Creation Rediscovered, by Gerard J. Keane

Chapter 13 - The Position within Catholicism - Part One

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Origins Still Awaiting Clarification

Many Catholics overlook the fact that prior to the modern era there was little need for Magisterial declarations on Origins, and they come to the conclusion therefore that Evolution beliefs pose little danger for Catholicism.

Cardinal Ernesto Ruffini, in his 1940's analysis showing how human evolution is irreconcilable with Catholic doctrine, sought to establish from the Bible and from Catholic Tradition what God has revealed about the beginning of the world and the origin of mankind. He noted that the science of genetics gives no support to Evolution and that the ever-elusive mechanism of Evolution is missing. (If Evolution never happened, there is no mechanism to find.) He also succinctly defined the role of the Catholic Church as personally commissioned by Jesus Christ to teach doctrine until the end of time:

"Christ established an organization to continue, until the end of the world, the bringing of men to eternal happiness. This organization is the Catholic Church. He endowed His Church with the prerogative of infallibility so that it cannot err in teaching and interpreting His doctrine. God's revelation to man, which is called a Deposit, is found in the Bible, written under divine inspiration, and in Tradition. By Tradition is meant not something vague or legendary, but the actual living teaching of the Church itself which, under the abiding assistance of God promised by Christ, ever continues to transmit to men the doctrines received from Christ and His Apostles.

"Important witnesses of this Tradition are those ecclesiastical writers of the early centuries who are called Fathers of the Church. Divine revelation is so vast in extent and so profound in content, that sometimes its meaning can be determined only after study and discussion. Progress in this field consists in the deeper understanding by men of what is contained in revelation. The knowledge given to us by God is as unchangeably true as are the truths of mathematics."[1]

The Origins debate is essentially a fairly modern controversy within Christianity. Apart from speculation by ancient Greeks some 600 years before Christ, the Evolution Theories of Naturalists (which were supposedly based on phenomenal data) only began to impact man's thought substantially from the early 19th century. The idea that Scripture contains true history (described "according to appearances"), as well as presented in the literal-as-given obvious sense, was first explained by Pope Leo XIII as recently as 1893. Thus, various Origins aspects have not been fully addressed in Tradition and still await clarification by the Magisterium.

Many Catholics incline toward generalized concepts of Theistic Evolution and argue that "Evolution" could have been the method of Creation used by God. (At issue, however, is what God actually chose to do when creating the Universe and all creatures and plants, and not what He could have done.) Many are loath to accept as literally true any passage in the Genesis Creation accounts, and appeals to Tradition tend to be dismissed as irrelevant. The Pentateuch tends to be seen as primarily applicable in a "salvation history" sense, as if it were known with certainty that the Divine Author did not intend to convey history. At stake in the Origins debate is nothing less than the integrity of Genesis, so foundational to the Church founded by Jesus Christ.

Catholic proponents of Evolution find little real comfort in official Magisterial teachings. But their openness to Theistic Evolution necessarily involves a departure from standard Evolution Theory, in favor implicitly of innumerable divine interventions. In addition, they now face another problem of credibility. Not only was polygenism (many "first parents") effectively prohibited in the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church (endorsed by Pope John Paul II), but various Creation aspects were reiterated in it. In contrast, the word "Evolution" was not specifically mentioned even once in this catechism!

Many paragraphs in the Catechism of the Catholic Church relate to Creation themes, including the following: The existence of God can be known by reason; the Bible is totally free from error; the great trustworthiness of God, who cannot deceive; the very point of creation of the Universe was to create human beings; God did not make death - which only came into the world because of Adam's sin (Romans 5:12); human nature is thus wounded in its natural powers and the whole of Creation groans also in result; the importance of secondary causes; the great need to be mindful of Catholic Tradition; the Flood is mentioned in covenant context. A few sections which could vaguely be said to support evolutionary concepts are also explicable by Special Creation beliefs. For example,

"The question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life forms and the appearance of man. . . . (283).

"The great interest accorded to these studies is strongly stimulated by a question of another order, which goes beyond the proper domain of the natural sciences. It is not only a question of knowing when and how the universe arose physically, or when man appeared, but rather of discovering the meaning of such an origin: is the universe governed by chance, blind fate, anonymous necessity, or by a transcendent, intelligent and good Being called 'God'? . . ." (284).

The Catholic Church is unlikely to enter into and make pronouncements on matters which belong only in empirical science, but where empirical science and theology overlap, the Church is entitled to and has declared on important matters which affect the salvation of souls (e.g., with regard to abortion, in vitro fertilization and contraception). Thus, it is entirely appropriate for the Church to declare upon Origins matters, such as the possibility of Adam and Eve's being derived from previously living matter, or upon the historical reality of the Flood, or upon other important Origins aspects in which the domain of scientists, theologians, and exegetes can overlap.

