The “Green Pope” and a Human Ecology | William Patenaude | CWR
A new collection of Benedict XVI’s eco-centric homilies, letters, and addresses offers much to ponder and perhaps even act on
It’s a joy to happen upon an old friend, to again hear their style of speaking and their way of engaging the world. When the old friend is Benedict XVI, however, things quickly move beyond the sentimental. So it goes with The Garden of God: Toward a Human Ecology (The Catholic University of America Press, 2014), a helpful compilation of Benedict XVI’s many, many statements about preserving life on earth.
Given that discussions of ecology polarize a great many along worldly ideological fault lines, one of the benefits of The Garden of God is in remembering how Benedict XVI, like his predecessor, normalized the topic and maintained it within Catholic orthodoxy. Like no other, he taught us how the Christian creed speaks to an array of social and physical sciences that are concerned with relationships, life, and shared futures.
The timing of this book is particularly good. Of late, environmental scientists are escalating their individual warnings. And the month of April finds a great many Earth Day celebrations taking place across the globe. With the help of The Garden of God, Catholics can better engage the ecological movement by discerning what we share with other environmental advocates and what we don’t.
To help, the publishers have chosen three themes to bring together 51 of Benedict XVI’s eco-centric homilies, letters, audiences, speeches, talks, angelus addresses, and much more (including a conversation with astronauts aboard the International Space Station). These themes are “Creation and Nature,” “The Environment, Science, and Technology,” and “Hunger, Poverty, and the Earth’s Resources.”
While these groupings are helpful, there are other ways to parse the ecological thought of Benedict XVI, especially for those who appreciate the former pontiff but may not feel the same way about the mainstream expression of ecological advocacy, or for those who consider themselves environmentalists but may be wary of Benedict XVI based on puerile narratives about Joseph Ratzinger that are still present in secular and some Catholic circles.
A second way to organize Benedict XVI’s eco-statements is provided by Archbishop Jean-Louis Bruges in the book’s foreword. And elsewhere, a recent pastoral letter on ecology by Bishop Dominique Rey of the Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon, France, offers additional insights into what Benedict XVI has given the Church.
But before plunging into the theological and anthropological depths of Benedict XVI’s ecological corpus, it helps to consider why he stressed environmental protection so often in the first place.