What Can Catholic Theology Say About Extraterrestrials?

Is there rational life in outer space? And what might Catholic theologians have to say about it? I must admit that I feel strange addressing these questions, which from the outside might seem to be completely useless. After all, we do not know whether there is extraterrestrial life in our universe, or more specifically, whether there is extraterrestrial life made in the image and likeness of God as humanity is, what we might call (and I will be calling) “extraterrestrial rational species,” or ETRS for short. What might understandably come to mind is the famous and derided question, “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” asked by scholastic theologians. Why try to answer a question that has no immediate application to anything pressing, a matter of idle curiosity?

But the question about dancing angels and pins was never asked by scholastic theologians. In the Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas asked the question, “Whether several angels can be at the same time in the same place?” as a specification of a larger question, the question of the relation of angels to place, to spatial reality.[1] In the seventeenth century, anti-Catholic polemicists developed a reductio ad absurdum argument against medieval theology by changing the question. Once you take away the fanciful details his question is an important one—what is the nature of angels, whom God has revealed do exist and who have had important roles to play in the history of our salvation? If something is important enough for God to reveal it, then speculating about it is not idle; it is faith seeking understanding, even if that search for understanding requires abstract, metaphysical speculation.

Now my question today—if one or more ETRS exist, what might be God’s relationship with them in creation and redemption?—is not an abstract metaphysical question, even though it cannot be answered definitively. It is more akin to the essential question that arose in the Age of Discovery regarding huge and ancient civilizations who had never had the Gospel proclaimed to them. How does the teaching “outside the Church there is no salvation” apply to the indigenous people of the Americas? Is explicit faith in Christ necessary for salvation? It took returning to the sources—Scripture and Tradition—and thinking from new angles that had remained unconsidered, or at least not given full weight, before the Age of Discovery. In the theological response we see a holy curiosity inspired by the hope and desire for the salvation of others, which required contemplation and a renewed study of the essential truths of the faith. The greatest monument of this theological journey is the teaching of Vatican II in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church regarding God’s nearness to “those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things, and as Savior wills that all men be saved.”[2]

So, if we have counterparts in this universe who, like us, are rational and free, asking questions about their relationship with God enriches us, even if we never get to know if there are any ETRS in the universe. Such beings, made in the image of God, would have souls which like ours do not pass away at death, if they do indeed die. In other words, they would be both continuous and discontinuous with some form of evolutionary history, bearing the capacity for a special relationship with God in which they can know God and respond to him with freedom and love; in a sense, to say “amen,” “let it be” to their Creator in the same register as the Blessed Virgin Mary said “Let it be” to the angel Gabriel. God would love them, and want to share his life with them. As speculative as they are, questions of this sort in dialogue with science allow theologians to return to the foundational principles which animate all good theology, which I hope to demonstrate.

But before we go there, the first issue to consider is whether or not the Church has ever addressed the issue of ETRS. In this regard a quote from Robert Jastrow’s famous book God and the Astronomers kept coming to mind. In the book Jastrow chronicles the discovery of the Big Bang theory and the new cosmology that it made possible, that is a universe that is expanding from a real beginning. He writes,

For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason [alone], the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.[3]

And in regard to extraterrestrial life, Jastrow’s comment might fit—Christian philosophers and theologians have been thinking about this possibility for a long time, and in at least one instance, before the advent of modern science.

Consider the great fifteenth century philosopher, theologian and cardinal Nicholas of Cusa. He suggested that the universe is infinitely large and has no center and that all bodies in the universe, including both the earth and the sun, are in motion in infinite space. He also theorized favorably about the existence of intelligent life on other planets, which he thought was probable due to God’s creativity,

We surmise, that in the solar region there are inhabitants which are more solar, brilliant, illustrious, and intellectual—being even more spiritlike than [those] on the moon, where [the inhabitants] are more moonlike, and than [those] on the earth, [where they are] more material and more solidified . . . We believe this on the basis of the fiery influence of the sun and on the basis of the watery and aerial influence of the moon and the weighty material influence of the earth. In like manner, we surmise that none of the other regions of the stars are empty of inhabitants—as if there were as many particular mondial parts of the one universe as there are stars, of which there is no number.

Cusa counters any doubters by asking, “Certain [people] have said that on earth there are as many species of things as there are stars. Therefore, if in this way the earth contracts to distinct species the influence of all the stars, why is there not a similar occurrence in the regions of other stars which receive stellar influences?”[4] Here we have something eerily like a philosophical-theological premonition of the modern discovery that all of us are made of elements generated in the cores of stars, of stardust.

