Christopher Thompson is a professor of moral theology at the Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He is the author of The Joyful Mystery: Field Notes Toward a Green Thomism (Emmaus Road Publishing) and writes frequently on the intersection between Catholic moral theology and ecological concern.
As only Providence would have it, I was scheduled to give a presentation on “Catholics and the Care of Creation” last week with local temperatures hovering between “Insane” and “Apocalyptic.” Factor in the wind chill and the “Feels Like” gauge is set at “Speechless.”
And yet such bracing conditions do have the advantage of focusing one’s attention rather abruptly. Stepping outside these past few days and all of the questions surrounding the care of creation have, shall we say, an arresting quality: I am supposed to care for creation? If this is God’s Country, I’m considering atheism.
Ancient Gnostics liked to point to such wintry phenomena as evidence of evil principles at work in the order of things. We moderns are inclined to politicize the weather, demonizing not the spirits, but each other.
But Christians, those especially tutored by St. Thomas Aquinas, see the rhythms of nature’s bounty and burden through a richer theological lens.
Nothing exists, Thomas reminds us, that doesn’t owe its existence to God, the supremely good Creator. That would include days much like today.
Creation and its ways – or nature as one might say, is a manifestation of the Divine Wisdom at work, through principles of movement and change, of creatures coming to be and passing away, of lazy summer days and winter’s worst. Ecologists like to speak of the green movement. A more honest assessment would have to admit to the brown movements in life; it happens. Creatures die, species die; and their passing is part of the Provident arrangement of things. “Ice and snow, bless the Lord!”
Thomas is quite explicit in naming as “completely irrational” the position that says that in paradise no creatures would have suffered, no frost, no wintry chill, no apocalypse. Such a view is absurd in his mind and betrays a refusal to see in this glorious cosmos given to us by God – yes, even this cosmos beheld on a frozen Minnesota night – as nothing less than a sheer gift of a loving and Supremely Good God. Yes; Thomas just might be that guy who routinely says, “Cold enough for ya?!”
One must quickly add that our suffering, our passing is an altogether different matter. Animals and plants, and even entire species may pass, and we can see it as the Provident plan of the Creator. But consider the death of just one human being, however, and the problem of sin rears its ugly head. For it is our death, our suffering, our drudgery amid winter’s wonder that is the manifest sign of sin. Step outside for a moment these past days, and you’ll get a short lesson in the disastrous consequences of original sin and the glorious providence of God. Overcoming the worst of winter means facing squarely the problem of sin. It’s our fault that makes such days an occasion of dread. God in his goodness would never provide anything less than a glorious winter day.