Theological Foundations for Environmental Ethics

Reconstructing Patristic and Medieval Concepts

Jame Schaefer

"A new and vibrant and important addition . . . Schaefer's book is engaging in its style, singularly useful as a compendium of Western Christian views on important environmental themes up to the late middle ages."
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Earth is imperiled. Human activities are adversely affecting the land, water, air, and myriad forms of biological life that comprise the ecosystems of our planet. Indicators of global warming and holes in the ozone layer inhibit functions vital to the biosphere. Environmental damage to the planet becomes damaging to human health and well-being now and into the future—and too often that damage affects those who are least able to protect themselves.

Can religion make a positive contribution to preventing further destruction of biological diversity and ecosystems and threats to our earth? Jame Schaefer thinks that it can, and she examines the thought of Christian Church fathers and medieval theologians to reveal and retrieve insights that may speak to our current plight. By reconstructing the teachings of Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and other classic thinkers to reflect our current scientific understanding of the world, Schaefer shows how to "green" the Catholic faith: to value the goodness of creation, to appreciate the beauty of creation, to respect creation's praise for God, to acknowledge the kinship of all creatures, to use creation with gratitude and restraint, and to live virtuously within the earth community.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Reading the Catholic Theological Tradition through an Ecological Lens

1. Valuing the Goodness of Creation

2. Appreciating the Beauty of Creation

3. Reverencing the Sacramental Universe

4. Respecting Creation’s Praise for God

5. Cooperating within the Integrity of Creation

6. Acknowledging Kinship and Practicing Companionship

7. Using Creation with Gratitude and Restraint

8. Living Virtuously within the Earth Community

9. Loving Earth

10. Modeling the Human in an Age of Ecological Degradation



"[The] breadth and unique approach of Schaefer's book commend it as a worthwhile textbook, in particular as a useful introduction to the historical dimensions of environmental theology. For specialists in the field, it serves as an excellent reference for under-appreciated historical material."—Religious Studies Review

"A new and vibrant and important addition . . . Schaefer's book is engaging in its style, singularly useful as a compendium of Western Christian views on important environmental themes up to the late middle ages."—Environmental Philosophy

"While many environmental ethicists have plumbed the Christian tradition for insight and inspiration, Schaefer is among the most comprehensive in theological themes, culled from an impressive range of patristic and medieval theologians. More than a mere anthology of texts and authors, the book is a creative and synthetic development of these classical thinkers and themes, appropriating and updating them to create a broad and fertile foundation for ecological ethics."—Theological Studies

"Jame Schaefer rediscovers forgotten truth for today's global environmental crisis. Moderns and postmoderns may think 'medieval' and 'patristic' antiquarian terms. Schaefer's intensive and comprehensive analysis finds perennial truth in classical Christian thought: beauty in a sacramental universe, kinship with the creatures, the integrity of creation, gratitude, restraint, living virtuously, loving the Earth. She is unexcelled at reconstructing this past for the urgent present, with a view toward a sustainable future."—Holmes Rolston III, University Distinguished Professor and Professor of Philosophy, Colorado State University

"This landmark book brings forward the rich theological traditions for responding to our growing environmental crisis. In breadth, in scholarship, and in relevance there is no other book like it. It could not be more timely or more urgent."—Mary Evelyn Tucker, Forum on Religion and Ecology, Yale University

"Filled with insights and geared toward usefulness, this book provides a valuable resource for teachers, preachers, and anyone who wishes to live their faith with ecological responsibility. Its abundant references to patristic and medieval theologians go to shape nine models of ethical relationship to the natural world, thereby allowing for diverse individual approaches. Organized with a clear line of argument and salted with rhetorical gems, it shows the continued relevance of the ancient Catholic sacramental imagination to today’s crisis of ecological degradation."—Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, Distinguished Professor of Theology, Fordham University

"This work will prove to be a major addition to contemporary Catholic theology of nature and environmental ethics in the age of science. In the world of Catholic scholarship I have yet to see such breadth and skill in the retrieval of ecologically relevant patristic and medieval riches as I have in Schaefer’s work."—John F. Haught, senior fellow, Woodstock Theological Center, Georgetown University

"An excellent philosophical-theological resource for Catholics seeking links among traditional Catholic doctrine, contemporary Christian environmental theology and ethics, current scientific theories, and pressing ecological issues."—John Hart, professor of christian ethics, Boston University, and author of Sacramental Commons: Christian Ecological Ethics

"Jame Schaefer displays a comprehensive grasp of both historical and contemporary environmental theology. The book is impressively organized and written with exceptional clarity, and the rich and abundant material is readily accessible to the reader."—James Huchingson, Florida International University

"A superb work that will be widely consulted. Schaefer’s sustained treatment of the views of patristic and medieval writers is impressive as is her command of the main issues in contemporary ecological ethics. This book breaks new ground and will be read in many graduate seminars where instructors are trying to highlight the breadth of pre-modern creation-centered Christian thinking."—William French, Loyola University of Chicago

"A really well-researched and written book. The author knows the relevant scientific and philosophical background literature well and explains it very clearly, always showing how it is relevant to the topic at hand."—Daniel Spencer, University of Montana


Supplemental Materials


About the Author

Jame Schaefer is associate professor of systematic theology at Marquette University, where she directs the interdisciplinary minor in environmental ethics. Prior to her career in academia, Schaefer served in environmental advocacy groups, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and government on local, state, and national levels.

336 pp., 6 x 9

May 2009

336 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-1-58901-268-4
May 2009

336 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-58901-611-8
May 2009

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