Category Archives: Faith & Reason

Pope Benedict speaks to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences 2009

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
cf. Mt 
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
(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
). 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, 

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
, 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
enables them 
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: “
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

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.

Stanley L. Jaki, OSB, RIP

Stanley Jaki June 2007.jpgThe Reverend Dom Stanley L. Jaki, O.S.B., died April 7th, in Spain after suffering a heart attack in Rome without knowing it. After arriving in Madrid to visit friends he was taken to the hospital for treatment but died days later. He was a monk and priest of the Archabbey of Saint Martin, Pannonhalma, Hungary. He entered the archabbey in 1941, professing solemn vows in 1944 and was ordained a priest in 1948. Like many other Hungarian priests, Jaki immigrated to the USA during Soviet persecution.

Father Jaki trained as a physicist and devoted his life to the history and philosophy of science and theology rather than scientific research. His intellectual work was ground breaking in connecting Catholic theology and science, and the only one to do so for many years. Jaki earned a doctorate in theology from Sant’Anselmo (Rome) in 1950 and another doctorate in (astro)physics from Fordham University in 1957. Since 1965 he has taught at Seton Hall University and honored as Distinguished Professor of Physics in 1975. After retiring he kept active by holding court, giving lectures and writing, often cantankerously.

Father Jaki was well-known for his writings on science and religion. He delievered the prestigious Gifford Lectures from 1974-1976, later published under the title of The Road of Science and the Ways to God. In 1987 Dom Stanley was award the Templeton Prize. He is considered one of the best scholars on the thought of Cardinal John Henry Newman in the U.S. His publishing record show he published 7 books and numerous articles on Newman.

“Although the world was God’s creation and, as such, to be profoundly respected, the world itself possessed no intrinsic divinity,” Father Thomas G. Guarino, professor of theology at Seton Hall, stated. “Father Jaki’s work elucidated the notion that in understanding the very laws of the physical universe, science naturally opened out toward the affirmation of faith.”

A website devoted to Father Jaki

Are we living in post-Christian America?

In the April 13, 2009 issue of Newsweek, Jon Meacham wrote the article, “The End of Christian America,” exploring the idea that we are living in a time where many of those who identified themselves as Christians are now saying that they are skeptical about religion. Some have gone beyond skepticism and rejected religion altogether. In his article Meacham points out something that I find startling indeed: since 1990 the percentage of Americans who no longer claim a religious affiliation as risen from 8 to 15%. Plus, this group of religious non-affiliated has risen in the Northeast. Is this trend pointing to a real crisis or is Meacham creating havoc for the Church? Are Americans accepting secularlity over salvation? Are Christians to blame?

Certainly, experience shows that in many places, including religious houses, the liturgical rites and preaching are often so bad that one can understand why people leave the Church. How often do we go to Church encountering an unprepared priest, altar servers with little dignity and training and the poorly proclaimed Scriptures? Never mind the foolishness that passes for adequate, never mind “superb,” catechetical formation and social outreach to the poor, the sick and the elderly. Where is the formation in the faith for the adults, teens and children based on Scripture and Tradition and not some minister’s ideology? Is Christ only a one-day-a week event? Let’s ask a question about the credibility of the witness: do the priests really believe in Christ, sin, grace, salvation, Mary, etc? What about those who take religious vows: are they really living according to the mind of the Church AND constitutions of their particular order? The Church in recent times is famous for answering questions that are not being asked by the faithful.

If the Church wants to slow down or reverse the secularization of our culture then it needs holy and competent men and women, clergy and laity alike, who will live the faith in a serious manner. The gospel needs to be preached in such a way that is faithfully and poignantly breaks open the word of the Word AND the lives the liturgical rites. Salvation is a question of content and beauty.

Is the Stem Cell debate dead?

Since January 20th, we’ve seen the debate over the value of embryonic stem research get a boost from the President who reversed President Bush’s ban on embryonic stem cell research and now a prominent medical researcher has made the claim that the stem cell debate is dead. In effect, this researcher has confirmed what other lesser known researchers have already said and what the Catholic Church has also said on this subject: the only hope to cure certain diseases is in adult stem cell research. However, the politics of the use of embryonic stem cell cuts close to home for many since the hope, albeit false hope, is place in the “new cells” which would grow into new, healthy cells and stall if not reverse medical problems and give people with chronic medical problems a new life; what the media got hoodwinked by is the prominence of likeable actors as proponents of anything that would save their lives from diminishment and death. The fact is no meaningful change in the lives who suffer with neurological diseases has happened as a result of therapies involving stem cells taken from embryos.


No one would in their right mind would not want to find a cure for the world’s heinous diseases. Catholics affirm the beauty of life, not desire for death. To think otherwise would be barbarous. Considering the witness of Pope John Paul II who lived with Parkinson’s is astonishing example of how to live and to die with complete human dignity; he was able to live with intensity because of his humanity which never in knowing that he did not make himself. That is, the pope had a radical dependence on God as maker and sustainer of the universe. But the example of John Paul is not enough to quiet the mind and the heart in the face of disease especially when it is yourself or a loved one. Many reason that it’s a matter of life and death “to do everything reasonably possible” to save a person from the ill-effects of disease, or the one should say the quality of one’s life and death that makes the issue heart-wrenching, even to the point using cells from aborted babies. Any thinking man or woman desires to help the vulnerable. It is, however, a question of doing right science, for the right reasons which protects all human life, including the person living with ALS and the unborn baby. The problem with embryonic stems that right science tells us, is that they come from aborted babies and there is no evidence that they would do what is purported that they would do.


Last week America‘s oracle and Obama supprter, Oprah Winfrey, had on her daily TV program Dr. Mehmet Oz and Michael J. Fox (who lives with Parkinson’s) to discuss the matter of stem cell research. Tom Hoopes of the National Catholic Register writes about it. Read the article here.


You may also want to read a booklet title Understanding Stem Cell Research: Controversy and Promise by Dominican Father Nicanor Austriaco, PhD. The author takes the reader through the issues and clearly explains the science and hope that current research proposes.


Josh Brahm’s essay “9 Things the Media Messed Up About the Obama Stem Cell Story” is worth reading.

Newt Catholic

A brief note and another on Newt Gingrich’s entering into full communion with the one, true Church.

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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