The School of Compassion - A Roman Catholic Theology of Animals - by Deborah M Jones


UK ISBN 978 0852447314


Deborah Jones, Secretary of Catholic Concern for Animals, has produced a comprehensive study of Catholic thought and influence on animals that can be used by Roman Catholics (and others with a similar interest).  It is very thorough in its research, with detailed bibliographies to enable further investigation on the specific author/poet etc.

It charts the history of attitudes towards animals in the Roman Catholic Church, starting by invoking the Greek Philosophers and other theologians from many eras who hold both positive and negative views. The book is in three sections making for a clearer understanding.

The second section is an analysis of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (where it refers to animal issues). The book poses questions and counter arguments in this context and concludes there is a lack of clarity as positive and negative views are intertwined meaning ambiguities and contradictions.

Although the dominant voices in the Catholic tradition are not favourable to animals (and the book does not gloss over these negative views), other animal-friendly traditions do exist. The lives of St Francis of Assisi and St Philip Neri, who viewed animals as God's creatures and lived as such, are cited as positive tradition and an example that, if followed by the world's Roman Catholics, would help millions of animals world-wide. With this in mind, she goes on to provide a theology of animals consistent with animal-friendly tradition.

Although dealing with heavy subjects, the book is laid out in a way which is very readable for those interested in history, theology and debate on these issues.

The book explores Christian and secular ethical theories (e.g. Virtue ethics, animal liberation and animal rights) analysed in the context of potential incorporation into a pro-animal Roman Catholic theology which works in practice with animal issues.

This theology ultimately states that the earth is God's and emphasises in this context the re-defining of the term ‘stewardship' and the interdependence of creatures, including humans, with God as the eschatological end for the whole of creation. Aquinas, so influential in Roman Catholic thought is re-visited and developed with particular reference to the theory of Natural Law, based on a justice grounded in God, where creatures are observed and helped to flourish in accordance with the needs of their species. The new interpretations of Aquinas also serve to support the view that God has the right to not have his creatures abused. This is further developed with reference to the sacrament of the Eucharist.

There are suggestions on how to treat animals based upon this theological understanding and a proposed re-wording of the Catechism with the hope of influencing the church to engage in positive action for animals.

This book is for anyone, but particularly Roman Catholics, who want to explore the history and doctrine behind thinking on animals within the Church.


Louise Clark