Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Conservation Center
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Ecology in the Catechism of the Catholic Church
Ways of Coming to Know God Created in God's image and called to know and love him, the person who seeks God discovers certain ways of coming to know him. These are also called proofs for the existence of God, not in the sense of proofs in the natural sciences, but rather in the sense of "converging and convincing arguments," which allow us to attain certainty about the truth. These ways of approaching God from creation have a twofold point of departure: the physical world and the human person. (no. 31) The world: starting from movement, becoming, contingency, and the world's order and beauty, one can come to a knowledge of God as the origin and the end of the universe. St. Paul says of the Gentiles: For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. And St. Augustine issues this challenge: Question the beauty of the earth, question the beauty of the sea, question the beauty of the air distending and diffusing itself, question the beauty of the sky...question all these realities. All respond: "See, we are beautiful." Their beauty is a profession. These beauties are subject to change. Who made them if not the Beautiful One who is not subject to change? (no. 32) The human person: With his openness to truth and beauty, his sense of moral goodness, his freedom and the voice of his conscience, with his longings for the infinite and for happiness, man questions himself about God's existence. In all this he discerns signs of his spiritual soul. The soul, the "seed of eternity we bear in ourselves, irreducible to the merely material," can have its origin only in God. (no. 33) Our holy mother, the Church, holds and teaches that God, the first principle and last end of all things, can be known with certainty from the created world by the natural light of human reason. (no. 36) God speaks to man through the visible creation. The material cosmos is so presented to man's intelligence that he can read there traces of its Creator. Light and darkness, wind and fire, water and earth, the tree and its fruit speak of God and symbolize both his greatness and his nearness. (no. 1147) Even before revealing himself to man in words of truth, God reveals himself to him through the universal language of creation, the work of his Word, of his wisdom: the order and harmony of the cosmos–which both the child and the scientist discover–“from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator,” “for the author of beauty created them.” (no. 2500)   How Can We Speak About God? All creatures bear a certain resemblance to God, most especially man, created in the image and likeness of God.  The manifold perfections of creatures–their truth, their goodness, their beauty–all reflect the infinite perfection of God. Consequently we can name God by taking his creatures' perfections as our starting point, "for from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator." (no. 41) God transcends all creatures. (no. 42) When he listens to the message of creation and to the voice of conscience, man can arrive at certainty about the existence of God, the cause and the end of everything. (no. 46) We really can name God, starting from the manifold perfections of his creatures, which are likenesses of the infinitely perfect God, even if our limited language cannot exhaust the mystery. (no. 48) "Without the Creator, the creature vanishes." This is the reason why believers know that the love of Christ urges them to bring the light of the living God to those who do not know him or who reject him. (no. 49) "I Believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth" Our Creed begins with the creation of heaven and earth, for creation is the beginning and the foundation of all God's works. (no. 198) To be sure, God has left traces of his Trinitarian being in his work of creation and in his Revelation... (no. 237) Creation is the foundation of "all God's saving plans," the "beginning of the history of salvation" that culminates in Christ. Conversely, the mystery of Christ casts conclusive light on the mystery of creation and reveals the end for which "in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth": from the beginning, God envisaged the glory of the new creation in Christ. (no. 280) Catechesis on creation is of major importance. It concerns the very foundations of human and Christian life. (no. 282) The truth about creation is so important for all of human life that God in his tenderness wanted to reveal to his People everything that is salutary to know on the subject. (no. 287) Thus the revelation of creation is inseparable from the revelation and forging of the covenant of the one God with his People. Creation is revealed as the first step towards this covenant, the first and universal witness to God's all- powerful love. And so, the truth of creation is also expressed with growing vigor in the message of the prophets, the prayer of the psalms and the liturgy, and in the wisdom sayings of the Chosen People. (no. 288) Among all the Scriptural texts about creation, the first three chapters of Genesis occupy a unique place. From a literary standpoint these texts may have had diverse sources. The inspired authors have placed them at the beginning of Scripture to express in their solemn language the truths of creation–its origin and its end in God, its order and goodness, the vocation of man, and finally the drama of sin and the hope of salvation. Read in the light of Christ, within the unity of Sacred Scripture and in the living Tradition of the Church, these texts remain the principal source for catechesis on the mysteries of the "beginning": creation, fall, and promise of salvation. (no. 289) Creation is the common work of the Holy Trinity. (no. 292) "The world was made for the glory of God." St. Bonaventure explains that God created all things "not to increase his glory, but to show forth and to communicate it." (no. 293) We believe that God created the world according to his wisdom... He wanted to make his creatures share in his being , wisdom, and goodness: "For you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created." Therefore the Psalmist exclaims, "O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all"; and "The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made." (no. 295) Because creation comes forth from God's goodness, it shares in that goodness–"And God saw that it was good...very good." (no. 299) Because God creates through wisdom, his creation is ordered: "You have arranged all things by measure and number and weight." The universe, created in and by the eternal Word, the "image of the invisible God," is destined for and addressed to man, himself created in the "image of God" and called to a personal relationship with God... On many occasions the Church has had to defend the goodness of creation, including that of the physical world. (no. 299) God is infinitely greater than all his works. (no. 300) With creation, God does not abandon his creatures to themselves. He not only gives them existence, but also, and at every moment, upholds and sustains them in being. (no. 301) Creation has its own goodness and proper perfection, but it did not spring forth complete from the hands of the Creator. The universe was created "in a state of journeying" (in statu viae) toward an ultimate perfection yet to be attained, to which God has destined it. (no. 302) The witness of Scripture is unanimous that the solicitude of divine providence is concrete and immediate; God cares for all, from the least things to the great events of the world and its history. (no. 303) God is the sovereign master of his plan. But to carry it out he also makes use of his creatures' cooperation. This use is not a sign of weakness, but rather a token of almighty God's greatness and goodness. For God grants his creatures not only their existence, but also the dignity of acting on their own, of being causes and principles for each other, and thus of cooperation in the accomplishment of his plan. (no. 306) To human beings God even gives the power of freely sharing in his providence by entrusting them with the responsibility of "subduing" the earth and having dominion over it. God thus enables men to be intelligent and free causes in order to complete the work of creation, to perfect its harmony for their own good and that of their neighbors. (no. 307) The truth that God is at work in all the actions of his creatures is inseparable from faith in God the Creator. God is the first cause who operates in and through secondary causes: "For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." Far from diminishing the creature's dignity, this truth enhances it. Drawn from nothingness by God's power, wisdom, and goodness, it can do nothing if it is cut off from its origin, for "without a Creator the creature vanishes." Still less can a creature attain its ultimate end without the help of God's grace. (no. 308) If God the Father almighty, the Creator of the ordered and good world, cares for all his creatures, why does evil exist? ...Only Christian faith as a whole constitutes the answer to this question: the goodness of creation, the drama of sin, and the patient love of God who comes to meet man by his covenants, the redemptive Incarnation of his Son, his gift of the Spirit, his gathering of the Church, the power of the sacraments, and his call to a blessed life to which free creatures are invited to consent in advance, but from which, by a terrible mystery, they can also turn away in advance. There is not a single aspect of the Christian message that is not in part an answer to the question of evil. (no. 309) But why did God not create a world so perfect that no evil could exist in it? With infinite power God could always create something better. But with infinite wisdom and goodness God freely willed to create a world "in a state of journeying" toward its ultimate perfection. In God's plan this process of becoming involves the appearance of certain beings and the disappearance of others, the existence of the more perfect alongside the less perfect, both constructive and destructive forces of nature. With physical good there exists also physical evil as long as creation has not reached perfection. (no. 310) In the creation of the world and of man, God gave the first and universal witness to his almighty love and his wisdom, the first proclamation of the "plan of his loving goodness," which finds its goal in the new creation in Christ. (no. 315) Though the work of creation is attributed to the Father in particular, it is equally a truth of faith that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together are the one, indivisible principle of creation. (no. 316) God alone created the universe freely, directly, and without any help. (no. 317) God created the world to show forth and communicate his glory. That his creatures should share in his truth, goodness, and beauty - this is the glory for which God created them. (no. 319) God created the universe and keeps it in existence by his Word, the Son "upholding the universe by his word of power" (Heb 1:3) and by his Creator Spirit, the giver of life. (no. 320) Divine providence consists of the dispositions by which God guides all his creatures with wisdom and love to their ultimate end. (no. 321) Divine providence works also through the actions of creatures. To human beings God grants the ability to cooperate freely with his plans. (no. 323) God himself created the visible world in all its richness, diversity, and order. Scripture presents the work of the Creator symbolically as a succession of six days of divine "work," concluded by the "rest" of the seventh day. On the subject of creation, the sacred text teaches the truths revealed by God for our salvation, permitting us to "recognize the inner nature, the value, and the ordering of the whole of creation to the praise of God." (no. 337) Nothing exists that does not owe its existence to God the Creator. The world began when God's word drew it out of nothingness; all existent beings, all of nature. (no. 338) Each creature possesses its own particular goodness and perfection... Each of the various creatures, willed in its own being, reflects in its own way a ray of God's infinite wisdom and goodness. Man must therefore respect the particular goodness of every creature, to avoid any disordered use of things which would be in contempt of the Creator and would bring disastrous consequences for human beings and their environment. (no.  339) God wills the interdependence of creatures. The sun and the moon, the cedar and the little flower, the eagle and the sparrow: the spectacle of their countless diversities and inequalities tells us that no creature is self-sufficient.  