vol 6: Essays
On evolutionary pneumatology
Introduction: exiles or locals?
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, and God's spirit hovered over the water. Genesis 1:1-2.
I shall ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate (parakletos ) to be with you for ever , that Spirit of truth, whom the world can never receive since it neither sees nor knows him; but you know him, because he is with you, he is in you. John 14:16-17.
The Spirit of God continues to work in creation and redemption to bring his purpose of reconciliation and unity to completion. The root of all true authority is thus the activity of the triune God, who authors life in all its fullness. Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, para 7
The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council marked a major turning point in the life of the Catholic Church. At the Council, the Church began to open itself to the world it had resisted for so long. "For the first time in the history of Ecumenical Councils, a Council addresses itself to all men, not just to members of the Catholic Church". Goosen, p 32. Abbott, page 3 note 2.
This same Church considers itself an exile on earth. In the "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church" the Fathers write
The Church on earth, while journeying in a foreign land away from her Lord (cf 2 Cor. 5:6), regards herself as an exile. Lumen Gentium, para 6
This is consistent with the ancient view that human beings are not entirely of this earth, but a special creation of God. This view was reaffirmed by Pope John Paul II in his 1996 address on evolution to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, "Truth cannot contradict truth". The Pope writes
Pius XII stressed this essential point: If the human body take its origin from pre-existent living matter, the spiritual soul is immediately created by God ("animas enim a Deo immediate creari catholica fides nos retinere iubei" Humani Generis, 36). Consequently, theories of evolution which, in accordance with the philosophies inspiring them, consider the spirit as emerging from the forces of living matter or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. Nor are they able to ground the dignity of the person. Pope Pius XII, John Paul II
The whole of the Christian doctrine rests on the notion that we are far from home. Yet for many people brought up outside the Church, the earth is home. How can the Church embrace such people? Must they change? or must the Church change? back.
Degrees of ecumenism
All the documents of the second Vatican Council bear in some way on the ecumenical question, but five are of special interest here: the "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church", the "Decree on Ecumenism", the "Decree on the Eastern Catholic Churches", the "Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions" and "The Declaration on Religious Freedom". Abbott, passim
The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church provides a very succinct statement of what the Church sees as its own source and purpose:
By an utterly free and mysterious decree of His own wisdom and goodness, the eternal Father created the whole world. His plan was to dignify men with a participation in His own divine life. He did not abandon men after they had fallen in Adam, but ceaselessly offered them helps to salvation, in anticipation of Christ the Redeemer, . . .
He planned to assemble in the holy Church all those who would believe in Christ.
By her relationship with Christ, the Church is a kind of sacrament of intimate union with God, and of the unity of all mankind, that is, she is a sign and an instrument of such union and unity. Lumen Gentium, para 1, 2.
The Council leaves no doubt, in this document and elsewhere, that it represents the Church which God intended to found:
Christ, the one Mediator, established and ceaselessly sustains here on earth His holy Church, . . .
This is the unique Church of Christ, which in the creed we avow as one, holy, catholic and apostolic. . . . This Church, constituted and organised in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in union with that successor, although many elements of sanctification and of truth can be found outside her visible structure. These elements, however, as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, possess an inner dynamism toward Catholic unity. Lumen Gentium, para 8.
Nor are we left in any doubt that the Catholic Church considers itself necessary for salvation:
This sacred Synod turns its attention first to the Catholic faithful. Basing itself upon sacred Scripture and tradition, it teaches that the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation. Lumen Gentium, para 14.
The other four documents mentioned above deal with communities at different distances from complete union with the Catholic Church, always, however, from the point of view of the Catholic Church.
