Pope Francis and the Idea of Progress

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Giandomenico Mucci, SJ

 Giandomenico Mucci, SJ / Pope Francis / 23 September 2020


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“Progress” is one of the most commonly used words. It is practically synonymous with improvement, refinement or evolution, while its correlative, “regression,” indicates a backward movement , decay or return to a less advanced or primitive stage. The need for progress is inherent in human nature. It takes place through human activities in the historical and social environment, which, in turn, is transformed and modified. History is made up of the relationships that people establish among themselves and with the environment, seeking to develop their potential, progressing. The limits of progress are ultimately the limits of human nature, which can always be moved further forward but never suppressed.

Alongside this generic meaning of progress, modernity has introduced the myth of indefinite progress, which postulates the final and total victory of humanity over pain, evil and death. Despite its refutation by experience and critical thought, it is a myth that preserves and exercises its power of sentimental suggestion and is destined to rise again in all would-be utopias. Today it is made more credible by the developments of science and technology.[1]

The Second Vatican Council, which constitutes the highest expression of the Church’s Magisterium in the last century, recognized human progress made “especially with the help of science and technology,” which enabled humankind to extend its “dominion over almost the whole of nature,”[2] such that “the major development of the material and human sciences”[3] can be a prelude to “a more perfect temporal order.”[4] The Church’s only concern is that “today’s progress in science and technology can foster a certain exclusive emphasis on observable data, and an agnosticism about everything else. The methods of investigation which these sciences use can be wrongly considered as the supreme rule for guiding the search for the whole truth.”[5]

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