God also said: “See, I give you every seed-bearing plant all over the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; and to all the animals of the land, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the ground, I give all the green plants for food.” Genesis 1:29-30
This verse shows God’s providential care for all of creation.
God made two species of plants for man and one species for all the animals of the land. The man and the woman get the better food: seed-bearing plants and seed-bearing fruit, a reference once again to man’s future vehicles for spiritual food in wheat for bread and grapes for wine. The animals are given what amounts to grass.
God is clearly elevating man above the rest of the creation, this time in the presentation of food.
This is a good place to put to words what has been made clear throughout chapter one of Genesis. These two writers can say it much better than I: “the world exists because of man and certainly to serve him in order to glorify God.” 1 “…here on earth, too, no less than in the heavens and in the world of ideas, order prevails: every creature from the oyster to the emperor has its place; preordained and eternal. Its not simply a matter of faith: the best philosophical and scientific minds have proved that it is so.” 2
But for the last God saw how good it was in Genesis 1:31, which we’ll reflect upon tomorrow, this concludes the creation account in Genesis. It is a good time step back and ponder it as a whole. A whole that is not pantheistic, since God the Creator is clearly distinct from creation, and has deliberately ordered it in a hierarchical manner that has been demonstrated in today’s verse, as well as in fill the earth and subdue it, and the have dominion directives illustrate. 3
The breathtaking view of the creation of the soul and the natural world entwined in Genesis is the basis for the harmony that existed between man, creation and Creator before sin entered the world.
Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen talked about how original sin became a discordant note in the original symphony. Let us take up and continue his fascinating imagery. An orchestral symphony has four parts called movements, conceived as a whole that relate to one another; in our imagery its the whole of man’s salvation. The first movement in the symphony of salvation relates to the first movement of an orchestral symphony – the sonata which is brisk and lively – this is likened to the six days of creation. God creates with a purposeful pace the wide and varied cosmos and living creatures including man that resonates harmony on his musical score. Just as deliberate and supplying the voice of melody is God’s pre-figurement of his Son Jesus Christ and his Sacramental Church during these six holy days, proving this was always plan A, there was never a plan B. God was disappointed in the Fall but not surprised. The second movement of the symphony of man’s salvation is compared to the second movement in an orchestral symphony, adagio: slow, lyrical, emotional. This second movement is Israel’s intense roller coaster relationship with God; their ponderous 40 year trek through the desert continuing through the Old Testament and God’s passionate, wrath-filled love affair with his chosen people. The third movement in a symphony is a minuet, or dance. In the third movement of man’s salvation, God himself descends from heaven afar off in the person of Jesus Christ to dance individually and intimately with each and every one of his people in order to raise them to the glory of adopted sons and daughters of God. It is a dance that includes one sacrificial death borne personally for each individual soul, correcting the discordant note of sin that happened after the first movement of creation. The symphony’s spirited finale, both in man’s salvation and orchestral, shows off virtuoso prowess. It begins with with Jesus’ triumphant Resurrection ultimately concluding with the resurrection of the entire Body of Christ. Handel’s rousing Messiah finale comes to mind: And he shall reign for ever and ever, and he shall reign for ever and ever -Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Back to the broken harmony of creation:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes man’s first sin in 400: “The harmony in which they found themselves, thanks to original justice, is now destroyed…” “Harmony with creation is broken: visible creation has become alien and hostile to man.” 4 Though this harmony be broken, Genesis reveals its roots in the intricate web of creation in the waters of the soul, the light of life, the sun of reason, the night of faith, the will of the sea swimming with love, virtues and the passions, the memory and all the living creatures of the earth. Since we are unable to see our souls, God teaches us its wonderment, beauty, and operations through the natural world while revealing our interconnectedness with it. The mystical night of faith is literally on display in the cosmic night, silently proclaiming His Word.
St. Ephrem in the 4th century expressed a combined moral and ecological theology:
“St. Ephrem the Syrian tells us in his Commentary on Genesis (II.31) that, had there been no sin, the earth would never have brought forth thorns. Likewise, wild animals prove harmful to human beings only after the Fall: in Paradise they had lived in harmony with Adam and Eve – a harmony that will be recovered in the eschatological Paradise, and occasionally anticipated on earth by the saints.
‘The sprouting of the thorn (Gen 3:18)
testified to the novel sprouting of wrong actions,
for thorns did not sprout
as long as wrong-doing had not yet burst forth;
but once there had peered out
hidden wrong choices made by free will,
then the visible thorns began to peer out from the earth.’
Man’s misuse of his free will disturbs the cosmic harmony and order. It is the exercise of human justice that lends harmony both to society and to creation as a whole, whereas injustice upsets this harmony. He reminds us the potential for recovery is always present through right choices and right use of creation:
‘For just as in the case of the limbs of the body, their individual needs are fulfilled by one another, so too the inhabitants of the world fill in the common need from the common excess. We should rejoice in this need on the part of us all, for out of it is born harmony for us all, for in that people need one another, those in high position stoop to the lowly and are not ashamed, and the insignificant reach out to the powerful and are not afraid. Even in the case of animals, seeing that we have a need for them, we take care of them. Clearly our need for everything binds us with a love for everything.’ (Letter to Hypatius, Overbeck p. 26)
In modern terms one could say that for Ephrem the physical and spiritual ecospheres are intimately linked: because of the interconnectedness between everything, the abuse of nature, resulting from the human misuse of free will, will have consequences in all sorts of unexpected places.” 5
We turn again to St. Francis of Assisi, who in his sanctity is a model for regaining a profound sense of harmony with creation, as much as can be in a world ravaged by sin. Francis celebrated people as individuals and all creatures’ uniqueness, and at the same time their familial origin in God. It may surprise people to realize the jubilant St. Francis was a hermit before organizing his community of brothers, rebuilding San Damiano Church and prayerfully wandering the countryside in solitude. Healthy solitaries, or hermits, retire to run to something, not from something, generally in a natural setting. This is how and where Francis lost himself, and found everything: the harmony of God, people, himself and all of creation. And he would, like so many other saints who spend time apart emptying and finding, return to serve God and his people with little regard for self.
The USCCB has not reviewed or approved my comments on the Biblical text.