Evangelium vitae 28
29 Faced with the countless gravethreats to life present in the modern world, one could feel overwhelmed bysheer powerlessness: good can never be powerful enough to triumph over evil!
At such times the People of God, and this includes everybeliever, is called to profess with humility and courage its faith in JesusChrist, "the Word of life" (1 Jn 1Jn 1,1). The Gospel of life is notsimply a reflection, however new and profound, on human life. Nor is it merelya commandment aimed at raising awareness and bringing about significant changesin society. Still less is it an illusory promise of a better future. The Gospelof life is something concrete and personal, for it consists in the proclamationof the very person of Jesus. Jesus made himself known to the Apostle Thomas,and in him to every person, with the words: "I am the way, and the truth,and the life" (Jn 14,6). This is also how he spoke of himself to Martha,the sister of Lazarus: "I am the resurrection and the life; he whobelieves in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives andbelieves in me shall never die" (Jn 11,25-26). Jesus is the Son who fromall eternity receives life from the Father (cf. Jn Jn 5,26), and who has come among men to make themsharers in this gift: "I came that they may have life, and have itabundantly" (Jn 10,10).
Through the words, the actions and the very person ofJesus, man is given the possibility of "knowing" the complete truthconcerning the value of human life. From this "source" he receives,in particular, the capacity to "accomplish" this truth perfectly (cf. Jn 3,21), that is, toaccept and fulfil completely the responsibility of loving and serving, ofdefending and promoting human life. In Christ, the Gospel of life isdefinitively proclaimed and fully given. This is the Gospel which, alreadypresent in the Revelation of the Old Testament, and indeed written in the heartof every man and woman, has echoed in every conscience "from thebeginning", from the time of creation itself, in such a way that, despitethe negative consequences of sin, it can also be known in its essential traitsby human reason. As the Second Vatican Council teaches, Christ "perfectedrevelation by fulfilling it through his whole work of making himself present andmanifesting himself; through his words and deeds, his signs and wonders, butespecially through his death and glorious Resurrection from the dead and finalsending of the Spirit of truth. Moreover, he confirmed with divine testimonywhat revelation proclaimed: that God is with us to free us from the darkness ofsin and death, and to raise us up to life eternal".22
30 Hence, with our attention fixedon the Lord Jesus, we wish to hear from him once again "the words ofGod" (Jn 3,34) and meditateanew on the Gospel of life. The deepest and most original meaning of thismeditation on what revelation tells us about human life was taken up by theApostle John in the opening words of his First Letter: "That which wasfrom the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes,which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word oflife-the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaimto you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest tous-that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you mayhave fellowship with us" (1:1-3).
In Jesus, the "Word of life", God's eternallife is thus proclaimed and given. Thanks to this proclamation and gift, ourphysical and spiritual life, also in its earthly phase, acquires its full valueand meaning, for God's eternal life is in fact the end to which our living inthis world is directed and called. In this way the Gospel of life includeseverything that human experience and reason tell us about the value of humanlife, accepting it, purifying it, exalting it and bringing it to fulfilment.
31 The fullness of the Gospelmessage about life was prepared for in the Old Testament. Especially in theevents of the Exodus, the centre of the Old Testament faith experience, Israel discovered thepreciousness of its life in the eyes of God. When it seemed doomed toextermination because of the threat of death hanging over all its newborn males(cf. Ex Ex 1,15-22), the Lordrevealed himself to Israel as its Saviour,with the power to ensure a future to those without hope. Israel thus comes toknow clearly that its existence is not at the mercy of a Pharaoh who canexploit it at his despotic whim. On the contrary, Israel's life is theobject of God's gentle and intense love.
Freedom from slavery meant the gift of an identity,the recognition of an indestructible dignity and the beginning of a newhistory, in which the discovery of God and discovery of self go hand in hand.The Exodus was a foundational experience and a model for the future. Throughit, Israel comes to learn that whenever its existence is threatened it needonly turn to God with renewed trust in order to find in him effective help:"I formed you, you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten byme" (Is 44,21).
