Thursday, 17 September 2015

St Robert Bellarmine on faith and reason

Nearly 20 years ago now I encountered the text of a letter written by St Robert Bellarmine at the time of the Galileo controversy. I am reminded by his feast day of the passage in that letter which demonstrates his faith in human reason in relation to his faith in the texts of Sacred Scriptures. The passage follows a previous section in which Bellarmine has insisted on the need to respect the sense in which Sacred Scripture has been understood by the previous tradition of the Fathers of the Church.
“..If there were a real proof that the Sun is in the centre of the universe, that the earth is in the third heaven, and that the Sun does not go round the Earth but the Earth round the Sun, then we should have to proceed with great circumspection in explaining the passages of Scripture which appear to teach the contrary, and we should rather have to say that we did not understand them than declare an opinion to be false which is proved to be true..”
Bellarmine indicates that (at the time at which he was writing) it was not definitively proven by science that the Earth rotated round the Sun, and that therefore the previous interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures on the matter should still be maintained. If he were alive today, and familiar with the evidence of science as we now have it, he would undoubtedly change his mind.

But it is interesting to note the comfortable existence of both a profound trust in human reason and a strong faith in Sacred Scripture.

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