ADDRESS OF HIS ALL HOLINESS ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH BARTHOLOMEW TO THE SUMMIT ON RELIGIONS AND CONSERVATION RELIGION AND NATURE "THE ABRAHAMIC FAITHS' CONCEPTS OF CREATION" (Atami, Japan, April 5, 1995)
| It gives us the greatest pleasure to speak to you today. We are honoured by the invitation extended to us by the Organizers of the Summit and by the hospitality and warm welcome afforded us by MOA International.|
It is perhaps especially fitting that this, the first major paper of both sessions of the Summit, should be given in memory of Dr. Terumichi Kawai. It was Dr. Kawai's vision which first raised the possibility of this Summit. The breadth and depth of the issues to be confronted at the Summit reflects the international scope and perception that was the hallmark of Dr. Kawai's work. We had the opportunity of meeting him only once, when he accompanied his father, President Teruaki Kawai, to an audience we granted them at the Phanar. We know that the meeting, which revealed areas of profound common concern between us, was also a result of Terumichi's understanding of the need for East and West to meet.
Combining today's environmental issues for the protection of the environment with theological pre-suppositions can be likened to a paradoxical and even eccentric enterprise. To our awareness ecology is representative of the pursuits of practical and convenient strategies. Contrariwise, theology or even theological cosmology, if used only as terms of expression, are to many people self-evidently inter-related to abstract theoretical research. They refer to the association of dogmas and ideologies with little or no regard for the practical aspect of life and theological problems.
Contemporary ecology, as thematic scientific research, but also under the guise of crusading movements for the salvation of the earth's eco-system, is an expression of the various characteristics focusing in on the human interest for practical usage. The logic behind the protection of the environment is projected purely as a logic of convenience. If we do not protect the natural environment our own survival will become further miserable and problematic. Very soon the presence of humankind itself on our planet will be threatened. Day by day the danger of the degeneration and even the extinction of the human race becomes more markedly imminent.
Within the context of this very obvious logic, the natural environment is understood as an essential and acceptable contract for human survival. It is, however, a contract or a context which is comprehended by its usefulness. The problem is limited to how something is used. The origin or cause of the natural reality is of no concern, nor do they search for an explicative "meaning" of cosmic good orderliness, harmony, wisdom or beauty of nature. It is possible that the existential matter of nature was created by unknown "powers from above," possibly by unexplainable products of "chance," or even by automatic power -- also unexplainable -- which innerly exists in the composition of matter. In any case, it is not the interpretation of cause and aim which gives meaning to existential matter, rather, the meaning of existential matter for humankind is limited only to their usefulness and advantageousness.
Stemming from this logic of convenience, the ecological movements today demand that rules be set down for how man should use nature. Ecology aspires to be a practical ethic of human behaviour towards the natural environment. But, just as in every other ethic, ecology, too, raises the question: Who determines the rules of human behaviour and by what authority? What logic makes these rules compulsory, and what is the source of their validity?
The correctness of ecological ethics is borne witness to by its evident usefulness. It is logical that without a doubt in order for humankind to survive on the earth contracts with the natural environment permitting human survival must be demanded.
However, the rationale behind intentionally using what is convenient and advantageous have lead to the destruction of the natural environment. Man does not destroy the environment being motivated by irrational self-gratification, rather, he destroys it by trying to take advantage of nature in order to secure more conveniences and comforts in daily life.
The logic of the destruction of the environment is precisely the same as that of the protection of the environment. Both "logics" confront nature as an exclusively useful given. They do not give it any other meaning. They are motivated at the same level of ontological interpretation of natural reality -- which is more correct -- toward the void which comes out of the desire to deviate from every ontological interpretation.
In this way, the difference which exists between the two "logics" (that of the destruction and that of the protection of the eco-system) is only quantitative. Ecologists demand limited and controlled exploitation of the natural environment -- that is, a quantitative reduction -- which would also permit its further long-termed exploitation. They ask for the rational limitation of non-rational usage; in other words, a kind of consumeristic rationalism, which is "more correct" than the consumeristic rationalism of today's exploitation of nature. They ask for consumeristic "temperance" in consumerism.
Who will determine the fullest quantitative correctness within the context of the same single-course logic of convenience? And by what means? The request, even though it appears to be extremely rational, is, by definition and in practice, irrational. By definition it is contradictory because consumerism cannot come into conflict with consumerism. And, it is irrational in practice because the majority of the earth's population does not accept being deprived of conveniences and comforts, which the destruction of the environment has secured for a small minority of "civilized" societies.
