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Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Eco-theologian Thomas Berry has died
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Fr Thomas Berry
Fr Thomas Berry, an American Passionist monk who made it his life's work to explore the connection between humans and the earth, died on 1 June in the United States at the age of 94 years. Described in Newsweek magazine in 1989 as "the most provocative figure among the new breed of eco-theologians," Berry felt the planet’s environmental crisis is fundamentally a spiritual crisis, with huge implications for religion. He often described himself as a “geologian”.

He entered the novitiate of the Passionist order in 1934, “to escape from a world that was becoming crassly commercial, so that I could find meaning." A priest since 1942, he wrote and lectured widely on the connections between cultural, spiritual and ecological issues. His books, including Dream of the Earth and The Great Work, were influential way beyond the Catholic world. In 2007, hundreds attended a conference in Central London held to honour Berry, organised by the Gaia Foundation and other environmental groups.

Berry was influenced by the work of  Teilhard de Chardin and was president of the American Teilhard Association for twelve years. He himself was inspirational to a younger generation of eco-theologians, including Matthew Fox and Columban Sean McDonagh. The latter, who studied with him in the 1980s, said that Berry “addressed in a most profound way the issue of humans reconnecting with other creatures and indeed with the universe itself”.

Raised in Greensboro, North Carolina, Berry’s sensitivity to the environment was awakened as a child when he came across a meadow near his home, covered with white lilies. It was not only the lilies, he recalled, "it was the singing of the crickets and the woodlands in the distance and the clouds in the clear sky”. He held the lifelong view that, “whatever fosters this meadow is good and what does harm to this meadow is not good. “By extension”, he added, "a good economic, or political, or educational system is one that would preserve that meadow and a good religion would reveal the deeper experience of that meadow and how it came into being". Berry felt human society is locked into spiritual autism, where "we are talking only to ourselves and we are not talking to the rivers, we are not listening to the wind and stars”.

He felt all religious communities need to see themselves in the context of creation and to play a role in preserving the environment. "The universe is a communion of subjects," he often said, "and not a collection of objects". God is revealed in the natural world, he taught, and the “great work” of our time is to establish a mutually enhancing human presence on our planet.

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Tags: eco-thologian, Fr Thomas Berry, Gaia Foundation, Teilhard de Chardin

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