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Be First!
by September 5, 2018 Seminar Papers



Jude Abidemi Asanbe

Department of Canon Law

Port Harcourt


NCCF: Seminar, September 2018




The Catholic Church has consistently upheld and taught that there is a universal purpose for created things, which challenges humans to an equitable use of the earth’s resources. Underlining this usage is an ethic of solidarity based on global interdependence and a just structure of sharing in the world community.[1] Ostensibly, the human family has not taken this teaching with the seriousness it deserves. In his recent encyclical on care for our common home, Laudato Si, Pope Francis avers pointedly:”…we have inflicted on her (the earth) by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will…”[2]  This is because, in the words of John Paul II: “in his desire ‘to have’ and ‘to enjoy’ rather than ‘to be’ and ‘to grow’, man consumes the resources of the earth and his own life in an excessive and disordered way…”[3]   Giving a spiritual theological reason for this disordered use of the goods of the earth, Pope Francis has this to say: “The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life.”[4] Some other factors responsible for this consumerist way of life are: selfishness, shortsightedness, mistaken political calculations and imprudent economic decisions.[5]  The resultant effect of this human proclivity is a disordered ecosystem, otherwise known as environmental or ecological crisis.[6] One cannot agree less with Al Gore that “the basic cause of the problem is that we as a civilization base our decisions about how to relate to the environment on premises that are fundamentally unethical.”[7]

In the words of Leornado Boff, “the earth is crying out because it is a victim of environmental injustice.”[8]  It is unarguable that “the earth is groaning in pains as a result of the indiscriminate exploitation and assault which it is undergoing primarily from the hands of the human members of the community of creation.”[9]  Elizabeth Johnson puts the matter more pointedly where she says: “…We are killing birth itself, wiping out the future of fellow creatures that took millions of years to evolve. We live in a time of great dying off caused by human hands…”[10] The ecological crisis is to say the least a justice issue.  To this end, Hallman argues: “justice is actualized in just relationships. Unequal partnerships of domination are unjust. It is obvious that the human relationship with nature today is not that of equal partners, but of domination and exploitation.”[11]  Recognizing the enormity of ecological crisis, the Fathers of the Second Synod for Africa calls for concerted efforts by the Churches “to make the earth habitable beyond the present generation and to guarantee sustainable and responsible care of the earth…”[12]

Against this backdrop this paper attempts to construct an ethico-canonical framework that seeks the re-interpretation of the dialectics between the geological, biological and human components of the earth-community.[13] The paper equally responds to the need to set forth in general terms rights not only of individuals but also of other species and the planet.[14]

The write up as a modest contribution to canonical patrimony is not just concerned with multiplying rules but intends to address the complexus of human activities especially as it impact on the environment. The end point of the research is to propose a “code” that on the one hand, engenders an attitudinal change of humans to the other living and non-living beings of the earth. On the other hand, the “code” serves as an ecclesiastical legislation specifically meant to address the spate of monumental injustice foisted by the humans on the ecological community. It needs be explicitly stated that a basic presupposition of the paper is the intricate connection between theology and canon law; indeed an equitable canonical legislation has to build on and draw from sound theological teaching and reasoning.[15]




Environmental Issues, Theology and Canon Law: What Connection?


Over a long period of time, many people consider the environmental issues as being outside of the “pontificating stance” of religion and theology.  Many scholars, World leaders and environmental activists carried on their trade as if they could adequately tackle the hydra headed phenomenon of the ecological imbalance on the earth.

This position certainly has not stood the test of time.  Whatever concerns the creatures on the planet earth cannot be alienated from their creator, the Supreme Being, the Almighty God.  One can hardly argue against the fact that whatever revolves around the creator and the creatures cannot be alienated from either religion or theology. From the foregoing, a proper understanding of environmental issues necessarily underscores its intricate connection with theology and spirituality. Without sounding triumphalistic, one can assert that the environment cannot be properly salvaged and restored to the plan of the Divine Master without appropriate and functional theological education backed up with appropriate ecclesiastical legislation for action. To adequately tackle the challenges of environmental degradation and develop ecology capable of remedying the damage done, the human family must court and cultivate various syntheses between faith and reason.[16]

