The Environment and Poverty:
Legal Dimensions and Moral Responsibility
by V. Rev. Archimandrite Panteleimon P. Lampadarios
Patriarchal Vicar of Alexandria
Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ,
It is an honour to address all the honourable members of the Seminar Halki 98’ and to present you the sacred blessings and paternal greetings of His Beatitude Petros VII, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa.
God, who is all good, wished to give existence to non-beings, in accordance with the prototype existing in Him, in order that He might constitute other entities capable of sharing His goodness. The actualisation and realisation of this plan whether it is regarded as existing “eternally” or only “before time” in His mind, was effected by the Creation of heaven and earth and all they contain. His All-mightiness in conjunction with His Love and His Divine Will brought into existence the world. Therefore the reason and the cause of the existence of the world lies in God Himself.
The Creation of the world was a work of great wisdom and might and proceeded forth from the hands of the All-Wise and Almighty God. Since the world is God’s work, each of the Persons in the Godhead had His own share in it: God the Father is the Primary Cause, God the Son, the Effective Cause, and God the Holy Ghost, the Perfecting Cause. Creation, according to Orthodox teaching, was the result of God’s free act of love, and that He created it from nothing.
God who freely created the world had an object or aim in view. This end which God had in view (the causa finalis) constitutes at the same time the efficient cause (causa impulsiva) of Creation. The content of this aim and purpose of God’s Creation is the happiness of all rational creatures, and the final end, the glory of God. “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19,1).
Since the world is the result of God’s overflowing goodness and bounty, it is impossible that He should have abandoned it after having brought it into being. God’s Providence (?nuiiea) is shown in two ways: in His oversight and preservation of His Creation (ooio?ncoeo), and in His governance and guidance of it (eoaYnicoeo). Both lead to the highest end which is man’s salvation and the glory of God.
Man, being created in the (Gen. 1:26) of God is called to imitate God in the preservation of his own world, his own environment. Man was created with all the physical and spiritual endowments necessary for the fulfilment of God’s Plan. Man’s acts are not pre-determined by God. “Moral evil” in man’s will, is an inherent possibility due to the freedom of man’s will, and “physical evil” is a consequence of it.
The original state of man was in perfect harmony within a threefold relationship – with himself, with nature and with God. Unfortunately, because of sin, man did not remain in this state of original righteousness, but desisted from it, and with him fell the whole human race and his whole environment around him. Thus man became poor, not only within himself, since he deprived himself of God’s Divine Grace, but also amongst his own environment, his own world, which suffers with him till today. “For we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now” (Rom. 8:22).
The estrangement from God so darkened man’s understanding as to entail a loss of wisdom and knowledge. As a result man was unable to discern and practise what is good, well pleasing, and perfect before God. Transgression of the Divine Law and Will involved some consequences, which may be regarded as natural and positive. The former includes the inevitable consequence in the natural order; the latter belongs to the ethical and moral.
Man, as the king of all creation, should find ways, based on moral laws, to protect his environment. This constitutes the appointed method and means of exploiting nature, which secures an acceptable relation between man with his own environment. For several reasons man’s true environment must be protected by the laws made by man, because in such a way it will enable him to attain the genuine and conscious personal communion with nature, created by God, so that man can live in a surrounding of beauty and goodness. The environment, in its pure form, brings the infinite man into a liberal relationship with nature, his fellow man and finally with God, the Creator.
The whole man, his mental and physical abilities, have preordained purposes. Man learns to know about his environment, progressively, and should be taught to respect, govern and protect it. Man becomes the determinative centre of his own environment, his world, because he constitutes the appointed connecting link between the visible and invisible world. Furthermore, man is the corner-stone between himself and his Creator, which is the means by which human life is ordered in relation to human destiny. Human environment, therefore, affords the standpoint and interpretative principles by which our ideal of life should be developed, and furnishes both the sanction and the determinative particulars of human obligations.
The protection of the earth’s environment can never be an exclusively individual affair, but must be considered by all mankind, so that it can fulfil its function in a global manner. The progress of man towards his appointed destiny; that is, towards his full enjoyment of the communion with God, for which he is made, has been disturbed by the changes of his natural and spiritual environment conditions, or the crises in the historical development surrounding him.
Nature is a gift from God to man, and the validity of moral judgement concerning the protection of human environment ultimately depends upon the divine source of the moral sense. Unfortunately, this sense, like other human faculties, has been abused by man himself with the result, that nature is constantly suffering the consequences of this misuse.
Man, who is gifted with rational freedom, is responsible for his actions. On the other hand, the purpose for which God has made us determines man’s chief end. Its fulfilment constitutes the directive principle of human righteousness. Our righteousness is therefore determined in quality by the righteousness of God and, in a controlling purpose, by the goal which God wills us to attain.
When man separates his legal responsibilities from morality, then he brings a misinterpretation of his valid obligations. These obligations, have on the one hand exclusively earthly reference and on the other hand reference to man’s future and divine destiny. When man does not respect his own environment, then he converts life into a half-played drama, the plot of which is arrested before it is fully developed. The outcome changes of the ideal of human character into an unfinished portrait. Moral responsibilities towards nature must be viewed in their ultimate meaning and purpose, as well as in their value and practical result.
Each Government in every country around the world, as representatives, must determine in its own legal constitutions the ways and means by which the protection of its own environment and natural sources can be secured. No Government has any right to permit the destruction of nature purely for material wealth and greed. The creation of nuclear weapons and the experimentation of nuclear power, for example is, in reality, the peak of man’s desire for infinite power.
Many environmental organisations have complained and bravely fought against such act of unrighteousness towards nature. Many governments still, willingly and blindly prefer to disregard the consequences of their actions against the global environment. They remain in the darkness of their personal greed and ignore the fact that they live under the shadow of death.
It is not yet too late to redress the wrongs caused by man’ s actions against nature. Mankind has seen, during this century, the catastrophic results caused by the destruction of nature. Mankind can become rich again only if he respects his environment.
We hear the children’s voices; we see the tears in their eyes; let us not remain only in the presentation of good speeches and the projection of well prepared documentaries. Mankind can avoid natural poverty and restore the richness of his environment. This the essential moral responsibility which should reign in man’s heart, for God has placed man on earth to “have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth” (Gen. 1:26).
The acknowledgement that the Will of God determines the legal dimensions and the moral responsibilities of man towards his environment, and that the practice of such responsibilities are involved in fulfilling God’s Divine Will, should lead to the general and world recognition of such responsibility by all mankind.