From the blog coordinator:
The International movement website has someone updating full time. Access to the new link:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Fr Albert Nolan and Augustine Shutte

Fr Nolan has given us permission to put this talk on our blog BUT it is not for publication in any way without the author's permission.

Talk given in Cape Town 22/09/2011.

By Albert Nolan


The question many are asking today, the question I want to talk about here this evening, is quite simply: Why should we as Christians be concerned about environmental issues like climate change?

The answer quite simply is that we should be concerned because the first article of our faith is that God is the Creator of all that is. It stands at the head of all our creeds:  “We believe in God the Creator of heaven and earth”.

Theologically, however, this has been the most neglected of all the articles of faith. The theology of creation has been eclipsed by the theologies of all the other articles of the Creed. Until about 50 years ago theologians didn’t think there was very much to say or to reflect upon as far as creation was concerned. We now know that that has been disastrous for the earth, for all God’s creatures on the earth and for us as human beings.

Until about 50 years ago we had a very narrow, immature and unreflective theology of creation. We tended to see the universe as a place given to us to live in and a storehouse filled with things for our use, “natural resources” like food, fuel and building materials. We often pictured ourselves as separate from the universe, standing above it, looking at God’s creation from somewhere outside of it. We tended to see ourselves as the lords and masters who had been given the right to dominate, subdue and exploit all of what we called “nature”. Some even saw this world as nothing more than a stepping stone on the way to heaven.

Creation in the Bible

But this is not what has been revealed to us in the Bible about God’s creation. In the creation stories as well as the Psalms and elsewhere including the gospels we are always seen as part of creation together with all other creatures. Because of our intelligence and freedom we are said to be created in the image and likeness of God so that we have a certain stewardship over the earth - not to dominate and exploit but to be responsible, like God, for the care of the earth. We subdue it only in the sense of tilling the land and cultivating it.

We need to see the whole of creation as God sees it, that is to say, as good in itself. “And God saw that it was good”. In fact the most important thing the Bible tells us about creation is that it is a revelation of the glory of God. As we read in one of the Psalms: “The heavens proclaim the glory of God”.

The great theologians and mystics of the past saw all of creation as a manifestation or revelation of God. You can find this explicitly in theologians like Thomas Aquinas and mystics like Hildegard of Bingen.
Albert the Great who was fascinated by every tiny creature he came across declared that the whole world is theology for us, in other words, the whole world teaches us about God.

Much of this had been forgotten or neglected in recent centuries until suddenly we began to discover the astounding mysteries and miracles of the universe that God created – and ironically we discovered these things through modern science.

At the same time we became aware of how we have been desecrating and destroying God’s magnificent work of art.

The recent discoveries of science far from creating problems for our faith have enabled us to deepen our theology of creation immeasurably. Let me explain how and why.


What we now know is that God did not create all the billions of species of life separately and distinctly in the beginning. Species have evolved one from another, from single cell beings to homo sapiens. Some millions of these species have come and gone long ago. That has been and still is God’s way of creating life. God creates by evolving one thing from another.

As human beings we are part of God’s evolutionary creativity. We are indeed descendants of the apes, and distant descendants of the very earliest forms of life in the oceans. We didn’t just fall out of the sky.

Our expanding universe

An even greater discovery about God’s creation was that we live in and are part of an expanding universe. Einstein discovered this. But it was so different from anything anyone had ever imagined before that Einstein himself thought that he must have made a mistake.

However, at about the same time an astronomer called Hubble invented a very powerful telescope that enabled him to see that there was not only one galaxy, our galaxy, the Milky Way, but many more galaxies and that all these galaxies were moving away from one another at an incredible speed.

Today we know that there are hundreds of billions of galaxies each with billions of stars not to mention planets. And that is only what we have been able to see ever so faintly. Only God knows how many more galaxies there might be out there.

