Implore “pardon for the sins committed against the world”? Wherein Fr. Z rants.

The Church will observe a “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation” on 1 September, as has been the custom in the Orthodox Church for some time.

Pope Francis, in his letter about this event to Card. Turkson (President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace) and Card. Koch (President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity) made a statement about this day which left me scratching my head a little. HERE

In the statement the Pope said…


The annual World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation will offer individual believers and communities a fitting opportunity to reaffirm their personal vocation to be stewards of creation, to thank God for the wonderful handiwork which he has entrusted to our care, and to implore his help for the protection of creation as well as his pardon for the sins committed against the world in which we live.


“Sins committed against the world”… what does that mean?

I think in most languages there is an idiomatic understanding of “the world” as being “everyone”, that is “all people”.   But that doesn’t seem to be what this is all about.

We are to have a care for creation around us – which includes people. Is that the main thrust in this statement?  It seems to me that he is talking about the non-human environment.

Of course Laudato si‘ tries to bring the two together.

Sometimes when we talk about sin, we say we sin against a virtue (charity) or against neighbor.  However, if we stray from truth and charity, or if we harm our neighbor our sin is truly against God.  As the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out…

1850 Sin is an offense against God: “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight.”122 Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become “like gods,”123 knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus “love of oneself even to contempt of God.”124 In this proud self- exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation.125

122 Ps 51:4. 123 Gen 3:5. 124 St. Augustine, De civ. Dei 14,28:PL 41,436.  125 Cf. Phil 2:6-9.

A sin against a virtue (an abstraction) is a sin against God.  A sin against neighbor is a sin against God.

Do we sin against some creature which isn’t a person?  Clods of dirt, plants, and critters are not persons. We cannot sin against a critter, a plant or a clod (of dirt, that is).

If we commit vandalism against a sacred thing, such as a chalice, a church or a cemetery, we do not sin against those things but rather against God, the one to whom those sacred things are dedicated with special consecration.

If we sin by pouring unreasonable, dangerous, extreme quantities poisons into the earth or air or water or by mistreating animals, we do not sin against the earth, air or water or against the animals.  We sins against our neighbor, for making his life miserable, but, more fundamentally, we sin against God by violating His will when He made us creation’s stewards.

We do not sin against the world we live in.

Unless… we think the world is god.

There are those immanentists out there who verge on pantheism.  There are immanentists in the Church, as a matter of fact!  Lots of them!  Some of them wear Roman collars, many wear lapel pins and polyester, most wear flipflops and shorts (at least in church).  Come to think of it, immanentists come in all shapes and sizes and they are often well dressed. Most modern immanentists of our acquaintance suffer from what I call “Immanentism Lite”, that is, they don’t deny the transcendence of God, they simply never think about it.

God is, first and foremost, transcendent.  That’s a harder way of grasping God.  Since it is harder, it isn’t as easily communicated.  This is why the traditional, Extraordinary Form is so important.  It provides the necessary hard elements, the apophatic elements, which help us to an experience of awe and the detachment from self which is critical if we want to overcome life’s “daily winter”, our fear of death.  This is the very purpose of Religion.  Our liturgical worship must help us to be purified of distractions that keep us from confronting our fear of death and that prevent us from encountering mystery. We need in our worship a measure of privation, hunger and longing for that which in this life we can only darkly as if through Paul’s mirror or the cleft in Moses’ rock.

The Church herself, in many cases, has inflicted immanentism on these folks through decades of shoddy, horizontal self-enclosed liturgy, poor catechesis, feckless leadership, and secular propaganda (not lacking within the Church).

So, to be clear, even if our language gets a little loose, we sin against God and God alone and not the world we live in.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Kerry says:

    Ah, Homer Simpson, “If you pray to the wrong god, you might just make the right one madder and madder.”

  2. Benedict Joseph says:

    Will the substitution of poorly rendered counter-intuitive poetry, for theology and pastoral guidance never cease? What will history say of this epoch in the history of the Church? Somebody, give us a break.

  3. richly says:

    Reading the letter in context, asking God for His pardon for the sins “against the world in which we live” doesn’t make any sense to me. As you noted, Father, for the definition of sin in the Catechism, it’s a loose statement which reeks of New Agey drivel I’d hear from some conversation while waiting in line for coffee at my local Beverly Hills Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. I get it, as a Catholic, what they mean, but considering the deep moral and spiritual confusion the *world* is in right now, now is not the time for imprecision, especially with such an official-sounding document.

