Is Eco-theologian Thomas Berry a Thomist?
KeywordsAquinas, care of creation, ecotheology, environmental ethics.
AbstractI examine the views of the renowned Catholic environmentalist, Thomas Berry, C.P., by comparing them with those of Thomas Aquinas, an author Berry frequently references. I intend to show that while the two share a number of views in common (e.g., both hold that non-rational creatures have their own inherent goodness), ultimately the two diverge on many foundational issues, resulting in differing conclusions as to how we should regard and treat the environment. Aquinas upholds divine transcendence, whereas Berry regards the notion of divine transcendence to lead to the exploitation of creation and locates the divine in the universe itself. Berry accordingly thinks that we should revere all natural things, whereas Aquinas thinks we should revere God and creatures in God’s image. Aquinas maintains that the human soul is created by God and is in God’s image. He sees our rational soul as placing us above other natural things, and from it follows our responsibility to care for nature. Berry, to the contrary, sees this affirmation of discontinuity between humans and the rest of nature to be the root of our environmental woes, as providing a justification for human exploitation of nature. For Berry, humans have no special status, but are one member alongside others in the earth community. Rather than being created by God, “humans have nothing but what they receive from the universe.” By highlighting both the similarities and differences between these authors, I hope to contribute to the project of formulating a sound environmental ethics.
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