The Council recognised that religious heterodoxy has always with us, with variations only in scale. It implies, nevertheless, that such heterodoxy is a sin:
From her very beginnings there arose on this one and only Church of God certain rifts (cf 1 Cor 11:18-19, Gal 1:6-9; 1 Jn 2:18-19), which the Apostle strongly censures as damnable (cf. 1 Cor 1:11 ff.; 11:22). But in subsequent centuries more widespread disagreements appeared and quite large Communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church - developments for which, at times, men of both sides were to blame. However, one cannot impute the sin of separation to those who at present are born into these Communities and are instilled therein with Christ's faith. The Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers. Unitas redintegratio para 3
By implication also, this sin is attributed not to the Church, but to "men". In this decree the Church also reaffirms its ownership of Catholic attributes which may be found outside the Church:
Moreover some, even very many, of the most significant elements of the endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church herself can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, along with other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit and visible elements. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Him, belong by right to the one Church of Christ. ibid.
It is clear also that the Council sees Christian unity as a return of lost sheep to the fold, rather than the evolution of a broader, more embracing Church:
. . . as the obstacles to perfect ecclesiastical communion are overcome, all Christians will be gathered, in a common celebration of the Eucharist, into that unity of the one and only Church which Christ bestowed on his Church from the beginning [sic]. This unity, we believe, dwells in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose . . . . Unitas redintegratio: para 4.
Nearly forty years after the Council, this tendency is clear in one of the most successful ecumenical dialogues: that between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. One point of convergence in the views of the two Churches is "the need for a universal primacy exercised by the Bishop of Rome as a sign and safeguard of unity within a re-united Church". ARCIC op. cit, para 1.
The Churches closest to Rome are the Eastern Catholic Churches. Here again, The Roman Church claims Papal control, as well as ownership of what it considers to be the authentic Christian elements in these Churches:
. . . individual Churches, whether of the East or the West . . . are . . . equally entrusted to the pastoral guidance of the Roman Pontiff, the divinely appointed successor of St Peter in supreme governance over the universal Church. Orientalium Ecclesiarum, para 3.
History, tradition, and numerous ecclesiastical institutions manifest luminously how much the Universal Church is indebted to the Eastern Churches. This sacred Synod, therefore, not only honours this ecclesiastical and spiritual heritage which merited esteem and rightful praise, but also unhesitatingly looks upon it as the heritage of Christ's universal Church. Orientalium Ecclesiarum, para 5.
On the other hand, the Council fails to address the doctrinal differences which constitute the real issue between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. In this it might be seen as sailing rather close to a "false conciliatory approach which harms the purity of Catholic Doctrine and obscures its assured genuine meaning". Unitas redintegratio, para 11. Schmemann.
The Council maintains its particular point of view in the "Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions" and the "Declaration on Religious Freedom". The Fathers wrote:
. . . all peoples comprise a single community, and have a single origin since God made the whole race of men dwell over the entire face of the earth (cf Acts 17:26). One also is their final goal: God. Nostra aetate, para 1.
First, this sacred Synod professes its belief that God himself has made known to mankind the way in which men are to serve Him, and thus be saved in Christ and come to blessedness. We believe that this one true religion subsists in the Catholic and apostolic Church, to which the Lord Jesus committed the duty of spreading it abroad among all men. . . . On their part, all men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His Church, and to embrace the truth they come to know, and to hold fast to it.
This sacred Synod likewise professes its belief that it is upon the human conscience that these obligations fall and exert their binding force. The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, and it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power. Religious freedom, in turn, which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. Therefore, it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ. Dignitatis humanae, para 1.
It is in accordance with their dignity as persons - that is beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility - that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order the whole live sin accordance with the demands of truth. Dignitatis humanae, para 2.
It seems clear that while the Catholic Church recognises the existence of other religions, and perhaps even of people who adhere to no corporate church, it considers itself to be the one true Church and the only reliable channel of communication between human beings and god. Consequently, the Church does not see religious freedom as extending to the right to profess a religion other than Catholicism.
So, behind the ecumenical fanfare, the solipsist position of the Catholic Church seems to remain intact. This position may be an insurmountable barrier between many people and the Church. back.