In order for the request of ecologists to be maintained, another logic is required; one which is capable of substituting the logic of convenience. The request should be founded in an entirely different intentionality. One example of this would be in the altruism of someone who cares about the destiny of future generations, another would be in the pretense for the "quality" of life which is not judged by consumptive ease and abundance. In other words, universally accepted intentionalities based on not making use of what is convenient must be demanded. And in defining these it is, from all accounts, impossible for everyone to agree only on rational criteria. People, therefore, must come up with different needs and another hierarchy of needs. And different needs come only when in the consciousness of the people nature, the world, acquires another meaning which is not exclusively convenient.
The monotheistic religious traditions preserve the attitude that natural reality is not exclusively convenient. In these traditions the world is a creation of God. The use of the world by humans constitutes a practical relation between man and God since God gives and man receives the natural goods as an offering of God's divine love for the sake of the world.
In Islam, the Qur'an teaches that all animals live in community and that they are known and accountable before God (Sura 6:38). It also denounces the arrogance of those who treat the rest of creation without respect:
"Do you not see that it is God whose praises are celebrated by all beings in the heavens and on earth, even by the birds in their flocks? Each creature knows its prayer and psalm -- and so does God know what they are doing. And yet, you understand not how they declare His Glory" (Sura 24:41).
Within this picture of all creation arising from a loving creator God, the question has to be asked "What of humanity?" What role do the Abrahamic faiths ascribe to human beings? The answer is clear -- the consequences immense.
Psalm 8 addresses this question directly:
"I look up at your heavens, made by your fingers,
at the moon and the stars you set in place -
ah, what is man that you should spare a thought for him,
the son of man that you should care for him?
Yet you have made him little less than an angel.
You have crowned him with glory and splendour,
made him lord over the work of your hands,
set all things under his feet,
sheep and oxen, all these,
yes, wild animals too,
birds in the air, fish in the sea
travelling the paths of the ocean" (verses 3-8)
Christianity inherited this tradition as Jesus shows when he compares the value of human beings to sparrows both loved and cared for by God, but human beings are a hundred times more important (Luke 12: 6-7). It is also the case that the sense of human beings being part of a bigger picture, a greater purpose of God, is to be found equally strongly within both Jewish and Christian texts. For example, in the Torah, in Genesis 9, the Covenant with Noah after the flood is not just with Noah and his descendants -- the human race -- it is with all life on earth. Similarly, when St. Paul speaks in Romans 8 and in Colossians 1 about the purpose of life, death, and the Resurrection of Christ, it is not just for human beings, but for the sake of all life on earth.
Ultimately, for Judaism, Christianity and Islam, humanity is the most important or most significant species and with this comes responsibilities. Islam expresses this in the notion of humans being Khalifas. A Khalifa is a vice-regent -- someone appointed by the Supreme Ruler to have responsibility over a given area in an empire. The Qur'an, in Sura 2:30 uses this phrase as a description of the role of humanity. We have been given great description and authority by God, but only to be used on God's behalf, not for our own ends and ambitions. The Qur'an makes it clear that any abuse of this power, any wanton or wasteful use of the world's natural resources, is repugnant to God and thus to Islam.
Two fundamental consequences emerge from attitudes such as this: The first consequence is that the world is not meant to be used by humans for their own purpose, but it is the means whereby humans come into relationship with God. If humans change this use into egocentric greedy exploitation, into oppression and the destruction of nature, then man's own vital relationship with God is denied and refuted; a relationship pre-destined to continue into eternity.
The second consequence: The world as a creation of God ceases to be a neutral object for man's use. The world incarnates the word of the Creator, just as every work of art incarnates the word of the artist. The objects of natural reality bear the seal of the wisdom and love of their Creator. They are word of God calling man to come into dialogue with Him.
Nevertheless, it is a given historical fact that the attitude that the world today is a neutral object to be used -- over which man exercises dominion for his own egocentric pleasure -- constitutes an attitude which was born and shaped in the bosom of Christian Europe.
The analysis of the historical conditions and theoretical presuppositions would require special study, as they lead Christian Europe to the supplantation of the relationship between man and the world with the perception of man's unlimited domination over the world. The reasons for this differentiation are not unrelated to the reasons which incited the painful Schism of the 11th century.
It remains a fact today that man's necessary change in position with regard to the natural environment has foreseen a change in the meaning which man gives to matter and the world. Ecology cannot inspire respect for nature if it does not express a different cosmology from that which prevails in our culture today, and one which is liberated from naive materialism to the same extent as to naive idealism.
We shall try to epigrammatically underline the possibility of Christian cosmology as it contributes to this extremely timely quest. Our tenuous impressions rely mainly on the works of St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Maximos the Confessor, and St. Gregory Palamas. This does not mean, however, that there do not exist other ecclesiastical authors dealing substantially with this problem.
