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A Publication of
Catholic Concern for Animals


Selections From The Ark Number 212 - Summer 2009

The 2009 CCA prize-winning essay:

By Rizinde Mahirwe Dieudonne


The aim of this essay is to raise the Christian awareness about the compassion to animals and show that these also are important questions for the people of faith. This essay aims, therefore, at showing that our faith does not exclude the call to responsibility and custodianship as a mandate each human being has received since the beginning of creation. Therefore, being aware of the theological dimension of the animals as part of whole creation, it is imperative that this paper conducts an enquiry into the theological basis of compassion to animals in the Bible.
The first chapter of this reflection will offer a scriptural basis of what humans have in common with animals and the rest of creation. In the second chapter we intend to define compassion to animals as a prophetic role of the Church. This paper is written with the hope that it will help the readers, particularly individual Christians, to improve or change their attitude towards animals in order to engage in caring for them and protecting their habitat.

I. Scriptural Basis
1. The Divine Plan for whole creation
Creation is one and human and animals are all connected to the earth. The unity of creatures is manifested in the creation accounts, especially in Genesis 1 and 2, as willed by God. All creatures share the same creation matter, the ground (Genesis 2:7. 9. 19). The Hebrew word Adamah from which Adam derives means ‘what is from the ground’.
1 All human beings and animals are earth.

The whole of creation has contact with God and all creatures have the ability to praise God (Psalm 145:10). The animals have that ability to worship the Creator continually. Amidst all that are praising God, wild animals and cattle, reptiles and winged birds are also invited to offer praise (Psalm 148: 9). If a greater privilege has been given to us, a greater task and accountability are also expected from us. Our privilege over other creatures cannot justify the dominion and exploitation against animals and other creatures. More responsibility and accountability are rather expected from us. The image and likeness of God is therefore ‘the capacity for relationship’
2 with God, with the fellow human beings and with the rest of creation. Our being created in the image and likeness of God tells us about ourselves and about what we ‘ought’ to be. Moreover, to be created in the image and likeness of God says about the role of humanity in creation. We are given a role and task within the created order.3 This is indeed a meaningful anthropology that is found in the creation story of Genesis 1 and 2. ‘The concern of Genesis is not to reject any connection between humanity and the non-human world but to affirm the special relation of the human race within the world.’4 We have been given the fundamental mandate to reign, to multiply and to subdue. The term image has the full meaning of our relation to God while ‘have dominion’ is expressing our relation to the world in freedom5. This means that we have the task to care for animals as God cares for them, to rule over them as God rules, with diligence and love.

2. Jesus, the Model for a Church that cares for Animals

The gospels present to us many examples where Jesus relates with animals. One of such example shows that Jesus ‘remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and angels ministered to him’ (Mark 1:13). From his birth, in his simple living conditions, Jesus is related with people and animals. Luke’s gospel places the new-born child Jesus in a manger.
6 And this, probably, made the Christian community develop the tradition of representing Jesus’ birth with two animals in connection with the text from the prophet Isaiah: ‘The ox knows its owner and the donkey its master’s crib; Israel does not know, my people do not understand’ (Isaiah 1:3; see also Habakkuk 3: 2). The most theological implication in Isaiah’s prophecy is the warning against the people for not accepting the messiah while this (messiah) found a home with the animals. It shows how the human heart can be harder than that of the animals. Yet, we are created to belong to God, created in God’s image.
Therefore, from the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, we are shown how Jesus was eco-friendly because ‘in death, as in life, Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels as one who is in harmony with nature’.
7 Jesus remained a man of nature throughout his ministry. We are told that the first witnesses of his birth were shepherds who kept vigil guarding their sheep (Luke 1:8). Moreover, his first followers were fishermen (Mark 1:16-20) who appreciated the gift of nature: waters, fish, trees to make their boats etc. And we find mountains, lakes, trees, plants, animals, birds, grain, clouds, rain, rocks, wind, storm etc. appearing in Jesus’ teaching and parables.8 Jesus admired nature and related to it in his encounter with the Father and his followers. Jesus is also known as ‘Lion of the tribe of Judah’ (Revelation 5:5) and as ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world’ (John 1:29). That is why we can confidently say that Jesus appears, in the Gospel, as an environmentalist par excellence. 9

II. Compassion to Animals as a Prophetic Role of the Church

The compassion of God towards the people he created does not exclude his care and compassion to animals. Both animals and humans are in need of God’s compassion. One of the answers Yahweh gave to Jonah was as follows: ‘So why should I not be concerned for Nineveh, the great city, in which there are more that a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, to say nothing of all the animals’ (Jonah 4:11). All animals belong to God (Psalm 24:1) and he cares for them (1 John 4:16) giving them food, especially the young ones when they call and cry for help (Psalm 147:9).

