Whole-Earth consciousness in Maximus the Confessor, Nicholas of Cusa, and Teilhard de Chardin: seeds for a 21st century sacramental creation spirituality and ecological ethics
Hastings, Stephen Lawrence
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Over the last fifty years Western Christianity has been criticized as a cause and enabler of Earth's ecological crisis. This criticism is based on the conclusion that Christianity promotes a spiritual-material dualism and that the material side of life has little sacred value. It is also based on the observed hesitancy of many Christians to embrace modern scientific understandings of creation, especially evolution. Some Christian writers have responded by accepting modern cosmology and evolution, and advocating for a sacramental creation spirituality, oftentimes supported by fresh readings of earlier Christian writings. This dissertation looks at Maximus the Confessor (c.580-662 CE), Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464 CE), and Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955 CE). Teilhard attests to an experience of natural sacrament in perceiving an increasingly transfigured creation, meaning the glory of God is ever more perceptible as a timely conscious insight into creation and as an emergent aspect of cosmogenesis and evolution moving toward Christ-Omega, the end and fulfillment of all creation. The teachings of Maximus readily support this sacramental view of creation by affirming a universal, ontological, and "real" presence of the Logos of God. A theological insight of Nicholas's doctrine of learned ignorance is that the Christian God always incarnates, transfigures, fulfills, and exceeds the entire cosmos. Together the teachings of Maximus and Nicholas support Teilhard's call for a theology of a Creator God robust enough to encompass the most expansive and complicated propositions about creation made by science, while remaining as close as the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The integrated teachings of these three figures suggest an ontological consecration of creation. This consecration inspires sacramental experiences of God in and through creation that complement the sacramental experience of Christ in the Eucharist. Over the evolutional time frame, these sacraments converge as one and the same sacrament at Christ-Omega. The complementary and ultimately convergent relationship between these sacramental experiences supports the ethical conclusion that just as one receives and responds to Christ present in the elements of the communion table, so one ought to receive and respond to oneself, one's neighbors, and all creation as the universal consecrated neighborhood.