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Theological Foundations for Environmental Ethics

Reconstructing Patristic and Medieval Concepts

Jame Schaefer

Publication Year: 2009

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 futureĆ¹and 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.

Published by: Georgetown University Press

Title Page

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pp. ix-x

I am grateful to my students, who have tested these concepts over the past five years and applied them to a plethora of ecological problems that they researched from the scientific, governmental, and advocacy literature. Their efforts aptly demonstrate how helpful and meaningful patristic and medieval concepts can be—some timeless for their significance and others reconstructed to reflect the ...

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Introduction: Reading the Catholic Theological Tradition Through an Ecological Lens

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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 ...

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1. Valuing the Goodness of Creation

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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 ...

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2. Appreciating the Beauty of Creation

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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 ...

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3. Reverencing the Sacramental Universe

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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 ...

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4. Respecting Creation's Praise for God

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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 ...

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5. Cooperating Within the Integrity of Creation

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pp. 121-248

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 ...

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6. Acknowledging Kinship and Practicing Companionship

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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 ...

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7. Using Creation with Gratitude and Restraint

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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 ...

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8. Living Virtuously Within the Earth Community

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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 ...

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9. Loving Earth

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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 ...

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10. Modeling the Human in an Age of Ecological Degradation

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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 Genesis1,1 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...


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pp. 287-312


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pp. 313-323

E-ISBN-13: 9781589016118
E-ISBN-10: 1589016114
Print-ISBN-13: 9781589012684
Print-ISBN-10: 1589012682

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Human ecology -- Religious aspects -- Catholic Church.
  • Environmental ethics.
  • Christian ethics -- Catholic authors.
  • Fathers of the church.
  • Thomas, Aquinas, Saint, 1225?-1274.
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