Today's Scientists Need Awe, Benedict XVI Says

Notes Hope That Marvels of Creation Lead to Creator

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 30, 2009 ( Modernity would benefit from the sense of awe that inspired the fathers of modern science, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope affirmed this today when he addressed a group celebrating the International Year of Astronomy with a two-day congress.

«This celebration […] invites us to consider the immense progress of scientific knowledge in the modern age and, in a particular way, to turn our gaze anew to the heavens in a spirit of wonder, contemplation and commitment to the pursuit of truth, wherever it is to be found,» the Holy Father said.

The International Year of Astronomy was convoked by UNESCO in memory of the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first use of the telescope.

The Holy Father noted that the celebration also coincides with the recent inauguration of new headquarters for the Vatican Observatory.

«As you know,» he said, «the history of the Observatory is in a very real way linked to the figure of Galileo, the controversies which surrounded his research, and the Church’s attempt to attain a correct and fruitful understanding of the relationship between science and religion.»

In this regard, the Pontiff thanked those «committed to ongoing dialogue and reflection on the complementarity of faith and reason in the service of an integral understanding of man and his place in the universe.»

The congress participants will also tour the Tower of the Winds at the Vatican, built in 1582 at the time of the Gregorian reform of the calendar and the first location of the Vatican Observatory. On Saturday, they will tour the new headquarters of the Vatican Observatory, which the Pope officially inaugurated last month.

Wonder and amazement

Benedict XVI suggested that the International Year of Astronomy should help to «recapture for people throughout our world the extraordinary wonder and amazement which characterized the great age of discovery in the 16th century.»

«I think, for example, of the exultation felt by the scientists of the Roman College who just a few steps from here carried out the observations and calculations which led to the worldwide adoption of the Gregorian calendar,» he said.

The Pope affirmed that this exultation needs to be renewed today.

«Our own age,» he said, «poised at the edge of perhaps even greater and more far-ranging scientific discoveries, would benefit from that same sense of awe and the desire to attain a truly humanistic synthesis of knowledge which inspired the fathers of modern science.»

«At the same time,» the Holy Father added, «the great scientists of the age of discovery remind us also that true knowledge is always directed to wisdom, and, rather than restricting the eyes of the mind, it invites us to lift our gaze to the higher realm of the spirit.»

«Knowledge, in a word, must be understood and pursued in all its liberating breadth,» the Bishop of Rome affirmed. «It can certainly be reduced to calculation and experiment, yet if it aspires to be wisdom, capable of directing man in the light of his first beginnings and his final ends, it must be committed to the pursuit of that ultimate truth which, while ever beyond our complete grasp, is nonetheless the key to our authentic happiness and freedom, the measure of our true humanity, and the criterion for a just relationship with the physical world and with our brothers and sisters in the great human family.»

Center of the universe

Benedict XVI reflected on how «neither we, nor the earth we stand on, is the center of our universe.»

«Yet,» he said, «as we seek to respond to the challenge of this Year — to lift up our eyes to the heavens in order to rediscover our place in the universe — how can we not be caught up in the marvel expressed by the Psalmist so long ago? […] ‘[W]hat is man that you should be mindful of him, or the son of man, that you should care for him?'»

«It is my hope that the wonder and exaltation which are meant to be the fruits of this International Year of Astronomy will lead beyond the contemplation of the marvels of creation to the contemplation of the Creator,» the Pontiff concluded, «and of that Love which is the underlying motive of his creation — the Love which, in the words of Dante Alighieri, ‘moves the sun and the other stars.'»

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