The Church taught nothing definitively then, nor does she teach anything definitively now, about extraterrestrial life. So our next question must be, “how does a theologian speculate on something for which he or she has no doctrinal guidance?” In that case, we have something much more essential than doctrine to guide us, what St. John Henry Newman identified as the permanent elements in the development of doctrine, the underlying principles which animate doctrines in a way similar to how the soul animates the body, principles which “remain from first to last unalterable.” According to Newman, these principles are so important that they are “the life of doctrines,” and even identifies them as “a better test of heresy than doctrine.” Principles are assumptions, habits of mind, whereas doctrines are objective professions, articles of faith. Here’s Newman:

The life of doctrines may be said to consist in the law or principle which they embody. Principles are abstract and general, doctrines relate to facts; doctrines develop, and principles at first sight do not; doctrines grow and are enlarged, principles are permanent; doctrines are intellectual, and principles are more immediately ethical and practical.

Principles can never be changed, even when doctrines can and do develop. Newman explicitly noted nine, but he says that there are many more.[5]

In what follows I will suggest three such principles that suffuse and are illustrated by the great sweep of salvation history, the first of which I have from Newman himself. That one is what he called the principle of sacramentality. But I am adding two others that he does not enunciate but that I think are incontestably essential, the very fabric of God’s action in history: the principle of particularity, and the principle of solidarity. A preview:

  • From the first principle (sacramentality) I will hypothesize that due to the nature of embodied creatures who have a history, the divine Son of God, the Logos through whom God made the universe, would become Incarnate among them in whatever body God had provided that species via evolution. I will suggest that the mediation of the divine in an incarnation would have a history leading up to it, and that history would have similarities to our own.
  • The second principle, particularity, refers to the divine tendency to deal not first with the grand scale of humanity, but with a particular people, the Israelites, and to keep going smaller, dealing with one tribe of that people, Judah, then one fragment of that people, the poor faithful ones, the “remnant,’ and then with one woman in one small town, the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is scandalous to many, including the anti-Semitic journalist William Ewer who once wrote, “How odd of God to choose the Jews.” I love the anonymous rejoinders he received, which as you will notice, retain the particularity: “Not odd of God, his son was one;” AND “Not odd, you sod, The Jews chose God.”; AND “How strange of man, To change the plan.” And one last one, my favorite, from the American journalist Cecil Brown, “But not so odd, As those who choose, A Jewish God, Yet spurn the Jews.”

At any rate, I will argue from this principle that such an Incarnation would be singular for each extraterrestrial species created in the divine image, that is any and all ETRS, because the Lord seems to choose small for the sake of all for the sake of uniting that species, not only to himself but to each other.

  • Finally, the third principle, the principle of solidarity. Love, as God has revealed, means willing the good of another for their own sake (think: 1 Corinthians 13, love is patient, etc.), and solidarity refers to the perfection of such love, in which the lover longs to take upon herself or himself the situation of the beloved, to be as intimately united to them in it as possible. From the third principle I will argue that the actual, historical path of the Incarnate Lord in solidarity with any given ETRS would be determined precisely by their need. For an unfallen species, this would look different than how it looks with a fallen species like us.

Extraterrestrials and the Principle of Sacramentality

When we discuss ETRS, we are not discussing angelic creatures, but embodied ones; in particular, rational animals like us. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, angels receive understanding directly from God; in contemplating the divine essence, they come to know all things. Embodied creatures do not experience the divine in this way; rather, they experience the divine as mediated through material means. Even those who see apparitions, see something bodily, even if that is offered merely as an accommodation to their mode of understanding.

Human life is a complex of signs and symbols that are culturally and historically mediated. We certainly are safe to assume that any ETRS would be social animals. We can only extrapolate from our own planetary situation, and ours reveals that the closer to rationality on the neurological level, the more social creatures are—think dolphins, orcas, the other primates, and, as has been discovered recently, octopods and corvids. It is not surprising to a Catholic theologian that the closer to intellect and freedom a creature advances on the material level, the more social they become, for God is the Trinity. The implications seem to hold that for extraterrestrial rational creatures, they too would live in societies, within communities and cultures. They would engage in symbolic discourse both verbal and material. In this way, they would image the divine Son who is God’s very Word and Wisdom, and so would have some history in which God made himself accessible to them culturally, historically, and in embodied ways.

