This weekend is of special significance to me and to anyone keen on remembering and celebrating people of great spirit. My mentor, Père Chenu, OP, died on February 11, 1990. And my student, Sister Dorothy Stang, was martyred in the Amazon on February 12, 2005.
Chenu named the Creation Spirituality tradition for me in class in the Spring of 1968 at the Institut Catholique in Paris, France. That was his last semester of teaching, so I was especially blessed to have been among his last students.
Chenu taught Yves Congar, OP, early in his teaching career and Congar was a pioneer in ecumenism who played an outsized role at Vatican II (as did Chenu). Chenu also taught Father Schillibeeckx and Gustavo Guttieriez, father of liberation theology who gave a talk a few years ago in Tubingen entitled “Liberation Theology: The Daughter of Père Chenu.”
I remember the moment vividly when Chenu talked about the “two traditions” in spirituality in the West—that which begins with sin which he called the “Fall-Redemption” tradition, and that which begins with creation he called the “Creation-centered” spiritual tradition. The latter was the oldest tradition in the Bible.
The great medieval historian Étienne Gilson said that “a man like Chenu comes along only once per century.” At his funeral, held in Notre Dame Cathedral, his eulogy was delivered by the eminent French historian Jacques le Goff, who was an atheist and an ex-student of Chenu.
At one point he spoke to Chenu in the second person: You were in your existence the light, the vivacity of generous thunderstorms, a man who did not ignore the darkness but who followed the light, always present, ever flashing. A man always open to others, attentive to them. Human, too human some would say, but not those who have known you…. You have taught us courage, firmness, fearlessness, even resistance–but in humility.
I confess that I cried translating this eulogy to Chenu. It names so perfectly what I knew about the man, and it culminates with what I consider the most important virtue for our time: Courage, a true sign of the spirit. Courage and joy and magnanimity marked the man.
To be continued.
See Matthew Fox, Confessions: The Making of a Post-denominational Priest, pp. 40, 73, 79-82, 90, 97, 21, 239, 2251, 76, 281, 285, 311, 440, 451.
And Matthew Fox, Essential Writings on Creation Spirituality, pp. 36-65.
And Fox, Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality.
Banner image: Composite of Pere Chenu, from biography in Backward View Blog, February 12, 2012; and Sister Dorothy Stang, photo by Roberto de Vasconcelos on Wikimedia Commons.
Queries for Contemplation
What has learning about the creation spirituality tradition meant to you?
Confessions: The Making of a Post-Denominational Priest (Revised/Updated Edition)
Matthew Fox’s stirring autobiography, Confessions, reveals his personal, intellectual, and spiritual journey from altar boy, to Dominican priest, to his eventual break with the Vatican. Five new chapters in this revised and updated edition bring added perspective in light of the author’s continued journey, and his reflections on the current changes taking place in church, society and the environment.
“The unfolding story of this irrepressible spiritual revolutionary enlivens the mind and emboldens the heart — must reading for anyone interested in courage, creativity, and the future of religion.”
—Joanna Macy, author of World as Lover, World as Self
Matthew Fox: Essential Writings on Creation Spirituality
Selected with an Introduction by Charles Burack
To encapsulate the life and work of Matthew Fox would be a daunting task for any save his colleague Dr. Charles Burack, who had the full cooperation of his subject. Fox has devoted 50 years to developing and teaching the tradition of Creation Spirituality and in doing so has reinvented forms of education and worship. His more than 40 books, translated into 78 languages, are inclusive of today’s science and world spiritual traditions and have awakened millions to the much neglected earth-based mystical tradition of the West. Essential Writings begins by exploring the influences on Fox’s life and spirituality, then presents selections from all Fox’s major works in 10 sections.
“The critical insights, the creative connections, the centrality of Matthew Fox’s writings and teaching are second to none for the radical renewal of Christianity.” ~~ Richard Rohr, OFM.
Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality
Matthew Fox lays out a whole new direction for Christianity—a direction that is in fact very ancient and very grounded in Jewish thinking (the fact that Jesus was a Jew is often neglected by Christian theology): the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality, the Vias Positiva, Negativa, Creativa and Transformativa in an extended and deeply developed way.
“Original Blessing makes available to the Christian world and to the human community a radical cure for all dark and derogatory views of the natural world wherever these may have originated.” –Thomas Berry, author, The Dream of the Earth; The Great Work; co-author, The Universe Story