2015 Theology Symposium - Abstracts

The Earth is the Lord’s: Environmental Theology and Ethics

Friday and Saturday, 9 and 10 October, 2015
Within the premises of the College

Program to come.


Convened by:

Dr Philip Kariatlis & Professor James R. Harrison




Revd Dr John Chryssavgis

Archdeacon of the Ecumenical Throne, Theological Advisor to the Ecumenical Patriarch on Environmental Issues

On Earth as in Heaven: The Theological Roots of our Ecological Crisis

In the past few decades, the world has witnessed an alarming environmental degradation – with the threat of anthropogenic climate change, the loss of biodiversity and the pollution of natural resources – and a widening gap between rich and poor, as well as the increasing failure to implement environmental policies. We have, however, been constantly reminded – indeed, in a painful way – of this ecological crisis with the cruel flora and fauna extinction, with the irresponsible soil and forest clearance, and with the unacceptable noise, air, and water pollution. Nonetheless, for Orthodox Christian thinkers and theologians, concern for the environment is not a form of superficial or sentimental devotion. It is a way of honoring and dignifying the reality of creation by the hand and Word of God. It is, as well, a way of respecting “the mourning of the land” (Hosea 41.3) and heeding “the groaning of creation” (Rom. 8.22). This paper will survey fundamental principles in Orthodox Christian theology and spirituality as these relate to the way we conceive and conduct our lives in the world. With the use of images and visuals, it will explore the way in which icons, liturgy and ascesis can reflect the mystery of creation.

Revd Professor Denis Edwards

Professorial Fellow, Australian Catholic University (Adelaide SA)

Earth as God’s Creation:  A Theological Exploration of Pope Francis’s Recent Teaching 

In 2002, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew issued a common declaration with Pope John Paul II on environmental ethics, in which they said that the ecological issues we face are not simply economic and technological, but moral and spiritual. They called for an inner change of heart that leads to a transformation of life-styles and patterns of production and consumption. In Jerusalem on 25th May 2014, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew signed a common declaration with Pope Francis that covered a range of important issues, including the safeguarding of the gift of creation. They declared that the mistreatment of our planet is tantamount to sin. Together they pledged their commitment to raising awareness about the stewardship of creation and appealed to all people of goodwill to consider living less wastefully and more frugally, and with more generosity, for the protection of God’s creation and the good of God’s people. In 2015 Pope Francis will issue an encyclical concerned with environmental issues, which promises to be an important development in church teaching on creation. This paper will offer an analysis of Pope Francis’s new encyclical, exploring its theological foundations and its consequences for the way we live.

Revd Dr Michael Trainor

Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies, Australian Catholic University (Adelaide SA). Adjunct Lecturer, Flinders University (Adelaide SA)

Heaven on Earth: Ecological Nuances from Luke’s Gospel

Conventionally, Luke’s gospel has been interpreted anthropocentrically with the focus of Jesus’ ministry exclusively concerned about the salvation of human beings. However such a focus has distracted us from recognizing another important focus of his mission—Earth. It is possible, indeed now even necessary, to see subtle ecological resonances throughout the gospel. In its opening chapters Luke’s Jesus is Earth’s child encircled by Earth’s gifts (a ‘manger’ and ‘bands of cloth’), as angels appear before shepherds (Lk 2.8-14) to celebrate Heaven’s communion with Earth, the fruit of this child’s birth. His public ministry is taken up with deeds and words that reveal a concern for all creation, for the human and non-human world. Even birds and pigs become important in his ecologically inclusive ministry. The angelic chorus of Lk 2 finds its echo towards the end of the gospel. It is reflected in the acclamation which the disciples give Jesus as they welcome him into Jerusalem surrounded by Earth’s gifts (Lk 19.28-40). The gospel’s celebration and healing of Earth culminates in the final chapter, as the Risen Jesus comes forth from Earth blessing all that lives and revealing God’s presence within creation. Attuning ourselves to hear Luke’s gospel from the perspective of Earth allows a freshness to emerge that resonates more readily with our ecological and environmental concerns.



