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From The Ark No. 192 - Winter 2002

Pope John Paul II on Creation

John Paul II uses many of the weekly General Audiences to comment on biblical psalms and canticles. On 26 June 2002 it was the turn of psalm 8,
and on 10 July, the canticle in the Book of Daniel, chapter 3:52-90.

Psalm 8

In its relation with creation, mankind should be God’s ‘lieutenant,’ not a ‘mad tyrant’ responsible for environmental damage and social injustice, John Paul II says. The psalm begins by describing the bewilderment that every human being feels when faced with the immensity of the universe. In face of the ‘impressive scene of a starry night,’ one is compelled to ask: ‘What are humans?’ (Painting - This is God creating all creatures, by Raphael. - To enlarge, click on the painting or link - To return to this page, click on the "back" button on your tool bar.)

However, the answer to the question causes the Psalmist ‘great surprise,’ the Pope explains. ‘God has given man, a weak creature, a wonderful dignity,’ the Holy Father says. ‘Man is seen as the royal lieutenant of the Creator himself,’ the Pope continues. ‘God, indeed, has "crowned" him as a viceroy, giving him a universal lordship ... However, this dominion is not conquered by man’s capacity, fragile and limited reality, nor is it obtained either by a victory over God, as the Greek myth of Prometheus intended. It is a dominion given by God.’ But this dominion can be misunderstood by selfish man, ‘who often has revealed himself to be a mad tyrant rather than a wise and intelligent ruler,’ the Pope says. ‘History documents the evil that human freedom disseminates in the world, with environmental devastations and with the most terrible social injustices,’ he notes.

John Paul II ends by presenting Christ as the model of relation with creation, who ‘is not a sovereign who makes himself be served, but who serves and consecrates himself to others’. In the light of Christ, ‘Psalm 8 reveals all the force of its message and of its hope, inviting us to exercise our sovereignty over creation not in dominion but in love.’

The canticle in the Book of Daniel, chapter 3:52-90

John Paul II says the following: ‘The Canticle of the three young men condemned to the fiery furnace by the King of Babylon is a magnificent litany in praise of God the Creator. It portrays a great cosmic procession in which the entire universe joins in singing the glory of God. Like all true prayer, it is a joyful celebration of God's providence, a hymn of thanksgiving for his many blessings, and an act of renewed faith in the midst of suffering and persecution. Formally, it is an invitation addressed to all creation to bless God; in reality, it is a song of thanksgiving that the faithful raise to the Lord for all the wonders of the universe. Man gives voice to the whole of creation to praise and thank God. ... The singer also evokes "the sea monsters" along with the fish as a sign of the primordial aquatic chaos on which God imposed limits to be observed (see Psalm 92[93]:3-4; Job 38:8-11; 40:15-41).

‘Then it is the turn of the vast and varied animal kingdom, which lives and moves in the waters, on the earth, and in the skies (see Daniel 3:80-81).

‘The last actor of creation to appear is man. First the gaze extends to all the "sons of men" (see verse 82); later, the attention is focused on Israel, the people of God (see verse 83); then it is the turn of those who are totally consecrated to God not only as priests (see verse 84), but also as witnesses of faith, justice and truth. They are the "servants of the Lord", the "spirits and souls of the just", the "holy men of humble heart" and, among them, the three youths emerge, Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael, who have given voice to all the creatures in a universal and eternal praise (see verses 85-88).

‘The three verbs if divine glorification have resounded constantly, as in a litany: "Bless, praise, exalt" the Lord. This is the authentic spirit of prayer and song: to celebrate the Lord ceaselessly, in the joy of being part of a choir that includes all creatures.’

The Holy Father concludes by taking up the comment of St Ambrose, who, ‘referring to the fourth day of creation (see Genesis 1:14-19), imagines that the earth speaks and, thinking of the sun, finds all creatures united in praise of God:

"In truth, the sun is good, because it serves, helps my fruitfulness, nourishes my fruits. It was given to me for my good, and is subject with me to exhaustion. It groans with me, for the adoption as sons and the redemption of the human race, so that we also can be released from slavery. At my side, together with me it praises the Creator, together with me it raises a hymn to the Lord our God. Where the sun blesses, there the earth blesses, the fruitful trees bless, the animals bless, the birds bless with me" (I Sei Giorni della Creazione, SAEMO, I, Milan-Rome, 1977-1994, pp. 192-193).’

The Pope concludes, ‘No one is excluded from the blessing of the Lord, not even the sea monsters (see Daniel 3:79). Indeed, St Ambrose continues: "Even the serpents praise the Lord, because their nature and aspect reveal to our eyes a certain beauty and show that they have their justification" (Ibid., pp. 103-104). All the more reason why we, human beings, should add our joyful and trusting voice to this concert of praise, coupled with a consistent and faithful life.’

Islam on animals

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