- Thomas Berry: A Biography by Mary Evelyn Tucker, John Grim, Andrew Angyal
In this new biography of Thomas Berry, the authors provide a rich, comprehensive narrative of one of the great thinkers of the twentieth century. From his humble beginnings in North Carolina, Berry became a Passionist priest and embarked on a long intellectual and spiritual journey, becoming what he would eventually call a “geologian,” dedicated to the Great Work of a renewed and healthy planet. The authors offer a deeply empathetic view of Berry who grew up in a family [End Page 78] of thirteen children, lived in Japan, and immersed himself in Asian languages, cultures and religions, developing a deep appreciation for the richness and wisdom of the East. After several university stints at St. John’s University and Seton Hall University, Berry established himself at Fordham University at a pivotal time in church and world history. Vatican II had opened the windows of the church to world religions and Berry combined his knowledge of Asian religions with his study of languages, Christianity, and culture and developed a successful graduate program in the History of Religions at Fordham. He also established the Riverdale Center for Religious Research, which became an important center for dialogue on world religions and the healing of the earth. He was an intuitive thinker who lived in the center of epochal change and developed his ideas from a deeply reflective mind.
The structure of this biography is such that the reader grows with Berry in the awakening of consciousness to a wider role of world religions in the story of the universe. Berry himself became “fascinated with how religions are cosmological systems that orient humans to their place in the universe and on the Earth” (99). “In the immediate future,” he wrote, “our religious concerns will, I believe, be more cosmological. They will be more sensitive to the universe as the primary religious mode of being and to ourselves being religious through our participation in the religion of the universe” (99). One notes here the profound influence of Teilhard de Chardin and Berry was influential in forming the American Teilhard Association, becoming its first president. His ground-breaking 1978 essay “The New Story” established him as a leading thinker for an earth in crisis. His encounter with the cosmologist Brian Swimme led to a rich collaboration that inspired him to rethink his ideas on religion and cosmos, shifting the emphasis from “story” to the “Great Work.” He spoke of a new era of ecological consciousness, the “Ecozoic Era,” and called attention to the sacred meaning of the earth and its participation in the journey of the universe. [End Page 79]
His writings have inspired many dissertations and forums dedicated to the renewal of the earth, such as the Passionist Holy Cross Centre in Canada, Genesis Farm, Green Mountain Monastery, and other centers around the world. His work also influenced Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si, which “seeks to integrate an understanding of Earth’s interconnected life systems with sustainable social, political, and economic systems that enhance the Earth community” (147). The authors, Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim, have dedicated their careers to continuing and deepening the legacy of Thomas Berry. Their great love for the man and his work shines through this book and they themselves have established the Thomas Berry Foundation and the Religion and Ecology Forum to continue the Great Work.
Berry eventually retired to his native Greensboro, North Carolina and spent his final years in a hermitage where he continued to think and write. His influence on his siblings is noteworthy, especially the close association he shared with his sister Margaret. He was a kind and gentle person right up to his death in 2009, bridging the boundaries that divide through dialogue, friendship, and peace.
This is an important book at a time when climate change remains politically divisive and global warming continues unabated. Graduate and undergraduate students alike, as well as persons interested in the welfare of the planet, will benefit...