From Contemplation to Action
in an Era of Blindness:

Environmental Decline and Christian Contemplation

(in Thomas Aquinas and Thomas Merton)

Mark S. Muldoon
Brock University
St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada

This presentation was given at
the Symposium on Science, Spirituality, and the Environment
held, Jan. 21-23, 1999,
at Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada.

And the most pitiful thing of all is that, in the name of God,
Christians who ought to know better
are busy blessing and praising the disease on the ground
that this is a matter of "openness to the world"
and "adjustment to modern times."

Thomas Merton, "Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander"

No matter what may be the extenuating circumstances,
everyone of us
has to admit that our blindness
is largely our own fault.
Thomas Merton, "The New Man"
         In his now classic text on eco-theology, The Dream of the Earth (1988), Thomas Berry argued that "Western religious traditions have been so occupied with redemptive healing ... that they tend to ignore creation as it is experienced in our times."[1] As a result, he adds, " ... traditional Western spiritualities have not enabled their followers to mitigate or even to understand or protest the terrifying assault of American society on the natural world."[2] The central message of Berry's thesis is that we must re-establish a spiritual "intimacy" with the earth since, given the gravity of the present environmental crisis, "we will die."[3]

        What Berry refers to as spiritual "intimacy" here is "the sublime expression of the deepest mystery of the universe: the revelation of the divine."[4] Such intimacy is urgently needed to balance our overly scientific-technological relationship to the earth. It is this latter relationship with its emphasis on objectivity, analysis, and instrumentality that have led to the crass degradation of our air and water resources upon which we depend for our biological existence. Berry's hope is that as we enter this new "ecological age" we awaken to the numinous powers ever present in the phenomenal world and our genetic endowment and "renew our human participation in the grand liturgy of the universe."[5]

        Almost ten years later, David Suzuki, in his book, The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering Our Place in Nature (1997),[6] makes the same urgent plea concerning the environment. Unlike Thomas Berry, however, who is a Catholic theologian, David Suzuki is a secular scientist. What is interesting in Suzuki's case is that he too devotes a chapter to the need for a spiritual dimension to further combat environmental degradation. Like Berry, Suzuki has come to the conclusion that scientific narratives and warnings of environmental decay alone are incapable of generating a change in human behaviour and orientation toward nature. Scientific pronouncements alone do not have the motive power to radically awake us from our autistic slumber in the midst of the earth's demise.[7] In this light, both Suzuki and Berry call for a re-visitation with wisdom traditions that honour spiritual values in nature.

        However, in making such a clarion call, both authors admit that the environmental crisis is, at heart, a crisis of our humanity. This latter crisis is a crisis of human identity endemic to our post-modern era.In the late twentieth century, the human person is often characterized in the literature as a disenfranchised self, one who is set free from fixed social roles, constraints of duty to a community, and lastly, set free from any recognition of being dependent on the limited resources of the earth.[8]  Given the absence of any purpose but material ones, the post-modern self seeks fulfilment through ecologically damaging consumerism that is fuelled by the morality of utilitarian individualism. As such, answers to our environmental problems will not be technical ones alone, but must include a fundamental transformation in explaining to ourselves the purpose of life and our relationship to the earth. Such a transformation appeals therefore to the spiritual dimension of our humanity, a dimension that is cultivated through various forms of contemplative behaviour.

        In the course of this paper, I would like to address these two very large themes, namely, our present environmental crisis and Christian contemplation.[9] In the first part of the paper I will detail, from a "second-wave" perspective, the environmental crisis as it manifests itself with respect to both water and air in our immediate bioregion - the Great Lakes basin. Second, I will briefly describe Aquinas' world-view, and his notion of philosophical contemplation. I will contend that the inaction toward the environment by many Christian believers today is a function of the fact that their world-view is still informed by Aquinas' anthropology which does not encourage an ecological awareness in the least. This will be followed by a contrast, in the final part, with the thought of Thomas Merton who, at the end of the twentieth century, sees political action as one of the essential fruits of contemplation. This contrast is important because many of the eco-theologians today appropriate Aquinas and not Merton. Yet, in what I will present, it is Merton's sense of contemplation that offers the corrective direction called for by both Berry and Suzuki.


       I concur with Berry when he states that at the end of the twentieth century, "interhuman tensions" are secondary to "earth-human tensions."[10] Never before has the global population lived under the threat of its own destruction from the very fact it has sullied the air and fouled the water it needs to subsist biologically.[11] In the last several years, there has been a discernible shift in environmental organizations and their mandates. Traditionally, their focus as been on conservation and preservation of natural habitants, delicate and unique ecosystems, biodiversity, and the cessation of emissions of all kinds that deteriorate air, water, and land. At present, the focus has shifted from conservation to preventing human health effects from all levels of toxic contamination.As will be shown shortly, the literature now linking health effects to toxic contamination is substantial, robust, and convincing. Consequently, we are in a period of second-wave environmentalism where the stakes are much higher. The challenge now is to protect basic human health given that our biosphere is almost completely toxified.[12]  Yet, many remain oblivious to the potential crisis of human health that creeps ever closer as we continually increase the toxic loads to our water and air resources - not to mention the growing menace of both global warming and the depletion of the ozone layer.

        What accounts for our societal indifference to the state of our health from environmental degradation? Part of the problem is that the topic is not considered important by the media services we depend upon for such information.
In his introduction, Suzuki cites one glaring example.

        On November 18th, 1992, some five months after the largest gathering of heads of state in history at the Earth Summit in Rio, a document was released entitled "World Scientists' Warning to Humanity." It was signed by more than sixteen hundred senior scientists in seventy-one countries including half of all Nobel Prize winners still alive at the time. It was one of the most unprecedented consensus ever made by the intellectual elite in the world. The warning was eloquent but blunt. No more than a few decades remain before current human practices make human life, as we know it on the planet today, unsustainable. Despite the credentials of the report and the gravity of its message, when the warning was released to the press, Canada's national newspaper and television network ignored it, while in the United States, The Washington Post and The New York Times rejected it as "not newsworthy." Suzuki goes on in his summary to note the types of items that did make front page news on November 19th - mostly political and financial reports. In his own words, he states:

Behind the silence - and partly because of the silence - the eco-destruction continues, compromising the future for all the coming generations. That is our true challenge today - not debts and deficits or global competition but the need to find a way to live rich, fulfilling lives without destroying the planet's biosphere, which supports all life.Humanity has never before faced such a threat: the collapse of the very elements that keep us alive.[13]
        Let me begin to detail this eco-destruction as it pertains specifically to the Great Lakes Basin since I believe it is absolutely important to be informed and aware of what is happening in one’s local immediate environment. While this summary could include water, air, soil, and biodiversity, I will restrict my presentation to the water and air only.

a) Water Contamination

        Approximately 40 million people live in the Great Lakes Basin and over half of this population depend on the Lakes as a source of drinking water. At present, the most conservative estimate of toxic releases to the air and water of the entire basin are 126,364 tonnes per year.[14] This does not include those toxins that are transported by air through what is known as "the grasshopper effect."[15] The Great Lakes are such a large, slowly circulating water system that a drop of rain entering the upper lakes can take a century or longer to reach the St. Lawrence and the ocean.This means that the Lakes retain contaminants far longer than a quick flushing river system, and toxic contaminants build up more rapidly than they would in the vast, open ocean.

