Theologian Luigi Iammarrone on St. Francis and Ecology

He Was Not an Ecoterrorist, Franciscan Says

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ROME, JAN. 21, 2001 (
Francis of Assisi has always been regarded as the saint in history most concerned with ecology.

Thus his figure is timely, given John Paul II´s address at last Wednesday´s general audience when he called for an «ecological conversion» as the indispensable condition to avoid a «catastrophe.»

However, sometimes the «Poverello» of Assisi (1182-1226) is presented as a model by militants of radical ecological organizations, for whom the divinity is confused with «Mother Earth.»

In order to clarify the legacy of the Italian saint in this area, ZENIT interviewed Father Luigi Iammarrone, one of today´s best-known Franciscan theologians. He is a professor at the St. Bonaventure department of theology, of the Minor Conventual Friars of Rome.

–Q: Was St. Francis something of an «ecoterrorist»?

–Father Iammarrone: Whoever says this, has not read a word on St. Francis and does not know the story of his life. In order to give a correct interpretation of St. Francis´ thought, suffice it to recall Friar Tommaso Celano´s words, who was a contemporary of the Assisi saint: «Our blessed pilgrim was in a hurry to leave this world, which for him was like a land of exile. However, he knew how to draw great consolation from the things of this world; he used them as arms when trying to combat the Prince of Darkness, and as mirrors to contemplate God´s goodness. He admired the Author in every work. He attributed to the Creator the qualities he discovered in each one of his creatures and, from this sight, which became his joy, he would think of the cause. He sought his Beloved everywhere in his creation, making use of the entire universe, as a ladder to rise to God´s throne.»

St. Francis called the animals, fire, and water, brothers and sisters, as all creatures come from the same source and, therefore, in a certain sense are members of one family.

–Some ecologists regard man as the planet´s cancer. What did St. Francis of Assisi think?

–Father Iammarrone: Whoever says this, does not love plants or animals. If they loved plants, in the right way, they would love men, for whom the Lord created plants, as the universe is for man. Man must make use of the universe to improve, safeguard and transform it for the Creator´s glory. St. Francis was not contemptuous of any creature, and much less so of man, made in the «image and likeness of God.»

–How should an ecological organization be conceived, then, which wishes to follow the Franciscan ideal?

–Father Iammarrone: St. Francis respected creation because it is the work of God. However, nature is not God. St. Francis spoke clearly of creation and not of nature´s identity. However, today there are ideologies that go so far as to divinize nature; these are new forms of paganism.

In this connection, if St. Francis were alive today, he would condemn ecology understood in the pagan sense, and would give us genuine teaching on ecology. He would teach respect for creatures because they are works of God; he would ask that they not be offended or harmed. All creatures would help him think of God.

–Q: There are those who say St. Francis was vegetarian.

–Father Iammarrone: Whoever says this, has read nothing of St. Francis´ life. In early biographies one reads that St. Francis said that if Christmas was on a Friday, the friars should be given a double ration of meat, and animals a double ration of hay, out of love for the Lord, who was born for us.

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