The spiritual foundations of the ecological crisis: a new book by Jean-Claude Larchet


Jean-Claude Larchet: Les fondements spirituels de la crise écologiqueJean-Claude Larchet, Les fondements spirituels de la crise écologique [The spiritual foundations of the ecological crisis], Publisher: Syrtes, Geneva, 2018, 133 p., €15.

A lot has already been written on ecology, and the degradation of our natural environment is more worrying than ever, especially since no measure, at any level, has managed so far to slow it down.

Jean-Claude Larchet is well known for his studies on the various forms of illnesses and the spiritual factors implied. Departing from usual ideas on the topic, he addresses the issue of the “disease of nature” and its possible remedies from a very original angle, offering us a renewed vision of the real causes and their potential solutions.

According to him, the ecological crisis takes its source in our loss of the spiritual values ​​and behaviors that were the traditional foundations of our relationship with nature. Only through a return to these spiritual values ​​and behaviors can we find a real and lasting solution.

Ecospirituality has definitely developed in recent years, including within Christianity, but with excesses inspired by the New Age and leading to neo-paganism. On the basis of Scripture and of the writings of the Church Fathers, while also taking into account social evolutions and current data, J.-C. Larchet refocuses the reflection on the fundamental principles of Christianity correctly understood in the light of the Orthodox Tradition, concerning our place in nature as humans and our spiritual vocation in relation to it.

He describes the initial situation in Paradise, where our harmonious relationship with nature was based on an essentially contemplative and Eucharistic attitude. He thus explains the reason for the breaking of this relationship, and how the evolution of Western civilization since the Renaissance (based on a form of humanism that rejected God, on individualism, naturalism, rationalism, and on the ideology of indefinite material progress) has led to the current catastrophic situation, where threats to nature endanger the very existence of humanity.

Far from confining himself to this pessimistic observation, the author proposes radical remedies based on a return to the principles of Christian cosmology and anthropology, but also on ethical practices and on the ascetic experience of Orthodox spirituality.


“More and more voices are being raised to highlight that if environmental problems require urgent political and economic actions by states, it is only through a radical change in our mentality and way of life that we will be able to find a profound and permanent solution, because basically, ecological problems have spiritual causes. They depend on the way we perceive nature, on the way we relate to it and use it, and depend therefore on spiritual solutions.

The Orthodox Church has a long tradition of reflection (theological, cosmological, and anthropological) and practice (liturgical and spiritual) on the value of creation and on the way we must relate to it and live with it. In the context of the current crisis, the Orthodox Church can therefore provide all those who seek to save nature with principles to guide their current and future reflection and actions.

The reflection I propose here is in continuity with two themes to which I have devoted much of my work:

– First of all, the various kinds of diseases and their therapies. On the one hand, ecology is definitely a reflection on the diseases of nature, on how to cure them and be healed. On the other hand, these diseases of nature have their source in our spiritual diseases. The cure of the former depends on the healing of the latter.

– Secondly, the thought of Saint Maximus the Confessor. Among the Church Fathers, he was the one who delved most deeply into the questions of the presence of God in nature, of the intimate relationships between all created beings and God, of the way in which we can relate to creatures and through them to God, and of the mediating role we are called to play within creation.

The synthesis of these two domains makes it possible to give a relevant spiritual dimension to the ecological reflection, a dimension required if we want to study it in depth on the theoretical level (theological, cosmological, and anthropological) as well as on the practical level (ethical, in the etymological meaning of a good lifestyle; and ascetical, in the broad sense of the struggle against the destructive passions, and in the more narrow sense of self-restraint and wise sobriety). “

This post is also available in: Français (French)

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Emma Cazabonne was born and raised in France. She taught English before entering the Cistercian Order. She translated and published articles relevant to her interest in Cistercian spirituality, the Middle Ages, and Orthodoxy. She moved to the United States in 2001, converted to Orthodoxy in 2008, and married. Her husband is an Orthodox priest. She continued to publish articles, a Cistercian texts anthology, then finally launched her career in literary translation, while teaching French. If you are interested in having your book translated into French, she can be contacted here