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How is the relationship between human beings and the other creatures expressed in Franciscan tradition? Francis calls all creatures his brothers and sisters, just as in the Canticle of the Sun. Biographical texts, such as, Celano or the Legend of the Three Companions and many other texts bear witness to this affectionate relationship of Francis with all creatures. However, we must say that this close relationship is something unique. Rarely will the other creatures be called brothers or sisters in the Franciscan tradition after Francis. For instance, in his sermons, St. Anthony talks only in general terms of ‘sister nature.’ We do, however, always find a special respect for nature in the Franciscan tradition.

First of all we have to recognize that Francis encounters the other creatures spontaneously and intuitively, with feeling and impulsively, while in the Franciscan tradition one can also find the beginnings of intellectual and academic reflection on nature and creation. The relationship of people with creation is determined through philosophical and theological reflection. Thus, the encounter with other creatures is also elevated to a more theoretical level. In the case of Francis this encounter occurred quite naturally in everyday life. In this shift from daily routine to theoretical reflections and research, the relationship to other creatures is shaped in a different way.

We find two examples of reflection on creation in the Franciscan tradition in Alexander von Hales and his famous student, St. Bonaventure. Alexander von Hales was a well known master at the University of Paris and one of the first teachers of the Franciscans. He entered the order of the Friars Minor at about 50 years of age. He sees the origin of creation in God’s self-revelation. God wants to reveal Himself and is doing it by way of the creatures that all say something about God through their existence and their various ways of being. The creatures reveal in a special way by their lives that God is good.

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This goodness of God, about which creation speaks, is the actual origin of everything living. Thus Alexander’s starting point of the theology of creation is the goodness that God communicates through the creatures. Alexander considers God to be communicative and communicating. God expresses God’s self through the creatures and through them creates community with God’s self. In this community in which God communicates through the creatures, Alexander recognizes the great love of God.

Humanity is now -- in a very special way -- the creature that can recognize God’s message in the other creatures and in this way can participate in the community with God through creation. Based on humanity’s position within creation, Alexander recognizes a special responsibility of the human being and in his theology he develops the first simple ethics of creation.

Since all creatures inform us of God’s love, all creatures have a special value. Therefore, we must approach them with reverence. We show this reverence by fostering and tending to all creatures entrusted to us. In this way we fulfill the mandate received from God, i.e., to take care of creation. In this care for all creatures we show in a special way that we were created in the image and likeness of God. It is true that humanity is above all creatures, but this is precisely the reason for our particular responsibility for the life of the entire creation.

NaturaNatura

P. Johannes B. Freyer, OFM

Question for Reflection:

What is it like for you to experience the great love of God communicated through God’s creatures and all creation?