Laudato Si 67: Human Dominion

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website. Is human dominion over the Earth a fact of the Bible? How much is a misinterpretation?

67. We are not God. The Earth was here before us and it has been given to us. This allows us to respond to the charge that Judeo-Christian thinking, on the basis of the Genesis account which grants (humankind) “dominion” over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), has encouraged the unbridled exploitation of nature by painting him as domineering and destructive by nature. This is not a correct interpretation of the Bible as understood by the Church.

It is interesting that the two Creation accounts are in balance here. Pope Francis explains a bit on that key passage in Genesis 2:

Although it is true that we Christians have at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures, nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures. The biblical texts are to be read in their context, with an appropriate hermeneutic, recognizing that they tell us to “till and keep” the garden of the world (cf. Gen 2:15). “Tilling” refers to cultivating, ploughing or working, while “keeping” means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving. This implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature. Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations. “The earth is the Lord’s” (Ps 24:1); to him belongs “the earth with all that is within it” (Dt 10:14). Thus God rejects every claim to absolute ownership: “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me” (Lev 25:23).

Context is everything: not only in the Genesis accounts themselves, but in the larger Judeo-Christian tradition. Nowhere in the Bible are human beings the absolute masters of nature. That is reserved for God alone.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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