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The Animal Theology of Pope Benedict XVI
Joshua Duffy November 2012
1. Introduction Over one billion people worldwide consider themselves adherents to the Roman Catholic faith tradition.1 At the helm of this massive amount of humanity sits the Roman pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI. It is not an overstatement to suggest that this man is one of the most influential persons on the planet, whose teachings and exhortations have the capacity to direct the daily life of almost twenty percent of the inhabitants living on earth. To command such an influence is both a blessing and a burden, with every word and action being subject to the severest scrutiny by those faithful and secular alike. As Vicar of Jesus Christ, Benedict XVI has a responsibility to command knowledge of, and speak into, a multitude of diverse fields. In this essay we will attempt to examine one of these fields in regards to his teachings and practice, that of the theological status of animals. With the advent of such philosophers as Peter Singer2 and Tom Regan,3 the status of nonhuman animals has taken a considerable rise in contemporary society. Add to this the pioneering work of Andrew Linzey,4 and the subject of ‘animal theology’5 is quickly becoming a topic of discussion in many theological circles. What is most commonly argued in animal theology is that the way we treat animals is more linked to a human-centered theological framework than a God-centered one. Reverend Linzey proposes that animals possess “theos-rights”,6 and this basically means that, “creation exists for its
“Number of Catholics on the Rise,” ZENIT, accessed November 4, 2012, http://www.zenit.org/article-29058?l=english.
Peter Singer, Animal Liberation: The Definitive Classic of the Animal Movement (New York: HarperCollins, 2009). First published in 1975.
3 4 5 6
Tom Regan, The Case for Animal Rights (Berkerley: University of California Press, 2004). First published in 1983. Andrew Linzey, Animal Rights: A Christian Assessment (London: SCM Press, 1976). Or ‘creaturely theology’ as some term it. Andrew Linzey, Animal Theology (Baltimore: University of Illinois Press, 1995), 24-5.
2 Creator”7 and its sentient beings have inherent worth as such, independent from what benefit humanity can derive from them. This paradigm finds its origin in the book of Genesis when God creates animal life and proclaims a blessing upon it (Gen. 1:20-25). At this point mankind had not yet been created, and the animals existed for, perhaps, millions of years (at least seven days) before humanity existed. 8 This shows that independent of mankind, animals existed in a state of favor with God; as such, it is not theologically immature to ascribe to them inherent rights, or these theos-rights, as we have stated above. The fact that the Bible does not seem to prohibit the use of animals in a utilitarian way (i.e. sacrifice, labor, food, clothing, etc) does not pose a problem to this belief in theos-rights because even though animals were (and still are) used in these ways, we can admit that this instrumental use of them is not God’s ideal or original intention.9 Nor is it how some of the Biblical prophets (Isa. 7:21-25, 11:6-9; Hos. 2:18; Eze. 47:12), and many contemporary theologians believe it will be in the coming eschatological Kingdom of God.10 We even see many of the prophets (Isa. 1:11-18, 66:2-3; Jer. 6:20; Hos. 6:6; Amos 5:21-24; Mic. 6:6-8), and other prominent Biblical figures (1Sa. 15:20-23; Ps. 40:6-8, 50: 1-15, 23, 51:16-17; Pro. 21:3), speaking out against some of the practices the Bibles seems to warrant. Thus, to hold to an ideology which denies the use of animals in this way is every bit as ‘Biblical’ as a belief that humans are the pinnacle of creation, having a right to use animals as we see fit. In fact, one could competently argue that ascribing theos-rights to animals is even more ‘Biblical’ as such a view desires to live a life in accordance with God’s original will for creation, which is how it appears to exist in His coming eschatological kingdom.
See John Paul II. “22 October 1996 Address to the Plenary Session on the Subject ‘The Origins and Early Evolution of Life’.” in Papal Addresses: To the Pontifical Academy of Sciences 1917-2002 and to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences 19942002, ed. Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo (Vatican City: Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 2003), 370-4.
