Animals, Theology and the Incarnation

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Kris Hiuser
  • London, England: 
    Hymns Ancient & Modern, Ltd.
    , May
     304 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Kris Hiuser’s Animals, Theology and the Incarnation seeks to answer Anselm’s question—Cur deus homo?—as it relates to non-human animals. To do this, Hiuser examines the incarnational theologies of Anselm of Canterbury, Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus the Confessor, and Karl Barth with two specific questions in mind: why was the second person of the trinity incarnate as a human being in particular? And, how does the human incarnation of Christ change the way theology must think about the relationship between humans and nonhuman animals? (2).

In the first chapter, Hiuser turns to Anselm’s cosmology and accounts of sin and the incarnation primarily for the way Anselm’s theology is representative of a particularly anthropocentric (i.e., not cosmic) understanding of why God became incarnate. For Anselm, the entire cosmos is created to be “beautiful and orderly” (62), but his account of sin restricts sinfulness to rational creatures that possess free will: angels and humans, in his understanding. While Anselm acknowledges that human sinfulness brings disorder to the cosmos and disfigures the beauty of creation (43), Hiuser insists that Anselm’s theology fails to do justice to the biblical understanding of a fallen creation. While God becomes incarnate as a human being in order to redeem sinful humanity, Anselm offers no way for the incarnation to be redemptive or reconciling for the rest of creation that suffers the effects of human sin.

In the next two chapters, Hiuser examines the writings of Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus the Confessor because he sees their work as broadening out the significance of the incarnation to non-human creation. For Gregory, human nature is both rational and irrational, and this fact connects humanity with the rest of creation because it allows humans to be a microcosm that connects “the Divine with the earthy” (90). In Gregory, Hiuser sees not only a connection between humanity and the nonhuman creation, but also “a calling for humans to sanctify creation and draw it towards God” (97). Hiuser further develops this idea of humanity having an ethical responsibility toward the nonhuman creation by drawing on Maximus the Confessor’s logoi cosmology. The divine logos creates and relates to creation through the logoi which “provide information not only about understanding who each creature is made to be but also the order of the universe as a whole” (101). According to Maximus, logoi found and shape creation both at the level of the particular and the general. All created individuals possess their own logoi, but they are also part of groups and relate to the order of the cosmos. The logoi contain not only the founding pattern for creation, but also the telos of creation, specifically the goal of deification.

As for Gregory, for Maximus humans are meant to connect the divine and the earthly but are hindered from doing so by sin. The incarnation of Christ restores human nature not only to be able to be microcosms of creation, but also enables “their calling as mediators of creation” (119). The need for mediation pertains to the five divisions found in creation (120). Humans are the only creatures in whom all five divisions exist and thus they are supposed to mediate these divisions on behalf of creation. Through Christ’s fulfillment of the roles of microcosm and mediator, humanity is able to resume these roles and help all of creation fulfill their logoi toward the end of deification.

Hiuser’s fourth chapter turns to Karl Barth’s covenantal theology in order to show how humans are partners in covenant with God on behalf of creation. Through Christ, who fulfills the covenant on humanity’s behalf, humans are called to be God’s representatives to nonhuman creation. Barth endows nonhumans with redemptive significance, but Hiuser sees it necessary to introduce Maximus’s logoi theology into Barth’s account of sanctification in order to show how representing God to nonhuman creatures is really about helping all creatures fulfill their divine purpose. Hiuser’s fifth chapter traces out three ways of relating to animals—as pets, as labor, and as products of factory farming—in order to see how understanding humanity as representing God to nonhuman creatures requires reevaluating these modes of relating.

While Hiuser’s conclusion offers some trajectories his work could take into the fields of theological anthropology and the doctrine of creation, one feels as though the questions opened up in this text have been a bit shortchanged. First, it should be noted that for a project with the word “animals” in the title, it is not altogether clear why animals become the specific focus of this text. Save for very brief discussions of three ways humans relate to animals, Hiuser’s theology of nonhuman creation is not particularly specific to animals. The incarnation allows humans not only to be microcosms, mediators, and representatives to and for dogs and cows, but also redwoods, ocean water, and granite cliffs. Perhaps Hiuser is signaling his own intentions for further work, but the importance of animality for this text is underdeveloped.

Hiuser’s text is at its best when he is offering careful analysis of the theologies of Anselm, Gregory, Maximus, and Barth, but there is a sense in which the impetus for such work is left unstated. Hiuser offers a brief literature review of the field of animal theology, but he fails to note the broader context in which he writes. Ecotheologians as varied as Sallie McFague and Norman Wirzba have recognized that realities like climate change necessitate new modes of theological inquiry. Likewise, religious ethicists like Lisa Sideris and Willis Jenkins question whether doctrinal reconfigurations of creation are up to the task of helping religious people think about their practical relationships to the world. Hiuser’s reading of a handful of theological giants may connect the incarnation with the rest of creation, but the more pressing question he opens up is whether envisioning humans as representatives of God to creation sufficiently destabilizes humanity’s relation to nature through dominion or mastery enough to transform praxis.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Blair Wilner is a graduate student in theology, ethics, and culture at the University of Virginia.

Date of Review: 
October 18, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Kris Hiuser received his PhD from the University of Chester and has lectured at Redeemer University College, McMaster Divinity College and The Light Project. He has contributed to numerous journals including The Ark, Scottish Journal of Theology and Toronto Journal of Theology.


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