Al Gore aptly describes the crusade in re-ordering the human ecology for a sustainable ecosystem as an epic battle to right the balance of our earth; balance between contemplation and action, between individual concerns and commitment to the community, between love for the natural world and love for our wondrous civilization.  In his own very words, “For civilization as a whole, the faith that is so essential to restore the balance now missing in our relationship to the earth is the faith that we do have a future”.[17]  In other words, to address ecological issues, there is need for a faith that believes and works towards a future to be inherited, faith in the God who creates and invites us to co-create, and faith in the integrity of the elements of the earth. A discourse that departs from a faith-paradigm cannot be anything else but theological in orientation.

If the above viewpoint was not convincing enough, perhaps the position taken by a group of eminent scientists would do.  Addressing themselves to the phenomena of ecological crisis, the distinguished scientists appeal to world’s spiritual leaders to join the scientific community in the quest to salvage the distorted ecosystem.  In a passionate appeal, they averred,

Problems of such magnitude must be recognized as having a religious as well as a scientific dimension. Mindful of our common responsibility, we scientists – many of us long engaged in confronting the environmental crisis – urgently appeal to the world religious community to commit in word and deed, and as boldly as required, to preserve the environment of the Earth.”[18]

It is yet to be seen how world religious leaders can undertake such a partnership without theology. The paper identifies with the thinking of Mary Sylvia Nwachuchukwu where she writes: “The interpretation and guideline for the resolution of the present environmental crisis needs theology because what happens to the natural world is an essentially theological question.”[19]  The very powerful words of John Paul II is very instructive here: “Today, the ecological crisis has assumed such proportions as to be the responsibility of everyone…Its various aspects demonstrate the need for concerted efforts aimed at establishing the duties and obligations that belong to individuals, states and the international community.[20] One potent instrument of delineating the duties and rights of all the components of the earth community is law, and for the Catholic Church, Canon Law.

Theology of the Ecosystem: A Synthesis

 There is no gainsaying the fact that to attempt a synthesis of eco-theology is no mean task, especially as the whole theological discourse is still evolving.  This notwithstanding, the paper identifies four distinct but interrelated focal perspectives to this new brand of theology, namely, Creation, Mutuality, Eco-Christology and Reconciliation.

Theology of Creation

Creation theology springs up from a careful reading of the Book of Genesis, especially Gen 1:1-2:4.  God created the earth, affirmed its goodness and established an everlasting covenant with humanity to take responsibility for the whole of creation. In the Genesis account, the human life which is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships has been broken both outwardly and inwardly.[21] Hence, Luke Ijezie argues that in the Genesis account, creation can be seen as progress from disorder to order.[22]  Looking cursorily at creation in its prater natural state, one can quickly pinpoint three elements, namely, a creative order, which Northwehr describes as “a certain intelligent creative order”[23], goodness of creation and the responsibility of humanity to take care of the whole of creation.

Regarding the creative order, there are two aspects, the vertical and the horizontal.  The vertical order concerns the proper end for which each element on the earth is created thus underlining the independent value and worth of all of God’s creatures.  The horizontal order is a direct consequence of the first, that is, the respect due to one creature from another based on the divine plan and mandate. This creative approach in theological thinking challenges the human family “to respect the integrity and the cycles of nature and to them into account when planning for development”[24]

The goodness of creation is a pointer to the glory of the creator on one hand the beauty of his handiwork on the other (Psalm 24:1).  God’s ever-active presence in creation, which can be described as the indwelling of God in creation[25], engenders a vision of a sacramental universe for the Christian. This universe is such that “discloses the creator’s presence by the visible and tangible signs”[26]Humanity is thus challenged to love all creatures with the creator’s love by singing the praises of God through creation.  James Nash underscores this point where he writes: “creation itself is an act of love, and all creatures are products of love and recipients of God’s ongoing love. Since we are called to love what God loves and value what God values, we are called to love all creation.”[27]  Furthermore, this viewpoint underscores ‘a new logic of grace’ in which right relationships are maintained and the glory of God is revealed in the extravagance of creation.”[28]  This extravagance is the ground for a more expansive cosmic liturgy.