        Because of this unique geography, the Great Lakes represent an early warning system for toxic pollution impacting the planet as a whole. What is important to note is that the present toxic contamination of the Great Lakes is not necessarily a cosmetic one. It is arguably true that since the later 1970's, water clarity in all the Lakes has in fact increased. However, toxic pollution is not necessarily connected with large algae blooms associated with the process of eutrophication, or with surface sediments and murky water. In fact, the irritating thing about toxic contamination is that it is invisible except in its toxicological effects on organisms high in the food chain. The important expert, therefore, is no longer the biologist or naturalist but the epidemiologist.

        The work on toxic contamination in the Great Lakes Basin is some thirty years old with early research being done on general physiological defects and reproductive problems in small mammals, local bird and fish populations. That work took a vital step forward in the early 1980's with the results of research from Wayne State University confirming a connection between human injury and toxic pollution of the Lakes.

        The chemicals that are of very great concern today because of their impact on human health are generically known as Persistent Organic Pollutants (or, POPs for short). These chemicals resist breakdown by natural processes for long periods of time, and are thus persistent in the environment. These chemicals are all organochlorines; they include dioxins, furans, PCBs and hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH), DDT, chlordane, heptachlor, aldrin, dieldrin, eldrin, toxaphene and mirex (these eight latter ones being pesticides). Most POPs enter the Great Lakes as airborne fallout from industrial smokestacks and incinerators, while others enter from pesticides and volatile synthetics that move on wind currents that circulate between air, land, and water.

        Most of us today who live in the Great Lakes Basin, and indeed world-wide, are exposed to Persistent Organic Pollutants, and our bodies, in varying degrees, contain such contaminants. They are mainly ingested through what we eat. Persistent Organic Pollutants (especially, the organochlorines) are fat-soluble and they tend to accumulate in fatty tissues of the body. The combined characteristics of being fat-soluble and persistent make their presence even more problematic because of the processes of bio-magnification and bio-accumulation. This means that there is a build-up of contaminants in an organism over time; when an organism eats another organism lower on the food chain, the higher organism inherits the entire contaminant load of the lower organism. Interestingly, both Health Canada and Environment Canada treat the bodies of Beluga whales that wash ashore in the Gulf of St. Lawrence as hazardous waste and treat their disposal in an appropriate manner.

        In the last year, The United Nation's Environmental Programme Governing Council have prioritised 12 Persistent Organic Pollutants because of their known toxicity to human health. These particular twelve Persistent Organic Pollutants are important because they are all known to be endocrine disrupting chemicals, or sometimes, more commonly known as hormone disruptors.

        Presently, Canada's Great Lakes Basin has the dubious distinction of being one of the best-documented areas with regard to the effects of hormone disruptors. The persuasive effect of endocrine or hormone disruption in both wildlife and humans has been galvanized in part by the work of Dr. Theo Colborn. Thirty years of research has been summarized recently in her book, Our Stolen Future.[16]

        Why are hormone disruptors so worrisome? Hormones, such as estrogen, testosterone, and thyroxin act as chemical messengers and provide detailed instructions for neural development, sexual differentiation, and the development of the immune system, sperm production and ovulation. These hormones operate at extremely low concentrations (in some cases in concentrations of trillionths of a gram). The studies of Colborn and others have shown that persistent organic pollutants can mimic, block, and/or interfere with functions of naturally produced female and male hormones in tissue cultures and laboratory animals. Laboratory animal studies reveal that fetuses and infants are especially susceptible to bioaccumulating and hormone disrupting chemicals because exposures occur during critical periods of early tissue and organ development.  One of the current controversies is the contaminant exposure to infants from maternal milk.Current surveys show that for some human infants, the daily intake of PCBs, dioxins, and dioxin-like contaminants from breast milk may exceed established guidelines.[17] The average breast-fed baby in Canada presently exceeds the World Health Organization's maximum "tolerable daily intake" for dioxin by a factor of 15.[18] In the most highly exposed populations in the Canada, namely, the Arctic, the level of contamination of breast milk is several times higher again.[19]

        More specific studies have indicated that children whose mothers consumed large amounts of Great Lakes fish showed reduced intellectual development, reduced growth in size, and neurobehavioral impairments. Furthermore, research points to a distinct decrease in the sperm quality and quantity as well as reduced testosterone levels in men.[20]

        Where earlier studies reported effects following relatively high exposure to these chemicals as a result of accidental or occupational exposure, newer studies indicate that such effects may occur at tissue levels which are at, or near to, those currently found in the general population as a consequence of unavoidable everyday human exposure to these compounds.

        The debate about levels of Persistent Organic Pollutants in breast milk and what to do about it, however, remains highly politically charged. International studies reveal that Persistent Organic Pollutants are found at significant levels in the breast milk of women world-wide.[21]  In some industrialized countries, the average level of contamination of human breast milk by PCBs, for example, is near the legal limit for cow's milk sold commercially.

        I have not dealt with the problem of drinking water from the Great Lakes. Let it suffice to say that there are two central controversies of public concern. One is the presence of microbes found to be resistant to most local drinking water disinfection processes, especially encysted forms of protozoan parasites such as Cryptosporidium. Second, there is serious concern of the toxic by-products of drinking water disinfection itself - namely the problem of trihalomethanes.[22]

b) Air Contamination

        Today, like never before, our industrialized country depends on fossil fuels as a major source of energy for automobiles, electricity, and industrial processes. The result is the creation of a mix of air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen, ozone, sulphur dioxide, volatile organic compounds, and small airborne particulates (what are now commonly called PM 2.5 and PM 10). In the last five years the effects of these pollutants on human health have taken on a new urgency. The Canadian government under the auspices of both Environment Canada and Health Canada now estimates that eight per cent of all non-traumatic deaths, approximately 16,000 per year, are attributable to air pollution.[23]

        In the Ontario Regional Municipality of Hamilton - Wentworth, the estimated number of premature mortalities (particularly on bad-air days) range from 90 to as high as 321.[24] In comparison, Ontario's Smog Plan Working Group (1996) has estimated a total of approximately 1800 premature mortalities and 1,400 hospital admissions per year province wide due to the effects of the inhalable particulates alone.[25]

        In the last year, Health Canada statistician, Dr. Rick Burnett, states that the correlation between the number of premature deaths and the daily rise in certain air pollutants has been replicated not only in most major cities nationally, but internationally as well. Models are now available for predicting precisely the number of deaths expected in certain cities should the temperature rise to a certain point given the presence of certain pollutants, especially PM 2.5s and PM 10s.  For example, if current levels of particulate matter were slightly increased in Hamilton over a year, this would mean an additional 92 deaths, 74 hospital admissions, 37,444 asthma days, 559,820 reduced activity days and 1,735,488 acute respiratory symptoms.[26]

        However, it should be recognized that these serious outcomes of hospital admissions and deaths are just the tip of the iceberg. These pollutants lead to a number of other morbidity effects, as for example, adult chronic bronchitis, hospital emergency room visits, asthma symptom days, restricted activity days, acute respiratory symptom days, and bronchitis in children.[27]

        Presently, those most vulnerable to air pollution are children, the elderly and people with existing illness, especially heart and lung diseases. Between 1980 and 1990, for example, hospitalization of young children in Canada for asthma increased by 28 per cent among boys and 18 per cent among girls. In Ontario, the number of infants admitted to hospital for pneumonia, bronchiolitis and bronchitis in the summer months increase by 20 per cent when ozone and sulphate levels increase.[28]

        Dr. Burnett, speaking in Hamilton in October,[29] indicated that Health Canada is having great difficulty in 'managing' this information. It is finding it extremely difficult to state the results in a non-threatening manner, namely, how does such an agency formulate a policy statement saying that at current ambient concentrations, urban air pollution may pose a serious health risk. In short, on hot summer days in urban environments, breathing for many has become a health liability.

