Integral Ecology of Man

The Theological Mind of Laudato Si’

The crisis in the family has produced a crisis of human ecology, for social environments, like natural environments, need protection. And although the human race has come to understand the need to address conditions that menace our natural environments, we have been slower to recognize that our fragile social environments are under threat as well, slower in our culture, and also in our Catholic Church. It is therefore essential that we foster a new human ecology and advance it.

—Pope Francis, “Not Just Good, but Beautiful.”

What is an integral ecology of man?

It is time to reassess Pope Francis’s 2015 Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si’ (LS). My contention is that the integral ecology of man at the root of this encyclical has been overshadowed in its reception by many who have read it focusing mostly, if not exclusively, as a document about the ecology of the earthly environment. This emphasis is reductionist of the encyclical’s vision. In my judgment, as I show here, a disservice is done to the encyclical, and to Francis’s own understanding, with this approach. This reductionist interpretation continues to be the case so that very little attention, if any, is given to an ecology of man.

Thus, my focus instead is on the encyclical’s foundational framework, namely, an integral ecology of man. My approach to the encyclical is to consider the theological mind that informs its framework. Furthermore, I shall provide a context for discussing this integral ecology in light of the Salzburg Declaration (SD). In Salzburg, Austria, last September 6, 2015, a historic ecumenical Congress organized by the (Protestant) International Christian Network (Internationale Konferenz Bekennender Gemeinschaften) met to consider current cultural threats to the human person and his created nature, and a plan for responding to them. The most significant thing about this ecumenical gathering is its unanimous approval, after prayer and consultation, of a document called the “Salzburg Declaration: Current Threats to Human Creatureliness and Their Overcoming. Life According to the Creator’s Will.” 1 The participants expressed concern that while the ecology of the environment is well developed the same cannot be said for the “ecology of man.”

How, then, should Laudato Si’ be interpreted? Properly understood, Pope Francis’s encyclical gives us the foundational outlines of an “integral ecology.” In this respect, it is continuing the line of John Paul II2 and Benedict XVI.3 An Integral ecology is a comprehensive vision of man grounded in the threefold relationships that are constitutive of his humanity, namely, first, man’s relationship with the Triune God, and, consequently, his relation with his fellow humans, as well as his relationship to the whole of creation, which includes not only nature (the earth), but the full spectrum of culture, that is, marriage, family, schools, art, literature, and architecture, the economy, human relationships, human work, housing, urban planning, and others.

Francis says,

If everything is related, then the health of a society’s institutions has consequences for the environment and the quality of human life . . . Together with the patrimony of nature, there is also a historic, artistic and cultural patrimony that is likewise under threat . . . Ecology, then, also involves protecting the cultural treasures of humanity in the broadest sense. 4

In addition, Pope Francis reiterated the key point regarding an “ecology of man.”

In his address to the Pontifical Academy for Life, he stated:

In our time, some cultural orientations do not recognize the mark of divine wisdom in the created realities and not even in man. Thus human nature remains reduced only to matter, to be shaped according to any design.

By contrast, according to Francis, integral ecology in this sense is, then, about integral human development. Thus, man’s care for himself and his common home includes his care for all these aspects of his humanity, especially culture, which will promote authentic human flourishing.

With this basic concern the SD is expressing agreement with a claim first identified by St. John Paul II in his 1991 encyclical, Centisimus annus, §38. He wrote:

In addition to the irrational destruction of the natural environment, we must also mention the more serious destruction of the human environment, something which is by no means receiving the attention it deserves. Although people are rightly worried — though much less than they should be — about preserving the natural habitats of the various animal species threatened with extinction, because they realize that each of these species makes it particular contribution to the balance of nature in general, too little effort is made to safeguard the moral conditions for an authentic ‘human ecology’. Not only has God given the earth to man, who must use it with respect for the original good purpose for which it was given to him, but man too is God’s gift to man. He must therefore respect the natural and moral structure with which he has been endowed.

