A new book has been published by Messenger Publications to mark the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home.
Theology & Ecology in Dialogue: The Wisdom of Laudato Si’ is the work of well known Irish theologian Fr Dermot Lane. And in this book he draws on the theology of Laudato Si’ to present a new perspective of the natural world in terms of its relationship to the Eucharist.
The book was launched by Fr Kieran O’Mahony at a webinar on 22 June, 2020, attended by 148 people from around the world. The event was organised in association with Messenger Publications and the Laudato Si’ Working Group of the Irish Episcopal Conference.
The author believes that climate change is the major challenge facing humanity today. He says that theology must renew and reimagine itself in order to engage in the debate on climate change in the public forum. And it must do this, he says, with a view to initiating new and transformative practices in society, politics, and religions.
“The ecological crisis is a deeply spiritual crisis, related to our understanding of who we are and how we see our place in the world today,” said Dr Lane, during the webinar, adding, “We need to overcome damaging dualisms between body and soul, spirit and matter, sacred and secular, nature and grace. The time has come to discover the soul within the body, to find spirit in matter, to discern the sacred within the secular – this is a call for the development of an embodied spirituality.”
The author went on to say that climate change raises huge moral questions. “Though it affects everyone, it hurts the poor most. We need solidarity between the developing and the developed world and the promotion of social, climate and intergenerational justice.”
Launching the book, Kieran O’Mahony said that the publication went well beyond a celebratory volume. “While taking inspiration from Pope Francis, in the encyclical, Laudato Si’, it also digs deeply into a whole variety of specialisations and skills and changes the way we look at the relationship between religion and science and religion and life.”
He said that the author had an intense commitment to, and a wise overview of, his project. “His engagement is a dialogue with poets, philosophers, scientists, spiritual leaders. It is a dialogue against market-driven capitalism, consumerism, and the mechanisation of nature…his distinctive voice – poetic, pastoral and practical – combines, like his mentor Teilhard de Chardin, science, theology and spirituality.”
Dr Kevin Hargaden of the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice (JCFJ) welcomed Fr Lane’s new book noting in his review that Dermot Lane “draws on the riches of 20th century theology to address a very 21st century problem and his dialogue partners allow him to illuminate the issues instead of obscure them.”
He adds that Dr Lane “weaves an argument that is rigorous while remaining accessible. It is not just a text for academic theologians; clergy and interested laypeople will profitably engage with it.” (Read the full review below).
Fr Dermot A Lane is a priest of the Archdiocese of Dublin, former President of Mater Dei Institute of Education, Dublin City University, and recently retired pastor in Balally Parish. He has taught theology for over 45 years in various institutions in Ireland and in the US.
“Every Common Bush Afire With God”:
A review of Dermot Lane’s Theology and Ecology in Dialogue
It is now five years since Pope Francis published his environmental encyclical, Laudato Si’, on care for our common home. In Theology and Ecology in Dialogue, the acclaimed Irish theologian, Dermot A Lane, explores how the theological project should be inflected by the reality of climate and biodiversity breakdown.
To mark the fifth anniversary at the JCFJ, we dedicated the latest issue of Working Notes to how Francis’ agitating idea of integral ecology – that the environmental crisis cannot be addressed separately from our social crises – applies to questions of Irish policy. And with the appearance of Lane’s book we have a proposal for the difference it makes to Irish theology.
Across seven chapters, Lane weaves an argument that is rigorous while remaining accessible. It is not just a text for academic theologians; clergy and interested lay people will profitably engage with it. So often, when I open a book that engages figures like Rahner or de Chardin – whose works are extensive and whose ideas are complex – it is a disappointment as the argument quickly gets lost in the detail. Lane draws on the riches of 20th century theology to address a very 21st century problem and his dialogue partners allow him to illuminate the issues instead of obscure them.
The book is perhaps best read as an invitation to a series of theological journeys. Inspired by the Laudato Si’ insistence that we must search for environmental policies which engage social crises – and vice versa – Lane urges the reader to leave behind easy default positions in this era of climate and biodiversity breakdown. When so much of our society and our theology is predicated on a position which positions man – and I intend that gendered language – at the centre of reality, Lane draws out how ecology exposes our profound inter-dependence. By proposing this relational anthropology, the book can accelerate rapidly into some of the very central questions of systematic theology around the nature of the Trinity, our responsiveness to the Spirit, and in sections which I found very provocative, the Incarnation itself.
As the book draws to its climax, Lane explores how our emerging understanding of the origins of the universe places questions of its purpose back on the agenda. His technical claim is succinct – “protology and eschatology are a single science” (p. 93) – but its theological implication is unpacked carefully in chapter 5. The text never floats off into abstraction, in part because of Lane’s clear prose and in part because of his continuous engagement with other disciplines. But in the final two chapters he really does bring the lofty discussions home when he suggests that the fulcrum around which an ecological theology turns is the table where we are served bread and wine. Theology after Laudato Si’, for Lane, is liturgical, sacramental theology. I leave it to others to parse out the precise merits or limits to his “Cosmo-centric Eucharist”, but it is clearly a rich direction for theological thinking to take. The burden of the social transformation demanded by the consequences of our gargantuan carbon emissions are transformed when we remember that God is not some absentee landlord. Around the communion table we can “begin to see the natural world as a dwelling place of the Spirit of God” (p. 133).
This book is full of insightful asides, which are thrown up along the way that Lane leads the reader, perhaps all-too-easily missed. For example, in Chapter 2 we find a fertile connection drawn between recognition of cosmological fine-tuning and the lack of regard for finely-tuned planetary boundaries. There is an entire political theology waiting to be written from there about the Enlightenment project’s refusal to countenance purpose and contemporary capitalism’s incapacity to construct limits on the market’s appetite for the Earth’s resources.
We cannot fault this book for failing to turn more fully towards the political question, although Lane’s argument surely makes it inevitable that the Christian recognise that responsibility; he explicitly calls for a Just Transition and the “bringing together of ethics, theology, and literature, in the service of our common home.” To shift ever so briefly into academic theological discourse, this book did leave me wondering about the extent to which Barth’s famous “Nein!” to Brunner applies to contemporary conversations around theology and the environment. In what ways would a theology in dialogue with ecology through, for example, Barth’s Römerbrief, take a radically different shape? A part of me suspects that the state of the environmental crisis demands that kind of radically discontinuous intervention from theologians.
But let me not linger with such technical questions. It suffices to state that a book that generates deep musing is the best kind of book. Five years on from Laudato Si’, we not have “an explicitly theological” (p. 15) response written from an Irish perspective. It warrants widespread and serious engagement from the church.
Dr Kevin Hargaden,
Social Justice Theologian.