        What has been stated above should be put into a wider context, namely, that on the whole, the Great Lakes Basin is losing on another front, namely, biodiversity. As traditional agricultural practises move toward practises of agri-business, there is a predicted increase of toxic substances due to the use of pesticides and herbicides that will, in turn, potentially decrease bird and wildlife populations. Furthermore, there is the replacement of the Great-Lakes mixed Decidious forests with pine monocultures, the increasing loss of wetlands to urban and industrial development, and the cultivation and replacement of fish stocks with only selected genotypes which need large amounts of chemical support for their unnatural production.

        This decrease in indigenous plant and wildlife species in the basin must be seen against a even yet wider background. That newly established Living Planet Index has recently estimated that one third of the natural world has been destroyed by human activity in the past 25 years.[30]

        This fall in biodiversity is ultimately a health issue. At the shallowest level, there is the regret for the loss of species whose potential utility to humankind is yet to be discovered. At another level, species loss is worrisome because certain species act as "indicator species" of the state of nature, much in the same way canaries did for the state of air in coal mines. In other words, when such species disappear, they indicate that the planet as a whole may have become less habitable in a way that may be relevant to humanity.

        Let me finish this first part by stating that reliable sources are presently announcing serious and quantifiable health concern to human beings because of environmental degradation.[31] In many cases, large urban centres in Canada can no longer guarantee safe drinking water and uncontaminated air to its citizens. People in certain sub-groups are dying and various environmentally related illnesses are becoming more apparent locally, and across the general population.

        At the end of such a summary, the key question that needs to be addressed is this: is it acceptable that we permit the ongoing ingestion into our bodies of such toxic pollutants "involuntarily" and accommodate ourselves to their effects without ever addressing the cause, the consequences, and possible solutions?

        The obvious answer is no, but the silence on part of the general public, legislators, and policy-makers is resounding. In our culture, what could possibly lie at the root of such a silence?


        In order to address these questions, I would like to jump to another plane of analysis. Owing to the lethal impact of environmental decline, I am interested in knowing why, for example, such questions as above are not part of our common discourse today as a nation, or a local community, regardless of the presence of many earnest Christians who, by and large, are virtuous and would not harm others intentionally?

        In this section, I would like to discuss Thomas Aquinas' notion of contemplation. For the most part, Eurocentric Christians today still live under the long shadow cast by Aquinas' metaphysics and theology as it informs us of how we fit into creation and our purpose therein. In this light, St. Thomas's thought is also a worldview. By worldview, I mean the collection of images, ideas, attitudes and beliefs that attempt to locate the person in the larger scheme of things, in the cosmos, along with the meaning and values that human beings attribute to that location. Aquinas' notion of contemplation should be understood as fundamental component to the worldview articulated in his works. This will be the chief distinction in the next section, when I discuss Merton's notion of contemplation.Merton's reflections do not supply our generation with a worldview as much as his notion of contemplation, ultimately, reacts to a world-view not of his own making. It is this reaction that makes the contrast between these two Christian thinkers striking and why it is Merton, I will argue, who is the better candidate for eco-theologians to promote in advocating a new Christian concern for nature.

        St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 C.E.) is one of the central Doctors of the Catholic Church. His theological naturalism was constructed on the basis of many philosophical influences and perhaps none greater than Aristotle (383-321 B.C.E.). Thomas's systematic approach to the theological and philosophical questions of his day has been both explicit and implicit mainstay of Catholic thought up until today.

        One of the great problems with Aquinas' thought is that it was too quickly reduced to a technical vocabulary and turned into an "-ism" known variously as "Thomistic scholasticism" or just "Thomism." His thought, subsequently, became the purview of only experts and the scholars. Some of Aquinas' more vibrant and revolutionary spirit has been captured only by a few. Ones that come to mind are Père Marie Dominic Chenu, Josef Pieper, Athanasius Weisheipl, Etienne Gilson, Jacques Maritain and even G. K. Chesterton.[32]

        However, let me make reference to a new interest in St. Thomas by theologians and scholars, most of whom see creation as the first order of revelation and therefore add a theological dimension to the present environmental debates.

        Today, for example, some eco-theologians, like Matthew Fox, have conscripted the thought and vision of Aquinas in order to show the consistency of an ecological promise inherent in Christian theology. Fox, once a Dominican priest like Aquinas, goes so far as to claim that "Aquinas represents a giant step forward in the West's rediscovery of the ecological consciousness."[33]

        The central theme that re-occurs in some literature[34] is that Aquinas, in following Aristotle, turns toward the world and gives to thirteenth-century Christian thought a respect for nature, for the physical, and for the concrete reality of the universe. The theology of Aquinas is seen as a reaction against other theologies that "de-nature" nature by engrossing itself in allegorical and symbolic systems. St. Thomas, rather, returned to the realities that the symbols were intended to signify. For the eco-theologians, Aquinas' argument on the order, design, and variety in creation conveys a type of rightness ordained by God that demands a reverence for it on our part. One of the oft-quoted passages from the first part of Aquinas' magisterial work, the Summa Theologiae (1266-1274 incomplete) reads:

For he [God] brought things into existence so that his goodness might be communicated to creatures and re-enacted through them.And because one single creature was not enough, he produced many and diverse, so that what was wanting in one expression of the divine goodness might be supplied by another, for goodness, which in God is single and all together, in creatures is multiple and scattered.Hence, the whole universe less incompletely than one alone shares and represents his goodness.[35]
        Stated in more modern terms, the very bio-diversity of the planet is inherently good and beholds a divine purpose; it is an onto-theologically necessity. Again, from the Summa Theologiae: "Creation is none other than the relation of the creature to the Creator as to the principle of its very being."[36] This refers to the fact that Aquinas conceived of creation as a universal hierarchical structure where the gradations of the hierarchy of being define an ontological link between the spiritual and the material. As such, nearest to God are the purely angelic creatures; next, human creatures, or embodied spirits with rational souls; then come animals, plants, and material elements. This hierarchical structure is a valuable insight in that it gives a foundation for reverence of other creatures as brothers and sisters sharing the relationship of divine recognition and dependence. Human beings, because of their rational souls, have the added pleasure of working toward their ordained end, which is happiness (beatitudo) and is achieved in the contemplation of God.[37]

        For Aquinas, therefore, the act of contemplation is embedded in his metaphysical scheme and is central to the gap often observed in Aquinas between the philosophical and theological concepts of human happiness. Contemplation is the end point of a process of analogous reasoning that starts with the sense world. By higher and higher levels of intellection, the human being finally realizes that God alone satisfies the intellect's desire to seek the good. The intellect arrives at this point by the gradual elimination of objects other than God. Then theology intervenes, and insists there is yet a higher state to attain which surpasses the powers of our rational nature.This higher state is given by grace. The "blessedness of abstraction" is replaced by the "blessedness of vision."

