To the Participants at the 12th General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life and Congress on The Human Embryo in the Pre-Implantation Phase
Embryo in the Pre-Implantation Phase”
Monday, 27 February 2006
Venerable Brothers in the
Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Distinguished Ladies and
I address a respectful and
cordial greeting to everyone on the occasion of the General Assembly of the
Pontifical Academy for Life and the International Congress on: "The human embryo
in the pre-implantation phase", which has just begun.
I greet in particular Cardinal
Javier Lozano Barragàn, President of the Pontifical Council for Health
Pastoral Care, as well as Bishop Elio Sgreccia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, whom
I thank for the kind words with which he has presented clearly the special
interest of the themes treated on this occasion, and I greet Cardinal-elect
Carlo Caffarra, a long-standing friend.
Indeed, the study topic chosen
for your Assembly, "The human embryo in the pre-implantation phase", that is, in
the very first days subsequent to conception, is an extremely important issue
today, both because of the obvious repercussions on
philosophical-anthropological and ethical thought, and also because of the
prospects applicable in the context of the biomedical and juridical sciences.
It is certainly a fascinating
topic, however difficult and demanding it may be, given the delicate nature of
the subject under examination and the complexity of the epistemological problems
that concern the relationship between the revelation of facts at the level of
the experimental sciences and the consequent, necessary anthropological
reflection on values.
As it is
easy to see, neither Sacred Scripture nor the oldest Christian Tradition can
contain any explicit treatment of your theme. St
Luke, nevertheless, testifies to the active, though hidden, presence of the two
He recounts the meeting of the
Mother of Jesus, who had conceived him in her virginal womb only a few days
earlier, with the mother of John the Baptist, who was already in the sixth month
of her pregnancy: "When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leapt in her
womb" (Lk 1: 41).
St Ambrose comments:
"perceived the arrival of Mary, he (John) perceived the arrival of the Lord the
woman, the arrival of the Woman, the child, the arrival of the Child" (Comm. in
Luc. 2: 19, 22-26).
Even in the absence of explicit
teaching on the very first days of life of the unborn child, it is possible to
find valuable information in Sacred Scripture that elicits sentiments of
admiration and respect for the newly conceived human being, especially in those
who, like you, are proposing to study the mystery of human procreation.
The sacred books, in fact, set
out to show God's love for every human being even before he has been formed in
his mother's womb.
"Before I formed you in the womb
I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you" (Jer
1: 5), God said to the Prophet Jeremiah. And the Psalmist recognizes with
gratitude: "You did form my inward parts, you did knit
me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for you are fearful and
wonderful. Wonderful are your works! You know me right well" (Ps 139:
13-14). These words acquire their full, rich meaning when one thinks that
God intervenes directly in the creation of the soul of every new human being.
God's love does not differentiate
between the newly conceived infant still in his or her mother's womb and the
child or young person, or the adult and the elderly person. God does not
distinguish between them because he sees an impression of his own image and
likeness (Gn 1: 26) in each one. He makes no distinctions
because he perceives in all of them a reflection of the face of his
Only-begotten Son, whom "he chose... before the foundation of the world.... He
destined us in love to be his sons... according to the purpose of his will" (Eph
This boundless and almost
incomprehensible love of God for the human being reveals the degree to which the
human person deserves to be loved in himself,
independently of any other consideration - intelligence, beauty, health, youth,
integrity, and so forth. In short, human life is always a good, for it "is a
manifestation of God in the world, a sign of his presence, a trace of his glory"
(Evangelium Vitae, n. 34).
Indeed, the human person has been
endowed with a very exalted dignity, which is rooted in the intimate bond that
unites him with his Creator: a reflection of God's own reality shines out in the
human person, in every person, whatever the stage or condition of his life.
Magisterium of the Church has constantly proclaimed the sacred and
inviolable character of every human life from its conception until its natural
end (cf. ibid.,
n. 57). This moral judgment also applies to the origins of the life of an embryo
even before it is implanted in the mother's womb, which will protect and nourish
it for nine months until the moment of birth: "Human life is sacred and
inviolable at every moment of existence, including the initial phase which
precedes birth" (ibid., n. 61).
I know well, dear scholars, with
what sentiments of wonder and profound respect for the human being you carry out
your demanding and fruitful work of research precisely on the origin of human
life itself it is a mystery on whose significance science will be increasingly
able to shed light, even if it will be difficult to decipher it completely.
Indeed, as soon as reason
succeeds in overcoming a limit deemed insurmountable, it will be challenged by
other limits as yet unknown. Man will always remain a deep and impenetrable
In the fourth century, St Cyril
of Jerusalem already offered the following
reflection to the catechumens who were preparing to receive Baptism: "Who
prepared the cavity of the womb for the procreation of children? Who breathed
life into the inanimate fetus within it? Who knit us together with bones and
sinews and clothed us with skin and flesh (cf. Jb 10:
11), and as soon as the child is born, causes the breast to produce an abundance
of milk? How is it that the child, in growing, becomes an adolescent, and from
an adolescent is transformed into a young man, then an adult and finally an old
man, without anyone being able to identify the precise day on which the change
And he concluded: "O Man, you are
seeing the Craftsman you are seeing the wise Creator" (Catechesi Battesimale, 9, 15-16).
At the beginning of the third
millennium these considerations still apply. They are addressed not so much to
the physical or physiological phenomenon as rather to its anthropological and
metaphysical significance. We have made enormous headway in our knowledge and
have defined more clearly the limits of our ignorance but it always seems too
arduous for human intelligence to realize that in looking at creation, we
encounter the impression of the Creator.
In fact, those who love the
truth, like you, dear scholars, should perceive that research on such profound
topics places us in the condition of seeing and, as it were, touching the hand
of God. Beyond the limits of experimental methods, beyond the boundaries of the
sphere which some call meta-analysis, wherever the perception of the senses no
longer suffices or where neither the perception of the senses alone nor
scientific verification is possible, begins the adventure of transcendence, the
commitment to "go beyond" them.
Dear researchers and experts, I
hope you will be more and more successful, not only in examining the reality
that is the subject of your endeavour, but also in contemplating it in such a way that,
together with your discoveries, questions will arise that lead to discovering in
the beauty of creatures a reflection of the Creator.
In this context, I am eager to
express my appreciation and gratitude to the Pontifical Academy for Life for its
valuable work of "study, formation and information" which benefits the Dicasteries of the Holy See, the local Churches and scholars
attentive to what the Church proposes on their terrain of scientific research
and on human life in its relations with ethics and law.
Because of the urgency and
importance of these problems, I consider the foundation of this Institution by
my venerable Predecessor, John Paul II, providential. I therefore desire to
express with sincere cordiality to all of you, the personnel and the members of
the Pontifical Academy
for Life, my closeness and support.
With these sentiments, as I
entrust your work to Mary's protection, I impart the Apostolic Blessing to you
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