In his 2009 encyclical letter Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI calls for a deeper, theological and metaphysical evaluation of the category of “relation” to achieve a proper understanding of the human being’s “transcendent dignity.” For some contemporary thinkers, this position might seem to be hopelessly paradoxical or even incoherent. After all, many contemporary thinkers are apt to believe that the human creature can have “transcendent dignity” only if the being and goodness of the human creature is not conditioned by or dependent upon any relation or relatedness to anything else, including the natural environment.
This chapter seeks to show that apparent paradoxes in Benedict XVI’s statement will begin to disappear if one resists the rather understandable temptation to interpret his thought by relying on presuppositions borrowed from contemporary ethical theories. More specifically, this chapter aims to show that Benedict XVI’s teachings— embedded as they are within a rich tradition of Catholic “natural law” thinking—are importantly distinguishable from contemporary utilitarian and deontological views. Furthermore, this chapter seeks to demonstrate that Benedict XVI’s “natural law” account offers an intellectually defensible alternative to contemporary modes of environmental thinking.