Therefore, I propose that if an ETRS was in need of salvation, there would be a real history of divine engagement and self-revelation with any ETRS. There would be lawgivers such as Moses, because law is necessary to curb evil and to structure society in a way that is conducive to virtue, and virtue is the fruit of living; even Christ could grow in wisdom and favor before God and man (Luke 2:52). There would be prophets such as Isaiah, because a prophet speaks the divine word in ways that are contextual and specific to the life of persons. There would be music-makers and poets, because the whole universe is charged with the grandeur of God, and beauty, goodness and truth must be celebrated. There would be ETRS elders and ETRS sages who would distill the fruit of experience, wisdom, in practical and speculative ways. I know nothing of ETRS sexuality, but if it is like ours these would be male and female.

But ultimately, as I will argue more fully, there would be one who is not only fully ETRS but fully God. It would be this one who would draw together and fulfill all that the great ones spoke and did, because God can be no more perfectly mediated than by mediating himself, as a divine person who is also fully ETRS. It would be from their history and God’s decisive acts within it that symbolic things, words and actions would be chosen by God as the vehicle of communication. There would certainly be liturgy, for communal worship, rites and rituals are so essential to embodied creatures. What any of these would look like is beyond my imagination, because to answer would require knowing about ETRS biology and psychology. What we see in the evolution of various species on our planet, as Simon Conway Morris has shown, is convergence with variation, in which there is directionality in evolution. If this means that an ETRS would evolve in a way similar to ours, with bodies, sense organs and brains similar to ours, then might there be a convergence in forms of worship as well?

Here we should pause, and reflect more thoroughly on what Incarnation means and does not mean. St. Thomas Aquinas never envisioned the existence of ETRS, but he did engage one question which is very helpful to our inquiry. He asked if the Word of God could be incarnate in another human being besides Jesus. He answered affirmatively:

It may not be said that a Divine Person so assumed one human nature as to be unable to assume another. For it would seem to follow from this that the Person of the Divine Nature was so [circumscribed] by one human nature as to be unable to assume another . . . and this is impossible, for the Uncreated cannot be [circumscribed] by any creature.[6]

Here we should address a common misunderstanding of what is meant by Incarnation. It is not a blending of natures—he who was fully God became fully human, uniting the two natures in his one divine personhood, or what is called technically “the hypostatic union.” But he does so without confusion between them. In the words of the Council of Chalcedon in 451, “the distinction of natures is by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature is preserved.” The same would be true in regard to the Son’s divine nature and his ETRS nature—one and the same divine Person would be fully divine and fully ETRS without a blending of his divine and created natures. Furthermore, a new distinction would apply—his ETRS nature and his human nature would not be blended together. For example, he would have a genuine ETRS intellect and will in the ETRS Incarnation, just as he has a genuine human intellect and will in his human incarnation, which the Risen Christ still possesses.

This last point about a plurality of Incarnations across species raises a question. In the resurrection of the body, we expect a coming together of all human beings for the general judgment and, hopefully, everlasting happiness. The blessed will see God face to face, and live in a perfect everlasting communion with God and with all the saints. Also, the focal point of that communion will be, as it already is, the risen humanity of Jesus. If there were an ETRS Incarnation, or more than one, what would our relationship be with the divine Son incarnate in those natures?

Here we can assure ourselves that already, before we ever raise the question of ETRS, we have passed into an area of theological mystery. What can be said about what it means to have a risen human body at all? What will the universe be like when it is renewed, when God will be “all in all,” as St. Paul says? In his work on death and eternal life Joseph Ratzinger could only opine that “In such integration, matter will belong to spirit in a wholly new and different way, [in which] spirit will be utterly one with matter, a universal exchange and openness, and so the overcoming of all alienation. Only where creation realizes such unity can it be true that ‘God is all in all.’”[7] Perhaps our finite point-of-view obscures the picture—the risen Lord, who can appear and disappear through locked doors, and who is known by his wounds, would have a way for us. The poet Alice Meynell expressed Incarnational plurality as not an obstacle, but as a cause of adoration in heaven, in her “Christ in the Universe”:

But, in the eternities,
Doubtless we shall compare together, hear
A million alien Gospels, in what guise
He trod the Pleiades, the Lyre, the Bear.

Oh, be prepared, my soul!
To read the inconceivable, to scan
The million forms of God those stars unroll
When, in our turn, we show to them a Man.

ETRS and The Principle of Particularity

One of the great controversies after the Reformation had to do with diverging opinions on how many churches were instituted by Christ. The original Protestant approach was that of Luther and Calvin, namely that the Church is spiritual, not visible; in Calvin’s words, “The Church is not visible; the saints are not known.” Another theory was that many churches were instituted by Christ. Once the ecumenical movement began, yet a new idea arose: that the one Church of Christ would not exist visibly until all denominationalism had ceased.

To these, the Catholic Church has always said “no!” She continually rejected the suggestion that the Church of Christ is invisible, or the splitting of the Church into many, or projecting it into some anticipated future. In the opening paragraph of the Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium: “the Church is in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely-knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race.” And in Lumen Gentium section 8, we read this:

Christ, the one Mediator, established and continually sustains here on earth His holy Church, the community of faith, hope and charity, as a visible entity through which He communicated truth and grace to all. But, the society structured with hierarchical organs and the Mystical Body of Christ, are not to be considered as two realities, nor are the visible assembly and the spiritual community, nor the earthly Church and the Church enriched with heavenly things; rather they form one complex reality which coalesces from a divine and a human element. For this reason, by no weak analogy, it is compared to the mystery of the incarnate Word.

It seems clear that the idea of Incarnation and ecclesial unity in a visible communion are closely related in these passages. Were there multiple human Incarnations, the Church could not be the one sacrament of the unity of the whole human race.

One Incarnation, and the establishment of one Church, brings to its culmination a pattern we see in salvation history: God chooses one for the sake of all. He engaged one people in all of their particularity to be the focal point of the unity he desires for the whole human race. This involves a paradox about God that was espoused and defended by the fathers of the Church in the face of the heresy of Arianism. One reason Arius rejected the Incarnation of God was because he thought of God’s transcendence in a way that excluded what is particular. St. Athanasius and St. Gregory of Nyssa countered this heresy by saying that it is precisely a manifestation of divine transcendence that God can make himself small and particular. In the words of an anonymous Flemish Jesuit in a eulogy for St. Ignatius of Loyola, Christianity is based on a conception of divinity as being “not encompassed by the greatest, but allowing oneself to be encompassed by the smallest.”

God is Trinity, and this means divinity is complete equality, perfect union with order (Father as the origin of the Son, Father and Son as origin of the Spirit) but no domination, a union in which total self-surrender is identical to total self-possession. Perhaps this is why on our planet of sinful, rational embodied creatures God always chooses the despised, the marginal, the ignored in whom he reveals his glory: “we saw him as one who was despised, rejected by men and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). In other words, when God chooses one to save the many, he does not do so in a way in which the many are not dominated or subjugated, but rather elevated. Thus, the principle of particularity is only a scandal when one misconceives the God who chooses and/or the reason for his choosing. By choosing to become one ETRS individual, the divine Son would unite himself to the many and the many to each other.

Let us recall something I have already addressed: ETRS would be, like us, both physical and spiritual, a unity of body and rational soul. My great teacher, Fr. Roch Kereszty, in his excellent book on Christology, in the section entitled “Why only one Incarnation?,” captures indirectly why one might expect at least one, but only one, Incarnation per ETRS. He is speaking of human beings, but it makes just as much sense if you insert “ETRS” in place of human beings, as I do below. I will conclude my consideration of this principle with his wise and beautiful words:

[ETRS] are both spiritual and physical, more exactly, the essential unity of soul and body. If, then, there were no [ETRS] incarnation, the unity of [ETRS-]kind would be established only on a spiritual level . . .  

. . . Here we confront the very scandal of the incarnation: God makes his absolute fullness reside in one limited [ETRS] at one point in the space and time of [ETRS] history . . . [therefore] it seems providential that the cornerstone of [ETRS] religious history should be both visible and invisible, physical and spiritual; concrete enough for all members of [an ETRS] to relate to one of their own by learning his words and finding a home in his heart, yet comprehensive enough (due to its divinely transcendent character) to promote rather than suppress the riches of every [ETRS] individual.[8]

Now, one might counter that the principle of particularity equally justifies hypothesizing that through one Incarnation, that of Jesus Christ, God has already united himself to all ETRS; that homo sapiens plays the part of the marginal, tiny people through whom God unites the many. What a turnabout that would be—our lack of spatial centrality in the universe, so often used against faith by atheists, would turn out to be the greatest centrality of all—the hinge of the fulfillment of God’s plan for the universe! I only opt for my own hypothesis because of the final principle, the principle of solidarity. But of course, ALL such hypotheses must be held lightly.

