1. An Overview: There is a wide spectrum of understanding of the meanings and definitions of spirituality but the one that anchors Justice Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) in a very simple, profound and most helpful way was given by one of my teachers, Denis Hamm SJ. He defines spirituality thus: The way you SEE that leads to the way that you LIVE. The definition is revolutionary in two important ways.

– Firstly, it underlines that the lens through which we look at the world conditions our relationships with people and the environment and strips spirituality of unhelpful association with a regimented following of religious doctrines, devotions and rituals. It seems to me that the crisis of membership that the Church has in Europe and America and the lack of commitment to Christian ethos and values that Christians generally have today can be traced to the understanding in the past that being a Christian was a matter of following certain doctrines and rituals.

– Secondly, it places the responsibility for our behaviours squarely on our own shoulders. Our practical human relationship with other human beings in the world and the world of nature is our choice arising from the way we see them. When we see them as tools to massage our human egos then we have a recipe for relating to them exploitatively. Obviously, these relationships speak of our spirituality more than whatever we may say about spirituality. They reveal our values and the narratives that mediate and sustain them. The choices that we make in each situation are concrete expressions of these values and our spirituality.

For Justice Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC), the underpinning spirituality is that God cares and seeks the well-being of all peoples on the earth and the earth. Christians profess sharing in this vision of God but the unconscious underlying Christian narrative seems to work against the vision. Otherwise, why are people indifferent to the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth or rather choose ritual to massage their inaction? The answer to these very pertinent questions lies in the narratives that sustain their spirituality. Unless the narrative that upholds the deficient spirituality is changed, the energy being exerted will be out of sync with God’s plan for creation. Both pastoral and missionary efforts over the years have been implicated in drawing strength from a spirituality informed by a deficient narrative. Changing these underlying narratives is at the root of JPIC Spirituality. Undoubtedly, as Albert Einstein underlines, “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking with which we created them.” In this vein, we shall attempt to trace two streams of theology in the Catholic Church to Origen (AD 185-254) and Irenaeus (AD 130-202) and examine them through the lens of the JPIC spirituality.

  1. The dominant Christian theology and spirituality, as we have them today, are erroneously and accidentally enmeshed in the dualistic worldview of Plato. The Church saw the flaws in the Platonic cast in which Origen presented the Christian worldview and rejected it, but it took root and continued to dominate Christian theology, spirituality and liturgy. Origen who imported it wanted to systematize Christian theology of creation using the platonic worldview. In this schema, Origen considers creation as an accident in history. Creation was an act of God’s benevolence to prevent the total annihilation of the expelled rational spirits who rebelled against God and became trapped in the matter (body) from falling into ultimate non-being [1]. As a matter of fact, the spirits groan for liberation; and Salvation means the return of the rational spirits to their original state in eternity. The material world (matter) would, in the final analysis, fall back to the nothingness from whence it came to be [2].

The implication of Origen’s theological schema is that the salvation mediated by Christ is to help the spirits return to heaven and resurrection will have no corporeality. Since the matter has no hope of salvation, it has no intrinsic value. It, therefore, means that our ecosystem can be plundered since its ultimate purpose is to serve humans in their quest for heaven. The pastoral ministry for the poor will be guided by a promise of heaven that is otherworldly, ‘Endure, put your trust in God, this world is not my home’ and we have strong support for not bringing Lazarus to the table (Lk 16:19-31). We shall be rewarded for our sufferings when we go to heaven and thus it is logical to give human sufferings a promise of reward in heaven. In this vein, the theology of Origen is a well-articulated, theological recipe for alienation from nature and of grave injustice to the poor.

Though the Church discarded Origen’s theology, Christian spirituality and pastoral outreach seem to be guided by this popular theology. Viewed through that lens, JPIC is understood to mean giving palliatives to the poor on this earth, a problematic approach. Pope Francis strongly draws attention to this problem of duality in Laudato SI when he underscores that Dualism is an unhealthy phenomenon that disfigured the gospel in the course of history [Laudato Si 98]. JPIC cannot be sustained by this worldview of duality. At worst, we can settle for palliatives and that is what missionaries have done down the centuries through their wonderful education programs, hospitals, social works pending the time we shall go to heaven. They are not keen about the creation of a more just society that will ensure the enjoyment of earth’s resources for everybody (1Tim 6:17).

In contrast to Origen, Irenaeus championed a sustainable worldview and foundational creation theology that was accepted by the Church but got relegated to the background. He saw creation as an act of God’s intentionality and that the God who brought the whole creation into being desires to bring all that he has created to final fulfilment. An important point in the theology of Irenaeus is an understanding of the final fulfilment of the creation story. In this framework, the whole creation would have had a history of growth and consummation, apart from the disruption wrought by human sinfulness [3].

Indeed, the salvific mission of Christ is two-fold. The first is to fulfil the original intention of creation to come to consummation and the second is to redeem fallen humanity. In this vein, salvation is the universal eschatological aspect of Christ’s vocation and redemption is the anthropological dimension. Consequently, the incarnation, redemption, resurrection and eschatology are different components of the same universal saving work of God moving toward consummation. And in this sense, the whole of God’s creation is on the way to salvation – and redemption is not the extraction of the soul from the body for onward movement to the imaginary heaven, but the transformation of the human body and the whole of creation into glory (the flowering of creation; creation at its fullest capacity). The position of Irenaeus brings together the unity of the two-fold mission of Christ. In contrast with Origen, Irenaeus’ thoughts represent the authentic basis for Catholic social actions even though the former appears to be the force of most outreach to the poor and marginalized.