This is an extremely important point, which is at the root of an ecology of man, made later also by Benedict XVI in his address to the Bundestag, September 22, 2011. He, too, refers to the need to develop an “ecology of man.” Benedict stated,

The importance of ecology is no longer disputed. We must listen to the language of nature and we must answer accordingly. Yet I would like to underline a point that seems to me to be neglected, today as in the past: there is also an ecology of man. Man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will. Man is not merely self-creating freedom. Man does not create himself. He is intellect and will, but he is also nature, and his will is rightly ordered if he respects his nature, listens to it and accepts himself for who he is, as one who did not create himself. In this way, and in no other, is true human freedom fulfilled.

Furthermore, Pope Benedict wrote,

If the Church speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman, and demands that this order of creation be respected, this is not some antiquated metaphysics. What is involved here is faith in the Creator and a readiness to listen to the ‘language’ of creation. To disregard this would be the self-destruction of man himself, and hence the destruction of God’s own work.5 What is often expressed and understood by the term ‘gender’ ultimately ends up being man’s attempt at self-emancipation from creation and the Creator. Man wants to be his own master, and alone — always and exclusively — to determine everything that concerns him. Yet in this way he lives in opposition to the truth, in opposition to the Creator Spirit.6

Furthermore, Benedict states regarding so-called “gender theory” in a later Address to the Roman Curia, December 21, 2012:

The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, which serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves. According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: “male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female — hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves. Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed. But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation.

These truths are fundamental to an integral ecology of man. Indeed, the participants of this ecumenical gathering take Benedict’s statements as the starting point of their reflections in this document.

In this light, we can understand the stated purpose of the Salzburg Declaration:

The purpose, then, of this Salzburg Declaration is to give an account, at least in outline, of that underdeveloped ecology of man and to explain the significance of life lived in accordance with the Creator’s will for the protection of the human person and our very humanity.

What is, in brief, an ecology of man, according to SD:

The ‘ecology of man’ means that humans are to treat their own nature (and not only the nature that surrounds them) with care, respecting the order of creation and the commandments that God has given them to their own benefit.

Furthermore, what are the serious cultural threats to our humanity identified by this document? SD identifies the threat of the destruction of human existence in the increasingly accepted practices of abortion and active/passive euthanasia. “Today many people die by human hands, especially at the beginning and the end of life.” Moreover, so-called emancipatory ideologies, such as feminism and gender theory, threaten the “creaturely basis and hence the nature of being human.” This threat is happening in two respects. Being threatened is: one, “Sexual difference of male and female as the God-given and God-willed basis for marriage and the family, and thus also for the dignity of human beings as men and women and as fathers and mothers”; two, “the order of creation regarding marriage and family and the divinely given orientation of human sexuality towards [unity and] procreation as indispensable conditions for any decent society and civilization.”

Consider in this connection the current pontificate of Francis and the last two — St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI — in order to highlight the essential elements pertinent to the perspective of marriage as a two-in-one-flesh unity. Each of these popes affirm the moral and sacramental significance of this two-in-one-flesh unity, that is, of the sexually different reality of the man and of the woman, in short, sexual differentiation and the dual unity of the human couple that appears as part of the original character of the image of God and is foundational to the form of love that is marriage. For instance, Pope Francis writes concerning so-called “gender theory” that it “seeks to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it. Yes, we risk taking a step backwards.” In other words, Francis adds, such a step is an “anthropological regression because it would weaken an institution that . . . reflects nature and anthropology.” Furthermore, he adds,

Thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it, and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology.

Moreover, he makes similar claims in his recent Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia §56:

Yet another challenge is posed by the various forms of an ideology of gender that ‘denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences, thereby eliminating the anthropological basis of the family. This ideology leads to educational programs and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female.