ETRS and the Principle of Solidarity

So far I have used foundational principles to hypothesize a) that for any ETRS, there would be a true salvation history culminating in an Incarnation, and b) that for every ETRS, there would be only one Incarnation. But in the case of fallen ETRS, would there be any salvific act such as another tragic death? This brings us to the issue of solidarity as the perfection of Christian love.

Love, the theological virtue of charity, means willing the good of another for their own sake (think here again of 1 Corinthians 13), and solidarity refers to the perfection of charity, in which the lover longs to take upon herself or himself the situation of the beloved, to be as intimately united to them in it as possible. An inspiring example of this that comes to mind for me is St. Edith Stein, a convert from a Jewish background who felt that her call as a Christian was to be in solidarity with her people. Ten years before she was executed with them in Auschwitz, she felt this call, in her words: “I told [our Lord] that I knew it was His cross that was now being placed upon the Jewish people; that most of them did not understand this, but that those who did would have to take it up willingly in the name of all. I would do that.” She spent her last days in Auschwitz caring for the children of the other women who had been arrested. As one survivor said, “she went among the women like an angel, comforting, helping and consoling them. Many of the mothers were on the brink of insanity . . . without giving any thought to their children.  Edith Stein immediately set about taking care of these little ones. She washed them, combed their hair, and tried to make sure they were fed and cared for.”

This is solidarity: not only to pity the afflicted, but to actively unite oneself with them. That this is the principle animating the doctrine of salvation through Christ’s passion and death is undeniable. An important axiom of Christian soteriology, or theology of redemption, is that the personal history of Jesus Christ is the triune life of God reenacted in time and space within our human history. God descends to take us up into that life, to make us partakers of the divine life, because God is love, and solidarity is the hallmark of perfect love.

And so, in the case of any fallen ETRS, we should expect that the Lord would make their lot his own—that he would go the distance. Now this means something both beautiful and terrible. As the great Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe once said in his masterpiece God Matters,

The story of Jesus is nothing other than the Triune life of God projected onto our history, or enacted sacramentally in our history, so that it becomes our story . . . I use the word projected in the sense that we project a film onto a screen. If it is a smooth silver screen you see the film simply in itself. If the screen is twisted in some way, you get a systematically distorted image of the film. Now imagine a film projected not on a screen but on a rubbish dump. The story of Jesus—which in its full extent is the entire Bible—is the projection of the trinitarian life of God on the rubbish dump that we have made of the world . . . That the Trinity looks like a story of (is a story of) rejection, torture and murder but also of reconciliation is because it is being projected on, lived out on, our rubbish [heap]; it is because of the sin of the world.[9]

Because God is love, any ETRS Incarnation would be no mere show, be it a joyous Incarnation with no suffering and death, or one which, like in the human case, is horrifying and sad although ultimately triumphant.

What if a given ETRS had not fallen as our species has? I tend to think, and this is by no means certain, that the Lord would have become Incarnate among our species even had we not sinned. But you may have noticed that my not knowing what an unfallen creature would be like has dogged my steps throughout this presentation. Our Scriptures speak of God rescuing sinful humanity through a salvation history. What would the religious history of a species be like if they were not in need of being rescued?

So here I find my job of theological reflection is at a fork in the road, and only one of the forks is fully accessible to me. Let me start with the barely accessible road—imagining what an Incarnation among an unfallen ETRS would involve. In order adequately to imagine that, I would have to be much, much holier than I am, and even then I would have no clue what a preternatural, sinless state would be like. So, I will just point out some misconceptions that I think many people have about what our life on earth would have been like had there been no Fall. I will quote myself in this regard, from my textbook on faith and science (quoting oneself by the way, is what fallen creatures like me do):

When trying to conceive of what preternatural existence would have been like, with original integrity and freedom from suffering and death, our imaginations can tend to run away with us. Some think of the first humans living in an earthly paradise in which our planet, or at least some region of it, was radically different than it is, a place where nothing ever died and in which no physical evils were present. But, it is more helpful to think of “paradise” as the privileged way in which sinless humans would have existed in this world as it is, or at least as it was at the emergence of the first fully human beings. Others assume that freedom from death would have meant a perpetual lifetime for humans on earth. However, many important theologians, including St. Augustine, thought that eventually our first parents and their sinless descendants would have entered into a glorified state comparable to the risen Christ, or to the Blessed Virgin Mary after she was assumed body and soul into heaven . . . Still others assume that freedom from suffering would have meant freedom from any pain whatsoever and a situation in which humans would not need to strive or mature in wisdom and virtue. But, this also has never been the teaching of the Catholic Church.[10]

