Page images
PDF
EPUB

embarked on their perilous voyages with the benediction of the Church upon them.

Our own country is largely indebted to Catholic priests, who were the pioneers, not only of religion and civilization, but also of science. In one hand they bore the torch of faith, and in the other the torch of religion. They not only carried the Gospel to the aboriginal tribes of North America, but they explored our rivers, lakes, and mountains; and the charts that they sent to Europe over two hundred years ago are still admired as models of topographical accuracy.

With these facts before us it is difficult to suppress a feeling of indignation when we are told that Christianity is a bar to scientific investigation. These maligners of Christianity owe it to the Christian religion that they are able to revile her. Separate them from the universities and schools founded by Christian patronage; withdraw them from Christian traditions and literature, and they would die of intellectual stagnation.

There is no branch of art in which the disciples of Christianity have not excelled. Was not Michael Angelo a devout son of the Church? And who surpassed him in sculpture and architecture? To him we are indebted for St. Peter's basilica, the grandest church ever erected to God by the hand of man. Byron found that

“ Power, glory, strength, and beauty,—all are aisled
In this eternal ark of worship undefiled.”

And were not Raphael and Domenichino, Fra Angelico and Leonardo da Vinci, members of the Church? And are they not the recognized masters in the exquisite art of painting? Mozart and Haydn, Beethoven and Palestrina were Christian men, and were patronized by Popes and bishops. And are they not acknowledged leaders in the rich and harmonious strains of music? Their masses are as unrivalled in musical composition as our cathedrals are in architecture.

The apparent conflict between the deductions of science and the doctrines of Christian faith is clearly accounted for in the following Decree of the Vatican Council: There never can be any

real discrepancy between reason and faith, since the same God who reveals mysteries has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind; and God cannot deny Himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth. The false appearance of such a contradiction is mainly due either to the dogmas of faith not having been clearly understood and expounded according to the mind of the Church, or to the inventions of opinion having been taken for the verdict of reason.

If these explanations are kept in view, they will serve to demonstrate that the apparent conflict between science and revelation has no foundation upon which to rest.

1. It is often erroneously assumed that the Scriptures propound doctrines which they never professed to teach. The sacred volume was not intended by its Divine Author to give us a scientific treatise on astronomy, or cosmogony, or geology, or even a complete series of chronology or genealogy. These matters are incidentally introduced to illustrate a higher subject. The purpose of the Scriptures is to recount God's supernatural relations with mankind, His providential government of the world, and man's moral obligations to his Creator.

When, for instance, the Sacred text declares that the sun stood still in the heavens,' it simply gives expression to the miraculous prolongation of the day: and this in popular language such as even now with our improved knowledge of astronomy we employ, for we speak of the rising and the setting of the sun as if, according to the Ptolemaic system, we still believed that he revolves around the earth. The Church has no mission to teach astronomy. One may be as bad an astronomer as John Jasper and yet be a good Christian.

Again, the results of geological investigation, by which it is ascertained that ages must have elapsed between the formation of matter and the creation of man, would seem to conflict with the book of Genesis, which states that all vegetable and animal life was created within the space of six days. But the Church, as is well known, has never defined the meaning to be attached to these days of Genesis. We are at liberty, as far as the Church is concerned, and if the deductions of science are incontrovertible, we are compelled to ascribe an indefinite period of years to each day. The context itself insinuates that the day cannot be restricted to twenty-four hours, since for the first three days there was no sun to measure their duration; and in the second chapter of Genesis the word day is manifestly used to express an indefinite period of time employed in the creation of the material universe.

The Mosaic narrative simply records the creation of matter out of nothing, and the order in which life, both animal and human, came into existence. The chronological order of Moses is borne out by the researches of geologists, who have discovered that vegetable fossils are anterior to animal remains, and that those of the lower animals are more ancient than any human skeletons ever found. Our knowledge, moreover, of the laws governing the vegetable and animal kingdoms confirms this arrangement, since vegetable life derives its subsistence from inorganic matter, animal life is nourished by the vegetable kingdom, and man himself is sustained by the nutriment he derives from both.

1 Josue x. 15.

The discovery of human fossils, and of other geological and historical monuments, is sometimes boldly assumed to stamp the human family with a far greater antiquity than appears to be warranted by Scripture genealogies. To this I reply that the Scripture gives no precise data regarding the time intervening between Adam and our Lord. We have only conjectures resting on genealogies. The enumeration of Adam's lineal descendants is not claimed to be consecutive and complete. It is not denied that links may be missing in the chain of generation. There is also a marked discrepancy between the different versions of the Bible in computing the age of man. The Vulgate reckons four thousand years; the Septuagint, five thousand; and the Hebrew, six thousand years from Adam to our Saviour. Some Catholic writers, without any reproof from the Church, are disposed to extend the period to over eight thousand years.

On the other hand, some of the ablest scientists have refuted the fabulous ages ascribed by certain writers to the human family. The Egyptian hieroglyphics and the cuneiform inscriptions of western Asia, were triumphantly quoted as demanding for man an antiquity immeasurably more remote than is warranted by Scripture history

But the patient investigations of Champollion, Rawlinson, and others, prove that Egypt furnishes no authentic record of human government and human life as ancient as is claimed for it by the adversaries of the Bible. The studies of Layard in Assyrian archæology and the researches of Legge in ancient Chinese history, concur in dissipating the cloud of legendary fable surrounding the dynasties of these nations.

