Baptism of the Lord Christian morality

Environmentalism and the Baptism of the Lord

2:00:00 PMAlexander S. Anderson


We Western Christian Catholics just celebrated the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord on January 11th. Eastern Christians celebrate the same feast on January 6th, with a feast called the Theophany.  

Three years ago, I attended a Divine Liturgy at a Byzantine Catholic Church in Minneapolis. I was struck by how much more emphasis the East gives to this feast, especially to its "cosmic" dimensions. In the East, the Baptism of Jesus is not only His self-revelation to the world and the beginning of His public ministry, but it also marks the beginning of His salvific work. Eastern Christians emphasize the fact that Jesus' salvation is not only for men and for women, but for the whole of creation. As all of creation fell with Adam, so all will rise with Jesus. Christ's Baptism cleansed all the waters of the world, and began the work of the redemption for the whole of the created world.  


One could say that the first "Save the Planet" campaign was launched nearly two thousand years ago by Jesus Himself.


"Saving the Planet" has been in the news a lot lately.


On January 1, Pope Francis announced his intention to release an encyclical on the environment this next year. Widespread speculation, flaring tempers and sharp tongues responded immediately. Robert George offered "Four Things to Remember about the Pope's Environment Letter," including a reminder that "The Pope has no special knowledge, insight, or teaching authority pertaining to matters of empirical fact ... " (1) Maureen Mullarkey called Pope Francis "an ideologue and a meddlesome egoist," (2) and suggested the source of the Pope's thoughts were secular ideologies foreign to Christian thought. Over at Crux, Michael O'Laughlin suggested that the Pope's letter, and the environment in general, will be the source of the next big internecine battle between Catholics. (3)


I bring this debate up not in an attempt to wade into the brewing controversy, but rather to point out that the controversy does not have to happen.


Concern for the environment is not foreign to Catholic Christianity. We have the voices of former Popes speaking on the subject already, calling strongly for environmental responsibility: "We are all responsible for the protection and care of the environment. This responsibility knows no boundaries." (4) Pope Benedict XVI even has solar panels installed in the Vatican. In fact, the Vatican is today the only "carbon-neutral" sovereign country. (5)

The Theophany provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the environment as not only a political and moral issue, but also a theological one.


Our relationship with the rest of creation is a source of endless reflection, made even more fruitful when seen through the powerful lens of the Incarnation. It's easy to forget that the promise of eternal life comes not only with a "new heaven," but also a "new Earth." (6) This "cosmic" dimension of Christianity is one that, I fear, has fallen a bit into the cracks of the Catholic consciousness, and maybe Pope Francis' letter will help bring this dimension back to the forefront.


At the end of our reflection, let's remember that the environment is beautiful, majestic and mysterious and we are lucky to live on this planet.


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Alexander Anderson 

Dietrich von Hildebrand's thought, like the philosophy of the Catholic Worker movement, is deeply rooted in personalism.  It's this aspect that drew me to philosophy.  Hildebrand understands deeply that philosophy begins in wonder, which is something rather important to me.  

   
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(1) Robert P. George, “Four Things to Remember about the Pope’s Environment Letter,” First Things, January 3rd, 2015.
(2) Maureen Mullarkey, "Francis & Political Illusion," First Things, January 5th, 2015.
(3) Michael O'Laughlin, "Pope Francis' stance on climate change is the latest battleground for US Catholics," Crux, January 9th, 2015.
(4) Pope Benedict XVI, The Environment. 
(5) Daniel Stone, "How Green was the 'Green Pope?" National Geographic, February 28th, 2013. '
(6) Revelation 21:1.


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