Thomas Berry and the new story Signs 7

For those who see everything in terms of God  the entire world is one grand sacrament.Every thing and every historical event appear as sacraments of God  and God’s divine will.

So said Leonardo Boff, the brilliant Brazilian theologian.Boff grasped the great strength of the Catholic vision. God is always mediated. God comes through not down.There was a giant in our community who devoted his life to the huge issue of human-earth relations. The  earth, the cosmos is our essential sacrament.The Body of Christ is the entire universe. Look what we are doing to it!

Thomas Berry, Passionist priest  died on June 1, 2009 and left a body of writing which continues to inspire us,His impact has been and continues to be enormous.He understood before any that we faced our ultimate crisis in the continuous degradation of the planet.

Coterminous with Berry’s gradual appearance on the global radar was the impact of the Apollo moon shot  in 1969.Many of us can recall with utter amazement the breathtaking shots of our Mother Earth, “the big blue marble” beamed back to earth.The British astronomer and cosmologist Fred Holyle predicted at the time, “”Once a photograph of the earth taken from the outside is available a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.” Earth Day began the next year.

Berry who was born in 1914  had been radically influenced by the  cosmic musings of Teilhard de Chardin (d.1955), the Jesuit paleontologist whose visionary work on the evolution of the cosmos brought him into conflict with the Vatican still tethered to the biblical redemption story. VAtican ll in a sense was a time for Catholics catching up to Protestants as a biblical religion, hence the focus on “salvation history.” As if God had not always been active, saving and recreating.

Here came Berry shifting foci to the universe as the primary religious reality and the primary sacred community, the primary subject of incarnation and the primary unit of redemption. Whew! A slow theological turn had begun.

Now Catholics could join everybody else  win a single Creation myth. The science now was there but it needed a numinous dimension which the Bible might add.

The ramifications for theology became obvious.If the earth has been evolving for 14 billion years, what does this say about the Jesus story and our fixation with “the personal savior orientation” we all grew up can readily see that the Vatican looked askance at Berry.He pressed on. The facts loomed large: how are we to think about the 115 billion galaxies out there, estimated to be 15-20 billion years old.It is obvious from the hints at my last essay that after Darwin,einstein and Hubble our theology ha lost a  vital connection with the new scales of time.

It is obvious that the traditional story we have literalized in scripture has lost power. Next to the majesty and the mystery of the New Story it lacks fire, juice and any trace of elegance. It has little purhasing power.Any creation story must now be told in light of the new science.

Here  the atheist Carl sgan gives us some perspective. With his Cosmic Clock he placed us in astrophysical time.What if we could compress the 15 billion year lifetime of the cosmos into a single year. To this we turn next time.

Readings: Thomas Berry

The Dream of the Earth  1988

The Universe Story  1992


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