|Message from Benedict XVI to Archbishop Fisichella
during International year of Astronomy
On the occasion of the International Congress "From Galileo's telescope
to evolutive cosmology. Science, philosophy and theology in dialogue",
hosted by the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome from 30 November to
2 December , the Holy Father addressed a Message to Archbishop
Rino Fisichella, Rector Magnificent of the Pontifical Lateran
University. The Congress commemorated the 400th anniversary of the very
first time a telescope was used, by Galileo. The following is a
translation of the Pope's Message, which was written in Italian and
dated 26 November .
To my Venerable Brother
Archbishop Rino Fisichella Rector Magnificent of the Pontifical Lateran
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 telescope.
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 honouring 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 telescope.
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 hypotheses.
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 humankind.
Galileo had delved into unknown paths of the universe;
he was opening the door wide to observe ever more immense expanses in
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
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
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
which 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
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
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.