To my Venerable Brother Archbishop Rino
Fisichella Rector Magnificent of the Pontifical Lateran University
I am pleased to address my greeting to
all the participants in the International Congress on the theme:
“From Galileo’s telescope to evolutionary cosmology. Science,
philosophy and theology in dialogue”. I extend a special
greeting to you, Venerable Brother, who have promoted this important
time of reflection in the context of the International Year of
Astronomy, to celebrate the fourth centenary of the invention of the
My thoughts also turn to Prof. Nicola
Cabibbo, President of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, who has
collaborated in the organization of this Meeting. I cordially greet
the eminent people who have come from various countries in the world
and are honoring these days of study with their presence.
When one opens the Sidereus Nuncius and
reads Galileo’s first words, one is immediately struck by the Pisan
scientist’s wonder at all that he himself had achieved:
“I propose great things in this
brief treatise for the observation and contemplation of scholars of
nature”, he wrote. “Great, I say, because of the excellence
of the subject in itself, for its newness, unknown in past centuries,
and also for the instrument through which these same things are
manifested to our sight” (Galileo Galilei, Sidereus Nuncius,
1610, translated [into Italian] by P.A. Giustini, Lateran University
Press 2009, p. 89).
It was the year 1609 when Galileo first
pointed skyward an instrument which “I myself devised”, he
wrote, “enlightened at the outset by divine grace”: the
It is easy to imagine what he saw; his
awe became excitement and enthusiasm which prompted him to write:
“Without any doubt it is a great thing to add innumerable other
stars to the immense multitude of fixed stars that until today it has
been possible to discern with the natural faculty of sight, and which
exceed by more than ten times the number of ancient stars already
recorded” (ibid.). The scientist was able to observe with his
own eyes what, until that moment, had been no more than controversial
It would not be wrong to presume that
at this sight Galileo’s profoundly believing mind must have been
opened, as it were quite naturally, to prayerful praise, making his
own the feelings expressed by the Psalmist:
“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is
your name in all the earth!… When I look at your heavens, the work
of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have established;
what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you
care for him? Yet… you have given him dominion over all the works
of your hands; you have put all things under his feet…” (cf.
Ps 8:1, 3-7).
With this discovery, the cultural
awareness of facing a crucial point in the history of humanity
increased. Science was becoming something different from what the
ancients had always thought it to be. Aristotle had made it possible
to arrive at the certain knowledge of phenomena starting with evident
and universal principles; Galileo then showed in practice how to
approach and observe the phenomena themselves in order to understand
their secret causes.
The method of deduction gave way to
that of induction and prepared the ground for experimentation. The
concept of science that had remained the same for centuries was now
changing, entering into a modern conception of the world and of
Galileo had delved into unknown paths
of the universe; he was opening the door wide to observe ever more
immense expanses in space.
It is probable that over and above his
intentions, the Pisan scientist’s discovery also made it possible to
go back in time, prompting questions about the very origins of the
cosmos and making it clear that after emerging from the Creator’s
hands, the universe also has a history of its own; “groaning in
travail”, to borrow the Apostles Paul’s words, in the hope that
it would be “set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the
glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom 8:21-22).
Today too the universe continues to
give rise to questions to which mere observation does not succeed in
giving satisfactory answers: the natural and physical sciences alone
do not suffice.
Indeed, if the analysis of the
phenomena remains closed in on itself, it risks making the cosmos
seem an insoluble enigma. Matter has an intelligibility that can
speak to the human mind and point out a way that goes beyond the mere
It is Galileo’s lesson that led to this
thought. Was it not the Pisan scientist who maintained that God wrote
the book of nature in the language of mathematics?
Yet the human mind invented mathematics
in order to understand creation; but if nature is really structured
with a mathematical language and mathematics invented by man can
manage to understand it, this demonstrates something extraordinary.
The objective structure of the universe and the intellectual
structure of the human being coincide; the subjective reason and the
objectified reason in nature are identical. In the end it is “one”
reason that links both and invites us to look to a unique creative
Intelligence (cf. Benedict XVI, Address to young people of the
Diocese of Rome, 6 April 2006; L’Osservatore Romano English edition,
12 April 2006, p. 8).
Questions on the immensity of the
universe, its origins and its end, as well as on understanding it, do
not admit of a scientific answer alone. Those who look at the cosmos,
following Galileo’s lesson, will not be able to stop at merely what
is observed with the telescope; they will be impelled to go beyond it
and wonder about the meaning and end to which all creation is
At this stage philosophy and technology
have an important role in smoothing out the way towards further
Philosophy, confronting the phenomena
and beauty of creation, seeks with its reasoning to understand the
nature and finality of the cosmos.
Theology, founded on the revealed word,
examines the beauty and wisdom of the love of God who has left his
imprint on created nature (cf. St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae,
Ia, q. 45, a. 6).
Both reason and faith are involved in
this gnoseological act; both offer their light. The greater the
knowledge of the complexity of the cosmos, the greater the number of
instruments that can satisfy it will be required. There is no
conflict on the horizon between the various branches of scientific
knowledge and of philosophy and theology.
On the contrary, only to the extent
that they succeed in entering into dialogue and in exchanging their
respective competencies will they be able to present truly effective
results to people today.
Galileo’s discovery was a crucial
landmark in the history of humanity. It led to other great
discoveries, with the invention of instruments that have made the
technological progress achieved precious. From the satellites that
observe the various phases of the universe — which has
paradoxically become smaller — to the highly sophisticated machines
used by biomedical engineering, everything shows the greatness of the
human mind which, according to the biblical commandment, is called to
“subdue” the whole of creation (cf. Gn 1:28), to “till”
it and “keep” it (Gn 2:15).
Nevertheless a subtle risk is always
involved in so many break-throughs: namely, that human beings may
trust only in science and forget to lift their gaze to the
transcendent Being, the Creator of all, who in Jesus Christ revealed
his Face of Love.
I am sure that this Congress’
interdisciplinary approach will enable the importance of a unitive
vision — the result of a common effort for real scientific progress
in the contemplation of the cosmos — to be grasped.
I gladly accompany your academic
commitment, venerable Brother, as I ask the Lord to bless these days
as well as the research of every one of you.
L’Osservatore Romano, Weekly Edition in English, 9 December 2009, page 7
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