Dr Mario Baghos

Associate Lecturer in Church History, St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College (Sydney NSW)

The Medieval Roots of the Ecological Crisis

When Mircea Eliade undertook his groundbreaking work in the history of religions, he was partly concerned to address the rise of the historicist mindset of modern people, who for centuries have construed themselves anthropocentrically and thus apart from the natural or cosmic environment. There is much merit to Eliade’s position, which I employ and – together with insights from Alexander Mironescu, Georges Duby, Norman Cohn and Richard Landes – elaborate upon, in order to locate the anthropocentrically motivated disjuncture between nature and history in the Early Medieval Period. With recourse to the relevant primary sources, such as the apocalyptic writings of Rodulphus Glaber, I will argue that for Western Europeans this disjuncture is related to Christendom’s unfulfilled anticipation that the Son of God would return to save humanity from an inimical natural world, which reached boiling point around the year 1000. In other words, around the year 1000 an unfulfilled apocalypticism based on the belief in the literal return of Christ to liberate humanity from a hostile nature made room for the following trend: that human beings could create history on their own terms and apart from both God and nature; a trend that continues to this very day, and which has had devastating ecological (and spiritual) consequences.

Dr Graham Buxton

Head of MTC Postgraduate Studies, Inaugural Director of the Graeme Clark Research Institute, Tabor Adelaide (Adelaide SA)

Ecological Spirituality and the Animating Spirit of Life

The contemporary debate concerning the relationship between science and faith finds an echo in many areas of interdisciplinary inquiry. One such area is the relationship between spirituality and ecology, both of which resonate strongly with many people today, especially the young. It is precisely because we are called to live in communion with creation, not over and above it, that we need to learn to respect creation in all its beauty, diversity, complexity, mystery, raw power and energy.

The new discipline of ecotheology is burgeoning today as the result of a growing awareness in all the major faith traditions of the need not only to respect and care for our physical environment, but also to live in communion with the natural world. A major premise in this paper is that to live responsibly as human beings within the created order is to move beyond a purely utilitarian ethic and to embrace a spirituality that acknowledges the wonder and mystery of creation as ‘sacred reality’, a perspective that is integral to Aboriginal spirituality in Australia.

An important insight from the Christian spirituality tradition is an understanding of the Holy Spirit as the perfecting Spirit who acts with grace and love in steering all creation towards its final goal. In many Christian circles, the Spirit has often been confined to personal piety and congregational ministry, with little attention being given to the role of the divine in creation. This paper presents a crucial trinitarian insight in affirming an identity between the creative, life-giving ecological Spirit of God and the regenerating, redeeming Spirit of Christ.

Drawing from the disciplines of contemporary physics, ecological hermeneutics, spirituality and ‘imaginative naturalism’, a continuity is proposed between the Spirit who enlivens and sanctifies us in our relation to God and the Spirit who enlivens us in our relation to the created world. To deny this continuity is to polarise spirituality and vitality, isolate the soul from the body, and embrace the very dualism that has tragically infected the church throughout its history.

Protopresbyter Dr Doru Costache

Senior Lecturer in Theology (Patristic Studies), St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College (Sydney NSW)

Ecological Sensitivity, Cosmic Salvation and the Narrative of Everything: The Palestinian Connection

