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Posted June 15, 2008

Book: And God Saw That It Was Good: Catholic Theology and the Environment
Edited by Drew Christiansen, S.J. and Walter Grazer
United States Catholic Conference, Washington, DC. 1986. Pp. 354

An Excerpt from the Preface:

As we look to the twenty-first century, a concern for the ecological health of humans and the natural world is likely to emerge as a priority issue. One does not have to be an alarmist or subscribe to apocalyptic environmental scenarios to recognize the serious environmental challenges facing us today and well into the future here and across the globe. While much has been done over the past decades to clean up the environment in the United States, there is much left to do to stop significant soil erosion, clean our water supplies, and solve toxic waste problems. Certainly the poor disproportionately face environmental hazards that affect their communities and the future of their children. Without constant vigilance and active work to prevent or solve environmental problems, our nation could risk its own environmental health.

. . . The U.S. Catholic bishops, in their 1991 pastoral statement Renewing the Earth, called upon theologians and ethicists to “explore, deepen, and advance the insights of our Catholic tradition and its relation to our environment.” This book is part of a larger project to challenge Catholic theologians to heed this call. A series of consultations with Catholic theologians and ethicists have been held to examine our rich theological and ethical tradition and to develop principles to guide us in addressing ecological crises. This book collects the essays and other relevant materials from the second consultation, “Ecology and Catholic Theology: Contributions and Challenge,” held at Mount Angel Abbey in Portland, Oregon, in summer 1995. Our hope is that this book will help stimulate additional interest by students and other Catholic scholars to further explore this issue in light of Catholic theology and social teaching.

An Excerpt from the Book:

When I was a boy in the monastery school, the monks of the monastery logged the north side of the hill on which the monastery was built: an idyllic site overlooking the Willamette Valley with a view of a number of volcanic peaks in the Cascade Range. Eventually, Douglas fir were planted on the logged-over hillside. When the trees there had grown to about twenty feet in height, a large flock of crows began to roost in them. For a decade or so these crows never came to the top of the hill. Then, about twenty years ago they began looking for food on the hilltop lawn. Finally, over the last ten years, these crows began nesting on the top of the hill. As I wrote the first draft of this paper, they were feeding their young in their nests around the top of the hill. They were feeding them a combination of garbage from the dumpster and baby birds from the nests of robins and other birds. The lure of discarded table scraps in the dumpster is probably the main factor for the spread of the crows to the hilltop. The dumpster itself was installed as part of a large-scale, well-meaning recycling and refuse disposal plan.

In this there is a lesson. The abiding ecological relevance of the Benedictine tradition lies in its emphasis on stability of place, moderation, and a humble awareness of God’s presence in every place and act and person. If Benedictine monastics today are true to their tradition, they will know their place well, they will treat it respectfully, and, like Noah who sent out a corvid to explore the newly verdant earth, they will observe the crows. Benedictines, if true to their tradition, will love the next generation enough not to squander its patrimony in indulgent living today. They will neither overproduce nor overconsume. They will cooperate together to make sure that all landscaping and land use are for the benefit of all the interdependent species of their particular place. They will try to protect the weak and threatened. For, as Hildegard taught us, God has made all things in order, and each thing has its place both in the world of God’s green creation and in the chorus of praise, which is the highest fulfillment of every creature on earth.

We may end by following ths advice and once more observing the crows.

Infant in a pinewood
Lying in a basket
Not owning anything. . .
I listened to the shiny
Crows outside my window. . .
And even now
When I wake up early
And overhear the crows . . .
My heart grows light
As light as if the world
Had never fallen

Table of Contents:

Foundations for a Catholic Ecological Theology of God

Ecology and Eschatology

The Voice of the hurricane: cosmology and a Catholic theology of nature

The sacramentality of creation and the role of creation in liturgy and sacraments

Watch the Crows: environmental responsibility and the Benedictine tradition

Catholic social teaching and ecological ethics

Ecology and the common good: Catholic social teaching and environmental responsibility

Toward a sustainable ethic: virtue and the environment