Just as there is a multiplicity of creatures on earth, there can be other beings, even intelligent, created by God. This is not in conflict with our faith because we can’t put limits on God’s creative freedom.Emmanuel Carreira, Vatican astronomer
One might think that the Vatican astronomer, in the light of the perduring bad publicity occasioned by the handling of the Galileo affair, might wish to avoid even the appearance of theological controversy. But now there is the assertion that we have brothers on other planets, or at least that we may hope this is so. I leave aside the implication that His “creative freedom” might, in a somewhat Islamist or nominalist way, move the divine will beyond God’s nature as Word and Reason, into absurdity.
In making this claim, the Vatican astronomer joins that band of wise men who watch the skies like the wise men of old. But they were looking for the King of the Jews, not for what is called “life.” There may, we are assured, be “life” on Mars or Venus or somewhere beyond this terrestrial globe. The word “life” is itself part of a vocabulary in which the word “life-forms” and “lifestyle” play an important part, the supposition being that there is something called life which stands around in the universe waiting to take form, rather like prime matter in Aristotle, perhaps presently unformed, but ready to spring into being at the right moment. The search for extraterrestrial life seems to bring exaltation when there is rumor of moss on Mars. If there were a superior race of creatures on Jupiter, it would go far to clinch an argument made consistently since the Renaissance that man is not after all, to use modern rhetoric, so very special. After all, are not all high school children told that one of the great benefits of Copernican astronomy was to show medieval man that he was not the center of the universe? So, it is thought, if we were to find our elder brothers of greater intelligence, or perhaps any creature at all, we would be put in our place.
In fact our place, for better or worse, is as the crown of God’s good creation. And the reason this is so is located at the heart of the Nicean Creed, where we are told that Jesus is God of God, Light of Light, True God of True God, not as Arius would have had it, an emanation of the divine. He is rather and gratefully God, and the Incarnation is not a manifestation of one power but the fact of the everlasting and personal union between the Son of God and human nature. That union was before the foundation of the world in the mind of God. It has been the center of history since Christ came to Bethlehem. That divine humanity is located at the heart of the Blessed Trinity eternally. There can be no other Incarnation-like event because God has been made man in an eternal union. There cannot be another rational creature somewhere in the universe because, did such a creature exist, they too would be creatures of a fallen universe and would require the sacrifice of the Incarnation, an Incarnation that would require the union of the Word with another. And this is impossible. When C. S. Lewis told the story of that enchanting world of Malacandra, with its several rational species, he knew that it must be presented as an unfallen world, a world that could be saved by being preserved from sin and death. But the universe is one. The moon is not a barrier that will keep out wickedness. And the one incarnation that sets things right has been accomplished. Indeed it is finished. There might be other organisms from moss to mammoths that share in the condemnation of the Fall and the redemption of Christ, but there cannot be another Incarnation of the Word of God in another kind of nature. There cannot be another Son. When Fr. Carreira argues that the existence of God’s creative freedom makes it possible that there are other intelligent beings, he is tapping the relation between theological nominalism, the doctrine that within God’s self-subsistent being there is no focused and final perfection, and Arianism, the doctrine that God does not become man but merely expresses himself in man.
Particularity is a scandal to fallen imagination, which tends against the narrow way. One may ask why the claim that Jesus is God is so hard to accept, when it is easy to believe, like Jefferson, that He was a prophet, a teacher of a sublime morality. Why is it difficult to believe that God has been made man when we believe that God may arrive in the next space ship or that he may permeate all creation in the New Age sense? Perhaps because while God Incarnate must be loved and worshiped, He is not an idea to be played with in the mind as the fulfillment of vague hope or the answer to a cosmic loneliness, but a Lord to be reverenced and obeyed. Before Him every knee must bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord.