Concilium 2018-5. Ecology and Theology

Concilium 2018-5. Ecology and Theology


Linda Hogan, João Vila-Chã, Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator

The general framework of this issue is in English. Articles are written by their author in their language.

Full translations of this issue are available in hard copy in the following languages:

English: Ecology and Theology, International Journal of Theology – Concilium, 2018/5.

Español: Ecología y teología de la naturaleza, Revista internacional de teología – Concilium, 378, 2018.

German: Ökologie und Theologie der Natur, Internationale Zeitschrift für Theologie – Concilium, Ausgabe 5/2018.

Italiano: Ecologia e teologia della natura, Rivista internazionale di teologia – Concilium, 2018-5.

Português: Revista internacional de teologia- Concilium, 2018-4.


We Humans and The Call to Protect Our Common-Home

How to inhabit our common home is a theological and ethical question of profound significance and of great urgency.  It impacts individuals and communities differently around the world, exposing the inequalities and vulnerabilities that become more stark with every passing decade. Laudato Si’ has injected a new sense of purpose into the church’s engagement with ecology and theology of nature, and has situated the ethical question of how to inhabit the earth as a matter of social justice, of integral human ecology and of intergenerational solidarity.  This volume of Concilium draws on the deep and diverse Christian tradition of reverence for nature and care for the earth, as it reflects on the theology of nature and considers the new and complex environmental challenges facing humanity. 

The Christian tradition has had an ambivalent history in respect of ecological awareness.  On the one hand respect for nature is evident in the foundational texts and the earliest expressions of Christian witness, and is woven through the tradition’s beliefs and values, its symbols, its spirituality its ethical norms and political commitments. On the other hand, however, this respect for nature has often been neglected, or even violated, with Christian texts and traditions occasionally being deployed to plunder and destroy the natural world.  Thus it is a diverse and occasionally contested tradition, with varying emphases and ongoing debates about, for example, anthropocentrism, stewardship and incarnation.  Moreover, it is a tradition that has much to learn from the witness of other religious traditions and world-views, many of which advance a more harmonious and integrated approach to ecology and the natural world. This volume seeks to speak to the urgency of the ecological challenges facing humanity by refocusing attention on the theology of nature and in so doing highlighting the significant contribution that Christian theology and praxis can make to addressing the contemporary global environmental crisis.

The volume opens with an essay from His All-Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch.   His All-Holiness Bartholomew’s profoundly theological analysis and call to action frames the entire volume, highlighting how the ecological crisis requires a holistic response.  This opening essay is followed by a high-level political analysis of the nature of the environmental challenges facing humanity now.  From this analysis the volume moves on to explore key biblical and theological themes as developed by theologians in different cultural and socio-economic contexts, and drawing on a range of theological approaches. In this context it discusses the witness in history of a range of theological and religious conceptualizations of the relationship between humanity and nature (in all its dimensions) focusing on the synergies, and learnings that can emerge from these engagements.  The third section advances a global political and ethical analysis, focusing on macro-themes and perspectives.  The final section gathers a series of shorter reflections focused on ecological praxis in the church and world, written by advocates and practitioners who work for ecological responsibility and climate justice across the globe. 

Running throughout Laudato Si’ is the conviction that humanity is facing not multiple discrete crises, but rather a single interconnected one. Ottomar Edenhoffer’s analysis of the global challenges of climate change confirms and advances this central conviction of the papal Encyclical. The author begins with an incisive reference to Pope Francis insistence that the atmosphere represents a communal common-good of the entire human family, an idea that brings along the potential for an extraordinary political effect. Indeed, to legally recognize that atmosphere and climate represents a global good that pertains to all cannot but have important consequences in terms of the international law. Hence the reluctance of some states in the UN-system to go along with that kind of alliance, certainly out of fear for the legal consequences in case of unfulfilled agreements. The article, thus, explains the courageous dimension of the papal document in suggesting that the earth’s atmosphere needs to be taken for what it truly is: a substantial part of the global common-good of the entire human family. The article reasserts in particular the importance of international cooperation in solving the many issues at hand. In this sense, the author suggests important ideas on how to make sure that international cooperation becomes a concrete reality in facing the challenges of the climate change in our time, a challenge that for our author is inseparable from the preferential option for the poor.

