On the occasion of the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on 31 October 2008, Pope Benedict XVI held a special audience for the members of the Academy. In his address the Roman Pontiff affirmed that “many of our contemporaries today wish to reflect upon the ultimate origin of beings, their cause and their end, and the meaning of human history and the universe.”
Concerning the topic chosen for the Plenary Meeting this year, Scientific Insight into the Evolution of the Universe and of Life, the Holy Father explained the teachings of the Magisterium of the Church. There exists, the Holy Father said, a reading of the world offered by science as well as a reading of the world offered by Christian Revelation. He stressed, however, that the understanding of creation from the side of faith is not opposed to the empirical evidence offered by the sciences.
Going back to the early origins of science, the Holy Father commented that, in its early stages, philosophy offered a somewhat horizontal interpretation of the origin of the world. The early philosophers did not have the concept of “creation” and therefore the genesis of the world was seen as a transformation of one thing into another.
It was not until later that the notion of “creation” was incorporated into philosophical reflection especially with the advent of Christian philosophers. It took, however, centuries of reflection to arrive at the notion of God as Pure Unparticipated Actus Essendi.
In this regard, the Holy Father clarified that, “A decisive advance in understanding the origin of the cosmos was the consideration of being qua being and the concern of metaphysics with the most basic question of the first or transcendent origin of participated being. In order to develop and evolve, the world must first be, and thus have come from nothing into being. It must be created, in other words, by the first Being who is such by essence.”
Then, the Pope continued, “To state that the foundation of the cosmos and its developments is the provident wisdom of the Creator is not to say that creation has only to do with the beginning of the history of the world and of life. It implies, rather, that the Creator founds these developments and supports them, underpins them and sustains them continuously.”
In particular, he said, “Thomas Aquinas taught that the notion of creation must transcend the horizontal origin of the unfolding of events, which is history, and consequently all our purely naturalistic ways of thinking and speaking about the evolution of the world. Thomas observed that creation is neither a movement nor a mutation. It is instead the foundational and continuing relationship that links the creature to the Creator, for He is the cause of every being and all becoming (cf. Summa Theologiae, I, q.45, a. 3).”