Celtic, Orthodox, and Indigenous Christianity

Thanks to the existence of the Vatican, it is considerably easier to locate what an authorised contemporary (be it continually unfolding) Roman Catholic stance on ecological issues is than it is to locate what any sort of decisively authorised Celtic, Orthodox, or Indigenous Christian stance on eco-theology is.21 This is a problem well recognised in the literature.22 So 1 will here only make quick reference to three relatively recent examples of Orthodox, Celtic, and Indigenous Christian texts relevant to eco-theology, rather than making any strong claims about what the larger categories might be reasonably described to be.

PDT is modern and Western, but all Christian traditions—except the Evangelical non-conformists—predate this period and so have solid resources within their heritage that provides them with the means of distancing themselves from the environmentally destructive features of Western modernity. The Roman Catholic tradition—as well as the Reformed traditions of the sixteenth century—were certainly shaped by the late medieval nominalist, voluntarist, rationalist, and materialist23 innovations that were vital for the appearance of the modern sensibility in the seventeenth century. And yet, these traditions have longer and deeper roots than these fourteenth-century innovations, that can be brought to life again, and that strongly challenge PDT. Christian traditions that have never been strongly modern and Western are of interest in this short section.

Celtic Eco-Theology

As Cahill points out, Celtic monasteries in the so-called Dark Ages largely produced medieval Christendom.24 The Celtic monks were certainly Celtic, but some were also scholars of the Greek learning of antiquity that had largely disappeared from the continental domain of the old Western Roman Empire. John Scotus Eriugena’s ninth century work On the Division of Nature (Periphyseon) is an astonishing synthesis of Christian theology with Neoplatonist philosophy, informed by patristic theology.25 The point I am making here is that as early as the ninth century, Celtic Christians had long been thoroughly Christian, thoroughly embedded in Classical and Patristic thinking, and if they retained any pre-Christian magical/ pagan conceptions of nature, that was fully immersed in, and reinterpreted by, the Christian scriptures, Greek philosophy, and patristic theology.

Significantly—and no doubt to the Continental West, troublingly— the theology of creation in great Celtic thinkers such as Eriugena is theophanic; though one does not worship creation, creation is a sensible manifestation, a veiled appearance, a participatory icon of God’s word and presence. In Eriugena’s Periphyseon, uncreated reality—God—is distinct from the created nature of transcendent forms and of angelic, temporal, and physical beings, even though all created being comes from God, depends entirely on God, and returns to God. Created being’s highest purpose is to reveal the glory of God. This means one cannot have a merely instrumental approach to nature, and this means that what we might call natural magic—the divinely touched nature of creation, and even the strangely animate nature of inorganic reality and the spiritual quality of the natural environment itself—retains a stronger hold on the Celtic Christian mind than it does on the Latin Christian mind. Certainly, some contemporary Celtic Christians, such as Mary Low, uphold a theological vision of the earth that is in some manner a theophany of the living God.26 A reverential and non-instrumental respect for nature, then, is seen by Low as an integral part of Celtic Christianity. Unsurprisingly, the suspicion that any Christian form of re-enchantment of the natural world is both an invitation to the idolatry of nature worship, as well as an attack on modern science, is felt very keenly by classically modern Christians.27 We shall look at this more closely when we look at Evangelical eco-theology. But clearly, Celtic Christian eco-theology (whether one considers it genuinely Christian or not) certainly does provide an alternative to PDT.

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