At the heart of ecumenical dialogue is a careful study of history, designed to find common ground and clearly isolate difficulties. Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission: Preface
The study of history reveals that the elements of any situation we meet have roots going back into the past. The line of a modern freeway may follow an ancient bullock track. Our celebrations at Christmas can be traced back thousands of years to other festivals at (northern) midwinter. Features of our own physical and spiritual constitution can be traced back three billion years to the origins of life on earth. Reflecting on this fact, we may entertain the hypothesis that every current situation is the most recent link in an evolutionary chain that stretches back to the beginning. The standard model of the evolution of the universe (the 'big bang' theory) takes this history back very close to this initial singularity.The standard model is not undisputed. Weinberg, Burbridge.
In the closely watched histories of the AIDS virus and other microorganisms we have been able to watch evolution at work over a timescale of decades and so gain deeper insight into what has happened over gigayears. We have a relatively clear picture of our own pedigree, and have seen in the palaeontological evidence the gradual increase in human cranial capacity over time - 'cerebralisation'. Teilhard de Chardin.
We believe that the clear mental differences between ourselves and other creatures is due to the information processing capacity of our central nervous systems. We believe that much of this additional capacity is devoted to the intelligent processing necessary for communication through complex symbolic languages. At some point, the network of minds created by communication became the space in which culture began to develop. We can see cultural differentiation and evolution already existing in populations of chimpanzees. Whiten.
Culture here is taken to include all information passed from generation to generation after conception. It is to be contrasted with the information we receive at conception, our genotype. Each human genotype is encased in an egg capable (given adequate material and spiritual input) of reading it and expressing it as a human individual. Each individual action is a guided by a combination of genotype, culture and instantaneous environment.
Evolution in general proceeds by reproduction of the fit. The fit are those able to obtain from their environment the resources necessary to reproduce. In the case of domesticated animals, fitness depends upon the farmers decision to nurture and breed from some organisms and not others. From this Darwin extrapolated to natural selection, where the ability of an organisms to pass on its genotype to the next generation is partly a product of the genotype itself. Much of the intellectual appeal of the theory of evolution lies in its tautological nature. What we see in the world is what has lasted. The possibilities we do not see have in some way failed to acquire the resources to make themselves real. back.
Religion is part of the culture passed from generation to generation. From a study of many religions, Reynolds and Tanner conclude that the role of religion in a human community is to deal with more extreme events, birth, puberty, marriage, sickness, death and the like. We may assume that religions are under pressure to evolve as communities evolve. Reynolds and Tanner.
For each of us the early acquisition of culture, including language, religion and behaviour acceptable to our community is almost unconscious and effortless. We believe and accept the culture that we absorb because there is no other option. We are in the same position as the newly hatched chick which imprints on the first creature it sees, on the predominantly correct assumption that this is its parent.
It is only later, as we age and reflect, that we are in a position to take a critical view of our culture. Because culture is closely related to survival, deviation from the accepted path can be dangerous, but in difficult times it may be necessary. This century has seen enormous cultural upheavals, marked by global wars and the slaughter of tens of millions of people. Under such pressure, it is not surprising that we are in a period of rapid cultural evolution.
I grew up in the preconciliar church. Prior to the Council the Church saw itself as a law unto itself. It felt that its indissoluble bonds to the eternal and omnipotent God allowed it to stand infallible, outside and above the human condition, listening to no-one and telling everyone what to do. Pius XI
This isolation of the Church from the hopes and aspirations of humanity seems to have reached its height in the attitude of the Papacy to government and the Nazi party in Germany. Contemporary echoes of this monarchical stance are not lacking. Cornwell, Collins. Totaro.
I left that Church, and have come back thirty years later to find new movement in the Church. There is also new tension between the Papacy trying to hold the line and many of the faithful trying to find a church that means something to them. The dialogue that has opened with those outside has led the Church to reflect on its position in the world. Prior to the Council, the Church reacted to threats to its integrity by more closely defining its doctrine and its corporate persona. To be a member, one had to fit the mould. After the Council the Church begins to broaden its personality, so that everyone may fit.Manning.
