February 13, 2009


We are called to be stewards of the beauty of creation

There are those who say that the moral teaching of the Church contains too many prohibitions. In reality, however, her teaching is based on the recognition and promotion of all the gifts that the Creator has bestowed on man such as life, knowledge, freedom and love …

“By these, [man] participates in the creative power of God and is called to transform creation by ordering its many resources toward the dignity and well-being of all human beings and of the person in his entirety. In this way man acts as the steward of the value and intrinsic beauty of creation.”

The quotation is taken from the introduction to “Dignitatis Personae” (“The Dignity of Persons”), an instruction on bioethical issues issued last December by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It was an update of the 1987 instruction “Donum Vitae” (“The Gift of Life”). The new instruction deals with developments in biomedical technologies that have taken place in the past two decades.

One section of the new instruction deals with new problems concerning procreation, including techniques for assisting fertility. Another section deals with new treatments that involve the manipulation of the embryo or the genetic patrimony (gene therapy, human cloning, therapeutic use of stem cells, hybridization and use of human biological material).

The instruction is technical and, therefore, may be difficult for non-specialists to read. But as the pope’s representatives, Cardinal William Levada and Archbishop Luis Ladaria, make clear, the issues addressed in this instruction are of vital concern to “all people of goodwill, especially those who work in the medical field” because they speak to the most fundamental of all human values: the dignity of the person.

We are called to be stewards of the value and intrinsic beauty of all God’s creation. That’s why Pope Benedict has repeatedly called attention to environmental concerns, to problems of starvation and disease in many regions of the world, to the horrors of genocide and war (which he witnessed personally in his youth), and to all threats against the dignity of the human person—especially those which arise from new technologies that appear to be humane and life-giving, but which fail to respect the most basic principle of ethical behavior: “the unconditional respect that is morally due to the human being in his bodily and spiritual totality.”

Stewardship of the beauty of God’s creation cannot be simply a sentimental attachment to nature. It must be a much more radical commitment to the preservation and development of all God’s gifts. And it must start with the gift of life itself.

Authentic stewardship requires accountability. Individually, and as the family of God, we will be asked to render an account of our stewardship of creation. What have we done with the gifts that God has given us: with the wonders of science as well as with the spiritual gifts we have received from our gracious and loving Father? Have we nurtured these gifts and shared them with others for the good of all? Or have we neglected and abused them out of selfishness and pride?

The new instruction, “Dignitatis Personae,” forcefully reminds us of the ancient ethical principle that the end does not justify the means. Yes, new biomedical technologies can do good things like assisting infertile couples and aiding in the research and treatment of otherwise fatal diseases. But at what price?

As responsible stewards of the beauty of creation, we have no choice but to oppose “all those practices that result in grave and unjust discrimination against unborn human beings, who have the dignity of a person, created like others in the image of God.”

This is not a popular position to take in our culture today. It requires us to say no to things that appear to be positive and beneficial for individuals, families and society as a whole. But as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith teaches in “Dignitatis Personae,” “Behind every ‘no’ in the difficult task of discerning between good and evil, there shines a great ‘yes’ to the recognition of the dignity and inalienable value of every single human being called into existence.”

As stewards of the beauty of creation, let us say ‘no’ to every abuse of human intelligence and power, and a profound and sometimes courageous ‘yes’ to all that God has made, especially to human life in its most nascent and vulnerable forms.

— Daniel Conway

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