No matter what you might think of the National Catholic Reporter, you have to admit that John Allen, who reports often on events in Rome, is a real gem: thorough, insightful, respectful of the Church's hierarchy and magisterium. He is good at helping Americans understand the Roman perspective on things - including the Catholic Church in America and the American experience. In an article you can read here, Allen attempts to connect some of the clues (and leaks of the text) that indicate the content of the Holy Father's encyclical.
Allen offers a "key to reading" of "Caritas in Veritate," which will be released on Tuesday, July 7. In a word, Allen suggests a key to reading the encyclical is "synthesis."
Though the pope may not spell it out quite this way, much of Caritas in Veritate could well shape up as an attempt to synthesize three of the most persistent -- and, Benedict would doubtless say, artificial -- dichotomies in recent Catholic experience:
I look forward to studying it myself, and with a couple of weeks in one place, I should have the opportunity to do so.
Personal conversion versus social reform;
Pro-life versus peace and justice commitments;
Horizontal versus vertical spirituality.
All three points can be understood as partial versions of one "grand dichotomy," that between truth and love.
Hidden at the bottom of the article is some news about a new book on the Galileo trial, one of the tragic examples of Church members being challenged to "think outside the box" and failing. What is beautiful to see, however, is how the Church is willing to let the truth be told (although one wishes it could happen a bit sooner at times...although I'm sure there are reasons - good and bad - for it taking this long). Bishop Sergio Pagano was the featured speaker at the press conference.
He was on hand to present a new edition of Vatican Documents of the Trial of Galileo Galilei (1611-1741), the 1984 volume which Pagano edited at the request of the late Pope John Paul II. Pagano said the new edition is the "most complete" and "most careful" collection of material from Galileo's case, including 20 new documents discovered after 1984. (The new material, however, is not exactly a blockbuster; several of the texts are versions of a Vatican edict refusing to grant permission to read Galileo's books. (For the record, Pagano said the requests came from Dominicans.)
The line that it was Dominicans in the past (Allen doesn't mention when the request came) who asked to read Galileo's books was interesting, and made me proud of my Dominican heritage. Dominicans, like St. Thomas Aquinas, are at their best when they're willing to search for the truth in places that others dismiss out of hand. So St. Thomas read pagan philosophers and the works of Muslim and Jewish scholars and incorporated the truth he found in their writings with Catholic theology and philosophy in his great Summa Theologica.
Here's Allen's description of the book on Galileo:
The volume has a 208-page introduction by Pagano which steps through the events between 1611 (when Cardinal Robert Bellarmine first asked Jesuit scientists to look into Galileo's scientific theories) and 1633 (when Galileo was imprisoned for two weeks in an apartment in the headquarters of the Inquisition, today the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, while being interrogated. He was eventually sentenced to prison, but allowed to live under house arrest.)
An out of hand rejection by some Catholics of insights that the study of geology, geophysics, astronomy and other related scientific fields have given into the earth's history is something that tries my patience. Having studied earth science as an undergraduate and graduate student, I am aware of the limitations of the scientific method, and so I don't have patience for scientists who make claims about God's existence based on science. Nor do I find it wise to attempt to use science to "prove" various theological statements, since scientific theories come and go (or at least are heavily modified over time). By the way, I should note that we all have trouble "thinking outside our boxes." The history of science is littered with scientists who would reject new theories that contradicted the hypotheses upon which they had based their own life's work. It's a human trait, I suppose. It's also one of the traits that makes genuine spiritual conversion so difficult!
Pagano stressed that his introduction is a work of history, not apologetics, because "the best defense of the church is always the truth." He went on to say that he's not fond of "empty and useless" attempts to paper over the Galileo case. He pointed to a recent book in Germany, which asserted that Galileo was not targeted by the church for his scientific views but rather as a heretic (because he had allegedly denied the omnipotence of God).
Pagano called that claim a "pure fantasy," for which "there's not a shred of evidence" in the documentary record.
Commenting on Galileo himself, Pagano said that the scientist saw himself as a "good and faithful Catholic." Pagano pointed out, for example, that while he was under house arrest, the Netherlands wanted to present him with a fairly valuable gift. Because Holland was a Protestant nation, however, Galileo refused to see the ambassador or to take the gift -- a decision, Pagano said, that was well-received in Rome.
Introducing Pagano, Benedettini had called the Galileo case a "painful chapter for the church." Later on I asked Pagano if he agreed, and if so, what we ought to learn from it.
"Not only was it painful for the church as a whole," Pagano replied, but also "for the people of the church." For example, Pagano said that while some Jesuits at the Roman College had it out for Galileo, probably because of jealousy, other Jesuits were "certainly on his side, but they remained silent" -- out of fear, Pagano said, of the Holy Office.
In terms of what we ought to learn, Pagano said the basic point is to be "very careful" about drawing conclusions about science on the basis of scripture and tradition, without first being sure those points of reference have been correctly understood and interpreted.
That, Pagano suggested, is a point with contemporary relevance.
"When I look at some of what's being said today about stem cells, for example, or about genetics, I sometimes have the impression that it's burdened with the same preconceptions that happened with Galileo."
Science, in a nutshell, helps us come to grips with what is (and that changes as we get new data). Faith, on the other hand, helps us understand why it is. In other words, what God has revealed to us enables us to find meaning in what is - as well as how we are to act in the face of what is. This is especially true when we consider that what God fundamentally reveals to us in the scriptures is his passionate - and patient - love for us, His creatures.