How would the world’s religions react to the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence? There is, of course, no single answer. But for Christians who believe in the redemption of humanity through a singular event—the Incarnation of God through Christ—the question poses an especially complex dilemma.
To appreciate the conundrum, a good place to start is with the words of Father Jose Funes, a Jesuit astronomer and current director of the Vatican Observatory, who suggested in an interview that the possibility of “brother extraterrestrials” poses no problem for Catholic theology. “As a multiplicity of creatures exists on Earth, so there could be other beings, also intelligent, created by God,” Funes told the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano. “This does not conflict with our faith because we cannot put limits on the creative freedom of God.”
But, L’Osservatore Romano asked, what if these beings were sinners?
“Jesus became man once and for all,” Funes responded. “The Incarnation is a single and unique event. So I am sure that also they, in some way, would have the chance to enjoy God’s mercy, just as it has happened with us human beings.”
Has Christ Been to Other Planets?
It’s that phrase — “in some way” — that is the source of contention among Christian theologians. In what way? Has Christ appeared to other beings? Have there been other Incarnations, where the Son of God has taken on different forms and has had to endure, time and again, the self-sacrifice of death to remove the burden of Original Sin from God’s creations?
It’s a question that has troubled thinkers who, for centuries, have contemplated, in varying degrees, whether there other beings living on a “plurality of worlds.” When Thomas Paine studied the astronomical research of the preceding three centuries, he concluded, in the Age of Reason, that the existence of other planets revolving around other suns supported theism, but drastically altered the Christian concept of God:
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