        As such, the universe as represented by Aquinas is not a mass of inert bodies passively moved by a forces which pass through them, but a collection of active beings each enjoying the efficacy delegated to it by God, Actual Being. A taste of that joy was attainable by the most rational of embodied beings, the human being, in the act of contemplation.

        What is stated above, however, is only the inner dynamic of a much larger dynamic expressed in the Summa Theologiae. The first part of the work articulates the emanation of all things (the exitus) from God, who is here the Principle of being. The second part of the work depicts the return (the reditus) of things, each according to its nature, to God, who is the end, the telos of being. All creatures, particularly human creatures, and all events, particularly human events, are framed between two causes, the efficient cause of creation and the final cause of God glorified.

        Perhaps it is Bettini's engraving of 'Monte Sancto di Dio' (1477) that best depicts the Medieval world-view espoused by St. Thomas (click figure 1). In this figure, the human subject is immersed in the natural world with its sole purpose of existence to ascend from the created world by way of virtuous behaviour and contemplation to union with God.

        In the Christian narrative of salvation history, the image of the mountain is very important. One can easily make a list of key events that take place on high places in the Bible - Mt. Carmel, Mt. Zion, Mt. Sinai, Mountain of the Beatitudes, Mountain of the Transfiguration, Mount of Olives, and so forth. It is perhaps Mircea Eliade who explains best this image in that the sense of the sacred mountain is an axis mundi (the centre of the world). The verticality of the mountain – as opposed to the horizontal - is a crucial symbol in trying to situate oneself in a world that is understood at once as divinely bestowed and sustained by the same divine nature. It is a thoroughly theocentric worldview.[38]

        Associated with the key symbol of the mountain are the metaphors of ascent and the metaphor of fecundity, abundance, and plenitude. As a created being, the human being is immersed in the plenitude of creation surrounded by plants, birds, animals, and the grandeur of the seemingly inanimate elements. Yet, the proper end of the human being is to ascend from the material world, first through contemplation, and then consummation, in order to achieve an ultimate union with the Godhead. Notice that in Bettini's piece the ladder is chained at the bottom end. The note says that the climber is blind until he or she at least attains the first four virtues; the mountain itself is tiered (hope, faith, charity), and there is always the potential of failure given the presence of evil (bottom of figure) and human weakness.

        As such, the created world for Aquinas becomes a stepping stone first for our contemplation of God and then our final consummation in God. The mountain becomes the median point between the world of pure form and the world of form still attached to matter. While God is present in all creatures, God is also removed from all creatures according to their place in the hierarchy of being. This is why Gilson called Aquinas' world "an ordered discontinuity" with an impassable abyss between the freely created universe and God the Creator.[39] This sense of ontological discontinuity becomes the key to the ultimate value and disvalue one sees in the created world. Chenu summarizes the dilemma well for the 12th and 13th century Christian when he says, "The Christian contemplating the world is torn by a double attraction: to attain God through the world, the order of which reveals its Creator, or to renounce the world, from which God is radically distinct."[40]

        Hence, it is this "ordered discontinuity" that ultimately makes Aquinas’ appropriation by modern eco-theologians very difficult. While on the surface there is something appealing about the interconnectedness between created being and a celebration of created diversity fused with the human desire for union with God, there is a gnawing inner ambiguity about the earth and its integrity. Let me summarize this ambiguity in three short points.[41]

        First, the weight of the hierarchy of being for Aquinas is not with material creatures but with the angelic. Aquinas was not called the Angelic Doctor for naught. In the Summa he writes, "... angels, even as they are immaterial substances, exist in exceeding great number, far beyond all material multitude."[42] Hence, in terms of proportion, Bettini got it right in devoting at least one-half of his piece to the angelic immaterial realm.

        Second, although all creatures are ordained to the divine goodness as their end, Aquinas says that "some are closer to the end than others, and so participate in the divine goodness more abundantly."[43] Hence, lesser creatures, having a smaller share in the divine goodness, "are in some way subordinated to higher beings as to their ends." More specifically, "lower beings realize their last end chiefly by their subordination to higher beings." Then, Aquinas points to the concrete order of the universe itself: "As we observe ..., imperfect beings serve the needs of more noble beings; plants draw their nutriment from the earth, animals feed on plants, and these in turn serve man's use.We conclude, then, that lifeless beings exist for living beings, plants for animals, and the latter for man." Further, in the same passage, Aquinas argues that since intellectual nature is superior to material nature, "the whole of the material nature is subordinate to intellectual nature." This means, in turn, "that the whole of material nature exists for man, inasmuch as he is a rational animal."[44] Aquinas concludes on this more accurately when he states in the Summa that "the less perfect fall to the use of the more perfect" such that the life of animals and plants is preserved not for themselves but for man.[45] Consequently, for Thomas, when our ascension is complete "in the consummation of the world," - when our animal life ceases - the visible and tangible world of animals, plants, minerals, and all the mixed bodies, will not be renewed because they are incapable of renewal.[46]

        Aquinas' anthropocentrism here is not yet that of a Descartes, for whom knowledge is essentially, power over nature. Nor is it by any means the anthropocentrism of later industrial society, according to which nature is a storehouse of resources available for human exploitation. Yet, Aquinas' view is not totally dissimilar from these approaches to nature either.[47] When he sees nature, he sees something created essentially to satisfy basic human needs and to aid the human ascent toward God. Nature is seen more as an object for human use, which satisfies biological needs and serves spiritual knowledge, than as a subject in its own right.

        Third, there is the ambiguity between the priority that Aquinas allots to the common good and the individual good.[48] In the second part of the Summa, Aquinas insists, as strongly as any good Marxist, that the common good takes precedence over the good of the individual, just as the good of the cosmos as a whole is a greater good than the good of any one creature, however exalted.[49] Yet, in the previous section of the Summa, Aquinas already affirmed the duty of self-love and the irreducible worth of the individual just as strongly. Indeed, Aquinas insists that each person is under serious obligation to seek his or her own good correctly, that is, by pursuing the fundamental inclinations of human life in a way that respects their intrinsic ordering.[50]

        Consequently, if eco-theologians wish to conscript Aquinas' for their ends, and attempt to make the point that there is a poignant ecological promise latent in Christian theology, especially in Aquinas, then they must take Aquinas as a whole. Santmire summarizes the dilemmas by saying that "we are offered a onto-theology that both affirms nature and denies nature: one that stresses, under the rubric of creation, the overflowing goodness of God, yet which highlights, under the rubric of redemption, the nature-denying finality of fulfilment in God."[51]

        Let me make it clear, for Thomas, creation is ordered, purposeful, and teleological. Human beings have a place in it; we know our place, and our ends. The ladder of virtue is perfective of our rational natures permitting us the contemplation of God and actualizes our intended happiness. However, the price for Aquinas' vision seems to be a type of indifference if not exploitation of the created world for the exclusive use of our redemption alone. Aquinas' sense of contemplation, while edifying, does not necessarily lead one to take the created world seriously, respect the earth's integrity, and to take responsibility for its well-being. While St. Thomas's metaphysical system and theology may be the most cohesive world-view ever written, I do not think it encourages the type of moral behaviour and action needed to confront our wilful destruction of the biosphere today.


