Sunday, 5 December 2010

No to scientism, yes to science: Fr Cantalamessa's first Advent reflection

ZENIT have posted the full text of Fr Cantalamessa's first Advent reflection, given in the presence of Pope Benedict XVI and members of the Roman Curia. In his three reflections this year Fr Cantalamessa is going to address three challenges that are faced by the project of the "new evangelisation" in the cultures of the developed nations. Scientism is the subject of this first reflection, secularism and rationalism will be the subjects of the following reflections.

It isn't really possible to do justice to Fr Cantalamessa's reflection by citing highlights, so you must read the whole to see where the following sections fit in.

Firstly, Fr Cantalamessa's quotation of Blessed John Henry Newman, in the section of his sermon entitled "No to scientism, yes to science":
The new Blessed John Henry Newman has given us a luminous example of an open and constructive attitude to science. Nine years after the publication of Darwin's work on the evolution of species, when not a few spirits around him were disturbed and perplexed, he reassured them, expressing a judgment that anticipated the Church's present one on the compatibility of such a theory with biblical faith. It is worthwhile to listen again to key passages of his letter to canon J. Walker, which still retain much of their validity: "I do not fear the theory [of Darwin] […] It does not seem to me to follow that creation is denied because the Creator, millions of years ago, gave laws to matter. He first created matter and then he created laws for it –laws which should construct it into its present wonderful beauty, and accurate adjustment and harmony of parts gradually. We do not deny or circumscribe the Creator, because we hold he has created the self acting originating human mind, which has almost a creative gift; much less then do we deny or circumscribe His power, if we hold that He gave matter such laws as by their blind instrumentality moulded and constructed through innumerable ages the world as we see it […]. Mr Darwin’s theory need not then be atheistical, be it true or not; it may simply be suggesting a larger idea of Divine Prescience and Skill […]. At first sight I do not see that ‘the accidental evolution or organic beings’ is inconsistent with divine design –It is accidental to us, not to God.”[5 - reference cites a letter of Newman to a correspondent]

Newman's great faith allowed him to look with great serenity at present and future scientific discoveries. "When a deluge of facts, ascertained or presumed, are showered on us, while an infinite number of others already begin to be delineated, all believers, whether or not Catholics, feel called to examine the meaning that such facts have."[6 - reference cites the Apologia pro vita sua] He saw in such discoveries "an indirect relation with religious opinions." An example of this relation, I think, is precisely the fact that in the same years in which Darwin elaborated the theory of evolution of the species, he enunciated, independently, his doctrine of the "development of Christian doctrine." Referring to the analogy, on this point, between the natural and physical order and the moral order, he wrote: "As the Creator rested on the seventh day after completed his work, and yet he still operates,' so he communicated once and for all the Creed at the origin, yet still favors its development and provides for its development."[7 - reference cites the Essay on Development ..]
The section of the reflection entitled "Man for the cosmos or the cosmos for man?", in which Fr Cantalamessa argues that atheistic scientism gives to man a position of complete insignificance in the universe and contrasts it to the position that man has in Christian thought, is for me the most interesting section.
This vision of man also has practical reflections at the level of culture and mentality. Thus are explained certain excesses of ecologism which tend to equate the rights of animals and even of plants with those of man. It is well-known that there are animals that are looked after and fed much better than millions of children. The influence is perceived also in the religious field. There are widespread forms of religiosity in which contact and syntony with the energies of the cosmos has taken the place of contact with God as way of salvation. What Paul said of God: "In Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28), is said of the material cosmos....

The creation of man in the image of God has implications on the concept of man that the present debate drives us to bring to light. All is based on the revelation of the Trinity brought by Christ. Man is created in the image of God, which means that he participates in the intimate essence of God which is a relationship of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is obvious that there is an ontological gap between God and the creature. However, through grace (never forget this specification!) this gap is filled, so much so that it is less profound than the one that exists between man and the rest of creation.

Only man, in fact, in as much as person capable of relations, participates in the personal and relational dimension of God, he is His image. Which means that he, in his essence, even though at a creaturely level, is that which, at the uncreated level, are the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, in their essence. The created person is "person" precisely because of this rational nucleus that renders it capable to receive the relationship that God wishes to establish with it and at the same time becomes generator of relations towards others and towards the world.
Young Fogeys cites a less academic, but perhaps more pastoral section, of the reflection.

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