See Andrew Linzey, “Vegetarianism as a Biblical Ideal.” in Religious Vegetarianism: From Hesiod to the Dalai Lama, eds. Kerry S. Walters and Lisa Portmess (Albany: University of New York Press, 2001), 128.
See Ben Witherington III, The Problem with Evangelical Theology: Testing the Exegetical Foundations of Calvinism, Dispensationalism, and Wesleyanism (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2005), 183-4; Andrew Linzey, Creatures of the Same God: Explorations in Animal Theology (Brooklyn: Lantern Books, 2009), 50. Kindle edition.
3 With this concept of theos-rights as our theological backdrop, the goal of this essay is to examine the theology and practice of Benedict XVI and see if his writings, words, and actions support such a concept or not. We will include in this examination key Biblical insights with support/criticism from influential Catholic commentaries, traditional positions on the subject within historical Roman Catholicism as evidenced in Catholic encyclopedias, along with supporting and opposing views Benedict XVI espouses himself. Our conclusion will remark on whether or not Benedict XVI would support this notion of theos-rights for animals or not. While it may be tempting to stray further than the limits of this essay, I will try to stay within the bounds of ‘animal’ theology as opposed to ‘creation’ theology; not because the latter is unworthy of attention, but simply because time and space limits a full discussion on the subject. References towards creation and our stewardship of it will have to be passed by and only specific references to ‘animals’ will be developed at any length. Christians looking for the church to become more animal friendly have their eyes on each and every Pope, in expectation that his pronouncements might change Christianity’s historically imbalanced human-centered theology to more of a God-centered one. Hanging in the balance is no more than the lives of billions of God’s sentient creatures.
2. Traditional Sources of Influence 2.1 Catechism of the Catholic Church What makes looking at the Catechism of the Catholic Church unique in the context of this essay is the fact that in 1996 John Paul II commissioned twelve Cardinals and Bishops, with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger acting as chair, to prepare a draft of it.11 John Paul II stated that “the Catechism of the Catholic Church . . . is a statement of the Church’s faith and of Catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by
Pope John Paul II, "Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum on the Publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church Prepared Following the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council," Vatican. Accessed November 5, 2012. http:// www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_constitutions/documents/hf_jpii_apc_19921011_fideidepositum_en.html.
4 Sacred Scripture, Apostolic Tradition, and the Church’s Magisterium.”12 Furthermore, he declares it to be a “valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion and a sure norm for teaching the faith.” 13 This makes the Catechism a convenient starting point when studying the Roman Catholic Church’s theology on animal life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church does not mention animal life to a great degree, but what it does state is rather ambiguous. On the positive side, it states that creation must be respected and that man’s dominion over “other living beings” is not “absolute [but] . . . limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor,”14 which in this context means animal life. It states that animals are God’s, not man’s, and that He “surrounds them with his providential care.”15 They have inherent worth, as His creatures, and men owe them kindness.16 The examples of gentleness shown to animals by Francis of Assisi and Philip Neri are held as worthy of recollection.17 But, it also states that animals are “destined for the common good of . . . humanity,”18 and that it is permissible to use animals for food, clothing, and as subjects for experimentation provided that the results will benefit human beings, and that these procedures are carried out “within reasonable limits.” 19 Animals should not “suffer or die needlessly,”20 and money, that could otherwise provide relief for humans, should not be afforded them.21
12 13 14
"Catechism of the Catholic Church," Vatican. Accessed November 4, 2012. http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/ catechism/p3s2c2a7.htm#2415.
15 16 17
Ibid. Emphasis added.
"Catechism of the Catholic Church," Vatican. Accessed November 4, 2012. http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/ catechism/p3s2c2a7.htm#2415.
18 19 20 21
Emphasis added. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.
5 The Catechism later states that we have “moral obligations” towards our “animal resources”22 and that “animals are entrusted to man's stewardship; he must show them kindness. They may be used to serve the just satisfaction of man's needs.”23 Thus we can surely see that the Catechism is indeed rather ambiguous when discussing the theological status of animals. It is extremely difficult to attest the Catechism as espousing these theosrights we have mentioned.
