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Theological Foundations for Environmental Ethics: Reconstructing Patristic and Medieval Concepts

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Theological Foundations for Environmental Ethics
    Book Description:

    Earth is imperiled. Human activities are adversely affecting the land, water, air, and myriad forms of biological life that comprise the ecosystems of our planet. Indicators of global warming and holes in the ozone layer inhibit functions vital to the biosphere. Environmental damage to the planet becomes damaging to human health and well-being now and into the future-and too often that damage affects those who are least able to protect themselves. Can religion make a positive contribution to preventing further destruction of biological diversity and ecosystems and threats to our earth? Jame Schaefer thinks that it can, and she examines the thought of Christian Church fathers and medieval theologians to reveal and retrieve insights that may speak to our current plight. By reconstructing the teachings of Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and other classic thinkers to reflect our current scientific understanding of the world, Schaefer shows how to "green" the Catholic faith: to value the goodness of creation, to appreciate the beauty of creation, to respect creation's praise for God, to acknowledge the kinship of all creatures, to use creation with gratitude and restraint, and to live virtuously within the earth community.

    eISBN: 978-1-58901-611-8
    Subjects: Philosophy, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Introduction: Reading the Catholic Theological Tradition through an Ecological Lens
    (pp. 1-16)

    Earth is imperiled. Human activities are adversely affecting the land, water, air, and myriad forms of biological life that constitute the ecological systems (hereafter, ecosystems) of our planet. Wetlands, forests, grasslands, and aquatic ecosystems are degraded or destroyed daily, endangering or driving into extinction the animal and plant species dependent on these habitats for their survival. Indicators of global warming and holes in the ozone layer inhibit functions vital to the biosphere. Pollutants and toxicants emitted into the air, flushed into waterways, and spread on the land persist in the environment, advance through the food chain, and threaten the survival...

  4. 1 Valuing the Goodness of Creation
    (pp. 17-42)

    Since the inception of environmental philosophy as an academic field, scholars have struggled to construct an adequate theory of valuing other species, ecosystems, and the greater biosphere. J. Baird Callicott, a leading contributor to this effort, has identified value theory as the “central and most recalcitrant problem” for environmental ethics.¹ Among the important questions with which philosophers have grappled are: (1) Should other-than-humans be valued instrumentally as means to human ends, as Bryan Norton insists,² or intrinsically as ends in themselves, as Callicott, Holmes Rolston, Arne Naess, and others argue?³ (2) If other-than-human entities are valued intrinsically, does their value...

  5. 2 Appreciating the Beauty of Creation
    (pp. 43-64)

    Aesthetic appreciation for the beauty of the natural environment has been acknowledged widely in the secular literature as foundational for ecological ethics. Among the philosophers who have advanced this status is Eugene Hargrove, the founder and editor of the journal Environmental Ethics, who points to the emergence of thinking in Western culture that natural beauty is intrinsically valuable and should be protected.¹ Focusing on the nature of aesthetic appreciation, Noël Carroll stresses the authenticity of appreciation that occurs when the individual is moved emotionally by natural phenomena.² Conversely, Allen Carlson dwells on the cognitive dimension of aesthetic appreciation and finds...

  6. 3 Reverencing the Sacramental Universe
    (pp. 65-102)

    Reflections on the sacramental quality of the world surfaced in the works of theologians throughout the patristic and medieval periods.¹ This particularly powerful and pervasive concept conveys the belief that the visible world mediates God’s invisible presence and attributes. Some theologians described the world as a “book” through which God is self-revealing. Whereas few people during their time were able to read the book of scriptures, the “book of nature” was considered readily available for all people to read.

    This chapter begins with an overview of the diverse ways in which patristic and medieval theologians reflected on the sacramentality of...

  7. 4 Respecting Creation’s Praise for God
    (pp. 103-120)

    The imaginative concept of creation’s praise for God in the Catholic tradition requires the reader to consider living organisms, bodies of water, terrains, air regimes, and cosmic phenomena as having “voices” with which they praise God and together as a chorus that praises God. Although the Bible and texts throughout the Christian tradition are replete with praises for God, reflections that affirm and call upon natural entities to praise God are scant. The few patristic and medieval theologians who thought about living and inanimate creatures as praising God often referred or alluded to the poetic and hymnic literature in the...