When we look at the early history of the Church, we may see it as a natural and organic outgrowth of the cultural environment in which it began. .In the light of historical investigation its connections to an historical Jesus seem to be quite tenuous. Most of its doctrines and ideas have roots stretching back hundreds of years before the common era. The Christian attitude to sex, for instance, has Stoic roots reaching back to 300 bce. Ranke-Heinemann, p 11, Fredriksen
Such unity of doctrine and governance as the Church manifests seems to have been forced as much by the political necessities of survival as by the intrinsic value of the doctrines and methods of government that have become entrenched in the Church. Reflecting this, the Ecumenical movement finds itself as much concerned with questions of governance and real estate as with doctrine. Gideon Goosen, personal communication.
The Church teaches that the function of the Spirit in the Church is to guide it toward the truth. The "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church" provides a succinct statement of this role of the Holy Spirit:
When the work which the Father had given the Son to do on earth (cf Jn 17:4) was accomplished, the Holy Spirit was sent on the day of Pentecost in order that he might forever sanctify the Church, and thus all believers would have access to the Father through Christ in the one Spirit (cf Eph 2:18). . . . The Spirit dwells in the Church and in the hearts of the faithful as in a temple (cf 1 Cor 3:16, 6:19). . . . The Spirit guides the church into the fullness of truth (cf Jn 16:13) and gives her a unity of fellowship and service. Lumen gentium, para 4.
Further information on the role of the Spirit is provided in The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) where we read:
. . . the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the gospel resounds in the Church, and through her, in the world, leads unto all truth those who believe and makes the world of Christ dwell abundantly in them (cf Col 3:16). Dei verbum, para 9.
These words suggest that pneumatology is very close to epistemology. The Spirit is the Spirit of truth (John 14:17), to be contrasted with the devil, the "father of lies" (John 8:44). The Spirit guides the evolution of the Church, keeping it free from error. Epistemology (Greek discourse about knowledge) is "the branch of philosophy which investigates the origin, nature, methods and limits of human knowledge". Delbridge sv 'epistemology',
So must ask, with Pilate, "What is truth? (John 18:38). back.
The English dictionary definition says truth is "1. that which is true; the true or actual facts of a case: . . . " True is defined as "1. being in accordance with the actual state of things; conforming to fact; not false: a true story. . . . ". Delbridge, sv 'Truth"
There does not appear to be any definition of truth in the documents of Vatican II, but some guidance may be gained from Thomas Aquinas, a revered Doctor of the Church.
. . . since the true is in the intellect in so far as it is conformed to the object understood, the aspect of the true must needs pass from the intellect to the object understood, so that also the thing understood is said to be true in so far as it has some relation to the intellect. Now a thing understood may be in relation to an intellect either essentially or accidentally. It is related essentially to an intellect on which it depends as regards its essence; but accidentally to an intellect by which it is knowable; even as we may say that a house is related essentially to the intellect of the architect, but accidentally to the intellect upon which it does not depend.
Now we do not judge of a thing by what is in it accidentally, but by what is in it essentially. Hence, everything is said to be true absolutely, in so far as it is related to the intellect from which it depends; and thus it is that artificial things are said to be true a being related to our intellect. For a house is said to be true that expresses the likeness of the form in the architect's mind; and words are said to be true so far as they are the signs of truth in the intellect. In the same way natural things are said to be true in so far as they express the likeness of the species that are in the divine mind. For a stone is called true, which possesses the nature proper to a stone, according to the preconception in the divine intellect. Thus, then, truth resides primarily in the intellect, and secondarily in things according as they are related to the intellect as their principle. Consequently there are various definitions of truth. . . . The definition that "Truth is the equation of thought and thing" (veritas est adaequatio rei et intellectus ) is applicable to it under either aspect. Aquinas 99.
In the following article, Thomas points out that to know truth is to know, through reflection, that thought and thing are equated.
From this we may conclude that the Church is true insofar as it conforms to the mind of God, and my understanding of the Church is true insofar as my mind conforms to the true nature of the Church. The operation of the Spirit, then, is to bring the Church into conformity with the mind of God. Since the Church is an organisation of human individuals, its structure resides in human minds, and so we may understand the work of the Spirit as bringing human minds into conformity with God's ideas about how the citizens of earth should form themselves into the true Church.
