Pope Benedict XVI.
Reviewed by Stephen Taylor.
Pope Benedict XVI has written extensively on the environment. While no one encyclical dealing exclusively with the environment has come forth, enough exists to put together an interesting selection from speeches, homilies, letters,and encyclicals. The root of all religious concern with the environment is the stewardship of creation given to humanity by God. In this book Pope Benedict does address this issue in all the many ways we as humans interact with the earth.
Forty-five short pieces culled from the above resource provide a wide range of environmental issues the Pope has discussed. In the introduction by Cardinal Peter K. A. Turkson, the President of the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice, defines four words that serve as signposts:
- Environment calls for awareness
- Ecology enjoins responsibility
- Economy requires justice, and
- Ecumenical hearkens to unity, not only global, but also intergenerational.
While reading the book it is good to keep these definitions in mind. While some of the selections are straightforward and easy to understand the link between what is said and the environment, others will require you to read between the lines, and that is precisely why the four terms defined above are important to remember.
Pope Benedict is a very good writer, a fact that many people fail to notice. If you have read Jesus of Nazareth then you already know what a fine writer and stylist he is. If you have not read any of his work, then this small volume will be a pleasure to read.
In “The Ecology of Peace,” from “Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace,” January 1, 2007, the Pope strikes a resonant chord saying:
The destruction of the environment, its improper of selfish use, and the violent hoarding of the earth’s resources cause grievances, conflicts, and wars, precisely because they are the consequences of an inhumane concept of development. Indeed, if development were limited to the technical-economic dimension, it would not be an integral human development, but a one-sided distortion which would end up by unleashing man’s destructive capacities.
So much of what the Pope says in that single paragraph is very accurate of our current world situation. Do we not hoard resources? What about water? Quoting from Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, we read: “Water cannot be treated as just another commodity among many, and it must be used rationally and in solidarity with others…. The right to water … finds its basis in human dignity and not in any kind of merely quantitative assessment.”
True words, merely think of the undeveloped nations who do not have clean water, or are at risk due to vested interests using most of the water for industrial purposes.
On the negative side this book is a pastiche of writings, collected together in a fashion that sometimes appears willy-nilly. At least two of the selections required a serious stretch of imagination to link it with the environment. That is always the downfall of someone picking and choosing from a body of writing to fit their publishing needs. At least two of the chapters could easily be dropped from the book and no harm done to the whole.
I was quite disappointed to discover that this volume was not a single piece of writing, but a series of selections. It felt too much like a Readers Digest publication than one representing the teachings of the Catholic Church on the environment.
In “Preservation of the Environment” the Pope makes a very good point “that highly industrialized countries must share ‘clean technologies’ and ensure that their own markets do not sustain demand for goods whose very production contributes to the proliferation of pollution.” That is very true and very good, but it comes in the fourth paragraph of a five paragraph selection. It would be better had the editor made a selection of snippets, short and easily remembered, rather than pieces ranging from five to ten paragraphs where sometimes finding the point is not all that easy.
Anyone who cares about the environment will enjoy this book. Also, anyone who likes anthologies will be disappointed in this book, for not one piece is presented in its entirety. The greatest single piece of writing Pope Benedict has done is the Address for World Youth Day. The book would be better were the entire content of that address been included, instead of a few paragraphs.
Instead of forty-five short chapters it would work better with five long chapters where the Pope is able to develop a single strand of thought in each chapter. Yes, the book is interesting and instructive, but, I found myself annoyed by the structure to the point of not wanting to finish the book. It is never easy to put together pieces of writing to develop a single outlook so I mean no disrespect to the editor, yet the book is not a total success. It is obvious that a great deal of time and thought went into the selection of bits and pieces of writing, and every base is covered in the forty-five chapters; however, a few less snippets and a few more lengthy quotations might have made this a truly great book, representative of the thought of Pope Benedict XVI.