  8. 5 Cooperating within the Integrity of Creation
    (pp. 121-148)

    Patristic and medieval reflections on the integrity of creation build upon the goodness concept by recognizing the instrumental interactions among animate and inanimate creatures that unify them. According to the theologians of these periods, God equipped, empowered, and continuously sustains the universe with the capability of functioning to sustain itself internally. After exploring their teachings about the integrity of creation, I turn to a detailed description of a site in France during the twelfth century that depicts cooperative human interactivity with other entities of the area. Following this exposition is a discussion of the need to adjust patristic-medieval understanding to...

  9. 6 Acknowledging Kinship and Practicing Companionship
    (pp. 149-192)

    As they contemplated a close and unencumbered relationship with God, the early Christian desert fathers, Celtic wanderers, and English hermits conveyed a variety of positive attitudes toward the animals and natural environment of their temporal homes. Primary among these attitudes was an affinity—a kinship, in the broadest sense of the term¹—for a close and caring relationship with other animals, as conveyed in the hagiographies produced by their contemporaries.² Writings by and about Francis of Assisi heightened this attitude as he interacted with the wild animals he encountered and other natural phenomena he experienced.

    The human relationship with other...

  10. 7 Using Creation with Gratitude and Restraint
    (pp. 193-230)

    That God provided all living creatures with means to sustain themselves permeates patristic and medieval teachings. Theologians characterized this basic tenet of Christian faith as God’s providence, upon which the faithful can rely.¹ As indicated in chapter 5, on the integrity of creation, some theologians reflected on God’s care for creatures by maintaining a hierarchically ordered world in which nonliving and living creatures serve as sources of sustenance for one another according to their natures.² Patristic and medieval theologians reasoned from their understanding of the world that humans are at the top of this instrumental order, primarily because they are...

  11. 8 Living Virtuously within the Earth Community
    (pp. 231-254)

    Recent scholarly interest in the moral virtues¹ prompts this exploration into the possibilities for addressing ecological concerns. Although some patristic and medieval theologians eschewed basing moral theology on pagan theories,² others adapted them to Christianity.³ Foremost among the adapters was Thomas Aquinas (ca. 1224/25–74) who explored the limited happiness that humans can achieve in temporal life by practicing the moral virtues that Aristotle described as naturally acquirable. Whereas limited happiness can be achieved in one’s lifetime, Aquinas taught, unlimited happiness occurs in eternal life,

    This chapter explores Aquinas’s teachings on the chief moral virtues through an ecological lens to...

  12. 9 Loving Earth
    (pp. 255-266)

    Although patristic and medieval theologians reflected on God’s love for the world, few wrote about the love that humans should have for God’s creation. Among those who did were Augustine, John Chrysostom, Boethius, Dionysius the Aeropagite, John Scotus Eriugena, Thomas Aquinas, and Julian of Norwich. Aquinas especially reflected on God’s love for creation and on ways in which humans can also love the world that God created and sustains in existence.

    Explored in the first section of this chapter are the theologians’ reflections on God’s love for all creatures and God’s superior love for the entirety of creation. The second...

  13. 10 Modeling the Human in an Age of Ecological Degradation
    (pp. 267-286)

    Several models of the human have been proffered by theologians in the twentieth century to address ecological concerns. Among these are various interpretations of imago Dei from Genesis 1,¹ homo faber from Teilhard de Chardin,² the U.S. Catholic bishops’ “cocreator” and “stewards” duo,³ Philip Hefner’s “created cocreator,”⁴ and Michael Himes and Kenneth Himes’s “companionship.”⁵

    Models also surface from the nine concepts appropriated from patristic and medieval texts, reconstructed to reflect current scientific findings about the world, and probed for behavior patterns they suggest. The goodness of creation concept suggests a model of the human as an intrinsic-instrumental valuer of species,...

  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 287-312)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 313-323)