Lambs wagging their tails, pigs that live in the backyard, chickens that seek the affection of children and even octopuses that affectionately extend their tentacles to the South African diver’s hand Craig Foster who, thanks to the extraordinary images, won the Oscar in 2021 with the documentary “Professor Octopus”. A profound title: animals, even the most unlikely ones like a cephalopod, are teaching humans that there is an emotional and participatory communion that is driving not only philosophical and legal reflection, but also laying the groundwork for creation in 2009 in Germanyprecisely in MunsterHe does Institute of Theological Zoology (link here).
The report is from Laura Eduatipublished in The Roman Osservatore2022-04-02. The translation is from Moses Sbardelotto.
At the institute, the debate takes place between Christian theologians and those belonging to Eastern, Hindu and Buddhist religions, the latter being children of a religious culture in which the border between human and animal is less sharp and less utilitarian. At the Institute of Theological Zoologytheological thinking is encouraged and, at the same time, seminars on encounters between humans and animals, pet-therapy and direct experience laboratories are organized to rediscover a field of mutual recognition.
The main objective, the founders indicate, is to “change the theological paradigm” and correct “an error” of modern theology on the fate of animals, for centuries considered soulless instruments and, therefore, inferior, unworthy of light and consideration.
The error, write the scholars of Munsternot only harmful to animals, but it leads to a false conception of Creation and of God, and that, as he warned Thomas Aquinas“turns men away from the Creator”.
For the theology of animals, non-human creatures have a divine breath that makes them worthy of being part of the history of salvation, and this is not an absolute novelty of Christian thought, but it sinks its own vision in the reading of the Bible.
The verses of Ecclesiastesamong many, they are very clear: “In fact, the lot of men and animals is the same; as these die, so die; all have the same vital breath. There is no superiority of man over animals, because everything is vanity.” [Ecl 3,19].
This is the vision of Pope Francis in the encyclical Laudato si’: “The ultimate end of other creatures is not us”, because “desired by their very being, they reflect, each in its own way, a spark of God’s infinite wisdom and goodness. That is why man must respect the goodness proper to each creature, to avoid the disorderly use of things.” [n. 69].
It is easy to imagine that this moral vision is also the fruit of the times in which we live and of the environmental catastrophe we hope to avoid, but what is really new, also in the eyes of ordinary people, are the scientific discoveries about the extraordinary emotional and cognitive capacities of people. animals.
In 2012, a document signed in Cambridge by the greatest neuroscientists on the planet established that all vertebrate animals and cephalopods are self-aware, and in 2013, research confirmed what dog caregivers have known all along, namely that they feel emotions similar to human emotions, consideration extended also to the animals that we normally destined for the cruelty of intensive breeding.
“This constrains us to a new sensitivity and, therefore, to a new relationship with them”, says Fr. Martin M. Lintner, Servite, Professor of Theological Ethics at Bressanoneformer president of International Association for Moral Theology and Social Ethics: “A relationship that must take into account not only respect for the species, but also for each individual animal”.
Animalist theologians and philosophers gather around the wonder of the animal, which is of no use to human beings, be it a cow in the pastures or the cat that awaits us affectionately at the end of the day, but is a wonder in itself, a fragment of that Creation which for a long time seemed to have placed only human beings and their interests at the center of the world.
“This was due to the influence on Christian theology of philosophers such as Plato and Aristotlefor which animals were clearly inferior, because they were seen as a-logoithat is, not endowed with reason and intelligence, and therefore not even an immortal soul,” reflects the Physical education. lintner.
The resurrection itself Christhowever, if considered in the cosmological dimension, it includes the salvation of animals: “João wrote that the Word became flesh, and the term flesh includes the concept of the frailty and vulnerability of the human being who is a creature, molded from the dust of the earth. So, the term flesh expresses the vulnerability of the creature, which includes animals”, adds the South Tyrolean theologian, explaining how it is possible to overcome one of the great questions of medieval scholastic theology according to which salvation had to exclude animals because they were not endowed with an intellectual soul.
This cultural awareness, that is, the exclusion of non-human beings from the plan of salvation, has often led men and women, even non-believers, to mistreat animals and the planet. However, this dichotomy is in the process of being overcome. In one of his catecheses, the Pope Francis observed: “One day we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ”.
Paolo De Benedetti, the recently deceased animal theologian, went further: in the eyes of a dying dog, he wrote, it is possible to find Jesus. “If we believe that God created every living being out of love and also made a covenant with the animals after the flood, then it is obvious to believe that God does not simply resign himself to the suffering and death of an animal. There are approaches to extend the option for the poor to animals as well.”
lintner still remember the Laudato si’in which the Pope Francis says: “Among the most abandoned and abused poor is our oppressed and devastated land, which ‘groans and suffers in childbirth’ (Rom 8:22)” [n. 2].
“In this sense, we find Christ in every suffering creature and in the eyes of a dying dog”, explains lintnerconvinced that the Church still needs to reflect more deeply on the concept of the use and, in particular, of the death of animals, which is possible today for the Catechism when there is a justification such as obtaining food or pharmaceutical experimentation, which, keeping the Bible always open, seems little to conform to the words of the prophet Hosea: “At that time I will make for them a covenant with the beasts of the earth, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground; bow, sword and war I will eliminate from the country; I will make them lie down in peace” (Hosea 2:20).
Report any Portuguese, information or technical errors found on this page to the editorial staff:
Animals correct theology – Instituto Humanitas Unisinos – IHU