Fall 1988

Cosmology, Eschatology, Ecology

Stratford Caldecott

The intelligence by which we exercise dominion over the world should be a pure light which unites the interior and exterior cosmos by revealing the divine intentions that generate both.

In his 1988 encyclical on social justice and development, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (henceforth SRS), Pope John Paul II writes of "the need to respect the integrity and the cycles of nature and to take them into account when planning for development" (no. 26). He goes further, to emphasize that behind this statement lies a cosmological vision. Development cannot exclude "respect for the beings which constitute the natural world, which the ancient Greeks—alluding precisely to the order which distinguishes it—called the 'cosmos.' Such realities also demand respect, by virtue of a threefold consideration which it is useful to reflect upon carefully" (no. 34). They demand respect, not just for what they are in themselves, but for their relationship to ourselves and each other.

The first consideration is the appropriateness of acquiring a growing awareness of the fact that one cannot use with impunity the different categories of beings, whether living or inanimate—animals, plants, the natural elements—simply as one wishes, according to one's own economic needs. On the contrary, one must take into account the nature of each being and of its mutual connection in an ordered system, which is precisely the 'cosmos.'

The second consideration is based on the realization—which is perhaps more urgent—that natural resources are limited; some are not, as it is said, renewable. Using them as if they were inexhaustible, with absolute dominion, seriously endangers their availability not only for the present generation but above all for generations to come.

The third consideration refers directly to the consequences of a certain type of development on the quality of life in the industrialized zones. We all know that the direct or indirect result of industrialization is, ever more frequently, the pollution of the environment, with serious consequences for the health of the population.


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