Theology and Ecology in Dialogue: The Wisdom of Laudato Si’
by Dermot A. Lane, with a foreword by Seán McDonagh SCC (Messenger Publications, €19.95/£17.95)
This year marks the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’s dramatic and historic encyclical Laudato Si’.
It is being marked by the publication here in Ireland of a book exploring the document’s significance for the immediate present, and for the very long-term future, not only for the ecology of the world, but also for theology and philosophy, and indeed the development of the Church.
The new book, by the leading theologian Dr Dermot Lane comes to no conclusion, for the simple reason that what he has to say in these packed pages is not an end in itself, but a mapping out of paths towards what will undoubtedly be seen as a “new creation”, a theology for the third millenniums. And as such one hopes that it will be widely read and studied, and the references that underlie his ideas will be followed up by other Irish theologians.
This is a book which general readers should try and read, to encounter where the thinking of informed scientifically minded Christians is at today.
I can best give an idea of the scope of this book by outlining the contents. The author is confronted with a situation in which he has to define the problem facing humanity, and especially theology in light of the present crisis.
So he opens with a chapter on theology and ecology, and moves on to deal with theological anthropology and integral ecology, then with integral ecology and what is here called “deep pneumatology”.
(Theologians will have to come to terms with the fact that to make their insights universally available they will have to evolve their use of a specialist language: though in a book aimed at trained theologians in the first place, such terms are perhaps understandable.)
Deep ecology and deep Christology follows – where many will recognise echoes of what was tentatively expounded by Teihard de Chardin three generations ago, but deemed unpublishable. Also in a very Teilhardian mode is a discussion of eschatology and ecology.
These new ways of worship will be hard for many to accept…”
The two last chapters are, perhaps for those already versed in ecological matters, the most interesting. They deal with ecology and the liturgy, and drawing on Laudato Si’, on the concept of the Cosmic Eucharist.
One foresees also that they will prove controversial and arouse great discussion. But they will also influence the way our great grandchildren will worship, which will become an expression of devotion to the Creator, as much as the Saviour. But because these ideas move towards new ways of worship, they will be harder for many to accept.
But as I say, Dr Lane is outlining the general problem and the areas of what are for many a new form of ‘Good News’; they will need development, not only by Dermot Lane himself, but by many others.
One thing he will certainly have to do is present these ideas in a form accessible to scientists ill at ease with any talk of theology, and to the wider readership of the fear- filled ranks of living Christians.
To see ‘the wonders of God’s creation’ we do not have to climb the Himalayas”
I was troubled by one aspect of the book, which is dependent on so much written in the last two decades, as if this is a new problem, unknown before. He mentions Ernst Haeckel as defining in 1866 the term ecology. True enough, but Haeckel was a biologist. To ascribe a scientific name to an animal is not to bring it into being. The animal in question will be aeons old.
Haeckel merely defined ecology for the academic class. But the ideas and practices of ecology and of good care for the soil and the life around us are of prehistoric origin. They were skills known to those millions without letters, but filled with experience and knowledge of nature, long before Haeckal. We must always remember to ‘ask the fellows who cut the hay’.
The problem of ecological disaster began in only the 18th Century, with the rise of industrialised society, which sought to plunder the world to create great wealth for a few on the basis of the labour of the many, who were promised much, but given little.
A book on the Dodder, which I am re-reading, notes “the industlaists of the the 19th Century nearly killed the river”. That was in the generation of our great grandfathers, but we have forgotten it.
The present crisis calls for theologians to go outside and try to understand ‘creation’ not as an intellectual concept, but a process that is going on in their own gardens.
All the lessons of good ecology can be well studied in suburban backyards. To see ‘the wonders of God’s creation’ we do not have to climb the Himalayas, but merely stay still among the trees and flowers, the birds and bees, and the pouring rain.
I often think back to Teilhard de Chardin, labouring patiently all those long years in Vatican-imposed exile in the deserts of Central Asia, deemed then a barren wilderness, where his discoveries as a geologist gave him a rich harvest of ideas that provided him with a sense of the deepest kind of reality for his philosophical thoughts.
He saw that as going literarily to ‘the heart of the matter’. He has left a way of thinking about what le milieu divin really and truly is, with all the possible emphasis that can be placed on the words ‘reality’ and ‘truth’.