Everybody agrees that the theory of evolution, in its atheist-materialist form, is a pernicious evil and a grave threat to the Catholic faith. However, I also find very suspect the notion of "theistic" evolution which has become popular in Catholic (and some Protestant) circles in the past few decades. I for one am distressed by the seeming joy with which Catholics embrace evolution. If one compares the Church's statements on evolution throughout the years, we see a basic shift in the way the whole notion is approached. In the pre-Vatican II period, evolution is approached with a great caution, and the circumstances under which a Catholic can entertain it are greatly minimized.
However, since the 1960's, and in part due to the corrupting yet pervasive influence of Teilhard de Chardin, the Church at large has shifted its thinking on this matter to a minimalist approach which emphasizes the execptions and the loopholes. We see a similar trend has happened regarding salvation outside the Church: while it was always admitted that it was possible for persons not formally admitted to the Church to be saved, the pre-V2 Church tended to emphasize the normative means of salvation within the Church while acknowledging that invincible ignorance or baptism of desire is possible, while the post-V2 Church emphasized invincible ignorance and baptism of desire until everyone was practically an anonymous Catholic, and the extraordinary was exalted about the ordinary.
If we apply this to evolution, modern Catholics tend to feel a sense of relief when they find out that they can still entertain evolution under certain conditions. "Whew! I am sure am glad I'm not bound to believe that six-day creation stuff!" But are you? Is theistic evolution a permissible thing to believe in?
For too many, the Church's statements on evolution are confined to Humani Generis and John Paul II's address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the latter of which can in no way be interpreted as an "update" of the Church's teaching. Let's look at two examples of Catholic teaching on evolution from the 19th century.
First, we have this explicit statement from the provincial Council of Cologne in 1860, which was held the year after Darwin's Origin of Species was published. In that Council, it was declared that "Our first parents were formed immediately by God. Therefore we declare that...those who...assert...man...emerged from spontaneous continuous change of imperfect nature to the more perfect, is clearly opposed to Sacred Scripture and to the Faith." Granted this is not an infallible statement from a pope or council, but it is a teaching of the ordinary magisterium which reflects the mind of the Church at that time. Clearly, the Church of 1860 thought that the idea of "continuous change" in man was opposed to the Faith.
Ten years later, we come to this famous statement from the First Vatican Council:
“If anyone does not confess that the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, as regards their whole substance, have been produced by God from nothing, let him be anathema.”
This statement is much more weighty than the first, as it comes from an ecumenical council and anathematizes anyone who would deny it. It's impact on theistic evolution comes with the clause "as regards to their whole substance." Clearly, theistic evolutionists do not deny creation ex nihilo, nor the special creation of man by God, nor God's creation of the immaterial along with the material. But what they do deny is that creatures, and mankind specifically, was created at once by God "as regards their whole substance."
What is implied by this phrase, "their whole substance?" This is a disputed point, but to me it seems pretty clear. Substance is the essence of what a thing is, everything that makes it itself and not something else. So, the substance of man is human nature. Therefore, Vatican I teaches, everything that pertains to human nature was created directly from God out of nothing. This implies two things: one, the first man had everything pertaining to human nature and was in all ways a whole man, "with regards to [his] whole substance." Second, that this whole substance was created directly by God out of nothing, which precludes the possibility that the body could have evolved from earlier life forms, since that would not be "produced from God out of nothing."
But perhaps one will say that everything proper to human nature (free will, intellect, and immortal soul) was created directly by God in the first man, but that the material element alone evolved (as Pius XII seems to indicate it is permissible to explore in Humani Generis). To this I would reply that we do not take a Cartesian view of man. Vatican I says man, as pertains to his whole substance, was created by God ex nihilo. Free will, intellect, and the soul are some of the most excellent things about man and pertain to his higher calling, but they are not the totality of human nature, for part of human nature is to have a body, since man is a composite being.
The human body itself is part of the substance of man, which Vatican I says was created in its "whole substance" directly by God ex nihilo. Therefore we cannot hold that one part of man's substance evolved while another was created immediately.
Therefore, it seems to me that the Church, in its official declaration of Vatican I and in the statement that came out of the Council of Cologne, condemns any evolution whatsoever, especially atheistic but also theistic. Opposition to this view from theistic evolutionists revolve around a different interpretation of that clause, "with regards to their whole substance," in sayng that it is not meant to refer to the body, but some other part of man. But it seems to me that substance encompasses the term "body" within it, since to be man is to be embodied.
I do not think the Church has ever mandated that one believe any certain time for when this Creation happened, but it seems rather likely that immediate, spontaneous Creation is a de fide dogma. Any comments?