Katholieke Vereniging voor Oecumene

Athanasius & Willibrord

An Ecumenical Ecology of Man

Echeverria EduardoIn Salzburg, Austria, last September 6, 2015, a historic ecumenical Congress organized by the (Protestant) International Christian Network (Internationale Konferenz Bekennender Gemeinschaften) met to consider current cultural threats to the human person and his created nature, and a plan for responding to them. The most significant thing about this ecumenical gathering is its unanimous approval, after prayer and consultation, of a document called the “Salzburg Declaration: Current Threats to Human Creatureliness and Their Overcoming, Life According to the Creator’s Will” (http://www.ikbg.net/de/aktuelles.php). The participants expressed concern that while the ecology of the environment is well developed the same cannot be said for the “ecology of man.”

Need of an Ecology of Man

With this basic concern they are expressing agreement with a claim first identified by St. John Paul II in his 1991 Encyclical, Centisimus annus, §38. This is an important point made later also by Benedict XVI in his address to the Bundestag, September 22, 2011. He, too, refers to the need to develop an “ecology of man.” Benedict stated, “The importance of ecology is no longer disputed. We must listen to the language of nature and we must answer accordingly. Yet I would like to underline a point that seems to me to be neglected, today as in the past: there is also an ecology of man. Man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will. Man is not merely self-creating freedom. Man does not create himself. He is intellect and will, but he is also nature, and his will is rightly ordered if he respects his nature, listens to it and accepts himself for who he is, as one who did not create himself. In this way, and in no other, is true human freedom fulfilled.” Indeed, the participants of this ecumenical gathering take Benedict’s statement as the starting point of their reflections in this document.

Integral Ecology of Laudato Si'

Pope Francis continues to emphasize this need, now urgent, for an integral “ecology of man” in his recent Encyclical Laudato Si’, and this too is acknowledged in this document. Just recently, Pope Francis reiterated the key point regarding an “ecology of man.” In his address to the Pontifical Academy for Life, he stated: “In our time, some cultural orientations do not recognize the mark of divine wisdom in the created realities and not even in man. Thus human nature remains reduced only to matter, to be shaped according to any design.” In this light, we can understand the stated purpose of the Salzburg Declaration: “The purpose, then, of this Salzburg Declaration is to give an account, at least in outline, of that underdeveloped ecology of man and to explain the significance of life lived in accordance with the Creator’s will for the protection of the human person and our very humanity.”

Broad ecumenical consensus

The many signatories of this document consist of two cardinals, bishops of the Catholic, Anglican Episcopal, Lutheran, and Orthodox churches, many academic theologians of various confessions, pastors, laity, and directors of European ecumenical organizations, and many others. This document was drafted by the Lutheran theologian, Dr. Werner Neurer, who has the distinction of being the only Lutheran guest-member of Ratzinger’s Schülerkreis. Dr. Neuer states, “It can be considered a notable document since it confirms that true ecumenism can consist not of theological minimalism at the expense of Biblical truth but rather ought to strive for the catholic fullness of the revealed truth of the Gospel. The Salzburg Declaration, which up to now has been received above all in continental Europe ought no longer be withheld from the English-speaking world.”This 24 page document addresses all the major controversial issues dealing with the beginning and end of life, sexuality, marriage, and family, in light of an ecumenical ecology of man.

What is, in brief, an ecology of man? “The ‘ecology of man’ means that humans are to treat their own nature (and not only the nature that surrounds them) with care, respecting the order of creation and the commandments that God has given them to their own benefit.” Furthermore, what are the serious cultural threats to our humanity identified by this document? It identifies the threat of the destruction of human existence in the increasingly accepted practices of abortion and active euthanasia. “Today many people die by human hands, especially at the beginning and the end of life.” Moreover, so-called emancipatory ideologies, such as feminism and gender theory, threaten the “creaturely basis and hence the nature of being human.” This threat is happening in two respects. Being threatened is: one, “Sexual difference of male and female as the God-given and God-willed basis for marriage and the family, and thus also for the dignity of human beings as men and women and as fathers and mothers”; two, “the order of creation regarding marriage and family and the divinely given orientation of human sexuality towards procreation as indispensable conditions for any decent society and civilization.”

Gender theory

In this connection, a significacnt ecumenical point is made regarding the most recent matters hampering quest for visible unity among divided Christians of various confessions, namely, the different reactions of Protestants to these threats. Pointing to serious divisions and tensions especially among the latter “where alternate forms of life and ideologies adverse to God’s creation (like gender theory) have emerged,” the document then makes a plea that we learn to speak in a unified voice on the ecology of man. This unity is important and necessary for the credibility of proclaiming the Gospel, in particular, to the unbeliever. “When it comes to the preservation of humanity, non-Christians are just as affected as Christians. We are motivated therefore to speak out in this declaration not only for doctrinal and ecumenical reasons, but also for reasons that reflect our concern for humanity as such.”

Common public confession

The document develops its account of an ecology of man in three parts: first, it gives an account of the “biblical witness regarding creation, which is the basis for an ecology of man in the Judeo-Christian tradition”; two, analyzes the “current threats to the human person and our created nature with special regard to the ideology of gender”; and three, demonstrates the “necessity of a renewed appreciation of the biblical witness regarding creation as the basis for an ‘ecology of man’.” In conclusion, the document calls Christians of various confessions to strive for a “credible recovery of an ‘ecology of man’.” Urging, then, a “common public confession of the apostolic truth,” the document posits a basic ecumenical vision: “The commonality in conviction with regard to foundational issues regarding a theology of creation among the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Reformation Churches is sufficiently strong to make known the goodness and beauty of the order of creation and to testify even to the non-believing world that it can be lived.”

 

 

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