ORGAN OF THE ROMAN THEOLOGICAL FORUM
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Living Tradition, Oblates of Wisdom, P.O. Box 13230, St. Louis, MO 63157, USA
|No. 73-74||Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study Program||January-March 1998|
by Brian W. Harrison
What is the true origin of marriage? That, Venerable Brethren, is a matter of common knowledge. For although the detractors of the Christian faith shrink from acknowledging the Church's permanent doctrine on this matter, and persist in their long-standing efforts to erase the history of all nations and all ages, they have nonetheless been unable to extinguish, or even to weaken, the strength and light of the truth. We call to mind facts well-known to all and doubtful to no-one: after He formed man from the slime 6 of the earth on the sixth day of creation, and breathed into his face the breath of life, God willed to give him a female companion, whom He drew forth wondrously from the man's side as he slept. In bringing this about, God, in His supreme Providence, willed that this spousal couple should be the natural origin of all men: in other words, that from this pair the human race should be propagated and preserved in every age by a succession of procreative acts which would never be interrupted. And so that this union of man and woman might correspond more aptly to the most wise counsels of God, it has manifested from that time onward, deeply impressed or engraved, as it were, within itself, two preeminent and most noble properties: unity and perpetuity. 7In concluding this paragraph on the "true origin" of marriage, Pope Leo refers to the teaching of Jesus himself in Matthew ch. 19, confirming that these fundamental properties of marriage were ordained by God from the very beginning.
Our first parents were formed immediately by God. Therefore we declare that the opinion of those who do not fear to assert that this human being, man as regards his body, emerged finally from the spontaneous continuous change of imperfect nature to the more perfect, is clearly opposed to Sacred Scripture and to the Faith. 13Champions of Darwin such as Thomas Henry Huxley gained enormous prominence round the world as publicists for the new ideas in the succeeding years. Huxley accurately understood the mind of the Catholic Church at that period, asserting in 1873 that the theory of (natural) evolution was utterly incompatible with "Catholic theology," since the latter was, as he put it, "based on the assumption of the truth of the account of the origin of things given in the Book of Genesis." 14 Darwin's Descent of Man was published in the following year, 1874, giving still further international prominence to the application of evolutionary theory to the specific question of human origins. It is obvious, then, that these thinkers and writers, and others of their ilk, are precisely those whom Leo XIII has in mind, writing in 1880, as being the latest in that line of "detractors of the Christian faith" who have long been striving to "erase" or "blot out" (delere) the commonly accepted history of human origins. In total agreement with Huxley as to the content of Catholic doctrine on this point, while in total opposition to him as to its truth, the Pontiff presents here not the naive "assumption," but the carefully premeditated assertion, that Catholics must indeed accept (in Huxley's words) "the truth of the account of the origin of things given in the Book of Genesis."
I acknowledge . . . that all men from Adam onward who have been born and have died up to the end of the world will then rise again and stand "before the judgment-seat of Christ," together with Adam himself and his wife, who were not born of other parents, but were created: one from the earth and the other from the side of the man (. . . ). 443. Thirdly, Vatican II states that the teaching in question must be one that the popes and Catholic bishops agree upon (in unam sententiam . . . conveniunt). (This agreement, as all theologians are aware, need only be that of a moral or general unity, not an absolute, exceptionless unanimity - something which in any case would nearly always be difficult, if not impossible, to verify in practice.)
This, our Holy Mother the Church believes and teaches: When God was about to make man according to His image and likeness in order that he might rule over the whole earth, He breathed into the body formed from the slime of the earth the breath of life, that is, a soul produced from nothing. . . . And blessing the first man and Eve his wife who was formed by divine power from his side, God said: "Increase and multiply, and fill the earth" (Gen. 1: 28). 47This passage, which presents the Genesis account of the way in which Adam's and Eve's bodies were formed as straightforward history, naturally suggests the traditional understanding of these events as immediate, divine interventions. It is noteworthy that while the words "the breath of life" are explained as being a symbol or metaphor (for the soul), no similar explanation is offered for the expressions "slime of the earth" or "from his side." If the authors had wished to indicate that they were prescinding from the question of whether or not those expressions are to be understood literally, they could easily have done so by placing them in inverted commas.
