Imago Dei as Kenosis
This thesis is concerned with ecotheology and theological anthropology, in general, and in particular, with the interpretation of the imago Dei motif as a source of ecological commitment. More specifically, it is an exploration of the theological idea of kenosis as one meaningful, sound, and timely understanding of imago Dei within the context of the current ecological crisis. Although criticized for its alleged anthropocentric overtones, the notion of imago Dei should not be put aside or silenced, but rather reinterpreted. Understood as kenosis, it is a source and not a hindrance for ecological concern and ethical commitment inasmuch as it elicits a fruitful understanding of humanity. Therefore, this dissertation occurs at the intersection between ecotheology and theological anthropology, or in other words it is a theological exploration within the domain of theological anthropology through an ecological lens. Chapter one traces the appearance of ecotheology within contemporary theological reflection, its assessment of the ecological crisis, and the different models or strategies that theologians have explored in order to link ecological challenges and theology. After defining both “ecology” and “ecological crisis”, and identifying some of the manifestations of the latter, the chapter examines the specific rationale of ecotheology and shows how and why it calls into question three main assumptions of classic theological anthropology, namely, the dignity, uniqueness, and role of humanity within creation. It provides a clear understanding of the status of ecotheology, its particular rationale, and its challenge to standard theological anthropology. Chapter two turns to the interpretation of imago Dei. First, it characterizes and assesses three main historical lines of interpretation: essentialist, functionalist, and relational, which can summarize and group the contributions of those who have offered a theological understanding of imago Dei. Then, the chapter proposes the notion of kenosis as one sound, meaningful and timely interpretation of this theological motif. Defined as both making-room or self-limitation and self-giving or self-emptying love, kenosis is portrayed through its biblical and systematic usage. The chapter argues that kenosis discloses something crucial about God’s agency within creation and about Jesus Christ as revelatory of true humanity. Consequently, it can be considered as an inspiring and significant anthropological notion in the context of the current ecological crisis. Kenosis not only connects the three classic interpretations of imago Dei, but it also serves them as a specifier, inasmuch as it provides concrete content and a precise direction for understanding humanity as created in the image of God. The chapter ends dealing with the main critiques which have been addressed to kenosis as a meaningful notion for theological anthropology. Chapter three is a constructive one. It explores the fruitfulness of kenosis and its ability to shed light upon humanity through the three dimensions of ecology: personal, social, and environmental. It shows the inspiring character of kenosis as an anthropological image which helps to shape people’s imagination, and the way believers portray and make practical sense of the Christian depiction of humanity. First, after highlighting the necessity of ecological conversion and a new ethos, the chapter proposes the notions of limit and asceticism as two important anthropological features that kenosis offers to personal ecology, and that may inspire us in searching and discerning new ways of life. Then, the chapter addresses the issue of the images that may help us in our searching for and voicing new ways of social interaction and life. The concept of “civilization of poverty” coined by philosopher Ignacio Ellacuría is particularly examined. Rooted in the social dimension of ecology, this concept is in tune with the twofold movement of kenosis of self-limitation and self-giving love. Finally, the chapter shows how kenosis offers a corrective to the notion of stewardship and enhances what is better in it. Inasmuch as the former in its double meaning of self-limitation and self-giving love entails clear practical consequences, it complements greatly the latter, which has become a sort of default position for many theologians. It is shown how this alliance between these two images heightens what is good in each of them, in order to inspire us in discerning and embodying an ecologically friendly lifestyle.