So far I've talked mainly about what the Pope said on the nature and necessity of the Church. I want to turn now to what he had to say about our natural and social environments, which I know were not always well received by conservatives! Perhaps therefore I should start with some of the things we can all agree on, before moving to more controversial ground....
Man as the apex of creation
A key starting point for his exposition - and for our thinking - is the concept rejected by many greenies that man is made in God's image and the 'apex of creation':
"It is as though one catches glimpses of the Genesis creation story - light and darkness, the sun and the moon, the waters, the earth, and living creatures; all of which are “good” in God’s eyes (cf. Gen 1:1 - 2:4).Immersed in such beauty, who could not echo the words of the Psalmist in praise of the Creator: “how majestic is your name in all the earth?” (Ps 8:1).
And there is more – something hardly perceivable from the sky – men and women, made in nothing less than God’s own image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26). At the heart of the marvel of creation are you and I, the human family “crowned with glory and honour” (Ps 8:5)..."(Welcoming Ceremony)
It is an important reminder of the Christian view which puts the needs of humans above those of assorted modern causes such as whales or gorillas (and in Switzerland even plants now have rights...):
"Faith teaches us that we are God’s creatures, made in his image and likeness, endowed with an inviolable dignity, and called to eternal life. Wherever man is diminished, the world around us is also diminished; it loses its ultimate meaning and strays from its goal. What emerges is a culture, not of life, but of death. How could this be considered “progress”? It is a backward step, a form of regression which ultimately dries up the very sources of life for individuals and all of society.."(St Mary's Mass). It is not an unrestrained right to exploit the world's resources however. Man's task is 'to exercize responsible stewardship of the goods of the earth.' (Welcome)
The existence of the natural law - the inclinations to the good, to self-preservation, sexual union and the rearing of children, the knowledge of truth, and to live in society - are not specifically Christian concepts, but what they mean is most clearly articulated in the Ten Commandments.
It is significant that the Pope made quite a lot of comments on the natural law at the inter-religious meeting, as he has previously argued as a theologian that the natural law provides a common ground on which we can meet and work together to defend at least some truths.
The other point to note is the specifically Augustinian twist on natural law theory that the Pope presents: he talked about a capacity for love as lying behind the inclinations as they are normally understood:
"Loving is what we are programmed to do, what we were designed for by our Creator. Naturally, I am not talking about fleeting, shallow relationships, I am talking about real love, the very heart of Jesus’ moral teaching: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” and “You must love your neighbour as yourself” (cf. Mk 12:30-31).