  1. The points raised in Irenaeus’ creation theology help us to craft some basic elements of JPIC spirituality.

(i) It helps us to understand that salvation and the Kingdom of heaven are events on this earth and not some celestial theological aberration (CCC 2793). More precisely, the kingdom of God is the renewal of the human consciousness and transformation of the earth into OUR COMMON HOME. Pope Francis insists that the earth is our common heritage and it is our responsibility to make it a home for everybody. The Prophet Isaiah presents this image of a new heaven and a new earth as a perfection of relationship in which the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid and the calf and the lion and fatling together and a little child shall lead them (Is 65:17-25). The vision of Isaiah comes with a big question for us Christians: Are we willing to change the way we live and help others in such a way that the vision is realized? Recognizing the deep connection between ecological integrity and peace, the Vancouver World Council of Churches (WCC) in 1983 coined the catchphrase ‘justice, peace and integrity of creation’ to emphasize the link between justice, peace issues and environmental concerns, consciousness and protection


(ii) It provides the space in which the principles of the CST become intelligible in the service of JPIC. The CST is a body of ethical principles (the common good, solidarity, equality and justice) and values for the global governance of the resources of the earth for the benefit of all but it is an instrument that is rarely known and used. JPIC seeks for an alternative social order based on the principles and values promoted by the CST.

(iii) A sense of the Mystery of God becomes different. The mystery of who God is has always been poorly explained to Christians so much so that in practice God is totally removed from human activity and reflects the platonic worldview. Michael J Himes[4] looks to 1 Jn 4:8 for a better and practical appreciation of who God is. There we read that God is love.  According to John, God is not the lover, or the one loved, but LOVE itself.  God is not what we feel when we love, not something associated with love, not a thing given in love, not a reward for loving.  God is love! God is equal to the experience of love and what is love if not what we experience when our needs are met and when we contribute to meeting the needs of the others out of compassion. God begins to reign in our world when we create the social condition in which everyone continually experiences God and to evangelize is to make this condition present in our world. This social condition is the practical meaning of the Kingdom of God or heaven (CCC 2793). It is then the singular task of Christians to build this kingdom through influence on societal and national life, for the enjoyment of everyone (1 Tim 6:17).

(iv). It then becomes imperative to reinvent the meaning of the science of economics beyond the profit logic. Economics in its classical sense is the science whose subject is the gathering, cultivating and the distribution of the earth’s material resources with a view to the thriving of human communities [5]. A thriving human community is one in which every human need is adequately satisfied. Manfred Max-Neef [6] underlines that a thriving human community includes a beautiful environment. So, it is the thriving of both human and non-human communities. Economics is thus understood within the context of the universal economy of creation – oikonomia. Christiansen gives three ways of understanding oikonomia. The first is a household in which God wants to give people access to life. This is the deeper theological meaning of “economy” whose concern is livelihood[7].  The second is a household of creation in which God wants creatures to live together in interdependence: Here is the religious ground for “integral ecology” whose concern is mutual and beneficial relatedness with nature [8]. And the third refers to the world that God wants to make into home by establishing divine justice and peace among the people and nations [9]. These social and ethical dimensions of Economics provide a new ground for understanding the economic system as a tool for the creation of common wealth that enriches everybody, as opposed to the present creation of individual wealth, that is impoverishing everybody. When we understand economics this way, we also understand power differently which moves away from unilaterality and domination to solidarity, compassion, love and sharing. Thus, a mutual interdependence is established among the trio. Economic justice includes the question of justice for the land and justice for the people on the land. Hence every economic question is also an ecological and religious question and vice versa[10].

(v). Spirituality of JPIC is a vision and a mission for a new world order (Rev 21:1, Lk 4:18, Is 61:1) based on solidarity, mutual respect for our common humanity, the equitable and sustainable distribution of the resources of the earth.

It requires men and women who are willing to choose to commit together to live with a different value system from that of our present world social order (Mat. 5:1-12). As the African proverb says, “When spiders unite their webs, they tie a lion”.

It is a mission that demands a commitment to conversion, a consistent ethic of life, social change, creative non-violent actions and above all commitment to a personal life of prayer and trust in God because the ground on which we are standing is a very Holy Ground Ex 3:5.

Conclusively, the spirituality of JPIC encapsulates a spirituality that is sustainable and in total consonance with God’s plan for creation. Its vision is not just transcendent but also holistic. It is in this light that we examine the basic skeleton of our narratives, namely our worldview, with the hope of exploring other alternatives. Each of these colours our understanding of the basic elements of Christian faith, the understanding and interpretations sufferings in our society and our concrete responses to them. It might be helpful at this point to ask yourself which of the following ways best describes your response to sufferings around us:

–           Hopelessness

–           Individualism

–           Enlightened self-interest

–           Compassion

The answer invariably comes from through the filters of our worldview which constitutes the hinges of our spirituality.  A fundamental element of the basic Christian narrative that we carry is the worldview upon which it is built. The narrative of JPIC is built on a different world view from the popular one. If we are to update a Christian narrative that will be supportive of JPIC, we need a different worldview and consequently a different faith narrative. No one pours new wine in old wine skin… (Mk: 21-22; LK 5:33-39; Matt 9:14-17).


Chika Onyejiuwa, CSSp

[1] Santmire, Paul. The Travail of Nature: The Ambiguous Ecological Promise of Christian Theology. Fortress Press, Minneapolis 1985.

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Michael J Himes, “Doing the Truth in Love: Conversation about God, Relationships and Service” Paulist Press, NJ 1995.

[5] Drew Christiansen & Hagen Water. And God saw that it was Good. Washington DC: U.S Catholic Bishops Conference.

[6] Paul Ekins & Manfred Max-Neef (ed). Real-Life Economics: Understanding Wealth Creation. Routledge, London, 1992.

[7] ibid

[8] ibid

[9] ibid

[10] ibid