Behind the New Document of International Theological Commission

Father Augustine Di Noia Comments

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 4, 2004 ( A new document on anthropology, written by the International Theological Commission, offers a basis to debate such current topics as evolution, environmental ethics and bioethics.

Entitled “Communion and Service: The Human Person Created in the Image of God,” the document addresses topics linked to the development of the sciences and technologies, such as human cloning, embryo research, euthanasia and abortion.

“The traditional topic of the ‘imago Dei’ [image of God] has these two elements: … communion and service,” explains Father Augustine Di Noia, undersecretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, referring to the contents of the new document on Vatican Radio.

“To be created in the image of God means above all to be created as a person, as a creature with the ability to know and love God and others,” the Dominican priest explained.

“This radical similarity of the human person with God is the foundation of the possibility of communion with the One and Triune God and with other people,” he said.

The priest continued: “To be created in the image of God means to have a singular place in the universe: to participate in the divine governance of the visible creation,” which in Catholic tradition means “to exercise service in the name of God, or to share in a certain sense in the dominion of the Creator.”

According to the theologian, “in addressing these two topics, the document examines the main elements of the theology of the ‘imago Dei'” — the unity between body and soul, difference and equality between the sexes, human community, sin and salvation, transformation in the image of Christ.

“This constitutes the theological base for a discussion on a range of current topics: creation ‘ex nihilo,’ evolution, environmental ethics and bioethics,” the American priest notes.

In this last area, “the current techniques offer the man of today not only new and more effective therapies for the different sicknesses, but also the possibility of manipulating himself,” he warns.

Hence the new document of the International Theological Commission states “that the exercise of a responsible service in the field of bioethics calls for a profound moral reflection on the range of techniques that can have effects on the biological integrity of man.”

This is because “our ontological identity, of creatures made in the image of God, imposes certain limits on our ability to decide for ourselves,” just as sovereignty, “which is ours, does not exist without limits,” the theologian said.

“We exercise a participatory sovereignty in the created world and, finally, we will have to render an account of our service to the Lord of the universe. Man is created in the image of God, but he is not God,” he added.

This “service understood as participation by men in the divine lordship and always subjected to it” also allows us to approach the environment appropriately, he continued.

“God calls creatures into existence out of nothing and then calls them to love,” the priest said. “Here is the fundamental truth of the creation of the universe and of the creation of human beings.”

“Scientific studies give us an ever more complex and articulated explanation of the origins of the universe,” and “Catholic theology accepts with appreciation such studies and, as the Holy Father has said, certainly accepts the results,” he said. But “it is important that the natural sciences not go beyond their competence.”

“It sometimes happens,” he cautioned, “that the diverse theories of evolutionism elicit totally materialist and naturalist hypotheses about the universe and the origin of human beings, excluding the role of Divine Providence.”

They are “types of thought” that “reveal a profound ignorance of the excellence of Catholic philosophy and theology, which have always had the knowledge that God is the cause not only of existence itself, but also of all causes,” Father Di Noia continued.

“According to Catholic theology — but without pronouncing itself on the scientific merits of the different theories — the creative power of God can entail several processes of evolution to construct the universe as he understands it,” the Dominican concluded.

Paul VI established the International Theological Commission in 1969. Its aim is to help the Holy See, and particularly the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which oversees it, in the examination of doctrinal questions of major importance.

John Paul II promulgated the definitive statutes of this institution in 1982, which established that the president of the commission is the prefect of the doctrinal congregation, now Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

The theological commission is holding its plenary assembly in Rome through Thursday.

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