Matthew Scully’s opus longum on abortion and animal rights at National Review featured a brief quote from Pope Benedict XVI (among other Catholic thinkers) on Man’s relationship with beasts. I looked up the full quote for context, and thought it was compelling enough to feature here. It comes from a book-length interview with Peter Seewald called God and the World, and the Ignatius Press will sell it to you for $17.00 plus S&H.
Q: Genesis shows us that creation is a process. Everything takes place step by step. “It is not good”, God saw in the course of this process, “that man should be alone. I will make him a helpmate for a partner.” So next God made from the earth all the different animals of the field and all the birds of the air and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. A good opportunity, actually, to talk about animals, our closest companions. Adam gave each of them a name. Are we allowed to make use of animals, even to eat them?
A: That is a very serious question. At any rate, we can see that they are given into our care, that we cannot just do whatever we want with them. Animals, too, are God’s creatures, and even if they do not have the same direct relation to God that man has, they are still creatures of his will, creatures we must respect as companions in creation and as important elements in the creation.
As far as whether we are allowed to kill and to eat animals, there is a remarkable ordering of matters in Holy Scripture. We can read how, at first, only plants are mentioned as providing food for man. Only after the flood, that is to say, after a new breach has opened between God and man, are we told that man eats flesh. That is to say, a secondary way of ordering life is introduced, and it comes in second place in the story as we are told it. Nonetheless, and even if someone feels hurt by our using animals in this way, we should not process from this to a kind of sectarian cult of animals.
For this, too, is permitted to man. He should always maintain his respect for these creatures, but he knows at the same time that he is not forbidden to take food from them. Certainly, a sort of industrial use of creatures, so that geese are fed in such a way as to produce as large a liver as possible, or hens live so packed together that they become just caricatures of birds, this degrading of living creatures to a commodity seems to me in fact to contradict the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible.
Q: Certainly, the animal world itself presents a strikingly brutal aspect of creation. We all know how dear little kittens may, from one moment to the next, hunt down, torment, and kill others of their own kind. The one that survives is the one that obviously has the greatest capability of destroying others.
A: It is in fact one of the great riddles of creation that there seems to be a law of brutality. The Catholic writer Reinhold Schneider, who himself was inclined to suffer from depression, exposed all the horrific elements in nature and in the animal world with the truly microscopic vision of someone who suffers himself. He let himself be brought by this to the point of despairing of God and of creation.
In her faith the Church has always seen it in this way: that the destructive effect of the Fall works itself out in the whole of creation. Creation no longer simply reflects the will of God; the whole thing is somehow distorted. We are confronted there by riddles. The dangers to which man is exposed are already made visible in the animal world.