Michelangelo's lesson: We are not aloneFATHER RAYMOND J. DE SOUZA
Our letters editor, Paul Russell, asked our correspondents to answer the question: How did it all begin? It's a good question, one that has occupied the greatest minds since the dawn of civilization.
And our readers presented a range of plausible answers, with several noting the important distinctions in the philosophy of science that clarify what the scientific method can tell us, and what it can't.
The only failing grade went to Rick Kerr from Oshawa, Ont., who wrote that "it doesn't matter." It does. One cannot know one's destiny if one has no idea of one's origins.
I was struck by the decision to illustrate the page with Michelangelo's Creation of Adam from the Sistine Chapel ceiling, surely the world's (literally) iconic depiction of the origin of man.
It is to the artist that the task of explaining creation properly falls. Art is creative. Science, for all its marvelous capacity to produce both knowledge and wonder, is essentially an act of discovery. If the question is how anything came to be, rather than the mere discovery of what already is, then it is to the artist, not the scientist, that the answer is more readily given.
Michelangelo's ceiling was dedicated 500 years ago last All Saints Day. But its cinematic portrayal came nearly 50 years ago, in the 1965 Charlton Heston film The Agony and the Ecstasy, based on the Irving Stone novel of the same name. In that film, there is a profound dialogue between Julius II, il papa terribile, and his reluctant fresco painter, Michelangelo. They are conversing about The Creation of Adam:
It is a beautiful bit of screenwriting by Philip Dunne and Carol Reed. And it gets to the heart of the issue of our origins, which contains within it the profound question: Are we alone?
The Creation of Adam often is thought to be the central panel on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, but it is not. Michelangelo puts The Creation of Eve in the centre. In The Creation of Adam, Eve already is present, in the "back of God's mind."
She was created because it is "not good for man to be alone." Eve is in the central panel to give an answer: We are not alone. We are made not for loneliness but for communion with others, and with God.
Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.
Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Convivium and a Cardus senior fellow, in addition to writing for the National Post and The Catholic Register. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.
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