    I can only, sadly, *facepalm.*

  4. Augustine Thompson O.P. says:

    The Cardinal [Pope, as it turns out] seems imprecise, but the word “sin” is used in a number of ways. Properly, of course, “sin” is against God.

    By extension a violation of justice or duty toward another person is called “sin”: “Father, I have sinned against Heaven and against you.” (LK 15:21). Properly, the Prodigal Son did not commit a sin against his rather; he violated the 4th commandment (by making unjust demands of one with authority over him) and against the seventh (by squandering the goods that were properly his father’s). So the “sin” is his act, first and properly as an offense against God, secondarily, against himself (cultivating the vice of pride) and against his father (violating the virtue of justice). One might also analogously speak of a “sin” against the natural world in the same two ways. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Contra Gentiles, 3.112.13) explains that the clear biblical teaching against a form of cruelty to animals (Deut. 22:6) is to be understood as I have explained the issue of the Prodigal Son:

    Cruelty to animals is wrong, first, because it fosters the vice of cruelty, second, as it may lead to unjust results for other people. The same could be said of trashing the environment, or needlessly harming plants or animals, directly or indirectly. “Sins” against nature are often very serious not just because they involve abuse of creation but also because they waste creation as a common human patrimony.

    Finally, metaphorical use of “sin against” with some non-human object is justified by Biblical usage, as in 1 Samuel 19:5, where “to sin against innocent blood” stands for injustice to an innocent person by violence (killing David), as well as (of course) infraction of God’s commandment. One might read the cardinal in the same way. Although, he might have made himself clearer.

  5. jacobi says:

    Some trends in current Catholic thinking are disturbing.

    The Church continues to secularise, to adopt the concerns and standards of the world. Examples are so-called female equality, dilution of indissoluble marriage between a man and woman, as the basis of family life, excessive concern for animals, and now, a worship of nature . The Church is increasingly following the secular world, rather than the opposite.

    That is a profoundly wrong, If you want to convert someone, to evangelise in the current jargon, the last thing you do is to suggest the opposition is perhaps right after all.

    The earth is one of many lumps of rock tumbling around in space, but one we are on and which we were told to, “fill the earth and subdue it! Genesis 1:28. Yes, look after it by all means as you would your house, but be in control of it.

    It should not be worshipped as is now happening with the collapse of Assertive Christianity and the growth of neo-paganism, and therefore human Sacrifice (predicted by Chesterton!), and the the Church should not go along with these ideas – as appears to be happening.

  6. aquinas138 says:

    If anyone is interested, an English translation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s office of supplication to OLGS Jesus Christ for the welfare of Creation can be seen here:

  7. Supertradmum says:

    Father, rant away. This is one of the best posts you have written here.

  8. Michelle F says:

    The news reports linking Pope Francis’ new “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation” to something being done by the Eastern Orthodox Churches led me to think that is where we need to look if we want to try to figure out what the Holy Father has in mind.

    I looked, and I think understand the points made by the Eastern Orthodox. The whole thing seems to rest on the idea that Man, physically, is a microcosm of the universe, and as an incarnate spirit he is the mediator between God and material creation. Contempt for the material world is, therefore, contempt for God, neighbor, and oneself. Also, God uses the material world as a means to reveal Himself and as a vehicle for grace (e.g., the Sacraments).

    The best information I’ve found so far is on the website for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. They have some selections from a document called “Report of the WCC Inter-Orthodox Consultation, Sofia, Bulgaria, October 1987.” Here are some sections on the website which I think are relevant (bold text added):

    “11. St. Gregory the Theologian says that we are fully involved with the material creation by virtue of our physical existence, and that the material created reality is deeply involved with us. If we move to the direction of deification, our human nature, progressing towards God, will somehow carry the created material world with it. If, however, we move to the opposite direction, the created world will suffer with us as well (cf. Rom. 8:19-22). This means that we are called to exercise dominion over all creatures on earth (cf. Gen. 1:28), i.e. to be stewards (oikonomoi) of God’s material world, caring for it, maintaining it in its integrity and perfecting it by opening it up to God through our own deification.

