Spe Salvi 25: Science Contributes, But God Achieves

In our discussion on freedom, and the opportunity in the present moment to address wrongs, we strive to detect the true shape of Christian hope as this section (24-31) is titled.

25. What this means is that every generation has the task of engaging anew in the arduous search for the right way to order human affairs; this task is never simply completed. Yet every generation must also make its own contribution to establishing convincing structures of freedom and of good, which can help the following generation as a guideline for the proper use of human freedom; hence, always within human limits, they provide a certain guarantee also for the future. In other words: good structures help, but of themselves they are not enough.

That’s certainly the most reasonable, sensible, truthful stance. The disappointments of the past few generations should be enough to convince the most ardent humanists among non-believers that we simply can’t accomplish eternal justice for the world. Too many influences within humanity–just plain “bad people” always spoil the effort.

Was the psalmist’s wisdom clouded by an era lacking civilization and advanced science? Pope Benedict would say not:

(Humankind) can never be redeemed simply from outside. Francis Bacon and those who followed in the intellectual current of modernity that he inspired were wrong to believe that (we) would be redeemed through science. Such an expectation asks too much of science; this kind of hope is deceptive.

I’d agree. Science can certainly contribute to a better life …

Science can contribute greatly to making the world and (humankind) more human. Yet it can also destroy (humankind) and the world unless it is steered by forces that lie outside it.

Well, science as such can’t really contribute to the good of the world unless it is adapted by forces outside the laboratory, the observatory, the field experience.

On the other hand, we must also acknowledge that modern Christianity, faced with the successes of science in progressively structuring the world, has to a large extent restricted its attention to the individual and (her or) his salvation. In so doing it has limited the horizon of its hope and has failed to recognize sufficiently the greatness of its task—even if it has continued to achieve great things in the formation of (humankind) and in care for the weak and the suffering.

If I read the pope emeritus rightly here, he’s suggesting we haven’t turned enough of our attention to the causes God would outline for us. The psalmist (linked above) advises no trust in princes. I’d say even the royals of science and reason. God’s agenda for hope, for progress is outlined here, among many other places:

The maker of heaven and earth …
secures justice for the oppressed,
who gives bread to the hungry.
The LORD sets prisoners free;
the LORD gives sight to the blind.
The LORD raises up those who are bowed down;
the LORD loves the righteous.
The LORD protects the resident alien,
comes to the aid of the orphan and the widow,
but thwarts the way of the wicked. (146:6a, 7-9)

God accomplishes the hope of progress. Not only do we do well to acknowledge it, but also to align our agenda with this. Better agricultural sciences mean nothing unless it helps feed the hungry. Better understanding in the social sciences likewise meaningless unless it frees people imprisoned in whatever ways they are shackled. And so on.

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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