Tuesday, January 6, 2009

"Cosmos and Human Nature"

Here is the homily of our friend Fr. Anselm Ramelow, OP, for the Monday After Epiphany. Fr. Anselm is a Dominican Priest and Professor of Philosophy at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology here in the Bay Area.


Did you know that your body, as you are sitting here, contains material that goes back something like 15 Billion years? After all, everything material in this world, the whole universe was contained in the first moments of the Big Bang in an unimaginably small space and incredible amounts of energy. It took Billions of years to develop all the elements from hydrogen to helium down to all the other heavier elements. They are the result of nuclear reactions in stars and supernovas. Your very body that is sitting here in the pews consists of stuff that was once part of a supernova. This is quite amazing to think about.


Now consider that God in Jesus Christ took just one of those bodies as part of our human nature. That is what we call the Incarnation; we celebrate it at Christmas: God took our human nature in order to express his love for us. Already in Adam he used those flesh and bones to make an image and likeness of himself. Now in Jesus he takes up this human body with its elements in person. What this means, and what is important to notice here is that God is able to express his very own life in this nature of ours, including all the elements that it took billions of years to develop. This sheds some light, in retrospect, on the Big Bang itself, on the development of the entire cosmos with all its endless stars and galaxies. They are not just a meaningless cosmic explosion of which we are a random product. That God comes in the flesh means that he prepared for himself a body not just beginning from the promise to Abraham and the patriarchs, but from the creation of the world on. We know today that all those elements would not have emerged, if the Big Bang with its physical constants would have been just a tiny little bit off from what it actually is. Physicists have been puzzled by the minimal probability of the emergence not just of this our planet, with water and atmosphere, with life and the intelligent life that we have; even the emergence of just the heavy physical elements in the cosmos as a whole (which are a precondition for our life), are so improbable that one naturally has to suspect the hand of a creator who has orchestrated it, and who created the Big Bang in the first place.

Of all this we might want to think when we see the star over the manger. It indicates the cosmic background of the human nature with its tiny body lying in that manger. Both indicate the presence of God, guiding the astronomers of old to recognize him. In terms of importance, it puts the planet earth where older cosmologies always suspected it: in the middle of the universe. And in the middle of the earth we, like the magi, can find the manger.


Not all, however, allow themselves to be guided by this evidence. The first reading from the letter of John calls these the “false prophets” in the “spirit of the Antichrist.” They deny that God came in the flesh. Accordingly, they will not see the history of the cosmos, in spite of all its improbability, as the result of God’s plan and providence. For a scientist as such, be it physicist or biologist, it would indeed be proper to remain agnostic about this question, in so far as they are engaging in a particular field of science that does not make statements about these kinds of interpretations. Many, however, go outside the realm of their competence by denying that there is a God and creator, let alone one that can became incarnate in our nature. Everything, they say, is the outcome of chance, of random mutations, survival of the fittest and the like. As an ideology, this can properly be called the ideology of the Antichrist. It certainly is not science, because science as such cannot prove this point; if anything it rather points beyond itself.


This is not an abstract speculation, but it has consequences for our lives. It has consequences for how we view our own human nature, our very body with its physical elements and its design. Is it the outcome of God’s providence from the beginning of the world? Or is it a meaningless product of random happenings that can equally randomly be changed by modern technology, by surgery or genetic manipulation?

Pope Benedict recently was attacked in Europe for saying that we do not only have a duty to protect the nature of wildlife from the destructions of modern technology and economy; with that the ecologists will agree (and Pope Benedict is actually one of the most “green” popes ever). But he added that this includes human nature, which is equally subject to technological destruction and social deformations. That he mentioned the separation of what is now called “gender” from the biology of our human nature and sexuality in order to redesign it accordingly, naturally made many people angry. But this is indeed one of the implications of the new world view. Here is where cosmological hypotheses end up changing our view of human nature and life.

Here is what Pope Benedict said verbatim, outlining our responsibilities:

“Since faith in the Creator is an essential part of the Christian Creed, the Church cannot and should not confine herself to passing on the message of salvation alone. She has a responsibility for the created order and ought to make this responsibility prevail, even in public. And in so doing, she ought to safeguard not only the earth, water, and air as gifts of creation, belonging to everyone. She ought also to protect man against the destruction of himself. What is necessary is a kind of ecology of man, understood in the correct sense. When the Church speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman and asks that this order of creation be respected, then this is not the result of an outdated metaphysic. It is a question of faith in the Creator and of listening to the language of creation, the devaluation of which leads to the self-destruction of man and therefore to the destruction of the same work of God. That which is often expressed and understood by the term ‘gender’, results finally in the self-emancipation of man from creation and from the Creator. Man wishes to act alone and to dispose ever and exclusively of that alone which concerns him. But in this way he is living contrary to the truth, he is living contrary to the Creator Spirit. Yes, the tropical forests are deserving of our protection, but man merits no less as a creature, in which there is written a message which does not mean a contradiction of our liberty, but its condition. The great Scholastic theologians have characterized matrimony, the life-long bond between man and woman, as a sacrament of creation, instituted by the Creator himself and which Christ-- without modifying the message of creation-- has incorporated into the history of his covenant with mankind. This forms part of the message that the Church must recover: the witness in favor of the Spirit Creator present in nature in its entirety and in a particular way in the nature of man, created in the image of God. Beginning from this perspective, it would be beneficial to read again the Encyclical Humanae Vitae: the intention of Pope Paul VI was to defend love against sexuality as a consumer entity, the future as opposed to the exclusive pretext of the present, and the nature of man against its manipulation.” So far the Holy Father.


What we are celebrating at Christmas, therefore, is also an Epiphany or manifestation of our very own human nature. It is only a natural consequence, if in today’s Gospel we see Jesus healing our physical nature and teaching our minds to see this nature correctly. Indeed, “the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light”; it is God’s light, manifested in the cosmos as well as in our nature, in the light of the star over Bethlehem and in the light shining from the manger, God’s light and life expressed in our human nature.

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