The presumptive evidence furnished by human fossils is now ruled out of court by the best students of anthropology. When we consider the untiring industry of man and his indomitable tendency to leave a record of his deeds behind him, and since we fail to find any authentic traces of him in pre-Adamite times, we are supplied with an indirect though eloquent confirmation of the substantial correctness of the Mosaic chronology.

Is it not a remarkable fact, which shows the special supervision of God over His Church, that, in her long history, she has never formally interpreted a single text of Scripture which was afterward contradicted by any authenticated discovery of science? Nor were occasions wanting when, in the apparent interests of faith, she was tempted to give a false decision. For centuries the opinion obtained, seemingly supported by Scripture, that the earth was level. St. Boniface, the Apostle of Germany in the eighth century, com

plained to the Holy See that an Irish priest named Virgilius had taught that the earth was spherical, as science now demonstrates it to be. But the Holy See prudently abstained from rendering any decision on the subject.

2. Whenever any supposed scientific discovery conflicts with an acknowledged truth of Revelation, we may rest assured that the alleged scientific facts have no reality, but are groundless assumptions and mere hypotheses with not even the merit of originality.

For instance, the Scripture declaration affirming the unity of the human species, was for a long time controverted by many scientists. They denied that all men could have sprung from the same stock; first, because the human family is characterized by so many types and colors; secondly, because they speak a variety of tongues having apparently no relation with one another; thirdly, because scientists believed it impossible, for want of adequate means of transportation, that America and other newly discovered countries could have been peopled from any other nation.

But subsequent researches have shown the fallacy of their reasoning and confirmed the truth of the Biblical narrative. It is now admitted that climate, food, and habits of life have a marked influence on the color and physical formation of man. Philologists compute the number of languages and dialects spoken throughout the world to be over three thousand. They tell us that there are common principles governing the constitution of languages, which justify the opinion, if they do not conclusively demonstrate, that all languages can be traced to a single source.

It is now obvious to every one acquainted with geography how easily the aboriginal inhabitants of America could have passed over from Asia by the Behring Strait. A like solution applies to other inhabited places more recently discovered.

“Nothing is more strange," observes a recent writer, “ than the incessant reproduction of old thoughts under the guise of new and advanced opinions. It would seem as if the human mind, with all its restless activity, were destined to revolve in an endless circle.

. . Professor Tyndall, addressing the world from the throne of modern science, repeats the thoughts of Democritus and Epicurus as the last guesses of the scientific mind.”]

In fact, there is no class of men so dogmatic and so impatient of contradiction as certain modern scientists; and “this dogmatism is the more intolerable, as the so-called 'demonstrations' of one age have sometimes been the butt and ridicule of succeeding generations."'? Not content with cultivating their own field, they invade the region of theology and politics. They speak as if they had an exclusive diploma to treat of everything in heaven above, on the

1

1 Blackwood's Magazine, November, 1874.

? Creation's Testimony, C. v. p. 118.

earth beneath, and in the waters under the earth; and from their infallible judgment there must be no appeal. Mr. Tyndall recently wrote some very angry letters against Mr. Gladstone. The veteran statesman is denounced by the professor as a hoary rhetorician and a desperate gamester, because he presumed to advocate Home Rule for Ireland.

The position of the Catholic Church in reference to modern scientists may be thus briefly summarized : The Church fosters and encourages every department of science. But just because she is the friend of true science she is opposed to all false pretensions to science. There is as much difference between true and false science as there is between authority and despotism, liberty and license. When she hears a man advancing some crude theory at variance with the received doctrines of revelation-with the existence of God, for example, or His superintending providence or His wisdom or His sanctity; when she hears him advocating some hypothesis opposed to the unity of the human species, to the spirituality and the immortality of the soul, to the future destiny of man, and to those other great doctrines that involve at once the dignity and moral responsibility of the human race, she knows that his assumptions must be false, because she knows that God's revelation must be true. She stands between such a man and the Divine Oracle of which she is the custodian; and when she sees him raise his profane hands and attempt to touch the temple of faith, she cries out, “ Thus far shalt thou go and no farther!"

Will you not agree with us that she is right in raising her voice against groundless theories that desecrate the truth and poison its very source? How can we consent to forsake the sacred fountain at which our forefathers slaked their thirst for centuries, to run after some mirage that these modern philosophers have conjured up before our imagination ? If God's revelation is at the mercy of every sciolist, what, then, becomes of those great and consoling truths underlying our social fabric? They are no more than shifting sands beneath our feet.

The pathway of time is strewn with the wreck of many an imposing scientific theory that once found favor in the opinion of men. And such will ever be the fate of those wild speculations and unfounded assumptions that impugn the truth of Revelation. They may float for a time on the human mind like huge icebergs drifting along the ocean's current, chilling the atmosphere and carrying destruction in their path. But like the false theories before them, they are destined to melt away beneath the effulgent rays of reason and revelation, while "the truth of the Lord remaineth forever.” 1

i Ps. cxvi. 2.

« PreviousContinue »