Gays, Galileo, and the Message of the Manger

The BBC has the correct headline on Pope Benedict’s curial speech story. "Pope attacks blurring of gender" is far more accurate than all those headlines claiming that "saving gay people is as important as saving the rainforests", and similar riffs on Reuters’ misleading  -- see Fr Jim and MSW on this -- interpretation.

The essential theological point in the Pope’s intriguing address is that going green while erasing God from Creation is a contradiction. Nature, he says is "the gift of the Creator, with certain intrinsic rules that offer us an orientation we must respect as administrators of creation.”

And he goes on: "That which is often expressed and understood by the term ‘gender’ in the end amounts to the self-emancipation of the human person from creation and from the Creator. Human beings want to do everything by themselves, and to control exclusively everything that regards them. But in this way, the human person lives against the truth, against the Creator Spirit.”

It’s worth placing this papal observation alongside the tribute Benedict XVI paid last Sunday to Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) on the 400th anniversary of the condemned astronomer’s telescope.

Galileo, you will recall, was declared a heretic by the seventeenth-century Church for supporting Nicholas Copernicus’ discovery that the Earth revolved around the sun (church teaching at the time placed the Earth at the centre of the universe). For centuries the Galileo condemnation has been used by secularists as a symbol of all that is incompatible between faith and science.

Last weekend, the Vatican sought to reverse that symbolism, building on Pope John Paul II’s 1992 apology and dusting off Galileo as a shining representative of faith and reason working together.

(Ma non troppo. According to this interesting AP report, the Vatican turned down the offer of a statue, to be located inside the Vatican gardens, donated by the Italian aerospace giant Finmeccanica SpA).

Galileo and other scientists had helped people better understand and "contemplate with gratitude the Lord’s works", Pope Benedict said.

The astronomer is not a bad poster boy for the marriage of faith and reason: he was devout, as well as being a brave scientist. He looked through his telescope and saw the glory of God behind the amazing architecture of the universe -- as did Jesuit astronomers at the time and continue to today. That is a very different way of looking through a telescope to that of the nineteenth-century atheists, who used it to declare the non-existence of angels. 

Only, I can’t help but spot an irony.

Galileo was condemned, at the time, because he was held to subvert the God-ordained nature of things. One can imagine Pope Urban VIII in 1633 using words similar to Pope Benedict’s to the Curia: that nature has "certain intrinsic rules that offer us an orientation we must respect as administrators of creation.”

But it wasn’t long before the "intrinsic rules" were overturned by the evidence. It turned out that putting the Earth at the centre of the universe was not God’s plan at all.  

Mark Dowd, gay ex-Dominican and strategist for the Christian environmental group Operation Noah, is widely quoted in UK press reports as saying that in his curial speech Benedict XVI betrayed "a lack of openness to the complexity of creation" -- in other words, that papal faith in the fixity of male-female gender roles may be misplaced.

At the moment, there seems little room in the Catholic Church’s "human ecology" for a possible divine purpose for homosexuality -- just as in the seventeenth century there wasn’t much space for the idea that God has arranged the universe with the sun at its centre. It would be syllogistic to suggest that because the Church was wrong on the second it will turn out to be wrong on the first.

But it’s striking how the homosexual orientation appears in church teaching as "intrinsically disordered" -- in other words, as contrary to the way God arranged the universe -- in the same way as the Copernican view appeared in the seventeenth century.

And it isn’t a bad thought, at Christmas, to remember that the Creator of the Universe is capable of subverting its laws for the sake of His creatures.

Things are never so finally fixed that God can’t rearrange it all. The arrogance of scientists, of clergy, of the wise, our own arrogance -- all get dethroned tonight by the Great Event: the manger-child, born of a refugee couple  and the Holy Spirit, in a cave, in a place somewhere off the map, to where the centre of the Universe quietly relocates. Happy Christmas.

