When The News Is Not News: Vatican Says Aliens Could Exist

Yesterday, some people on the Catholic blogosphere commented on a statement given by Rev Jose Gabriel Funes saying that alien life could exist. The one thing I didn’t see in the news report, and the one thing which should have been reported, is that this is a long-standing tradition and viewpoint (not doctrinal nor dogmatic, but a valid theological opinion) which existed in the Church even before the Reformation. One can find this view, for example, in the works of Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa (1401 – 1464).  We can see this in the following quote which pre-supposes their existence: 

Therefore, the inhabitants of other stars — of whatever sort these inhabitants might be — bear no comparative relationship to the inhabitants of the earth (istius mundi ). [That is true] even if, with respect to the goal of the universe, that entire region bears to this entire region a certain comparative relationship which is hidden to us — so that in this way the inhabitants of this earth or region bear, through the medium of the whole region, a certain mutual relationship to those other inhabitants. (By comparison, the particular parts of the fingers of a hand bear, through the medium of the hand, a comparative relationship to a food; and the particular parts of the foot [bear], through the medium of the foot, [a comparative relationship] to a hand — so that all [members] are comparatively related to the whole animal.)

Hence, since the entire region is unknown to us, those inhabitants remain altogether unknown

— Nicholas of Cusa, On Learned Ignorance. trans. Jasper Hopkins (Minneapolis: Arthur J Banning Press, 1990), 119 – 20. 

It might surprise some that the debate on “many worlds” started before Christianity, and found itself discussed and debated in theological and philosophical circles throughout history; indeed, St Albert the Great, while he believed in one world, thought it was an important question to consider (Catholic blogosphere, take note!). The debate changed as our understanding of the universe changed. When Ptolemaic views dominated our understanding of the universe, the question of “many worlds” looked at those worlds as other universes. When we began to understand the size and depth of our universe, such as with Nicholas of Cusa suggesting our universe is infinite in size, then the question of other worlds began to reflect worlds within our own universe, and allowed people to consider other places in our universe where life could exist.  At points in history, the majority view was that alien life did not exist, at other points in history, sometimes very recent, belief in other worlds was the mainstream view of Christian thought. Since the issue is very speculative, it is easy to understand why the pendulum has swung both ways in history. Some can’t see God, the God of life, making such a big universe without it being filled with life. Others can’t imagine God making such a large universe where there would be no contact with such aliens if they existed, especially in a universe founded upon for the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. Whichever view one takes, it clearly isn’t news that you can believe aliens exist; but, as the National Enquirer learned long ago, headlines do sell newspapers.

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  • radicalcatholicmom

    Very interesting, Henry. Excellent!

  • http://roadgoeseveron.wordpress.com Henry Karlson

    RCM

    I thought it helps put things in perspective — and demonstrates how badly the mainstream media portrays things like this.

    In all actuality, one of the classes I hope to teach one day is on “alien theology.” In part because it raises many of the basic theological questions (soteriology, nature of God, etc) in a way which might get undergraduates to think who would not otherwise want to think theologically. Of course, being a science fiction fan helps.

  • http://civicsgeeks.blogspot.com Zach

    Henry,

    Is it a valid opinion to hold that other rational life could exist?

    The article mentions intelligent life, but I suppose this does not mean necessarily mean rational life.

    I would think other rational life would be a problem?

  • http://roadgoeseveron.wordpress.com Henry Karlson

    Zach

    No, other rational life is not a problem. The theological discussion and debates were, of course, focusing on the question of other rational creatures (and not just angels).

    Personally, I believe rational alien life exists (not just spirits), and that Christ’s work affects them (following the cosmic soteriology of Scripture and many of the Church Fathers like St Maximus the Confessor). I also think the universe, as a whole, is fallen (so the suggestion of Lewis, or Fr Funes, that they would not need salvation is not my view).

    If you are interested, years ago, I had an e-mail discussion with one of my friends on this issue. I wrote three letters answering his questions; they are old, the style of my replies are clunky, and in need of serious editing — however, if you are interested you can read my examination of the topic and what I said as to why I believe in alien life here (I could and would say things differently now, developing some things much further, while also adding a greater discussion on God’s freedom and why freedom in love is greater freedom and yet can allow us to discuss how love would act, even if, in freedom, it is not necessity):

    http://geocities.com/hckarlso/aliens.html

    Just remember, I wrote them over a decade ago, and they were originally written as e-mails. Be glad, no matter how unstylistic my writing might still be, that I’ve at least improved (I am always embarassed at how much my earlier writings need to be edited); you will see my tendency for “thuses” and “hences” to be multiplied back them.

  • http://civicsgeeks.blogspot.com Zach

    Henry,

    Cool man looks interesting.

    Thanks.

  • http://roadgoeseveron.wordpress.com Henry Karlson

    Zach

    You are welcome; just be prepared for the bad writing I did back then. I still do not write as well as I wish, but I am capable of seeing how much I’ve improved when I go back to things I wrote in the 90s.

  • http://civicsgeeks.blogspot.com Zach

    Henry, no worries, I totally understand. I think less than 5 years ago I could hardly have considered myself literate. :) Writing is one of those things you can work on for an entire lifetime and still have plenty to learn.

  • Jimmy Mac

    Hallelujah! My faith has been restored.