A Loving and Compassionate God, pt 2


Whilst I acknowledge that it is possible to have differences in the interpretation of biblical texts in this brief commentary, I follow the interpretation of the Fathers who express a theology grounded in the concept of an inclusive and all loving God.

I attempt to give a glimpse – an anamnesis – of an earlier theological understanding of the inter-connectedness of all creation which is loved and protected by God.

As previously stated the early Church Fathers had no reason to offer a systematic theological view on the position of animal suffering.  This does not mean that they were indifferent to the rest of Creation as Irenaeus’s teaching here indicates:

Now, among the “all things” our world must be embraced.  It too, therefore, was made by His Word, as Scripture tells us in the book of Genesis.[1]

Whilst the non-human creation was not their primary focus importantly, the Fathers did recognise that only humans had sinned and that only humans were in need of instruction and repentance.  Irenaeus is clear:

While all things were made by God, certain of His creatures sinned and revolted from a state of submission to God, and others, indeed the great majority, persevered, and do still persevere, in [willing] subjection to Him who formed them.[2]

Athanasius affirms this recognition:

Nothing in creation had gone astray in its notions of God, save the human being only. [3]

There is also a Patristic tradition of recognising that through Christ’s Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection and via the Eucharistic offering, creation is sanctified. [4]  Cyril of Jerusalem elucidates:

And do not wonder that the whole world was ransomed; for it was no mere man, but the only-begotten Son of God, who died on its behalf.[5]

The Fathers taught that Christ sanctified the Creation through everything He touched. For example we are taught that Christ ‘sleeps in order to bless sleep’, ‘weeps in order to make tears blessed’ [6] and explicitly, the Fathers link Christ’s baptism with the sanctification of the baptismal waters.[7]

Basil of Seleucia for example, taught that Christ saved the world and liberated the earth[8] and recounts all the benefits of salvation including ‘a principle of purification for the world’ and a ‘renewing of nature’. [9]  Importantly, modern commentators like Theokritoff (2001, 2009) and Gschwandtner (2012) inform us that we may find similar teachings in many ecclesial texts.[10]

In summary, I have presented some evidence of an Orthodox tradition which is sympathetic to the notion of animal suffering and salvation.

[1] Irenaeus, op. cit., Against Heresies, 2.2:5 p. 9.

[2] Ibid 2.18.7, p. 81; See also 3.9:1, p. 19 ‘all flesh shall see the salvation of God’ and 4.4.3, p. 14

[3] Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word 43:3, CANNPNF2-04.

[4] Irenaeus, op. cit., 4.18.6, p. 50.

[5] Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Homily 13:2; See also 13:35 & 15:3.

[6] Gregory Nazianzen, Oration 37.2 On the Words of the Gospel CANNPNF2-07.

[7] Ibid, Oration 29.10 The Third Theological Oration. On The Son; also Oration 39.15-16 Theophany On the Holy Lights.

[8] Basil of Seleucia, Third Homily on Pascha, SC. 187:209 [online] available at: http://www.sourceschretiennes.mom.fr/index.php?pageid=volume_paru&id=155&longueursource=50&trisource=auteur_anciens&selection2source=203&sourcepg=volumes_parus.

[9] Ibid, SC. 187:215.

[10]  E.g. 5 January, Matins, Canon 9.2, Menaion, p. 302 cited in Theokritoff, E. ‘Creation and Salvation in Orthodox Worship’ Journal of Religion, Nature & the Environment January 2001, Vol. 5, Issue 10. pp. 97-108.