Review of Hugh Owen’s I Have Spoken to You from Heaven: A Catholic Defense of Creation in Six Days
This is a very engaging book, particularly in the light of the increasing awareness among traditionally minded Catholics that there are serious, not to say insuperable difficulties involved in believing in the theory of evolution. This has led to a realization that perhaps it is time to look again at the first chapters of Genesis to see what they really do say about creation.
The focus of I Have Spoken to You from Heaven, is on the six days of creation as described in Genesis, and the 12 chapters and 3 useful appendices the book contains look at this theme from different perspectives. It begins by reiterating the traditional Catholic position that the Bible is inspired by God and inerrant, and therefore free from all error. This is the constant teaching of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and also the Popes and Council fathers down through Church history. As Pope Pius XII pointed out, this means that “all of those statements in Scripture intended as historical must be accepted as statements of historical fact.”
Two ecumenical Councils have defined that when the Fathers of the Church unanimously agree on a particular interpretation of Scripture that pertains to a doctrine of faith or morals, then that interpretation must be accepted by the Faithful. (The Church Fathers are that body of eminent Bishops, teachers and theologians mostly dating from the first four or five centuries of the Christian era, who have best expounded the teaching of the Church and summed up what should be regarded as normative and doctrinally sound for future generations).
As regards Creation and evolution, what this means in practice is that since the Church Fathers saw the “days” of Genesis as normal 24 hour days, then this effectively rules out any evolutionary explanation for human origins, including theistic evolution, which is the idea that God utilized hundreds of millions of years to evolve the bodies of the first humans.
As Hugh Owen points out, given the catastrophic crisis of faith the Church has gone through in recent years, it is incumbent on Catholics to look again at the traditional teaching of the Church, that the world was indeed created in six days. He also points out that there is no question but that the genre of the first eleven chapters of Genesis is history, and not poetry, myth, or a mixture of myth and history, and that this position has been repeatedly reaffirmed by the Magisterium of the Church, as for example during the Council of Trentwhich tellingly described Genesis as “sacred history.”
The author details how the Fathers of the Church took the days of Genesis to be normal days, and not extended periods of time, and quotes from St Ephraim the Syrian to that effect. The only dissenting voice, out of thirty Church Fathers, is that of St Augustine, who advanced the position that the days could be understood in a figurative sense. But since he did not put forward convincing arguments to support his position, and did not understand the Hebrew languageunlike scholars such as St Jeromethen his testimony on this point is not decisive.
St Thomas Aquinas’s thought regarding this question, as expressed in his Summa Theologicae, finds him, in numerous places, affirming his strong belief in the six days of Genesis as being normal 24 hour days, and this hence points to a young universe.
The author discusses the important Firmiter decree of the Fourth Lateran Council, which took place in 1215, and the meaning of the word simul (“at once”) in the following conciliar statement: “God … by his own omnipotent power at once from the beginning of time created each creature from nothing...”
This statement, as it is, clearly rules out any long ages evolution of mankind, but toward the end of the 19th century, some theologians, anxious to accommodate the new evolutionary thinking, began to argue that simul could mean “in common” or “equally,” and this is the interpretation which won the day in Catholic theological circles. The problem is that this position cannot be reconciled with traditional Catholic teaching, particularly as expressed in the Catechism of the Council of Trent.
It is also true that three of the greatest post-Lateran IV commentators on Genesis, Denys the Carthusian, St Lawrence of Brindisi and Cornelius a Lapide, all held the position that the Genesis days were to be understood as normal 24 hour days.
I Have Spoken to You from Heaven also discusses the position that the early Genesis texts were probably preserved on clay tablets, and that evidence of this can even be found in the structure of the written text today, where “colophons” or repeat lines are found. In ancient times, clay tablets in a series were linked by these “catch-lines” linking one tablet to the nextthus they could be read in the right order.
So instead of the Genesis texts being the result of a combination of the work of various editors at a relatively late stage in Israelite history, they can be seen as accurate historical records which were passed down, probably on clay tablets in the early days, with Moses acting as the editor of this pre-existing material in the production of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible.
The book also looks at other aspects of the creation week of Genesis, including the very widespread idea of a seven day week with a Sabbath rest, an idea which is not based on any natural cycle. It is fascinating to read of examples of 7 day rhythms in nature, involving plants, insects and animals, which seem to be innate, and not due to any human cultural influence. Human beings also have these mysterious 7 day rhythms, as regards blood pressure, heartbeat and even the common cold.
Hugh Owen points out that there is not a single scientific experiment or observation that contradicts the six-day creation and biblical chronology, only interpretations of such scientific work, and that science, of itself, cannot tell us anything about originsall it can do is investigate the world as it is now, and make extrapolationsthat is, educated guessesabout what may have happened in the past.
There are numerous other related topics covered in this book, including a very good chapter on the difficulties involved in accepting an extremely old universe. This deals with topics such as problems regarding the Big Bang; how geological activity on the earth and planets testifies to a recent creation; and particularly how geological evidence on earth points to a recent creation and global flood.
This new evidence shows how rather than the sedimentary layers requiring long ages for their deposition, a better model sees them being laid down quickly as a result of rapid sedimentation in moving currents of wateras happened during the Great Flood of Noah. Thus the fossils in the geological column are not due to long age evolution, but are the remains of the animals that died during that cataclysmic event.
This book repays careful study, and this brief review cannot do justice to the many excellent points made by the author. Anyone who approaches it with an open mind will find much that is thought-provoking and stimulating.
I Have Spoken to You from Heaven: A Catholic Defense of Creation in Six Days, by Hugh Owen with Mark Koehne and Gerard Keane, The Kolbe Center for the Study of Creation, 204 pages, $10.00 printavailable from publishers at: http://kolbecenter.org/
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