        In jumping to the twentieth-century, let me address another Christian author whose fame and literary output makes him as well known to many as Aquinas' reputation had been in the previous centuries. I am speaking here of Thomas Merton, a Catholic Trappist monk who is perhaps one of the most important contemporary authors in the area of Catholic spirituality this century.  Merton was born in France in 1915, lived the life of a gypsy student, converted to Catholicism, entered the cloistered life of a severe Trappist monastery in Kentucky, and died, accidentally in Bangkok, Thailand, in 1968. Precisely one half of his fifty-four years was lived outside the monastery and one half inside. He became recognized internationally in 1948 with his autobiography entitled The Seven Story Mountain (1948). Perhaps his most celebrated text on spirituality is entitled Seeds of Contemplation (1949). As a monk, he published some 51 different books ranging from historical tracts, to poetry, to social commentary.

        Above all else, Merton is the consummate observer of life, especially his own, with all of its existential trials and tribulations being so well documented in his voluminous diaries and journals. The last of these was just recently published under the title of Turning Toward the World: The Pivotal Years[52] - an accurate title in terms of what I will say about Merton's thinking in the years leading to his death.

        In these journals, one finds Merton contending with his human experience as a student, a teacher, a postulant, a priest, a monk, and a social activist. His first appeal to make sense of such experiences is not Christian theology necessarily. He passes them through, rather, the prism of his own introspective solitude and then enriches them by contrast and in discussion with the early Church fathers, the eremite tradition, Catholic theology, Eastern philosophy, as well as both fictional and non-fictional literature. For those who have read Merton's journals, one finds someone in constant communion with physical nature. He is forever walking in the forest, commenting on the birds, trees, and natural settings where he takes many of his guests to sit and talk.[53]

        Unlike, Aquinas, Merton does not provide a well-formulated metaphysics, a doctrine of natural law, or a theory of moral virtue. Rather, he takes much of Aquinas for granted and radicalizes it. What does this mean? In his autobiography, The Seven Story Mountain, Merton had already studied Aquinas before his vocation as a professed religious began officially.[54] In the epilogue to The Seven Story Mountain, he engages Aquinas in a long discussion concerning "contemplata tradere," loosely translated as what comes after or the fruits of contemplation. Here he conflates Aquinas' more philosophical appreciation of contemplation with the profoundly spiritual practice of contemplation and concludes that no one is excluded from the need to contemplate and to share the fruits of this practise.

        This means, in practice, that there is only one vocation. Whether you teach or live in the cloister or nurse the sick, whether you are in religion or out of it, married or single, no matter who you are or what you are, you are called to the summit of perfection: you are called to a deep interior life perhaps even to mystical prayer, and to pass the fruits of your contemplation on to others. And if you cannot do so by word, then by example.[55]

        Hence, not unlike Socrates who encouraged everyone - at a price - to examine themselves interiorly, not only to deepen and enrich their own lives, but that of the polis as well, Merton, in 1948, expands the practice of contemplation for those outside of a strictly religious vocation. In the last several years of his life, I would suggest, he further expanded the boundaries of contemplation beyond personal conversion and self-discovery to include political activism as well.

        For Merton, contemplation is not an act of intellection alone.[56] Where Aquinas situates contemplation in his larger metaphysical schema of the individual soul seeking a level of imperfect happiness in the possession of God through theoretical reason, Merton's notion of contemplation issues from the larger properly mystical tradition of "vita contemplativa". In this tradition, the presence of God is experienced as a type of awakening, a sudden gift of awareness of being able to witness the Real within what is empirically real. It is an awareness of our contingent reality as received, as a present from God, as a free gift rooted in the experience of solitude, thoughtful concentration, and openness to the world as it is lived.[57] In very crude terms, where contemplation for Aquinas is a philosophical "looking up," for Merton, contemplation is an existential "looking around" with an ever deepening sense that the physical world is not merely present to us in a detached manner, but that we are undergoing a deeper experience of "presence."[58]

        In an early biography released shortly after Merton's death (on which Merton had himself collaborated), Dennis McInerny breaks Merton's life into three periods.[59] First, prior to his entrance into the cloistered life, Merton is the nascent critic of the world having lived both in Europe and America and seeing the Continent come to the brink of war. Writings from his student days at Columbia focused on poverty, the disparity of wealth, and the impotence of political systems to deal with such problems. Second, upon entering the monastery, his writing takes on an "other worldly" attitude with works devoted almost entirely to the monastic life and the lives of the saints. Merton admits that he had assumed, naively perhaps, that upon entering the thick walls of the monastery he had left the mad world happily behind. The third period begins in 1955 when Merton returns to questions of a "this worldly" nature starting with the book, No Man is an Island. These writings take on an urgency with a poignant focus on political and social issues as Merton attempts to come to grips with his response as a Christian to a world that seems to have embraced both potential annihilation and chaos. Hence, where once he had written books strictly for spiritual edification such as The Waters of Siloe (1949), Thoughts in Solitude (1956), we now see the appearance of such texts as Seeds of Destruction (1964), Conjectures of a Guilt Bystander (1966), Faith and Violence (1968), The Non-Violent Alternative (1971), Contemplation in a World of Action (1971).

        The gist of these later texts express a "this worldly" attitude and deal with a Christian's life in and obligations toward the world. The theme is clear: "if the Christian was ever justified in turning his [or her] back on the chaos of the times, he or she could do no longer in good conscience. He [or she] must confront the chaos head-on and do what [one] could to ameliorate it."[60] Hence, Merton himself becomes an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, the nuclear arms race, and a supporter of the civil rights movement. However, he does not stop there but goes on to write, more consistently than another theme, a constant critique of modern American society and the danger it poses to the spiritual growth and maturation of the human person.

        In one of his last books, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander,[61] Merton admonishes his readers not to be bystanders. The quintessential reason why most of us have been rendered bystanders is a loss of what Merton calls our authentic identity and being. Here Merton reflects directly on the worth and value of Aquinas' sense of created being for the modern world.[62]

        "The real root-sin of the modern person," Merton argues, "is that, in ignoring and condemning being, and especially one's own being, we have made existence an affliction and disease."[63] What stops us "from living humanly is our own deeply ingrained habit of delusion" that arises from ... "the sham, the unreality, the alienation, the forced systematization of life" that compromises our humanity.[64] The compromise starts with the contrived belief of popular culture that, at bottom, sees the individual as a completely free autonomous self with unlimited possibilities. This attempt to be "as a god," Merton warns, does nothing but squeeze the individual into a "spiritual and psychic cramp"[65] devoid of any anchorage in love of being, love of community, and love of God. The result is a deep inner anguish that is expressed outwardly as resentment toward life as if life were a problem to be solved and not a mystery to be embraced.[66]

        If I had to choose a certain piece of art to depict Merton's sense of the alienated self in the modern world, I would point to Edvard Munch's "The Scream" (1893) (click figure 2 or click here). This piece is often used to express the existential crisis of the post-war world in which, for various reasons, the human being is found isolated and alone in the cosmos. It expresses the sense of nihilism and all the angst of being cast into a world,  willy-nilly,  without any ontological and theological anchorage. The human being, now claimed a dispirited free and autonomous being, is unable to find any communion with beings (noting the distance of others on the boardwalk), and in the end, becomes a mere speck on the banal and formless background of the physical world de-spirited by science. If there is meaning, it shifts, arises, and disappears like distant ships seen on the horizon. Lastly, alienated from any positive notion of being, the contemporary individual screams from - as noted above - "the psychic and spiritual cramp" of thinking itself a god but yet remains powerless to soothe its own anguish.

