Recently, Pope Francis published an Encyclical Letter on Humans and God’s Creation, Laudatum Si, On Care for Our Common Home.
The Encyclical reflects a lot of what I have been thinking on lately respecting the Great Commission. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus tells his disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.” Jesus’s comments in Mark differs from those in Matthew, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.” Preaching the Gospel to the creation, based on the Greek word, “ktisis,” literally meaning “creature” or “creation,” begs the question, how does one preach to all creatures, to the whole creation?
Based on my knowledge of Catholic theology, reading works by the great Catholic theologians over time such as St. Augustine and reading the modern Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, I do not find in Francis’s Encyclical anything terribly original from a theological perspective; however, the overall approach and force of his comments vis a vis the human relationship with God’s Creation is extremely relevant and rewarding to read, and helps to enlighten us on what Jesus meant when he commanded us to “preach the gospel to the whole creation.”
Many wise thinkers and writers over the centuries have seen in the Creation the wisdom and love of the Creator: in Edward Young’s words: “’Tis Elder Scripture, Writ by God’s Own Hand.” This is a theme in Pope Francis’s Encyclical. He says of his namesake Saint Francis of Assisi: “His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists.”
This ability to love each individual form of life in the Creation is, I believe, what Jesus had in mind in preaching the gospel to the whole creation.
Patriarch Bartholomew of the Orthodox Church, as quoted in Pope Francis’s Encyclical, agrees: “It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet.”
Ecological and environmental concerns, issues of sustainability, knowing how to reuse and recycle waste, treasuring life and not wantonly destroying and killing for pleasure: these are, according to Francis, what God requires of us. It is part of God’s vision of His Creation, which is meant for His own glory, not just to suit what humans want to do with it.
The human tendency to destroy and alter the natural environment is, according to Francis, the result of sin. But “through universal reconciliation with every creature,” we can atone for this sin.
Pope Francis quotes from a variety of Biblical sources all leading to the conclusion that “clearly, the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.” The Pope says, beautifully: “Every creature is thus the object of the Father’s tenderness, who gives it its place in the world. Even the fleeting life of the least of beings is the object of his love, and in its few seconds of existence, God enfolds it with his affection.”
The role of Christ in the Trinity—according to the Gospel of John, He through whom all things are made—is the mysterious go-between, according to Pope Francis, between ourselves and other forms of life on earth. Indeed the Pope argues that humans need to go through an “ecological conversion”, “whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them.”
“We read in the Gospel,” Francis continues, “that Jesus says of the birds of the air that ‘not one of them is forgotten before God’. . . . How then can we possibly mistreat them or cause them harm?”
The Great Commission, then, outlined in Mark, calls upon humans to embrace all creation, not just other humans, in the love of God, which encompasses the entire creation, not just humanity—only when humans realize that we are part of something greater than ourselves rather than the means as well as the end, will we be able to turn back the clock on environmental destruction and ecological chaos, to fully preach to the Creation God’s message of Love.
The Encyclical of Pope Francis can be found online at: http://m.vatican.va/content/francescomobile/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html