8 years 9 months ago
Catholic ecology does have a place for homosexuality. It is called the mystery of sin. At the heart of creation are dysfunctions and catastrophes - children born with incurable diseases, individuals prone to alcoholism or paedophilia, tsunamis and earthquakes. Homosexuality is one of these dysfunctions but God's grace can help those who suffer from it to lead a life of chastity and purity. The Catholic group Courage is a shining example of Catholic homosexuals whose lives have been transformed through a spiritual way of life. Individuals such as Mark Dowd are doing a disservice to the Church by pretending that one can practise homosexuality and remain faithful to the Gospel.
8 years 9 months ago
Are you comfortable with your desciption of the Galileo case? What are your sources for that description? Did you do any research on late-medieval scientific theory or on early 17th-century ecclesial (not to say theological) politics? Were Galileo's arguments---not proven to be true until the understanding of stellar parallax---about biology (an infinitely more complex reality than are giant-rocks-in-celestial-motion)?
8 years 9 months ago
"It turns out that putting the Earth at the center of the universe was not God's plan at all." How could this statement possibly be True? We know, simply because it can sustain Human Life, the Earth has the preferred location in God's Universe. From God's perspective, we are the Center of His Universe. His desire is that we make Him the Center of ours. "For God so Loved the World, that He sent His only Son..." May the Peace of Christ be with you Today and Always.
8 years 9 months ago
Ah but here's where you go wrong in your analysis. The Church leadership screwed up at that particular time in the 17th Century because it followed Luther's lead, the scripture alone approach. Had they been more Catholic than Protestant, more Robert Bellarmine than Martin Luther, Scripture/Tradition/Reason over that of Scripture, then it would never have happened. Pope Benedict like Robert Bellarmine appeals to reason.
8 years 9 months ago
Happy Christmas to you. You are correct in your insights about the mutability of our understanding of natural law and reason. This is why Benedict's attacks on relativism are so disappointing. The truth is absolute, however our understanding of it cannot be - and will not be - until we have full access to unfiltered Truth in the next life.
8 years 9 months ago
You mis-understand the history of the Galileo Case and the players involved although you do well express the commonly held erroneous opinion. Your view thus supports your analagous view of the Church as regards homosexuality; a view that sees the Church opposing G_d's creation and creative intent. The Pope is thus the spokesman for anti-science and oppression and unhumanity. Well, this certainly disproves the notion that the Jesuits (and their literature and pamphlets) are in tow to the Pope!
8 years 9 months ago
It would be interesting to have a precise reference to the "Church's teaching" that the sun revolved around the earth. [One is reminded of those "ignorant monks" who told Columbus that he could not get to India as he proposed, because his calculations of the size of the earth were incorrect]. Annibale Fantoli concludes [GALILEO: FOR THE CHURCH AND FOR COPERNICANISM] that the problem lay in Galileo's breaking his promise to Urban VIII that he would calm down on his claims about the heliocentric system, since he - Galileo - could not prove it. Tycho Brahe did a better and complete job of accounting for the astronomical phenomena - no heliocentrism there. Galileo's was an incomplete mathematical construct - no gravity, the orbits as perfect circles, the revolution of the earth around its axis proved by the tides, &c. Facts are such a nuisance.
8 years 8 months ago
I think that the Holy Father makes a good point. But an awareness of the variance of gender is certainly in the tradition; one has only to read the Jewish Talmud to be acutely aware of the ancient rabbinic awareness of gender fluctuation. God Bless
8 years 8 months ago
All this is true, but: the Church never officially taught a geocentric universe, and Copernicus' developments were in some ways welcomed. On the other hand, the Church has always held and taught that homosexual actions are intrinsically disordered. It is certainly worthwhile to investigate deeper why it is the case that we are made and woman in such a way that homosexuality is wrong. (Or to try to argue this is false.) The complementarity of conjugal love will be an essential point for the one upholding the Church's position; and this goes to the heart of the Pope's observation, that there is a difference between man and woman. Perhaps deep philosophical reflection and explication of this and related points is called for.
8 years 8 months ago
