Sister Ilia Delio brings humor & clarity to “Evolutionary” theology

July 20, 2012

In 16 hours of lectures stretched over four days, author and theologian Sister Ilia Delio traveled 3,000 years into the past — and then speculated on what it will all mean centuries into the future.

With her on the journey were the nearly 100 participants in the 2012 Theological Institute held last Thursday evening through Sunday morning at the Nazareth Motherhouse in Concordia.

The annual educational forum is usually held at Manna House of Prayer, but the record turnout required more space so it was moved to the Motherhouse auditorium.

More than a quarter of the attendees were lay people, while about 20 percent were sisters from other congregations. The rest were Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia and CSJ Associates. Participants came from as far away as New Mexico, Texas, Georgia and Wisconsin.

Delio’s presentation was titled “Evolutionary Christianity: Hope for the Future” and drew from her 2011 book, “The Emergent Christ: Exploring the Meaning of Catholic in an Evolutionary Universe.”

As a senior fellow in science and religion at Woodstock Theological Center, located within Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Delio is uniquely qualified to discuss both the history of theology and the newest developments in quantum physics today. She holds two doctorates: one in pharmacology from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and one in historical theology from Fordham University. A Franciscan sister, she has served as chair and professor in the Department of Spirituality Studies at the Washington Theological Union, where she also served as director of Franciscan Studies. Her previous books include “Simply Bonaventure,” “Franciscan Prayer,” “The Humility of God” and “Christ in Evolution.”

For last week’s Theological Institute, Delio began with a discussion of the roots of Christian beliefs, beginning with the Greek idea of an earth-centered, well-ordered universe. Layered onto that, she said, was a theology that comes from the 13th century — with the earth at the center and humans as the pinnacle of creation, as the image of God.

Despite scientific discoveries in the ensuing centuries — and particularly in the 20th and 21st centuries — she argued that Christianity is “still hung up on heliocentrism. Forget about dealing with evolution.”

But for Christianity — and Catholicism — to be relevant in today’s world, she argued, Christians have to realize that “science has opened new windows for us.”

With humor, clarity and quotes ranging from French philosopher, paleontologist and priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin to the lyrics of Led Zeppelin, Delio allowed her audience to look through many of those windows with her. (STORY CONTINUES BELOW SLIDESHOW)


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She traced physics back 13.7 billion years to the Big Bang, and came forward through Charles Darwin and “On the Origin of Species” to Albert Einstein and the Theory of Relativity, touched on chaos theory and then explained the importance of the so-called “God particle” — the subatomic Higgs boson — that has just been discovered.

Through it all, she helped the attendees understand the advanced physics while maintaining the spiritual connection.

All the complex explanations and connections, Delio insisted, come to one simple conclusion: “God is love, the fountain fullness of love, the unstoppable love of love itself, always in the process of becoming more love.”

Delio’s seminar was the 22nd annual Theological Institute presented by Manna House of Prayer and sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia. The 23rd annual Institute next summer will feature Sister Catherine Michaud, a theologian and former professor at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minn., discussing the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council.