The covenant that God made with human creatures to care for the earth gave rise to the theology of stewardship properly so understood.  For Kingsley: “our responsibility as stewards is one of the most basis relationships we have with God. It implies a great degree of caring for God’s creation and all God’s creatures.”[29] Theologians are underscoring the fact that the dominion that God gave to humanity in the Creation account in Genesis is not manipulative and exploitative rather it has to do with obligations and rights.  While human family possesses the right to use the fruits of the earth to its benefit, she equally has the duty to care for the earth.  Stewardship therefore implies that the human family must care for the whole of creation according to standards that are not of her making thereby ensuring that earth flourishes and “replicating on earth the order established by God in the cosmos as a whole.”[30] It is to the creator of the universe therefore that the human family is accountable for what is done or undone in preserving and caring for the earth and its creatures.

The above theological standpoint is to say the least at the basis of the transcendence of the human person and the “sacrality” of the land.[31] In the opinion of Gorringe rationality makes the human family transcendent to other elements in nature.  It endows the human creatures with the capacity to enhance the environment, to till it, nurture it, but also to destroy it.[32] On the premise of the sacredness of the land, Callicot put together what he calls the principles of land ethics: “Thou shall not extirpate or render species extinct; thou shall exercise great caution in introducing exotic and domestic species into the local ecosystems, in exacting energy from the soil and releasing it into the biota, and damaging or polluting water courses…”[33] Any transgression of these principles by the human community is considered by the Holy Writ as breaking the everlasting covenant which is necessarily visited with a curse (Isaiah 24:5-6).

Theology of Eco-Mutuality

 The principal architect of this brand of theology is St. Francis of Assisi.  St. Francis stresses the notion that one context is shared by all in the cosmos – human and non-human, animate and inanimate alike.[34] In developing the theology of haecceitas (“thisness”), Don Scotus benefits from the theology of St. Francis.  He holds that “the much regard given by God to individual human person is the same to all the elements of the cosmos.[35]  From this theological framework, there is an enhanced valorization of created things such that the earth and the elements contained in it is given not only for the benefits of the human family but also for what it is and the purpose for which each is created. By implication, the human family is a member, a part, of the entire earth and not its conqueror. This line of thinking underlines the interconnectivity and interrelativity of all nature reinforcing the fact that no element of creation can live fully by itself. Taking off from Gen 2:4b-5, Carol Dempsey argues that “the text present us with a tapestry of interconnected relationships and a sense of unity that exists between that which is divine, human and non human.”[36] Companionship with the non-human elements of creation implies that humans expand their moral imagination, engage in mutual relationship with the non-human, and give moral standing to them.[37] To this new way of thinking is ascribed cosmic mutuality, which entails sharing of “power-with” by and among the creator, human beings, all earth elements and the entire cosmos in a way that recognizes their interdependence and reverences all.[38] Accordingly, it is appropriate that we (humans) treat other creatures and the natural world not just as means to human fulfillment but also as God’s creatures, possessing an independent value, worthy of our respect and care.[39]  In essence, this is what B. Haring calls “planetary solidarity”[40] How else should one understand the message of John Paul II talking about the “new solidarity” and the integrative approach to creation?[41] Much more pointedly Francis reminds the entire Church of the admonition of St. Francis of Assisi that “our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us”.[42]


 Christ, the second person of the Godhead is the omega point of all creation and history.  Indeed all things are created through him and for him (Col 1:16). This makes him the epicenter of creation, the revelation of “mystery hidden from eternity” (Eph 1:9; Col 1:26) and as the redeemer, the ground for the restoration and the redemption not only of the human race but of the entire ecosystem. Toolan argues that Jesus has to be understood in cosmic terms: “Jesus has to be taken as a prototype of our species and, better in cosmic-ecological terms as the archetype of what the quarks and the molecules, from the beginning were predestined to become – one resurrected body.”[43] It can be said that in Christ and through Christ, “humans and the rest of creation are bound together in creation, redemption, sustenance, praise and thanksgiving.”[44]  In eco- Christology are fathered and grounded cosmic liturgy, Reconciliation, and eschatology.  As Christ related to the earth community in love and justice, so also humans are called to do likewise.