Thus, in coming to know the value of its own existenceas a people, Israel also grows in itsperception of the meaning and value of life itself. This reflection isdeveloped more specifically in the Wisdom Literature, on the basis of dailyexperience of the precariousness of life and awareness of the threats whichassail it. Faced with the contradictions of life, faith is challenged torespond.
More than anything else, it is the problem ofsuffering which challenges faith and puts it to the test. How can we fail toappreciate the universal anguish of man when we meditate on the Book of Job?The innocent man overwhelmed by suffering is understandably led to wonder:"Why is light given to him that is in misery, and life to the bitter insoul, who long for death, but it comes not, and dig for it more than for hidtreasures?" (3:20-21). But evenwhen the darkness is deepest, faith points to a trusting and adoringacknowledgment of the "mystery": "I know that you can do allthings, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted" (Jb 42,2).
Revelation progressively allows the first notion ofimmortal life planted by the Creator in the human heart to be grasped with evergreater clarity: "He has made everything beautiful in its time; also hehas put eternity into man's mind" (Ec 3:11). This firstnotion of totality and fullness is waiting to be manifested in love and broughtto perfection, by God's free gift, through sharing in his eternal life.
32 The experience of the people ofthe Covenant is renewed in the experience of all the "poor" who meetJesus of Nazareth. Just as God who "loves the living" (cf. Wis Sg 11,26)had reassured Israel in the midst of danger, so now the Son of God proclaims toall who feel threatened and hindered that their lives too are a good to whichthe Father's love gives meaning and value.
"The blind receive their sight, the lame walk,lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor havegood news preached to them" (Lc 7,22). With thesewords of the Prophet Isaiah (35:5-6, 61:1), Jesus sets forth the meaning of hisown mission: all who suffer because their lives are in some way "diminished"thus hear from him the "good news" of God's concern for them, andthey know for certain that their lives too are a gift carefully guarded in thehands of the Father (cf. Mt Mt 6,25-34).
It is above all the "poor" to whom Jesusspeaks in his preaching and actions. The crowds of the sick and the outcastswho follow him and seek him out (cf. Mt Mt 4,23-25) find in hiswords and actions a revelation of the great value of their lives and of howtheir hope of salvation is well-founded.
The same thing has taken place in the Church's missionfrom the beginning. When the Church proclaims Christ as the one who "wentabout doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God waswith him" (Ac 10,38), she is conscious of being the bearer of a messageof salvation which resounds in all its newness precisely amid the hardships andpoverty of human life. Peter cured the cripple who daily sought alms at the"Beautiful Gate" of the Temple in Jerusalem, saying: "Ihave no silver and gold, but I give you what I have; in the name of JesusChrist of Nazareth, walk" (Ac 3,6). By faith in Jesus, "the Authorof life" (Ac 3,15), life which liesabandoned and cries out for help regains self-esteem and full dignity.
The words and deeds of Jesus and those of his Churchare not meant only for those who are sick or suffering or in some way neglectedby society. On a deeper level they affect the very meaning of every person'slife in its moral and spiritual dimensions. Only those who recognize that theirlife is marked by the evil of sin can discover in an encounter with Jesus theSaviour the truth and the authenticity of their own existence. Jesus himselfsays as much: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but thosewho are sick; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners torepentance" (Lc 5,31-32).
But the person who, like the rich land-owner in theGospel parable, thinks that he can make his life secure by the possession ofmaterial goods alone, is deluding himself. Life is slipping away from him, andvery soon he will find himself bereft of it without ever having appreciated itsreal meaning: "Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and thethings you have prepared, whose will they be?" (Lc 12,20).
33 In Jesus' own life, frombeginning to end, we find a singular "dialectic" between theexperience of the uncertainty of human life and the affirmation of its value.Jesus' life is marked by uncertainty from the very moment of his birth. He iscertainly accepted by the righteous, who echo Mary's immediate and joyful"yes" (cf. Lk Lc 1,38). But there isalso, from the start, rejection on the part of a world which grows hostile andlooks for the child in order "to destroy him" (Mt 2,13); a worldwhich remains indifferent and unconcerned about the fulfilment of the mysteryof this life entering the world: "there was no place for them in theinn" (Lc 2,7). In this contrast between threats and insecurity on the onehand and the power of God's gift on the other, there shines forth all the moreclearly the glory which radiates from the house at Nazareth and from the mangerat Bethlehem: this life which is born is salvation for all humanity (cf. Lc 2,11).