The seriousness of the environmental crisis creates a constant new impetus towards the assessment of the Christian theological tradition through an ecological lens.  Of course, the Christian preoccupation with ecology and the theology of nature is not new. Throughout the history of Christianity, East and West, major theological and ecclesiastical figures have sought to read and interpret the scriptures in ways that reaffirm the goodness of creation and to develop theological, anthropological, Christological and soteriological categories in ways that respect the integrity of the natural world.  In this volume, Dianne Bergant, Leonardo Boff, Mark Hathaway and Celia Deane-Drummond address some of these foundational biblical and theological themes.  Dianne Bergant reflects on the biblical metaphor imago dei, and confirms and develops the argument, advanced in Laudato ‘Si, that the anthropocentrism that has characterized much of the theological interpretation of the imago dei metaphor has been misguided and damaging and calls for a reinterpretation of this category.  Leonardo Boff and Mark Hathaway also call for a rethink of the human relationship with nature by exploring another biblical metaphor, namely, the Reign of God and its links with the divine wisdom present in creation. The Sophia wisdom tradition is also the centre-piece of Celia Deane-Drummond’s inter-disciplinary reflection on the fragile state of the natural world and the hope for an alternative ecological future.

As patron saint of the men and women dedicated to the struggle for a better world in ecological terms, the paradigmatic figure of Saint Francis of Assisi has a special place in this issue of Concilium as well. Beyond any form of simple romanticism or any form of naivité in the political discourse, Saint Francis came, indeed as someone seriously moved by the values of the Gospel, to fulfill a fundamental role in the configuration of the medieval and post-medieval understanding of nature and the human interaction with it. The Franciscan charisma has deeply enriched Christian Spirituality with a multifaceted ecological dimension. In this edition of the journal, Luiz Carlos Susin, like Cardinal Hummes, a Franciscan himself,  exalts the formidable contribution of the Saint from Assisi while demonstrating that Francis’ promotion of a more fraternal relationship between humans and all creatures, whereby animals played a special role, was not primarily motivated by the urge to recuperate a lost Paradise, but rather the consequence of a radically kenotic attitude of disappropriation and willingness to serve a new and most radical form of fraternity, an ideal based more on equality than on any form of hierarchy.

Of course, the challenges delineated by Ottmar Edenhoffer continue to demand a response.  But such response must be one in which the interconnectedness of the economic, political, environmental and cultural dimensions of the crisis are foregrounded, and in which the perspective of vulnerable individuals and communities is central. After all, an ethical response not only requires that one attends to the human suffering that results directly and indirectly from the environmental destruction, but also insists that any attempts to address the crisis must not do so at the expense of the vulnerable.

These challenges are very much to the fore in Part 3 of the volume, focused on environmental challenges and theo-ethical responses.  Roberto Tomichã writes from Bolivia, highlighting how the indigenous world-view of the Amerindians can assist communities in addressing the environmental destruction that is very much in view.  Mathew invokes the indigenous knowledge of fishing communities along the southern Indian coast, which is also replete with ecological wisdom, and argues that this too can be deployed to mitigate the current environmental challenges, especially in their impact on the ocean and its habitats.  From Nairobi, Kenya, Wilfred Sumani issues a stark warning about the serious impact that climate change is already having on the livelihoods of people in the global South.  Sumani highlights the political and governance-related challenges that make mitigation and response difficult. Notwithstanding the challenges however, he proposes two-tiered approach to climate change: in the short term, access to technological solutions to deal with immediate threats, and in the long term the restoration of creation to its original state.

Theological reflection on ecology is supplemented around the world by significant environmental praxis.  In the final section, we highlight some of the inspirational advocacy and activism from around the world.  Thus, Cardinal Hummes of Brazil speaks about his work to protect Amazonia and its peoples from the relentless assault on one of the world’s most important ecosystems. Edward Osang Obi, Director of Centre for Social and Corporate Responsibility in Port Harcourt describes the church’s activism in support of social justice and corporate responsibility in relation to the mining and resource extraction industries in Nigeria. In addition to advocacy and activism, education for ecological responsibility is key and Isis Ibrahim and Juan Pablo Espinoza each analyse educational programs with which they have been involved that seek to do precisely this.  Ibrahim’s contribution describes the learnings gained from the Misseo Achen supported multi-cultural and multi-religious programme that was supported by Misseo (Achen), while Juan Pablo Espinoza’s contribution describes a Chilean programme focused on youth.

