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Animals in the History of Theology


Two lines in God-Human-Animal-relationship. Different Christian interpretations ... No chicken, veal or piglet, Biological diversity, Less climate impact ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Animals in the History of Theology

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Animals in the Historyof Theology
  • Helena R√∂cklinsberg
  • Centre for Theology and
  • Religious Studies
  • Lund University

  • Two lines in God-Human-Animal-relationship
  • Different Christian interpretations
  • From theory to practice
  • What actions follow from these ideas?
  • Organic perspective on theory and practice
  • Theocentric
  • Integrating respect and animal use

1. Two lines
  • Conventional
  • Stressing the uniqueness of human beings - thanks
    to rationality or Imago Dei
  • Alternative
  • Stressing the closeness of human beings nature

Conventional interpretation
  • Plato and Aristotle
  • Division between humans and animals/nature
  • Ratio is the distinguishing criterion
  • Rationality, Sophia

Conventional interpretation
  • Aristotles virtue ethics builds on his idea of
    telos (aim, goal, fulfilment).
  • Also animals live according to their telos
  • fulfilling their inner potential of growing and

Conventional interpretation
  • Old Testament
  • Creation passage, Gen. 126
  • Then God said,
  • Let us make Humankind in our image, after our
    likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the
    sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle,
    and over all the earth, and over all the
    creatures that move on the earth.

Conventional interpretation
  • Old Testament
  • Human dominion over the Creation,
  • radah, interpreted as right to rule, to use
    ones power in ones own interest.

Conventional interpretation
  • Thomas Aquinas (12th century)
  • If any text in the Bible forbids us to hurt
    animals not harshening ourselves, not cause
    material damage.
  • No sin in using a thing for is purpose. The
    incomplete is there for the complete.
  • Ideal of Imago Dei helping God in creating /
    improving nature and lower beings

Conventional interpretation
  • A theological scale of value
  • God
  • angels
  • humans
  • animals
  • vegetables

Conventional interpretation
  • Rene Descartes (1596-1650)
  • Imago Dei interpretation gives right to use and
    duty to improve nature
  • Sentience and rationality are part of the soul.
  • Animals have no soul.
  • Animals are neither sentient, nor rational.
  • Animals are Automata not moral objects.
  • Vivisections!

Conventional interpretation
  • Galilee, Kepler and Newton
  • science develops and replaces God with Nature
    Humans as the cause and goal of all changes.
  • The Church is loosing power

Conventional interpretation
  • From could to should in theological terms
  • Cultivation of nature capacity of the soul to
    invent and improve fulfilment of human
  • Successful stewardship thanks to (hard) work
    being blessed by God.
  • Humans should rationalise and make nature more
  • Helping God by re-creating.

Conventional interpretation
  • Michael Schlitt (contemp. Catholic Theologian)
  • Creation is organised towards humans,
  • Humans are Gods dialogue-partner
  • Co-responsible towards God as his co-creator,
  • Giving animals their meaning by
  • giving name (Gen. 2.19) and using them
  • Animals need humans in order to be complete, i.e.
    be able to glorify God.

Conventional interpretation
  • In sum
  • A criterion for a special physical/mental
  • (rationality, soul, dialogue-partner)
  • is used as a criterion for moral status.
  • Imago Dei interpreted in these terms, gives us
    special rights thanks to our
  • special moral status.

Conventional interpretation
  • But
  • If we refer to Imago Dei in order to allow us to
    continue much of todays treatment of farm animal
    - stressful and painful treatment and barren
    stables -
  • this is to say that God is brutal, egoistic and
    unfair to the weak.

  • If this picture of God doesnt fit with the
    common picture of God as merciful, loving and
  • what does an alternative interpretation say?

Alternative interpretation
  • Creation myth describes an ideal situation!
  • Life before the Fall, as God intended.
  • What would it mean to take it as an ideal for
    actual relationships?

Alternative interpretation
  • Gen. 129
  • Then God said, I now give you every seed
    bearing plant on the face of the entire earth and
    every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They
    will be yours for food.
  • Gen. 131
  • God saw all that he had made and it was very
    good! There was evening, and there was morning,
    the sixth day.

Alternative interpretation
  • St Basil of Caesarea (329-379), Hexameron
  • O God, enlarge within us the sense of fellowship
    with all living things, our brothers the animals,
    to whom thou hast given the earth as their home
    in common with us. May we realise that they
    live not for us alone, but for themselves and
    for Thee, and that they love the sweetness of

Alternative interpretation
  • St John Chrysostom (347-407),
  • Homelies on the Epistle to the Romans
  • Surely we ought to show them great kindness and
    gentleness for many reasons, but above all
    because they are of the same origin as ourselves.

