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Theologian explores relationship between humanity and ecology

| Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Humanity is losing the lexicon to properly interact with the natural world, Christopher Thompson, professor of moral theology at the Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity of the University of St. Thomas, said Monday evening at his lecture titled “Integral Ecology and the Promise of Green Thomism.”

“Something has gone wrong,” he said.

Thompson argued that Thomism — and green Thomism in particular — provides the vocabulary needed to connect the human life to ecological surroundings.

Thomism is the philosophical school of thought rooted in the work of Saint Thomas Aquinas, a philosopher, theologian and Doctor of the Church. Aquinas — a Dominican friar and Catholic priest — argued that the goal of human life is union and eternal fellowship with God, Thompson said.

Thompson argued that the philosophy of Aquinas creates the vocabulary for integral ecology. The idea of integral ecology is a key concept in Pope Francis’ “Laudato si’,” a papal encyclical published in 2015. Francis said everything is connected, so the environment cannot be considered separate from humanity.

Fr. Terry Ehrman — the assistant director of the Center for Theology, Science and Human Flourishing — said thinking of Aquinas’ teachings can center one’s relationship with God and their surroundings.

“The more we get into a world that’s disconnected from God, we can lose our place,” Ehrman said. “By bringing Saint Thomas Aquinas into this, [Thompson] is saying, ‘There is our place in the cosmos, and it’s not just our relationship with God, but everything else God has created.’”

In his lecture, Thompson outlined the relationship between Catholics and the natural world.

Catholicism has an authoritative teaching about human interaction with the environment. Catholic social teaching, the Church’s guidelines to building a just society, lists “Care for God’s Creation” as one of its seven tenets, Thompson said.

“Christ — the logos made flesh — is the person through whom all things are made,” he said. “No Catholic can be indifferent to the created universe because we are not indifferent to the word who speaks.”

Thompson said Catholics should be at the forefront of environmental protection.

“Recovering creation, recovering its splendor, protecting natural spaces, protecting wildlife sanctuaries. … Catholics need to be all over this,” he said.

In his encyclical, Francis criticized consumerism and calls for global action to combat climate change. Thompson, too, targeted the problem of consumerism, noting that western culture is a prime culprit of environmental degradation.

“It’s not that there’s too many people, there’s too many Americans,” Thompson said. “What’s not sustainable is the style of life that’s come in contact with this level of consumption.”

No Catholic colleges and universities in the United States offer academic programs in agriculture, Thompson said. Catholic universities have programs for potential lawyers, doctors, theologians, poets and philosophers, but not responsible farmers, he said.

Thompson said a cultural shift away from consumerism is necessary for humanity to revive its relationship with ecology.

“In discovering and professing to Christ, the original vocation to steward the earth and the fundamental impulse to care for its beauty now becomes intimately transformed into an [unprecedented] invitation to become an adopted son or child of the maker of all,” Thompson said.

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