3.5.2 Critical overview of CST on ecology: Deane-Drummond

Back to 3.5.1

Unit 3 Contents


Celia Deane-Drummond has wide expertise in both natural science and Christian theology: she was a plant physiologist before shifting the focus of her study to theology.  In 2000 she became a professor in theology and biological sciences at the University in Chester.  From 2009-10 she was seconded to work at the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development (CAFOD) on environmental justice and climate change.  She took up a position as Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame in the USA in 2011.1

Much in the article by Deane-Drummond that you are asked to read will be familiar from this unit.  She refers to both Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Lynn White Jr.  She discusses the same texts of CST as we looked at in section 4 and also goes further, especially in an illuminating exposition of Pope John Paul II’s Solicitudo Rei Socialis of 1987.  Beyond this, she brings out how both John Paul’s and Benedict XVI’s statements on ecology are connected with the very centre of Christian faith, the person and work of Jesus Christ.  It is especially this theological dimension of the article which means that it can help us to consider whether CST is vulnerable to the charge that it is unduly anthropocentric.


Reading (20pp)

Celia Deane-Drummond, ‘Joining in the Dance: Catholic Social Teaching and Ecology’

New Blackfriars, Vol. 93, Issue 1043 (Mar. 2012), 193-212

To access this, click above, and then on ‘Get PDF’ on the right.

The VPlater project is very grateful to the Editor and Publisher of New Blackfriars for giving free access to this article.  It can be accessed online in two formats; I suggest the PDF as this shows the page numbers.


Here are brief explanations of two terms Deane-Drummond uses:

Ecotheology  This refers simply to theological thinking/writing about ecological issues.

Cosmic Christology  Theologians use ‘Christology’ to refer to all attempts to understand the person of Christ – who he was and is, and especially how he is both divine and human.  (The word has the rather ugly effect of seeming to turn Jesus Christ into an ‘ology’!  For the purpose of study, try to ignore this.) The term ‘cosmic Christology’ refers to a particular aspect of what the Church affirms about God’s incarnation in the person of Jesus.  It communicates that by becoming ‘flesh’, a being in the material world, Christ’s incarnate nature was representative of all created reality, i.e. of the whole cosmos, not of human beings only.  Deane-Drummond quotes Pope John Paul: “The incarnation of God the Son signifies the taking up into unity with God not only human nature, but in this human nature, in a sense, of everything that is ‘flesh’: the whole of humanity, the entire visible and material world. The incarnation, then also has a cosmic significance…” (p. 206, quoting Dominum et Vivificantem, #50).

Deane-Drummond herself appears to favour the label ‘deep incarnation’ as an alternative to ‘cosmic Christology’.




To what extent does Deane-Drummond’s article provide an answer to the question of whether CST is unduly anthropocentric?

Look through the article again and try to make a series of bullet points to answer this question.




A strength of Deane-Drummond’s article is that it brings out the ways in which the ecological dimension of CST that has developed over the past few decades is not merely an add-on extra, tacked on because of a contemporary need.  Rather, it draws deeply on central themes in Christianity, on “fundamental doctrines of creation, Christology and anthropology” (p. 210).

I said above that the statements we have looked at in this unit can be seen as making a repair or renewal in how the Christian tradition is articulated.  This may be so, but Deane-Drummond’s article shows that the resources with which this is being done are rich and close at hand.  The challenge has been, and is, to explore and articulate insights already present, if in undeveloped form, in Christian theology.

We may say that it is a radical renewal, in the literal sense of this word – it goes down to and grows up from the roots. (‘Radical’ derives from the Latin for root, radix.) As your study of both Unit 3 overall and Deane-Drummond’s article specifically will have made clear, this topic raises deep questions about how we should understand human beings in the world.  So it can be addressed adequately only in a radical way.  This is what the main statements we have looked at have done, or at least have begun to do.

A term much used in Catholic Christianity during the past century for this kind of renewal is the French word ressourcement.  This refers to going back to the sources of Christian faith – the Bible and authoritative early voices in the Christian tradition – in order to renew how the faith is articulated and lived.2. What has been happening in relation to ecological responsibility could be seen in these terms.

