Sunday, November 8, 2020


The Catholic Treasury of Old things and New

We have a treasury of things old and new that are in place to elucidate and answer the often volatile questions about human origins, human nature, original sin, and death in a reasonable manner that validly speaks to paleoanthropologists and prehistoric archeologists who are interested in such questions and who seek a deeper truth.        

Those in higher education, scientists, philosophers, theologians, and a great many more thoughtful people remain quite intrigued with the issues of human evolution, human origins, Adam and Eve, original sin and death. Many people are ready to debate these subjects on a moment’s notice, especially if they are Christians or have Christian friends. These topics become even more acute when a practicing Christian or someone who is interested in the Christian faith are faced with these questions. I am a Catholic, so my primary interest is to help answer and address these human evolution and faith issues for Catholics. For me, the term Catholic never simply signifies Roman Catholics. Technically all of those Churches that are in peaceful communion with the Bishop of Rome are Catholics. In the Americas, most people identify Roman/Latin Rite (the most numerous Catholics in the Americas) as accounting for all Catholics. That assumption is gravely mistaken. There are 24 official ways to be a Catholic. Again, canonically all of these Churches have their own particular way of being Catholic. I am “officially” an Eastern Rite Catholic (Melkite Greek Catholic). Raised a Roman or Latin Rite Catholic, I changed Rites as an adult. For over two decades I gathered for public worship according to the Byzantine Rite; quite different from the Latin Rite Tradition (most of my spiritual and prayer life continues to draw upon the liturgical tradition of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church). When I use the term “Catholic” I have in mind all of the 24 different and autocephalus Catholic Rite Churches. In addition, because the Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome officially recognize most Orthodox, Oriental, and Coptic Churches as genuine Churches, based on apostolic succession, commonality of fundamental belief, and true sacraments, they are considered and referred to as genuine sister Churches who are more or less respectful of a special status for the Bishop of Roman. The Anglican Churches, and the Lutheran/Reformed Churches, are distinguished, according to Catholic teaching, as genuine ecclesial communities who frequently parallel many Catholic beliefs, sacraments, and manner of worship. What does all of this mean for the subjects related to human evolution? From my perspective that means many of the truths contained in and held by our separated sister Churches and Ecclesial communities can and do contribute to the Catholic understanding of the Christian Faith relative to many human evolution questions (as well as other significant matters). I will not present the position of any Church bishops or ecclesial scholars who are not in full communion with Rome as normative for Catholics. However, some of those contributions can facilitate a fuller understanding of what the Catholic Church actually teaches concerning faith, science, and human evolution. Nonetheless, those not in full communion with the Catholic Church will be identified as ancillary contributions and never confused with official Catholic teaching.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

St. Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, World Synod of Bishops: on the Catholic responsibility, in the New Evangelization, to Engage Science in an accurate Scholarly manner   

More than any popes before them St. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI/Ratzinger both embraced and promoted serious cooperation between Catholic Faith and the work of scientists in the broadest sense. Neither pope thought the contemporary version of science constituted the fulness of science. They challenged scientists to a deeper genre of science, one that St. Thomas and St. Albert the Great understood, one still operative in the scientific minds of those like Einstein, Max Plank, Wolfgang Pauli, and Werner Heisenberg. These famous scientists did not shy away from discussing the “God” question (Ratzinger 2004. Kindle Edition, Loc 1499). John Paul II in his encyclical Fides et Ratio, called people to muster the “courage for the adventure of truth.” He proposed that everyone whatever their station in life can and should, in line with their time and talent, peruse the truth in their lives (no. 102). Pope John Paul II urged natural scientists not to abandon their essential calling as seekers of truth: 

I cannot fail to address a word to scientists, whose research offers an ever-greater knowledge of the universe as a whole….  expressing my admiration and in offering encouragement to these intrepid pioneers…. I would urge them to continue their efforts without ever abandoning the sapiential horizon within which scientific and technological achievements are wedded to the philosophical and ethical values which are the distinctive and indelible mark of the human person. Scientists are well aware that “the search for truth, even when it concerns a finite reality of the world or of humanity, is never-ending, but always points beyond to something higher than the immediate object of study” (no. 106).

Those familiar with St. Pope John Paul’s work know that the above quote is an important, but nonetheless a glimpse only at his teaching and direction for Catholics on the many ways in which faith and science interact and mutually support each other. Later we will have the opportunity to see in more detail how John Paul II speaks to the issue of science and faith and how they co-operate and how they can challenge each other to be more authentic.

