Thomas Berry


American Catholic Priest of the Passionist Order, Cultural Historian and Eco-theologian, Earth Scholar, Author and Teacher

Author Quotes

All human activities, professions, programs, and institutions must henceforth be judged primarily by the extent to which they inhibit, ignore, or foster a mutually enhancing human/Earth relationship.

If the religious experience were simply some naive impression of the uninformed it would not have resulted in such intellectual insight, such spiritual exaltation, such spectacular religious ritual, or in the immense volume of song and poetry and literature and dance that humans have produced.

The deepest cause ...of the present devastation is found in a mode of consciousness that has established a radical discontinuity between the human and other modes of being and the bestowal of all rights on the humans.

The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects. And listen to this: The human is derivative. The planet is primary.

We are at the terminal phase of the Cenozoic – the last 65 million years. We are not just passing into another historical period or another cultural modification. We are changing the chemistry of the planet. We are changing the bio-systems. We are changing the geo-systems of the planet on a scale of millions of years. But more specifically we are terminating the last 65 million years of life development. Now a person would say – Well where do we go from here? To my mind we go from the terminal phase – if we survive it – into a really sustainable world. We will be passing from the terminal Cenozoic into what I call the Ecozoic. And the primary principle of the Ecozoic is that the Universe - and in particular planet Earth – is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects. If we don’t learn that – nothing is going to work. Whereas all this beauty of the universe that we see about us came into being without human consultation. From here on the universe will never function that way again.

Well, the first thing to recognize in human-earth relationships is the Earth is primary and humans are derivative. Humans are for the perfection of the Earth rather than the Earth is here for the perfection of humans. Because the Earth project, reading people like Aristotle, some of the great classics, and particularly Aquinas at an earlier period in human history, mentions that the planet Earth or the universe is the ultimate and noblest perfection in things and everything in the universe is ultimately for the perfection of the universe. So humans give to the universe a consciousness of itself. In fact, in a certain sense, humans are the way in which the universe creates itself, because the human can be defined as that being in whom the universe reflects on and celebrates itself in a special mode of conscious self-awareness. So in this manner, the first thing to recognize is that humans must become integral with the Earth. This is a very new approach, to the Western world, who have been so transfixed with the glory of the human and with the rights of humans that they have missed the point as regards humans and their relationship with the Earth.

Already the planet is so damaged and the future is so challenged by its rising human population that the terms of survival will be severe beyond anything we have known in the past.

In our totality we are born of the Earth. Our spirituality itself is earth-derived... If there is no spirituality in the earth, then there is no spirituality in ourselves.

The destiny of humans cannot be separated from the destiny of earth.

The universe is composed of subjects to be communed with, not objects to be exploited. Everything has its own voice. Thunder and lightning and stars and planets, flowers, birds, animals, trees, -- all these have voices, and they constitute a community of existence that is profoundly related.

We are presently extinguishing something like 10,000 species every single year. We only know 1,600,000 or so, but we feel sure that there are 5 million...We are doing enormous damage...And the important thing to realize, also, is that this is irreversible; neither heaven or Earth can bring back extinguished species, it's forever. It's the most absolute deed that humans can do, I think. You can never bring back a bird species. The Carolina Parakeet will never be back. The Passenger Pigeon, nobody will ever see again. And what we're doing is blocking out possibilities not only for our children, but for the children of 10,000 generation.

We've been caught up in a mechanistic world, because what we make, makes us. We make the automobile, the automobile makes us. We make an industrial economy, the industrial economy makes us. We are now in a weird dream world of industrial technological imagination. Who would be so destructive to the very basis out of which we exist, that we spoil our water and our air? For what? To invent an industrial economy. We are so brilliant scientifically and so absurd in any other way. We are into a deep cultural pathology -- in ordinary language, we are crazy. To think that we can have a viable human economy by destroying the Earth economy is absurd.

As in creating some significant work the artist first experiences something akin to dream awareness that becomes clarified in the creative process itself, so we must first have a vision of the future sufficiently entrancing that it will sustain us in the transformation of the human project that is now in process.