        For Merton, in losing touch with our authentic being, and thus with God, we become children of despair as we fall into a senseless idolatry of production and consumption as substitutes for mystery, grace, and gratitude. The consequence of this idolatry of the strictly temporal is the illusion that mechanical progress means human improvement. We have convinced ourselves, en masse, Merton argues, that our life can only be made better "if we have a better car, a better TV set, a better toothpaste, etc., such that we condemn and destroy our own reality and the reality of our natural resources."[67] In the name of embellishing this false goal of self aggrandizement through material goods, there are two consequences - a further loss of self and the destruction of creation. Merton enunciates this eloquently in No Man is An Island:

Those who love their own noise are impatient of everything else.They constantly defile the silence of the forest and the mountains and the sea. They bore through silent nature in every direction with their machines, for fear that the calm world might accuse them of their own emptiness. ... There are some men for whom a tree has no reality until they think of cutting it down, for whom an animal has no value until it enters the slaughterhouse. ... These men can hardly know the silence of love: for their love is the absorption of another person's silence into their own noise. And because they do not know the silence of love, they cannot know the silence of God, who is Charity.[68]
        With this observation in mind, it is little wonder that Merton was fascinated by Rachel Carson's Silent Spring[69] - the seminal text for the contemporary environmental movement - and links his thesis of the alienated self in the modern world with environmental degradation. In a journal entry dated December 11, 1962, Merton writes:
I have been shocked at a notice of a new book by Rachel Carson [Silent Spring]  ... on what is happening to birds as a result of the indiscriminate use of poisons ... Someone will say: you worry about birds: why not worry about people. I worry about both birds and people. We are in the world and part of it and are destroying everything because we are destroying ourselves, spiritually, morally, and in every way. It is all part of the same sickness, and it all hangs together.[70]
        In short, the nuclear arms race, environmental degradation, racial prejudice, and war, are deep symptoms of our spiritual capitulation to the idols of the modern world and a rejection of any ontological truths that cannot be bought, purchased, or owned by any one individual's will-to-power. Said in other terms, when our modern identity is no longer rooted in God's love for us, but in the images of modern advertising and the fads of the day we are at war with ourselves (agonia) and ultimately with creation itself.[71] Consequently, evils of all sorts in the world are almost entirely our own doing.[72]

        The only way to reclaim a deeper sense of personal authenticity is through earnest desire and the rediscovery of God's love at the source of all personal identity. For this contemplation is the key.[73] Contemplation here is not a pain-killer, a form of escape, or the product of calculated ambition. It is the on-going process outwardly exhibited through the disciplines of prayer, solitude and moderation in order to undergo the inner conversion (metanoia) that frees us from our own confusions and obsessions. For Merton, the whole of Christian theology and its sacraments are designed preeminently to de-center and re-center the self in God. The result is a grounded identity that enlivens the capacities of the intellect, the imagination, and the intuition to see the world as mystery; to see our individual lives as redeemed; to see the role of the Christian as prophetic. Contemplation as such does not lead to a new interior perfectionism for its own sake but, rather, a new orientation toward creation.[74]

        Unlike Aquinas, the orientation of contemplation for Merton is not only vertical but horizontal as well."The Seeds of Contemplation" lead to "The New Man" who does not step out of the world but one who engages it. This is the theme that captivates Merton for the latter part of his life. In works starting in 1955, the fruits of contemplation is a "turn[ing] to the world" which includes "respect for one another as well as living and growing things."[75] However, this respect is not a mere aesthetic or romantic appreciation but a form of behaviour that is at once confrontive and dissenting.

... I think there remain creative possibilities for those who can recognize some other source of hope and understanding than that which is offered by society speaking through the mass media. One who can exchange the refusal to live for an intelligent and creative social dissent may perhaps discover ways of [their] own out of the general confusion. But in any case these ways will open themselves to [us] as providential gifts.[76]
        As is well known, Merton himself became active politically in his latter years earning him criticism from both Church authorities and his readers. While he spoke out eloquently against the Vietnam war and the curse of racism, he spent his deeper passions on illuminating our unconscious complicity to an industrial-military complex that rendered injustice, oppression, and war as acceptable means to ensure our cultural pursuit of happiness. In an essay entitled "Christian Action in World Crisis,"[77] Merton is most blunt yet nuanced. "Beliefs and politics can no longer be kept isolated from one another."[78] There is no longer the luxury of the edifying ourselves with quaint pietism and pure intentions alone. Rather:
Christians have got to speak by their actions.Their political action must not be confined to the privacy of the polling booth. It must be clear and manifest to everybody.It is crucially important for Christians today to adopt a clear position and to be prepared to defend that truth with sacrifice, accepting misunderstanding, injustice, calumny, and even imprisonment and death.[79]
        As such, Merton takes contemplation down from Aquinas' philosophical mountain and turns it into weapon against the despair of the world and ultimately its injustices.[80] But, in adding this political dimension to the edifying practises of the Christian faith, Merton is quick to nuance it, as if he foresaw the abuse that unbridled fundamentalism might unleash. First, Christians should keep their heads and refuse to be carried away by wild projects of fanatics who seek over simplified and immediate solutions by means of inhuman violence.[81] Second, when resistance or even civil disobedience is called for, it must always be non-violent.At the end of his life, many of his last writings are based on developing a form of Christian non-violence in light of Gandhi's example.[82] However, one may ask isn't non-violence a rather ineffective tool for the sorts of things Merton has just rallied us to fight?For Merton, non-violence is useless if it is merely pragmatic.The whole point of non-violence, he argues, is that it rises above pragmatism and does not consider whether or not it pays off politically.Non-violence is defence of and witness of truth, not efficacy.[83]

        Let me emphasize here that for Merton non-violence does not mean non-action or quietism. These latter categories are not options for him. "What is wanted now is therefore not simply the Christian who takes an inner complacency in the words and examples of Christ, but who seeks to follow Christ perfectly, not only in his own personal life, not only in prayer and penance, but also in political commitments and in all his social responsibilities."[84] As such, there is no gap between our individual need for redemption and concern for the common good. They are all of one piece.

        Hence, to conclude, if I had to reconstitute a saintly Christian from the past as a patron saint for the crisis we now face environmentally, I would choose Merton.[85] Merton recognizes that the modern individual exists in a metaphysical vacuum. In that vacuum, many of us remain dislocated identities who, against our better intentions, unwittingly permit an increasing intensity of immoral activity to take place in our very midst, that is, the continual destruction of air and water resources (the necessities of life). Merton, in encouraging each of us to excavate the deeper resources of the self through contemplation, encourages us to be prophetic voices in the world.He does this by indicating through his own thought and actions that the fruits of contemplation can lead, eventually, to political action. In adding the political dimension to contemplation, Merton challenges the Christian ethos that has become lazy and indifferent to its accommodation to the world as such, and he ultimately demands that we confront the difficult injustices of our day.

