Synthesis - November-December 2012

FAITH Magazine November – December 2012

In its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, the Second Vatican Council called for a truly ecclesial intellectual development. As we explain in our editorial this was one of the clearest demands of the Council, yet it has also been one of the most ignored. Our first feature presents a thematic summary of this document, quoting from it extensively. Later in this issue Dr Dudley Plunkett shows how some of the newer theological institutes have borne fruit through their openness to the Council's call.

Gaudium et Spes, as the constitution is normally referred to, based many of its reflections upon the following insight: "The human race is passing from a rather static concept of the order of things to a more dynamic, evolutionary one" (n.5) Its authors, as well as Ronald Knox 20 years earlier and to some degree Rene Descartes 350 years earlier, recognised that such an understanding was invited by the method of the new sciences. In this issue we publish relevant extracts from Knox's God and the Atom, along with a reflection on Descartes' attempts to prevent such a dynamic concept from affecting static aspects of traditional Catholic metaphysics. Our editorial suggests that Etienne Gilson and his school attempted something essentially similar. Knox seems to acknowledge that some of ourproblems arise from our "friends", when he writes:
"There will be fresh attempts to dissociate natural theology altogether from our experience of the natural world around us, to concentrate more and more on precarious arguments derived from the exigencies and the instincts of human nature itself."

Knox's words, beautifully crafted as ever, call for a new "synthesis" of classical Christianity with the philosophical implications of modern science. Gaudium et Spes clearly associates with such a call a spirit of openness to insights that have matured outside the visible boundaries of the Church. Our editorial suggests that the lack of such openness was a flaw of pre-Vatican II Catholicism that contributed to its decline in the western world in the second half of the last century. Knox hints at why this was so. Given the failure of the idea pushed by "the Partisans of Utopia ...that Science is the beacon-light which points the way to universal happiness" we should remember, he wrote, that "when you have lost your way and are asking for directions, few things are more annoying than to begiven, by some local Good Samaritan, an exact account of where you went wrong. Our contemporaries, and posterity if there is any, will be more grateful to a Christianity which can offer them some message of encouragement." And justly so, we would add, given the advances made in our knowledge of nature since the Enlightenment.

As this magazine has been doing consistently for 40 years now, our columns in this issue - especially Cutting Edge, Letters, Notes from Across the Atlantic and our new column Continuity and Development - explore some of the ways in which we can move forward.

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