In view of actual Magisterial teachings, Genesis cannot be written off as applicable only in fanciful "salvation history evolutionist scenarios." Nor can it be written off as a "story" understood in existentialist scenarios, as proposed by Rudely Tilman in his quest to demythologize Scripture. Despite current widespread disobedience to its doctrinal teachings, the Catholic Church still officially forbids the teaching of Evolution as though it were already proved.

The Church is bound to prohibit belief in Godless Origins and Godless Evolutionism, and the teaching on Original Sin can never change because 1) it is central to the Redemption paid by our great Creator/Redeemer, and 2) the Church cannot overturn even one doctrine already defined as true; otherwise, all credibility of Catholic Tradition would be lost. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, "the Church, which has the mind of Christ, knows very well that we cannot tamper with the revelation of Original Sin without undermining the mystery of Christ." (389). (Emphasis added.)

In view of so many weird Origins views constantly being advocated by so many scholars around the world - contradictory of doctrine and harmful to the Church founded by Jesus Christ - one can only hope and pray that the Magisterium of the Church will recognize the need for an updated encyclical on Origins, to bring enlightenment where now there is great confusion. One must also hope that a wide range of views will be consulted, and not only those of the present Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the present Pontifical Biblical Commission.

The Doctrine of Original Sin

At the heart of the Origins controversy lies the doctrine of Original Sin, a teaching central to Christianity. As well as Pope Pius XII in Humani Generis (1950), Pope Paul VI endorsed its foundational importance in quite unmistakable terms in his Credo of the People of God (1968):

"We believe that in Adam all have sinned. By that we mean that the original sin he committed affected human nature itself. In what way? Through his sin, human nature, common to all men, fell into a state in which it incurs the consequences of his act. This new state, then, is not the one in which human nature first existed in our First Parents. They, in their origin, were set up by God in a state of holiness and righteousness. They had no experience of evil or of sin. But it is their fallen nature which has been passed on to all their descendants.

"These are, in consequence, destitute of the gift of grace that once adorned human nature. They are wounded even in their natural powers. They have incurred a liability to death which Adam and Eve passed on to all their descendants. All that is what we mean when we say "Man is born in sin." In accordance with the teaching of the Council of Trent, we likewise hold that original sin is transmitted along with human nature, and not acquired by imitation. We hold therefore that it is in each one of us as something proper to each person." [2]

The 1992 Catechism also reiterated the teaching on Original Sin in unmistakable terms:

"How did the sin of Adam become the sin of all his descendants? The whole human race is in Adam "as one body of one man." By this "unity of the human race" all men are implicated in Adam's sin, as all are implicated in Christ's Justice. Still, the transmission of original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand. But we do know by revelation that Adam had received original holiness and justice, not for himself alone, but for all human nature.

"By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state. It is a sin which will be transmitted by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice. And that is why original sin is called "sin" only in an analogical sense: it is a sin "contracted" and not "committed" - a state and not an act." (404).

"Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam's descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it; subject to ignorance, suffering, and the dominion of death; and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called "concupiscence." Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ's grace, erases original sin and turns a man back toward God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle." (405). [Emphasis added.]

Clearly, Adam was the one who committed the Original Sin, and all mankind is wounded in consequence. The Catholic Church does not officially accept the speculation that "we all have chosen sin," a revisionist view which tries to accommodate polygenism by inferring that each one of us, being sinful, has rejected God as did early mankind. (In such a view, Adam and Eve would be only symbolic representations of mankind.)

In view of the massive dissent from Catholic belief which erupted openly in the 1960Õs (emerging when the Church still appeared doctrinally united, with the traditional Latin Rite of Mass still in use throughout the Western Church), in view of the ongoing dramatic decline in religious practice and the revisionist distortion of Original Sin, the concern raised by Cardinal Ruffini in the 1940's has turned out to be quite prophetic:

"If, in the question of man's creation, the obvious meaning of the Bible is abandoned, a meaning which has been received and confirmed by constant Catholic Tradition, what attempt can be made to defend the account of the earthly Paradise, of the fall of Adam and its consequences? If it be admitted that the body of an animal became fit in the course of centuries to be informed by the human soul, will the unity of the human race remain sufficiently established against polygenism? And if this unity collapses, what will be the fate of the doctrine of original justice and original sin which constitutes the foundation of our sacred religion?" [3]

Prior to release of the 1992 Catechism, the major pronouncement by the Magisterium on Origins was in the encyclical Humani Generis (1950), in which important doctrinal teachings of past Church Councils were reiterated by Pope Pius XII.

