Barry Coldrey

Paul Haffner

(Gracewing, 2008, 388pp, $45.00. ISBN: 978-0-85244-368-2. Available from Freedom Publishing)

While each dedicated, practising Catholic would have to answer for him/herself, this reviewer has the impression that traditional practising Catholics view the environmental movement and so-called creation theology as of questionable orthodoxy, at best a distraction from the more important moral issues arising from the secular agenda like abortion, euthanasia and "gay marriage".

Creation theology is sometimes viewed as tainted with pantheism while the whole issue of how best to manage the environment is better viewed as a political one, not a moral one, and therefore something on which well-informed people can reasonably differ.

Father Haffner's book however shows that there can be an orthodox "theology of the environment" and that recent popes have addressed the question confidently. The author is well qualified to discuss the topic, being Professor of Theology at Regina Apostolorum University in Rome and steeped in Church teaching on the subject.

The question of regard for the environment has been a concern for the Church's leadership, especially following Pope John Paul II's message for the World Day of Peace in 1990 and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace's Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

Since then Benedict XVI has addressed the topic in three notable instances: the World Youth Day, Sydney, 2008, the Encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, and his 2010 message for the World Day of Peace.

Bedrock teachings

These latter-day authoritative treatments in turn derive from a bedrock Judeo-Christian world view that goes back to Genesis where the one true God freely willed into existence from no pre-existent matter a world that is good. The Genesis account underlines the relationship between this personal God and the world He created.

Also revealed in Genesis is that God created the first humans in His own image and likeness with His creation ordered for their temporal and eternal well-being. In turn, all forms of creation serve to glorify God and enable human beings to come to a knowledge of God through the beauty and complexity of His creation.

In his book Father Haffner devotes 70 pages to aspects of the degradation of the planet by the unbridled misuse of natural resources, then 60 pages outlining the Church's teachings on environmental issues as set out by recent popes and conferences of Catholic bishops.

This is followed by a "Christian Vision of Creation" of similar length with ideas for an environmental theology, which Father Haffner sees as still very much in a process of development.

Towards a Theology of the Environment provides a well-grounded approach for Catholics interested in environmental issues which in more recent years have tended to be dominated by radicals and activists out of sympathy with the Judeo-Christian tradition.

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