The “Big Bang”

This discovery of the extraordinary fact that the universe is forever expanding led scientists over the last 60 to 70 years, to begin to trace this developing universe backwards to earlier and earlier times, until they came to the beginning of the universe, the original explosion of energy which we call the Big Bang. In other words it is not only life on earth that has evolved from the first living cell, but now we know that the whole universe has evolved from the first mighty explosion of energy some 15 billion years ago.

What God has created and is still creating now is an unimaginably huge universe that began as a powerful explosion of energy and continues to unfold at the speed of light with no end in sight – and we are part of it.

Quantum Physics

At the same time Einstein and others had been exploring the microscopic world of the atom. This turned out to be even more surprising and mysterious than the expanding universe.

An atom is small - very small – and yet 90% of it is a vacuum, empty space. The rest is particles orbiting around and then jumping from one orbit to another without moving across!! This is what they call the quantum leap.

Eventually the scientists began to realise that they were not dealing with particles at all but with patterns or relationships that emerged from the nothingness of empty space and disappeared again into it. All very mysterious.

Besides, as Einstein had discovered earlier, matter can become energy and energy can become matter. Light can be treated as particles or as waves but in fact light is neither particles nor waves. It is beyond human comprehension. It is a mystery.

And we thought that the universe was just a place for us to live in and a source of food and fuel. Creation is an unfathomable mystery and we are part of it.

Systems theories

So far we have been talking about the universe as if it were a collection of objects – continuously evolving and expanding. But what the scientists are now saying is that the universe is not a collection of separate objects
but a system of systems within systems. Every natural thing is in fact a system or organism and at the same time part of a larger system which in turn is part of a yet wider system.

I, for example am a very complex organism, a whole that has parts like organs that are organised as systems of cells and so forth, and I myself in turn am part of an eco-system and of a social system and so forth. There are no isolated individuals. We are all thoroughly interconnected and interdependent.

God’s creation is a seamless whole. Everything is connected to everything else, past and present. Everything, but everything, goes back to the one original explosion of energy.

The other important conclusion from this is that there is only one world. The great Jesuit theologian and palaeontologist, Teilhard de Chardin, argued that matter and spirit are two aspects of the same universe. Matter and spirit have evolved and unfolded together from the beginning. There is no such thing as a physical world with no spirit at all.

Where is God?

But then, where is God? Certainly not in some separate, parallel world. Heaven, as we have always said, is not a place but a condition of life. Is God, then, outside or inside the universe?

Of course, God in not in space and time, so God cannot be spoken of as inside or outside of anything. However in order to avoid thinking of God as existing in some other world and not in our world, theologians now, and to some extent in the past, speak of God as the One who is in all things. They call this panentheism as opposed to pantheism.

Pantheism is the belief that God is simply another word for the whole universe. Panentheism is the conviction that God is everywhere and in everything all the time. The creator is not the same as creation. One of the really powerful ways of expressing this in theology today is to say that creation is like God’s body.

I call this powerful because it allows us to see all of creation not only as a manifestation of the glory of God, not only as God’s great work of art, but also, metaphorically, as God’s sacred body. This means that when we show respect for the earth and the stars, for mountains and rivers, and for all living beings including humans, it is like showing respect for God’s own body.

Interestingly, this is not an entirely new idea. Thomas Aquinas said something similar about 750 years ago. “God dwells in the world,”  he said, “in the same way as the soul dwells in the body.”

The Fall

What can we say then about the Fall?  What about sin and evil? What about our present day destruction of the earth?

If the whole of creation is the body of God, then we could say that it is as if the body of God is now wounded and continues to be injured and mutilated every day. This is powerfully symbolised in the wounded body of Jesus on the cross.

Hunan beings are busy wounding God’s creation, destroying the earth, destroying one another, destroying the balance of nature, destroying the future of life and creating more and more conflict and chaos.

