Thomas Berry and the Great Work
In addition to the Passionist community from which we have grown, the Earth & Spirit Center is especially indebted to Passionist Fr. Thomas Berry, C.P. Thomas Berry (1914-2009) was a Passionist priest, cultural historian, social critic, and one of the leading environmental thinkers of our time. Before many others became aware, he understood the critical nature of our present moment, with its looming ecological crisis. For more than 40 years, he worked to develop a comprehensive vision of a viable future for the Earth community. From his academic beginning as a cultural historian, he evolved to become a historian of the Earth. He described himself as a “geologian.”
Thomas Berry inspired our venture, and his dream for the Earth guides us: “the future can exist only when we understand the universe as composed of subjects to be communed with, not as objects to be exploited.” As he was, we are committed to the “Great Work,” the transition “from a period of human devastation of the Earth to a period when humans would be present to the planet in a mutually beneficial manner.”
Berry was president of the American Teilhard Association and is indebted to the thought of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin for helping shape his own understanding of the universe story. For two decades, he directed the Riverdale Center of Religious Research along the Hudson River. During this period he taught at Fordham University where he chaired the history of religions program.
His major contributions to the discussion on the environment are in his books: The Dream of the Earth (Sierra Club Books, 1988 reprinted, 2006); The Great Work: Our Way into the Future (Random House, 1999); The Universe Story (coauthored with Brian Swimme, Harper San Francisco, 1992); Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community (Sierra Club Books and University of California Press, 2006); The Christian Future and the Fate of Earth (Orbis Books, 2009); and The Sacred Universe: Earth, Spirituality, and Religion in the Twenty-First Century (Columbia University Press, 2009).