2.2 Encyclopedias and Commentaries Encyclopedias and scriptural commentaries within the Roman Catholic tradition are also a very telling area in which a historical ecclesiological view of animals can be gleaned. In preparing for this essay I examined nine encyclopedias and two well-known commentaries to see what kinds of attitudes prevailed when discussing the status of nonhuman animals. Six of the nine encyclopedias did not even have a specific topic on ‘animals,’24 one spent a majority of space relating stories about how previous Popes made use of animals as food, sport, and entertainment,25 and one presented very enlightening information, concluding that “Catholic tradition, without endorsing the notion that animals possess rights, nonetheless provides a basis for moral constraints on the treatment of animals.” 26 As a whole, the encyclopedias referenced, excluding the latter, were not that concerned with the status of animals. The two commentaries examined were as different as night and day. When looking specifically at key passages in Genesis, A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture27 was unashamedly
"Catechism of the Catholic Church," Vatican. Accessed November 4, 2012. http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/ catechism/p3s2c2a7.htm#2456.
Handbook of Catholic Theology, Encyclopedia of Catholicism, The Catholic Source Book, The Harpercollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism, and Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholic Encyclopedia.
Laurence Bobis, "Animals." in The Papacy: An Encyclopedia, Volume 1: Abbreviator-Furnishings, ed. Philippe Levillain (New York: Routledge, 2002), 57-9.
W. A. Barbieri, "Animals, Rights Of." in New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 1: A-Azt. 2nd ed, ed. Berard L. Marthaler (Detroit: Gale, 2003), 457.
Reginald C. Fuller, ed, A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture.. (London: Nelson, 1969).
6 anthropocentric, thinking of the domesticated animals (1:24) as “primitively savage,” 28 and claiming that the author of Genesis “is only secondarily interested in creation as such; his theme is man, and he treats other aspects of creation only insofar as they directly relate to man.”29 When Adam names the animals, this is to be taken as a “mark of ownership” and with this the animal kingdom is “assigned its role.” 30 Contrasting this theology is that contained within The New Jerome Biblical Commentary,31 which states that Genesis 1 teaches that “humans . . . are to respect the environment; they are not to kill for food but are to treat all life with respect,”32 and that the vegetarian diet prescribed (1:29-30) speaks of God’s desire for nonviolence.33 Mankind is viewed as a component of creation, and thus a part of it, albeit a unique one, rather than its “crowning achievement.”34 Creation as a whole is what is pronounced as “very good” (1:31), not the creation of human beings explicitly.35 And now, with this traditional knowledge as our backdrop, we look at the life of Benedict XVI and try to ascertain on what side of our dichotomy, that of theos-rights or theological utilitarianism, he stands.
3. Benedict XVI and Animals 3.1 Favorable Aspects 3.1.1 A Love for Animals Benedict XVI, as we shall see, is rather well known for his love of animals. His brother Georg writes that when they were young he received building blocks as gifts but Joseph "was very fond of
28 29 30 31
Ibid., 175. Ibid., 177. Ibid., 178.
Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, eds., The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1990).
32 33 34 35
Ibid., 11. Ibid. A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, 175. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 11.
7 animals, and therefore our parents always gave him stuffed animals."36 Georg accounts this love of animals that Joseph developed as being an inheritance from their mother.37 While Benedict XVI loves animals of all kinds, it seems he is especially fond of cats, 38 and appears to have an affinity with them,39 even though Roman cats are, according to his brother Georg, “unusually very shy.”40 A children’s book was even published in 200841 in which a cat, based on a real one the Cardinal had known, narrates an authorized biography of Joseph Ratzinger.42 On one occasion in 2008 when staying in Sydney, a team from the Taronga Zoo visited Benedict XVI and took some exotic animals along for the visit too.43 Benedict XVI spent some forty minutes “talking with the trainers and petting each animal,”44 and seemed to genuinely enjoy the experience. The most widely circulated quotes regarding Benedict XVI’s views on animals were made when he was still a Cardinal during an interview with German journalist Peter Seewald. 45 When asked if, Biblically speaking, we are allowed to make use of animals, and even to eat them, the Cardinal answered that there are restrictions on our use of them and that, as God’s creatures, they “are creatures of his will.” He admits that vegetarianism seems to be the original intention of human sustenance and only after humans became sinful was a diet including meat allowed. He does not restrict Catholics to a vegetarian diet today, but insists they maintain respect for the animal even when regarding them as food. Ratzinger
36 37 38 39 40 41
Georg Ratzinger, My Brother the Pope (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2012), 45. Ibid., 196. Peter Seewald, ed., Pope Benedict XVI: Servant of the Truth, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), 75. My Brother the Pope, 205, 219. Ibid., 219.
