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3. Man and the Earth: An initial suggestion as to what our position in the surrounding environment is comes from the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople: “It is a fact that the term ‘environment’ presupposes someone encompassed by it. The two realities involved include, on the one hand, human beings as the ones encompassed, and, on the other hand, the natural creation as the one that encompasses… we must clearly retain this distinction between nature as constituting the environment and humanity as encompassed by it”. Besides providing an essential initial description of the relationship between man and the environment, Bartholomew’s remarks illustrate how this relationship belongs to the shared experience of life. Man experiences a living exchange with the created world and at the same time cannot avoid wondering about the meaning of being immersed in nature: where is that experience grounded?
In the Bible the environment in which man is created is represented by the figure of a garden (the Greek parádeisos), a place of beauty in which man’s constituent relations – with self, with God and all other living beings – are harmonious. Moreover, the “environment” itself has been created for man, who is called on to cultivated and care for it (Gen 2:15). He is also given the task of naming the living creatures (Gen 2:19).
Starting from theological thinking about creation, we realise how God’s creative action is manifested not only in making the world exist, but also in making human beings free and therefore responsible for the whole of creation. The narrative of the Fall of man and woman is meant to signify that from the first instant of creation, man’s freedom is at stake. We cannot think of man separately from his freedom. And the Earth exists for man so much that the Church identifies the root of the environmental issue in original sin. John Paul II described the issue in exquisitely anthropological terms: “In his desire to have and to enjoy rather than to be and to grow, man consumes the resources of the earth and his own life in an excessive and disordered way. At the root of the senseless destruction of the natural environment lies an anthropological error, which un fortunately is widespread in our day. Man, who discovers his capacity to transform and, in a certain sense, create the world through his own work, forgets that this is always based on God’s prior and original gift of the things that are. Man thinks that he can make arbitrary use of the Earth, subjecting it without restraint to his will, as though the Earth did not have its own requisites and a prior God given purpose, which man can indeed develop but must not betray. Instead of carrying out his role as a co-operator with God in the work of the creation, man sets himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature, which is more tyrannized than governed by him”. This is why, as the Revelation still teaches us, the man-environment relation must be seen from the point of view of Redemption.
Christ’s resurrection ushers in a new stage in which the relationship between man and creation is set under the sign of birth or “labour”, which is painful but positive because intended for the good in life. And this is above all anthropological labour, which affects however, as St Paul points out, the whole of creation: “For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labour pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved” (Rom 8: 19-24). In this way anthropological labour and cosmological labour are interlocked in the ineluctable eschatological perspective. Thus in the second coming – already initiated on the path of the human family – what is already complete in Christ will be completed in us and in the world through the resurrection of our mortal body in our true body, in the new heavens and the new Earth. According to the Christian point of view, in this light we can look at the first creation and the new creation not as two separate realities which succeed each other mechanically, but as two moments which reciprocally embrace each other. The second assumes the first and gives its full meaning. The first in itself would inevitably remain incomplete and not adequately intelligible. Moreover, the historic-salvific path develops according to a plan conceived “before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4), which will be realised in “the fullness of times” (Eph 1:10).
With the new creation, Christ is revealed as the Head of creation itself: the foundation of Christ’s caring for all men until his death and his resurrection for us lies in the creation of all men in Christ.
With thus grasp the literal meaning of creation in Christianity as the primordial relationship between God and the human person in the world: Why did God create man and the world when he has no need of them? This question can be couched in the terms of modernity as: Why is there being rather than nothingness?
Creation is the gift that God makes of Himself. Through it, he freely brings into being and maintains creatures in life, who, although radically distinct from Him, bear His indelible mark.