Now we can ask the question. Is it true that the Catholic Church is the one true church? The Church is certain that this is so, but many would dispute this. To seek an answer, we turn first to methodology.
While the Word informs, it is the Spirit that moves, so that the study of the Spirit is naturally a study of action. It is relatively easy to define truth. It is not so easy to determine whether a particular relationship between thought and thing is a true one. The process of making this judgement (or in Greek krisis ) is the subject of method. We may distinguish theological method from scientific method.
As the numerous quotations provided above show, the Church finds its foundation in revelation from God represented in the Bible and tradition. This revelation is considered to have been made once for all, and so is taken to be a fixed body of doctrine, the "deposit of faith", given to the Church to be preserved and explained, but in no way to be changed:
Sacred tradition and sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, which is committed to the Church. . . .
The task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully by divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit; it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed. Dei verbum, para 10.
Thus the principal task of Christian theological method is to interpret the ancient texts of Scripture and tradition to people imbued with a particular culture. We can see this happening in the first centuries of the Church, as a theology descended from Judaism and Hellenism spread around the Mediterranean adapting to and absorbing elements from the Greek and Roman milieux in which it found itself. This task continues today as the Gospel confronts modern science, modern scholarship and modern philosophy. Lonergan
A Catholic theologian tests the truth of her or his interpretation of a particular text by reference to the authority (magisterium) of the Church. The Church has never hesitated to condemn what it considers false interpretations of the deposit of faith. We might call this the top down or authoritarian approach to truth. Schoof.
Scientific seeks true understanding of all human experience. Scientific method is simply a formalisation of the natural approach to knowledge which first evolved many millions of years ago. This is a cycle of observation and action. Young animals learn to catch their prey by trial and error, eventually (if they are a survivor) increasing their hit rate to a profitable level. Young scientists learn the same way. The fundamental scientific proverb is 'we learn by our mistakes'. Fortun & Bernstein: Muddling Through
Aristotle laid the foundations of formal scientific method through his insistence on a systematic approach to knowledge. He noted that "All men [and women of course] by nature desire to know". Tredennick, 960a22.
Knowledge means explanation, the answer to the question why? More than 2000 years after Aristotle died, Charles Darwin showed us how to explain why all animals (including humans) desire to know. Darwin
Knowledge confers fitness. The desire to know is a survival tool, like the desires to reproduce, eat and live. Because each of us can trace our ancestry in an unbroken line through billions (trillions?) of generations of survivors to the beginning of life, awareness of the power of knowledge is built deep into our nature. This we might call the bottom up approach to truth.
At the heart of scientific method is the concept of consistency foreshadowed in Aquinas' definition of truth. Thomas speaks of an "adaequatio " between knower and known. On the basis of this definition, the Church claims to possess "the gift of ultimate truth about human life". John Paul II, para 2.
Scientific method claims only to yield models of which are not inconsistent with reality.. At best the "deposit of science" comprises a vast network unrefuted conjectures. This approach provides a natural place for the uncertainty and mystery in the realm of human knowledge, for it proceeds by ruling out the impossible rather than mandating what actually is. This bottom up approach to knowledge and certainty is also reflected in the principle of presumption of innocence in a community under the rule of law. Popper, Walker, pp 297-298.
The scientific approach, since it does not claim absolute truth, makes a place for fictions of various sorts to provide an agreed administrative foundation for community. The justices of the High Court of Australia examined the concept of legal fiction in great detail in deciding the Mabo Case, with respect the fiction of ownership of all land by the Crown. Gibbs C. J.
