Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Increasingly Non-Committal Christmas Proclamation

Christmas is almost upon us. Whether you go to the Traditional Latin Mass or the Novus Ordo, most of us will hear some form of the traditional Christmas Proclamation. The Christmas Proclamation is not part of the 1962 Missale Romanum (being originally associated with the Divine Office and the hours of Prime), but a many EF Masses include a reading of the Proclamation prior to the midnight Mass.

The Christmas Proclamation is meant to situate the Incarnation of our Lord in the context of salvation history by relating it to other important events and persons of the Old Testament and emphasizing how Christ's Incarnation happened "in the fulness of time" (Gal. 4:5).

The Traditional Christmas Proclamation as used in the Latin rite reads:
The twenty-fifth day of December.
In the five thousand one hundred and ninety-ninth year of the creation of the world
from the time when God in the beginning created the heavens and the earth;
the two thousand nine hundred and fifty-seventh year after the flood;
the two thousand and fifteenth year from the birth of Abraham;
the one thousand five hundred and tenth year from Moses
and the going forth of the people of Israel from Egypt;
the one thousand and thirty-second year from David's being anointed king;

It is interesting to see how this Proclamation has changed with the coming of the Novus Ordo. It was not promulgated in NO Masses until 1980, when John Paul II restored it to the Christmas liturgy. In the revised English Christmas Proclamation, as adopted by the USCCB in 1994, we see that some changes were made to the traditional dating [bolded]:

Today, the twenty-fifth day of December,
unknown ages from the time when God created the heavens and the earth and then formed man and woman in his own image
Several thousand years after the flood, when God made the rainbow shine forth as a sign of the covenant.
Twenty-one centuries from the time of Abraham and Sarah;
thirteen centuries after Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt.
Eleven hundred years from the time of Ruth and the Judges;
one thousand years from the anointing of David as kin

We have moved from asserting the Incarnation happened "in the five thousand one hundred and ninety-ninth year of the creation of the world" to saying that this happened "unknown ages from the time when God created the heavens and the earth." And, "two thousand nine hundred and fifty-seventh year after the Flood" has become, "several thousand years after the Flood."

The current version of the Christmas proclamation is even more watered down. Here is the official 2004 version in the Novus Ordo as listed on the website of the USCCB for Christmas of 2014:

The Twenty-fifth Day of December,
when ages beyond number had run their course from the creation of the world,
when God in the beginning created heaven and earth,
and formed man in his own likeness;
when century upon century had passed
since the Almighty set his bow in the clouds after the Great Flood,
as a sign of covenant and peace;
in the twenty-first century since Abraham, our father in faith,
came out of Ur of the Chaldees;
in the thirteenth century since the People of Israel were led by Moses
in the Exodus from Egypt;
around the thousandth year since David was anointed King;

"Unknown ages" from the Creation has now become "ages beyond number." I thought the amount of ages was "unknown"? Apparently the committees who decide these things thought that, despite stating that the amount of ages since the beginning was "unknown", we have now learned (just since 2004) that it was actually "ages without number." Whereas the 1994 amendment places the flood "several thousand years"  ago, the newer amendment says "century upon century", which is an even more indeterminate amount of time - "century upon century" could mean ten centuries or ten thousand centuries.

A few other quirks: Notice that the traditional "one thousand and thirty-second year from David's being anointed king" in 1994 was changed to the more general "one thousand years from the anointing of David as king" and then at last in 2004 to the extraordinarily non-committal "around the thousandth year since David was anointed King." What is "around the thousandth year"? Is that give or take a decade? A century? Two centuries? Also Ruth and the Judges briefly appear in the 1994 version only to disappear in the 2004 version.

I think we can infer two things from these changes.

Some time ago, I noted in my article "The Solemn Enthronement of Evolution" that it is totally incorrect when people say the Catholic Church has 'never had a problem with evolution.' When evolution was first proposed back in the mid-1800's, the Church had a huge problem with it; Catholic publications sympathetic to Darwinism were condemned and placed on the Index. The Church's objections had to do with the concept of substance. If evolution is true, even theistic evolution, then there really is no underlying Being that undergoes accidental change but is not itself changed. Being is becoming. Everything is in a state of flux. In short, there can be no concept of substance with an evolutionary model. This has striking implications for a number of things, including human nature and transubstantiation. I recommend the article linked above for a more thorough treatment of this problem.

The Christmas Proclamation demonstrates that, yes, the Church traditionally did assume a literal, historical reading of Genesis and the Creation. This is not to say that the Church has infallibly taught that the world was created in 5199 B.C.; and the Christmas Proclamation is not even formally part of the Missale Romanum, so we are not asserting anything infallibly or suggesting that opinions to the contrary are heresy. But this does suggest that the Church's Tradition has strongly favored a literal reading of the Genesis account. Remember, the according to Msgr. Agius in The Church and Tradition, the Church's prime constitutive tradition is her liturgical practices. So while the literalism favored by the Christmas Proclamation does not establish anything with absolute authority, at the same time,the dating in the Proclamation is not meaningless.

The second thing we can infer is the Church authorities are less and less comfortable with chronology when it comes to the Old Testament. The first date to be abandoned was the Creation, and then the Flood date was abandoned in favor of "several thousand years." While "several thousand years" is less specific than "two thousand nine hundred fifty-seven years", it still commits us to a time-frame of more or less a few millennia. "Several thousand years" would rule out, say, five-hundred thousand years or a million. "Several thousand" basically limits us to 2,000-5,000 years before Christ, in my personal opinion. Still, quite a bit of leeway.