In reality, there is a single integral community of the Earth that includes all its component members whether human or other than human. In this community every being has its own role to fulfill, its own dignity, its own inner spontaneity. Every being has its own voice. Every being declares itself to the entire universe. Every being enters into communion with other beings. In every phase of our imaginative, aesthetic, and emotional lives we are profoundly dependent on this larger context of the surrounding world.

The earth community is a wilderness community that will not be bargained with; nor will it simply be studied or examined or made an object of any kind; nor will it be domesticated or trivialized as a setting for vacation indulgence, except under duress and by oppressions which it cannot escape. When this does take place in an abusive way, a vengenace awaits the human, for when the other living species are violated so extensively, the human itself is imperiled.

The universe itself is the primary sacred community. All human religion should be considered as participation in the religious aspect of the universe itself. It is false to say that humanity is the most excellent being in the universe. The most excellent being in the universe is the universe itself.

We are talking only to ourselves. We are not talking to the rivers, we are not listening to the wind and stars. We have broken the great conversation. By breaking that conversation we have shattered the universe. All the disasters that are happening now are a consequence of that spiritual 'autism.'

While our universities have gone through many transitions since they first came into being in the early medieval period, they have never experienced anything like the transition that is being asked of them just now. The difficulty cannot be resolved simply by establishing a course or a program in ecology, for ecology is not a course or a program. Rather it is the foundation of all courses, all programs, and all professions because ecology is a functional cosmology. Ecology is not a part of medicine; medicine is an extension of ecology. Ecology is not a part of law; law is an extension of ecology. So too, in their own way, the same can be said of economics and even the humanities.

Both education and religion need to ground themselves within the story of the universe as we now understand this story through empirical knowledge. Within this functional cosmology, we can overcome our alienation and begin the renewal of life on a sustainable basis. This story is a numinous revelatory story that could evoke the vision and the energy required to bring not only ourselves but the entire planet into a new order of magnificence.

In this setting the universe would become the primary university. Just as the universe is the primary law-giver. the primary economic corporation, the primary scientist, the primary technologist, the primary healer, the primary revelation of the divine, the primary artist, the primary teacher and indeed the primary source in all earthly affairs.

The Earth with its layers of land and water and air provides the space within which all living things are nurtured and the context within which humans attain their identity. If in the excitement of a secular technology reverence for the Earth has diminished in the past, especially in the western world, humans now experience a sudden shock at the devastation they have wrought on their own habitation. The ancient human-Earth relationship must be recovered in a new context, in its mystical as well as in its physical functioning. There is need for awareness that the mountains and rivers and all living things, the sky and its sun and moon and clouds all constitute a healing, sustaining sacred presence for humans which they need as much for their psychic integrity as for their physical nourishment. This presence whether experienced as Allah, as Atman, as Sunyata, or as the Buddha-nature or as Bodhisattva; whether as Tao or as the One or as the Divine Feminine, is the atmosphere in which humans breathe deepest and without which they eventually suffocate.

The universe must be experienced as the Great Self. Each is fulfilled in the other: the Great Self is fulfilled in the individual self, the individual self is fulfilled in the Great Self. Alienation is overcome as soon as we experience this surge of energy from the source that has brought the universe through the centuries. New fields of energy become available to support the human venture. These new energies find expression and support in celebration. For in the end the universe can only be explained in terms of celebration. It is all an exuberant expression of existence itself.

We cannot discover ourselves without first discovering the universe, the earth, and the imperatives of our own being. Each of these has a creative power and a vision far beyond any rational thought or cultural creation of which we are capable.

Wildness we might consider as the root of the authentic spontaneities of any being. It is that wellspring of creativity whence comes the instinctive activities that enable all living beings to obtain their food, to find shelter, to bring forth their young: to sing and dance and fly through the air and swim through the depths of the sea. This is the same inner tendency that evokes the insight of the poet, the skill of the artist and the power of the shaman.

Diversity is the magic. It is the first manifestation, the first beginning of the differentiation of a thing and of simple identity. The greater the diversity, the greater the perfection.

Author Picture
First Name
Last Name
Birth Date
Death Date

American Catholic Priest of the Passionist Order, Cultural Historian and Eco-theologian, Earth Scholar, Author and Teacher