III. The mystery of the universe [76-83]

I have begun to publish sections and segments of the Popes letter on OUR network of blogs as well as on Linkedin & Quora & Newsvine and will add my comments over time. Pappa francescos 180 page letter is much less about religion than it is about nature and the planet earth. He proposes some fairly radical yet simple and understandable solutions for humankind. It is way past time to start paying attention to what we are all doing or allowing others to do.

76. In the Judaeo-Christian tradition, the word
“creation” has a broader meaning than “nature”,
for it has to do with God’s loving plan in which
every creature has its own value and significance.
Nature is usually seen as a system which can be
studied, understood and controlled, whereas creation
can only be understood as a gift from the
outstretched hand of the Father of all, and as a
reality illuminated by the love which calls us together
into universal communion.

77. “By the word of the Lord the heavens were
made” (Ps 33:6). This tells us that the world came
about as the result of a decision, not from chaos
or chance, and this exalts it all the more. The creating
word expresses a free choice. The universe
did not emerge as the result of arbitrary omnipotence,
a show of force or a desire for self-assertion.
Creation is of the order of love. God’s love
is the fundamental moving force in all created
things: “For you love all things that exist, and detest
none of the things that you have made; for
you would not have made anything if you had
hated it” (Wis 11:24). 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. Saint Basil the Great described the
Creator as “goodness without measure”,44 while
Dante Alighieri spoke of “the love which moves

44 Hom. in Hexaemeron, I, 2, 10: PG 29, 9.

the sun and the stars”.45 Consequently, we can
ascend from created things “to the greatness of
God and to his loving mercy”.46

78. At the same time, Judaeo-Christian thought
demythologized nature. While continuing to admire
its grandeur and immensity, it no longer saw
nature as divine. In doing so, it emphasizes all the
more our human responsibility for nature. This
rediscovery of nature can never be at the cost of
the freedom and responsibility of human beings
who, as part of the world, have the duty to cultivate
their abilities in order to protect it and develop
its potential. If we acknowledge the value and
the fragility of nature and, at the same time, our
God-given abilities, we can finally leave behind
the modern myth of unlimited material progress.
A fragile world, entrusted by God to human care,
challenges us to devise intelligent ways of directing,
developing and limiting our power.

79. In this universe, shaped by open and intercommunicating
systems, we can discern countless
forms of relationship and participation. This
leads us to think of the whole as open to God’s
transcendence, within which it develops. Faith
allows us to interpret the meaning and the mysterious
beauty of what is unfolding. We are free

45 The Divine Comedy, Paradiso, Canto XXXIII, 145.

46 Benedict XVI, Catechesis (9 November 2005), 3: Insegnamenti
1 (2005), 768.

to apply our intelligence towards things evolving
positively, or towards adding new ills, new causes
of suffering and real setbacks. This is what makes
for the excitement and drama of human history,
in which freedom, growth, salvation and love can
blossom, or lead towards decadence and mutual
destruction. The work of the Church seeks not
only to remind everyone of the duty to care for
nature, but at the same time “she must above all
protect mankind from self-destruction”.47

80. Yet God, who wishes to work with us and
who counts on our cooperation, can also bring
good out of the evil we have done. “The Holy
Spirit can be said to possess an infinite creativity,
proper to the divine mind, which knows how
to loosen the knots of human affairs, including
the most complex and inscrutable”.48 Creating
a world in need of development, God in some
way sought to limit himself in such a way that
many of the things we think of as evils, dangers
or sources of suffering, are in reality part
of the pains of childbirth which he uses to draw
us into the act of cooperation with the Creator.49

47 Id., Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate (29 June 2009),
51: AAS 101 (2009), 687.

48 John Paul II, Catechesis (24 April 1991), 6: Insegnamenti
14 (1991), 856.

49 The Catechism explains that God wished to create a
world which is “journeying towards its ultimate perfection”,
and that this implies the presence of imperfection and physical
evil; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 310.

God is intimately present to each being, without
impinging on the autonomy of his creature,
and this gives rise to the rightful autonomy of
earthly affairs.50 His divine presence, which ensures
the subsistence and growth of each being,
“continues the work of creation”.51 The Spirit
of God has filled the universe with possibilities
and therefore, from the very heart of things,
something new can always emerge: “Nature is
nothing other than a certain kind of art, namely
God’s art, impressed upon things, whereby
those things are moved to a determinate end. It
is as if a shipbuilder were able to give timbers
the wherewithal to move themselves to take the
form of a ship”.52

81. Human beings, even if we postulate a process
of evolution, also possess a uniqueness
which cannot be fully explained by the evolution
of other open systems. Each of us has his or her
own personal identity and is capable of entering
into dialogue with others and with God himself.
Our capacity to reason, to develop arguments, to
be inventive, to interpret reality and to create art,
along with other not yet discovered capacities,
are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the

50 Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et
Spes, 36.

51 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I, q. 104, art. 1 ad 4.

52 Id., In octo libros Physicorum Aristotelis expositio, Lib. II,
lectio 14.

spheres of physics and biology. The sheer novelty
involved in the emergence of a personal being
within a material universe presupposes a direct
action of God and a particular call to life and to
relationship on the part of a “Thou” who addresses
himself to another “thou”. The biblical
accounts of creation invite us to see each human
being as a subject who can never be reduced to
the status of an object.

82. Yet it would also be mistaken to view other
living beings as mere objects subjected to arbitrary
human domination. When nature is viewed solely
as a source of profit and gain, this has serious
consequences for society. This vision of “might is
right” has engendered immense inequality, injustice
and acts of violence against the majority of
humanity, since resources end up in the hands of
the first comer or the most powerful: the winner
takes all. Completely at odds with this model are
the ideals of harmony, justice, fraternity and peace
as proposed by Jesus. As he said of the powers
of his own age: “You know that the rulers of the
Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men
exercise authority over them. It shall not be so
among you; but whoever would be great among
you must be your servant” (Mt 20:25-26).
83. The ultimate destiny of the universe is in
the fullness of God, which has already been attained
by the risen Christ, the measure of the
maturity of all things.53 Here we can add yet another
argument for rejecting every tyrannical and
irresponsible domination of human beings over
other creatures. The ultimate purpose of other
creatures is not to be found in us. Rather, all creatures
are moving forward with us and through
us towards a common point of arrival, which is
God, in that transcendent fullness where the risen
Christ embraces and illumines all things. Human
beings, endowed with intelligence and love,
and drawn by the fullness of Christ, are called to
lead all creatures back to their Creator.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *