With the words "One Galileo trial is enough for the Church," Cardinal Suenens took formal notice at Vatican II of the death of an age (October 29th, 1964). The adolescence of religious man is finished. He is on the threshold of maturity. His childhood was marked by extensive ignorance of the real nature both of his world and of God. So in his fear he confused the two. His adolescent period saw the growth of his awareness that the world has its own immanent laws. The heady wine of his discoveries caused him to say foolish things about banishing God from the world. But he gradually began to see that he really did not know God so well. God would not be so lightly banished. Some old questions remained naggingly present in the midst of man’s rebellion. As a rational procedure, depending for its first principles on sources quite outside its competence (e.g., the validity of empirical knowledge) and by definition unable to face such questions beyond itself as "Why does anything exist at all?," science is helpless to answer them. There must always be for science a surrounding sphere or envelope of unanswerable questioning. "The life of science bathes in an ocean of mystery" (Butler).
Those who thought they knew God well turned upon the rash discoverers of the world’s immanent forces in righteous indignation. They condemned Galileo and announced a state of war between science and religion. They cited God’s holy word in support of their fulminations. Galileo was perplexed. He could not see, he said, why there was religious opposition to his theories. What difference does it make for man’s eternal salvation whether the sun turns around the earth or vice versa? He was right. His judges had made a mistake. As they studied God’s word they learned more about its real meaning. Leo XIII encouraged the pioneers among them to press deeper: "It could not have been," he said, "the intention of the sacred writers, or rather . . . of the Spirit of God who spoke through them, to instruct us about things that cannot be of service for the salvation of man, namely, the internal constitution of the visible world" (Providentissimus Deus). Pius XII added, "Holy Scripture instructs us only regarding divine things, but it makes use of the ordinary language of men for that purpose" (Divino Afflante Spritu). Thus humbled, religious men of both warring factions were ready for the movement of the Spirit. They were readied to acknowledge as never before the God who is not part of his world at all, but a person summoning man to mutuality and genuine autonomy, a God who chooses, promises, demands, rejects and fulfills.
The Pastoral Constitution "On the Church in the Modern World" of Vatican II rings with repeated assertions of solidarity of the Church with developments in today’s world. She does not chide, bemoan the "death of religion," seek to call men back to former times, lament the disappearance her influence. In her new consciousness of self and in fuller freedom she ratifies the transition from a sacral to a secular world. She declares her union with secular man struggling to subject the world to himself. "In the emancipation and control of creation is realized still more what God has intended with the creation of man and the man who has participated in the transformation of creation, even when he does so not out of the recognition of God, is a helper in his plan" (Vischer).
The Constitution sounds a belated (but necessary) warning to Christians about a warlike attitude evidenced even now. "We cannot but deplore certain habits of mind, which are sometimes found, too, among Christians, which do not sufficiently attend to the rightful independence of science and which, from the arguments and controversies they spark, lead many minds to conclude that faith and science are mutually opposed."
If by the autonomy of earthly affairs we mean that created things and societies themselves enjoy their own laws and values which must be gradually deciphered, put to use, and regulated by men, then it is entirely right to demand that autonomy. Such is not merely required by modern man, but harmonizes also with the will of the Creator. For by the very circumstances of their having been created, all things are endowed with their own stability, truth, goodness, proper laws and order. Man must respect these as he isolates them by the appropriate methods of the individual sciences or arts . . . Indeed, whoever labors to penetrate the secrets of reality with a humble and steady mind, even though he is unaware of the fact, is nevertheless being led by the hand of God, who holds all things in existence, and gives them their identity.
Led by the scriptural scholars, theology has entered into a new freedom, which is to say a fuller maturity. It is ready to enter into an open and genuine dialogue with man’s natural awareness of himself and the world. Freed by its realizing that there are sources of religious knowledge outside of historical revelation, theology is ready to listen as the sciences speak of themselves. For example, sure that man is the goal of all creation and that creation in fact did begin from God and depends on him (this certainty coming from its own proper resources), theology is prepared to learn from natural science what can actually evolve within creation.
Something quite important is at stake here for theology and for religious man in his new maturity. God is not glorified (it was "zeal for the glory of God" that spared the bellicosity of religion vis-à-vis science) by reducing him to the level of the contingent beings of which he is the creator. Such a reduction is in fact implied by a fearful reluctance to disengage creation’s operation from God’s distinct causality. To put it positively, if God truly creates (that is, imparts) existence, then the measure of the power of that creative act (and of the grandeur of the one who performs it) will be the extent to which the creature can "go it alone." Far from banishing God from the scene, the autonomy of creatures, the ability of things to move according to their own immanent dynamisms and laws, makes God all the more necessary. This law of God’s being necessary in direct (not inverse) proportion to creaturely independence is rooted in the Word made Flesh. It is the law of the Incarnation itself. So intimate is the divine embrace of the humanness of Christ that the latter is liberated for fullest freedom, for unlimited (once having had a start in time) achievement, for the most radical autonomy; for genuine existence. The entering in of God to man and his world is an enabling grace, a release of the creature to fullest truth. "In him we live, move and have our [own] being" (Acts 17,28).
Religious man (and man is permanently and irreducibly so, thought it may rile him in his adolescence), must face, perhaps for the first time, an overwhelmingly difficult truth, now that he has come to accept the autonomy of creation. His need for God has caused him to fashion many gods, many absolutes. Now that in his growing maturity he has banished all the idols from the scene, he must face up to this disturbing and difficult proposition: There is only one God, and that God is a person! To say that creation is autonomous is not to say that it is no longer theophanous. Though man may even wish that God were dead, God has not really (ontologically) departed creation.
The Christian should stand uniquely equipped for religious maturity; that is, for mutuality with a personal God. The Christian revelation imparts to man the knowledge of who he is for God (which is to say who he is ultimately "in himself") by showing him who God is for him in Christ. The Christian thus stands on the firmest ground of self-awareness, liberated for genuine encounter with the world without the danger of losing himself in slavery to idols. He is (or should be) uniquely equipped to discover once more (in freedom and in truth) for himself and for all men that the world is genuinely theophanous, since he is willing to let God be genuinely God. God did not leave the world while adolescent man was running away from home. He waits for man, for his adult son to return to genuine encounter with him in creation.
"The Christian knows the shortest, most compelling way to God" (Von Balthasar). It is in and through his fellow man. This is the meaning of the Cross, the summary of all revelation. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of truth. "This is why I was born and why I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth" (John 18, 37). First among all truths is the truth, the uniqueness, the irreplaceability of each and every human being. In the light of this truth (the whole cosmos is for man the person) the fullest truth of the world is revealed. "All things are yours, you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s" (1 Cor 3, 23).
Here is the specific witness of the Christian scientist. In him the world reveals its fullest truth, since he knows and stoutly defends its real finality, its genuine value. It is for man and man is for God. In the conduct of his science, in the manipulation of matter, in the managing of his interventions in the course of natural events, the Christian reveals God to the world and the world to itself. His decisions will be informed by the real values of matter and of man, and thus his work will bring both to fullness.
It is a real joy to commend a book that embodies such a witness.