Friday, 27 February 2009

2009 Pluscarden Pentecost Lectures

from the Sisters of the Gospel of Life

The 2009 Pluscarden Pentecost Lectures

2nd - 4th June 2009 at Pluscarden Abbey, near Elgin

Holistic Ambiguity: A Western Theology of Nature

Pluscarden 2

This years series will be given by the Rev. Dr Tom Herbst OFM, lecturer at the Franciscan International Centre in Canterbury.

1. Tuesday 2nd June at 2.45 pm
A critique of Western empirical views of nature. The foundations of the Christian Tradition

2. Wednesday 3rd June at 10.15 am
The Fathers grapple with a Greek conundrum

3. Wednesday 3rd June at 2.45 pm
From a negative to a positive view of nature in the medieval period

4. Thursday 4th June at 10.15 am
The post-modern challenge to the Western theological synthesis

Each year the Abbot and Community of Pluscarden Abbey sponsor a series of four lectures by an invited Theologian on an aspect of Catholic Theology. Previous Lecturers have included Bishop Michael Evans, Fr Aidan Nichols OP, Fr Thomas Weinandy OFM Cap, Fr Anthony Meredith SJ and Fr Paul McPartlan.

The Lectures are held on the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday after Pentecost in St Scholastica’s Retreat House at the Abbey. They are open to all who wish to attend and are free.

Limited accommodation is available at the Abbey and those who wish to stay should book as soon as possible. There are also many places to stay in the Elgin area: contact the local tourist office: 01343 542666.

The Lecturer
Dr Thomas J. Herbst received a BA in History at the University of California at Santa Barbara, a M. Div. from the Franciscan School of Theology and a MA in Theology at the Franciscan School of Theology/Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. He obtained a D.Phil. in Theology from the University of Oxford in 2001.

His academic interests include various disciplines of Historical Theology with emphasis in the Patristic and Medieval eras, Christian iconography, exegesis with special reference to the Gospel of John, and Systematic Theology with particular emphasis on Christology and the Theology of Nature. He is also interested in various fields of Franciscan Studies, especially Franciscan Christology and the writings of Francis and Clare.

Publications include:
The Way of Union: Sources and Reflections on the Johannine Dimension of Bonaventure’s Christology (Grottaferrata, Rome: 2005)

The Lectures


Grappling with an understanding of nature has been a concern of all world religions and Christianity is no exception. At no time has this been more acute than in the modern era in which we find ourselves. The emerging importance of ‘eco-spirituality’, and the sense of crisis that serves as an impetus, has assumed great importance in Christian apologetics in relation to science, technology and (Western) secular attitudes. At the same time, a theology of nature is increasingly important as a focal point within inter-Christian and inter-religious dialogue. The Western Christian tradition of natural theology is a rich one. It is impacted by, and a part of, the broader traditions of systematics, spirituality, mysticism and, especially, philosophy. Extending from the Judeo-Christian roots of scriptural revelation and the philosophical synthesis achieved by classical Christianity and the Greek intellectual tradition; maturing in depth and complexity in the Middle Ages, and jarringly challenged by modern and post-modern thought, a Christian theology of nature is a multi-valent exercise. A truly holistic view of the world and the human person within it is mandated by the Incarnation, yet often seems ‘just out of reach’. Simplistic solutions are rarely sufficient. The complexity of nature is matched by the complexity of its relationship with the Creator. In this year’s Lectures, Fr Tom Herbst will trace the developments towards an integrated Western theology of nature from pagan philosophy through Scripture and Patristics to a modern and post-modern understanding.

Lecture 1: A critique of Western empirical views of nature. The foundations of the Christian tradition

Introduction: A 20th century novel: Stephen King’s, The Stand; a theological response to the ecological crisis, engendered by the modern rationalist view demands a new paradigm, or at least a redemption and fresh interpretation of the old.

Part 1: Critique of Western empirical views of nature in terms of a narrow definition of rationalism. Reality = what can be manipulated. This presupposes that: 1. reality is anthropocentric, 2. there is no God and, 3. there is no spiritual animation of nature, 4. nature does not have a consciousness, is inanimate or simply biological necessity.

Part 2: The foundations of the Christian tradition; a scriptural response:
- Creation in Genesis and the implications of imago Dei.
- An examination of ‘the Fall’ and its implications on the Christian world view. Dualism in the West: A holistic metaphysics (taking account of the positive AND negative).
- Cosmic redemption in Paul’s Letter to the Romans.
- Ambiguous dualism and holistic eschatology as the implications of the hypostatic union are applied to the entire universe in the Book of the Apocalypse.

Lecture 2: The Fathers grapple with a Greek conundrum

Patristic Fathers grapple with a Greek conundrum- Plato solves one problem and creates another: ‘Union soteriology’ and the problem of ‘proximity’.

- The radical assertion of Nicea…
- to the radical assertion of Chalcedon: God and nature are utterly separate and inextricably unified.
- The pervasive problem of dualism (ex: Docetism/Gnostics).
- Origen: an encounter of objective and subjective. Where does one find God?
- Augustine: Illumination, caritas, and the archetype of the Two Cities (Civitatis Dei).

Lecture 3: From a negative to a positive view of nature in the medieval period

Christian iconography as a hermeneutic: the angry God of the Dark Ages.
- Global warming and the second coming of Aristotle.
- Three characteristics of the re-claimed holistic theology of nature: 1. History. 2. Affectivity and 3. Naturalism.
- The scholastic dream of a redeemed City of Man.
- Hugh and Richard of St. Victor, Bernard of Clairvaux, and the theology/spirituality of the 12th century.
- The Franciscan synthesis of old and new theologies of nature: Cosmic fraternitas in Francis of Assisi, the kenotic God of Clare of Assisi, and Christ in medias res in Bonaventure.

Lecture 4: The post-modern challenge to the Western theological synthesis

Prelude: The synthetic tradition of Scotus and Ockham to the fracture of Western intellectual unity in the fourteenth century.

The post-modern challenge to the Western theological synthesis:
- Nietzsche and nihilism
- Sartre and existentialism
- Radical subjectivism
- Radical determinism
- Human freedom and responsibility…etc.

For further information contact the Abbey at:

To book accommodation at the Abbey contact the Guestmaster at: guestmaster(at)pluscardenabbey(dot)org

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