He adds,

Let us not fall into the sin of trying to replace the Creator. We are creatures, and not omnipotent. Creation is prior to us and must be received as a gift. At the same time, we are called to protect our humanity, and this means, in the first place, accepting it and respecting it as it was created.

Francis’s teaching is in line with John Paul II. The latter held that this two-in-one-flesh unity is constitutive of the form of love that is marriage, which is a communion of persons, man and woman, in being a reciprocal gift for teach other. And John Paul underscores the constitutive nature of this one-flesh unity by stressing that man, as male and female, is unable to express that communion and hence to achieve unity “without the body.”

He is constituted in such a way from the ‘beginning’ (from the creation) that the deepest words of the spirit — words of love, gift, and faithfulness — call for an appropriate ‘language of the body’. And without this language, they cannot be fully expressed.” In other words, one-flesh unity is the language of the body for one-life unity.

In the same line, Benedict XVI wrote:

marriage is no longer defined as a bond between a man and a woman but a bond between persons; with this, obviously, the basic idea (of marriage as a two-in-one-flesh unity) is destroyed and society from its roots becomes something quite different. The awareness that sexuality, eros and marriage as a union between a man and a woman go together — “and they become one flesh” (Gn 2:24) — this knowledge is growing weaker and weaker; every type of bond seems entirely normal — they represent a sort of overall morality of non-discrimination and a form of freedom due to man.

SD develops its account of an ecology of man in three parts: first, it gives an account of the “biblical witness regarding creation, which is the basis for an ecology of man in the Judeo-Christian tradition”; two, analyzes the “current threats to the human person and our created nature with special regard to the ideology of gender”; and three, demonstrates the “necessity of a renewed appreciation of the biblical witness regarding creation as the basis for an ‘ecology of man’.” In conclusion, the document calls Christians of various confessions to strive for a “credible recovery of an ‘ecology of man’.” Urging, then, a “common public confession of the apostolic truth,” the document posits a basic ecumenical vision:

The commonality in conviction with regard to foundational issues regarding a theology of creation among the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Reformation Churches is sufficiently strong to make known the goodness and beauty of the order of creation and to testify even to the non-believing world that it can be lived.

SD and these references to the current pope and his illustrious successors are sufficient to make clear the theme of this article, and hence of LS. The Catholic tradition calls for an “ecological conversion.” Says John Paul II with respect to ecological conversion,

At stake, then, is not only a ‘physical’ ecology that is concerned to safeguard the habitat of the various living beings, but also a ‘human’ ecology which makes the existence of creatures more dignified, by protecting the fundamental good of life in all its manifestations and by preparing for future generations an environment more in conformity with the Creator’s plan. 7

Theological Anthropology and the Doctrine of Creation

“The Church’s social doctrine finds its essential foundation in biblical revelation and in the tradition of the Church.” 8 This assertion in the Compendium is foundational to Francis’s theological mind and hence to his framework for understanding the normative level of reasons that express a theological anthropology and ontology of creation. His starting-point is the biblical revelation, particularly, Genesis 1–2. God created the world in all its rich diversity of beings. There is fundamental distinction drawn by Francis between the Creator and the creature. This distinction entails “demythologized nature.” That is, “(w)hile continuing to admire its grandeur and immensity, it no longer saw nature as divine.” 9 God created Man, male and female he created him in the Image of God. (Gen 1:26) Indeed, being in God’s image is the ground of human dignity. God’s act of creation grounds man in “three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor, and with the earth itself.” 10 Man is at the crown of creation, its summit. In that sense, man transcends nature not only in the sense that “all living beings (are not) on the same level.” Francis rejects the view that sees parity between all living beings because that would “deprive human beings of their unique worth and the tremendous responsibility it entails.” 11

Man also transcends nature in that he is not the product of a physical or biological evolutionary process. Francis rejects this evolutionary view not only because he affirms that man is the special creation of a personal God — not the chance product of impersonal matter in motion — who in freedom choose to create man.

