Saturday, June 16, 2012



From the Vatican Website


The Message of the Bible

The Care of Creation

22. The first page of the Bible tells of the creation of the world and of the human person: "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Gen 1:27). Solemn words describe the task that God entrusts to them: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth" (Gen 1:28).

The first task that God gives them — clearly a fundamental one — concerns the attitude that they should have toward the earth and all creatures. "Subdue" and "have dominion" are two easily misunderstood concepts and can, in fact, seem to justify the type of despotic and unbridled domination that takes no care of the earth and its fruit, but despoils it for personal advantage. However, in biblical language, they are used to describe the rule of a wise king who cares for the well-being of all of his subjects.

Man and woman must care for creation, so that it will serve them and remain at the disposition of all, not just a few.

23. The underlying nature of creation is that of being a gift of God, a gift for all, and God wants it to remain so. God's first command is therefore to preserve the earth in its nature as gift and blessing, not to transform it into an instrument of power or motive for division.
The right and duty of the human being to have dominion over the earth is derived from being the image of God: all, and not just a few, are responsibile for creation. In Egypt and Babylonia, this prerogative was attributed to a few, whereas in the biblical text, dominion belongs to the human person as such, and hence to all. Indeed, it is humanity in its entirety which must shoulder responsibility for creation.

Man is placed in the garden to till it and keep it (cf. Gen 2:15), so that he can nourish himself of its fruit. In Egypt and Babylonia, work was a harsh necessity imposed on men for the benefit of the gods — which in fact meant the benefit of the king, officials, priests and major property-owners — whereas in the biblical account, work is for the realization of the person.

The Earth Is God's and He Gives It to All His Children

24. Israelites had the right to ownership of the earth, which the law protected in many ways. The Ten Commandments state: "You shall not desire your neighbour's house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbour's" (Deut 5:21).

It can be said that an Israelite felt truly free and fully Israelite only when he had his own plot of land. However, the Old Testament insists that the earth is God's and that God has given it as a heritage to all the children of Israel. It is therefore to be shared among all the tribes, clans and families. Man is not the true master of his land, but rather an administrator. God is the true master. Thus the book of Leviticus states: "The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me" (25:23).

In Egypt, the land belonged to the Pharaoh, with the peasants as his servants and property, while in Babylonia there was a feudal structure, with the king granting land in exchange for fidelity and services. Things were very different in Israel: the earth is God's, and God gives it to all his children.

25. This has some specific consequences. On the one hand, nobody has the right to deprive the person who has the use of land of its possession, for this would violate a divine right, and even the king cannot do that.(16) On the other hand, any form of absolute and arbitrary possession exclusively for one's own advantage is forbidden: we cannot do whatever we want with the goods that God has given to all.

It is on this basis that, as need arises — always under the pressure of some specific situation — the law introduces numerous limitations to the right of ownership, for example the ban on picking the fruit of a tree during its first four years (cf. Lev 19:23-25), the call not to reap right to the edges of the field, and the prohibition on gathering up fruit and ears that have been forgotten or fallen on the ground, since they belong to the poor (cf. Lev 19:9-10; 23:22; Deut 24:19-22).

This view of property explains the severity of the Bible's moral judgment on the abuses of the rich who force the poor and small farmers to give up their family holdings. The Prophets are particularly energetic in their condemnation of such abuses: "Woe to those who join house to house, who add field to field" cries Isaiah (5:8), while his contemporary Micah says: "They covet fields, and seize them; and houses, and take them away; they oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance" (2:2).



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