The development of English common law is based on a fiction:
This is that a judge does not enact the common law at a given time, but rather authoritatively declares it as it has been from time immemorial - going back to the limits of legal memory arbitrarily fixed at the accession of Richard I in 1189. The conceit is indulged that the judge carries the common law in his breast, including any doctrine that may be declared but has not yet been declared. Morison, p. 8,
This notion of the evolution of law by declaration is quite consistent with the notion of evolution. That which has not yet come to be explicitly realised may be realised as long as it is consistent with what already exists. Whereas a notion of absolute truth may hold that only one outcome is consistent with history, experience, logical results such as Gödel's theorem on formally undecidable propositions , and the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics , all suggest that an infinity of outcomes may be consistent with any particular starting point. The almost unimaginable diversity and complexity of the world derives from this infinity of possibility. Gödel, Dirac.
It has been noted above that modern scholarship has revealed that the link between the doctrines of the Church and the historical person of Jesus are quite tenuous. We might say that from the point of view of someone outside the church, Jesus is not so much God as a symbol of God, and that the doctrines attributed to him had wide circulation in the ancient world, in some cases for many centuries before his advent. Haight.
In the light of English legal history, we may see the doctrines that were finally distilled into the Christian Creeds by the early Councils as fictions constitutive of the Christian Church. From within the Church they are taken to be absolute truth, but from outside they are but one of many possibilities which may have been chosen as a foundation for an organisation which has turned out to be very fit, in the evolutionary sense. The fact that there are other religious traditions of comparable antiquity and numbers of adherents points to reality of this possibility.
Genuine dialogue with other religions and people with no explicit religion must be a two way process, since there is no doubt that all people, both within and outside the Catholic Church are of equal dignity. This implies that the Church must be prepared to examine its own fictions to decide whether in fact it has any need or right to assert them as an absolute requirement of religious unity, as the Second Vatican Council appears to do.
The strongest incentive to faith in the Catholic Church is not its historical claim to descent from God, but the fact of its existence as a large and powerful organisation in the world today. Its claims to be based on a deposit of faith revealed once for all by God seem rather ingenuous in the face of "secular history". Here one sees any amount of violence and fancy footwork as the Church has come to terms with its environment. Its long interaction with the Roman Empire is just the beginning of this history, and shows how well the Church has been able to adapt to survive in its human environment. Like any organism, the Church has been well able to heed the signs of the time. This success is attributed to the Spirit, but it can also be interpreted in human terms of wealth, power and military might. Nor, from a secular point of view, is the Church unique, since it occupies the planet with other religions of comparable power and antiquity.
Historically, the internal unity of the Church has been maintained by Papal authority, and the Church sees itself as using this authority to guard the truth, guided by the Spirit. The evolution of science shows that such an authoritarian approach to truth is not necessary, and may even lead to error. The world is one, so that a scientific method that keeps us close to the world will also keep us close to one another. There is no Pope of science, or any other central authority. The integrity of science is maintained by maintaining the integrity of the scientific process, weeding out instances of error and even fraud as they come to light. Here the emphasis moves from the formal content of doctrine to the process of developing doctrine. We might say from the word to the spirit. The root of scientific faith is that the human spirits can arrive at practical truth by open dialogue with the world and one another. back.
This century has seen three global wars, two 'hot' responsible for a hundred million deaths, and one 'cold' , which appeared to many to threaten the very existence of the living planet through the phenomenon known as 'nuclear winter'. The role of science in war has increased with each of these wars, leading particularly to an explosion in physics and cybernetics, subjects very important in the design and automatic delivery of the weapons of 'mutually assured destruction'. Despite being employed by governments and prepared to destroy the world to have their way, science has remained one, serving both camps impartially. This fact simply reflects the unity of the world that science tracks. Aberrations have of course occurred. Under political pressure from the Soviet Union, Lysenko and colleagues attempted to promulgate a version of the theory of evolution that was felt to harmonise better with Marxism, but this view never became scientifically acceptable. Sagan & Turco, Soyfer.
From the scientific point of view, unity does not seem to come from uniformity, but from the union of diverse elements in a common space. We understand this union in terms of the dynamics of an organism. A team is not composed of identical players, but of players each strong in a particular role that contributes to the overall purpose of the team.
