What is Green Thomism?

At its most basic level, “Green Thomism” is a catch phrase; its aim is to bring two groups of people together who are often at odds with each other: those who take seriously the issues concerning the environment and those who take the Catholic faith seriously. Thomism, or the thought of Saint Thomas Aquinas, has been held out for Catholics as the model of faithfulness which seeks understanding, and it is our conviction that “Green Thomism” captures the search for a faithful, faith-filled understanding of environmental issues.

At a deeper level, Green Thomism inaugurates a renewed dedication to the intellectual tradition inspired by the “Angelic Doctor” and the Church into which he was reborn. It seeks to stimulate reflection on the intimate connection between the widespread concern for the created order, now generally known as “the environment,” and the intellectual tradition of Thomism.

“Humanity needs a profound cultural renewal; it needs to rediscover those values which can serve as the solid basis for building a brighter future for all.” (Benedict XVI, World Day of Peace, 2010).

It is our conviction that St. Thomas continues to provide a guide for those seeking an integrated, Catholic life.

On Becoming a Green Thomist

Green Thomism seeks to integrate the wisdom of St. Thomas Aquinas with the questions of environmental stewardship, sustainability, and awareness. It understands the increasing environmental “awareness” in our public life as the unthematic, unreflective rejection of so much of contemporary, post-Enlightenment thought and interprets the signs of the times to indicate the need for a renewal of some of the most basic principles of Thomistic thought: the goodness of created things, the purposive structure of created being, the inescapable embodied character of human existence, the capacity of reason to discern an order of creation which is to be respected, the contemplative nature of human happiness, the importance of the virtuous life, the priority of the family, subsidiarity and sustainable practices, and the necessity of grace in achieving perfect, everlasting fulfillment in God in this life and beyond. All of these claims are rooted in St. Thomas’ vision of creation, the human person, and God; each of them has the capacity to enliven the best of what is happening in the ever growing movement of environmental concern.

Green Thomism inaugurates a renewed dedication to the intellectual tradition inspired by the “Angelic Doctor” and the Church into which he was reborn. It seeks to stimulate reflection on the intimate connection between the widespread concern for the created order, now generally known as “the environment,” and the intellectual tradition of Thomism.

It begins with the simple experience of apprehending the marvel of created things and concludes (by God’s grace) in an eternal friendship with God and His friends.

“Contemplating the beauty of creation inspires us to recognize the love of the Creator, that Love which ‘moves the sun and the other stars.'” 

Pope Benedict XVI, World Day of Peace 2010

The path to understanding creation, its integrity, and purpose passes through the human person; only when man is properly understood does one come to see most fully the splendor of the world. And man cannot be understood apart from Christ who “fully reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear.” (Gaudium et Spes, 22)

Christ and his Church, to which He is mystically united, are the prism through which the spectrum of creation can be apprehended, its meaning and significance, its dignity and status as pure gift. “Thanks to the Word, the world of creatures appears as a cosmos, an ordered universe.” (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 3) Christ, the Logos through whom all things are made, inaugurates the plan by which all things will be remade and thus only our life in Christ will unite us to the beginning and end– the Alpha and the Omega–of all that constitutes this glorious universe.

No Catholic need decide, then, between exercising a fidelity to the Church and a commitment to caring about the created order; for it is in Him “that we live, move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). It is perfectly fitting to faithfully reflect in a manner that respects both the latest insights concerning the earth and its material condition and the perennial treasure of St. Thomas. A “green Thomism”–the integration of the enduring wisdom of St. Thomas and contemporary environmental awareness–is called for.

St. Thomas understood this unity of all created things in Christ and dedicated his life to the exposition of its beauty. It is from him and the tradition he inspired that this effort takes its initiative, offering to hearers of the Word today the invitation to see all things in Christ.

The people of God are faced with challenges in many ways unprecedented in the life of the Church. Our theological tradition of reflection on the meaning of creation was crafted in the two millennia in which the earth was in many senses a vast “terra incognita,” a region of potentially limitless possibility, promise, and peril.

No less mysterious in its meaning and complexity, today the “world” is more circumscribed in man’s consciousness than in previous centuries. Few if any regions are left merely to the imaginative powers of poets and explorers. Even as greater realms of significance and “layers of meaning” open up before our inquiry and investigation, virtually all of the regions of the globe are available to our direct knowledge and inspection, and thus our dominion or domination. The church in this “modern world” must now come to terms with the limits of the material order and thus the limits of our resources. In this changing sense of “nature,” a renewed understanding of the life of grace is demanded.

While it is possible from the outer regions of space to take in the entire earth within a single glance, it seems we lack a vision of the whole, a comprehensive understanding of creation and our mission within it. What is man’s vocation before the limited resources of the earth? How does one conceive of one’s relationship to this world, knowing our fulfillment is only found in the next? What are we to make of the experiences of awe before the vistas of creation? And what are the remedies for the alienation which lies at the heart of human life? To consider the issues of the environment and man’s place within it, is not merely to raise questions of material resources; it is to ponder the inherent dignity of man as a whole, a creature with a distinct vocation in the created order.

Always at the service of humanity, the Church must reflect, employing the tools of its tradition, upon the challenges facing contemporary members of the living body of Christ. It is our conviction that the tradition inspired by St. Thomas supplies some of the best resources for addressing these pressing needs. May all who share in honoring the tradition of St. Thomas find in these materials both inspiration and resource to contribute to this vital initiative.