Our final contribution in this section comes from a person deeply engaged in agriculture and seriously concerned with the contradictions and paradoxes of contemporary agro-business. Felix zu Löwenstein is a careful reader of Pope Francis’ Encyclical and so goes to the core of the problem when he states that the problem constituted by the growing deterioration of our common home is not just personal greed and lack of responsibility, but a world structure that continues to ensure that those have the best chances in global economy who succeed best to load costs of production to environment, namely, the poor. In question, therefore, in the case of agriculture, a fundamental dimension of our survival and life on earth, are the very opportunities or chances available to the future generations in terms of guaranteeing the «daily bread» of which we pray in the Our Father. Felix Löwenstein, therefore, urges us all, including decision-makers, to use the practical experience of farmers as corroborated by newly acquired scientific conquests to promote around the world sustainable and ecologically sound processes required by the production of the food that keeps us alive and of which no human generation in the future will be able to dispense.

Our issue ends with a Theological Forum that reports on the Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church conference in Sarajevo in July 2018.  The gathering of almost 500 Catholic ethicists from around the world, focused on bridge building for the future, and foregrounded ethical responses to the ecological crisis in its reflections.  

Table of content

Editorial: We Humans and The Call to Protect Our Common-Home

Part 1. – Framing the challenge

His All-Holiness the ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew – « Ecclesiology as Ecology: Orthodox Insights »
Ottmar Edenhofer – « Der Kampf für die globalen Gemeinschaftsgüter »

Part 2. – Theological foundations

Dianne Bergant – « Imago Dei: Image or Divine, Interpreting the Hebrew Bible »
Leonardo Boff and Mark Hathaway – « Ecology and the Theology of Nature »
Celia Deane-Drummond – « Nature, Sophia and Spirit: Interpreting Creation and New Creation Under the Sign of the Wisdom of the Cross and Resurrection »
Luiz Carlos Susin – « São Francisco de Assis: Sine proprium e irmão das criaturas »

Part 3. – Enviromental challenges and Theo-ethical responses

Part 4. – Ecological Praxis and Christian Witness

Card. Cláudio Hummes – « A proteção da Amazônia e de seus povos originários »
Edward Osang Obi – « Mining and Resource Extraction in Nigeria : Social Justice and Corporate Responsibility »
Isis Ibrahim – « Sorge tragen für das gemeinsame Haus: Eine Tagungsreihe zur Schöpfungstheologie aus interkultureller und interreligiöser Perspektive »
Juan Pablo Espinosa Arce – « Para una pedagogía religiosa biófila: La inspiración de Laudato Si’ »
Prinz Felix zu Löwenstein – « Die Globale Ernährung und Laudato Si’ »

Teological forum

Linda Hogan, « Building Bridges for the Future : Sarajevo 2018 »


His All-Holiness the ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew – « Ecclesiology as Ecology: Orthodox Insights ». Over the last three decades, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has proved a pioneer in highlighting the spiritual and ethical dimensions of the ecological problem and promoting ecological awareness. This interest was not purely a reaction to the contemporary ecological crisis, but primarily an extension of precious eco-friendly principles and practices in the life of the Orthodox Church—especially its Eucharistic worldview and ascetic ethos. Indeed, ecclesial life was and essentially remains applied ecology, as clearly emphasized by the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church (Crete, 2016). This Orthodox theological perspective not only assists in discovering hidden dimensions of the ecological crisis, but also reveals fresh possibilities for addressing this challenge. Within this framework, the unity of the protection of the natural environment and respect for human dignity constitutes the core of a culture of solidarity, which constitutes a contemporary ethos in the face of “modern sins.” Our commitment to solidarity with creation and all human beings is founded on the same ecclesial and theological principles. As we declared with His Holiness Pope Francis in our Joint Message on September 1, 2017, the “World Day of Prayer for Creation,” ecological and social problems are interconnected and must be treated hand in hand.

