Reverend Fr. Thomas Berry C.P (1914-2009) was a Catholic priest of the Passionist order, cultural historian and ecotheologian (although cosmologist and geologian — or “Earth scholar” — were his preferred descriptors).
Born in Greensboro, North Carolina, Thomas Berry was third of 13 children. By age eight, he had concluded that commercial values were threatening life on the planet. Three years later he had an epiphany in a meadow, which became a primary reference point for the rest of his life. He later elaborated this experience into a set of Twelve Principles for Understanding the Universe and the Role of the Human in the Universe Process. The first of these principles states:
“The universe, the solar system, and planet earth in themselves and in their evolutionary emergence constitute for the human community the primary revelation of that ultimate mystery whence all things emerge into being.”
At age 20, Thomas Berry entered the Passionists and was ordained in 1942. Traveling widely, he began examining cultural history and foundations of diverse cultures and their relations with the natural world.
He received his doctorate in history from The Catholic University of America, with a thesis on Giambattista Vico’s philosophy of history. He then studied Chinese language and Chinese culture in China and learned Sanskrit for the study of India and the traditions of religion in India. Later he assisted in an educational program for the T’boli tribal peoples of South Cotabataon, a Philippine island, and he taught the cultural history of India and China at universities in New Jersey and New York (1956-1965). Later he was director of the graduate program in the History of Religions at Fordham University (1966-1979). He founded and directed the Riverdale Center of Religious Research in Riverdale, New York (1970-1995). Berry studied and was influenced by the work of Teilhard de Chardin and was president of the American Teilhard Association (1975-1987). He also studied Native American culture and shamanism.
Thomas Berry’s books include:
- •The Historical Theory of Giambattista Vico (1949)
- •Buddhism (1968)
- •The Religions of India (1972)
- •The Dream of the Earth (1988)
- •Befriending the Earth (with Thomas Clarke, 1991)
- •The Universe Story From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era, A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos (with physicist Brian Swimme, 1992)
- •The Great Work: Our Way into the Future (1999), Bell Tower/Random House, NY, ISBN 0-609-80499-5
- •Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community (2006), Essays, edited by Mary Evelyn Tucker, A Sierra Club Book, ISBN 1-57805-130-4