When looking at the Catholic contribution to the sciences, the same apparent stumbling blocks are seen time and again. Galileo, the heliocentric nature of the universe, – the idea that the earth orbits the sun – and evolution, are perhaps the main ones.
But before we look at particular cases, let us examine why Catholicism has been unique in fostering investigation into fields varying from astronomy and cosmology, to the nature of the crop growing.
The Catholic – universal – Church
As mentioned in previous posts, the Catholic belief in creation and stewardship did the groundwork for the spirit of inquiry to flourish.
Beyond that, the breaking down of cultural barriers was vital, over to the text:
“Many religions are closely linked to particular peoples or regions, and even many Christian communities outside the Catholic Church, such as the Swedish Lutherans or Anglican Communion, are closely tied to particular countries, cultures or regions.
“By contrast, Catholic Christianity has no such limits. The faith spread from Jewish to Gentile converts in the first century, then from the Greek to the Latin world and then beyond the limits of the former Roman Empire to the Celts, Saxons, Indians and so on. This universality does not mean that the faith seeks to abrogate or replace the state or local cultures, but to adopt and transfigure whatever is good.”
Spreading the Gospel
One faith, one world was what it meant. And that world was to be discovered and understood. Missionary zeal – to bring the world of Christ to all – is what partly led to vast maritime exploration, and the likes of Columbus and Magellan becoming household names.
One or the other?
“The Galileo case is often taken as a paradigm of the Church’s view of science, but in fact this is an almost unique case, to be understood in the context of the politics of the early 17C. Furthermore, even the poor treatment of Galileo was not too harsh. He lived out the rest of his life, first as a guest of the Archbishop of Siena, and then at his villa where he carried on writing. He died in his bed and his daughter became a nun.
“The Big Bang theory may also show, how Catholic teaching about creation has freed us to theorise about the causation and change of the cosmos as a whole, rather than simply accepting it as an eternal, unchanging given.
“The notion of a gradual ‘unfolding’ (evolvere) of the natural order from seminal principles without contradicting God’s sovereignty [has meant that] tempered by certain cautions, the Magisterium has not regarded evolution as incompatible with the faith.”
Extracts taken from LUMEN -The Catholic Gift to Civilisation by Fr Andrew Pinsent, Fr Marcus Holden
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