Jeanne Perego, Joseph and Chico: The Life of Pope Benedict XVI as Told by a Cat, trans. Andrew Matt (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008).
Stephen Brown, “Cat-loving Pope urged to stop wearing fur.” Reuters. Accessed November 6. 2012. http://www.reuters.com/ article/2008/08/13/us-fur-idUSLD17547920080813.
nocommenttv, "Pope Benedict XVI cuddles Australian animals," YouTube. Accessed November 3, 2012. http:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=7l7rHuFLKXk.
catholicnewsagency, "Animals visit with the Pope." YouTube. Accessed November 3, 2012. watch?v=n_SQGYBF8oI.
Pope Benedict XVI, and Peter Seewald, God and the World: A Conversation with Peter Seewald, trans. Henry Taylor (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002), 78-9.
8 condemned industrial use of animals, as in factory farming, saying that “this degrading of living creatures to a commodity seems to me in fact to contradict the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible.” He finishes off the topic by saying that “creation no longer simply reflects the will of God [and that] the whole thing is somehow distorted.” It is these last statements which caused the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to issue such healthy congratulations to Ratzinger upon his ascendance to the Papacy.46 We will see shortly though that PETA, among others, wait expectantly for the Pope to proceed further in these views of animals and make changes that would have more of a practical impact upon the daily lives of the Catholic faithful.
3.1.2 Theology Benedict XVI notes that a main critique against Christianity is that the religion “is said to have transformed all the powers of the universe, which were once our brothers and sisters, into utilitarian objects for human beings.”47 As such, we misuse plants, animals, even all the powers of world “for the sake of an ideology of progress that thinks only of itself and cares only for itself.”48 It is hard to argue against this critique when looking at our history as a whole. Indeed, even though this claim may seem exaggerated, Christianity’s history is littered with much indifference regarding the abuse of creation. Even today, many with whom I am in dialogue are grossly complacent when discussing issues of animal welfare and ecology. Benedict XVI however takes the issue seriously, and looks to shift the anthropocentric course we seem destined to follow. His theological works have some beautiful exegetical work that any lover of animals would be proud of.
“Pope Benedict XVI Continues Tradition of Papal Concern for Animals,” PETA. Accessed November 5, 2012. http:// www.peta.org/features/pope-benedict-xvi.aspx.
Pope Benedict XVI, ‘In the Beginning...’: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 332. Kindle.
9 Like all good exegetes, he views the pre-existing animal sacrificial system of the Old Testament as vanity, and that these sacrifices were performed, in part, because of humanity’s distorted relationship with God.49 The cross of Christ, once and for all, did away with the practice of sacrificing animals. In three of the Gospels (Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-36), the story of Jesus riding the donkey into Jerusalem is told. This has been used by those wishing to establish a doctrine on (or lack of) animal theology by both sides of the issue. Benedict XVI sees the interaction of Jesus and the donkey in an ‘animal friendly’ way, claiming that the animal is specifically necessary as a Messianic sign pointing towards the kingship of Christ, using Genesis 49:8-12 as a proof-text.50 He also believes that Jesus later returned the donkey to its owner.51 Benedict XVI also has some enlightening thoughts regarding the rather obscure passage in Mark 1:13 which states that Jesus “was in the wilderness forty days . . . with the wild beasts.” He writes that, in the time of Jesus, the wilderness was an opposite image of the garden, and that in this passage, it is the place where reconciliation and healing takes place. The wild animals become “friends, as they once were in paradise.” It is a fulfillment of the eschatological Messianic peace which Isaiah spoke of (Isaiah 11:6-9). Jesus’ mission not only brings about restorative harmony between men and God, but also with creation.52 This is a wonderful piece of exegetical work on Mark 1:13, a scripture which has been the subject of more deeper theological consideration than many people assume.53 The fact the Benedict XVI has taken time to draw out such implications speaks volumes about his theological framework regarding animal life and the intentions God has regarding it.
Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Part Two: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem to the Resurrection (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011), 230.
50 51 52
Ibid., 4. Ibid., 3.
Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2008), 27.
See Richard Bauckham, “Jesus and the Wild Animals (Mark 1:13): A Christological Image for an Ecological Age.” in Jesus of Nazareth, Lord and Christ: Essays on the Historical Jesus and New Testament Christology, eds. Joel B. Green and Max Turner (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 3-21; William J. Short, "Animals, A Christian Approach." in The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia, eds. Micheal Glazier and Monica K. Hellwig (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2004), 30.
10 When discussing animal theology in the Roman Catholic tradition, one would be amiss to not mention the saints, whom Benedict XVI calls “the best interpreters of the Bible.” 54 And any discussion regarding these saints, and their views of animals, is hopelessly incomplete without mentioning Francis of Assisi. In his 2012 book Holy Men and Women from the Middle Ages and Beyond, Francis is given high praise by the Pope. He is called “an authentic ‘giant’ of holiness,”55 and is noted as being a representation of an “alter Christus . . . truly a living icon of Christ.”56 His stigmata is recognized as a gift from God which “expressed his intimate identification with the Lord”, representative of his “becoming one with the Crucified Christ.” Dwelling on the life and nature of Francis, Benedict XVI writes that love for all created things stems from truly loving Christ, and that Francis “understood nature as a language in which God speaks to us, in which reality becomes clear, and we can speak of God and with God.”57 But Benedict XVI is not quite willing to uphold Francis’ lifestyle as literally exemplary, although worthy of contemplation and influence, as he notes that the poverty which Francis so loved “continues to be for us, too, an invitation to cultivate interior poverty in order to grow in our trust of God by adopting also a sober lifestyle and a detachment from material goods.”58 Nevertheless, as one who regarded animal life as much more theologically significant than that of his contemporaries, Francis is regarded as an example of holiness in which we would do well to strive to imitate. These references gives us a good indication that Benedict XVI is indeed concerned for the plight of the animal kingdom, and for this, animal friendly Catholics (and Christians in general) can be truly thankful that one such as he is in such an influential position. With this position however, there are undoubtedly responsibilities which comes with the views we have just explored, and it is now that we set aside the favorable aspects of Benedict XVI’s dealings with animals and turn to those a bit more critical.
54 55 56 57 58
Pope Benedict XVI, Holy Men and Women from the Middle Ages and Beyond (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2012), 20. Ibid., 14. Ibid., 19. Ibid., 21. Ibid., 20.
11 3.2 Critical Aspects 3.2.1 PETA and The Anti-Fur Society A major problem with receiving any attention from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is that once they take notice of you, you are sure to hear from them again, for better or worse, before too long. PETA has not a short memory and are all too willing to hold the Pope accountable for what has been said in the past. The glowing endorsement for Benedict XVI on his ascendancy has already been noted,59 but, in 2007, the vice president of PETA in Germany, Harald Ullmann, wrote a formal letter to his Holiness urging him “to speak out against the new leather-bound ‘Benedict Bible’” and requesting that he urge the faithful to only purchase Bibles made of nonleather.60 Ullmann appealed to the Pope’s love of cats by suggesting that some Bibles, maybe even this “new leather-bound ‘Benedict Bible’” could be made out of cat skins smuggled out of China and deliberately mislabeled so as to deceive unsuspecting consumers around the world. He goes on to say that this use of leather “violates the Catholic Catechism.” PETA has received no response from the Vatican in regards to this letter. PETA sent another letter to the Vatican near Christmas in 2009. In this letter Bruce Friedrich requested that Benedict XVI “go vegan and only serve vegan meals in Vatican City and all papal events.”61 Friedrich supports this request with the fact that there is “overwhelming scientific evidence showing that human consumption of animal products is degrading the environment,” and cites reports by the United Nations and World Bank agricultural scientists to substantiate his claims. Even though Benedict XVI has condemned the practice of factory farming in the past,62 a resource from which humans get an incredible amount of their meat products,63 no response has been made from the Vatican on this
PETA, “Pope Benedict Continues Tradition of Papal Concern for Animals.”