This paper considers related themes in the thinking of three representatives of the sixth and seventh century Palestinian monastic tradition. Whereas the spiritual relationship between John Moschus, St Sophronius of Jerusalem and St Maximus the Confessor is readily obvious to a traditionally minded researcher, to my knowledge examinations of their literary output as thematically connected are long overdue. True, a fairly recent Cambridge University dissertation (2008) undertook to assess their connection yet only from the circumstantial viewpoint of their political attitudes in relation to empire and papacy—in a time when, finding refuge in Rome, they had to do as Romans would. It is my intention to bring the three monks back from their Roman exile to Palestine, the land of their spiritual formation, and to look at a far deeper layer of their personality and thinking. Like a golden chain, all three displayed in their writings a similar saintly reverence toward God’s creation, an ecological awareness which indelibly shaped their worldview. This awareness transpires in the moving encounters between ascetics and animals depicted by Moschus, in the sense of a cosmic salvation which Christ wrought, illustrated by St Sophronius’ Theophany prayers, and in the totalising theory of St Maximus, a narrative of everything which unites heaven and earth and all things in between, around the human being’s ascent to God. These witnesses will be assessed both as representing a particular feature of Palestinian monasticism and as illustrating a worldview that can inspire a change of attitude towards the environment—at least within those Christian milieus which are sensitive to traditional paradigms.

Dr Guy Freeland

Honorary Lecturer in Liturgical Studies, St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College (Sydney NSW)

Recapitulating ‘Recapitulation’: A Tricky Concept for Both Science and Theology

This paper outlines the history of the concept of ‘recapitulation’ in both science and theology. It is argued that the concept is central to St Paul’s theology that the whole creation is redeemed through the Incarnation and Paschal Mystery of Our Lord, not simply humanity. St Irenaeus takes up the issue but realises that a proper scientific base did not exist in his time to pursue the matter beyond the human life-cycle. Although there are vague intimations here and there, it is not until Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) that the concept really surfaces in science. While Haeckel’s Law, ‘Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny’, holds, his account of the mechanism of recapitulation was flawed, and this has been construed as a chink in the armour of evolutionism by Creationists. Now, not only has Haeckel’s error been corrected but an entirely new scientific perspective on recapitulation has been opened by the determination of the human genome. We can now give a precise literal/scientific account of how it was that Christ brought about the redemption of the whole creation by His self-sacrifice on the Cross. Acceptance of the argument of this paper should strengthen the power of Pauline dogma to provide a solid base for environmental theology.

Dr Deborah Guess

Honorary Postdoctoral Associate, University of Divinity (Melbourne VIC)

Arthur Peacocke’s Theistic Naturalism as a Framework for an Ecological Ethos

From Richard Hooker’s emphasis on natural law, through three centuries of parson-naturalists, to the scientist-theologians of the contemporary era, the Anglican tradition has expounded many theologies which attend to the natural world. Within that trajectory, the Anglican biochemist, theologian and priest Arthur Peacocke (1924-2006) has become a significant figure. Pre-eminently known as one of the founders of the contemporary theology and science dialogue, Peacocke’s thought is also of interest to ecological theology − mostly for its implicit rather than its explicit ecological content. This paper aims to explore the ecological significance of Peacocke’s theistic naturalism, a theology which allows for divine transcendence but places particular emphasis on God as immanent, dynamic and creative. Consistent with the theory of evolution, Peacocke’s theistic naturalism claims that the universe operates according to natural laws which are continuously given existence by God, hence the world is constantly held in an ongoing process of divine creative activity. Peacocke’s naturalistic theology is conducive to the task of contesting the hierarchical spirit-matter dualism which has sanctioned a devalued understanding of the material world in Western thought since the time of Descartes. The paper concludes that in Peacocke’s theistic naturalism the intimate relationship between God and the biophysical world is so strongly affirmed that a high theological claim can be made for the status and meaning of matter, and that this establishes a valuable foundation for an ethos of ecological care and action.

Professor James R. Harrison

Director of Research, Sydney College of Divinity (Sydney NSW)