Ottmar Edenhofer – « Der Kampf für die globalen Gemeinschaftsgüter ». Um die Atmosphäre vor einer Übernutzung zu schützen und so die globale Erwärmung zu begrenzen, bedarf es internationaler Kooperation. Grundlage dafür ist das Bewusstsein, dass es sich bei der Atmosphäre sowie Ozeanen und Wäldern als Kohlendioxid-Senken um globale Gemeinschaftsgüter handelt. Sie sollten daher als solche anerkannt werden – so fordert es auch der Papst in seiner Umweltenzyklika Laudato Si. Das wirksamste Instrument der Klimapolitik sind ausreichend hohe, auf internationaler Ebene abgestimmte CO2-Preise. Sie bewahren die Ärmsten nicht nur vor den Folgen des gefährlichen Klimawandels, sondern schaffen zugleich dringend benötigte Einnahmen für die Bekämpfung von Armut – etwa durch öffentliche Investitionen in die Infrastruktur.

Dianne Bergant – « Imago Dei: Image or Divine? ». The biblical metaphor imago dei (image of God) has been understood in different ways down through the centuries.  In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis maintains that the anthropocentrism that flows from many those understandings that grant autonomous and unlimited control over the rest of the natural world, are “tyrannical, distorted, excessive, or misguided.”  In line with this position, this article seeks to show that imago dei, as found in the first Genesis creation account, should be understood within ancient Israel’s tradition of monarchy.  This tradition maintains that monarchic rule includes deputed and circumscribed responsibility for the world along with accountability to God for that responsibility.  The human couple are ‘image’ of God, not divine in their own right.

Leonardo Boff and Mark Hathaway – « Ecology and the Theology of Nature ». The threat of ecocide poses an ethical challenge which calls humans to rethink our relationship with nature, perceive the divine wisdom manifest in creation, and act cooperatively and co-creatively with other living beings. This article explores how God is present in creation and links Jesus’s proclamation of the Reign of God with the wisdom manifest in creation. Emerging insights from postmodern science are examined to better understand the ‘governing themes and basal intentionality’ manifest in an evolving cosmos. Finally, it is suggested that humans can develop ecological wisdom by opening themselves to the alterity of other beings and working respectfully and creatively with them to seek the healing, regeneration, and integral liberation of the Earth community.

Celia Deane-Drummond – « Nature, Sophia and Spirit: Interpreting Creation and New Creation Under the Sign of the Wisdom of the Cross and Resurrection ». This article considers the present day fragile state of the natural world according to natural science, and weaves that into conversation with theological notions of Wisdom, Sophia, understood in ancient and contemporary writing as mediating between Divine Sophia and creaturely Sophia or Hebrew Chokmah. Divine Sophia as characteristic of all three persons of the Trinity opens up a way of considering the future of creation and interpreting the hope in a way that takes as its starting point the cross and resurrection of Jesus, the Wisdom of God.

Luiz Carlos Susin – « São Francisco de Assis: Sine proprium e irmão das criaturas ». São Francisco de Assis é patrono dos ecologistas e protetor dos animais por razões rigorosamente evangélicas. Despojado de sentimentos românticos, a condição que possibilitou uma relação fraternal com os animais e com todas as criaturas, não foi a obediência hierárquica do paraíso recuperado segundo seus biógrafos, mas a radical desapropriação e disponibilidade à fraternidade sem hierarquias, segundo seus próprios escritos. 

Roberto Tomichá Charupá – « El convivir ecológico-nomádico de los pueblos amerindios: Una narrativa profética, simbólica y mística ». Los diversos y variados pueblos originarios del Abya Yala han convivido desde milenios con el cosmos en interrelación cotidiana de mutua reciprocidad y aprendizaje. A partir de una profunda espiritualidad sentida, vivida y expresada en símbolos mítico-rituales en permanente transformación, como la Madre Tierra, han sabido superar situaciones difíciles luchando siempre por la Vida plena y auténtica. Se trata de una sabiduría nomádica, comunitaria y resiliente que la ecoteología amerindia cristiana intenta recoger y compartir en categorías occidentales para enriquecer la pluralidad teológica.

Pampackal Thomas Mathew« Indigenous Knowledge and Ecological Concerns – A Case Study from India ». Primal people the world over are at a critical juncture, being pressed between an ideology of development and their indigenous wisdom. This essay explores the struggle of a fishing community along the southern Indian coast and highlights key elements of their indigenous knowledge and what it promises to the contemporary world that is facing an ecological crisis.