    “(…) 18. Environmental issues like air and water pollution, depletion of non-renewable resources, destruction of the ozone layer, increasing nuclear radiation, deforestation and desertification of vast areas, etc. threaten the life itself on this planet. The gifts of science and technology are being misused by human beings to the extent of abusing nature and turning today’s life on earth into a hell, not only for the many millions of existing people but also for the generations to come. The voice of those who call for a just development, equal distribution of resources and ecological lifestyles is being systematically suppressed. Advances in bio-technology and genetic engineering need to be seen in the light of the Holy Spirit because without adequate knowledge of the transcendent (divine) vocation and spiritual nature of humanity, these new techniques run the risk of initiating biological disruption leading to a disastrous mutations that are extremely dangerous for the true life on earth. While human creativity and freedom can be armed as supreme gifts of God, it should also be emphasized that they should be rooted in divine wisdom and in human spiritual maturity.

    “(…) 37. The environmental crisis is a sin and a judgement upon humanity. We need to find ways, as churches, to support sound programmes which seek to preserve from pollution air, water and land. To speak of the reintegration of creation today is first to speak words of repentance and to make commitments toward the formation of a new way of living for the whole of humanity. The contemporary world must repent for the abuses which we have imposed upon the natural world, seeing it in the same kind of relationship to us as we see the unity of our human nature in both body and soul. We must begin to undo the pollution we have caused, which brings death and destruction to the mineral, vegetable and animal dimensions of the world environment. We must work and lobby in every way possible to us in our different situations to encourage the scientific community to dedicate the good potentials of science and technology to the restoration of the earth’s integrity. For ourselves, this means a recommitment to the simple life which is content with necessities and – with the Church Fathers – sees unnecessary luxuriousness as the deprivation of necessities owed to the poor. In all of its aspects, concern for the reintegration of the creation calls Christians to a new affirmation of self-discipline, a renewal of the spirit of asceticism appropriate to Christians, regardless of their status, position or condition. In short, we must see the created world as our own home, and every person in it as our brother and sister whom Christ loves.”

    Here is the link for the page where I found the quotes above:

    Before anyone becomes alarmed, “deification” is known in the Catholic Church as “divinization.” It is the term used for the process of being made “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), whereby we become more formed to the image and likeness of God. It does NOT mean we become equal to God.

    I don’t see anything objectionable in these ideas put forward by the Eastern Orthodox, but the potential for abuse is huge.

  9. Eugene says:

    What about a world day of prayer for an end to the abortion holocaust, where a baby is being ripped to shreds every 14 seconds in this world? I guess this doesn’t fit the social justice rhetoric of the spirit of VII crowd or those shepherds who don’t view this as big an issue as the vanishing(?) polar bears, unemployment or immigration issues.
    Three years and counting and I remain lost about the direction this Pope and a lot of Bishops are taking us. St John Paul II please pray for us.

  10. AnnTherese says:

    I think Pope Francis gets this.

  11. Gerard Plourde says:

    The imprecision regarding the use of the word sin has a long history. Traditionally, The Decalogue was taught as being of two parts – the first three Commandments identified as “sins against God” and the rest identified as “sins against neighbor”.

  12. Auggie says:

    Considering the secular, new-age mush spilling out of the Vatican and filling the typical N.O. parish with Gaia to overflowing, one must seriously consider the SSPX idea of “supplied jurisdiction.” While problematic, it makes more sense that what we are experiencing in Vatican II Hell (which really exists, despite what some bishops might say).

  13. LarryW2LJ says:

    May our Lord God forgive me, but I tire of nuance and delicate speech and waxing on eloquently. I wish there were more like Harry Truman (what would he think of PC? I’d wager it would make a Marine blush!) Come right out and say it, already.

    “The annual World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation will give us a fitting opportunity to thank God for Creation and to implore His help for the protection of it, as well begging His pardon for the sins we commit against Him by screwing it up.” OK – maybe not so diplomatic, but it’s brief and to the point.

    By the way, whatever happened to capitalizing pronouns when they refer to God. I was always taught that in these cases, it’s “Him” and “He” and “His”.

  14. asperges says:

    Perhaps the next encyclical will be on car maintenance.

    Surely greater issues should surely be taking centre stage. The Church seems to be so utterly rudderless at present, veering off to worry about ill-defined ephemera.

  15. AngelGuarded says:

    Haven’t you heard, Father? There is a “new” category of sins. I first heard of it when the new AB of Chicago Cupich had a press conference when Laudato Si was introduced. During his press conference, he lamented the “environmental sins” we are so callously committing, probably daily. I wanted to throw my radio through the window, but the Peace of the Lord stayed me. I did run to tell my husband though, hope it wasn’t gossip. My question, still unanswered, is do we bring our “environmental sins” to Confession? “I didn’t recycle my cans. I used the A/C when it was humid, not really hot. Twice. I used paper plates and plastic flatware at the picnic.”

