Posted by: Yseult | July 2, 2009

Substantial Proof: Between Science and Faith

Saint Paul writing his epistles by Nicolas Tournier

A lot of virtual ink has been spilled these last few days concerning the Vatican’s press announcement of the scientific analysis of the bones in the rediscovered tomb of Saint Paul.

Of course as with anything that concerns the Catholic Church the people that doubt whatever comes out of the marbled halls of Saint Peter are there to offer their comments. What I find the most interesting are not the usual crowds however. One thing about the way this story has been brought into the media by Pope Benedict himself has struck me: it was a perfect PR move. Offering the insights of the scientific commissions that had done their analysis a while ago at the end of the Pauline year what a great move and the spiritual links are amazing. Now apart from the fact that we might not expected this pope to be so ‘calculating’ one thing the world press is most impressed with is the use and consulting of physicists and scientific analysis. As if the Vatican and the Catholic Community was some sort of pocket in time and space, cut off from modern times, cut off from the considerations of our times. It’s truly the victory of the Dan Browns, Michael Baigents and Richard Leighs who are in a long line of indoctrinators that paint the Catholic Church and it’s organisational structure as old people that are against progress and will not shy away from hard measures to consolidate their power. If anybody dares to state that the Middle Ages were Dark Ages because people couldn’t read, then today we’re not much closer to the light if the mainstream is so easily indoctrinated. But I digress.

The most annoying comments regarding the discovery and scientific proofs that the bones found in San Paolo fuori le mura are the ones from natural scientists that tell us that in no way can a radiometric analysis prove that a bone is from someone in particular. Right. Thank you for pointing us to the light here. The usual addendum that the Catholic Church is only believing what it wants to believe is just the cherry on the cake.

As a historian I look at other indices and I am shocked at the callousness of the scientific community these days. There was a time when the study of history or texts was part of that community. But then again, there was a time when common sense also held a high place in those circles. Historical documents, facts and testimonies all tell us one thing: the tomb was there, has always been there, there has been no move, no opening, no nothing. Of course there was a fire in the 4th century and it was supposed that the remains of the apostle were lost to that fire. Even with all the things we’ve lost in terms of historical indicators concerning the city of Rome and it’s architecture, there is no such thing as a historical fact that leaves no traces at all. Not even the worst of the Spanish Inquisition has managed to purge so well.

So, taking a step back, we don’t have any historical evidence that Saint Paul’s remains were moved somewhere else, and there is a set of bones and fibres that are from the right time. My old friend common sense and its friend reflection, tells me that this is enough proof that truly the apostle’s grave and bones were found here.

I would be tempted to say that faith has nothing to do with it. But that would be completely wrong. Faith has everything to do with it. Like Anselm stated: I believe and thus I understand (credo ut intelligam). You cannot understand if you can’t believe. And in science you cannot believe, not as long as the scientific community allows itself to be so ignorant of it’s brothers and sisters in the historical department.



  1. I totally agree, Bettina. Of course, these are St. Paul’s remains, unless some bandits in the 300’s happened to throw in some bones they knew were from the 1st century!

    I do half to chuckle at the painting of Paul by Tournier, with the two-column printed format Bible on the desk, next to a deck of playing cards.

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