Life's contradictions and risks were fully accepted byJesus: "though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that byhis poverty you might become rich" (2 Cor 2Co 8,9). The poverty of which Paulspeaks is not only a stripping of divine privileges, but also a sharing in thelowliest and most vulnerable conditions of human life (cf. Phil Ph 2,6-7). Jesuslived this poverty throughout his life, until the culminating moment of theCross: "he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on across. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name whichis above every name" (Ph 2,8-9). It is precisely by his death that Jesusreveals all the splendour and value of life, inasmuch as his self-oblation onthe Cross becomes the source of new life for all people (cf. Jn Jn 12,32). In hisjourneying amid contradictions and in the very loss of his life, Jesus isguided by the certainty that his life is in the hands of the Father.Consequently, on the Cross, he can say to him: "Father, into your hands Icommend my spirit!" (Lc 23,46), that is, mylife. Truly great must be the value of human life if the Son of God has takenit up and made it the instrument of the salvation of all humanity!
34 Life is always a good. This isan instinctive perception and a fact of experience, and man is called to graspthe profound reason why this is so.
Why is life a good? This question is found everywherein the Bible, and from the very first pages it receives a powerful and amazinganswer. The life which God gives man is quite different from the life of allother living creatures, inasmuch as man, although formed from the dust of theearth (cf. Gen Gn 2,7), is a manifestation ofGod in the world, a sign of his presence, a trace of his glory (cf. Gen1:26-27; Ps 8,6). This is what Saint Irenaeus of Lyons wanted toemphasize in his celebrated definition: "Man, living man, is the glory ofGod".23 Man has been given a sublime dignity, based on theintimate bond which unites him to his Creator: in man there shines forth areflection of God himself.
The Book of Genesis affirms this when, in the firstaccount of creation, it places man at the summit of God's creative activity, asits crown, at the culmination of a process which leads from indistinct chaos tothe most perfect of creatures. Everything in creation is ordered to man andeverything is made subject to him: "Fill the earth and subdue it; and havedominion over ... every living thing" (1:28); this is God's command to the man andthe woman. A similar message is found also in the other account of creation:"The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till itand keep it" (Gn 2,15). We see here aclear affirmation of the primacy of man over things; these are made subject tohim and entrusted to his responsible care, whereas for no reason can he be madesubject to other men and almost reduced to the level of a thing.
In the biblical narrative, the difference between manand other creatures is shown above all by the fact that only the creation ofman is presented as the result of a special decision on the part of God, adeliberation to establish a particular and specific bond with the Creator:"Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (Gn 1,26). Thelife which God offers to man is a gift by which God shares something of himselfwith his creature.
Israel would ponder atlength the meaning of this particular bond between man and God. The Book ofSirach too recognizes that God, in creating human beings, "endowed themwith strength like his own, and made them in his own image" (17:3). Thebiblical author sees as part of this image not only man's dominion over theworld but also those spiritual faculties which are distinctively human, such asreason, discernment between good and evil, and free will: "He filled themwith knowledge and understanding, and showed them good and evil" (Sir17:7). The ability to attain truth and freedom are human prerogatives inasmuchas man is created in the image of his Creator, God who is true and just (cf. Dt32:4). Man alone, among all visible creatures, is "capable of knowing andloving his Creator".24 The life which God bestows upon man is muchmore than mere existence in time. It is a drive towards fullness of life; it isthe seed of an existence which transcends the very limits of time: "ForGod created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his owneternity" (Sg 2,23).
35 The Yahwist account of creationexpresses the same conviction. This ancient narrative speaks of a divine breathwhich is breathed into man so that he may come to life: "The Lord Godformed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breathof life; and man became a living being" (Gn 2,7).
