Quotes Suitable for Framing: Leo XIII



The unshrinking defence of the Holy Scripture, however, does not require that we should equally uphold all the opinions which each of the Fathers or the more recent interpreters have put forth in explaining it; for it may be that, in commenting on passages where physical matters occur, they have sometimes expressed the ideas of their own times, and thus made statements which in these days have been abandoned as incorrect. Hence, in their interpretations, we must carefully note what they lay down as belonging to faith, or as intimately connected with faith-what they are unanimous in. For “in those things which do not come under the obligation of faith, the Saints were at liberty to hold divergent opinions, just as we ourselves are,”(55) according to the saying of St. Thomas. And in another place he says most admirably: “When philosophers are agreed upon a point, and it is not contrary to our faith, it is safer, in my opinion, neither to lay down such a point as a dogma of faith, even though it is perhaps so presented by the philosophers, nor to reject it as against faith, lest we thus give to the wise of this world an occasion of despising our faith.”(56) The Catholic interpreter, although he should show that those facts of natural science which investigators affirm to be now quite certain are not contrary to the Scripture rightly explained, must nevertheless always bear in mind, that much which has been held and proved as certain has afterwards been called in question and rejected.


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  1. One has only to consider for how long Euclid’s fifth postulate (the parallel postulate) was received as a self-evident truth; in fact, for two millennia, until 1823, when Janos Bolyai and Nicolai Lobachevsky independently realized that entirely self-consistent “non-Euclidean geometries” could be created in which the parallel postulate did not hold. It is worth noting that Girolamo Saccheri SJ had already shown this in his 1733 work, entitled, ironically enough, “Euclides ab Omni Naevo Vindicatus” [Euclid vindicated against every blemish], but he appears not to have realised the implications of his own theorems. Saccheri may have been wise; Lobachevsky not only lost his chair, but ended up briefly in an asylum. The more fortunate Bolyai was an army officer, who dabbled in maths as a hobby; even if suspected, madness was no disqualification from garrison duty in the Austrian service.
    The much briefer history of classical Newtonian mechanics furnishes another example, which began to unravel with the discovery of the difference between the theoretical and observed precession of the perihelion of Mercury.
    More contentiously, perhaps, we have the breezy assumption of Aristotle and his successors that the structure of reality could be deduced from the grammar of description – a quite staggering piece of linguistic realism which few philosophers would defend today.

  2. :”… Hence, in their interpretations, we must carefully note what they lay down as belonging to faith, or as intimately connected with faith – what they are unanimous in. …”

    Providentissimus Deus is a powerful title.

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