‘By the world of the Lord the heavens were made’. (Ps 33:6) This tells us that the world came about as the result of a decision, not from chaos or chance, and this exalts it all the more. The creating word expresses a free choice. The universe did not emerge as the result of arbitrary omnipotence, a show of force or a desire for self-assertion. Creation is of the order of love. God’s love is the fundamental moving force in all created things. 12

Furthermore, man transcends the natural creation in that humanity cannot be explained, says the pope, “even if we postulate a process of evolution.” Man “possesses a uniqueness which cannot be fully explained by the evolution of other open systems.” What is an “open system”? Francis does not say. However, I think we can surmise that his thinking is in line with John Paul II’s 1996 address to the Pontifical Council for Science. That which is uniquely distinctive cannot be explained as “emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a simple epiphenomenon of that matter.” Such explanations “are incompatible with the truth about man. They are therefore unable to serve as the basis for the dignity of the human person.” Thus: “With man, we find ourselves facing a different ontological order — an ontological leap, we could say.” And this order shows itself in

the experience of metaphysical knowledge, of self-consciousness and self-awareness, of moral conscience, of liberty, or of aesthetic and religious experience — these must be analyzed through philosophical reflection, while theology seeks to clarify the ultimate meaning of the Creator’s designs. 13

Against this background, we can understand integral ecology to be a comprehensive vision of man grounded in the threefold relationships that are constitutive of his humanity, namely, first, man’s relationship with the Triune God, and, consequently, his relation with his fellow humans, as well as his relationship to the whole of creation, which includes not only nature (the earth), but the full spectrum of culture, that is, marriage, family, schools, art, literature, and architecture, the economy, human relationships, human work, housing, urban planning, and others. Ecology in this sense is about integral human development. Thus, man’s care for himself includes his care for all these aspects of his humanity that will promote authentic human flourishing in particular the relationships, firstly, with God, and consequently, then, with fellow human beings, followed by a relationship with the culture, and then the environment. Against this background, Pope Francis speaks of sin and the fall that has had seriously disturbed and savagely wounded those three relationships. “According to the Bible, these three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us. This rupture is (due to) sin.” He explains:

The harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations. This in turn distorted our mandate to “have dominion” over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), to “till it and keep it”. (Gen 2:15) As a result, the originally harmonious relationship between human beings and nature became conflictual. (cf. Gen 3:17–19) 14

Marriage and family are, for example, grounded in the order of creation, seriously disrupted by the fall into sin, integrally redeemed by salvation in Christ, and attaining the fullness of redemption in Christ when creation reaches its final goal. Within this comprehensive scope is the Thomistic in­sight that grace restores nature rather than abolishes or leaves it untouched. Now, since the God who created the world is at one and the same time the God who redeems it, says Francis, “these two divine ways of acting are intimately and inseparably connected.” 15 But also, forasmuch as grace’s restoration is not a mere recovery of the deepest foundations of created reality, in some sense those foundations are raised to a “higher level” in the eschatological consummation of God’s plan of salvation for the whole creation.

At the end, we will find ourselves face to face with the infinite beauty of God (cf. 1 Cor 13:13), and be able to read with admiration and happiness the mystery of the universe, which with us will share in unending plenitude. Even now we are journeying towards the Sabbath of eternity, the new Jerusalem, towards our common home in heaven. Jesus says: ‘I make all things new.’ (Rev 21:5) Eternal life will be a shared experience of awe, in which each creature, resplendently transfigured, will take its rightful place. 16

Metaphysical, Epistemological, and Anthropological Presuppositions

How should human beings interact with the world and with each other? Let us recall that sin has had an impact on human nature. It is now savagely wounded by original sin. That sin has affected man’s intellect and will but also his stance toward nature. Sin has distorted the theistic, no better, Trinitarian anthropocentric focus of man’s transcendence over nature by rendering that focus a “tyrannical anthropocentrism” 17, an “excessive (or) misguided anthropocentrism” 18, justifying an “absolute domination over other creatures.” 19 This misguided anthropocentrism has intellectual roots, and in Chapter 3 of LS Pope Francis endeavors to uncover those roots in what he calls “the dominant technocratic paradigm.” 20 Significantly, Francis is not criticizing technology as such, or what he also calls “technoscience.”