 The theology of reconciliation is a necessary by product of the new cosmology envisioned above.  The human community is thus challenged to a “new logic of grace”.  It begins with honest assessment of the impact of human activities on the ecosystem, which, inevitably leads to repentance, conversion, and cultivation of a new way of thinking and commitment. In this new way, it is a divine responsibility imposed on the Christian, nay the entire human family to protect and preserve the environment.  This is achieving by radiating an equitable “sense of community, care for the earth, solidarity with the physical creation, respect for life, for nature and environmental stewardship; trustees of the earth and faithful stewards of God’s creation.”[45]

 At this juncture, the write up draws up from the fruits of the theological expose to chart the waters for canonical legislation.


 A Critique of Lowdermilk’s 11th Commandment

This section begins with a critique of the attempt by one Walter C. Lowdermilk (1888-1974) in June 1939 to provide a religious code to contain the menace of ecological crisis. This exercise is to provide a lesson on how to construct law, especially with regard to the theoretical framework of the law.  The code decrees:

Thou shalt inherit the holy earth as a steward, conserving its resources and productivity from generation to generation. Thou shalt safeguard thy fields from soil erosion, thy living waters from drying up, thy forests from desolation and protect the hills from overgrazing by the herds, that thy descendants may have abundance forever. If any shall fail in this stewardship of the land, thy fruitful fields shall become sterile, stony ground and wasting gullies, and thy descendants shall decrease and live in poverty or perish from off the face of the earth.[47]

A cursory look at this code reveals a good attempt to mirror the theology of creation with special emphasis on stewardship. The human family is to consider the earth as sacred inheritance; the land and the creatures thereon are at the service of the humans.  They are to care for the earth so that it continues to sustain the human family from one generation to the other.  If the humans so decide to distort the creative order of the ecosystem, they are to suffer deprivation and peril.

As instructive as this code may seem, there are some obvious weaknesses based on the theological stance of the author.  First, the code views stewardship in terms of subjugation and domination of the earth by the human family.  In this context, the humans are conquerors of the land and other creatures and not seen as a part of the cosmic system.  This position is in contradistinction to the whole notion of cosmic mutuality of the created things.  Second, the value of the earth and all it contains are measured by the extent to which it satisfies and helps the humans to fulfill their aspirations.  The whole sense of the independent value of each of the creatures found on the ecosystem and the corresponding respect due to them is completely lost.

Charting the Waters for a Canonical Legislation

Part I: Creation as a Trinitarian Act

Can. 1, #1: God created the universe through his son, Jesus Christ, the omega point of all creation, the revelation of “mystery hidden from eternity”. The goodness of creation points to the glory of the creator. God’s ever-active presence in creation through the Holy Spirit envisions for the Christ’s faithful a sacramental universe to be loved and cherished with the creator’s love.

#2:  In Christ and through Christ the human person and the rest of creation are bound together in creation, redemption, sustenance, praise, thanksgiving and adoration.

#3:  The human person, a part of the created order, endowed with rationality, is given dominion over the whole universe. In doing so, he/she is called to live responsibly, act justly, respect the integrity of the creative order and observe the intrinsic laws of nature.

Part II: Obligations and Rights of Christ’s Faithful

Can 2: Flowing from the creative order, there is a genuine equality among all created things in the cosmos. On account of this equality, there is to be mutual relationship, reverence and interdependence among all the created beings; animate and inanimate, human and non-human.

Can 3:  Christ’s faithful are bound to preserve communion with the earth.  They are to work assiduously, both individually and collectively, towards an equitable sustainability of the environment at all times and in all places.  They are to partner with other laudable organizations and governments to work towards this end.

Can 4:  Christ’s faithful are bound to obey all laws and regulations given by legitimate authorities, both Church and State, to promote environmental sustenance and preservation.

Can 4:  Christians are to re-order their priorities, proclaim a modest life style with great humility in admitting the devastating effects of the activities of the human family on the environment.  They are thus to be committed to a new logic of grace in bringing about the re-generation and the preservation of the entire ecosystem.