Alternative interpretation
  • Each individual animal is a sacrament
  • (mediates community with God)
  • And helps to
  • see Gods greatness in all Creation
  • value the manifold of Creation
  • Johannes Scotus Erigena (810-877)
  • Hildegard av Bingen (1098-1179)
  • Meister Eckhart (1260-1328)

Alternative interpretation
  • James Gaffney (Cath. Theologian)
  • Every created being is an icon (image) of God.
  • The more complex, the more it mirrors Gods
  • Leads not only to care and compassion,
  • but also to devotional reverence.
  • I.e. our relation to animals
  • is a spiritual issue.

Alternative interpretation
  • Compassion is a theological virtue
  • A basis for righteousness,
  • A consequence of salvation,
  • An expression of grace and
  • A necessity for reconciliation.
  • The whole creation is crying for freedom from
    enslavement (Rom. 821-22)

Alternative interpretation
  • Imago Dei as human stewardship in terms of
  • an ideal king. Means for example
  • Righteousness in power and action
  • Caring for the dependent and weak
  • Representing God acting in accordance with
    Gods intention

Alternative interpretation
  • 1. Righteousness in power and action
  • John Woolman (Quaker, 1720-72)
  • All creatures have their life from God.
  • A contradiction to say one loves God, and at the
    same time be brutal towards the smallest being
    that comes from him and moves in his life.

Alternative interpretation
  • 2. Caring for the dependent and weak
  • Jesus and the disciples see a donkey, being
    beaten by its owner.
  • Dont you see how the animal is bleeding, dont
    you hear how it is crying?
  • No, we dont hear that.
  • Whom do we hear today?

Alternative interpretation
  • 3. Act in accordance with Gods intention
  • The golden rule - also for animals
  • You, human being, do you treat your horse as you
    would like to be treated by your man, if you were
    a horse?
  • (Humphrey Primatt, 1776)

Alternative interpretation
  • Andrew Linzey (contemp. Anglican Theologian)
  • Principle of Generosity
  • Imago Dei
  • Following Christ
  • serving the weak (animals, children)

2. From theory to practice
  • How could this perspective be transformed into
    todays farming?
  • For many it leads to vegetarianism
  • - no animal products produced and no animals
    killed merely for human consume.
  • But it is no logical necessity.

From theory to practice
  • However, industrialised farming (from breeding to
    slaughter) would be banned.
  • Farm animals could still be kept and cared for -
    for their own sake, as part of a caring relation
    between God, Human and Animal.
  • Not slaughtered, but euthanised when old - and
    less delicious

From theory to practice
  • Inherent worth is related to a basic attitude of
    moral respect. (respect for animal integrity.)
  • This implies not interfere with the wholeness
    and completeness of the animal, not disrupt the
    species specific balance, not deprive animals of
    the ability to maintain themselves independently
    in an environment suitable to the species.
  • (Rutgers and Heeger 1999)

From theory to practice
  • Thus
  • If the goal is to respect an animal as such, its
    telos, its integrity, its dignity
  • - species specific behaviour is a key concern.
  • Then scientific knowledge is necessary about each
  • Ethology, biology, vet.medicine etc.

3. Organic perspective
  • Sustainability in use of land and animals
  • Holistic / system perspective
  • Integrity of system/ Cyclical thinking
  • Nearness / Local produce
  • Respect for nature / individuals
  • Precautionary principle

Organic perspective
  • IFOAM, September 2005
  • The Principle of Health
  • The Ecological Principle
  • The Principle of Fairness
  • The Principle of Care

4. Theocentric perspective
  • James Gustafson (1982)
  • All things in relation to God
  • Discernment in decisions on action
  • serious consideration of the context,
  • evaluating the situation from the position of
  • leading to informed intuition.

Theocentric perspective
  • Combination of
  • Alternative interpretation of
  • Ethological knowledge
  • Organic perspective

Theocentric perspective
  • Goal
  • Let animals live according to innate behaviour
    and needs in an environment to which they are
    adapted, and given their biological life span.
  • Through
  • Low intense free range
  • outdoor systems

Theocentric perspective
  • Consequences
  • Less meat available,
  • Share milk with the calf,
  • Eggs in laying season,
  • No chicken, veal or piglet,
  • Biological diversity,
  • Less climate impact

Thank you for your attention!
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