Following nature to a third trajectory

Mary Taylor offers invaluable words on Catholic contributions to ecology

Following last week’s pivotal speech by Cardinal Peter Turkson in Ireland, another Catholic voice continues the cardinal’s momentum with an essay published earlier today at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Religion and Ethics website.

Mary Taylor’s “'Love that Moves the Sun': Catholicism's Deeper Ecology—A Response to Clive Hamilton” continues the task of presenting for public consumption the great extent of Catholicism’s contributions to ecology—and to a whole lot more.

Taylor holds a doctorate in philosophy and is a consulting editor of Communio: International Catholic Review. Her ABC essay, based on one published in Communio in 2011, is a response to an analysis of what Pope Francis has been offering to ecological matters. That essay, also published by ABC Religion and Ethics, was by Clive Hamilton, Professor of Public Ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University.

Both Hamilton and Taylor say much and their word counts far exceed what most online publications allow. But the folks at ABC aren’t afraid of offering in-depth contributions—and we are better off for it.

Using the likes of Dante and Heidegger to illustrate her many points, Taylor takes her environmental discourse into the rich waters of Catholic thought. She is especially fond of Benedict XVI, who has offered a wellspring of theological insights that many expect to find in Pope Francis’s eco-encyclical.

For her part, Taylor makes clear that, unlike Hamilton, she does not wish to speculate on what Pope Francis will or will not say in his encyclical. Rather, her concern is the more general and vital observation that the Church is offering much more than the usual exhortations and worldviews that we often find in ecological discussions.

Taylor writes,

Catholics can bring more to the ecological table than merely following behind environmental movements by putting solar panels on churches, or even by explaining the concept of stewardship. The tensions of existence, relationality, the meaning of the person and (a recent interest of the ecologists) the iconic nature of the earth, are among the very same topics that have engaged Catholics from the beginning and especially in the past century. But perhaps it is the "covenant between human beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative love of God," that best manifests Catholics' opportunity for contribution

Later, she adds,

Something Benedict XVI said about the Church finds an analogous echo in the Third Trajectory: "The Church does not have technical solutions to offer," but rather points to the truth of human persons and their dignity and vocation, for "without truth, it is easy to fall into an empiricist and sceptical view of life, incapable of rising to the level of praxis because of a lack of interest in grasping the values—sometimes even the meanings—with which to judge and direct it."

Taylor is too rich a thinker to attempt a summary of her essay in one blog post. You really must give yourself the treat of reading it for yourself. (But I must add this: Taylor tells a particularly beautiful story of a "third way" to build a park in a shanty town. It's brilliant and alone worth the read!)

Providentially, however, as I was reading Taylor’s piece, a friend sent me word of another essay, this one by Mark Anthony Signorelli. I believe Signorelli’s look at the relationships between Catholic cathedrals and their natural surroundings helps us see where Taylor takes us.

Signorelli writes that

[t]he men who invented this structure did not war with nature; they did not seek its conquest or abolition. They simply adhered to the basic patterns by which space and matter assume form in the natural world. … [For instance,] we find boundaries in the banks of a river, where the flowing water tapers off into a muddy edge that eventually fades into the surrounding fields. We find a boundary in the surface of the sun, where the furious heat of the sun’s combustion tapers off into the cold vacuum of space. And we find a boundary in the archivolt of the cathedral, negotiating the ingress of the doorway with the solidity of the wall. The architect looked no further for his form than a structure of space omnipresent throughout nature.

Quite simply, I suggest that that passage about Catholicism’s intimacy with the natural world—and the beauty that has resulted from it—helps us understand where Taylor leads us in her essay on Catholic ecology and, according to Cardinal Turkson, where the Church wishes to lead us all.

Photo: The Apse Mosaic at Sant'Apollinare in Clase, Flicker/Dick Stracke

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About the Blog

Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.