As part of my quest to find something useful to say during our 'animally' theme at church, I have been reading Creaturely Theology (Celia Deane-Drummond and David Clough, eds. London, SCM 2009). It is proving a fascinating and wide-ranging read covering all sorts of diverse topics, and I am looking forward to reading the remaining few chapters.
It began with a summary of Aquinas' views on the created order, and a reminder that he had a relatively low view of humanity, as the lowest rank of creatures with intellectual ability (all the cherubim, seraphim and angels being higher) and assigning some sort of soul to all forms of life, human, animal or vegetable. Of course, you need to know what Aquinas meant by 'soul' which wasn't the same as the popular 21st century western idea. Plants had simpler souls than animals which were simpler than humans.
Other chapters focus on the frequent reference in the Bible to 'all flesh', remind the reader of Noahic covenant, which included the animals, and of the frequent references to animals (and plants and life-less objects) praising God. Ideas of animal metaphors for God (something I had already planned to use in my preaching series) are mentioned and prompt questions about whether or how the Imagio Dei might be glimpsed in animals.
The chapter I've just read observes with regret that it is not people of faith who are leading campaigns against the intensive farming that sees chickens (the example the writer uses) kept in appalling conditions. Somewhere along the line we have lost something very important in our understanding of what it is for us to be made in the image and likeness of the Creator and have instead become exploiters.
All very fascinating and potentially quite challenging.
Will your geranium go to heaven? Go and read Aquinas, then you decide!