Orthodox Natural Law Theory

Living In God's Creation: Orthodox Perspectives on Ecology (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2009)

As some have argued here, the Church’s witness requires her to clearly articulate her anthropological vision.  The challenges that face both the Church and the larger society flow from competing visions of what it means to be human.

The articulation of an Orthodox understanding of the human person is central to our moral witness in the public square, to our evangelical witness in the human heart and (most importantly) the effective preaching of the Gospel from the pulpit.  If we cannot present a clear and compelling vision of human life, then on matters of personal and public morality, sexuality, politics and public policy, the Church cedes the public square and the human heart to increasingly pagan and disjointed culture.

Though her immediate concern is  the environmental movement, Elizabeth Theokritoff’s Living in God’s Creation: Orthodox Perspectives on Ecology, offers us an Orthodox approach to natural law grounded in Scripture and the Church Fathers and embodied in Christian worship and the lives and witnesses of the saints.  Theokritoff articulates for the reader a rich cosmological and anthropological vision that has implications not only for the environment but also economics and politics and it raises themes worthy of further exploration and study.  While I do not agree with her policy suggestions, — especially what I would argue are her misguided and very dangerous flirtation with population control — I do think those here interested in an anthropological response to contemporary issues would do well to read Living in God’s Creation.

You can read the whole of my review on Acton’s PowerBlog (Review: An Orthodox Christian Natural Law Witness).

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory


  1. To All,

    While I have not read the above book, for those interested in understanding the environmental movement as it has developed over the last 40 years, I would urge you to read “Saviors of the Earth ?” by Michael S. Coffman.

    Mr. Coffman is an evangelical Christian who holds a Ph.D in Forest Science and has conducted research in Ecology and Ecosystem analysis for 35 years in both academia and industry.

    This book should be required reading for all serious Christians
    who wish to understand how the forces of the environmental movement are shaping our world.

    Christ is in our Midst !
    neil Latanzi

  2. Michael Bauman :

    I have not read the book either although I intend to. However, if the author is seriously suggesting any type of population control, I would say she is either not taking Orthodox anthropology seriously enought to overcome her own pre-conceived bias and/or she has got the anthroplogy wrong to begin with.

    A natural law approach is of only limited value in my way of looking at the things because it ultimately ends in some sort of deism rather than the Incarnation. It can be useful and instructive as long as the limitations are noted. It is the deism that will provide the foundation for such policy ideas as population control.

    Dualism is a constant temptation in such matters because the mind in which we live is strongly dualistic. The other temptation is to some form of pantheism.

    As Orthdox Christians, we are faced with the task of maintained the antinomical position that God is both immenent and transcendent; fully God and fully man; He works in and through us while at the same time His spirit is free to move where He desires. He has already save all of creation, yet to be part of that salvation we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling. An integral part of our salvific work is to dress and keep the earth in a sacramental fashion.

    It is quite easy to simply justify our own political and ideological bias.

  3. I weigh in not on the merits of this book, but on the importance of Orthodox Christian anthropology. Without a coherent anthropology, every moral precept and every law that circumscribes human behavior will seem arbitrary.
    I admire Catholic natural law, aware that the anthropology may be skewed, because it is far more coherent than the Protestant ethics I’ve heard expressed (which drive me to distraction). But I yearn for Orthodox alternatives.

  4. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Caveat: I have not read the book, but after reading your review I will make a point to read it. However, when you mention such things as a “dangerous flirtation with population control” my alarm starts ringing. Is Theokritoff forcing Orthodox theology to fit her policy biases?

    I ask because this is the mistake Constantinople made. Take Fr. John Chryssavgis’ essay that justifies the Ecumenical Patriarch’s environmental activism for example (see: The Green Patriarch: Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the Protection of the Environment*). Chryssavgis jumps into support of an Al Gore type of alarmism with no apparent awareness that there are other ways to think about environmental policy. No distinctions are made, no cautions given. It presumes the alarmist claims are self-evidently true. Very sloppy work overall, and all done under the rubric of theological reasoning.

    Since Climategate broke, the fraudulent science informing the alarmism is clear for all to see. Meanwhile, as the alarmism is discredited, so are the justifications in the Chryssavgis piece and the Ecumenical Patriarch’s credibility along with it. That’s what happens when policy precedes theology. Is Theokritoff making the same error?

    *If Constantinople was smart, it would retire The Green Patriarch website (or at least modify the excesses).

  5. In Fr. John Chryssavgis’ book, “Beyond the Shattered Image” he did a similar thing in the second half validating a feminist critique of Christianity and connecting it to healing the earth. Scary.

  6. Fr Hans,

    Overall the book was a well reasoned theological essay. Its policy recommendations–allusions really more than recommendations really–are a different matter.

    Because I was limited to 800 or so words, I wasn’t able to explore the policy allusions. While I disagreed with the author on the matter, my substantive criticism is that she failed to demonstrate for the reader the organic connection between the tradition of the Church and the policies she is suggesting.

    As for population control, I think the author deviates from the tradition on this point and is opening the door to any number of human rights abuses.

    Again, I think problem is that the author is trying to fit her own politics into the tradition of the Church rather than examining them in the tradition’s light. I should point out that this is hardly a shortcoming of the left; one sees this on the right as well.

    This is why I wish the author had spent more time establishing a connection between, for example fair trade practices and recycling, and the restoration and reconciliation of creation in Christ. It is not enough to say–from either the left or the right–I am a good person and so the policies I support are good and worthy of support.

    Do read the book when you get the chance. I’d be interested in your thoughts on it.

    In Christ,


  7. cynthia curran :

    Well, this is not the enviromential issue but some orthodox on the left use John Chrysostom sermons on wealth and poverty to favor more government involvement in the economy-another issue that can be debated. What is forgotten is that anicent Constantinople had a huge underemployment problem and citizens existed on free or reduce grain shiped from Egypt. Constantinople had an income gap between rich and poor that is similar to a country like Mexico today than the United State. As father Gregory states, even using the fathers one must consider the changes of the economy and enviroment in the modern world.

  8. FYI,

    I corrected some a VERY MISLEADING typo upstream (#6). I now reads:

    As for population control, I think the author deviates from the tradition on this point and is opening the door to any number of human rights abuses.

    Forgive my sloppy editing.


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