  16. AvantiBev says:

    When I hear “sins against [God’s] Creation”, I don’t think of some nebulous “environment”, I think of the years I spend volunteering for Anticruelty Society and the eyes of those dogs, cats, and other animals who had never known a gentle touch or kind word. For me it is as concrete as 2 of my dogs who were rescued from sitting in their own filth in puppy mills.

    I remember being in 4th grade and a nun who requested we add our prayers to the Morning Offering whirling around on a fellow student who asked that we pray for her sick kitten. This Sister of (No)Mercy informed all us 9 and 10 year olds that God did not wish to be BOTHERED by prayers for animals. Call it my moment of heterodoxy or my moment of maturation in the Faith, but I pondered that and decided right then and there I would not be able to worship such a god. So for me, Jacobi, I worry not about “excessive concern for animals”. We have had too many centuries without enough concern.

  17. pmullane says:

    “sins committed against the world in which we live.”

    Like when corrupt polititians, scientists, activists and businessmen collude to exploit the love of creation of people by telling lies about ice caps melting, polar bears dying, global warming, new ice ages, overpopulation, hockey sticks or global temperature by fraudulently manipulating the data they feed into their flawed computer programmes, so that they can increase their wealth and power at the expense of the poor, weak and powerless? Those kinds of sins, Holy Father?

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  19. Gilbert Fritz says:

    The wording was fuzzy, but I think this is what was meant. We are the keystone of creation. When we fell, the whole thing was warped, and until we return to our proper place, nothing will be fully fulfilled.

    For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him that made it subject, in hope: 21 Because the creature also itself shall be delivered from the servitude of corruption, into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that every creature groaneth and travaileth in pain, even till now.

    Also, the only reason we CAN sin against another Man is that he was created by God. We can’t sin against a computer, say, even if somehow it became rational. All things in Creation were made by God, even though he loves them less then we do. So maybe we should understand “sins against creation” in this way.

    And I think that some forget that Creation is not only made to be useful to us. It is also good in and of itself. Let’s say we found a plant that was in no way useful to Man; it would still be wrong to needlessly destroy it. God made it, and so we should treat all things reverently. (Destroying a piece of “useful” nature would obviously be a sin against other men.)

    Tolkien made senseless destruction of living things one of the characteristics of evil. I think he was right in this. The companies that make deadly pesticides and herbicides also make contraceptives. Some of them, Bayer Chemical for instance, worked with Hitler and ran parts of his “scientific” concentration camps. The modern world is saturated with a culture of death, and we must resist this in all its forms. I think we Catholics often make the mistake of thinking we can just swap out a few things in the modern culture, replace them with Catholic things, and then get on with our lives. This is a mistake. We should question everything in a culture which thinks that death is a good solution to life.

  20. Gilbert Fritz says:

    Also, is this a translation? And if so, who translated it?

  21. Suburbanbanshee says:

    First off, AvantiBev, and as you already knew, that Sister was an idiot. Blessings on animals against disease have been consistently part of Church prayers, and many saints’ shrines were places of pilgrimage for those with sick animals or even for specific animal diseases. There are also many saints who are patrons for specific animal species., and the Church has made blessed objects for people to use on animals for their health and wellbeing.

    Second, it is overly harsh to try to apply Origen on prayer to the prayers of little kids. (Or whatever Sister’s source was.) Origen theorized that one should pray only for big things, just like you would only petition a king for big things, and that ultimately one should only pray for worthy stuff like virtues. But that was just his ideas for already-saintly people, and it goes too far to be sensible. Anyway, there are some people out there in the Sixties bunch who said that all prayer is selfish prayer unless it is for a cause they approve, not for oneself, blah blah soulcrushing blah.

    Jesus urged us to pray for our needs, do it persistently, and not fear a harsh response. And Jesus should know! If you ask for a egg or a fish, He won’t make you bite down on stone.

    The real story seems to be that urban priests often do not understand the rural need for animal health, and that pet animals are often blamed for being a focus of silly overspending by pet owners. This got to be a big thing in the days of Jansenism, and it infected some people’s ideas. In modern times, most feasts and pilgrimages focused on fields or animals are no longer celebrated, and that has caused more ignorance. We need to bring back weather and environment stuff like Rogation Days.

    But replacing stupid nastiness with stupid woo-wooness is not the way to get the Church’s doctrine taught right.

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