ACADEMIA

Reviews on Resources for Biblical and Theological Studies

Doody. Augustine and the Environment. 2016

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Feb• 02•17

Doody, John, Kim Paffenroth, and Mark Smillie. Augustine and the Environment. Lexington Books, 2016. pages. 217. ISBN: 9781498541909.

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9781498541909Lynn White Jr. (‘The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis’) and many others have argued that Christian world-view is responsible for the present environmental crisis. Certainly, Augustine of Hippo has played a crucial role in shaping the Christian worldview and theology. So, it is important to hear what Augustine has to say about the care for our environment. That is what this book achieves—exploring what we can learn from the theology of Augustine about the care for nature. It is true that Augustine lived in a world were environmental crisis was not the main concern. Does that mean Augustine’s thinking has no relevance for discussions on the environmental and ecological issues that we face now? This collection of essays is divided into three parts as (1) Introductory and General Discussions, (2) Humans in the Environment, and (3) The Nonhuman Universe.
Part I (Introductory and General Discussions) has two essays. Chapter 1: ‘“But enough about Me” What Does Augustine’s Confessions Have To Do with Facebook’ (Sallie McFague.) deals with personal narratives in Facebook and other genre. She looks at the overall purpose of spiritual autobiographies, especially like that of ‘Augustinian.’ In chapter 2: ‘Augustine and ecology. St. Augustine’s Reflections on Genesis and Human Care for Nature’, Rosemary Radford Ruether summarises five books by Augustine. She concludes that his writings do not show any ecological critique or concern for the care of nature. However, the author’s who follow her doesn’t seem to give up on Augustine! The third article (first in part II. Humans in the Environment) by Marie I. George compares ‘The Moral Teachings of St. Augustine and the Roman Catholic Church Regarding Environment.’ She particularly focusses on the theme of creation in the Roman Catholic teachings and that of Augustine. Her conclusion is that ‘Augustine and the Catholic Church explicitly agree on many aspects of environmental morality….’
In a similar vein, the fourth article by Joseph Kelley (‘Anthropocene and Empire. An Augustinian Anthropology for “Keeping the Wild.”’), draws a brighter picture of the relevance of Augustine for ecological discussions. It is true that there is no explicit critique of environmental concern in Augustine’s writings. However, some main themes of his writings—critique of the empire, humility conversion and confession—have relevance for discussions on environmental concerns.
The article by Cyrus P. Olsen III (‘Interdependent and Vulnerable. Sustainability and Augustinian Theological Anthropology’) tries to establish the place of anthropological interdependence and vulnerability in our call to the holistic care of our environment. He draws from the writings of Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope John II as well many modern scholars in his presentation.
Part III titled ‘The non-human Universe. Animals, Nature and God’ has six articles. The first of these by David Vincent Meconi is titled ‘Saint Augustine on “Saving Both Men and Beasts.”’ After guiding us through Augustinian protology and theology, the author concludes that all non-human beings have a place in God’s plan and even God’s plan of salvation.
‘Toward an Augustinian Eco-theology’ by John J. O’Keefe is an examination of the relevance of the concept of the ‘Worldly Augustinianism’ as proposed by Charles Mathews for our environmental commitments.
James R. Peters has titled his article ‘Saint Augustine. Patron Saint of the Environment?’ His argument in his own words is that ‘Augustine deserves to be recognised as one of the history’s most noteworthy and culturally relevant patron saints of the environment.’
‘Augustine’s Trinitarian Sacramental Sensibilities, Influence, and Significance for Our Imperiled Planet’ by James Schaefer is the first essay in the third part that deals with the non-human universe. First of all, he redefines the concept of sacraments as experiencing the presence of God in the visible universe. Augustine used his five senses to experience the Trinity in the sensible world. In the second part of the essay, he tells us how Augustine’s understanding of the sacramentality of God’s creation influenced the medieval theologians who followed him.
Daniel R. Smith in his article (‘Saint Augustine and the Goodness of Creation’) explores Augustinian anthropology, his understanding of sin and corruption. He finds that Augustine believed in the integrity of creation, and considers the created order as good and worthy of human care and compassion.
Mark Wiebe concludes the volume with his essay titled, ‘A Green Augustine. What Augustinian Theology Can Contribute to Eco-Theology.’ He helps us to understand the distinction that Augustine makes between two important concepts called ‘uti’ (use) and ‘fruti’ (enjoyment). This concluding essay is also a thorough investigation of the modern critics of Augustine. He concludes the collection saying, ‘Augustine’s theology actually offers a helpful way of avoiding what would be a truly instrumentalist attitude by which one’s own tastes, desires, even needs dictate both the value of the other and one’s engagement with it.’ This not only serves as a conclusion to Wiebe’s article but can also be taken as the conclusion of the entire collection.
Augustine’s world did not see ecological challenges of the proportion that we see. The generation that Augustine addressed was not so much concerned about their environment to the degree that we are. However, going through his writings and getting into his thought world, we tend to gather what Augustine would do if he lived in our times. This is a WWAD (What Would Agustine Do) book. This is indeed a book of great value and has it has a due place in any classroom where environmental concerns are discussed. It presents the relevance of an ancient voice for modern Christians.

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