Can 5:  Pastors of souls and teachers are to incorporate ecological concerns into preaching, catechetics, liturgies and school programmes.  Conscious of their duties as prophets, they are to continue to promote environmental education and awareness.

Can 6:  Christ’s faithful have rights to deploy the earth’s resources for their sustenance and welfare.  This is to be carried out of course, without prejudice to the intelligent created order and without putting any of the created species of the ecosystem into jeopardy of depletion or extinction.

Part III:  Offences Against Creation (Environment)

Can 7:  The following are to be regarded as offences against the created order:

1*:  The exclusive use of plants and animals as objects without due regard to their intrinsic values and the long-term sustainability of the ecological community.

2*: The indiscriminate felling of woods and the indiscriminate and wanton depletion of forests.

3*: The inordinate and carefree attitude in exacting energy from the soil and releasing it into the biota, and damaging or polluting watercourses.

4*:  The indiscriminate use of land for agricultural purposes without observing the in-built laws and structures of nature.

5*:  The act of burning bushes during the harmattan season for whatever purpose.


This paper serves as a modest attempt to fill a lacuna in the legal patrimony of the Church as a result of the increasing ecological concerns.  Towards this end, the paper engaged in a synthesis of the current theological sheds in environmental studies as a basis to constructing a sustainable legal framework. Since ecological issue is a justice issue and justice has to do with right relationships, then law certainly has a place in the environmental discourse.  It is nothing short of naivety however, to think that promulgating laws alone would reverse resolve once and for all the environmental crisis.  Far from it, even among the Christ’s faithful, law does not replace charism, grace, conversion, common sense and good will rather it is at their service.

Admittedly, this is a most unconventional way of drawing up laws.  The process of law making is normally a long, arduous and painstaking one and can hardly be achieved by a solitary armchair researcher. Hence this piece is titled inter alia: Charting the Waters for Canonical Legislation.  If I have done anything close to that then my mission in this paper is accomplished!

[1] National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference, “Renewing the Earth: An Invitation to Reflection and Action on Environment in Light of Catholic Social Teaching” in Pastoral Letters and Statements of the United States Catholic Bishops. Volume VI 1989-1997 (Washington D.C: NCCB/USCC, 1998) 405.

[2] Francis, LaudatoSi, n. 2.

[3] John Paul, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, n. 37.

[4] Francis, Laudato Si, n. 2.

[5] John Paul, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, n. 36.

[6] Within Chinese cosmology, all of creation is born from the marriage of two polar principles, Yin and Yang, Earth and Heaven, winter and summer, night and day, cold and hot, wet and dry, inner and outer, body and mind. Harmony of this union means health, good weather and good fortune, while disharmony leads to disease, disaster and bad luck.

[7] Al Gore, Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit (New York: Penguin, 1993) 242

[8] L. Boff and V. Elizondo, “Ecology and Poverty: Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor”, in Ecology and Poverty. Ed by L. Boff (London: SCM, 1995) xi.

[9] Bonaventure Ugwu, “A Spirit-Based Theology of the Environment: Lessons from African and Christian Tradition” in African Journal of Contextual Theology 2 (June 2010) 61.

[10] Elizabeth Johnson, “God’s Beloved Creation” in America (2001) 9.

[11] D.G. Hallman, EcoTheology: Voices from South and North (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1995) 68

[12] Second Assembly of Bishops for Africa,  Proposition 22.

[13] T. Berry, Ethics and Ecology quoted in Pius Kii,Preservation of the Environment for Social Order in the Niger Delta: A Perspective from Canon 747. #2. A dissertation submitted to the Faculty of Theology, Department of Canon Law at the Catholic Institute of West Africa, June 2006. 109.

[14] Pius Kii, Preservation of the Environment, 115

[15] Cf. Jude Asanbe, “Collaborative Ministry: Theologians and Canonists at the Service of the Church”, in The Nigerian Journal of Theology 21 (June 2007) 35-50. See also, Ladislas Orsy, “Theology and Canon Law: An Inquiry into their Relationshjp”,  The Jurist 50,2 (1990) 402-434.