Catholic Tradition

Despite the vague, highly tenuous Evolution scenarios proposed by modern Catholic evolutionists, how could the Catholic Church ever officially accept that the bodies of Adam and Eve were the product of natural Evolution? How could Adam and Eve have evolved naturally from previously living matter when DNA will not allow it to happen? The only recourse for the evolutionist is to argue that God intervened and miraculously transformed non-human life into human beings, and instantaneously created their rational souls - but Genesis gives no hint that this actually happened.

Why not believe the Genesis revelation that God miraculously transformed some non-living "dust" (understood now as elementary particles) from the ground into the living body of Adam? Cardinal Ruffini also argued strongly (Ruffini, pp. 124-136) that famous teachers as far separated in time as St. Irenaeus, St. John Chrysostom, St. Ambrose, St Jerome, St. Thomas Aquinas and Pope Pius XI all taught that Adam was directly created by God from the "dust" or "slime" of the earth. A strong case can thus be made that truth known from Tradition effectively renders impermissible the idea of "evolution" of the human body:

"To these authorities - Holy Scripture, the Holy Fathers, major and minor theologians - we must add the Christian sense (sensus fidelium, the faithful echo of the Church's teaching), so universal on this question and so certain that almost no member of the faithful would be free from surprise and scandal if he heard the teaching that Adam was born of beasts, that the blood in his veins was the blood of animals, that the human race, as regards the flesh, is related to the brute beasts." [4]

"If it is true that the body of woman was formed directly by God and thus does not come by way of evolution, who will be persuaded that man's body comes from the brute beast? What an absurdity! . . . If we wish to stand by Holy Scripture we must accept it in its entirety. . . . She gets the name Virago (ishah: woman) because she is taken from the vir (ish: man); likewise the man is called Adam (=homo) because, as Genesis says, he is taken from the adamah (=humus). Whenever Holy Scripture speaks of the origin of the human body, it always names the Earth and only the Earth." [5]

In a learned analysis of Church doctrine in relation to the question of Origins, Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner has shown that Tradition demonstrates the Church's constant opposition to Evolution Theory down the centuries as regards the origin of the world and of the many species, especially of the human species. As well as drawing on the teachings of the early Church Fathers and of various popes, Fr. Fehlner notes the declarations of the Vienne, Fifth Lateran, Trent, and the First Vatican Councils. He also observes that

"Evolutionary theories stress the continuity of development between the species from the lower to the higher, as well as a sufficient duration to permit the operation of natural or artificial causes according to the laws governing these. Catholic teaching stresses an essential discontinuity in the case of those essences, whose limits were fixed by the Creator and which cannot be modified by the intervention of natural or artificial agents of a finite power. [The Church] has never pretended in any instance of observable species, on the basis of revelation, to know what those limits are. But that there are such limits, even at the level of inanimate existence, sound science as well as philosophy has tended to confirm." [6]

Fr. Fehlner also points out why Evolutionism cannot, by definition, be accepted by the Magisterium:

"Good arguments can actually be adduced in fact to show that evolution is simply not a scientific hypothesis. It is a dogma providing the context for all scientific endeavors. And it is just this assumption of evolutionism as the universal paradigm that directly conflicts with the teaching of the Church . . .

"The doctrine of creation, in general and in all its detail, is intimately bound up with the mystery of salvation. That is why no Catholic may call into question any aspect of the doctrine of creation which in fact the Church believes related to the mystery of salvation without also doubting that latter mystery." [7]

In the light of Tradition, there can be little doubt that Adam was directly created when God made his body using the "dust" or "slime" of the earth. Eve was also directly created by God, using a portion of Adam's body around which the rest of her body was created. Their rational souls were also directly created at the same time as their bodies.

As Cardinal Ruffini strongly argued in his book (Ruffini, p. 120), it is known with certainty that Eve's body was formed directly by God and definitely was not the product of Evolution. Ruffini also argued that the Church Fathers unanimously interpreted the text relative to the formation of Eve in its proper literal sense (Ruffini, p. 121), even typifying the origin of the Church from the side of Christ crucified.

