David Vincent MECONI, editor. On Earth as It Is in Heaven: Cultivating a Contemporary Theology of Creation. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2016. pp. 332. $35.00 pb. ISBN 978-0-8028-7350-7. Reviewed by Stephen S. WILBRICHT, Stonehill College, Easton, MA 02357.
In anticipation of the promulgation of Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical on the environment, a group of scholars met at Saint Paul Seminary in Minnesota to discuss the relationship between the ancient Christian tradition and contemporary stewardship of creation. This discussion resulted in David Vincent Meconi’s volume, On Earth as It Is in Heaven: Cultivating a Contemporary Theology of Creation. Together with Meconi’s introduction, this book is comprised of 15 diverse and highly academic essays.
If there is one common theme that sounds throughout this collection of essays it is that the created world is to be treated as a partner in God’s plan of salvation. For too long, the Christian tradition has interpreted God’s call for humanity to have “dominion” over the birds of the sky and the fish of the sea as a summons to treat the created order as an object to be exploited rather than a friend to be cherished. Meconi makes the point more forcefully: “All things proclaim the greatness of God, but no one thing is God. Yet, today the tendency perhaps lies on the other extreme, wherein we all too glibly dismiss natural phenomena as raw data, able to be preyed upon and discarded as we humans find convenient” (2). One could argue that with the tremendous advances in science has come the loss of awe and wonder in the God whose love alone makes all life possible.
A simple selection of the chapter titles will serve to demonstrate the depth of the scholarly discussion that took place in Minnesota in the summer of 2014. Chapter One, “The Beauty of Centipedes and Toads, “ by Robert Louis Wilken, represents the gathering’s keynote address and draws on the Cappadocian tradition to herald a piety for every aspect of the created realm including the tiniest of beings. Marie George, in the fourth chapter “Kingship and Kinship: Opposing or Complementary Ways of Envisaging Our Relationship to Material Creation?,” argues that God’s summons to humanity to be sovereign over creation necessitates responsibility—kingship and kinship are inseparable in giving praise and glory to the Creator. Matthew Levering’s contribution, “’Be Fruitful and Multiply, and Fill the Earth’: Was and Is This a Good Idea?,” explores the explosion of the earth’s population and attempts to limit procreation. While some would argue that the Church should advocate for smaller families, Levering believes that God’s gift of children for married couples is trustworthy: “I take heart from the seeming recklessness of the Creator God, who, despite the destruction caused by fallen humans and despite the overpopulation of the land of Israel and its environs, commands his people to be fruit and multiply” (117).
On Earth as It Is in Heaven not only looks theologically at creation but also explores questions that are rooted in philosophy. Aristotle, Jacques Maritain, Thomas Aquinas, and Wendell Berry are just a few of the philosophical voices that are raised multiple times throughout the volume. For those who lack substantial training in philosophy, some aspects of these chapters may prove to be a challenging read. Nevertheless, the effort to plumb the thought of these masterful minds, both ancient and modern, will prove to be well worth the investment of concentration and time.
In addition to the inclusion of a very thorough index, the editor and the publisher are to be commended for the quality of the footnotes in every chapter of this book. They are substantial and are extremely useful for those who wish to undertake further research.
There is no doubt that Christians share part of the blame for the destruction of the environment and God’s good creation. This volume demonstrates that the very way in which we contemplate the mystery of God hinges upon an understanding of the interconnectedness of the cosmos. Those who hold to a faith in the Incarnate God can no longer shirk the reality of an ecological crisis that must be confronted with love. Meconi writes: “Caring for our common heaven and earth therefore proves to be an eschatological exercise. . . How we treat this world the Father has given us for a time may just be how we are treated in eternity” (16). Those who explore the pages of this work will surely consider anew how the practice of theology must assist in healing the exploitations and the sufferings of the great gift we have been given in the wonders of creation.