The Augustinian Commitment to Addressing the Environmental Crisis
By Fr. Jeremy Hiers, O.S.A.
One of the things I love most about being an Augustinian is that Saint Augustine’s life and teachings are so relevant to the many challenges of our day. From systemic poverty to civil unrest to mass incarceration, Augustine dealt with issues not unlike many of the issues we are dealing with today.
Yet, there may be one exception: the environment and the ecological crisis we see unfolding before our very eyes was not a concern Augustine shared or directly addressed 1,600 years ago. Yet, this does not mean Saint Augustine does not have something to offer to us as we discern how God is calling us to respond to this crisis.
At the core of the many discussions about the environment is how we, as a human family, share the goods of the earth with our brothers and sisters across the street and around the world, while also considering what we will pass onto future generations. This basic question takes us directly to the root of Augustine’s vision of community:
“Call nothing your own, but let everything be yours in common” (Saint Augustine, The Rule I, 4).
As the Rule teaches, one of the core principles of the Augustinian Way of Life is an invitation to hold all things in common. Augustine based this on the model given to us by the very early Christian community (Acts 4:32-35). We are likewise called to bring our gifts and resources to the community and distribute them to all members according to need. From this principle, we can argue the Earth and all its goodness belong to all people because all that we enjoy from creation is a gift from the Creator of all people.
"We brought nothing into this world. You have come into the world, you found a full table spread for you. But the Lord's is the earth and its fullness. God bestows the world on the poor, he bestows it on the rich." - Saint Augustine (Sermon 29, 2).
The goods of the Earth (e.g., clean air, rain forests, fossil fuels, etc.) are therefore meant to be shared. When we consume these goods in a way that takes them from others, we are robbing our human sisters and brothers in other parts of our country and our world what is also theirs. How do we as Augustinians ensure that we model this core principle by the way we live our lives?
During our General Chapter of 2019, the Order of Saint Augustine made a commitment to promote education, reflection, and action on how we are living this foundational Augustinian principle. To aid us on this journey, the Order recently made a commitment to the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, a unique collaboration between the Vatican, Catholic organizations, and “all men and women of good will” which creates community across secular and religious organizations that share a similar concern about the environment. The platform offers resources and information sharing to enable members to create and implement plans to live more sustainable lifestyles.
This is the beginning of a process in which the Augustinians will together pray, reflect, and discern how God is calling us within our communities and our ministries to be models of responsible stewardship of the goods of the earth based on the principles that Saint Augustine has left us.