Paul’s “Groaning” Creation and the New Creation of the Julio-Claudian Rulers

Having established the eschatological “newness of the Spirit” operative in the life of believers (Rom 7:6b), Paul delineates the hope of glory awaiting them (Rom 8:18-25). Paul’s graphic language about the “groaning” creation is redolent with intertextual echoes of Genesis 3:17-19. “Subjected to frustration” by the “will of the one who subjected it,” the creation eagerly expects “liberation from bondage to decay,” having been assigned its own destiny in the history of salvation. While Jewish believers would have recognised the origins of such language, what sense would it have made to everyday Romans living in the capital under Julio-Claudian rule? Although Philo of Alexandria and the calendar inscription of Priene depicted destructive forces coursing the world and plunging it into disarray, the cosmological solution was nevertheless at hand: Augustus Caesar. Court poets such as Horace echoed this new “creation” perspective and it was rendered in the Ara Pacis iconography in the Campus Martius, the Prima Porta statue of Augustus, and the murals of Livia’s house in the Palatine. The inscriptions of rulers such as Caligula spoke about his pre-eminence as the “New Sun”, whereas, upon the accession of Nero to power, a new generation of court poets eulogised his rule in cosmological terms. How do we understand the political, social and theological contours of this ideological collision? Why did Paul speak about the “new creation” in such a provisional way in contrast to the imperial propaganda?

Dr Philip Kariatlis

Academic Director, Senior Lecturer in Theology (Systematic), St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College (Sydney NSW)

An Examination of the Theological-Ethical Contributions of Archbishop Stylianos (Harkianakis) of Australia to Creation Theology and Environmental Issues

Recent decades have seen the proliferation of a growing body of theological literature on environmental issues. This has resulted not only in an increased reawakening of a sense of the world’s sacredness, but also of the wider ethical and spiritual ramifications relating to the protection of the natural world. In Orthodox circles, for example, His All-Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew has repeatedly emphasised that humanity’s harm of the environment is commensurate with sin. Marked by a profound awareness of the gravity of the environmental crisis, Archbishop Stylianos (Harkianakis) of Australia, already in 1990, published an important article on the Orthodox Christian vision on creation and the environment in an article, titled: ‘The Sacredness of Creation’. Beginning with this article, I will explore some of the principal teachings of Harkianakis’ creation theology - which up to now have not been extensively considered - with a view towards highlighting some important insights for Orthodoxy’s engagement with environmental ethics. In so doing, this paper will show that whilst Harkianakis’ theology of creation has been grounded in the realism of divine-human communion - a common trait found in Orthodox considerations on creation theology - serious attention is also paid to environmental stewardship and humanity’s inextricable link with creation. His emphasis on becoming partakers/communicants - and not consumers - of the world, together with his repeated call for human persons to be its gentle carers so as to bring the entire created realm into God’s final kingdom, merits the ongoing attention of those who are genuinely interested in the right use and ultimate transfiguration of the world.

Revd Canon Professor Dorothy Lee

Dean of the Theological School, Frank Woods Professor in New Testament, Trinity College (Melbourne VIC)

The Gospel of John and Ecology

Although the Gospel of John seems to be concerned primarily with God's plan of redemption in Christ, the theme of creation also underlies the Gospel's narrative and theology. At each point in the narrative, John the evangelist presupposes that the God who, in the incarnation, heals and restores human life, is the same God through whom the world was made and who declared it 'good'. This oneness of divine identity and purpose is centred on the Gospel's Christology. The eternal Word and Son of the Father, whose incarnate presence reveals his oneness with creation, is also the source and origin of the world's being, the One 'through whom all things were made'.  Furthermore, the Johannine understanding of incarnation is centred around the terminology of  'flesh' (sarx) which suggests a relationship not just to human beings but also to the whole of creation. In both respects - in the presupposition of the goodness of creation by the one redeeming God and in the language of 'flesh' to depict the incarnation - John's theology gives a solid theological basis for ecology. Such an ecological theology is grounded equally in creation and redemption, and centred around the person of Jesus Christ who reveals God as holy Trinity, the origin, source, and goal of creation.