Harald Ullmann, “Letter to the Pope: Leather Bibles,” PETA, accessed November 4, 2012. http://www.peta.org/b/thepetafiles/ archive/2007/07/23/Letter-to-the-Pope-Leather-Bibles.aspx.
Arsenio A. Lembert, Jr., “PETA Agrees With Pope That Environment Should Be Taken Seriously and Calls On His Holiness to Lead by Example,” ENDRTIMES (blog), December 25, 2009 (4:21 p.m.), http://endrtimes.blogspot.ca/2009/12/peta-agreeswith-pope-that-environment.html.
Benedict XVI and Seewald, God and the World, 78-9.
Danielle Nierenberg, “Chapter 2: Rethinking the Global Meat Industry,” Worldwatch Institute, accessed November 10, 2012, http://www.worldwatch.org/node/3993.
12 issue neither. Yet another letter was sent by PETA, this time by senior vice president, Dan Mathews,64 regarding the new popemobile that Benedict desired, which made headlines near the end of 2010. 65 Benedict XVI desired that the popemobile be much more energy conscious and PETA were quick to reply. Matthew suggested that the popemobile “also be made leather-free in order to further help the environment and prevent animal suffering.”66 The comments Ratzinger made to Seewald were once again mentioned, and also the fact that making the popemobile leather-free would not be difficult as “MercedesBenz, the company that is creating the new Popemobile, now offers leather-free interiors for all its cars.” PETA is still waiting for a Vatican response to this letter as well. Another group targeted Benedict XVI in 2008 for his wearing of ermine, “the white winter fur of the stoat, which has been used to trim the crowns, ceremonial hats and robes of European royalty, aristocrats, judges and popes for centuries.”67 The Anti-Fur Society endorsed an online petition, asking the faithful to recognize the plight of those animals who “live miserable lives, until they meet with brutal deaths, including being skinned alive.”68 As in the other instances cited above, the Vatican has yet to respond to this communication. While the language used by these organizations tends to be unnecessarily dramatic, it cannot be denied that farming animals for food, leather, and fur contributes to a vast amount of suffering throughout the world each and every day. Groups such as PETA and the Anti-Fur Society may use questionable methods in attempting to meet their goals, but they are desperate to put an end to a vast amount of suffering, of which the Catechism itself would agree is needless. If we are to believe that living creatures are God’s own, and that we are stewards, not dominators, then it would seem we do have a duty to speak
Dan Mathews, letter to Pope Benedict XVI. PETA, accessed November 4, 2012. http://www.peta.org/cfs-file.ashx/__key/ CommunityServer-Components-SiteFiles/Peta- Images-Main-Sections-Blog-PETA+Files/Popemobile_5F00_letterhead.pdf.
Jerry Garrett, "Pope Likes Electric Vehicles, but Wants More," NY Times, accessed November 4, 2012. http:// wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/03/pope-likes-electric-vehicles-but-wants-more/.
66 67 68
Mathews, letter to Pope Benedict XVI. Stephen Brown, “Cat-loving Pope urged to stop wearing fur.” “POPEvsFUR," The Anti-Fur Society, accessed November 8, 2012. http://www.antifursociety.org/POPEvsFUR.html.
13 and act out against such injustice perpetrated against them.
