September 16, 2015: Having Dominion Over

~by Susi Pittman


What is having dominion over? What does that really mean?

Nature is alive with its own life and with the life of God. Man, uniquely created in God’s image is offered the “keepers keys” to care for and have dominion over all creation. When we read the creation event in Genesis, you get a sense of God’s eternal joy as He creates and proclaims that it was “good.” It’s as though it is so wonderful, that He must tell us again, “It was very good!” (Gen. 1:31).

I don’t intend to over-simplify this premise, but I am going to sum having dominion over non-human creation in just a few short paragraphs with holy insight from a few books sure to give anyone who seeks the truth clarity in the moment.

In my book, Animals In Heaven, Catholics Want To Know! I pulled from Acts 7: 49,59 when I wrote the following:

Humankind, having been created by the breath of God and in the image of God, is called to a true and abiding friendship with God. This includes loving His whole creation in a truthful way by faithful imitation of God’s love for all He has created. Through humankind, all of creation finds its destiny.

Heaven is my throne, and earth my footstool. What house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?” (Acts 7:49,59)

God called out to human kind’s fidelity to govern creation with wisdom, compassion, and responsibility in response to God’s love. And humanity is to respond as cooperators and good stewards because we are the recipient of such a great gift from the Creator.

The second inspiration comes from a favorite Catholic Franciscan of mine, Friar Jack Wintz, author of Will I See My Dog in Heaven?:

The first thing we see is that the human style of dominion is meant to imitate very closely God’s style as Creator of the world. When we investigate God’s way of exercising dominion over the world and its creatures, whether nonhuman or human, we see a Creator who is love, gentle, thoughtful, and wise. God creates in a reverent and caring way, making sure that everything is “good” at every stage….There is never a sense that God is acting in a domineering or exploitative way. God’s dominion is one of respect, not of heavy-handed domination. This is the way that humans are meant to exercise dominion over their sister and brother creatures and the created world.

The third inspiration is from an Irish Monsignor and superb Catholic theologian, Father Charles Murphy, author of At Home On Earth:

Since human dominion over the creation is to be carried out on behalf of God and is accountable to him, the divine rule becomes the norm of human behavior in this regard. Understood in this way, to have dominion emerges as “to care for,” not to manipulate and to exploit.

The fourth inspiration comes from a wonderful man I met who is considered the father of the field of veterinary ethics, Bernard Rollin, author of Animal Rights & Human Morality:

Correlatively, the Bible forbids “plowing with an ox and an ass together” (Deut. 22:10-11). According to the rabbinical tradition, this prohibition stems from the hardship that an ass would suffer by being compelled to keep up with an ox, which is, of course, far more powerful. Similarly, one finds the prohibition against “muzzling an ox when it treads out the grain” (Deut. 25:4-5), and even an environmental prohibition against destroying trees when besieging a city (Deut. 20:19-20). These ancient regulations, virtually forgotten, bespeak an eloquent awareness of the status of animals as ends in themselves. How ironic, indeed, in the face of such passages, that the Bible has most often been used as a justification for man’s using animals and nature as he chooses, in virtue of the “dominion” passage in Genesis. Clearly, “dominion” does not entail or allow abuse any more than does the dominion a parent enjoys over a child.

The fifth and final inspiration is from Pope Francis in his encyclical letter Laudato Si:

Various convictions of our faith, developed at the beginning of this Encyclical can help us to enrich the meaning of this conversion. These include the awareness that each creature reflects something of God and has a message to convey to us, and the security that Christ has taken unto himself this material world and now, risen, is intimately present to each being, surrounding it with his affection and penetrating it with his light. Then too, there is the recognition that God created the world, writing into it an order and a dynamism that human beings have no right to ignore. We read in the Gospel that Jesus says of the birds of the air that “not one of them is forgotten before God” (Lk 12:6). How then can we possibly mistreat them or cause them harm? I ask all Christians to recognize and to live fully this dimension of their conversion. May the power and the light of the grace we have received also be evident in our relationship to other creatures and to the world around us. In this way, we will help nurture that sublime fraternity with all creation which Saint Francis of Assisi so radiantly embodied.

Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.

Each and every one of us, no exclusion, is called to imitate God in “good” stewardship of the earth and all upon it! No exploitation. No abuse. No inhumane treatment. No scientific and vivisection exploitation. It is and has been God’s call to man to attend to a vocation of love to not only love and care for one another but, to love and care for all that exists. Given the harmony between man and the nonhuman created world that existed in the beginning as seen in Genesis, it is modern man’s ultimate journey to subdue the earth back to its original and intended harmony, a journey that requires radical love of creation and leaving one’s self for one’s original purpose which was and should once again be, to love and serve God.

God has been revealed in “two books,” not one—the book of scripture and the book of nature. If there appears to be a conflict between the two, we have misinterpreted one or the other.

–St. Augustine, Enchiridion, trans. Albert Outler, Library of Christian Classics (Philadelphia: Westminister Press, 1955), 342.

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Susi Pittman is founder of CatholicStewardsofCreation.com and Owner-President of Twin Oaks Publishing; she is author of Animals in Heaven? Catholics Want to Know!; an advocate for the Florida Catholic Conference; a member of the St. Joseph’s Catholic Council of Women in Jacksonville, Florida; an Associate of the Sisters of St. Joseph, St. Augustine;a member of the Florida Publishers Association, Independent Book Publishers Association, the National Association of Professional Women, the ASPCA, the Humane Society of the United States and the National Audubon society.

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