        As I framed it above, one of the most pressing injustices of our day is the question: is it acceptable that we permit the ongoing ingestion into our bodies of toxic pollutants “involuntarily” and accommodate ourselves to their effects without ever addressing the cause, consequences and possible solutions? For Merton, not to ask the question and confront it politically would be a failure of the contemplative spirit he so passionately defended.

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[1]. Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1988), 25.

[2]. Ibid., 113.

[3]. Ibid., xiv. The term "intimacy" is used ubiquitously throughout Berry's text.

[4]. Ibid., 121.

[5]. Ibid., 215.

[6]. David Suzuki, The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering Our Place in Nature (Vancouver, Greystone Books, 1997).

[7]. The recognition that science and its methods alone cannot solve the monstrous crisis of environmental decline we are now witnessing is evinced by an open letter submitted to the religious community at large by thirty-two world-renowned scientists entitled "Preserving and Cherishing the Earth: An Appeal for Joint Commitment in Science and Religion."The letter was organized and presented by Carl Sagan to the Moscow Meeting of the Global Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders in January of 1990.In the letter, the scientists acknowledged the drastic need for change in individual behaviours which, historically, religions have had a great influence.I would like to thank Dr. David Seljak of St. Jerome's Cmllege for making me aware of this letter.

[8]. See the various essays in David Ray Griffin, ed., Spirituality and Society: Postmodern Visions (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988; and, Charles Taylor, The Malaise of Modernity (Concord, Ontario: Anansi, 1991).

[9].More precisely, I would define the Christian contemplative tradition in the West as the panoply of practices and disciplines that seek to broaden human perception and cognition of the real and end in an unitive experience of reality with the image of God (imago Dei) at its center.This tradition (vita contemplativa) can perhaps be dated best from the time of Augustine (354-430 C.E.) and The Confessions wherein he established the dispositional pattern by which the divine presence is both perceived and formed through the language of personal, interior self-consciousness. For a more complete history, see Walter Holden Capps and Wendy M. Wright, eds., Silent Fire: An Invitation to Western Mysticism (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1978). For those who are familiar with Aquinas, it is well understood that his sense of contemplation is intellectualistic, that is, it fits into his natural theology that is not necessarily in the spirit of vita contemplativa.One has the feeling that with Aquinas, contemplation only reaches its summit through rigorous cultivation of the intellect, a training that is not available to the average believer.The great contrast I see between Aquinas and vita contemplativa is that the former depends on the rule of reason while the latter accepts the fruit of human intuition.I am thinking here of Pascal's distinction between l'esprit géométrique and l'esprit de finesse.
[10]. Berry, 218-9.
[11]. There are such reports made daily in our newspaper but they are not considered important enough to be front page news; see "High Heart-Defects Rate Raises Fears of Link Between Pollution, Deformities," National Post, November 12, 1998; Gwynne Dyer, "There's Still Time to Avert Disaster," Toronto Star, November 18, 1998; Seth Borenstein, "The Fish are Dying. People Will be Next, Scientists Warn," National Post, December 9, 1998; "Poisonous Plastics?," Time, March 1, 1999, 45.There are also the much larger book-length warnings; see, for example, P. Brown and E. J. Mikkelsen, No Safe Place: Toxic Waste, Leukemia and Community Action (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990); and James George, Asking for the Earth: Waking Up to the Spiritual/Ecological Crisis (Rockport, Massachusetts: Achen Press, 1995).

[12]. See Jennifer D. Mitchell, "Nowhere to Hide:The Global Spread of High-Risk Synthetic Chemicals," World-Watch, 10, No. 2 (1997): 26-36.The journal Society and Natural Resources recently devoted an entire issue to environmental contamination and health - see Society and Natural Resources, The Environmental and Health: Dimensions and Relationships 11, No. 8, 1998.

[13]. Suzuki, 6.

[14]. The most recent figure reported by Great Lakes United, 1997.

[15]. This important effect is described in general in Highlights of the Canadian Artic Contaminants Assessment Report: A Community Reference Manual, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, 1997, 39. As an effect operating in the Great Lakes see J.E. Baker and S.J. Eisenreich, Environment, Science and Technology 24(1990): 342-352; B. Hillery, et el., Environment, Science and Technology, 32(1998): 2216-2224.

[16]. Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumansoki, and John Peterson Myers, Our Stolen Future: Are We Threatening Our Fertility, Intelligence, and Survival (New York: Penguin Books, 1997).

[17]. For this section, see State of Knowledge Report on Environmental Contaminants and Human Health in the Great Lakes Basin, International Joint Commission's Agreement Public Forum, Niagara Falls, Ontario,1997; available from Health Canada. See also The Toledo Journal of Great Lakes' Law, Science, and Policy Vol. 1998, no. 1, Spring 1998 and the more recent WWF report on hormone disruptors from September 1998. Also, see B. L. Johnson, et el., "Public Health Implications of Persistent Toxic Substances in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Basins," Journal of Great Lakes Research 24, no. 3 (1998): 698-722.

[18]. See Michelle Allsopp, Ruth Stringer and Paul Johnston, Unseen Poisons: Levels of Organochlorine Chemicals in Human Tissues (Exeter, U.K: Greenpeace Research Laboratories, 1998), 17.

[19]. See Arctic Pollution Issues: A State of the Arctic Environment Report (Oslo, Norwary: Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme, 1997), pp. 172ff.

[20]. See Michelle Allsopp, Ruth Stringer and Paul Johnston, Unseen Poisons: Levels of Organochlorine Chemicals in Human Tissues, 17.

[21]. Ibid., 15ff.

[22].State of Knowledge Report on Environmental Contaminants and Human Health in the Great Lakes Basin, International Joint Commission's Agreement Public Forum, Niagara Falls, Ontario,1997; available from Health Canada.

[23]. John Last, Konia Trouton, David Pengelly, Taking Our Breath Away: The Health Effects of Air Pollution and Climate Change (Vancouver, B.C.: David Suzuki Foundation, 1998), 32.

[24].Hamilton-Wentworth Air Quality Initiative, Summary Report, 1997. Regional Municipality of Hamilton-Wentworth, Hamilton, Ontario, 21.

[25]. Ibid., 20.

[26]. As quoted in Taking Our Breath Away, p. 24, and taken from the Hamilton-Wentworth Air Quality Initiative.

[27]. Hamilton Air Quality Initiative: Summary Report, 20.

[28].Taking Our Breath Away, 27.

[29]. Dr. Rick Burnett, "Health Effects of Particulate and Gaseous Air Pollution in Canada," McMaster Institute of Environment and Health 1998-99 Seminar Series, October 16, 1998.

[30]. Michael McCarthy, "Third of Natural World Destroyed in 25 Years: Environmental Group," The Hamilton Spectator, October 2, 1998.

[31]. See Dr. A. C. Goddard-Hill, Environmental Epidemiology of the Great Lakes Basin: Human Health Effects of Industrial Pollutants, Effluents and Toxics. A paper presented to the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Oakville, Ontario, and November 23, 1998.

[32]. While my remarks concerning Aquinas may seem critical they are not intended to be so.What I am critical of is the scholarly disputes and multiplication of sophisticated interpretations within Thomistic studies that have rendered Aquinas' thought almost inaccessible to modern readers without scholastic training.

