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The relation and role of the Church in Creation today

15 July 2010

By Reynaldo Raluto as interviewed by Pedro Walpole, SJ

Reynaldo “Rey” Raluto shares with ESSCNews some of his thoughts about Creation – our relation to it and its role today, as he finishes his doctoral studies in theology at the Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium) in preparation for his teaching assignment in St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Cagayan de Oro. Rey is a priest from the Diocese of Malaybalay and is doing his doctoral research on the ecological perspective on liberation theology in the Philippine context.

ESSCNews: What do we learn about God when we are faced with the planetary ecological challenges of today?

Rey Raluto (RR): When we talk of ecology today, the theology of creation is used greatly by the Church magisterium. We are challenged to develop this theology and go further; the Pauline letters connect a lot with ecological thinking as with the idea of salvation being of the whole creation not just of the human being. The relation of creation, incarnation and even eschatological salvation is well connected by Paul.

The emerging ecological theology highlights the doctrine that Jesus Christ is the incarnate Wisdom (Sophia) and Word (Logos) of God who – in the Old Testament account – has been closely associated with the role in the divine work of creation, revelation, and salvation.

Ecological theology also allows us to connect with the notion of a “cosmic Christ.” Jesuit scientist and theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin spoke of Christ as having “cosmic attribute.” Teilhard proposed that the title Christ has to be understood not as a noun but as a “modifying adjective.” This allows him to claim that there is a “Christic” element in the cosmos coming from the inner life of the Trinity, accompanying the continuous creation. This is easy for many indigenous peoples to resonate with as they openly express God’s presence or God/spirit in nature.

ESSCNews: How do we articulate the vision of the kingdom of God in relation to our present ecological circumstances?

RR: The Kingdom of God can be seen as a community of beings saved by God and can be understood on the creational level as where all is included. The ecological sense is very evident in St Paul’s writings and in the Book of Revelation: the vision of a new heaven and a new earth, making all things new. Care of creation is part of the building of the kingdom of God, not just focused on church and human communities but on relations with the wider community of life. A good ecological understanding and response can be an unfolding of the kingdom of God. The biblical vision of God’s kingdom allows us to dream of a fully “healed” and “reconciled” kind of relationship enjoyed by the one family of creation (cf. Isaiah 11:6-9). This vision overcomes the anthropocentrism of the present order as, in God’s kingdom, there will be a full recognition not only of the dignity of all human beings but also of the intrinsic value of all creatures.

ESSCNews: How can this re-emerging relationship with creation help us, as Church, understand and communicate our faith relations with God?

RR: By way of comparison, most of my theological reflections in the Philippines have put too much emphasis on God’s relation to human beings. My studies here in Europe have allowed me to go beyond this perspective. Here I begin to embrace the view that God is in nature not disregarding, but widening what is the understanding of God in humans; there is a shift from simply anthropocentric thinking about Creation.

In trying to articulate the ecological vision of God’s relation to creation, I appropriate the perspective of “panentheism” (all-in-God or God-in-all), which is generally faithful to the biblical and theological tradition. As distinguished from “pantheism” (all-is-God), panentheism recognizes the difference between God and creation in the event of their mutual interpenetration. This thinking is common here in Europe and in the United Kingdom. Theologians need a clear framework not leading to pantheism in trying to overcome the anthropocentric understanding.

A further area is the relation of science and theology, which is still weak as we are still afraid that God will be forgotten if we use the scientific insights, as well as its “methodological naturalism”. Here, we are especially referring to the potential of the ecological insights of the “new cosmology” which radically questions the static cosmology of modernity (e.g., the mechanistic cosmology of Newton). The new cosmology, together with the emerging earth sciences, is challenging the age-old anthropocentric assumptions of the old cosmologies that tend to separate the story of the human life from that of the story of life of the cosmos as a whole. In this way, if theology does not use scientific knowledge, it will remain anthropocentric focusing on the human faith relation with God and not on the inherent relation as past of creation. So if we use a theology of creation, we must have a theology that uses the best insights of the earth sciences, if it is going to address the issue of ecological crisis.

ESSCNews: What is the church’s relation with creation today?

RR: In the Philippine context, it depends upon the diocese and how the church clarifies its vision of how to lead the diocese. Only then is there a clear involvement. Ground breaking for the church was the CBCP pastoral letter on ecology in 1987. The PCPII provides that all dioceses should establish ecological desk, yet there are indications that the ecological issues are still not a key priority of the church. In our experience in the Diocese of Malaybalay, justice issues and the kingdom values lead us also to the ecological concerns. Justice and overcoming of greed is highlighted in our Diocesan vision-mission and to be lived by the people. Devastation of the environment can be seen as an injustice, and the exploitation by a few individual needs to be overcome. What is socially unjust is also ecologically unjust.

ESSCNews: What are the challenges the church faces today in its theology and praxis in caring for creation?

RR: I will point out two interrelated challenges. First, as I have argued elsewhere, there is a need to emphasize the perpetual presence of God in creation, as well as the sacredness of nature. I claim that an over-emphasis on the transcendence of God strengthens the perspective of an exploitative anthropocentrism which is greatly responsible for the ecological destruction of the planet. The logic here is that if people fail to discern the presence of God in the natural world, their tendency is to forget the sacredness of nature which may, eventually, lead them to presume that they can exploit without any fear of sacrilege or qualm.

Second, there is a need to rethink our teaching on how human beings should properly relate to non-human beings. Time and again, the Catholic social teaching on ecology tries to emphasize the unique dignity of the human person which, if pushed to the extreme, may hinder our recognition of the intrinsic value in nature. In the face of the ecological crisis, the Church magisterium is under pressure to broaden its perspective toward nature. The Church should articulate the right tension between human dignity and intrinsic value in nature in a non-anthropocentric way.

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One Response to The relation and role of the Church in Creation today

  1. Al Fritsch, SJ on 30 June 2011 at 11:08 pm

    I think Reynaldo has some clear insights into the role of the Church at the level of a creation-centered spirituality, and well worth articulation. However, there is a more humbling role, that is the saving of our Earth from a dysfunctional economic/political system bent on its destruction. This goes beyond an academic approach to one of attacking the addictions of our consumer culture. The Church must call for a new creation, a new and just economic system, which challenges the vast disparity of wealth and encourages use of the world’s resources to fulfill essential needs of the world’s poor.

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