Creatures exist only in dependence on each other, to complete each other, in the service of each other. (no. 340) The beauty of the universe: The order and harmony of the created world results from the diversity of beings and from the relationships which exist among them... The beauty of creation reflects the infinite beauty of the Creator and ought to inspire the respect and submission of man's intellect and will. (no. 341) The hierarchy of creatures is expressed by the order of the "six days," from the less perfect to the more perfect.  God loves all his creatures and takes care of each one, even the sparrow. Nevertheless, Jesus said: "You are of more value than many sparrows," or again: "Of how much more value is a man than a sheep!" (no. 342) Man is the summit of the Creator's work, as the inspired account expresses by clearly distinguishing the creation of man from that of the other creatures. (no. 343) There is a solidarity among all creatures arising from the fact that all have the same Creator and are all ordered to his glory: May you be praised, O Lord, in all your creatures, especially brother sun, by whom you give us light for the day; he is beautiful, radiating great splendor, and offering us a symbol of you, the Most High... May you be praised, my Lord, for sister water, who is very useful and humble, precious and chaste... May you be praised, my Lord, for sister earth, our mother, who bears and feeds us, and produces the variety of fruits and dappled flowers and grasses... Praise and bless my Lord, give thanks and serve him in all humility. [St. Francis of Assisi, Canticle of the Creatures.] (no. 344) In creation God laid a foundation and established laws that remain firm, on which the believer can rely with confidence, for they are the sign and pledge of the unshakable faithfulness of God's covenant. For his part man must remain faithful to this foundation and respect the laws which the Creator has written into it. (no. 346) Creation was fashioned with a view to the Sabbath and therefore for the worship and adoration of God. Worship is inscribed in the order of creation. As the rule of St. Benedict says, nothing should take precedence over "the work of God," that is, solemn worship. This indicates the right order of human concerns. (no. 347) The eighth day. But for us a new day has dawned: the day of Christ's Resurrection. The seventh day completes the first creation. The eighth day begins the new creation. Thus, the work of creation culminates in the greater work of redemption. The first creation finds its meaning and its summit in the new creation in Christ, the splendor of which surpasses that of the first creation. (no. 349) "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them." Man occupies a unique place in creation: (I) he is "in the image of God"; (II) in his own nature he unites the spiritual and material worlds; (III) he is created "male and female"; (IV) God established him in his friendship. (no. 355) Of all visible creatures only man is "able to know and love his creator." He is "the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake," and he alone is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God's own life. (no. 356) God created everything for man, but man in turn was created to serve and love God and to offer all creation back to him: What is it that is about to be created, that enjoys such honor?  It is man–that great and wonderful living creature, more precious in the eyes of God than all other creatures! For him the heavens and the earth, the sea and all the rest of creation exist. (no. 358) In God's plan man and woman have the vocation of "subduing" the earth as stewards of God. This sovereignty is not to be an arbitrary and destructive domination. God calls man and woman, made in the image of the Creator "who loves everything that exists," to share in his providence toward other creatures; hence their responsibility for the world God has entrusted to them. (no. 373) The first man was not only created good, but was also established in friendship with his Creator and in harmony with himself and the creation around him, in a state that would be surpassed only by the glory of the new creation in Christ. (no. 374) By the radiance of this grace all dimensions of man's life were confirmed. As long as he remained in the divine intimacy, man would not have to suffer or die. The inner harmony of the human person, the harmony between man and woman, and finally the harmony between the first couple and all creation, comprised the state called "original justice." (no. 376) "Father, ...you formed man in your own likeness and set him over the whole world to serve you, his creator, and to rule over all creatures" (Roman Missal, EP IV 118). (no. 380)   "I Believe in Jesus Christ, the Only Son of God" Christ is Lord of the cosmos and of history. In him human history and indeed all creation are "set forth" and transcendently fulfilled. (no. 668) "I Believe in the Holy Spirit" The Word of God and his Breath are at the origin of the being and life of every creature: It belongs to the Holy Spirit to rule, sanctify, and animate creation, for he is God, consubstantial with the Father and the Son... Power over life pertains to the Spirit, for being God he preserves creation in the Father through the Son. (no. 703) Christ "is the head of the body, the Church." He is the principle of creation and redemption. Raised to the Father's glory, "in everything he (is) preeminent," especially in the Church, through whom he extends his reign over all things. (no. 792) In the glory of heaven the blessed continue joyfully to fulfill God's will in relation to other men and to all creation. (no. 1029) For the cosmos, Revelation affirms the profound common destiny of the material world and man: For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God ... in hope because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay... We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (no. 1046) Read more ->   Excerpts from the English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for use in the United States of America Copyright © 1994, United States Catholic Conference Inc., - Libreria Editrice Vaticana.  
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