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Catholic-Animals
THE ARK

A Publication of
Catholic Concern for Animals

 

Selections From The Ark
Number 201 - Autumn/Winter 2005

SOME THOUGHTS ON ROMANS 8: 19-23

BY DEBORAH JONES

“The whole creation is eagerly waiting for God to reveal his sons. It was not for any fault on the part of creation that it was made unable to attain its purpose, it was made so by God; but creation still retains the hope of being freed, like us, from its slavery to decadence, to enjoy the same freedom and glory as the children of God.

From the beginning till now the entire creation, as we know, has been groaning in one great act of giving birth; and not only creation, but all of us who possess the first-fruits of the Spirit, we too groan inwardly as we wait for our bodies to be set free.”

This passage can provide Christians with the hope that eternal salvation – won by Jesus Christ – is intended for the whole of creation, which of course includes all animal life. So why has it not been preached for centuries as the core text of a theology of the salvation of animal, and other, creation? Unfortunately, the Church has largely followed the interpretation by Origen of the word ktisis, ‘creation’, solely as human creation.

In the past both Catholic and Protestant theologians have suggested that ktisis stands for a range of meanings, such as all human persons or only the bodies of Christians, or else the world of Gentiles or heathens.

Since Origen, there has been a strong strand in Christian theology that nature or creation in Scripture has not been really important or significant, but is merely a setting for human history, providing the human being with the mortal body. The Protestant biblical scholar G.W.F. Lampe speaks for that tradition when he says that as ‘he [the human being] alone of all creatures is made in the divine image’, uniquely able to respond to the Creator and ‘capable of fellowship with him …he alone experiences redemption’.*

For Lampe, the redeemed Christian, as God’s agent or steward, is to tend the creation in a way better than he would have done in his or her unredeemed or fallen state, and it is for that better treatment for which the rest of creation waits, as described by Paul in the Romans 8:18-23 passage. As only human beings are capable of falling into disobedience, the new creation is reserved purely for human beings. The new life is ‘life in the Spirit ... the transference of believers from the sphere of the flesh to that of God’s Spirit’. This dismissal of nature and, with it, of the animal creation, from the activity of Christ has led to the belief in an unbridgeable gulf between human beings and animals, and to the consideration of animals as of no more consequence than the rest of inanimate nature. Much of this is paralleled in the writings of Pope John Paul II – for an extract of which, see the next page.

Most theologians nowadays consider that ktisis does refer to creation as a whole, as the influential New Jerome Biblical Commentary (1989) describes in the passage on verse 19:

‘Paul discloses his view of the created world, which in its chaotic state manifests its cosmic striving toward the very goal set for humanity itself. He thus affirms a solidarity of the human and the subhuman world in the redemption of Christ. It recalls Yahweh’s promise to Noah of the covenant to be made “between myself and you and every living creature” (Gen 9:12-13). In this context the noun ktisis denotes “material creation” apart from human beings. Created for human beings, it was cursed as a result of Adam’s sin (Gen 3:15-17); since then material creation has been in a state of abnormality or frustration, being subject to corruption or decay itself. Yet Paul sees it sharing in the destiny of humanity, somehow freed of this proclivity to decay.’

As St Paul could have easily said ‘the world’ or ‘the whole human race’ if he had meant only people, it does seem that the ‘whole creation’ meant exactly that – everything that God has made. If that seems too much, it is only our puny minds and imaginations that impose this limit – for God can do ‘all in all’.

* Footnote: G.W. F. Lampe, ‘The New Testament Doctrine of Ktisis’, The Scottish Journal of Theology 17 (1964), page 451.

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