Pope Benedict XVI/Ratzinger commented on scientific issues early in his scholarly career, often, and continued to do so frequently during his abbreviated pontificate. His are the most well-thought-out and extensive. As we will see later, Joseph Ratzinger returned as pope to questions he had first raised as a young professor and theological expert at Vatican II. Pope Benedict wrote and spoke about faith, reason, and science, always with a definite purpose, politely, but without naivety. He knows the whole subject area well. Here we will introduce Joseph Ratzinger’s thoughts from when he was pope. The content of the points he makes as pope are frequently not new to him; he had already contemplated the content and its implications. Now, however, he speaks, from the Catholic perspective (and that of others of goodwill and mind) with authority. Let us take a look at his general proposals about the relationship between faith, reason, truth, and science:

Today, in this catechesis, I would like to reflect on the reasonableness of faith in God. The Catholic Tradition, from the outset, rejected so-called “fideism”, which is the desire to believe against reason. Credo quia absurdum (“I believe because it is absurd”) is not a formula that interprets the Catholic faith. … The prejudice of certain modern thinkers, who hold that human reason would be, as it were, blocked by the dogmas of faith, is false. Exactly the opposite is true, as the great teachers of the Catholic Tradition have shown. … St Augustine, together with so many other Christian authors, is a witness to a faith that is practiced with reason, a faith that thinks and invites thought. … The power of the relationship between science and faith is also founded on these premises concerning the fertile connection between understanding and believing. Scientific research leads to the knowledge of ever new truths about humanity and about the cosmos…. Faith, lived truly, does not come into conflict with science but, rather, cooperates with it, offering the basic criteria to promote the good of all and asking science to only give up those endeavors which -- in opposition to God’s original plan -- produce effects that are detrimental to humanity. For this reason too it is reasonable to believe: science is a precious ally of faith for understanding God’s plan for the universe, when faith, remaining faithful to this very plan, always encourages scientific progress to be achieved for the common good and the truth of the human person (General Audience, Year of Faith. Catechesis on the reasonableness of faith in God, 21 November 2012).

Pope Benedict XVI/Ratzinger, for more than half a century spoke so often on the subject of reason, science, philosophy, theology and faith that this brief quotation, from one of his Papal Catechetical addresses (teaching authoritatively as pope) is filled with resonances of many of his earlier instructions on these topics. Also, like his colleague (in proclaiming the faith accurately) and his close friend Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict/Ratzinger returned many times to the relationship between Catholic faith and science.      

People (not just non-Catholics, even some Catholics themselves) unfamiliar with the history of the Catholic Church might object to the enthusiasm expressed by Pope St. John Paul II and that of Pope Benedict XVI/Ratzinger for the necessary engagement of Catholic Faith with reason and the natural sciences. A critical question could be raised. In this time of renewal and during the promotion of the “New Evangelization” in the 21st century, is a special emphasis on reason and science supported by Catholic bishops around the globe? Not surprisingly, yes. The role of reason and science in proposing the Catholic Faith is essential and necessary. It is no pet project of St. Pope John Paul II or Pope Benedict XVI. During the Year of Faith and in preparation for a Renewed Evangelization, bishops from the entire world, after a sufficient period of detailed planning, met with Pope Benedict XVI in Rome. The pope did not direct the bishops’ discussions. Instead, Benedict provided the forum for the debate and deliberations amongst the bishops themselves. The task of identifying the indispensable components required today for a New Evangelization of the world was left to the episcopal synod. At the conclusion of their synod, the assembled bishops issued a Message addressed to all people without exception. In their message the bishops noted the indispensable proclamation of the reasonableness of Catholic Faith and the imperative to take into account the truths discovered through the exercise of reason, especially those truths uncovered in the work of scientists in the contemporary world. As a convocation of bishops from virtually every corner of the world they were fully aware of the different needs of people living a vast variety of contexts and cultures. Here then, are significant points highlighted by the bishops concerning the proclamation of the faith in its connections with the work of the sciences and education:

We, the Bishops of the whole world gathered at the invitation of the Bishop of Rome Pope Benedict xvi to reflect on “the new evangelization for the transmission of the Christian faith”, wish to address you all in order to sustain and direct the preaching and teaching of the Gospel in the diverse contexts in which the Church finds herself today to give witness.

The changing social, cultural, economic, civil and religious scenarios call us to something new: to live our communitarian experience of faith in a renewed way and to proclaim it through an evangelization that is “new in its zeal, in its methods, in its expressions”, as John Paul II said (Discourse to the XIX Assembly of CELAM, Port-au-Prince, 9 March 1983, n. 3). Benedict XVI recalled that it is an evangelization that is directed “principally at those who, though baptized, have drifted away from the Church and live without reference to the Christian life... to help these people encounter the Lord, who alone fills our existence with deep meaning and peace, and to favor the rediscovery of the faith, that source of grace which brings joy and hope to personal, family and social life” (Homily for the Eucharistic celebration for the solemn inauguration of the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, Rome, 7 October 2012) (no. 2).

