Pope Benedict XVI used a May 3 address to doctors and medical students to warn that the spread of relativism is resulting in scientific advances having “unpredictable consequences.”
The Pope told the faculty and students of Rome’s Agostino Gemelli Teaching Hospital in an outdoor speech that “ours is a time when the experimental sciences have transformed the worldview and understanding of man.”
While he granted that scientific discoveries are a “reason for pride,” the pontiff warned that they are often “not without troubling implications,” such that “behind the widespread optimism of scientific knowledge, the shadow of a crisis of thought is spreading.”
“Rich in means, but not in aims, mankind in our time is often influenced by reductionism and relativism which lead to a loss of the meaning of things,” he said, identifying the roots of the crisis.
The Pope observed that it is as if modern man is “dazzled by technical efficacy,” and therefore “forgets the essential horizon of the question of meaning, thus relegating the transcendent dimension to insignificance.”
When meaning is lost and the transcendent forgotten, he explained, “thought becomes weak” and “an ethical impoverishment gains ground, which clouds legal references of value.”
All in all, the Pope stated, “the once fruitful root of European culture and progress seems forgotten.”
This techno-practical mentality “generates a risky imbalance between what is technically possible and what is morally good, with unpredictable consequences.”
Pope Benedict proposed solving this dangerous imbalance by urging society to “rediscover the vigor and dynamism of the meaning of transcendence, in a word, it must open up to the horizon of the ‘quaerere Deum’ (search for God).”
Research, no matter how passionately or tenaciously it is done, is “not capable of finding a safe harbor by its own means, because man is not able to fully elucidate the strange shadow that hangs over the question of eternal realities,” he added.
Instead, is it God who “must take the initiative to encounter and speak to man,” he said.
The Pope also focused on the “fruitful reciprocity” between science and faith, a relationship that he described as “almost a complementary need to understand reality.”
Pope Benedict made the visit to the hospital to mark the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Gemelli’s medical college, which is the teaching hospital of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart.
In addition to the medical students and faculty, his speech was also attended by many students from the Catholic University’s Bioethics Center, which aims to assist scientists and doctors in taking an ethical approach to medical research and treatment.
The Pope urged them to pursue research that is “illuminated by faith and science” so that from “these two ‘wings’” their work “draws impetus and momentum, without ever losing the right humility, the sense of its own limitations.”
This type of approach results in the search for God becoming “fruitful for intelligence, a leaven of culture, promoting true humanism, a research that does not stop at the superficial.”
“Dear friends,” the Pope said, “allow yourselves to always be guided by the wisdom that comes from above, from a knowledge illuminated by faith, remembering that wisdom requires the passion and hard work of research.”