Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ecologies of Grace, Chapters 6 & 7

November 20, 2009

From here Jenkins takes us into theological resources looking first at St. Thomas Aquinas. Jenkins view is that Thomas manages to combine empirical aspects of Aristotle with the mystical ascent and proclamation of the love of God found in Augustine. He sees the whole of nature seeking its fulfillment in God and so ‘sanctifies biodiversity’. He sees Thomas as setting apart specifically human practices, not in the cause of anthropocentrism, but in order to “explain creation’s common ordination to God.” (p.118) Every creature has specific but fundamental relation to the creator. This raises the question for me as to whether a lion is ‘being natural’ when it tears apart its prey for supper. While clearly part of ‘biodiversity’, is that part and parcel of ecojustice and if so, how?

Part of the answer emerges as Jenkins explicates Thomas thus: “Creatures represent divine perfection as they act for their proper ends, realizing the real relation to their creator that lies at the heart of their existence by realizing the natural perfections that govern the form of their essences.” (p.122) Creation includes “ordered unity and “real diversity” (p.123) and God’s grace uses creation to perfect humans among other things.

When Jenkins moves on to chapter 7 he begins by asking how ecological habits of friendship with God respond to natural evils. Once again we go off down a trail of learning to perfect our praises by understanding distinctiveness. Our naming of the animals in the garden is not so much dominion as recognition. (I confess as an aside that I am questioning the wisdom of trying to generate an on line discussion using this book as it is dense, complex and not yet taking me to an understanding of the environmental movement at an existential level.)

Thomas is clear, apparently, that God does not will natural evils as ‘privations for particular creatures’ (p.144). In the end it seems that natural evils function “to tutor charity in perceiving the lovable”. In other words evil is somehow brought in to the service of good. As theodicy, this does not really satisfy, but on the level of a spiritual response to God, I can affirm it.

In conclusion Jenkins summarizes Thomas saying “In Christ, all creation comes to God through God’s friendship with humanity.” An interesting reading of Thomas but hardly compelling enough to get rid of Styrofoam cups. What say you?

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