The New Evangelization is centered on Christ and on care for the human person in order to give life to a real encounter with Him. However, its horizons are as wide as the world and beyond any human experience. This means that it carefully cultivates the dialogue with cultures, confident that it can find in each of them the “seeds of the Word” about which the ancient Fathers spoke. In particular, the new evangelization needs a renewed alliance between faith and reason. We are convinced that faith has the capacity to welcome the fruits of sound thinking open to transcendence and the strength to heal the limits and contradictions into which reason can fall (no. 10).

The encounter between faith and reason also nourishes the Christian community’s commitment in the field of education and culture. The institutions of formation and of research -- schools and universities -- occupy a special place in this. Wherever human intelligence is developed and educated, the Church is pleased to bring her experience and contribution to the integral formation of the person. In this context particular care is to be reserved for Catholic schools and for Catholic universities, in which the openness to transcendence that belongs to every authentic cultural and educational course, must be fulfilled in paths of encounter with the event of Jesus Christ and of his Church (no. 10).

A particular field of the encounter between faith and reason today is the dialogue with scientific knowledge. This is not at all far from faith, since it manifests the spiritual principle that God placed in his creatures. It allows us to see the rational structures on which creation is founded. When science and technology do not presume to imprison humanity and the world in a barren materialism, they become an invaluable ally in making life more humane. Our thanks also go to those who are involved in this challenging field of knowledge (no. 10).

There is no doubt that Catholic scholars and educators have a serious responsibility, especially those serving areas where the culture is scientifically saturated. The responsibility for Catholic scholars is not simply being willing to entertain scientific questions and issues for group discussion. More is required. There is a specific demand for the purpose of the New Evangelization that Catholic scholars provide a highly reasoned and exactingly well-informed apo-logia for the faith in its encounter with contemporary science. Today, and for over a century, the need is highest in the context of questions raised by evolutionary science regarding humans.

Catholic scientists, philosophers, and theologians plainly have an immense task facing them. Biological and Prehistoric archeological evidence document an amazingly convoluted evolutionary history that provided an opportunity for the origin of humans. All of this is very real. Furthermore, the Magisterium has provided us Catholics with its own complicated, sometimes apparently confusing, guidance in this area. Nonetheless, the guidance is there, and I believe it needs to be studied with the utmost attention to the details of a rather voluminous record.       

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Our Primary Magisterial Guide on the Catholic Understanding of Science, especially evolutionary science

Pope Benedict XVI is not our only Magisterial guide in the Church for understanding and interpreting Catholic Doctrine in connection with scientific endeavors, investigations, and discoveries; especially those found within the arena of scientific evolution in general, and the evolution of humans in particular. However, Pope Benedict XVI /Joseph Ratzinger is easily recognizable as our best guide in these matters. He has written extensively on the subject of Creation and evolution, on what exactly constitutes human beings as such, and on human origins, the question of Adam and Eve, and the question of Original Sin. 

Pope Francis unequivocally signaled the exceptional brilliance and place of Benedict XVI as Pope, as a Catholic theologian, a philosopher, and a wonderful patron and interpreter of science in the life of the Universal Church.  On 27 October 2014 Pope Francis delivered an address to the Plenary Session of the Pontifical Academy of Science on the occasion of the presentation of a Bust of Pope Benedict XVI. The scientists themselves asked for a monument honoring Pope Benedict XVI/Ratzinger to be installed in the headquarters of the Pontifical Academy of Science. It was decided that a Bust of Pope Benedict XVI would be a fitting testament. During the event of the unveiling of the Bust of Benedict XVI, Pope Francis made his address to the Pontifical “Senate of Scientists.” Francis made more than a few remarkable statements in attesting to Pope Benedict’s exceptional place and role in the work of the Scientific Academy and as Primate of the Catholic Church. A selection from the address of Pope Francis, that is representative of his respect for the enduring legacy of Pope Benedict XVI is given below.

This bust of Benedict XVI … evokes his spirit: that of his teaching, of his example, of his opus, of his devotion to the Church…. This spirit, far from crumbling over time, will appear from generation to generation ever greater and more powerful. Benedict XVI: a great Pope. Great in strength and intellectual insight, great in his significant contribution to theology, great in his love for the Church and for human beings, great in his virtue and his religiosity. As you well know, his love for the truth is not limited to theology and philosophy but extends to science. His love for science spills over into regard for scientists, without distinction among race, nationality, culture, or religion…. from the time St John Paul II appointed him a member… He knew how to honour the Academy with his presence and his words, and he appointed many of its members, including the current President, Werner Arber. Benedict XVI, for the first time, invited a president of this Academy, to participate in the Synod on the New Evangelization, cognizant of the importance of science in modern culture. It could certainly never be said of him that study and science withered his person and his love for God and neighbour; on the contrary, science, wisdom, and prayer only expanded his heart and his spirit. Let us give thanks to God for the gift He gave to the Church and the world with the life and Pontificate of Pope Benedict.

  The Catholic Treasury of Old things and New We have a treasury of things old and new that are in place to elucidate and answer the oft...