A correction of a correction.This is a very well written article that is thankfully free of the usual misinformation amd imbalance.I would love to see both Jim Martin and Mr Ivereigh working in the Vatican Communications office.However,there is something wrong in his association of Galileo and the current issue about homosexuality.What he wrote is very thoughtprovoking with regards to divine purpose etc but the Galileo trial was much more political than doctrinal and many Churchmen including cardinals were in favor of the Copernican theory so it was not so groundbreaking of Galileo and not neccessarily deemed contrary to the teaching of the Church.It was mishandled and has been gleefully used as a propaganda tool since then.There seems to be two possible paths to take involving either the road of Courage or Dignity .Courage calls for Dignity but Dignity seems to call for no Courage.
8 years 8 months ago
The Catholic view about the duality of human nature into male and female isn't wrong. But its very poorly understood, especially it appears, by Pope Benedict. What he always leaves out, and fails to recognize, is that there is no such thing as a pure male and a pure female, no matter the chromosome count. Elements of both genders exist in every human being on the planet. Its an essential human characteristic. Men and women are after all, the same species, not separate. Currently the Pope and the Church appear to treat them as distinct, when they are not, entirely. Thus the Pope and the Church fail to grasp and apreciate fully the inherent grace and beauty of not only homosexual relationships, but heterosexual relationships as well. The joining of male to female to make the one flesh is more complex. Its the joining of the principles of male and female, as they exist, in each partner, to the others counterpart.
8 years 8 months ago
I just finished reading a book on Copernicus by Jack Repcheck, ''Copernicus' Secret.'' It is written for the lay (non-scientist) reader. When I read this article, I had a greater appreciation for the author's point-of-view. It's interesting that Martin Luther, who was a contemporary of Copernicus, although Copernicus never matriculated at the University of Wittenberg, railed against the heliocentric hypothesis based upon tons of observations and mathematical evidence proposed by Copernicus. Martin Luther was the greater reformer who saw the hypocrisy of the church, but he couldn't accept that God's creation was mutable. During Copernicus' life, his work was welcomed by the church. The bishop of Chelmno urged Copernicus to publish his work. Copernicus hid his 100 page book, ''On the Revolutions...'' for fear that he would be ridiculed by the scientific community, and it wasn't until Kepler that his view became accepted by the scientific community, but it was Galileo who made his work comprehensible to the populous. Copernicus' work was highly technical and difficult for the scientist of the day to understand. It was a Lutheran mathematician and fellow astronomer/astologer by the name of Rheticus who visited Copernicus (Lutherans were banned from Warmia, where Copernicus lived) and persuaded him to publish the work. The scientific world was standing on tiptoe to read his study; although it was unaccepted by the majority of scientists for decades, as I mentioned above. Now, here we are again on the brink of another paradigm shift...What does it mean to be male? To be female?...we need the light of the Spirit, but as Emily Dickinson writes, ''Tell all the truth but tell it slow...'' ...through a circuitous route...otherwise the light is blinding. I am attracted by the Dominican charism of prayer and study...''Contemplare et contemplatus alius tradere.'' It is interesting that a former Dominican is carrying the torch to bring light.
8 years 8 months ago
I have read/reread the article and the comments and most probably I am either unable or perhaps unwilling to get the drift of all of this from the Pope on down particularly at this time of year? The message might be the last ''The arrogance of scientists, of clergy, of the wise, our own arrogance -- all get dethroned tonight by the Great Event: the manger-child, born of a refugee couple and the Holy Spirit, in a cave, in a place somewhere off the map, to where the centre of the Universe quietly relocates. Happy Christmas'' Another message to this assembly of scribes in the words of St Francis: ''Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words!'' Happy New Year!
8 years 8 months ago
I am not a scholar of Galileo's perior nor a theologian, but as a Senior cradle Catholic, I rejoyce that there is an open discussion about homosexuality on the America blog. However my first thoughts on the Vatican's current view went immediately to the ordination of women, which is supporedly impossible and unchangeable.
8 years 8 months ago