Technology has remedied countless evils which used to harm and limit human beings. How can we not feel gratitude and appreciation for this progress, especially in the fields of medicine, engineering and communications? How could we not acknowledge the work of many scientists and engineers who have provided alternatives to make development sustainable? 21

What Francis is critical of is the triadic relationship between technoscience, power, and progress in what he calls “the dominant technocratic paradigm.” 22

There is a tendency to believe that every increase in power means ‘an increase of “progress” itself’, an advance in ‘security, usefulness, welfare and vigor; an assimilation of new values into the stream of culture’, as if reality, goodness and truth automatically flow from technological . . . power as such. The fact is that ‘contemporary man has not been trained to use power well’, because our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience. 23

In sum, the pope argues, “we lack a sound ethics, a culture and spirituality genuinely capable of setting limits and teaching clear-minded self-restraint.” 24

Furthermore, Francis wants to dig deeper to get at the philosophical presuppositions of the technocratic paradigm: “an undifferentiated and one-dimensional paradigm”, 25 reflecting an “excessive anthropocentrism” characteristic of modernity. 26

This paradigm exalts the concept of a subject who, using logical and rational procedures, progressively approaches and gains control over an external object. This subject makes every effort to establish the scientific and experimental method, which in itself is already a technique of possession, mastery and transformation. It is as if the subject were to find itself in the presence of something formless, completely open to manipulation. 27

The careful reader of Francis will note that he is not criticizing the “scientific and experimental method.” He is critical of the reductionism in that paradigm: the human person is reduced to a controller of reality, exercising not just stewardship over nature but domination; knowledge is reduced to the method of science, one-dimensional in that sense; and reality is “formless, completely open to manipulation.”

These presuppositions are of a metaphysical, anthropological, and epistemological nature. Metaphysical because this paradigm is anti-realist, denying objective reality and hence the logos-structure to reality, its enduring forms, which results in disregarding “the message contained in the structures of nature itself.” 28 Indeed, the “‘ecology of man’ (is) based on the fact that ‘man too has a nature that he must respect and thus he cannot manipulate at will’ (Pope Benedict XVI).” 29 Of course, that man has a nature is now widely denied.

Epistemological because the primary stance of man to reality “has become confrontational” and hence “exploitative of the natural order.” 30 Francis is critical of the reductionism in that paradigm: the human person is reduced to a controller of reality, exercising not just stewardship over nature but domination; knowledge is reduced to the method of science, one-dimensional in that sense; and reality is “formless, completely open to manipulation.”

Anthropological because man is understood, not as a responsible steward of reality, but rather as a dominator over reality, which is a stance that fails to respect not only the “logos-structure” of reality, its intrinsic dignity, but also man’s own nature, including his embodiment as a bodied person, “valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity . . . if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different.” 31 In this connection, we can see the necessity for an “integral ecology.” 32

This, too, is Benedict XVI’s point in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate. (2009) He maintains that the environment is “God’s gift to everyone” and that we must respect the “inbuilt order” or “grammar” that God has given to nature, rather than treating it as raw material which we can use in any way we wish.

Furthermore, ontological presuppositions are at stake because the primary epistemic stance of man to reality “has become confrontational” and hence “exploitative of the natural order.” 33 In contrast, the biblical understanding is that of “the presence of God as Creator, conferring and sustaining the existence of both knower and known” in the

‘original concord between things and intellect’, in the ‘resonant symmetry of knower and known’ . . . The mind is not a dominating principle imposing intelligibility from its own resources, nor is the object known in an act by which it coerces the mind to produce its representation. 34

How, then, does one explain that the mind of man is fit to grasp the reality of things as they really are?

