Faith & Reason: May 2009 Archives

Dan Gilgoff of U.S. News & World Report's "God & Country" blog posted an exclusive interview in which Newt Gingrich speaks on following his desire to enter into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. 

The former Speaker of the House said in part: "The whole effort to create a ruthless, amoral, situational ethics culture has probably driven me toward a more overt Christianity."

To read the interview

Are we committed to beauty and truth in art? Thinking about Dan Brown's books which contains Catholic "material" I have been a bit distressed at some peoples' an uncritical acceptance of what I think is mostly scandalous regarding the Catholic faith. To me it is not OK because Brown is, as it's said belowi, cashing in on the work of the Church. But my gripe is that fiction is always received as such by some people aren't able to clearly discern the meaning of things. That is, there are people who can't separate fact from fiction in printed materials; for them anything in print is true. Right, it's ludicrous but people do think that what Dan Brown writes is true and beyond reproach. Father John Wauck, an Opus Dei priest, is a professor at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, and the author of the blog "The Da Vinci Code and Opus Dei" said the following recently in an interview the rest of the interview was published on

Dan Brown's trying to sell books by offering a "cocktail" of history, art, religion and mystery, and, in today's world, there seems to be only one place where he's able to find all those things together: in the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, he's cashing in on the culture of the Church.

Universities are an invention of the Church. Copernicus was a Roman Catholic cleric, and he dedicated his book on the heliocentric universe to the Pope. The calendar we use today is the Gregorian Calendar, because it was promulgated by Pope Gregory XIII, who was working with the best astronomers and mathematicians of his time. Galileo himself always remained a Catholic, and his two daughters were nuns. One of the greatest Italian astronomers of the 19th century was a Jesuit priest, Angelo Secchi. The father of modern genetics, Gregor Mendel, was a Catholic monk. The creator of the "Big Bang" theory was a Belgian priest, Georges Lemaitre.

In short, the idea that there is a some natural tension between science and the Church, between reason and faith, is utter nonsense. Nowadays, when people hear the words "science" and "the Church," they immediately think of Galileo's trial in the 1600s. But, in the larger scheme of things, that complex case --which is frequently distorted by anti-Catholic propagandists--was a glaring exception. There's a reason why critics of the Church are always brings it up: It's the only example they've got. So, when we hear the words "science" and "the Church," we should think Copernicus, Secchi, Mendel and Lemaitre. They're representative. Galileo's trial is not.

Matteo Ricci.jpg

We're observing the anniversary of death of the famed Jesuit, Matteo Ricci. Benedict XVI wrote to Bishop Claudio Giuliodori of Macerata-Tolentino-Recanati-Cingoli-Treia, Italy on the occasion of a Jubilee Year commemorating the fourth centenary of the death of the Jesuit Father Matteo Ricci, who died in Beijing, China on 11 May 1610. In part the Pope said:

In considering his intense academic and spiritual activity, we cannot but remain favourably impressed by the innovative and unusual skill with which he, with full respect, approached Chinese cultural and spiritual traditions. It was, in fact, this approach that characterised his mission, which aimed to seek possible harmony between the noble and millennial Chinese civilisation and the novelty of Christianity, which is for all societies a ferment of liberation and of true renewal from within, because the Gospel, universal message of salvation, is destined for all men and women whatever the cultural and religious context to which they belong.

A biography of Father Ricci can be read here.

More about Father Ricci can be found here and here.

For those with a deeper curiosity I could recommend Jonathan D. Spence's The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci.

Walter Kasper.jpgOn March 26th, Walter Cardinal Kasper, 76, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity delivered the annual Fay Vincent Fellowship in Faith and Culture lecture at Saint Thomas More Catholic Chapel & Center at Yale University. The title of his talk was "The Timeliness of Speaking of God: Freedom and Communion as Basic Concepts of Theology." Here are four salient points in the Cardinal's address:

1. "I am convinced that the time is now to speak of God and to decide how to speak of God";
2. "Thinking of God as absolute freedom means understanding God as a liberating God and the world as a place of freedom";
3. with the rise of new religiocities, spiritualities and approaches to faith and reason we have to understand that the world now has a "recognition of a pluralism of truths and religions alike as the new paradigm";
4. how does theology maintain a Catholic identity and speak in a new and fresh way of "the living, liberating God who is love"?

Here Cardinal Kasper is picking up on the theological agenda of Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Communion & Liberation and some Dominicans friars who are asking questions about the coherence of faith and reason. So, these points of the Cardinal's ought not to be new news for most people who claim to be theologically literate; they are rather critical though to keep on the tip of the tongue. Furthermore, you will recognize that these four points are clearly being addressed by the Holy Father these days in the Middle East as he addressed similar topics in 2008 when he was in the USA. Your thoughts?

The Holy Father gave the following address to the Social Sciences Academy which is led by Mary Ann Glendon. It is a rather important speech with regard to faith and reason and it deserves our serious attention. As supplementary readings you might re-read the Pope's 2008 address to the United Nations and an essay by Tracey Rowland, "Natural Law: From Neo-Thomism to Nuptial Mysticism" in the journal Communio 35 (Fall 2008). 

