The Contribution of the Religions

St. Thomas Aquinas, the 13th-century Dominican friar and theologian

Drawing on Berry’s ideas, the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines issued in 1988 a pastoral letter on the environment entitled “What is Happening to Our Beautiful Land?” Two decades later, in December 2008, they published another statement listing the critical environmental problems their country was still facing and called for a moratorium on mining and logging. In February 2009, the Catholic Bishop of Alberta, Canada wrote a strong condemnation of the oil extraction from tar sands noting that such wide spread environmental destruction is morally reprehensible. Yet, it still appears that this extraction, the largest bio-engineering project in history is largely absent from consideration by the religions. Hopefully, these statements will be used as ethical calls to engage religious communities in further action on behalf of the environment.

Yet Berry also acknowledged that the promise inherent in the religions still has to be fully recognized and articulated. He spoke, for example, of the deep appreciation for the order and beauty of Creation contained in the Christian tradition ranging from the Psalms, the visionary prayers of Francis of Assisi, the cosmology of Thomas Aquinas in the medieval period, and the cosmological “seeing” of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in the twentieth century.

A central influence on Thomas was Thomas Aquinas' cosmological emphasis on the participation of all reality in God's being. In addition, he was influenced by Aquinas' reworking of Aristotle's view that abstract concepts depend on specific existing material reality. This affirmation of matter also had its mystical side that Thomas described in terms taken directly from Aquinas, namely, the "cosmological dimension of every being." This mystical view traces back to the early Christian writers of the third century identified as Pseudo-Dionysian. They spoke of a form of ineffable knowing described as "divine rays of darkness." Aquinas's position, however, that all things go forth from God and return to God situates human knowing within the cosmological community of beings. Thus, Aquinas preserved the creative tension between an inner, immanent direction, or form, within matter itself and the transcendent cosmological source of the originating impulse of creation.


Berry’s Call for Engagement of the World Religions



The Influence of Teilhard