Thomas Berry, a Catholic monk and cultural historian and one of the great prophetic voices of the 20th century, has died at the age of 94 in his hometown of Greensboro, N.C.
A cultural historian, Berry focused on expanding our understanding of the sacred within our religious institutions. To be human, he said, is to be part of an unimaginably complex and wondrous creative event. "The universe itself is the primary sacred community. All human religion should be considered as participation in the religious aspect of the universe itself. "
The universe, he famously said, is a "communion of subjects, not a collection of objects." Living beings are not objects to be manipulated and used. They and we are inseparable. To diminish one is to diminish the other. Forgetting this fundamental fact is the root cause of the ecological catastrophe now unfolding and a source of human cruelty and conflict. Each time we lose a piece of the world, our soul is diminished.
A self-described "Geologian," Berry's greatest gift was to put the human in the context of the universe. "The universe," he says, "throughout its vast extent in space, and its long sequence of transformations in time—is a single, multiform, celebratory event." And you "are that being in whom the universe reflects on and celebrates itself." We, me—an integral piece of the cosmos, indivisible, as large as a star or as small as an atom.
The Cenozoic, said Berry, is ending, marked, as many other geological transitions have been, by a mass extinction event. We will go forward either in communion with the natural world or we will diminish along with it. "Reverence will be total or it will not be at all," he said. "Celebration is the key to the future."