Human Ecology, Environmental Ecology, and a Ressourcement Theology: Caritas in Veritate in the Light of Philip Sherrard's Theandric Anthropology

By Lemna, Keith | Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

Human Ecology, Environmental Ecology, and a Ressourcement Theology: Caritas in Veritate in the Light of Philip Sherrard's Theandric Anthropology


Lemna, Keith, Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture


A DEVELOPING THEOLOGICAL MOTIF in the social magisterium of Pope Benedict XVI is the explicit recognition of the inextricable link between the demands of charity and care for the physical environment. In Caritas in veritate, for instance, the Holy Father states that not only does respect for "human ecology" within society benefit "environmental ecology," (1) but that the former is the decisive factor in establishing a proper human relationship with physical nature. Understood in the full context of the Church's social doctrine, which ultimately elucidates the societal implications of the gift of charity, this would mean that it is only through the inculcation of the supernatural virtues in the life of the Church, which radiate outwardly into the social sphere, that a truly "deep" ecology can be nurtured. The gift of charity carries with it not only social but cosmic significance.

The Holy Father effects a transformation of most modern thought as it pertains to the relationship of creation to history by linking together the two ecologies of the created order in the perspective of charity. This calls to mind the patristic transformation of Greco-Roman microcosmism in the first millennium of the Church. (2) Benedict follows in the tradition of the patristic theologians in establishing the essential connection between the vocation and destiny of man and the sanctification of the physical universe. There were several twentieth-century ressourcement theologians who brought the patristic doctrine of man as microcosm and workshop of creation to the forefront again, precisely in order to recover the inextricable link between anthropos and cosmos in Christ. (3)

One such theologian, who was also among the first twentieth-century intellectuals to sound the alarm of the environmental crisis, was the Greek Orthodox theologian, poet, and eminent English translator of many great spiritual and poetic creations of modern and pre-modern Greek literature, Philip Sherrard (1922-95). Sherrard sought to recover a truly spiritual and metaphysical cosmology in the line of the great patristic tradition of Christian thought that elucidates the connection of (to use Benedict's language) "human ecology" to "environmental ecology." An exposition of Sherrard's work on this topic can shed a great deal of light on Benedict's Caritas in veritate, especially if Sherrard's Eastern Christian polemic is, from the outset, scrutinized and tempered. My purpose in the present article is to use Sherrard's patristic "return to the sources," especially as found in his book Human Image: World Image, as a guide to uncover some of the wider implications of the Holy Father's suggestions. I shall focus in the first section on Sherrard's Christological and trinitarian participationist metaphysics or "theandric anthropology." In the second, I shall briefly expound his Christian Platonist epistemology. His evaluation of the human crisis at the root of the ecological crisis has both a metaphysical and an epistemological dimension. The two are necessarily linked.

I

Caritas in veritate is founded on an explicitly Christological and trinitarian perspective that sees the destiny of man and the world in the light of the innate connection of all creation to the supernatural. It remains a perpetual task for theologians to articulate this connection fully. Sherrard's participationist metaphysics or Christian theandric anthropology exemplifies the sort of work that theologians are called to accomplish in this regard. Nevertheless, it is helpful, in expounding his theology, to abstract from his harshly expressed Eastern Christian polemic against the Western Church. (4) Sherrard rightly saw it as necessary, in order to combat modern naturalism, to recover the metaphysical and anthropological implications of the Chalcedonian tradition. Yet he could see the mainstream, premodern Western tradition as little more than an obstacle standing in the way of such a recovery. …

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