In addition, as brought to our attention by Fr. Brian Harrison, O.S., [8] Pope Leo XIII taught clearly in 1880 in the encyclical letter Arcane Divinae Sapientiae (Christian Marriage) that Adam and Eve are our first parents and that Eve was created from a portion of Adam's body:

"We record what is to all known, and cannot be doubted by any, that God, on the sixth day of creation, having made man from the slime of the earth, and having breathed into his face the breath of life, gave him a companion, whom He miraculously took from the side of Adam when he was locked in sleep. God thus, in His most far-reaching foresight, decreed that this husband and wife should be the natural beginning of the human race, from whom it might be propagated, and preserved by an unfailing fruitfulness throughout all futurity of time." [9]

Also, Pope Pelagius I, in writing to King Childebert I in the year 557, declared his own strong conviction that neither Adam nor Eve was born of other parents but were instead created, and that Eve was created from a portion of Adam's body:

"For I confess that all men from Adam, even to the consummation of the world, having been born and having died with Adam himself and his wife, who were not born of other parents, but were created, the one from the earth, the other [al.: altera], however, from the rib of man [cf. Gen. 2:7, 22]." [10]

As Fr. Harrison points out, Vatican II, in Lumen Gentium, para. 25, recognized four conditions which must be fulfilled in order for a doctrine to be proposed infallibly by the ordinary Magisterium. He argues powerfully that these conditions had been fulfilled by the year 1880 with respect to doctrines regarding the origin of Adam and Eve recalled by Leo XIII. The effective infallible teaching of the ordinary Magisterium in Catholic Tradition, by Popes and bishops, has been rejection of naturalistic evolution of Adam and Eve. (And once infallible, always infallible - by definition.) The four conditions cited as amply fulfilled by Fr. Harrison are as follows:

1. The Catholic bishops teaching the doctrine must be in communion among themselves and with Peter's successor.

2. The bishops must be teaching authentically in matters of faith and morals.

3. The teaching in question must be one that the popes and bishops agree upon. (General unity, not necessarily absolute unanimity.)

4. The teaching of the popes and bishops must be presented as one to be held definitively.

Nevertheless, many Catholics (both clergy and laity) still cling to evolutionary scenarios, hoping - against the voluminous evidence - that the mechanism of Evolution will emerge. But there is no justification in resorting to highly fanciful, implausible, theistic evolutionary explanations for the origin of Eve. The Genesis account is specific; she was directly created when God fashioned her body from a portion of Adam's body, and this fact was affirmed by the Ordinary Magisterium by Pope Leo XIII in 1880.

Regarding the origin of Eve's body, the attempted synthesis of Evolution Theory with Catholic theology was bound to founder on Catholic Tradition. In fact, it was clearly doomed back in 1880 by Leo XIII, long before modern science could shed clear light on the behavior of DNA. Ironically, the "father" of the science of genetics - Fr. Gregor Mendel (d. 1884) - was still alive in 1880 and his published but unheralded scientific findings would not be rediscovered until the early 1900s.

With respect to the possibility of "special transformism," as distinct from "natural transformism," can serious credence be given to divine intervention scenarios in any so-called "evolutionary" origin of Adam and Eve? Divine intervention scenarios for the "evolutionary" origin of Adam and Eve are really highly speculative and unwarranted and ought to be rejected. Such scenarios have an aspect in common with the highly fanciful notion of "punctuated equilibrium" - that of being open to the charge of trying to prove something by the complete absence of proof.


1. Ernesto Cardinal Ruffini, The Theory of Evolution Judged by Reason and Faith (New York: Joseph F. Wagner, Inc.), p. 64. (1959 English translation by Fr. Francis O'Hanlon, Melbourne, Australia). Originally published in Italian in the 1940's.
2. Pope Paul VI, Credo of the People of God, Section 16.
3. Ruffini, The Theory of Evolution, p. 164.
4. Ibid., p. 137.
5. Ibid., p. 123. Emphasis added.
6. Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner, "In the Beginning" (Three-part series published in Christ to the World, Rome: Via di Propaganda, 1988), Volume XXXIII, Nos. 1-4, p. 243.
7. Ibid., pp. 246, 247.
8. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., "Did The Human Body Evolve Naturally? A Forgotten Papal Declaration." Living Tradition, Nos. 73-74. (Jan.-March 1998).
9. Pope Leo XIII, encyclical letter Arcanum Divinae Sapientiae - The Pope and the People (London: Catholic Truth Society, 1910), p. 178.
10. Pope Pelagius I, from Fide Pelagii in the letter Humani Generis to Childebert I, April, 557, The Sources of Catholic Dogma, Henry Denzinger's Enchiridion Symbolorum [228a] (30th Edition, 1957).

Copyright © 1999 by Gerard J. Keane, Tan Books and Publishers

Creation Rediscovered, Chapter 13 - The Position within Catholicism - Part Two

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