes of our own, the more we involve ourselves in sadness, absurdity, and despair.  But it does not matter much, because no despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there.  Indeed, we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it or not.

    Yet the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance.


    WHAT A THING it is to sit absolutely alone,

    in the forest, at night, cherished by this

    wonderful, unintelligible,

    perfectly innocent speech,

    the most comforting speech in the world,

    the talk that rain makes by itself all over the ridges,

    and the talk of the watercourses everywhere in the hollows!


    Nobody started it, nobody is going to stop it.

    It will talk as long as it wants, this rain.

    As long as it talks I am going to listen.



NO WORDS ever written can compare with the sound of the wind in the pine trees.


THAT'S HOW I pray.  Walk in the garden, or better, in the woods.


-Several of the passages above are from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander published in 1966 by Doubleday & Company.




Father Maximus Mandl, O.F.M.

   ST. PAUL TELLS US that there is a close union between man and the physical universe into which God placed man - so much so that the physical universe shares in the destiny of man. When man sinned through Adam and evoked God's curse upon himself, that same divine curse was also placed upon the whole of creation.  As a consequence, all through the centuries the whole of creation, Paul says, groans for the day of consummation. And then at the end, at the resurrection when we will be glorified by Christ, the whole of creation will also participate in that glory.  There you have the basis of what you could call a modern Christian ecology.

    --This Franciscan priest was the founder and longtime retreat master at what is now the St. Francis Retreat Center.  (1918-1996)



Patricia King

    WE CAN FIRST recognize the inherent vulnerability of children to the unintended consequences of our development--pesticide use in agricultural communities, air pollution in urban environments--and the special vulnerability of poor children, who are doubly jeopardized by their youth and their poverty.  

--Patricia King is policy advisor for health and welfare issues for the U.S. Catholic Conference (1995). 



Marie Hendrickx

    FOR, IF HOLINESS leads to reconciliation with nature, it is probable that reconciliation with nature, properly understood, fosters in turn better relations with God.  Or, if the right relationship with God makes people just to others and kind to animals, kindness to animals could in turn reawaken sentiments of admiration and praise in the human heart for the great work of the Creator of the universe.

--Causing Animals Needless Suffering is Contrary to Human Dignity, L'Osservatore Romano, Vatican, January 24, 2001



Reverend Joseph A. Tetlow, S.J.

    WE REMEMBER now that we know God as our ongoing Creator, One infinitely removed from chance, or fate, or the force.  In this ecological spirituality, we perceive God working busily in all creatures.  Hence, we perceive the universe as personal, charged with divine presence.  When we turn again to find God in nature, we recognize that all that exists reflects the divinity and participates in the divinity.  All that exists stands before God the way a mirror stands in a field, facing the sun and full of its light.

    ECOLOGICAL SPIRITUALITY requires that we keep in focus that the second person of the Trinity has come and remains with humanity through the Church.  What we do to our human flesh, then, we are somehow doing to the Christ, and what we do to our environment, our earthly home, we are doing to our flesh.  For even this earth, in whose atmosphere we are punching holes and whose depths we are poisoning with wastes, also groans awaiting its redemption.  For all things are to be made new in Christ, in whom we live and move and have our being.  

--Reverend Joseph A. Tetlow is a visiting  distinguished professor in the Department of Theological Studies at St. Louis University (1995).



Jo-Anne Pontone

    THE ANIMAL RIGHTS movement started with the noble intent of improving the quality of animal lives in human care. However, the underlying philosophies that have been widely adopted by society as a result have damaged our perception of both man and animals. In seeking equality between man and animals, this movement has diminished our view of humanity. Our separation from animals has been depicted as artificial and man-made. In addition, animals have been made over in man's image and have been denied their true nature. I propose that it is not necessary to make animals into humans in order to respect them. Animals should be appreciated as being wonderfully different from us. Further, if we consider animals as God's gift to man in creation, we are bound in responsibility over them. Fulfilling this responsibility requires that we first must affirm man's true nature and dignity. It is only then that we can strive to imitate God's compassionate care for the animals and all of creation.

-Jo-Anne Pontone is a veterinarian. Homiletic & Pastoral Review. Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA, March 2002. 26-30.



Vatican Newspaper Blasts Exploitation Of Exotic Animals

    VATICAN, Oct 1, 01 ( - In anticipation of the feast of St. Francis of Assisi (October 4), the Vatican newspaper has condemned the exploitation of wild animals for pure entertainment.

    L'Osservatore Romano contrasted the attitude of St. Francis -- who was known for his love of animals-- with the " notorious but lucrative" market in exotic animals. The newspaper alluded to several recent stories about dangerous animals that have become loose on the Italian countryside, after escaping from homes where they had been kept as exotic pets.

    "An animal is not an object, but a living being," L'Osservatore Romano argued. "It must be treated with respect, understanding, and-- following the example of St. Francis-- love."



Gerard Manley Hopkins: "God's Grandeur"

    The world is charged with the grandeur of God,

        It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;

        It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

    Crushed.  Why do men then now not reck his rod?

    Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

        And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

        And wears man's smudge and shared man's smell: the soil

    Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.


    And for all this, nature is never spent;

        There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

    And though the last lights off the black West went

        Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs --

    Because the Holy Spirit over the bent

        World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.





Flannery O'Connor


    Catholics believe that all creation is good and that evil is the wrong use of good and that without grace we use it wrong most of the time.


--Quoted in Catholic Digest, July 2002




Padre Benedetto Nardella


    Accustom yourself to seeing God in everything, because nature is a reflection of God.  Oh!  How He sparkles, shines, dazzles and is radiant in the invisible and the visible.


-From a series of articles from the Voice of Padre Pio, Friary of Our Lady of Grace, 71013 San Giovanni Rotondo, (FG), Italy; found on





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