Briefly, Benedict XVI steers us in the right direction for thinking about an answer to this question. He says, “The gospel message perceives a rationality inherent in creation and considers man as a creature participating in, and capable of attaining to, an understanding of this rationality.” He adds,

The objective structure of the universe and the intellectual structure of the human being coincide; the subjective reason and the objectified reason in nature are identical. In the end it is ‘one’ reason that links both and invites us to look to a unique creative Intelligence.

In short, we need to understand better, as John Paul II urged, “the relationship between human activity and the whole of creation.35 He adds elsewhere:

The believer, in a sense, is ‘the shepherd of being’, that is, the one who leads all beings to God, inviting them to sing an ‘alleluia’ of praise. The Psalm (148:1–5) brings us into a sort of cosmic church, whose apse is the heavens and whose aisles are the regions of the world, in which the choir of God’s creatures sings his praise. 36

In this cosmic liturgical light, says John Paul,

Man’s lordship, however, is not ‘absolute, but ministerial: it is a real reflection of the unique and infinite lordship of God. Hence man must exercise it with wisdom and love, sharing in the boundless wisdom and love of God.’ 37 In biblical language ‘naming’ the creatures (cf. Gn 2: 19-20) is the sign of this mission of knowing and transforming created reality. It is not the mission of an absolute and unquestionable master, but of a steward of God’s kingdom who is called to continue the Creator’s work, a work of life and peace. His task, described in the Book of Wisdom, is to rule ‘the world in holiness and righteousness’. (Wis 9: 3) 38

This, too, is the case with respect to our sexually differentiated bodies. Francis states,

Thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology.

Anthropological because man is understood, not as a responsible steward of reality, but rather as a dominator over reality, which is a stance that fails to respect not only the “logos-structure” of reality, its intrinsic dignity, but also man’s own nature, including his bodied person, “valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity . . . if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different.” Francis adds:

In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek ‘to cancel out sexual difference it no longer knows how to confront it’. 39

In general, then, the Catholic tradition urges that

Theology, philosophy and science all speak of a harmonious universe, of a ‘cosmos’ endowed with its own integrity, its own internal, dynamic balance. This order must be respected. The human race is called to explore this order, to examine it with due care and to make use of it while safeguarding its integrity. 40

Moreover, the presuppositions of this technocratic paradigm sees “the ultimate purpose of other creatures . . . to be found in us (human beings).” 41 Rather than seeing the integrity of all creation in its unity and diversity, with each creature having its own purpose, man “sees no intrinsic value in lesser beings.” 42 Here Pope Francis’s resistance to this paradigm is driven by the Catholic tradition: “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.” 43 What is more, the technoscience paradigm is typically embedded in a naturalistic worldview: there is no God, man is just a part of nature, and everything about man can be explained in terms of nature. In addition, naturalism is usually aligned with materialism in which man is seen as the chance product of matter in motion. On this worldview, there is “no special value in human beings.” 44

In conclusion, Francis argues that

there can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself. There can be no ecology without an adequate anthropology. When the human person is considered as simply one being among others, the product of chance or physical determinism, then ‘our overall sense of responsibility wanes’.

Francis explains that the rejection of

A misguided anthropocentrism need not necessarily yield to ‘biocentrism’, for that would entail adding yet another imbalance, failing to solve present problems and adding new ones. Human beings cannot be expected to feel responsibility for the world unless, at the same time, their unique capacities of knowledge, will, freedom, and responsibility are recognized and valued. 45

In this connection, we can also see the necessity for an “integral ecology.” 46 In short, as John Paul outs it, “Respect for life, and above all for the dignity of the human person, is the ultimate guiding norm for any sound economic, industrial or scientific progress.47

Ecology in this sense is about integral human development and hence man’s care for himself includes his care for all these aspects of his humanity that will promote such authentic development. Francis elaborates:

