I was asked recently what veterinary medicine has taught me about theology, and vice versa. I thought perhaps folks might be interested in my answer:
A few key points:
1. St Maximos the Confessor’s concept of Microcosm and Mediator has taught me that part of our telos as human beings is to mediate God’s grace to the rest of creation, and to offer that act of mediation and its fruits back to God in thanksgiving. I believe that we are meant to do that with animals in an especially significant way because of all that we have in common with them.
2. As a veterinarian, the ability to prevent, mitigate, and heal animal disease (and suffering, including through euthanasia) is a sacred gift and obligation, especially in light of the fact that their suffering is due to our sin. It has completely changed the way that I understand the effect that my sin has not only on other people, but on creation in general.
3. Working with animals with a focus on the relief of their suffering necessarily involves an awareness of the owner’s relationship with the animal, and the relationship of the animal’s suffering with the owner’s suffering, and vice versa. The concept that human health and animal health (often called One Health) are intricately connected is a key (maybe the key) concept taught in veterinary medicine. Proper practice of veterinary medicine includes both the fact that humans are set apart from other animals due to our bearing the image of God, and the fact that we are very like other animals due to our being made from the dust/mud of the earth.
4. I owe Fr Stephen De Young for how I now articulate this, but the seed of this idea has been with be for a few years now.
It’s entirely possible, perhaps even likely, that our relationship with domesticated animals, and with companion animals in particular, demonstrates a form of “sub-theosis” whereby animals become more human in a way symbolic of the way that humans become divine. If, as Tolkien understood, we are sub-creators because we are made in the image of the Creator, then perhaps we are sub-deifiers because we are made in the image of the Deifier.