[33]. Matthew Fox, Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1992), 32. Another substantial appropriation of Aquinas is found in Michael S. Northcott, The Environment and Christian Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). Even Thomas Berry appropriates aspects of Aquinas' thought; see Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth, 79. As well, see the not below.

[34]. See, for example, John F. Haught, The Promise of Nature, Ecological and Cosmic Purpose (New York: Paulist Press, 1993), 81; Edward P. Echlin, The Christian Green Heritage: World as Creation (Bramcote, England: Grove Books, Ltd., 1989), 10-11.

[35]. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, trans. Thomas Gilby (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode and McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1963), Ia.47.1.

[36]. Ibid., Ia.45.3c.

[37]. See Thomas Aquinas, Quodlibetal Questions, VIII,9,19c, as quoted in The Pocket Aquinas, ed., Vernon J. Bourke (New York: Washington Square Press, 1960), 191.

[38]. Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion (New York: Harper & Row, 1957).

[39]. Etienne Gilson, The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, trans. L. K. Shook (New York: Random House, 1956), 361; on page 189, Gilson beautifully describes God's presence in all creatures.

[40]. M.D. Chenu, Nature, Man, and Society in the Twelfth Century: Essays on New Theological Perspectives in the Latin West, ed. and trans. Jerome Taylor and Lester K. Little (Chicago: Unversity of Chicago Press, 1968), 36.

[41]. Here, I follow the critique of H. Paul Santmire, in The Travail of Nature: The Ambiguous Ecological Promise of Christian Theology (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 91.

[42]. Aquinas, Summa theologiae, Ia.50.3.

[43]. Thomas Aquinas, Compendium of Theology, trans. Cyril Vollert (London: B. Herder Book Co., 1958), 157.

[44]. Ibid., 158.

[45]. Aquinas, Summa theologiae, Ia.96.1.

[46]. Aquinas, Summa theologiae, III supp. 91.5.

[47]. Santmire, The Travail of Nature, 91.

[48]. Here I follow Jean Porter, The Recovery of Virtue: The Relevance of Aquinas for Christian Ethics (Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 1990), 125ff.

[49]. See the various references: Aquinas, Summa theologiae, II-II.47.10; II-II.58.12; II-II.64.2.

[50]. Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I-II.29.4; II-II.25.1,6.Porter goes on to reconcile this tension from following certain "implications" found in Aquinas' theory of justice. Whether her elaboration of these "implications" solves this central tension in Aquinas is a scholarly matter outside the bounds of this paper.

[51]. Santmire, The Travail of Nature, 94.

[52]. Thomas Merton, Turning Toward the World: The Pivotal Years, The Journals of Thomas Merton, vol. 4, 1960-1963 (HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1996).

[53]. Perhaps the most famous piece on this note is "Day of a Stranger," in Thomas Merton: Spiritual Master: The Essential Writings, ed. Lawrence S. Cunningham (New York; Paulist Press, 1992), 214-22.

[54]. See the numerous references in Thomas Merton, The Seven Story Mountain (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1976 [orig. 1948]). Given my remarks about the metaphor of ascent above, the title of Merton's autobiography should not be lost on the reader.

[55]. Ibid., 419.

[56]. Merton is quite explicit about this when he states: "The contemplation of which I speak here is not philosophical.It is not the static awareness of metaphysical essences apprehended as spiritual objects, unchanging and eternal. It is not the contemplation of abstract ideas;" see Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions Books, 1972), 4.

[57]. Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (New York: New Directions, 1961, orig. 1949), 1-13.

[58]. Above, I already stated that Merton takes Aquinas's ontological scheme almost for granted.It is against this unobtrusive backdrop that he engages in dialogue with the famous existential philosophers of the day, namely,Albert Camus, Gabriel Marcel, Jean Paul Sartre and, Martin Heidegger in an attempt to identify the various levels of self-alienation they described.

[59]. Dennis Q. McInerney, Thomas Merton: The Man and His Work (Washington, D.C.: Consortium Press, 1974), 59

[60]. Ibid., 62.

[61]. Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Garden City, New York: Image Books, 1968).

[62]. Ibid., 203ff.

[63]. Ibid., 224.

[64]. Ibid., 256-7.

[65]. Ibid., 224.

[66]. This is a formulation that Merton uses often.I believe its source is from one of his favourite authors; see Gabriel Marcel, Being and Having (London: Darce, 1949), 100ff.

[67]. Ibid., 222.

[68]. Thomas Merton, No Man is An Island (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1955), 257-58.

[69]. Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett Crest Books, 1962).

[70]. Merton, Turning Toward the World: The Pivotal Years, The Journals of Thomas Merton, vol. 4, 1960-1963, 274. See also the letter to Mr. P. Ferry dated January 12, 1963 in Thomas Merton, The Hidden Ground of Love: The Letters of Thomas Merton, ed. William H. Shannon (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1985), 213-214. In Michael Mott's biography, The Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, Co., 1984), a sentence from a letter Merton wrote to Carson reads: "And I regret my own follies with DDT, which I have totally renounced" (260). I indebted to Dr. Norman King of the University of Windsor for bringing to my attention many pertinent quotes from the various works of Merton.

[71]. See the various essays in Thomas Merton, The New Man (New York: Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1961); especially pp. 51-68.

[72]. Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, 222. The notion of the alienated self and the return to the true self as the unifying theme of Merton's notion of contemplation is well stated in William H. Shannon, 'Something of a Rebel:' Thomas Merton, His Life and Works - An Introduction (Cincinnati, Ohio: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1997), 86ff.

[73]. Merton, The New Man, 13-20.

[74]. In speaking of the "redeemed" Adam, Merton writes: "... Adam's function is to look at creation, see it, recognize it, and thus give it a new and spiritual existence within himself;" see Thomas Merton, The New Man, 83.

[75]. See the important passages in Merton, The New Man, 80 and Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, 222-23; in this latter text, the theme of "turning toward the world" is remarked upon throughout.

[76]. Ibid., 226.

[77]. Thomas Merton, "Christian Action in World Crisis," The Non-Violent Alternative (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1980 [orig. 1971]), 219-226.

[78]. Ibid., 223.

[79]. Ibid.

[80]. If there was a fitting example of how Christians should engage themselves in the world Merton mentions himself the Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan; see Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, 251.There is a long correspondence between these two men recorded in Merton's published letters.

[81]. Merton, "Christian Action in World Crisis," 223.

[82]. See, for example, the many essays in The Non-Violent Alternative, and Merton's book Gandhi on Non-Violence.

[83].Thomas Merton, "Note for Ave Maria," The Non-Violent Alternative, 233.

[84]. Merton, The Non-violent Alternative, 222.In a talk given shortly before his death, Merton argues that the Christian of tomorrow is not the one who secludes him or herself in a monastery, but one who carries the spirit of the monastery in their hearts and lives in the world working for its healing and ones own redemption; see Thomas Merton, "Marxism and Monastic Renewal," The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton, ed. Naomi Burton Stone, Br. Patrick Hart, and James Laughlin (New York: New Directions Publ. Corp., 1973). Merton furthers these remarks in a retreat given less than a year before his death; see Thomas Merton, The Springs of Contemplation: A Retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani, ed. Jane Marie Richardson (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1992).

[85]. On choosing a patron saint for the environment, see René Dubos suggestion of St. Benedict contrasted with Lynn White's suggestion of St. Francis of Assisi in A God Within (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1972).

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