Whakapono: Ecotheology

TheologyThe Study of the Nature of God.

EcologyThe web of relations in which living beings and inanimate objects live.

Eco-theology: Focuses on the interrelationship of nature and religion particularly in the light of environmental concerns, and generally starts from the premise that a relationship exists between human religious-spiritual worldviews and the degradation of nature. 

In 2015, as a response to the ‘Canticle of Creation’ penned in the 13th century by St Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis wrote an encyclical letter on the environment and human ecology called, “On Care for our Common Home’. In this he referred to ‘our Sister, Mother Earth who sustains and governs us…a sister who now cries out because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.’

As we face the facts that Earth, our common home is in a state of ecological crisis, how then should we relate to her? We, who were given the mandate to steward this earth (Genesis 1) with the guiding principle to ‘do what is fair and just to your neighbor, (Micah 6), encapsulated in the words of Jesus, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ (Matthew 27)?

A good question would be to ask ourselves, ‘Is Nature my Neighbor’?

If we were able to consider her in this light, it would surely have an affect on our perspective and treatment of the Earth. This could possibly shift our anthropocentric focus, where the value of the natural world is only as a means of serving human interest, to an ecocentric one where attention is paid to the systems and processes within which all living things exist.

I would like to suggest that this is both a theological and pastoral issue, one that falls squarely into the lap of the Church as we grapple with our part to play in humanity’s challenge. If we believe that the land is sacred, as our biblical ancestors and indigenous peoples of the world do, then we have a responsibility to practice what we preach. Dualism; the separation of matter and spirit, and the end times theology that looks forward to the incineration of the planet, have both contributed to earth’s demise.  We need a change of heart, and a new plan of sustainability where we practice humility by walking cautiously on this finite planet and being aware of our limits. 

Thomas Berry (Catholic Priest,  Cultural Historian and Eco-theologian) said, "the world, once viewed as sacred is now an object, a ‘natural world increasingly useful to the human." Science and technology took over the planet, because religious persons had abandoned it . Berry highlights the need to renew the ‘entire western religious-spiritual tradition…to move from a spirituality of alienation… to a spirituality of intimacy with the natural world… concerned with justice to all components of the great earth community.

Canticle of Creation, 

...Praised be You, my Lord, with all Your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun, 
Who is the day and through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendor;
and bears a likeness of You, Most High One.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
in heaven You formed them clear and precious and beautiful.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather,
through whom You give sustenance to Your creatures.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night,
and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.
Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains and governs us,
and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs…