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Environmental Ethics

Volume 18, Issue 3, Fall 1996

J. Donald Hughes
Pages 311-320

Francis of Assisi and the Diversity of Creation

Francis’ view of nature has been seen as positive in an ecological sense even by those who are for the most part critical of Christianity’s attitude to nature, such as Lynn White, Jr. I argue that one element of Francis’ uniqueness was that he saw the diversity of life as an expression of God’s creativity and benevolence and attempted to carry out that vision in ethical behavior. Much of what has been written about him has precedents in traditional hagiography, but there remains an unmistakable impression of originality. It has been noted that Francis insisted on the goodness of creation, used terms of family relationship to refer to creatures other than human, and preached to them. However, another element has escaped notice: his emphasis on the presence of God in the diversity of created entities and his desire that humans should rejoice in this diversity and glorify God for it and with it. His devotion did not immediately dissolve multiplicity into oneness, but glorified God in each created being and delighted in their individuality. He advocated that praise be expressed by acting in ways consistent with respect for created diversity, not only by observing a strict rule of abstaining from harm to living beings, but also in positive treatment of all creatures. Nature took its meaning not from its serviceability to mankind, but from its expression of the multiple forms of God’s benevolent presence.

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