Rev. Tomasz Trafny
Pontifical Council for Culture
Inaugural Greeting at the International Conference
On the Theology of Creation
Moscow October 13th, 2010
I would like to begin this talk conveying warm greetings from His Excellency Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, to Dr. Bodrov, his collaborators, to the Speakers at this International Conference and to all the participants.
I would also like to express words of admiration for the commitment of the St. Andrew’s Biblical Theological Institute towards the formation and dialogue, in which it has been involved. The Institute offers multiple courses, conferences, seminars and the possibility of a continuous enrichment to those who wish to engage in interdisciplinary reflection and study, as well as to teachers who are already concerned with the task of transmitting knowledge to others, but who also rightly feel the need first to form themselves. We have a high regard for you and appreciate your presence and enthusiasm, specially considering the fact that often there is a lack of financial resources for work in such a vast area.
At least three reasons make this International Conference special. The first refers to the recent anniversary of St. Andrew’s Institute, which just a few weeks ago celebrated twenty years of its foundation. The second reason, which I cannot but remember, lies in the personality who can be considered the devisor and founder of this institution. I am referring to Fr. Alexander Men, regarded as one of the great leaders of the spiritual renewal in Russia at the end of the Soviet period and who was assassinated on September 9th, 1990, a day after he had started the St. Andrew’s Institute with a conference entitled “Christianity”.
His charisma, his many books, conferences and above all his pastoral activity have made him a point of reference for hundreds of thousands of Orthodox faithful, for those who are in search of spiritual values, and to even those adhering to other religions. He was in fact defined as “unbelievably important for Moscow Jews”, and very attractive at the most difficult period, morally and religiously speaking.
We can justly feel honoured to meet with the inheritors and the spiritual children of a man who knew to transmit to his disciples a mental openness which drives them to build bridges not only between different areas of human knowledge, but also between different peoples and religions.
This gives me the opportunity to come to the third aspect which makes this conference special. It concerns the Ecumenical dimension of our being together and underlines and allows us to discover once again, that Truth if sought seriously with humility and commitment, leads to unity because truth itself is free from any limits that human weakness might want to attribute to it. What we want to do is look at an itinerary of reflection, where without overrunning the competences of others, and with great respect to each other, we will be able to exchange visions and understanding between researchers of different disciplines. The dialogue among the natural sciences, philosophy and theology can become mature, dynamic and fruitful only if among the many methodological requirements it embraces a fundamental concern of looking for the truth: there is no dialogue without a deep respect for truth and constant search for it. That’s why we are here to investigate, seek, follow and share the truth discovered without however forgetting that it will always remain our ideal destination towards which we strive.
I would like to put forth a brief consideration regarding the theme of the Conference itself. Allow me to begin with a quotation from the writings of De Lubac, which in my opinion could become the ideal motto for this meeting:
“God is not the first link in the chain of being, the first in the sequence of causes and effects from which this world comes about; God is not the first of the series. He is not ‘a point of origin in the past’, but ‘a sufficient reason in the present’ (as also in the past and in the future, in the whole extension of duration). How many objections would have collapsed and how many misunderstandings would have disappeared if this truth, so simple could be understood!”.
I find this quotation specially relevant, first of all because one cannot talk of the theology of creation without a reference to the Creator himself. In the second place, the right understanding of God, of divine action, of providence, of the metaphysical and theological concepts of causality, and many other concepts, would avoid the many controversies and misunderstandings raised among scientists, philosophers and theologians, that have an immense impact on the public at large. We all know that a lack of mutual understanding quite often creates confusion among simple people, but almost always gives the impression that each of these groups lives in different and hermetic worlds.
Even the recent statements of Prof. Hawking are proofs of this phenomenon. I do not want to enter into a debate with Hawking neither regarding the epistemological accuracy of his statements, nor through evaluation of his latest ideas in the light of his previous one, specially those expressed in his book, A briefer History of Time, in which he had stated that perhaps the existence of God is necessary for the justification of the laws of physics and the structure of the universe. Fortunately, today we find ourselves in a situation in which an overwhelming majority of scientists recognize the limits of the empirical method. They see that questions regarding the existence of God go beyond the competence of physics, biology and cosmology.
Nevertheless, even in the midst of views such as Hawking’s, we have to acknowledge and underline two elements which at times escape our attention. The first one concerns the curentness of the topic itself. Although the doctrine of creation and the existence of God, the Creator, may be subjected to contestations and various criticisms, they still remain a point of comparison and of reference even for people who do not believe but who inquire at various levels on the mystery of nature.
Secondly, we must admit that we have difficulties in communicating and conveying the theological truths in an appropriate way. Very often, our language seems to be vague and incomprehensible while that of the scientists is clear and more accessible.
All this throws upon us a challenge not only for an inquiry into the possible relationship among natural sciences, philosophy and theology, but to embrace a demanding invitation to render the richness of theological knowledge more known and better illustrated, especially within the context of interdisciplinary investigation. Theological reflection, in fact, can not remain isolated from other disciplines. All scientists, regardless of their scientific competency, must feel themselves called to listen and exchange the fruits of their studies which stimulate research and make them free from a narrowness of vision. This need has often been reminded by the teaching of the Magisterium that firstly invites theologians to consider the importance of a dialog with the contemporary world in general and with the world of science in particular. “It is a duty for theologians – said John Paul II – to keep abreast of scientific advances to discern whether it is necessary to consider them in their reflections or in revising their teaching”.
To the representatives of St. Andrew’s Biblical Theological Institute a heartfelt word of thanks for their engagement in favour of the dialogue between science and faith and for choosing to work closely with the Pontifical Council for Culture and with the Project STOQ under whose auspices this initiative is being held. To all of you, my wish is that this Conference which we are about to start, will leave a tangible sign of fruitful exchange of perspectives and insights and become just a beginning of a common journey and of a reciprocal sharing, in the discovery of the mystery of God the Creator, of the beauty of the created universe and of the ability of the intellect to reach the truth which in the ultimate analysis will remain always rolled up in mystery.
“C’est un devoir pour les théologiens de se tenir régulièrement informés des acquisitions scientifiques pour examiner, le cas échéant, s’il y a lieu ou non de les prendre en compte dans leur réflexion ou d’opérer des révisions dans leur enseignement”, Discours du Pape Jean-Paul II aux Participants a la Session Plénière de L’académie Pontificale des Sciences, Samedi, 31 octobre 1992, in: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, vol. XV, 2, 1992, LEV, Città del Vaticano 1994, p. 461.