Dr Ian Mitchie

Macquarie University Alumnus (Sydney NSW)

Knowing God Through the Creation: Philosophy, Theology and Ethics in the Monastic Worldview of Evagrius Ponticus

In this paper, we will explore the intersection between philosophy, theology, and ethics in the Greek corpus of Evagrius Ponticus (c.345–c.399 CE), with reference to the work of French historian of philosophy, Pierre Hadot (1922–2010).  Particular attention will be directed towards Evagrius’ notion of knowing God through the creation, the means by which he sought to achieve this knowledge, and the implications of his approach for our own contemporary context. Hadot has argued that Greco-Roman philosophy was not primarily concerned with the creation of theoretical systems, but rather had a focus upon practical activities, known as ‘spiritual exercises’, which were designed to enhance and transform a person’s perception and state of being.  In Hadot’s estimation, philosophy was primarily a way of life, and each philosophical school represented an initial ‘choice’, or orientation to life, which was subsequently articulated and promoted by means of specific forms of behaviour, speech or writing. Evagrius’s approach had an intensely ethical focus, since he believed that a Christian monk needed to overcome eight demons, associated with Eight Generic Thoughts: gluttony; fornication; avarice; sadness; anger; spiritual weariness; vainglory; and pride.  Evagrius presented this teaching within the context of a threefold schema of the spiritual life derived from Middle Platonic thought, especially as mediated through the works of Origen.  For Evagrius, the first level of the spiritual life, praktikē, was concerned with ascetical practice as a means to overcome the demons; the second level, physikē, involved the contemplation of God through the natural world; and the third level, theologikē, aimed at direct contemplation of the Holy Trinity.  Our analysis will focus upon Evagrius’ second spiritual level of physikē, and will demonstrate that Evagrius sought to develop a form of Christian monastic theology which corresponds, in many ways, to Hadot’s ‘philosophy as a way of life’.

Professor Neil Ormerod

Director of the Centre for Catholic Thought and Practice, Australian Catholic University (Sydney NSW)

Ecological Conversion: What Does it Mean?

The term "ecological conversion" has entered into the lexicon of Catholic Social Teaching and more broadly to mark the shift in consciousness we need to make in our relationship to the natural world. This presentation will analyse the concept in terms of religious, moral, intellectual and psychic conversions identified by Bernard Lonergan and Robert Doran, in order to give greater content to what might be involved in ecological conversion.

Sister Mary Tinney

Sisters of Mercy, Coordinator of Earth-Link Ministry

And But the Beholder Wanting: How do We Encounter Rapturous Love in All that Is?

In the poem “Hurrahing in Harvest”, Gerard Manly Hopkins writes of the presence of Rapturous Love all around us, yet the beholder often misses that vital presence and encounter. This is ecospirituality, the spirituality that facilitates the encounter with Rapturous Love in all that is. It is a sensory encounter where earth, fire, wind, water and spirit become one. Participants will be encouraged to get in touch with their own meaningful encounters where the “finite bears the infinite”.  We will then explore ecotheological underpinnings of the interrelationship between God and Earth, while recognising that humans are an integral yet distinctive part of the Earth community. This presentation recognises the paradigmatic shifts in the ecotheology and ecospirituality that are currently being developed, based on the findings of evolutionary science.  It brings that awareness to a sense that all of reality enters into the encounter with Rapturous Love by  being what it is, finite, flawed yet carried forward by the promise of entering into wholeness with God in the fullness of time.

Professor Garry W. Trompf

Emeritus Professor, University of Sydney (Sydney, NSW). Advisory Editor on Beliefs and Values for Environmental Conservation (CUP)

Lynn White, Jr, and Clarence Glacken: Foilers or Friends over Christian Attitudes to the Environment?

Prima facie mediaevalist Lynn White, Jr, and historical geographer Clarence Glacken, both academic celebrities at the University of California in their times and crucial authors on questions of Christian views of the material cosmos, would seem implacably opposed in their findings. In Christian “anthropocentricism,” certainly in the Latin West, White, Jr, finds the “roots” of our current ecological crisis: in the finest history of European ideas about human relationships with the environment Glacken leaves the impression that the Western Christian thinkers about nature formed the longest-standing environmentalist ‘lobby’ in world history. This presentation attempts to explain why these two scholars have tended toward different conclusions, and then addresses the research problems that are raised by their contrasting views.