But Deane-Drummond is not uncritical of current CST on ecology.  Evidently she thinks that the repair is incomplete.  We can identify in her article at least four points of constructive critique of CST, as it now stands:

1.  As the Response to the last Exercise made clear, she refers to certain texts in which CST still appears excessively anthropocentric (pp. 198, 201).

2.  She finds some statements over-generalized, with the consequence that these give relatively little purchase on real issues (p. 203).

3.  No doubt speaking in light of her expertise in plant science, she says that papal statements show relatively little understanding of ecological systems.  They tend to idealize the natural order as stable and harmonious and do not address suffering in the natural world (p. 211).

4.  The cosmic Christology she refers to is not fully developed (p. 211).  In other words, the needed theological ressourcement is not yet complete.



In the last screen, I quoted Donal Dorr’s assessment in 1992 that CST “has not yet become sufficiently ecological in scope… What is needed… is to situate the Church’s social teaching and the theological anthropology on which it is based within the context of a renewed … theology of creation” (p. 369).

What do you think Deane-Drummond would make of this?

In light of the above four points, possibly she would say three things.  First, there are rich resources in both the theology of creation and also other parts of Christian theology for the needed renewal.  Second, she would say that this has been taking place, and was doing so, in deep ways, already before 1990 (i.e. earlier than Dorr’s conclusion implies).  She would add, third, that it is by no means complete and needs to go further, continuing to draw on those resources.

In light of Deane-Drummond’s article, do these speculations about her conclusions seem reasonable?  Are there other things you think she might add?


At the very start of this unit and also at the end of our study of the CST documents (3.4.4), I noted that there is no papal encyclical yet that addresses ecological issues as its main topic.  To conclude this brief assessment of CST on ecological responsibility, we come back to this.

Why has there no such encyclical to date?  We can really only speculate about the answer, apart from acknowledging the obvious: the papacy always has to face and deal with a daunting range of very difficult issues and challenges – especially now in the era of global travel and communication.  This item may be on the agenda, but perhaps it has kept being deferred to the next meeting!

But we can say a little more than this.  On one hand, the richness of resources for addressing ecological issues that we have noted makes it rather surprising, at least at first sight, that there was not an encyclical devoted to this topic by John Paul II or Benedict XVI.  Some observers have been critical of CST because of this lack.

On the other hand, the Church sees papal encyclicals as authoritative statements of teaching, not vehicles merely for exploring new ideas.  No doubt John Paul II and Benedict XVI wanted to develop the Church’s teaching in this area carefully, and perhaps for this reason they deliberately avoided rushing to make a major, authoritative statement.  After all, in the Church’s 2000-year history, the question of how to respond to ecological crisis has appeared on the agenda only very recently.  (It has been said that the timescale in terms of which the ‘mind’ of the Vatican works should be measured in centuries – which hardly suits an era of 24-hour news.)

Here is a possible comparison.  The text that launched the Communist movement, The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, was published in 1848.  Rerum Novarum didn’t appear until 1891.  But, a century later in Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul was able to argue in a compelling way that the teaching in Rerum Novarum proved more true to the human condition, and therefore more durable, than Communism did.  You will be able to assess this argument for yourself in Unit 8.

On the basis of this timetable, we should expect an encyclical on ecology in about 2030, which would be a long time to wait… But it now seems (see 3.4.4) there will be one much sooner.


End of 3.5.2

Go to 3.5.3 ‘Living life to the full’ with all creation

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  1. For further biographical information on Celia Deane-Drummond, see  http://www.counterbalance.org/bio/cdrumm-frame.html

  2. Charles Peguy, a late-nineteenth century French writer who was one main inspiration for ressourcement in the twentieth century, described it in terms of movement “from a less perfect tradition to a more perfect tradition, … from a shallower tradition to a deeper tradition…, an investigation into deeper sources; in the literal sense of the word a ‘re-source’”, (quoted in Michael G. Lawler, What Is and What Ought to Be: The Dialectic of Experience, Theology, and Church, Continuum, 2005, p. 120).