Creation’s Cruciform Covenant: Ecology Center Director on Benedict XVI and the Environment

Care for the environment is more than recycling and reducing pollution. It’s nothing less than the fulfillment of a covenant we have with God.

That’s what Pope Benedict XVI argues, and what a theologian at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, explains in an article published in the newest issue of the theological journal Communio.

“Inhabiting creation as a cosmic communion of love is essential to the enterprise of environmental stewardship,” said Matthew Ramage, co-director of the Center for Integral Ecology at Benedictine College.

In fact, all of creation prepares for and reflects the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ — as well as the participation in the cross that every human being must suffer, he explains in his essay “Covenantal Communion Between God, Man and Creation: Reflections on Joseph Ratzinger’s Ecological Thought.”

The journal the article appears in, Communio, was founded in 1972 by Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac, and Joseph Ratzinger and “draws upon the best theological writing in 13 languages,” according to the website of the English edition.

Benedict XVI was often called “the green pope” because of the initiatives of environmental stewardship he initiated in Vatican City, but Ramage says his commitment to the environment goes much deeper. Benedict argued that there is a “covenant between human beings and the environment which should mirror the creative journey of God, from whom we come and towards whom we are journeying.”

Ramage writes: “This thought, which Benedict reiterated many times, provides the ontological grounding for the contemporary Magisterium’s doctrine of environmental stewardship.”

This is of special interest to Ramage as a co-director of the Center for Integral Ecology which “exists to meet the unprecedented ecological crisis facing our world today. The Center’s vision is consistent with Catholic social teaching’s emphasis that both the created world and the most vulnerable of society are a gift from God to be cherished and cared for,” according to the Center’s website.

Ramage explains and bolsters Benedict’s claim in the essay not by quoting Pope Benedict only, but by citing surprising explanations of this core reality of the cosmos going back to St. Cyril of Jerusalem in the 300s.

“Like grapes and olives, our lives are marked by the experience of being ‘ground’ and ‘crushed,’ which is the means by which God mysteriously transforms us into something altogether new and glorious,” Ramage writes. “By the grace of God, this paschal rhythm informs all life, and into which we now enter by means of redemptive suffering, will culminate on the last day when our terrestrial bodies, having passed away, will be raised imperishable.”

Fulton Sheen calls this idea the “law of immolation” which is “a basic law running through all nature.”  Hans Urs von Balthasar says “the paschal mystery, the mystery of the dying grain of wheat appears before us already among the ideas of creation.” Larry Chapp says the cosmic and crucified Lamb “marks the very identity of the form and life of the world.”

Ramage finds this creation covenant in the “Green Thomism” of Christopher Thompson, in the thought of Protestant farmer-poet Wendell Berry, and in doctors of the Church such as St. Augustine and St. Hildegard of Bingen and mystics from St. Francis of Assisi to Simone Weil.

St. John Paul II said that our relationship with the cosmic order was so fundamental that a violation of it was a selfish betrayal of our relationship with God. Says Ramage:

“Fallen man misinterpreted the divine command to till and keep the earth, disregarded the ‘inbuilt order’ of nature entrusted to him, and ‘exploited creation out of a desire to exercise absolute dominion over it.’ In this, Benedict concurs with his predecessor John Paul II that the neglect ended up ‘provoking a rebellion on the part of nature, ‘which is more tyrannized than governed by him.’”

An emotional high point of the essay is when Ramage takes this all and applies it to his own life. He suffers from lupus and its shooting pains, blurry vision and headaches. “These sufferings are more meaningful knowing that they are not incidental to God’s creative plan but a profound participation in the trinitarian structure of reality,” he writes.

To read Ramage’s essay in its entirety, click here to purchase the Spring 2023 edition of Communio when it becomes available.

Image: St. Giles Churchyard Whittington, Wikimedia Commons.

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.