The divine origin of this spirit of life explains theperennial dissatisfaction which man feels throughout his days on earth. Becausehe is made by God and bears within himself an indelible imprint of God, man isnaturally drawn to God. When he heeds the deepest yearnings of the heart, everyman must make his own the words of truth expressed by Saint Augustine: "You have made us for yourself, OLord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you".25
How very significant is the dissatisfaction whichmarks man's life in Eden as long as his sole point of reference is the world ofplants and animals (cf. Gen Gn 2,20). Only the appearance of the woman, a beingwho is flesh of his flesh and bone of his bones (cf. Gen Gn 2,23), and in whom thespirit of God the Creator is also alive, can satisfy the need for interpersonaldialogue, so vital for human existence. In the other, whether man or woman,there is a reflection of God himself, the definitive goal and fulfilment ofevery person.
"What is man that you are mindful of him, and theson of man that you care for him?", the Psalmist wonders (Ps 8,4).Compared to the immensity of the universe, man is very small, and yet this verycontrast reveals his greatness: "You have made him little less than a god,and crown him with glory and honour" (Ps 8,5). The glory of God shines onthe face of man. In man the Creator finds his rest, as Saint Ambrose commentswith a sense of awe: "The sixth day is finished and the creation of theworld ends with the formation of that masterpiece which is man, who exercisesdominion over all living creatures and is as it were the crown of the universeand the supreme beauty of every created being. Truly we should maintain areverential silence, since the Lord rested from every work he had undertaken inthe world. He rested then in the depths of man, he rested in man's mind and inhis thought; after all, he had created man endowed with reason, capable ofimitating him, of emulating his virtue, of hungering for heavenly graces. Inthese his gifts God reposes, who has said: ?Upon whom shall I rest, if not uponthe one who is humble, contrite in spirit and trembles at my word?' (Is66:1-2). I thank the Lord our God who has created so wonderful a work in whichto take his rest".26
36 Unfortunately, God's marvellousplan was marred by the appearance of sin in history. Through sin, man rebelsagainst his Creator and ends up by worshipping creatures: "They exchangedthe truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature ratherthan the Creator" (Rm 1,25). As a result mannot only deforms the image of God in his own person, but is tempted to offencesagainst it in others as well, replacing relationships of communion by attitudesof distrust, indifference, hostility and even murderous hatred. When God is notacknowledged as God, the profound meaning of man is betrayed and communionbetween people is compromised.
In the life of man, God's image shines forth anew andis again revealed in all its fullness at the coming of the Son of God in humanflesh. "Christ is the image of the invisible God" (Col 1,15), he"reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature"(He 1,3). He is the perfect image of the Father.
The plan of life given to the first Adam finds at lastits fulfilment in Christ. Whereas the disobedience of Adam had ruined andmarred God's plan for human life and introduced death into the world, theredemptive obedience of Christ is the source of grace poured out upon the humanrace, opening wide to everyone the gates of the kingdom of life (cf. Rom5:12-21). As the Apostle Paul states: "The first man Adam became a livingbeing; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit" (1 Cor 1Co 15,45).
All who commit themselves to following Christ aregiven the fullness of life: the divine image is restored, renewed and broughtto perfection in them. God's plan for human beings is this, that they should"be conformed to the image of his Son" (Rm 8,29). Only thus, inthe splendour of this image, can man be freed from the slavery of idolatry,rebuild lost fellowship and rediscover his true identity.
37 The life which the Son of Godcame to give to human beings cannot be reduced to mere existence in time. Thelife which was always "in him" and which is the "light ofmen" (Jn 1,4) consists in being begotten of God and sharing in thefullness of his love: "To all who received him, who believed in his name,he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of thewill of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (Jn 1,12-13).
Sometimes Jesus refers to this life which he came togive simply as "life", and he presents being born of God as anecessary condition if man is to attain the end for which God has created him:"Unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (Jn 3,3).To give this life is the real object of Jesus' mission: he is the one who"comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world" (Jn 6,33). Thus can hetruly say: "He who follows me ... will have the light of life" (Jn 8,12).