Before the coming of Christ the whole pagan world was plunged in darkness impenetrable concerning the origin of man and the world, and the sublime destinies appointed in Christ for Adam and his posterity in the very beginning. Christian teaching dispelled this midnight darkness and revealed to all believers both the secret of man's origin and the incomprehensible glory of his supernatural destinies. . . . So, in these first verses and pages of Genesis - the Book of Origins - we are treading on abysses of revealed truth - of truth which explains to us both the world beneath and around us, and that unmeasured world which extends on all sides above and beyond our little globe, . . . 54Now, if evolution of any sort, even special transformism, were the true origin of man, it would be a bizarre exaggeration to say that "Christian teaching [i.e., the traditional or classical teaching which O'Reilly is referring to] "dispelled" the "midnight darkness [of paganism] and revealed to all believers . . . the secret of man's origin." For the simple biblical statement that God formed Adam "from the slime of the earth," even supposing it to be compatible with an evolutionary origin for Adam's body, cannot be said to reveal anything whatsoever of such an origin. That O'Reilly assumed Adam to have been formed immediately from inorganic matter is also insinuated in his reference to a possible link between Adam's name and the "red earth from which he was made." 55 Finally, as further evidence of the finality and certainty which is ascribed to the historical truth of Genesis in this work - a historical truth understood to include the immediate formation of Adam from slime or dust - we read in regard to the Pentateuch:
Of all books ever written, this fivefold book of Moses is the only one that enlightens us with infallible certainty on the origin of all things in this universe, visible and invisible; on the creation of mankind and their destinies; on their duties, during this life, toward their Almighty Creator and toward each other, and on the rewards and punishments of the eternal life hereafter. 56In short, we have here a book expressly approved by dozens of Catholic bishops which assumes as certain and undoubted that Adam was formed directly from lifeless matter. Since this belief is incompatible with even the most cautious evolutionary hypothesis, that of special transformism, then a fortiori it excludes natural transformism. In this essay my claim is limited to the more cautious thesis that natural transformism, at least, is excluded infallibly by the cumulative weight of ordinary episcopal and papal teaching up to that of Leo XIII. I would not, however, rule out the possibility that future scientific, exegetical, and theological study could in future lead the Church to determine with certainty that any form of human evolution is incompatible with Scripture and Catholic faith. After all, the example of ordinary episcopal teaching represented by O'Reilly's book could probably be supplemented by any number of similar examples emanating from Catholic hierarchies in other countries round the globe, century after century. For instance, a dogma text used in Rome itself at the time Arcanum was promulgated - authored by a professor of the Pope's own seminary, the Collegio Romano, and published by the Vatican's Propaganda Fide press - affirms as its 25th thesis: "It is certain that [man] did not begin to exist as the result of some organic and animal evolutionary process, but was established directly in his species by God." 57 Father (later Cardinal) Camillo Mazzella was professor of dogma at Rome's Gregorian University at this time. His text describes the immediate or direct formation of Adam's body as a "most certain truth" which is "established from divine revelation." 58 A text used by the Austrian Jesuits at this period denounces natural transformism (as expounded by the English Catholic lay scholar Mivart in the 1870s) as "completely false, if not heretical." 59 All this can serve as a reminder of the background, the substratum, the huge and monolithic consensus on which Leo XIII's 1880 declaration is based.
It is important to bear in mind that if at any one period of time the conditions for an infallible teaching are fulfilled, then that teaching can be recognised then and at all subsequent times as certainly true. And it follows, as a matter of elementary logic, that its truth and certainty can in no way be affected by the fact that at some later period some, even a considerable number, of Catholic bishops fall away from this teaching, or fail to recognise that it was once infallibly taught. 63In short, once infallible, always infallible - by definition! One could add to what Finnis says that the principle he enunciates will still hold good even if most bishops and even some popes should fall away for a time from such a teaching, or at least cease to insist on it. When Pope John XXII publicly taught on three occasions in 1331-1332 that the souls of the blessed will not enjoy the beatific vision until the final judgment, certain theologians did not hesitate to dissent strongly and publicly from this teaching, on the same kind of grounds as those to which I have appealed in this essay, namely, that such an opinion went contrary to the constant ordinary teaching of the Church, even though this had never up till that time been solemnly defined by Pope or Council. Pope John eventually came to realize the weight of this earlier consensus against his view, and so formally retracted it shortly before his death in the Bull Ne super his (3 December 1334). 64
God formed man and crowned his brow with the diadem of his image and likeness. . . . Only from man could there come another man who could call him father and parent; and the helpmate given to the first man also comes from him and is flesh of his flesh . . . . Her name comes from the man, because she was taken from him. 66At first sight the words emphasised might appear to rule out special as well as natural transformism as explanations of the origin of the first man. However, in the light of the Pope's next remarks in the same discourse, to the effect we should await further light from biology and palæontology in regard to human origins, that conclusion would seem to be unjustified. The words in question do rule out natural transformism, however, since if Adam's body were the result of an exclusively natural generative process, the male hominid who generated Adam could hardly be denied the status of being his "father and parent." The fact that Adam's soul was infused directly by God would not be a sufficient reason for denying the said hominid that status: our own souls, too, are directly infused by God, and yet nobody suggests that, because of that fact, the man immediately responsible for our presence here is not our "father and parent." Nor could we argue that the far higher dignity or ontological status of Adam, as the "image and likeness of God," is a good reason for denying the hypothetical brute who generated Adam's body the status of being his "father." For then, in consistency, we should have to sustain the Nestorian heresy that Mary cannot be called "Mother of God," since Jesus, as a divine Person, was ontologically of infinitely greater dignity than the holy, but created, woman who bore Him in her womb.
It is to be noted that as regards the method in which evolution may be supposed to have taken place the words used in the Encyclical are "from already existing living material." Undoubtedly the words "from a brute beast" were avoided lest it might be supposed that man, if evolved, could have been derived from a brute beast by natural generation, an obvious supposition, but impossible, since there would be no proportion between cause and effect. But the formula "from existing living material" makes it clear that if evolution did take place, it was through some power given from outside to the material, and therefore by the special action of God.The reigning Pontiff, John Paul II, has never contradicted the traditional doctrine by teaching that such special action on the part of God may in fact be "excluded from the hypothesis" of evolution by faithful Catholics. It is true that he has not made the distinction between special and natural transformism in his discourses on this matter, but in his most important intervention on the subject of evolution, the message of 24 October 1996 to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pope John Paul makes it clear that as regards the doctrinal (as distinct from the scientific) state of the question, his intention is to adhere to the position already adopted by Pius XII in this regard. He appeals to and confirms the teaching of Humani Generis in three distinct passages in his discourse, 69 and in the last of these repeats explicitly that terminology which, as we have seen, implies that special transformism is the only kind of evolutionary hypothesis (or theory) which might be compatible with revealed truth: "Pius XII had underlined this essential point: if the human body has its origin in pre-existent living matter, the spiritual soul is created directly by God . . ." 70
The admission of liberty of discussion about the fact of transformism must not be taken to mean that special action or influx on the part of God may be excluded from the hypothesis. 68