Wilfred Sumani SJ – « Climate Change and its Implications for Livelihoods: A Perspective from the Global South ». Climate change has had adverse effects on the livelihoods of people in the Global South. Drought, irregular climatic patterns and floods have led to low agricultural yields, loss of lives and property and massive migrations from vulnerable areas. Unfortunately, not many governments in the developing world have put in place measures to help people to adapt to climatic changes. Developing countries need to adopt a two-tiered approach to climate change: In the short term, technologies need to be put in place to help people deal with problems associated with climate change.  In the long term, there must be concerted efforts to restore creation to its original state of grace before anthropogenic interventions deformed the face of the earth.

Card. Cláudio Hummes, OFM – « A proteção da Amazônia e de seus povos originários ». This article looks at the protection of the Amazonian Region and its native peoples as a major  challenge of our age and time. The author establishes a strong connection between the present crisis associated with climatic change and destruction of eco-systems around the world, and of biodiversity in particular, with the long-lasting historical problem of affirming and defending the basic human rights of the surviving native peoples of the Amazonian Region.

Fr. Edward Obi, MSP – « Mining and resource extraction in Nigeria: social justice and corporate responsibility ». Christian advocacy for human development and social justice is driven by the gospel values.  In Nigeria action for justice requires imagination, trust and resilience, as is shown by the work of the Bishops’ Forum and Christian NGOs.

Isis Ibrahim – « Sorge tragen für das gemeinsame Haus: Eine Tagungsreihe zur Schöpfungstheologie aus interkultureller und interreligiöser Perspektive ». Die religiösen Vorstellungen der Menschen im heterogenen Kulturraum Lateinamerikas sind durch autochthone wie auch durch importierte Kosmologien geprägt. Die schöpfungstheologischen Perspektiven der indigenen, afrolateinamerikanischen, jüdischen und christlichen Traditionen dieses Kontinents, die auf einem Symposion in Salta, Argentinien, vorgestellt wurden, werden in diesem Beitrag zueinander in Beziehung gesetzt. Dabei wird deutlich, dass die Heilsuniversalität des Schöpfungsglaubens sich in konkreten lokalen Kontexten manifestiert bzw. sich immer wieder in solchen verortet. In ökologischer Hinsicht bietet insbesondere die indigene Spiritualität der Andenregion Ressourcen zur Bereicherung eines postkolonialen Christentums, welches mit anderen kulturellen und religiösen Traditionen in einen synergetischen Prozess zur Bewahrung der Erde als Lebensraum zu treten sucht.

Juan Pablo Espinosa Arce – « Para una pedagogía religiosa biófila: La inspiración de Laudato Si’ ». La ecología integral, tal y como es presentada por Papa Francisco en Laudato Si’ asume una clara perspectiva educativa. En vistas a los desafíos actuales, el objetivo del presente artículo es ofrecer perspectivas en torno a lo que puede entenderse como una pedagogía religiosa biófila, es decir, amante de la vida y promotora de relaciones sustentables entre los seres humanos y entre los seres humanos y la creación. La educación que evangeliza y muestra el rostro del Dios creador permitirá, en última instancia, pensar una nueva racionalidad y lógica más humana y más respetuosa de la diversidad creacional.

Felix Prinz zu Löwenstein – « Die Globale Ernährung und Laudato Si ». In his encyclical “Laudato Si”, Pope Francis teaches about the natural basis of life and the intrinsic value of creation as well as of the way we use it for our needs. In this article it is shown that even though agriculture is producing our daily bread it does so more and more at the expense of the precondition of this production itself. According to the author, modern agriculture contributes both to climate change and decrease of biodiversity and puts itself in the paradoxical situation of not keeping in a circle the chain of nutrients a situation of which results a serious overloading of the ecosystems and the functional capability of the land dedicated to agricultural use. The author shows that wrong methods of agricultural management are self-destructive and seriously unjust. Thus the importance of heeding to Pope Francis’ teaching about the care of our “Common Home”, something that in the case of agriculture implies the need to resort to the practical experience of farmers around the world and to scientific creativity in order to shape and implement sustainable and ecologically viable production methods of our daily food.