The epicentre of this patristic contribution is constituted by the introduction of a third ontological category for interpreting the existential fact and the cause of its beginning: It is the category of Energies to which is also added the relation between Osa, or "essence," and Upstasir, or "hypostasis," which ranks highest in the ontological analyses of philosophy.
Regardless of the fact that the beginning of the problematic for ecclesiastical thought was mainly theological, we shall borrow adequate analogies from the anthropological experience so as to make these ontological categories most clearly evident for us today:
When we are talking about the osa of man, we are referring to a common means by which every human participates in what exists, in his being. We say that man is a being who walks upright, is humorous, logical, poetical-creative, has an imagination, judgment, will, the ability to love, etc. All these are indications of means by which every human exists; indications of the same osa or nature of man.
Certainly, the osa of man, the universal means of human existence, does not exist detached from specific individual existences. Each human setting realizes one existential fact -- the common osa. Each "hypostasizes" the common osa; each is the pstasir of the osa. The osa of man exists only in an hypostatic state.
But the common indications of osa, which the individual existence also hypostasizes, are real existential possibilities; they are indications of the means by which every human existence is realized. Thus, we are speaking about the energies of either osa or nature, while referring to the fact of the existential possibilities of either osa or nature. Every human existence is potentially realized; each individual is a realized actuality of bodily and psychical functions with possibilities for reason, will, imagination and judgment.
Every human individual hypostasizes the common energies of human nature in a singular, disparate and unrepeatable way. Each human being has reason, will, imagination and judgment, but each individual person speaks, understands, wills, imagines, and judges in a singular, disparate, and unrepeatable way. Consequently, the energies of human nature constitute an ontological fact which not only characterizes the common way of existence for human beings, but they also make this way hypostatic. The energies hold back and reveal the absolute existential otherness of the subject.
We know the human subject, the otherness of human existence, due to the energies by which its subjectivity is realized and manifested. We know the composer Johann Sebastian Bach when listening to his musical compositions. We know the artist Rembrandt through his paintings. The sounds of music of Bach or the materials and the colors on the canvases of Rembrandt are of a different nature from the human nature of both artists. Nevertheless, the poetic [creative] energy of the artist, that which reveals his hypostatic otherness, is realized through heterogeneous natures. Music, colors, writing, marble and clay, activate the word of the musician, the painter, the writer, the sculptor. They reveal the person of the artist; his existential identity and otherness.
The ontological content regarding the category of energies implies that we give the ontological "beginning" of matter and of the world to a personal God; not to the Osa of God, but to the Energies of God. The divine Energies reveal the word of the personal otherness of God, a word which is realized through matter, an osa totally different from that of God.
Fifteen centuries before the theory of quanta in contemporary physics, ecclesiastical thought confirmed that matter is energy; "a subscription of logical qualities;" a created result of the uncreated divine Energy. The difference in the osa between the created and the uncreated does not exclude and nor does it hinder the created from acting as kcor [word] of the uncreated, or from revealing the created energy and the hypostatic otherness of the personal God-Logos. In the same manner the sounds and the colors, even though they are heterogeneous natures of the human person, activate the kcor [word] of the creative energy and the hypostatic otherness of Bach or Rembrandt.
Only when human beings confront matter and all of nature as the work of a personal Creator does the use of matter and all of nature establish a true relationship and not a single-course domination of man over natural reality. Only then will it be possible to speak about an "ecological ethic" which does not borrow its regulatory character from conventional rational rules, but out of the need for a person to love and be loved within the context of a personal relationship. The reason there is beauty in creation, therefore, is one of amorous love; it is a call from God to man; it is a call into a personal relationship and to communion of life with Him; a relation which is vital and life-giving. Contemporary ecology could then be the practical response of human beings to God's call; the practical participation in our relationship with Him.
Is the ontological clarification of the meaning of matter and of the world enough to prompt a different relationship between contemporary man and matter and the world? Of course not. In order for man to confront nature with the respect and fear with which he confronts a personal artistic creation, the theoretical clarification must become a powerful source of knowledge and a society's position. At this point the role of social dynamics as referred to in ecclesiastical tradition and community can be determined as long as the ecclesiastical conscience is purged of its liberation to an ideological structure and from its inert retirement in the restoration of institutional formalisms.
The great challenge to which the Abrahamic faiths of the monotheistic traditions are called to make good use of today is found in the unexpected givens of contemporary physical science, the captivating new cosmology which comes out of the study of quantum mechanics: such as, the energetic attitude of matter, the relativity of place and time as the connections of the presence of matter, the constantly clarifying anthropocentric intentionality of the universe. The language of physical science today manifests to us the universal reality as an active word and is not hypostatically localized except in its contact with the word of the human person.
If there is a future for the ecological demands of our contemporary times, this future is based, we believe, in the free encounter of the historical experience of the Living God with the empirical confirmation of His active word in nature.