Economic development, for example, as it has been understood up until now, depends almost entirely upon oil and other fossil fuels like gas and coal. And while the demand for oil is increasing exponentially, mainly
because of the population explosion and the developing nations that are only just beginning to make use of more and more oil, gas and coal, our earth contains a finite, limited amount of these fossil fuels and they are running out fast.

Everyone now recognises that we are facing an unbelievable crisis. They call it “Peak Oil”.  “Peak Oil” is that point in time when the rate of extraction of oil begins to decline and the demand begins to far outstrip the decreasing supply. At that point everything we now have that depends upon oil (and other fossil fuels like gas and coal) will begin to decline.  Namely, petrol for cars, lorries and planes, electricity for energy and power of all kinds from cooking to lighting, heating, air-conditioning and computers. Not to mention the rapid decline in industries of all kinds including food production.

Many people think there is no problem because by then we will have moved over to renewable sources of energy like solar energy, wind, waves. But this will take time, a lot of time and we don’t have time. At the present rate it would take 100 years to generate enough solar energy to do all the things we now do and that doesn’t take into account the massive increase in our human population. It seems then that the first result of the oil peak will be that the price of petrol and electricity will sky-rocket and only the very rich will be able to afford it while it lasts. In the meantime the poor starve or go wild in chaotic riots.

And all of this is before we begin to consider the problem of carbon emissions.

Global warming and climate change are the result of the carbon dioxide that we send up into the atmosphere through our use of fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide has a greenhouse effect that warms the earth melts the icecaps and changes our climate dramatically.

These changes have already begun. What the scientists are now trying to predict is the so-called “Tipping Point”. That is to say, when the temperatures become so extreme that it would be impossible to turn them back. Among other things all the coastal towns and cities will be flooded as the oceans overflow.

The pain, the suffering, the chaos that would ensue is too horrible to contemplate.

Why are we doing this? How did we come to this? How did we fall from the harmony and unity of God’s beautiful creation?

The Christian answer is that somewhere in the beginning of human consciousness and freedom we became alienated from God, from the earth, from nature, from one another and even from ourselves.

How did we do that? By developing the illusion that we as humans are separate from one another and from the rest of the universe. We began to imagine that we were above nature, independent and in control. We began to see ourselves as separate and isolated from one another. Hence, too, our illusion of being somehow independent of God.

It is all an illusion. It is all in the mind. But illusions can be extremely dangerous.

While we are in fact all one and interdependent as we have seen, this illusion of separation and isolation has led to envies, jealousies, and violent conflicts. It has made us proud and self-centred. It has made us destructive – especially of nature and the earth. It has alienated us from God and enabled us to be totally disrespectful towards God’s creation, God’s holy body.

Our salvation then lies in our waking up from this self-centred dream and, in our growing awareness of oneness. This is what we usually refer to as love, an all-embracing love and compassion for our fellow human beings, and for all of God’s creation. In practice this will mean among other things, that we go green, that we lower our standard of living and that we reduce our reliance upon energy voluntarily, dramatically and immediately - AND that we curb the population explosion.

All of this taken together will become an expression of our love for God. We will be showing a comprehensive reverence and respect for God’s body and therefore for God. Our care for the environment, our concern about climate change, our adoption of new lifestyles, our relentless attempts to involve as many others as possible and our collaboration with one another in this great work should be seen as part of our Christian faith and spirituality, part of our worship of God as the creator of all that exists. 


1.            Talk given on Vatican 2    Click

2.            Ecumenism     Click

3.            Do lay people have a vocation?    Click


  1. I thank Fr. Albert for pointing to the fact that Creation is like God's Body. This is why even Scientist's are concluding that we cannot find answers to everything. It is mystery - but in an awesome way - not just a puzzle we can put together in our lifetime.

    Rosemary Gravenor

  2. Our eternity is the NOW because we are time travellers - God is the great "I AM" being outside time yet is also the Alpha and the Omega (another kind of quantum leap?)