[16] Francis, Laudato Si, n. 63.

[17] Al Gore, Earth in the Balance 367.

[18] Carl Segan, Billions and Billions quoted by David Toolan, At Home in the Cosmos (New York: Orbis, 2003) 10.

[19] Mary Sylvia Nwachukwu, “The Editorial – The Environment: A Fundamentally Theological Subject” in African Journal of Contextual Theology 11.

[20] John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, n. 15.

[21] Francis, Laudato Si, 66.

[22] Luke Emehiele Ijezie, “Creation Account in Genesis 1:1-2:4a as a Model of Political Governance”, in African Journal of Contextual Theology. 29-43

[23] Dawn M. Nothwehr, Franciscan Theology of the Environment: An Introductory Reader (Quincy: Franciscan Press, 2002) 222.

[24] John Paul II, Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, n. 26.

[25] Moltman, God in Creation cited by Bede Ukwuije, “Befriending the Earth: Towards a Doxological Approach to the Environment” in African Journal of Contextual Theology, 22.

[26] NCCB/USSC, “Renewing the Earth”, 405

[27] Hill R. Brennan, Christian Faith and the Environment. Making Vital Connection (New York: Orbis, 1998) 274.

[28] Edward Foley, Introduction : The Wisdom of Creation, Eds. Edward Foley and Robert Schreiter (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 2004) xii

[29] David Kingsley, “Christianity as Ecologically Harmful” and “Christianity as Ecologically Responsible” in This Sacred Earth. Religion, Nature, Environment. Edited by Roger S. Gottlieb (New York: Routledge) 238.

[30] Cf. J. Blenkinsopp, The Pentateuch: An Introduction to the First Five Books of the Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1990) 62.

[31] This is one of the core values of the African belief system and vision of the earth.  For adequate reading, cf.

[32] T.J. Gorringe, A Theology of the Built Environment: Justice, Empowerment and Redemption (Cambridge: University Press, 2002) 230.

[33] J. Baird Callicot, In Defense of the Land Ethic. Essays in Environmental Theology (New York: State University, 1989) 91.

[34] Dawn M. Nothwehr, Franciscan Theology of the Environment, xvii.

[35] Dawn M. Nothwehr, Franciscan Theology of the Environment, 286.

[36] Carol Dempsey, “Creation, Revelation and Redemption: Recovering the Biblical Tradition as a Conservation Partner to Ecology” in The Wisdom of Creation. 56.

[37] Dawn M. Nothwehr, Franciscan Theology of the Environment, 340.

[38] Dawn M. Nothwehr, Franciscan Theology of the Environment, 417. Brennan expresses this point more aptly where he writes: “rather than a chain of being, nature is now perceived as a web of intricate and interconnected ecosystems.” Cf. Hill R. Brennan, Christian Faith and the Environment. 279.

[39] NCCB/USSC, “Renewing the Earth”, 406.

[40] Bernard Haring, Free and Faithful in Christ Vol III (Middlegreen: St. Pauls, 1981) 180.

[41] John Paul II, “The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility”.  Message of the Pope John Paul II for the celebration of the World Day of Peace, January 1, 1990 (Washington, D.C.: USCC, 1991) n. 38.

[42] Francis of Assisi, Canticles of the Creatures quoted in Francis, Laudato Si 1.

[43] David Toolan, At Home in the Cosmos 205.

[44] American Baptist Churches, USA, “Creation and the Covenant in Caring”, in This Sacred Earth. 239.

[45] Ferdinand Nwaigbo, “Ecology in the Economy of Creation, Redemption and Eschatology”. Lecture Notes given on October 15, 2010.

[46] This paper identifies with the conclusion of Msgr. Pius Kii in his Licenciate dissertation.  He bares his minds: “There is now equally the need for the Church to consider ecclesiastical legislation that will issue from the framework of the environment. Noticeably, there is as yet no canon in the code of canon laws that specifically addresses the issue of environment and the environmental disposition.”

[47] Cited in Roderick F. Nash, The Rights of Nature: A History of Environmental Ethics (Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1989) 97-98.


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