Of God and His Creatures

To transfer the remark from physics to another domain, -- though we had mastered the whole of history, how much could we read therein of the divine counsels and plan of government? In every direction, does not the universe and man's life in it grow more puzzling, the more we know of it, if we seek to trace any exact economy and purpose? Hence St Thomas argues the need of divine revelation.

We know so much more of the ways of creatures than was known in St Thomas's time, so much more of history and antiquities, so much more astronomy, dynamics, chemistry, molecular physics, biology: has there been any proportionate increase in our knowledge of God? Has theology grown with the growth of other sciences? The question is one to furnish matter for a long and curious dissertation, in which the results, professedly arrived at, would differ widely according to the various theological preconceptions, whether of faith or prejudice, with which the several writers took up their pens. Yet an outline statement of results may be hazarded. Growth in truth must surely bring out truth. If theology has gained nothing by the advance of 'science,' either 'science' or theology must be condemned. Theology then has gained in at least three respects. It has gained in the overthrow of superstition, notably astrology and witchcraft. It has gained in a better appreciation of everything which, for want of a better name, I must call 'vastness' in God, -- His immensity, filling all stellar space; His incomprehensibility; His all-embracing, all-sustaining wisdom; and His tremendous power. Once more, theology has gained in kindliness. Harshness and narrowness of sympathy so often proceed, not from any particular love of truth or zeal for justice, but simply from want of experience, -- from the inexperience of a youthful and untravelled mind. With the weight of past ages upon us, the youngest of the really educated in our theological schools is no longer young in the depreciatory sense of that term. We have found out that men and women are not the easy subjects of moral dissection that unpractised eyes take them for. We recognise the wisdom of the Judge who made proclamation to the bystanders in court, Judge not (Matt. vii, 1).

Accidentally, a quarrel has arisen between theology and modern science. This quarrel marks no intrinsic opposition: it is the fault of persons. Revealed theology is essentially a distinct kingdom from secular science. But it is a frontier kingdom; and the two kingdoms cannot but have relations with one another. These relations have been unfriendly, not without some fault on both sides. Theologians have repeated what other theologians have said before them, not considering the advance of physical science, or of history, since the authors whom they follow lived and wrote. Now if it were mere matter of dogmatic, or revealed, theology, this disregard of physics would be justified; but when it is question of providing, say, a biological setting for a theological truth, this neglect of modern progress in biology becomes deplorable. On the other hand, it goes without saying that some votaries of physics, or history, or criticism, cherish an acrimonious hatred for divine revelation, and even the very name of God; and chiefly value science as a weapon of offence against theology, -- thereby assuming a mental attitude the reverse of scientific. For the provisional adjustment of the contested frontier, we seem to require a sort of boundary commission of physicists, historians, critics, philosophers, and theologians working with one common endeavour, as the Jesuit rule lays it down, ut suus veritati sit locus, non ut in ea re superiores videantur. Such a commission would sit permanently in a Catholic University, if ever such an institution could be planted anywhere in the British Isles.

Of God and His Creatures: 4.1