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Pope discusses ‘methodological distinction’ between theology, science

May 12, 2017

Pope Francis greeted participants at a conference, sponsored by the Vatican Observatory, on the topic of “black holes, gravitational waves, and space-time singularities.”

The conference has honored the legacy of Msgr. Georges Lemaître (1894-1966), the Belgian priest and physicist who helped develop the big bang theory.

“The issues you have been addressing during these days at Castel Gandolfo are of particular interest to the Church, because they have to do with questions that concern us deeply, such as the beginning of the universe and its evolution, and the profound structure of space and time, to name but a few,” Pope Francis said on May 12 in Paul VI Audience Hall.

“It is clear that these questions have a particular relevance for science, philosophy, theology and for the spiritual life,” the Pope continued. “They represent an arena in which these different disciplines meet and sometimes clash.”

The Pope went on to say that “as both a Catholic priest and a cosmologist, Msgr. Georges Lemaître knew well the creative tension between faith and science, and always defended the clear methodological distinction between the fields of science and theology. While integrating them in his own life, he viewed them as distinct areas of competence.”

The Pope added:

That distinction, already present in St. Thomas Aquinas, avoids a short-circuiting that is as harmful to science as it is to faith …Before the immensity of space-time, we humans can experience awe and a sense of our own insignificance, as the Psalmist reminds us: “What is man that you should keep him in mind, the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps 8:5) … As we journey towards the frontiers of human knowledge, it is indeed possible to have an authentic experience of the Lord, one which is capable of filling our hearts.

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  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - May. 14, 2017 6:06 PM ET USA

    The ignorance of the truth about the Catholic relationship with science throughout history, now evinced at even the highest levels of the Church, is disturbing. There is no evidence in the NT of a conflict between faith and science. The Fathers and Doctors of the Church saw none. See St. Basil, for example, whose Hexaemeron even preceded St. Augustine. He, as did all early Church intellectuals, respected the distinction between true science and true theology. Opinions to the contrary are a myth.

  • Posted by: brenda22890 - May. 13, 2017 5:53 AM ET USA

    Pope Francis' comments were, in this instance, well spoken.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - May. 13, 2017 12:18 AM ET USA

    "That distinction, already present in St. Thomas Aquinas." That distinction precedes St. Thomas by more than 700 years. For example, in AD 415 St. Augustine completed his "De Genesi ad litteram." In Bk 1, n. 39 he warned: "Usually even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars...Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian...talking nonsense on these topics."