God’s compassion to animals should also be reflected in our actions and attitudes towards animals. If the Church is understood to be the sacrament of the love of God here on earth, it must also be the sacrament of God’s compassion to animals. The Church’s failure to care for animals and promote compassion to animals is a failure to be sacrament of God’s presence in, and care for, creation. We encounter today many cases whereby animals are being treated irresponsibly and without any dose of compassion. Such cases are seen in laboratories, butcheries, game sports, scientific research and the slaughter for commercial purposes. The Church has the mandate to advocate for God’s creatures, the animals, especially when they are hunted, tortured and killed needlessly. There are many other ways through which we can provide for our need instead of killing animals. For example, God has provided us with cotton and other facilities to get clothes. Yet people go ahead with killing and skinning newborn lambs in the search for garments. Why can’t we use more materials from plants to get carpets instead of killing bears, leopards and lions? All animals belong to God. We will be indeed answerable for how we have treated these God’s creatures.
If the Scriptures recognize the importance of nature and its contribution to the human knowledge of God, then those who read the Scriptures must also reverence nature. The text in the book of Job seems to support this argument because it shows how God teaches humans through animals: ‘You have only to ask the cattle, for them to instruct you, and the birds of the sky, for them to inform you …’ (Job 12:7-10).

There is need to move from an anthropocentric and individualistic eschatology to an inclusive and communal eschatology based on universal redemption (humanity as a whole and the cosmos). There is no doubt that St Paul’s theology is in line with this eschatological ecology: ‘for the whole creation itself is waiting with eagerness for the children of God to be revealed. […], with the intention that the whole creation itself might be freed from its slavery to corruption and brought into the same glorious freedom as the children of God’ (Romans 8:19-21). It means God has a plan for the universe including animals.

Apart from all scriptural references, the Catholic Tradition has also canonized many Fathers who proved themselves ecologically friendly as Saints. For example, Irenaeus, and even more Augustine, came to consider that ‘the creatures of nature as well as human creatures have their own integrity, their own value, their own necessary place in the greater history of the created order’.
10 Many tales are known about the Desert and Celtic Fathers concerning the way they lived in harmony with the natural world in the wilderness amidst wild animals.11 The Desert and Celtic Fathers were not the only Christians to cultivate an ecologically friendly attitude towards nature. Others, like Saint Benedict, Hildegard of Bingen and Francis of Assisi, are well known for their ‘implicit or explicit biocentric ethic’. Hildegard of Bingen believed that ‘whatever God created was bound together in cosmic interdependence’,12 and also according to her ‘one of the best ways to know God was to love God’s work of art’.13 There is no doubt that St Francis reached the level of revering the non-human beings for what they are in themselves and because they are also created by God.
For Pope John Paul II, ‘The most profound and serious indication of the moral implications underlying the ecological problem is the lack of respect for life’.
14 The pro-life message must also include the cause for animals. This should include animal health and welfare. There is a call for our duty to avoid or minimize animal suffering, since unjustified and disproportionate suffering is unacceptable. In our world of technology and science advance there should be the duty of reducing or replacing and, when possible, refining the experimentation adopted for the use of animals in research. The Church as a whole and individual Christians should come out to create more awareness among other people on the call to have compassion to animals.

The call to be compassionate to animals is part and parcel of the Christian call. It is part of the Church’s mandate. It is a way of promoting the ‘culture of life’ in all aspects and in more concrete ways.

The Holy Scripture is not anywhere asking us to torture and exploit animals. Our call to care for animals is a best test to check how better we care for our fellow human beings and also to what extent we are accountable before our Creator. The psalmist had known it well when he noted that ‘a good man takes care of his animals. But wicked men are cruel to others’ (Proverb 12:10). Compassion to animals is therefore part of our Christian responsibility. That is why the Church, being pro-life, should take seriously compassion to animals as a prophetic role and an integral aspect to its mission. The Church has the mandate to make sure that animals are not tortured, exploited and killed maliciously. The love of creation should be indoctrinated in individual Christians and Christian institutions and families in schools, homilies, catechesis and bible sharing and education.

1. Z. Hayes, What are they saying about creation? (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 1980), p.66.
2. J. Ratzinger, “In the Beginning”: a Catholic understanding of the story of creation and the
fall (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1986), p.47.
3. Z. Hayes, p.66.
4. Z. Hayes, p.64.
5. Z. Hayes, p.65.
6. I. Bradley, God is Green: Christianity and the environment (London: Darton, Longman &
Todd, 1990) p.75
7. I. Bradley, p.9.
8. I. Bradley, p.78.
9. S. K. Gitau, The Environmental Crisis: challenge for African Christianity (Nairobi: Action
Publishers, 2000), p.72.
10. H.P. Santmire, The Travail of Nature: the ambiguous ecological promise of Christian
theology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1985), p.177.
11. J. A. Nash, Loving Nature: Ecological Integrity and Christian Responsibility (Nashville,
TN: Abingdon Press, 1991), pp.81-84.
12. G. Durka, Praying with Hildegard of Bingen (Winona, MN: Saint Mary’s Press, 19991.66
13. G. Durka, p. 65
14. John Paul II, The Ecological Crisis: a Common Responsibility (World Day of Peace, 1 January 1990).p.7.

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