3.2.2 Theology When examining the written works of Benedict XVI there are a few instances that could be construed as unfavorable toward a theological consideration of animal life, and while they may seem minor to any who have not taken the matter of theos-rights into consideration, these instances, however minor they may seem, must be noted. Benedict XVI writes that animals are incapable of thinking about the concept of God, 69 and that only humans have a perspective which “transcends the material realm.”70 While this may indeed be true, there is the possibility that it is also not true given the research that has been ongoing in the inner lives of such animals as dolphins, to take but one example.71 To exclude animals from this dimension of spiritual awareness simply on the basis that they are not human, which seems to be the most likely reason for such an assumption, seems a bit premature in light of how much we have come to know about their inner lives. Given the positive views of animal life expressed so far throughout this essay in the Biblical and Roman Catholic tradition, a more generous opinion on this matter should prevail until proved otherwise. Benedict XVI also seems to worry that if we stress man’s similarity to the animal kingdom too much then there is a danger of living like dogs, and treating one another as dogs.72 It is unfortunate that such beastly language was used here as I wholeheartedly believe that a misnomer was not intended, as Benedict XVI immediately follows this wording by saying that treatment to each other of this sort is not how dogs should ever be treated. The slip was made however, and those sympathetic to the plight of the animal kingdom would be amiss not to notice.
Pope Benedict XVI, Dogma and Preaching: Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011), 194.
Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, 213.
Lin Edwards, “Scientists say dolphins should be treated as non-human persons,” Phys.org, last modified January 6, 2010, http://phys.org/news181981904.html; see also Jonathan Leake, “Scientists say dolphins should be treated as ‘non-human persons’,” Red Ice Creations, accessed November 20, 2012, http://www.redicecreations.com/article.php?id=9321.
Pope Benedict XVI, Creedo for Today: What Christians Believe, trans. Micheal J. Miller, Henry Taylor, Mary Frances McCarthy, Adrian Walker, J. R. Foster (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2009), 104.
14 As already noted, these instances may seem minor, but when we are considering the lives of those with whom we share this planet, and whom are, to a large part, dependant upon us for their well-being, than any inconsistencies should be, at least, discussed and clarified.
4. Conclusion We have considered much in this essay. We reasoned our way through Andrew Linzey’s concept of animals possessing theos-rights, and why instances of utilitarianism in the Scriptures does not diminish this view. We have examined the views of animals within the framework of Roman Catholicism by looking at important traditional references. We have seen the love Benedict XVI seems to have for animals, and noted several writings from his books. And we have looked at criticism from animal rights groups desiring more from Benedict XVI in regards to formal practice, as well as looking at a couple minor instances of, what could be construed as, speciesism in his theological works. Regardless of the criticism levied at the Pope, there seems to be a consistent trajectory in his life in which a kind regard for animal life plays a prominent role. His brother Georg made note of it, and through his days as a Cardinal we see it, and the trajectory continues even to this year as evidenced by his thoughts on Francis of Assisi. However, ascribing to Benedict XVI a belief of animals possessing theos-rights seems unrealistic. While calling him a ‘utilitarian’ would be a mistake, it would not be unfair to claim that Benedict XVI believes that ‘animal welfare’ is what we, as a race, should be striving for, not ‘animal rights’. From his perspective, it seems morally acceptable to use animals for our benefit (humanely), keeping regard for the life and well-being of the animal. Given where we, as humanity, have come from in our association with the animal kingdom, even this is a welcome change and one in which each and every Christian concerned with the lives of animals can applaud. Benedict XVI affords animals dignity and a place within creation that is not solely for the benefit of man. He acknowledges their inherent worth, as creatures of God, and as such, believes they are to be treated in a substantially better way than
15 current practice dictates. For groups like PETA and the Anti-Fur Society, for theologians such as Andrew Linzey, and even for laypersons such as myself, a Pope espousing ‘animal welfare’ will have to do, until either one ascends whom confers those theos-rights upon the animal kingdom, or the King Himself ascends from the heavens ushering in the peaceable kingdom in which all types of violence done, one life to another, will be totally and utterly abolished (Hos. 2:18). Until then, however, animals can be glad Benedict XVI leads the Christian Church in a way that promotes a compassionate and peaceable theology towards sentient forms of life other than human beings.
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