At other times, Jesus speaks of "eternallife". Here the adjective does more than merely evoke a perspective whichis beyond time. The life which Jesus promises and gives is "eternal"because it is a full participation in the life of the "Eternal One".Whoever believes in Jesus and enters into communion with him has eternal life(cf. Jn Jn 3,15 Jn 6,40) because he hearsfrom Jesus the only words which reveal and communicate to his existence thefullness of life. These are the "words of eternal life" which Peter acknowledgesin his confession of faith: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the wordsof eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are theHoly One of God" (Jn 6,68-69). Jesus himself, addressing the Father in thegreat priestly prayer, declares what eternal life consists in: "This iseternal life, that they may know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whomyou have sent" (Jn 17,3). To know God and his Son is to accept the mysteryof the loving communion of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit into one'sown life, which even now is open to eternal life because it shares in the lifeof God.
38 Eternal life is therefore thelife of God himself and at the same time the life of the children of God. Asthey ponder this unexpected and inexpressible truth which comes to us from Godin Christ, believers cannot fail to be filled with ever new wonder andunbounded gratitude. They can say in the words of the Apostle John: "Seewhat love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God;and so we are. ... Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appearwhat we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for weshall see him as he is" (1 Jn 1Jn 3,1-2).
Here the Christian truth about life becomes mostsublime. The dignity of this life is linked not only to its beginning, to thefact that it comes from God, but also to its final end, to its destiny offellowship with God in knowledge and love of him. In the light of this truthSaint Irenaeus qualifies and completes his praise of man: "the glory ofGod" is indeed, "man, living man", but "the life of manconsists in the vision of God".27
Immediate consequences arise from this for human lifein its earthly state, in which, for that matter, eternal life already springsforth and begins to grow. Although man instinctively loves life because it is agood, this love will find further inspiration and strength, and new breadth anddepth, in the divine dimensions of this good. Similarly, the love which everyhuman being has for life cannot be reduced simply to a desire to havesufficient space for self-expression and for entering into relationships withothers; rather, it devel- ops in a joyous awareness that life can become the "place"where God manifests himself, where we meet him and enter into communion withhim. The life which Jesus gives in no way lessens the value of our existence intime; it takes it and directs it to its final destiny: "I am theresurrection and the life ... whoever lives and believes in me shall neverdie" (Jn 11,25-26).
39 Man's life comes from God; it ishis gift, his image and imprint, a sharing in his breath of life. God thereforeis the sole Lord of this life: man cannot do with it as he wills. God himselfmakes this clear to Noah after the Flood: "For your own lifeblood, too, Iwill demand an accounting ... and from man in regard to his fellow man I willdemand an accounting for human life" (Gn 9,5). The biblical text isconcerned to emphasize how the sacredness of life has its foundation in God andin his creative activity: "For God made man in his own image" (Gn 9,6).
Human life and death are thus in the hands of God, inhis power: "In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breathof all mankind", exclaims Job (Jb 12,10). "The Lordbrings to death and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up"(1 Sam 1S 2,6). He alone can say: "It is I who bring both death andlife" (Dt 32,39).
But God does not exercise this power in an arbitraryand threatening way, but rather as part of his care and loving concern for hiscreatures. If it is true that human life is in the hands of God, it is no lesstrue that these are loving hands, like those of a mother who accepts, nurturesand takes care of her child: "I have calmed and quieted my soul, like achild quieted at its mother's breast; like a child that is quieted is mysoul" (Ps 131,2 cf. Is Is 49,15 Is 66,12-13 Os 11,4). Thus Israel does notsee in the history of peoples and in the destiny of individuals the outcome ofmere chance or of blind fate, but rather the results of a loving plan by whichGod brings together all the possibilities of life and opposes the powers ofdeath arising from sin: "God did not make death, and he does not delightin the death of the living. For he created all things that they mightexist" (Sg 1,13-14).
40 The sacredness of life givesrise to its inviolability, written from the beginning in man's heart, in hisconscience. The question: "What have you done?" (Gn 4,10), which Godaddresses to Cain after he has killed his brother Abel, interprets theexperience of every person: in the depths of his conscience, man is alwaysreminded of the inviolability of life-his own life and that of others-assomething which does not belong to him, because it is the property and gift ofGod the Creator and Father.
