What IS having dominion over?
It is a subject that for most people is either one of two things, it is a biblical precept that is misunderstood or one that is ignored.
Nature is alive 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 a dab of holy insight and some scientific clarity.
These first two quotes come from what I personally observed and included in my book, Animals in Heaven? Catholics Want to Know!
Humankind, having been created 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. (Susi)
God called out to humankind’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. (Susi)
And Sacred Scripture says; 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)
The third quote 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 fourth quote 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 fifth and final quote comes from a wonderful man, a scientist, I met in Washington D.C. 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.
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 ones 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.