Spe Salvi 16: Hope in the Modern Age

Many commentators have wondered at the Benedict papacy of 2005-2013. In some Catholic circles, his election was greeted with joy, if not glee. His encyclicals remain largely untouched by his fanboys and fangirls. If some people expected a law-n-order pope, they were sorely disappointed.

As the first modern celebrity to be elected to the Chair of Peter, he had many detractors as well–adversaries generated from his role as head of the CDF. Many of them didn’t read his documents either. Even the ones with principles on which they might find agreement. For example in paragraph 16, the criticism of me-n-Jesus Christianity. Pope Benedict wonders how many Christians diverged into a “selfish” Christianity. We begin a look at The transformation of Christian faith-hope in the modern age.

16. How could the idea have developed that Jesus’s message is narrowly individualistic and aimed only at each person singly? How did we arrive at this interpretation of the “salvation of the soul” as a flight from responsibility for the whole, and how did we come to conceive the Christian project as a selfish search for salvation which rejects the idea of serving others?

Not surprisingly, we’ll go to the dawn of the Tridentine Era:

In order to find an answer to this we must take a look at the foundations of the modern age. These appear with particular clarity in the thought of Francis Bacon. That a new era emerged—through the discovery of America and the new technical achievements that had made this development possible—is undeniable. But what is the basis of this new era? It is the new correlation of experiment and method that enables (humankind) to arrive at an interpretation of nature in conformity with its laws and thus finally to achieve “the triumph of art over nature” (victoria cursus artis super naturam) [Novum Organum I, 117]. The novelty—according to Bacon’s vision—lies in a new correlation between science and praxis. This is also given a theological application: the new correlation between science and praxis would mean that the dominion over creation —given to (people) by God and lost through original sin—would be reestablished [Cf.ibid. I, 129].

I read Bacon in college. A long time ago. This relationship with creation might be more complex than a restoration of Genesis 1-2. The Renaissance and the beginning of the scientific revolution was not necessarily connected with religion or philosophy. The human vector has always been an alteration of their environment: the cultivation of plants, the domestication of animals and the subsequent genetic modification of both to serve human needs. (You readers know I’m not talking about test tubes, but selective breeding.) While Genesis has a religious underpinning in its approach to human dominion, the reality is that people–religious and not–do indeed have an ability to dominate our corner of creation. Aspects we have yet to control we now understand and to an extent, we can avoid them. How does this connect with hope? Stay tuned.

This document is Copyright © 2007 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana. You can find the full document online here.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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