Benedict XVI arms.jpg

As you gather for the fifteenth Plenary Session of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, I am pleased to have this occasion to meet with you and to express my encouragement for your mission of expounding and furthering the Church's social doctrine in the areas of law, economy, politics and the various other social sciences. Thanking Professor Mary Ann Glendon for her cordial words of greeting, I assure you of my prayers that the fruit of your deliberations will continue to attest to the enduring pertinence of Catholic social teaching in a rapidly changing world.

After studying work, democracy, globalisation, solidarity and subsidiarity in relation to the social teaching of the Church, your Academy has chosen to return to the central question of the dignity of the human person and human rights, a point of encounter between the doctrine of the Church and contemporary society.

The world's great religions and philosophies have illuminated some aspects of these human rights, which are concisely expressed in "the golden rule" found in the Gospel: "Do to others as you would have them do to you" (Lk 6:31; cf. Mt 7:12). The Church has always affirmed that fundamental rights, above and beyond the different ways in which they are formulated and the different degrees of importance they may have in various cultural contexts, are to be upheld and accorded universal recognition because they are inherent in the very nature of man, who is created in the image and likeness of God. If all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God, then they share a common nature that binds them together and calls for universal respect. The Church, assimilating the teaching of Christ, considers the person as "the worthiest of nature" (St. Thomas Aquinas, De potentia, 9, 3) and has taught that the ethical and political order that governs relationships between persons finds its origin in the very structure of man's being. The discovery of America and the ensuing anthropological debate in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe led to a heightened awareness of human rights as such and of their universality (ius gentium). The modern period helped shape the idea that the message of Christ - because it proclaims that God loves every man and woman and that every human being is called to love God freely - demonstrates that everyone, independently of his or her social and cultural condition, by nature deserves freedom. At the same time, we must always remember that "freedom itself needs to be set free. It is Christ who sets it free" (Veritatis Splendor, 86).

In the middle of the last century, after the vast suffering caused by two terrible world wars and the unspeakable crimes perpetrated by totalitarian ideologies, the international community acquired a new system of international law based on human rights. In this, it appears to have acted in conformity with the message that my predecessor Benedict XV proclaimed when he called on the belligerents of the First World War to "transform the material force of arms into the moral force of law" ("Note to the Heads of the Belligerent Peoples", 1 August 1917).

Human rights became the reference point of a shared universal ethos - at least at the level of aspiration - for most of humankind. These rights have been ratified by almost every State in the world. The Second Vatican Council, in the Declaration Dignitatis Humanae, as well as my predecessors Paul VI and John Paul II, forcefully referred to the right to life and the right to freedom of conscience and religion as being at the centre of those rights that spring from human nature itself.

Strictly speaking, these human rights are not truths of faith, even though they are discoverable - and indeed come to full light - in the message of Christ who "reveals man to man himself" (Gaudium et Spes, 22). They receive further confirmation from faith. Yet it stands to reason that, living and acting in the physical world as spiritual beings, men and women ascertain the pervading presence of a logos which enables them to distinguish not only between true and false, but also good and evil, better and worse, and justice and injustice. This ability to discern - this radical agency - renders every person capable of grasping the "natural law", which is nothing other than a participation in the eternal law: "unde...lex naturalis nihil aliud est quam participatio legis aeternae in rationali creatura" (St. Thomas Aquinas, ST I-II, 91, 2). The natural law is a universal guide recognizable to everyone, on the basis of which all people can reciprocally understand and love each other. Human rights, therefore, are ultimately rooted in a participation of God, who has created each human person with intelligence and freedom. If this solid ethical and political basis is ignored, human rights remain fragile since they are deprived of their sound foundation.

The Church's action in promoting human rights is therefore supported by rational reflection, in such a way that these rights can be presented to all people of good will, independently of any religious affiliation they may have. Nevertheless, as I have observed in my Encyclicals, on the one hand, human reason must undergo constant purification by faith, insofar as it is always in danger of a certain ethical blindness caused by disordered passions and sin; and, on the other hand, insofar as human rights need to be re-appropriated by every generation and by each individual, and insofar as human freedom - which proceeds by a succession of free choices - is always fragile, the human person needs the unconditional hope and love that can only be found in God and that lead to participation in the justice and generosity of God towards others (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 18, and Spe Salvi, 24).

This perspective draws attention to some of the most critical social problems of recent decades, such as the growing awareness - which has in part arisen with globalisation and the present economic crisis - of a flagrant contrast between the equal attribution of rights and the unequal access to the means of attaining those rights. For Christians who regularly ask God to "give us this day our daily bread", it is a shameful tragedy that one-fifth of humanity still goes hungry. Assuring an adequate food supply, like the protection of vital resources such as water and energy, requires all international leaders to collaborate in showing a readiness to work in good faith, respecting the natural law and promoting solidarity and subsidiarity with the weakest regions and peoples of the planet as the most effective strategy for eliminating social inequalities between countries and societies and for increasing global security.

Dear friends, dear Academicians, in exhorting you in your research and deliberations to be credible and consistent witnesses tot he defence and promotion of these non-negotiable human rights which are founded in divine law, I most willingly impart to you my Apostolic Blessing.

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]



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