That is all I have for that road. But for the other road, the one I tread myself and that we all tread, the path of sin and redemption, I can imagine more. I hypothesize that for such an ETRS, there would be some painful death on the part of the ETRS-Incarnate Lord. There would be resurrection and the establishment of a gathering community to bring the ETRS together in one communion out of their estrangement and alienation from God, from others and from their very selves. This community would have sacraments, symbols which effect the very graces that they signify. There would be forces that endanger that community from within and without, but also a promise that the gates of ETRS Hell would never prevail against it. I could go on, but I think you see; in short, there would be a mystical body of ETRS-Christ.

But from there we can let our imaginations run wild. How would the sacraments be different, or the same? Would there be more sacraments than 7, or less? What would the Sacrament of Initiation involve for a totally marine ETRS? Being lifted from the water three times? Questions suggest themselves in abundance, but we would have to know more about a given ETRS to even make a guess.

But we should pause here for a moment of sober reflection. Throughout I have referred to the Jews and the ugly discrimination against them; anti-Semitism is one of the sins of the members of the Church openly repented of by St. John Paul II in the “purification of memory” through which he led the Church during the advent of the Third Millennium. Suspicion of those different from ourselves seems to be the flipside of our highly social natures, and where grace has not prevailed, violence toward outsiders of our own species has stained our history with blood. This should make us pause when we consider how we human beings might deal with any ETRS were we ever to encounter them. C.S. Lewis wonders in his essay “Religion and Rocketry” if the vast astronomical distances “might be God’s quarantine precautions” to protect them from us, and maybe us from them. Were we to travel to a planet with an unfallen ETRS, Lewis fears that even our Christian missionaries might “denounce as sins mere differences of behavior which the spiritual and biological history of these strange creatures fully justified and which God himself had blessed?”[11]

On such tenuous ground as I stand, it seems wise that instead of ending with my feeble hypotheses we must plant our feet firmly back on solid ground. Therefore, I conclude with a poem that captures a truly Christian vision, the divine perspective, that would apply even if everything I have hypothesized turns out to be entirely wrongheaded. It is chock full of images of our planet, but it clearly applies to all living things, whether here on Earth or elsewhere. It displays a world that in every nook and cranny reveals the splendor of its Creator. It is an untitled poem of Gerald Manley Hopkins, and with it I will conclude:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.

Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

EDITORIAL NOTE: A version of this lecture was originally given at the Society of Catholic Scientists Annual Conference on 4 June 2021. It was also presented at the Saint Benedict Institute of Hope College on 3 February 2022.

[1] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I.52.3 (hereafter referred to as “ST”).

[2] Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, §16 (hereafter referred to as “LG”).

[3] Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers (New York: W.W. Norton, 1992): 207.

[4] Nicholas of Cusa, Book II, Chapter 12, no. 171-173  of De Docta Ignorantia in Vol. One, Jasper Hopkins, trans., Complete Philosophical and Theological Treatises of Nicholas of Cusa (Minneapolis, Arthur J. Banning, 2001), 96-97.

[5] St. John Henry Newman, “Chapter VII: Continuity of Principles” in An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989), 323-326.

[6] ST III.3.7.

[7] Joseph Ratzinger, Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life (Washington DC: CUA Press, 2007), 192.

[8] Roch Kereszty, Jesus Christ; Fundamentals of Christology 3rd ed. (Staten Island: St. Paul’s, 2011), 387-388.

[9] Herbert McCabe, God Matters (London: Continuum, 1987), 48-49.

[10] Christopher T. Baglow, Faith, Science and Reason: Theology on the Cutting Edge 2nd. ed. (Downers Grove: Midwest Theological Forum, 2019), 264.

[11] C.S. Lewis, Fern-seed and Elephants (Glasgow: Fontana/Collins, 1975), 93.

Featured Image: Photo by Ai Takeda on Unsplash.


Christopher Baglow

Christopher Baglow is Director of the Science & Religion Initiative of the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of Faith, Science and Reason: Theology on the Cutting Edge and is the co-recipient of the 2018 Expanded Reason Award in the Teaching category.

Read more by Christopher Baglow