The commandment regarding the inviolability of humanlife reverberates at the heart of the "ten words" in the covenant ofSinai (cf. Ex Ex 34,28). In the first place that commandment prohibits murder:"You shall not kill" (Ex 20,13); "do notslay the innocent and righteous" (Ex 23,7). But, as is brought out in Israel's laterlegislation, it also prohibits all personal injury inflicted on another (cf. Ex 21,12-27). Of course wemust recognize that in the Old Testament this sense of the value of life, thoughalready quite marked, does not yet reach the refinement found in the Sermon onthe Mount. This is apparent in some aspects of the current penal legislation,which provided for severe forms of corporal punishment and even the deathpenalty. But the overall message, which the New Testament will bring toperfection, is a forceful appeal for respect for the inviolability of physicallife and the integrity of the person. It culminates in the positive commandmentwhich obliges us to be responsible for our neighbour as for ourselves:"You shall love your neighbour as yourself" (Lv 19,18).
41 The commandment "You shallnot kill", included and more fully expressed in the positive command oflove for one's neighbour, is reaffirmed in all its force by the Lord Jesus. Tothe rich young man who asks him: "Teacher, what good deed must I do, tohave eternal life?", Jesus replies: "If you would enter life, keepthe commandments" (Mt 19,16). And hequotes, as the first of these: "You shall not kill" (Mt 19,18). In the Sermonon the Mount, Jesus demands from his disciples a righteousness which surpassesthat of the Scribes and Pharisees, also with regard to respect for life:"You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ?You shall not kill;and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment'. But I say to you that every onewho is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment" (Mt 5,21-22).
By his words and actions Jesus further unveils thepositive requirements of the commandment regarding the inviolability of life.These requirements were already present in the Old Testament, where legislationdealt with protecting and defending life when it was weak and threatened: inthe case of foreigners, widows, orphans, the sick and the poor in general, includingchildren in the womb (cf. Ex Ex 21,22 Ex 22,20-26). With Jesus these positiverequirements assume new force and urgency, and are revealed in all theirbreadth and depth: they range from caring for the life of one's brother(whether a blood brother, someone belonging to the same people, or a foreignerliving in the land of Israel) to showing concern for the stranger, even to thepoint of loving one's enemy.
A stranger is no longer a stranger for the person whomustbecome a neighbour to someone in need, to the point of acceptingresponsibility for his life, as the parable of the Good Samaritan shows soclearly (cf. Lk Lc 10,25-37). Even an enemy ceases to be an enemy for the personwho is obliged to love him (cf. Mt Mt 5,38-48 Lc 6,27-35), to "dogood" to him (cf. Lk Lc 6,27, 33, 35) and torespond to his immediate needs promptly and with no expectation of repayment(cf. Lk Lc 6,34-35). The heightof this love is to pray for one's enemy. By so doing we achieve harmony withthe providential love of God: "But I say to you, love your enemies andpray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Fatherwho is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good andsends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Mt 5,44-45 cf. Lk Lc 6,28).
Thus the deepest element of God's commandment toprotect human life is the requirement to show reverence and love for everyperson and the life of every person. This is the teaching which the ApostlePaul, echoing the words of Jesus, address- es to the Christians in Rome: "Thecommandments, ?You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall notsteal, You shall not covet', and any other commandment, are summed up in thissentence, ?You shall love your neighbour as yourself'. Love does no wrong to aneighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" (Rm 13,9-10).
42 To defend and promote life, toshow reverence and love for it, is a task which God entrusts to every man,calling him as his living image to share in his own lordship over the world:"God blessed them, and God said to them, ?Be fruitful and multiply, andfill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea andover the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon theearth' " (Gn 1,28).
The biblical text clearly shows the breadth and depthof the lordship which God bestows on man. It is a matter first of all ofdominion over the earth and over every living creature, as the Book of Wisdommakes clear: "O God of my fathers and Lord of mercy ... by your wisdom youhave formed man, to have dominion over the creatures you have made, and rulethe world in holiness and righteousness" (Sg 9,1). The Psalmist tooextols the dominion given to man as a sign of glory and honour from hisCreator: "You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; youhave put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts ofthe field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes alongthe paths of the sea" (Ps 8,6-8).
