Originally uploaded by grimhund
Alas poor Yorik! Like Saint Ambrose, whose skull we see in the picture, that mighty voice is now dead. But the thoughts remain. ( A frivolous cartoon shows Hamlet kicking a skull, and proclaming “I said I knew him — I never said I liked him.”)
These weird thoughts are prompted by what I found in pursuit of a statement made during the SME Keynote address that the Catholic Church is anti-mining: a blog called Save Rapu-Rapu. There is a long and rambling posting that cannot make up its mind to support mining or attack mining. But it contains some fascinating perspectives on the attitude of the Church to mining. I quote and edit:
The Church talks of morality, of ethics, of what is right and wrong – not only describing what is, but prescribing what ought to be. In the area of mining, what the Government [of Rapu-Rapu] calls legal, the Church denounces as immoral. We have here a situation reminiscent of the early Christian era during the late Roman Empire when both Western and Eastern Church leaders denounced Roman law as immoral and unjust, as it applied in thought and practice to the absolute ownership of Earth by a few for the benefit of a few and the destruction of Earth, in violation of the integrity of creation and the intention of the Creator – almost two millennia before modern scientists caught up with the major living faiths in observing that the Universe had a beginning (13.7 billion years ago), has a continuing story and humans better understand what it is all about.
From the Church’s viewpoint, what is legal is a matter of factual contingency. It is another thing to determine whether the human legal arrangement is just. If it were to be unjust, said Saint Augustine in the fifth century of the Common Era, “What would the great empires be but teeming broods of robbers?” (City of God , 4, 4 PL 41:115) By “human law therefore – by the law of the Emperors” you can do many things that you ought not to do. And, of course, by implication the question only becomes more urgent, “What do you do with teeming broods of robbers?”
The early Christian philosophers led by St. Augustine’s teacher, Saint Ambrose, quondam Governor of Milan when that post practically meant acting as Chief Executive of the Roman Empire, and later Bishop, warned the “capitalists” of his time that mining should, first of all, follow the “tantum…quantum” (so much…as much) principle, formulated a couple hundred years earlier by Clement of Alexandria: mine only what you need of the earth’s finite non-renewable wealth. There ought to be, as always, a proportionality of means and ends.
This is a fascinating ethic; and one fraught with argument. The first is: quantum–how much do we need to mine? And for what purpose — the answer to the question tantum? Do we need to mine to survive? How much is required to survive? At what level of tantum…quantum do we pass from survival to subsistence to the pursuit of happiness to luxury to waste to destruction to extinction? This is more than just the circle of life. It is more than just a religious issue: gold for images, silver for chalices, lead for coffins. But it is late and I must go, so send me your thoughts on the issues.