The root of the union is a communication protocol, that is an agreement on encoding and decoding messages that serves to protect the meaning of those messages within their space. The modern wonder we call the internet exists because of the internet protocol (IP). It may be that the mathematics of computer networks provides us with a more explicit language and definition of truth than was available in Aquinas' day. A protocol must be able to handle all possible messages in its space. A religious protocol must be able to handle all human experience. Defective protocols, by not covering their space, create gaps where communication is impossible.
The doctrine of the mystical body of Christ arises from a parallel between the Church and the human body. Each of us is a loose federation of trillions of cells all working together for the common good. The protocol that maintains bodily unity is written in our genes. The genetic protocols also provide for the gradual differentiation of cells as development proceeds to engage in various specialised task of survival such as communication, movement, chemical processing and so on. In a human cultural body, also formed for mutual benefit, it is the culture which provides both the communication protocol and the diversity necessary for survival.
One fiction in the Catholic Church is that we, and the world we inhabit, are an ontologically defective entity in need of divine salvation. There seems to be no scientific evidence for the reality of this fiction, and much evidence against, since it introduces contradiction where none exists. This doctrine has severe practical consequences. Many have been spiritually crushed in youth by contradictions between their human experience and doctrine rooted in the fiction of original sin. If scientific method and the knowledge it has produced are any guide, to escape into the clear air of the presumption of innocence and a future without unnecessary constraints from the the past is the beginning of heaven. In this light, the Catholic fiction of original sin is a defective protocol, precisely because it is just as open to people to communicate the idea that we are divine and perfect as it is to communicate the idea that we are flawed.
It is very hard to make sense of the Catholic concept of absolute truth when truth is itself a relationship between two things. God maybe absolute and eternal, but the world is certainly changing and the Church with it, even if it chooses to deny this. In our search for spiritual guidance, it is possible that the way forward lies not in searching for absolute truth, but rather exploring the space of truth, that is the space of mappings of mind and thing, the space of meanings. There, I believe, we will find the creative Spirit at work, for every new meaning itself becomes an element of the space, which is thus able to grow recursively without limit, rather like the evolution of species and the evolution of culture. It is a truism of science that every answered question raises many more questions.
Sensus fidei and sensus fidelium differ as part and whole. The former is individual active capacity for spiritual discernment, the latter the communal exercise of the former through communication in the church. Sensus fidelium - Wikipedia
As I understand this distinction, each of us is one of the billion eyes of the church, with a sensus Fidel drawn from the experience of life itself. The Church itself, if it is sensitive to the Spirit, acts as a central nervous system, processing the vision of its billion eyes into a view of the whole, that is synthesising a billion personal truths. Every view is relative, but together they give us a sensus fidelium, a vision of the whole which is more stable and reassuring than our individual points of view. Implicit in this view is that the Church is big enough to accept every point of view, and that we are all free to give witness to exactly what we see. In this way we build collective truth which is valid both locally (bottom up) and universally (top down).
The ultimate problem in Church unity is that of governance. While the central power continues to suppress the valid insights and initiatives of its members, people must be wary of union with the Catholic Church. The spirits of the reformation abandoned much of the authoritarian governance of the Church, and contributed much to the development of the democracy, rule of law and scientific method that we enjoy today. We now believe that the authority of the whole does not reside in the head of state, except perhaps symbolically. The power of the head is contingent upon the consent of the members.
The Roman Catholic Church is limited by its unique presumption of absolute truth which contradicts the opinions of many. Only when it accepts that we are all privy to the truth in our own hearts can it be truly open to all people, and therefore to all "denominations". It has started itself on the path to dialogue with the world, and cannot turn back if it is to be true to itself. True dialogue requires respect and a willingness to change.
If real progress is to be made toward human unity, the fictions of absolute truth and absolute primacy must be modified so that the Church can listen to the world and learn. Ultimately it cannot hope to force an organic system that antedates it by billions of years into a Procrustean bed forged a mere two thousand years ago. We will see an important sign of such real progress when women are allowed to participate fully in the life of the Church, to the point of occupying the role of the symbol of Christ, the person anointed by common consent to symbolise the unity of humanity, divinity and the world. back.