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Lynn White.pdf


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What Sir Steven Ruciman calls "the Franciscan doctrine of the
animal soul" was quickly stamped out. Quite possibly it was in part
inspired, consciously or unconsciously, by the belief in reincarnation held
by the Cathar heretics who at that time teemed in Italy and southern France,
and who presumably had got it originally from India. It is significant that at
just the same moment, about 1200, traces of metempsychosis are found also
in western Judaism, in the Provencal Cabbala. But Francis held neither to
transmigration of souls nor to pantheism. His view of nature and of man
rested on a unique sort of pan-psychism of all things animate and inaminate,
designed for the glorification of their transcendent Creator, who, in the
ultimate gesture of cosmic humility, assumed flesh, lay helpless in a
manger, and hung dying on a scaffold.

White, Lynn. 1974. "The historical roots of our ecologic crisis [with
discussion of St Francis; reprint, 1967]," Ecology and religion in history,
(New York :Harper and Row, 1974).
Located at web site
http://www.siena.edu/ellard/historical_roots_of_ou
r_ecologic.htm

I am not suggesting that many contemporary Americans who are
concerned about our ecologic crisis will be either able or willing to counsel
with wolves or exhort birds. However, the present increasing disruption of
the global environment is the product of a dynamic technology and science
which were originating in the Western medieval world against which Saint
Francis was rebelling in so original a way. Their growth cannot be
understood historically apart from distinctive attitudes toward nature which
are deeply grounded in Christian dogma. The fact that most people do not
think of these attitudes as Christian is irrelevant. No new set of basic values
has been accepted in our society to displace those of Christianity. Hence we
shall continue to have a worsening ecologic crisis until we reject the
Christian axiom that nature has no reason for existence save to serve man.
The greatest spiritual revolutionary in Western history, Saint
Francis, proposed what he thought was an alternative Christian view of
nature and man's relation to it; he tried to substitute the idea of the equality
of all creatures, including man, for the idea of man's limitless rule of
creation. He failed. Both our present science and our present technology are
so tinctured with orthodox Christian arrogance toward nature that no
solution for our ecologic crisis can be expected from them alone. Since the
roots of our trouble are so largely religious, the remedy must also be
essentially religious, whether we call it that or not. We must rethink and
refeel our nature and destiny. The profoundly religious, but heretical, sense
of the primitive Franciscans for the spiritual autonomy of all parts of nature
may point a direction. I propose Francis as a patron saint for ecologists.

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