As one called to till and look after the garden of theworld (cf. Gen Gn 2,15), man has a specific responsibility towards the environmentin which he lives, towards the creation which God has put at the service of hispersonal dignity, of his life, not only for the present but also for futuregenerations. It is the ecological question-ranging from the preservation of thenatural habitats of the different species of animals and of other forms of lifeto "human ecology" properly speaking 28 - which finds in theBible clear and strong ethical direction, leading to a solution which respectsthe great good of life, of every life. In fact, "the do- minion granted toman by the Creator is not an absolute power, nor can one speak of a freedom to?use and misuse', or to dispose of things as one pleases. The limitationimposed from the beginning by the Creator himself and expressed symbolically bythe prohibition not to ?eat of the fruit of the tree' (cf. Gen Gn 2,16-17) shows clearlyenough that, when it comes to the natural world, we are subject not only tobiological laws but also to moral ones, which cannot be violated with impunity".29
43 A certain sharing by man inGod's lordship is also evident in the specific responsibility which he is givenfor human life as such. It is a responsibility which reaches its highest pointin the giving of life through procreation by man and woman in marriage. As theSecond Vatican Council teaches: "God himself who said, ?It is not good forman to be alone' (Gn 2,18) and ?who mademan from the beginning male and female' (Mt 19,4), wished to share with man acertain special participation in his own creative work. Thus he blessed maleand female saying: ?Increase and multiply' (Gn 1,28). 30
By speaking of "a certain specialparticipation" of man and woman in the "creative work" of God,the Council wishes to point out that having a child is an event which is deeplyhuman and full of religious meaning, insofar as it involves both the spouses,who form "one flesh" (Gn 2,24), and God who makes himself present.As I wrote in my Letter to Families: "When a new person is born of theconjugal union of the two, he brings with him into the world a particular imageand likeness of God himself: the genealogy of the person is inscribed in thevery biology of generation. In affirming that the spouses, as parents,cooperate with God the Creator in conceiving and giving birth to a new humanbeing, we are not speaking merely with reference to the laws of biology.Instead, we wish to emphasize that God himself is present in human fatherhoodand motherhood quite differently than he is present in all other instances ofbegetting ?on earth'. Indeed, God alone is the source of that ?image andlikeness' which is proper to the human being, as it was received at Creation.Begetting is the continuation of Creation".31
This is what the Bible teaches in direct and eloquentlanguage when it reports the joyful cry of the first woman, "the mother ofall the living" (Gn 3,20). Aware that Godhas intervened, Eve exclaims: "I have begotten a man with the help of theLord" (Gn 4,1). In procreation therefore, through the communication oflife from parents to child, God's own image and likeness is transmitted, thanksto the creation of the immortal soul. 32 The beginning of the"book of the genealogy of Adam" expresses it in this way: "WhenGod created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he createdthem, and he blessed them and called them man when they were created. When Adamhad lived a hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his ownlikeness, after his image, and named him Seth" (Gn 5,1-3). It isprecisely in their role as co-workers with God who transmits his image to thenew creature that we see the greatness of couples who are ready "tocooperate with the love of the Creator and the Saviour, who through them willenlarge and enrich his own family day by day".33 This is why theBishop Amphilochius extolled "holy matrimony, chosen and elevated aboveall other earthly gifts" as "the begetter of humanity, the creator ofimages of God".34
Thus, a man and woman joined in matrimony becomepartners in a divine undertaking: through the act of procreation, God's gift isaccepted and a new life opens to the future.
But over and above the specific mission of parents,the task of accepting and serving life involves everyone; and this task must befulfilled above all towards life when it is at its weakest. It is Christhimself who reminds us of this when he asks to be loved and served in hisbrothers and sisters who are suffering in any way: the hungry, the thirsty, theforeigner, the naked, the sick, the impris- oned ... Whatever is done to eachof them is done to Christ himself (cf. Mt Mt 25,31-46).
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