Joining in the Dance: Catholic Social Teaching and Ecology



This paper charts the emergence of environmental themes in Roman Catholic Social Teaching (CST). I argue that not only has this strand not been adequately acknowledged, but also that the theological basis for these ideas are rooted in core Roman Catholic teachings on creation, Christology and anthropology. In other words, concern for environmental issues is not an optional extra for Christian practice, but expresses in a fundamental way deep incarnation and human image-bearing as responsible stewardship. I argue that a particular concern with issues of social justice shapes the way environmental problems are addressed, so terms such as human ecology, ecological conversion, solidarity, the common good and world peace all take up ecological threads that are then woven into the account. While Pope John Paul II arguably laid the foundation for the theological bases for these ideas, Pope Benedict XVI applies these ideas more explicitly to current concerns. Yet while the former gave witness to the power of contemplation of the natural world, the latter is more concerned with distortions in philosophical reasoning in the Western world, including dangers he perceived in naturalism and pantheism. Both pontiffs show a lack of specific understanding of ecological systems and tend to idealise both nature in terms of harmonious relationships and humans in terms of mastery.