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Creation and Connectedness
Creation and Connectedness

God Is Being Itself: Inherent Dignity in The Great Chain of Being

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Richard Rohr teaches that all of creation is connected and interdependent, each facet bearing inherent dignity as part of the being of God. Richard explains what we can learn from the medieval idea known as the “great chain of being”:

The great chain of being was the medieval metaphor for ecology before we spoke of ecosystems. While it was structured as a hierarchy, with each link in the chain “closer” to God, I view it as a philosophical and theological attempt to speak of the interconnectedness of all things on the level of pure “Being.” Today we might call it “the circle of life.” If God is Being Itself (Deus est Ens), as both St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas Aquinas taught in the thirteenth century, then the great chain became a way of teaching and preserving the inherent dignity of all things that participate in that Divine Being in various ways. For me, it speaks of the inherent sacrality, interconnectedness, and communality of creation.

These are the links in the great chain of being:

Link 1:  The firmament/Earth/minerals within the Earth

Link 2:  The waters upon the Earth (snow, ice, water, steam, mist)

Link 3:  The plants, trees, flowers, and foods that grow upon the Earth

Link 4:  The animals on the Earth, in the skies, and in the seas

Link 5:  The human species, capable of reflecting on the other links

Link 6:  The heavenly realm/Communion of Saints/angels and spirits

Link 7:  God/the Divine Realm/the Mystery that creates a universe as such, which needs a Center, Source, and Ground for any coherence.

Such a graphic metaphor held all things together in an enchanted universe. If we could not see the sacred in nature and creatures, we soon could not see it at all. [1]

As the medieval theologians predicted, once the chain was broken and one link not honored, the whole vision collapsed. Either we acknowledge that God is in all things, or we have lost the basis for seeing God in anything. Once the choice is ours and not God’s, it is merely a world of private preferences and prejudices. The “cosmic egg” is shattered.

Bonaventure (c. 1217–1274), who is called the second founder of the Franciscan Order, took Francis’ intuitive genius and spelled it out into an entire philosophy. “The magnitude of things … clearly manifests the immensity of the power, wisdom and goodness of the triune God, who by his power, presence and essence exists uncircumscribed in all things.” [2] Bonaventure expanded on Alan of Lille’s philosophical idea of God as one “whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” God is “within all things but not enclosed; outside all things, but not excluded; above all things, but not aloof; below all things, but not debased.” [3] Therefore the origin, magnitude, multitude, beauty, fullness, activity, and order of all created things are the very “footprints” and “fingerprints” (vestigia) of God. [4]


[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, insert in A New Cosmology: Nature as the First Bible (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 2009). Available as MP3 audio download.

[2] Bonaventure, The Soul’s Journey into God 1.14, trans. Ewert Cousins (New York: Paulist Press, 1978), 65.

[3] Bonaventure, Soul’s Journey 5.8; Cousins, 100–101.

[4] Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder (Cincinnati, OH: Franciscan Media, 2001, 2020), 149–150.

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Alma Thomas, Red Abstraction (detail), 1959, oil on canvas. Loïs Mailou Jones, Shapes and Colors (detail), 1958, watercolor on paper. Madison Frambes, Untitled 4 (detail), 2023, naturally dyed paper and ink, used with permission. Click here to enlarge image.

The squares, circles, triangles, reds, blues, yellows, patterns and textures are all part of the same great whole.

Story from Our Community:  

Many years ago, as I sat on a deserted beach in Western Australia overlooking the Indian Ocean, I became overwhelmed by the ocean’s vastness and power. I felt so very small. I found myself frozen in awe and I could not leave that place for what felt like hours. Finally, as I made my way back to our car across some small sand dunes, something caught my eye. Beside the old boardwalk amongst the scrub was a single, tiny purple flower. The God of the vast ocean spoke to me in that moment reminding me that although I may sometimes feel as insignificant as that little flower, I too am fearfully and beautifully made, and deeply loved. —Patti A.

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