What the Catholic Church has given the world

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Fr Georges Lemaitre, originator of the Big Bang theory, pictured with Albert Einstein

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At a recent debate, broadcast worldwide by the BBC, over 87 per cent of the audience rejected the notion that the Catholic Church is a force for good in the world. Although the defenders of the Church were confronted by two masters of rhetoric, there is little doubt that the vote reflected a shift in attitudes towards Christianity in general and the Catholic faith in particular, writes Fr Andrew Pinsent in the Catholic Herald.

To put this shift in blunt terms, whereas we were regarded recently as nice but naïve, today we are increasingly regarded as evil. As a result, teaching the faith and defending Christian ethics has become much more difficult.

To address this challenge at its root, I believe it is vital that we remind ourselves of the extent to which the Catholic faith is a force for good in the world. Jesus said: “You will know them by their fruits,” and even some outside the Church appreciate her fruitfulness.

In 2007, for example, an atheist businessman, Robert Wilson, gave A$22.5 million to Catholic education in New York, arguing that, “without the Roman Catholic Church, there would be no western civilisation.”

Inspired by Wilson’s insight, I have been working recently with Fr Marcus Holden, parish priest of Ramsgate and a tutor at Maryvale, to collate the extraordinary contributions of Catholic culture and Catholic minds. The following sections provide some samples of this work, which should be invaluable to anyone who is faced with the question: “What has the Church ever done for us?”

1. Light and the cosmos

The Opus Maius (1267) of the Franciscan Roger Bacon (d 1292), written at the request of Pope Clement IV, largely initiated the tradition of optics in the Latin world. The first spectacles were invented in Italy around 1300, an application of lenses that developed later into telescopes and microscopes.

2. Earth and nature

Catholic civilisation has made a remarkable contribution to the scientific investigation and mapping of the earth, producing great explorers such as Marco Polo (d 1324), Prince Henry the Navigator (d 1460), Bartolomeu Dias (d 1500), Christopher Columbus (d 1506) and Ferdinand Magellan
(d 1521).

For a more complete account of the fruitfulness of the Catholic faith in these and many other fields, see Lumen: The Catholic Gift to Civilisation, published January 2011 by the Catholic Truth Society.

Fr Andrew Pinsent is a priest of the diocese of Arundel and Brighton and Research Director of the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion at Oxford University. He was formerly a particle physicist at CERN. He is co-founder, with Fr Marcus Holden, of the Evangelium Project, which is dedicated to improving the quality of Catholic education.

FULL STORY What the Church has given the world (Catholic Herald)

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