My first 2019 summer read was Ilia Delio’s 2003 monograph “A Franciscan View of Creation.” Delio is a Franciscan sister and scholar who draws on scientific and theological traditions, especially using Franciscan thinkers and the Jesuit author Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Why review this book? It may seem very specific for a music education blog, reviewing a book about Franciscan theology, which is one strain of thought within Christianity, which is one religion among many that music educators hold. A body of scholarship has argued that teaching has a spiritual (as well as an intellectual and an emotional) element. Parker Palmer suggests:
“We need to open a new frontier in our exploration of good teaching: the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. To chart that landscape fully, three important paths must be taken—intellectual, emotional, and spiritual—and none can be ignored. Reduce teaching to intellect and it becomes a cold abstraction; reduce it to emotions and it becomes narcissistic; reduce it to the spiritual and it loses its anchor to the world.”
Good teaching, then, is a spiritual practice. As a teacher who grew up Catholic, teaching for ecological literacy, then, compels me to self-interrogate my religious impulses. To look deeply at my understandings of the material world and my place in it. For me—and for many teachers who are Catholic—that can involve looking at the tradition I belong to. My life beyond being a teacher. Similarly, teachers hoping to sustain a practice of eco-literacy who belong to other faith traditions, and those atheists and agnostics too, might benefit from analyzing the roots of their own assumption. As a general statement for this post, then, theology can be understood as intellectually noticing the taken-for-granted in the religious (relegare; connected ligaments) sphere. Philosophy can be seen as a method for theology, much as philosophy provides a method for understanding other spheres (scientific method, sociological theory, etc.). Teachers are religious beings; and we can understand our practices better by understanding our religious impulses, even when we don't teach "religion" specifically.
From the Franciscan perspective, “Creation is a mystery,” and the relational ideas of Francis of Assisi, Bonaventure, and Duns Scotus offer a coherent line of thinking about our relationship with creation as created creatures. Delio begins with a series of questions: “What is our fundamental relationship to nature? What is our role with regard to domination ‘over’ creation? What stance should we assume with regard to the ecological crisis in which we find ourselves? What is the meaning of Christian life in an evolutionary world?” It has long been noted that the roots of the ecological crises have been religious, and the solutions must be religious.
Unlike university educated theologians of his era, Francis of Assisi provided a non-Neoplatonist conception of the sensual world and God. Francis saw God as incarnated in creation through Jesus, “[Francis] realized that the suffering of humanity and all creation could only be lifted up through solidarity in love.” All of creation, then, is “good,” as it is labeled in the beginning of Genesis.” Francis saw the entirety of the cosmos (“sun, moon, stars, fire and water”) as related—becoming Brother sun, Sister moon, etc. In fact, the word “piety” means “blood-related,” as in being part of a family. At the start of the Franciscan tradition, God’s kingdom is not to be found in a distant future so much as in the here and now.
In contrast, Francis's disciple Bonaventure was educated at the University of Paris, perhaps the best university of the era. Bonaventure talks about creation “like a beautiful song that flows in the most excellent harmonies. It is a song that God freely desires to sing into the vast spaces of the universe.” The universe exists, for Bonaventure, because God desires to create it. Out of love. It is a free act that “is like a cosmic symphony,” with an order that is intelligible. All of creation is oriented toward its telos (its ultimate aim), which is God. Building on Francis, the order Bonaventure observes is relational. The triune God is essentially relationship (Father, Son, Spirit), and all created things (humans, animals, rocks, stars) are related to the Trinity—everything is “dynamic and relational.” Creation is the “art of God,” and mirrors God. “We are created to read the book of creation so that we may know the Author of Life. The world is a sign and is meant to lead humans to what it signifies, namely, the infinite Trinity of dynamic, eternal and self-diffusive love.” We are persons to the extent that we are instruments for otherness (“‘per-sonare’ … to ‘sound through’”). But "sin" is our separation from other creations. It is best to be in good relations with our brothers and sisters. Love as a relationship is the intention of creation.
John Duns Scotus began his theory with the idea that God is absolutely free. Nothing in creation is necessary; all is a gift. “Scotus maintains that God became human out of love (rather than because of human sin) because God wanted to express God’s self in a creature who would be a masterpiece and who would love God perfectly in return. … Christ is the first in God’s intention to love.” Christ, then, is not an abstract; but incarnate embracing the whole of creation. Scotus viewed creation as a “cosmic hymn,” with “each and every thing reveal[ing] God’s beauty as a whole.” Chardin drew heavily from Scotus’s doctrine to suggest that Christ literally fills the universe. All of creation is evolving toward an Omega Point. Scotus provided a basis for evolutionary and material conceptualizations of Christ within the universe. This is what Thomas Berry called “the universe story,” making the ecological implications explicit.
Delio summarizes the Franciscan tradition under five themes:
- The goodness of creation
- The integral relationship between Christ and creation
- The sacramentality of creation
- The integral relationship between the human and the non-human aspects of creation
- The universe as a divine milieu with Christ as center
To conclude, following Delio’s analysis, music educators need to recognize how we are interconnected with all of creation (not just other humans). We can no longer separate ourselves from non-human beings and natural processes. We must be creatures of place, sharing our place sustainably with all other creatures. The sin of hubris has led to ecological crises, including climate change and the waste crisis. Music educators need to realize the intrinsic value of non-human musics. Music educators need to recognize the goodness of diversity, including biological diversity. Music educators need to provide opportunities for their students to have meaningful contact with nature’s musics. Go outdoors! People need conversion, especially where our “sin” (of perceived separateness from nature) leads to waste and ecological destruction. Environmental justice is the natural conclusion of Franciscan thought.