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Monday, January 21, 2013

Roe v. Wade 40th: Ecologists must first protect life

Every offense against life, especially at its beginning, inevitably causes irreparable damage to development, peace, and the environment.” Pope Benedict XVI. Message for World Day of Peace. January 1, 2013.

March for Life, 2010. Photo: Flicker/ryanoshea
With the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the United States must consider the millions who have since been killed. For Catholic Americans, it is a time to voice ever louder the many and terrible ways in which our choices for death affect all things.

Pope Benedict XVI has made clear the connection between abortion and environmental protection, as above in his 2013 Message for World Peace Day, and elsewhere. “Our duties toward the environment are linked to our duties toward the human person,” he famously wrote in 2009 in his third letter to the Church. 

The pontiff’s point is simple: Protecting creation begins in the womb. When a culture chooses to abuse or end one form of life—especially vulnerable human life—it can more easily abuse or dismiss the value of all forms of life, and vice versa. And since ecology studies the interconnectivity of life and its physical environment—how impacting one element impacts others—the topic thus becomes a tool to teach the consequences of choices. Indeed, ecology encourages conversations about how our earthly decisions, particularly those related to our bodies, reverberate into greater realities.
Photo: Flicker/ryanoshea

In a culture that increasingly sees an individual’s choices as affecting only the individual that makes the choice, the popular topic of environmental protection demonstrates that one’s choices impact one’s neighbors—that we do not reign supreme over our bodies, our relationships, or our corners of creation.

 As ecologists exhort the world to consume less and live in proper relation to nature, Catholic ecologists must, in addition, exhort the world to quench different human desires that lead to the consumption of each other—of a moral and sexual license that has devalued to nil the life of the unborn and the place of the family.

For all of us who seek to foster a culture of life, we will benefit from an awareness of the interconnectivity of issues as seemingly diverse as abortion and environmental protection.

As the Holy Father notes, there can be no respect for the natural world if we do not first respect innocent human life.

Likewise, as the problems of our day are thus united, so are the solutions. In the Letter to Titus, we read these words that guide humanity—that demonstrate that the means to better tend the environment are the same as those that help us respect the human person.
The grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ (Titus 2:11-14). 
May the Spirit that inspired the writing of these words help us live temperately, justly, and devoutly, and so encourage a world in which all those conceived are born into healthy, nurturing, families and thriving systems of life.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Twelfth-century Cistercian "grateful cooperation"

Clairvaux. Based on photo from Flicker/by Aube Champagne
The voice of a twelfth-century Catholic ecologist comes to us thanks to Dr. Jame Schaefer of Marquette University.

While exchanging emails recently, Dr. Schaefer shared her 2002 paper “Grateful Cooperation: Cistercian Inspiration for Ecosystem Ethics,” from Cistercian Studies Quarterly.

Her paper places into dialogue with the modern world a twelfth-century text that describes the surroundings of the Clairvaux abbey and the activities of the Cistercian monks that inhabited it. This text, written by an unknown author, is titled Descriptio Positionis Seu Situationis Monasterii Claraevallensis.

Dr. Schaefer writes that
[t]he text exudes the unnamed author’s deep appreciation and gratitude for the cooperative interactivity of human beings, other species, the land, water, and air that assured their mutual sustainability and maintained the site’s integrity. This view predates by centuries the efforts of contemporary philosophers to reflect on the human relation to other biota and abiota that constitute ecological systems, to develop ethical principles that can guide human functioning as integral parts of these systems, and to facilitate systematic thinking about sustainable development strategies ...
Dr. Schaefer provides selections of the author’s words as they walk the reader through both the valley and the Clairvaux abbey.
The river ... passes nowhere without rending some service, or leaving some of its water behind. It divides the valley into two by a sinuous bed, which the labor of the brethren, and not Nature, has made, and goes on to throw half of its waters into the abbey, as if to salute the brethren.
Indeed, the author takes pains to stress the important to man of the beauty of nature:
See how, in order to cure one sickness, the goodness of God multiplies remedies, causes the clear air to shine in serenity, the earth  to breath forth fruitfulness, and the sick man himself to inhale through eyes, and ears, and nostrils the delights of colors, of songs, and of odors.
Dr. Schaefer provides a wonderful service in bringing to light and deconstructing this text. She is correct to note that its twelfth-century author is not a distant voice but a reminder of what the Catholic perspective of ecology offered then and offers now and for the future. Dr. Schaefer calls particular attention to the author’s “ethics of grateful cooperation,” noting that
[f]or moral theologians who have struggled with the dualistic perception of the physical universe as merely the object of human study and exploitation, the human-in-ecosystem approach provides a scientifically informed paradigm for thinking about how humans should function as integral parts of God’s creation. Ironically, a basic model existed centuries before, as exemplified by the monks’ grateful cooperation with other forms of biological life and the abiota that constituted the Clairvaux site.
As posted earlier about work done by Monica Ehrlich on the seventh-century monk St. Giles, it is important to reflect on the inherent Catholic appreciation of ecology and its existence even before the contemporary concept of ecology came into being. Leaning about figures like St. Giles and these Cistercian monks adds to our ability to teach and defend not just the Catholic engagement of ecology, but also Catholicism in general. After all, for many today the Catholic faith has no relevance to modern life. In showing how Catholics were ahead of their time in the realm of ecology, we can then have other conversations about the foundations of Catholic moral thought in other areas as well.

Let us give our thanks to Dr. Schaefer, to those Cistercian monks of the Clairvaux abbey, and to the unknown author who has left for us a record of what it meant to be a Catholic ecologist in the twelfth century—a record that offers us much today.