Phil, the official position of the Catholic Church has not changed in over two thousand years. "I give you a new Commandment, Love one another as I have Loved you."- Christ We are to use Christ's definition of Love, not our own. He is the Word of Love Made Flesh. Love is not possessive nor does it serve to manipulate.
8 years 8 months ago
The questions arises why the sexuality of other people is so important to others? Why even have sexual morality at all? Does God need us to be the sex police? What is the standard by which human sexual morality, indeed all morality, is to be based on? Who is sexual morality important to and why? Does God create human sexual morality for His own sake or for ours? Was man created for sexual morality or was sexual morality created for man? What about for those who were created gay and lesbian? Is or is not sex and sexual expression a gift from God? How would the Jesus who cured on the Sabbath answer this question? How is calling someone's sexuality disordered making their yoke easy and their burden light and how is it not? Being wrong for 2000 years does not make something right.
8 years 8 months ago
I believe that the current official position of the Church on homosexual activity is based not so much on tradition as on the fear that acknowledgement of the 'naturalness' of homosexuality would blow Humanae Vitae and the proscription of artificial contraception out of the water. In other words, if homosexuality is 'natural', then there is no longer any basis for insisting on acts of heterosexual intercourse being ''open to life.''
8 years 8 months ago
Instead of writing of intimacy and commitment in the homosexual activity, it would perhaps make it clearer were on to reflect upon the actual physical homosexual acts. They are sterile; they are medically dangerous; they give precedence to the value of the sexual act. Is this last not in itself degrading to the woman, to the man, engaged in the sterile act?
8 years 8 months ago
"Why even have sexual morality at all?" Michael, because we are called to have Loving relationships. Love unites, it does not possess. Marianne, the Pope did not say that homosexuality is a God- given sexual orientation. The purpose of Sexual Love is what God intended. He could have made us all one sex but obviously, He didn't.
8 years 8 months ago
On gays: The Pope has verified that homosexuality exists, not as a choice but as a sexual orientation, presumably a God-given orientation. But he has not, to my knowledge, explored what this reality means. He has neither accepted nor denied that God allowed to be born a large group of persons who are called to intimacy but who are forbidden--by the Church--to live in intimacy according to the nature given to them by God. Is this reasoning a validation of Divine Entrapment? The usual answer is that "disabilities" can be suffered with the help of grace. God's call is a disability? Or did God make a mistake? Or must we all accept the traditional dominance of heterosexual maleness and leave it at that? Again.
8 years 8 months ago
I just had a painful conversation on this subject with my daughter who is visiting us for Christmas from Los Angeles. The church's teaching on homosexuality and the ban on the ordination of women are the two reasons she no longer goes to church. She says she knows gay couples who are faithful to each other and raising children in a loving manner, and she points to many heterosexual couples who fail to do the same. And she describes the ban on female priests as the last great effort on the part of men in the church to maintain control of the operation. I can't argue with her on the female priest issue, and my comments on the ''disordered'' nature of gay sex seem increasingly hollow in the face of her anecdotal response. The gay issue for me is one of God's deep, dark mysteries for which I used to have a ready answer, but no longer do.
8 years 8 months ago
Joe, don't confuse the intransigence of the Pope with divine mystery. The oldest of all stories is that of powerful prelates behaving badly to the vulnerable and crushing any prophetic voice that challenges them. If there is a mystery, it is the perseverance of these profits - and the mystery there is the gift of Grace. I have compassion for your conundrum, but it is easily resolved in listening to prophets within the Church and praying for those who would persecute them.
8 years 8 months ago
Regarding natural law discussion of homosexual sex acts themselves, the sterility or non-sterility of the acts is a poetic construct. One could argue that sex after 45 is similarly "sterile" using similar reasoning. To call anyone elses sexual expression "sterile" is frankly insulting. The real natural law question regarding the sexual acts themselves is whether they are pleasureable for all concerned. This would be an indication that these acts are within the natural order and designed by God.

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