Cautious scholars as well as any patient reader seeking a thoughtful consideration of what Thomas Berry calls “nature’s capacity to praise” will find in All God’s Creatures valuable rewards.
“Ktiseology” will likely flare up as a red squiggle in even the savviest word processor. Our algorithmically programmed machines do not recognize this term, from the Greek for the theological study of creation. Its obscurity attests to the neglect of the endeavor represented by this concept. With his new book All God’s Creatures: A Theology of Creation, the young and prolific author Daniel Horan, Franciscan professor of systematic theology, has progressed from light inspirational books to monographs that traffic in weighty concerns of medieval and contemporary investigation into scholastic philosophy. Such scholars conjure up the heady realm where the divine and the earthly intersect. If the density of this source material requires a skilled researcher capable of translating arcane debates into relevant concerns, Horan is more than up to the challenge.
Friar Horan’s latest examines the current popularity of a “stewardship model” of creation. He demonstrates that it embeds many of the same limitations as the older dominion concept, inspired by the command by God in Genesis 2:15 to rule over the riches of the earth and all it contains, organic and inorganic, as the human prerogative. In the Hebrew tale, before their fall Adam and Eve were granted the power by the Creator to take from rather than give back to the flora, the fauna, and the terrain over which they were given free rein. In this way, traditionally, men and women have defended their control of the land and its resources as divinely sanctioned, and until relatively recently this attitude has been the norm in the Christian-majority cultures.
The professor steps back from this paradigm to scrutinize its flaws. It’s a familiar line of attack now among ecologically engaged theologians. The critique of its successor theory, on the other hand, has been subdued. Father Horan enters this debate: even if it regards people as kindly caretakers rather than royalty looming over the earthly kingdom, the stewardship model perpetuates the imposition of human agency over all God has created. Financial, hierarchical and relational roles elevate men and subjugate women. It may be more benevolent than the pre-modern way of an imposition by force, but stewardship enforces another anthropocentric view of creation. This reifies a view of God as absentee landlord and recruits people for the position of a cosmic tenant. If a property manager enforces a lease, it’s still coercion.
Speaking of transactions, the coverage of closely argued academic pursuits and the price of this edition will likely limit its readership to scholars and those who aspire to their ranks. Within Horan’s very compressed presentation, a few areas could have benefited from elaboration. Brief glimpses of Thomas Merton, Thomas Berry and Wendell Berry barely develop their contributions to Catholic understandings of cosmic Christology. Similarly, Richard Bauckham earns frequent nods in the notes, but if he had been given more space for his interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis as spiritual rather than theological creation, it would have bolstered a key foundation of Horan’s scriptural background for his subsequent thesis.
The bulk of this book adapts Elizabeth Johnson’s kinship model. Building a community of creation theology, this relies on familial rather than contractual bonds. Horan examines the biblical justification behind this alternative, and he assembles the resources for an intricate blend of subtle themes which establish the interrelationships and the materiality of creatures.
This shifts to a Franciscan foundation for this communal endeavor. Getting beyond the birdbath stereotype for his Order’s founder as a “patron saint of ecology,” the friar constructs Francis of Assisi as a “nature mystic.” A fraternal vision of nature amidst mutual governance subverts patriarchal arrogance. These chapters turn dense, for Bonaventure and Duns Scotus will challenge even those few versed in medieval thought. Horan’s previous monograph delved deeply into the latter thinker’s preference for an individuating principle (haeccitas or “this-ness”) which grounds a Christian outlook within non-human aspects of the created order.
Horan cleverly adapts relevant debates from this period on the ethics of the use vs. the ownership of goods. He displays their potential for illuminating a Franciscan message praising the natural and the material as encompassing far more than the learned tomes or fixed friaries which initiated the original fracas over keeping possessions that divided his Order for centuries.
Pivoting to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s concept of “planetarity,” Horan widens its utility beyond Marxist applications based on Antonio Gramsci’s application of the term for the proletariat. Spivak borrowed this term for her excavation of the “subaltern” who speaks for the silenced or marginalized. This 1997 adaptation of “planetarity” to the emergent field within post-colonial theory of “Subaltern Studies” originated in Spivak’s affirmation of pedagogical reorientation opposed to neo-colonial multinational capitalist globalization. Rather than a single system of exchange, “alterity” and agency empower those trapped under a neo-liberal and NGO-implemented contemporary form of feudalism. Horan acknowledges the difficulty of integrating Spivak’s non-religious assumptions into his Catholic framework, even if perhaps one with a post-modern style. But he shows its efficacy within a Franciscan inclusion of the non-human which overcomes the human separation from the rest of the planetary community.
Horan encourages a “theological anthropology that takes seriously our inextricable place as members of and as creatures always already situated within this cosmic community of creation.” This lofty goal may daunt those less informed about the wide range of theological discussions within the academy where these issues prove arguably a bit more familiar.
But Horan concludes with a timely reminder. In his tradition, the connection between a creation ex nihilo and Spivak’s “alterity” may not be as attenuated as a secular audience presumes. “Apart from human intervention,” the mystery of how the earth and all its creatures came to flourish endures. This engrossing puzzle has captivated believers and skeptics for millennia. Cautious scholars as well as any patient reader seeking a thoughtful consideration of what Thomas Berry calls “nature’s capacity to praise” will find in All God’s Creatures valuable rewards. This is a resonant message, given the Anthropocene Era arrives as a sobering warning.