Building Green

St. Gabriel's Church, Toronto: A LEED™ Church Building Project - Eco-Theology Considerations (Part II)

June 22, 2007

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The universe in all its wondrous modes of expression, both individually and collectively, is a celebration of its divine origin. Our art, our music, our rituals, and indeed our creativity are all informed by creation.  It is not coincidental that these words share the same root.  Imagine what our liturgies would be like if the diversity of life on the planet was not there to provide us with inspiration?  Imagine for a moment how we would decorate our churches to reflect the liturgical seasons or how our scripture and prayers would have evolved if we lived all of our lives in a landscape that resembled the moon.  Any threat to the earth’s ability to function in all its glory and provide the essentials of life must also be understood as a threat to religion.  If the water is contaminated by pollution then it can’t be drunk or used in Baptism. Thomas Berry suggests [in The Dream of the Earth ] that both in its physical reality and its religious symbolism, it becomes a source not of life, but death.

How do we weave ourselves back into the web of life? How do we become re-enchanted with the glory of creation?  As an architect who designs sacred space, how can I respond to the insights revealed by eco-theology? Once again, I would like to return to the work of Thomas Berry for the answers.  He believes that the real hope lies in our ability to re-establish an integrated sense of the whole, to redefine a cosmology based not upon an anthropocentric view of the human as primary but based instead upon a biocentric understanding of the earth as primary and the needs of the human as derivative.  In order to do this, he believes we need first to examine the inner intentionality of God’s universe as manifested by its three creative principles:  differentiation, subjectivity, and communion.

According to Thomas Berry, “differentiation” is the primordial expression of the universe.  Out of the fiery violence of the “Big Bang” came radiation and differentiated particles that through a certain sequence of events, found expression in an overwhelming variety of manifestations.  The universe is coded for an ever increasing, non-repeatable, biodiversity as exemplified by the incredible variety of life that has evolved on the earth.  From its rich and abundant tropical forests to the stark beauty of its polar regions, the evidence of this tendency towards biodiversity is obvious.  Humankind would not have appeared as a species if somehow the process towards increasing biodiversity had been allowed to shut down.  In reality, we cannot help but be creative because the universe is creative.  Our role as humans must now be to restore the earth’s ability to continue its growth towards complexity and differentiation.

The second primary creative principle of the universe as identified by Thomas Berry is that of increased "subjectivity."  Together, every reality that makes up a part of the universe is not just a collection of objects but is a community of subjects.  As subjects, we all have an inner dimension, an interior reality which not only reflects the diversity that surrounds us but reflects the original bursting forth of energy at the beginning of time.  Our creativity as humans is informed by the diversity of subjectivity that is allowed to declare itself around us.  Any human activity that contributes to the impoverishment of the natural world will then inevitably contribute to the impoverishment of our sense of wonderment and awe.  With every species that becomes extinct, every mountain that becomes scared by deforestation, every river that becomes polluted with our industrial wastes, the presence of the divine that inspires our creativity as humans, is diminished.  Our own ability to survive as a species will depend to a great extent on the ability of all natural entities on the planet both living and non-living to develop their full potential apart from human influence as much as possible.

Thomas Berry’s third creative principle of the universe "is the communion of each reality of the universe with every other reality in the universe."  As mentioned before, we are an inextricably related community of subjects.  This genetic interrelatedness of everything in the universe to everything else means that the universe is in dialogue with itself as a community. “Everything is intimately present to everything else.”  The original bursting forth of energy at the beginning of time contained all the elements necessary for the evolution of the universe up to and including human culture.  The potential for religion, liturgy, music, poetry, dance, art and architecture existed as part of that original expression.  This is why we are connected to the stars in the night sky and to all living and non-living realities on the planet, why they are deserving of our awe and reverence, and why we must celebrate them in our creativity.

As humans, the time has come for us to forfeit our role as exploitive dominators and to assume the more responsible role of participatory co-creators with God by realigning our sense of creativity with the creative principles of the universe and the planet.  Only then can we contribute to the healing of the Earth in all its life systems and achieve a relationship with the Earth that is mutually-enhancing.

Roberto Chiotti, B.E.S., B.Arch., M.T.S., OAA, MRAIC, LEED™AP is a principal of Larkin Architect Limited.  In addition to obtaining his professional architectural degree in 1978, he completed his Master of Theological Studies at the University of St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto in 1998 with a specialty in Theology and Ecology obtained through the Elliott Allen Institute for Theology and Ecology at St. Michael’s.


St. Gabriel's Church, Toronto: A LEED™ Church Building Project - Eco-Theology Considerations (Part I)

St. Gabriel's Church, Toronto: A LEED™ Church Building Project - The Details (Part I and Part II)

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