The Church has had some difficulty reading the pandemic event from a theological viewpoint. Contemporary theology has replaced the traditional conception of God’s Creation according to which He created things out of nothing and produced a whole set mysteriously ordered for salvation. Contemporary theology no longer accepts this vision of Creation but toes the line of Jesuit Father Teilhard de Chardin. Creation no longer derives from God. Instead, God comes from the evolution of the cosmos. This approach makes it impossible to analyze a pandemic having in mind God the Creator.
It is surprising what a microorganism like Covid-19 can do. It can even test the Christian vision of Creation, or rather, place before our eyes the two theological conceptions of Creation: the longstanding traditional one, and that of ‘leading-edge’ contemporary theology.
Many people have noted that the Church has had some difficulty reading the current pandemic from a theological viewpoint, i.e., from the standpoint of the history of salvation and the perspective of the salvation of souls. There has been no lack of prayers to Heaven or devout requests for Mary’s intercession. But they are requests for help in the current trial rather than an opportunity to revise one’s life, individually and collectively. In other words, people considered the epidemic mainly as a natural fact, asking Heaven for help in dealing with this natural suffering.
The traditional conception of Creation is roughly as follows: God created things out of nothing, so He is the First Cause and Last End. Consequently, He desired and permitted everything for a greater good. The eternal salvation of souls is the ultimate greater good, and so He mysteriously ordered everything to that end. Therefore, no event is only natural precisely because nature is not an entity autonomous from God. Natural phenomena also have to do with salvation directly or indirectly.
We must see events as related to the sins of men. That is true not only of the situation that followed original sin but also of the events related to present sins. I am not talking about sins against the natural world (ecological sins) but sins against God. Therefore, the Church has not only the right but also the duty to lead a reflection about this issue and link natural catastrophes to God’s providential plan for our salvation. We can and must interpret such events as invitations to conversion and spiritual purification.
Contemporary theology, however, no longer accepts this vision of Creation. Following the lead of Teilhard de Chardin, it posits that there is a movement of evolution from the imperfect to the most perfect, and Christ is the Omega Point of that evolution. Saint Thomas was sure that the world was not eternal precisely because it was created from nothing, even if, according to him, its beginning was not demonstrable.
Instead, up-to-date theologians see the world as a process always tending towards the best. Christ is the apex of this process. One could dare say that Creation no longer derives from God, but God comes from the evolution of the cosmos. Yet, a fundamental principle of Christian metaphysics is that greater cannot come from the lesser.
In the new vision, however, the greater can come from the lesser because matter can produce form. Matter, as many claim (for example, Ernst Bloch) is not only matter but has an internal dynamism that allows it to generate forms. According to Teilhard, this is evident in man, in whom matter produces spirit in the famous process of “man-ification.” Man is a product of evolution. He was not created directly by God through His Breath of Life but indirectly within the process of creation-evolution. Even the soul can have this origin, although Pius XII in the Encyclical Humani generis confirmed the opposite doctrine.
According to Karl Rahner, the same must be said – even more so – of Creation. For him, to think of a God who creates from nothing in a metaphysical sense means interpreting God according to the categories we employ to explain the things of this world, such as an artisan who creates his work. In Rahner’s words, it would be to think in a categorical rather than transcendent sense.
God works only through second causes and not through direct intervention, and therefore creates from within nature and history through evolution. We have a sense of dependence on God not because He created us, but because through evolution, we matured and developed a sense of dependence on God. All theological categories, including Creation, mature historically and evolutionally. Not even Jesus Christ knew that He was God but evolved that belief progressively.
This approach makes it impossible to relate a pandemic to God the Creator, if only for having allowed it. Accordingly, the pandemic can only have a natural meaning and conveys no supernatural message. If we did not think so, we would be once again transferring our earthly-bound mental categories to the divine plane.
The only reading of the pandemic that contemporary theology allows concerns a natural commitment to face a natural event – God manifests Himself in nature and history through evolution. Modern man would deem a transcendent vision “from God’s point of view,” related to the salvation of souls, as unreal and incomprehensible as “magic.”
Source: Nuova Bussola Quotidiana
Translated by the staff of Fatima Today.
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