Human ecology is inseparable from the notion of the common good, a central and unifying principle of social ethics . . . Underlying the principle of the common good is respect for the human person as such, endowed with basic and inalienable rights ordered to his or her integral development.” 48

Indeed, he adds, “Human ecology also implies another profound reality: the relationship between human life and the moral law, which is inscribed in our nature and is necessary for the creation of a more dignified environment.” 49

In sum, integral ecology pertains to man’s transcendence over nature, the interconnection of all things, 50 the rightful, law-governed autonomy of all things, 51 the enduring structures of creation, 52 with each being having its own inherent form, 53 indeed, the world’s form has a “logos-structure”, 54 the common good, 55 the moral law, 56 and the depth dimension of God’s divine presence in the unfolding of creation, “which ensures the subsistence and growth of each being, (and) continues the work of creation.” 57 Therefore, we do the encyclical an injustice if we reduce it to matters of an ecology of the earthly environment.

  2. 1991 Encyclical, Centisimus annus, §38.
  3. address to the Bundestag, September 22, 2011.
  4. LS §§142, 143.
  5. Gaudium et spes §36: ‘Without the Creator the creature loses its intelligibility’.
  6. Address to the Roman Curia, December 22, 2008.
  7. General Audience, January 17, 2001, §4,
  8. Compendium of Catholic Social Doctrine, §74.
  9. LS §78; §90.
  10. LS §65.
  11. LS §90.
  12. LS §76.
  13. see also LS §81.
  14. LS §66.
  15. LS §73.
  16. LS §243.
  17. LS §68.
  18. §116, §119.
  19. LS §67; §82.
  20. LS §101.
  21. LS §102.
  22. LS §101.
  23. LS §105.
  24. LS §105.
  25. LS §106.
  26. LS §116.
  27. LS §106.
  28. LS §117.
  29. LS §155.
  30. LS §106.
  31. LS §155).
  32. LS §137.
  33. LS §106.
  34. Francis Martin, Feminist Question, 182, 187.
  35. 1990 Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace
  36. General Audience, January 17, 2001, §1.
  37. Evangelium vitae, §52.
  38. Evangelium vitae, §3.
  39. LS §155.
  40. Message for World Day of Peace, §8.
  41. LS §83.
  42. LS §117.
  43. Catechism of the Catholic Church §339.
  44. LS §118.
  45. LS §118.
  46. LS §137.
  47. Message for World Day of Peace.
  48. LS §156; §157.
  49. LS §155.
  50. LS §76, §86.
  51. LS §71, §80.
  52. LS §117.
  53. LS §84.
  54. LS §99; §155.
  55. LS §156; §157.
  56. LS §155.
  57. LS §80.
Eduardo Echeverria About Eduardo Echeverria

Eduardo Echeverria is professor of philosophy and systematic theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. He earned his doctorate in philosophy from the Free University in Amsterdam and his STL from the University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) in Rome. He is the author of many publications, most recently Revelation, History, and Truth: A Hermeneutics of Dogma (2018), and Pope Francis: The Legacy of Vatican II, 2nd edition, revised and expanded (2019).


  1. Avatar Tom McGuire says:

    Much to reflect on in this much-appreciated article. It is difficult, living in a society with little recognition of the sacred, with little reverence for anything, to understand “human ecology”. Growing up Catholic, we were taught that humans were to dominate the earth. My vision as a young man saw science as a way to dominate and control nature. The papal teachings and Compendium of Catholic Social teaching sited in this article are so different from that vision. As I listen to homilies at Mass day in and day out, there is zero focus that changes the vision of my youth. We have much work to do here at home.

    When we look to the future, what powers will be in control of the political world? Certainly, not the traditional Eurocentric powers of the past. China will have a major role to play. How are we to begin the dialogue with world views from civilizations and cultures so different from our own? Are we as followers of the Way of Jesus willing to be humble enough to listen and learn of others to find the harmony that is the reign of God?