A Publication of
Catholic Concern for Animals
Selections From The Ark
Number 201 - Autumn/Winter 2005
Last April, your Editor attended a study day at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, on Holy Wisdom, chaired by Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia. Among other talks was one by the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, on ‘Creation, Creativity and Creatureliness: the wisdom of finite existence.’ Some elements of it, I believe, can set a theological foundation for the Christian attitude to animals. These are my notes from the talk.
On the day he flew to Rome for the Pope’s enthronement, the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke about the ideas of a Russian Orthodox priest-theologian on whom he is an expert, Sergeii Bulgakov (1871-1944), particularly those on Holy Wisdom.
Holy Wisdom is featured in the Bible in both Testaments; for example in 1 Cor 1:24, when Christ is called ‘the wisdom of God’. In some biblical passages it is almost as if Wisdom were a divine person, as in Proverbs 8. But to Bulgakov, Wisdom is a quality of the divine life – it is God thinking of all that God loves. When the world is created, those eternal objects of God’s loving wisdom become actualities. Creation is the free and eternal outpouring of God’s life into what is other than God. Creation has a beginning, but only from the point of view of the world; it translates into time and history the eternal self-giving of God.
God the Father’s eternal emptying out of himself in God the Son is known as kenosis, the Greek for self-giving, self-outpouring, and is the clue to the nature of creation. Before emptying himself and taking the form of a servant, the Trinity shaped the world and then withdrew – not absented – but allowed the world to be free. The kenotic love of God is a freedom-giving love. Holy, or Divine, Wisdom is inseparable from the divine self-giving, the surrendering of self in love. It is the energy of dispossession. Creation can come to a full share in the life and liberty of God because God lovingly withdraws to make space for it. Creation is other than God, but is just what God desires, and becomes most itself when it too ‘lives into self-giving’.
The human calling is to share the love and liberty of God, to let be, to create a world of beauty. This is not by self-expression, or by imposing the human will, but by changing the world of ugliness and chaos into one of beauty and justice. The Archbishop went on to describe the search for justice as a ‘search into joy’, saying that ethics is about joy! Such ethics is found only in the Body of Christ; the Church being the place were creation ‘is itself’. Of course this ‘only matches up unevenly’ with reality as we experience it, but is most fully realised in the moment of Holy Communion, when bread and wine, the stuff of this world, is soaked through with the Wisdom of God, and given into our hands.
Christian discipleship is a constant battling to ‘be creature’, unlike the Adam in us, who wants to ‘be God’. We deny our finiteness, our inevitable decay and death, by our confidence in technology, our exploitation of the environment, our defence programmes. The Gospels tell us that we will never get to a place where we will be safe, but promises us one where we will be in bliss, be happy. Our holiness is in rejoicing at our being creatures and in God being God. Holy Wisdom, then, is that line between God’s nature and ours, the universal kenotic energy that makes sense of it all, and at the point of meeting, is Christ.
I asked the Archbishop whether the kenotic principle could be applied to us as a species, and that, if so, it would really challenge the Christian Church, for whom the treatment of animals is not on the agenda. He replied, ‘That’s a good question, and the answer has to be undoubtedly, yes!’ He went on to say that our view of ourselves should be transformed by this principle, and that we should start by seeing ourselves as part of, and not separate from, nature. He recommended the book by Mary Midgely The Myths we Live By (London: Routledge, 2003 - which will be reviewed in the next issue of The Ark) which gives as one of mankind’s faulty myths the ‘us and (or worse, versus) nature’. There are also many ‘man and nature’ books too, which suggest that we are not nature – but that is wrong for really nature ‘is us’. He then conceded that there is a problem when it comes to translating this into practice – being not certain how far it takes us with issues to do with diet and clothing, etc. It is a very complex problem. But what we certainly need to do, he added, is to act compassionately – compassion to a great degree – and to see the human species as creature.
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