But the 2004 revision is not even comfortable with that, so we get "century upon century" since the Flood, which could mean anything from 5,000 years ago to four billion years ago.

By now the dating of Abraham and Moses is called into question, too. The 1994 version gives us broad ranges of "twenty centuries" for Abraham and thirteen for Moses. The traditional date for Moses is the year the people of Israel "went forth" out of Egypt while the 1994 version gives us the date the people were "led" by Moses, which was really a period of forty years at least, again, creating more wiggle-room.

David is also adjusted from the more specific 1032 B.C. to 1000 B.C. in the 1994 version. In the 2004 version, its as if the uncertainty about chronology has seeped right up to the time of the Davidic kingdom, as the 2004 text says David ruled "around" a thousand years ago. Who knows what "around" a thousand years ago means?

My point here is not to say that one date is "wrong" and the older ones infallibly correct. My point is to establish that the Church is increasingly uncomfortable maintaining chronology when it comes to the Old Testament. This is no doubt influenced by the general acceptance of the Documentary Hypothesis, which assumes the patriarchs are fables and questions the historicity of David (see my article "Deconstructing the Documentary Hypothesis" for a thorough dismantling of this faith-destroying theory). The modern Magisterium is less and less willing to hold the line on the traditional timeline for Old Testament events.

Eventually we may see uncertainty on any dating prior to the Exile - many Documentarians have already reached this point. Perhaps a future edition of the Proclamation will look like this:

The Twenty-fifth Day of December,
thousands of eons since the creation of the world,
when God in the beginning created heaven and earth,
and formed man in his own likeness through a gradual evolution of pre-existing matter which was later ensouled at a certain point;
when tens of thousands had passed
since the pre-Camrbian age,
tons of thousands of years since Abraham may or may not have actually wandered out of Ur of the Chaldees;
in the tenth century since a few hundred Israelites were led by Moses across the six-inch deep Reed Sea in what Jewish religious experience would later call the Exodus from Egypt;
around the thousandth year - give or take three centuries - since the vagabond warlord David was anointed King over a United Kingdom that probably never existed.
Two or three centuries since the post-Exilic works known as J,E,P and D were compiled into the Torah...

Merry Christmas from Unam Sanctam Catholicam.


Anonymous said...

Does the literal reading of Genesis extend to the days of creation? If so, how are we to understand that the separation of light from darkness occurred on one of those 'days' when the very separation of one day from another, in a literal sense, presupposes the separation of light from darkness?

Boniface said...

That is beyond my skill level to answer, although Augustine addresses it in Confessions, I think Books 11 and 12, and also in "On the Literal Meaning of Genesis."

I have found in my readings that while the fathers and saints have tended to take literally that Creation happened in the not-too-distant pass, the literalism breaks down when you come to the individual days, although there is a very large segment of authors who hold to literal 24 hour days.

Anonymous said...

If there is reasonable ambiguity about the extent of the literalism of Genesis, what is a faithful Catholic to do? I see no way around the fact that the 'days' of creation do not refer to literal 24 hour periods.

Boniface said...

You don't have to resolve it, you know. You can always just say, "I don't know," or find a position that is espoused within Tradition - there are several - I identify with the one that your sensus catholicus resonates with the most. Where there is legitimate disagreement with, even among the saints and doctors, there is no harm in this, or as I said, in just admitting ignorance, which is what I do in this question.

Boniface said...

*and identify with the one...

brian springer said...

And what are those several positions?

Anyway, I found your post on the solemn enthronement of evolution to be very informative and interesting. Although I d not have a definitive opinion on whether or not some phenomenon similar to evolution has indeed occured, I am always interested in tackling the question from a philosophican angle. I believe you mention one Catholic author who criticized the theory from a metaphysical standpoint, are you aware of any Catholic authors who defend it from a similar angle? Or, who at least claim that evolution, when properly understood, does not conflict with an Aristotelean metaphysic?

I know that Biologos once gave a grant to a team of Dominican biologist, to do just that; unfortunately, I haven't heard anything back from them.

Boniface said...


Regarding the several positions:

>That the six days are strictly literal, a fairly common traditional view.
>That they each represent 1,000 years, also common.
>That they symbolize some other indeterminate amount of time.
>That they are fairly literal, but that "light" means something other than literal light.
>That they do not describe the chronological but the logical order of creation (Scott Hahn).
>That they describe logical distinctions between what was created but all actually happened simultaneously; the world was created in an instant (Augustine).
>That they don't stand for anything but are merely literary devices.
I am not aware of any Catholic authors who defend evolution by demonstrating that it does not conflict with Aristotelian metaphysics. Ratzinger of course defends evolution, but he believes that the classical concept of substance is no longer viable, so he abandons Aristotelian metaphysics.

brian springer said...

And are all those acceptable positions for a Catholic to hold? The last one sounds incompatiable with Leo XIII as well as the First Vatican Council's injunction to interpret scripture according to the judgement of the fathers. Though as far as I know, no Patristic father claims that the days in Genesis reprrsent an undetermined period of time, yet Pius X made allowances for it in the decrees of the Pontifical Biblical Academy (and this was back when it was an arm of the Magisterium).

Boniface said...

In my opinion the last option is the worst, although I can't say it's prohibited.

I do know a few Fathers and medievals said it was an indeterminate amount of time, but it was a minority position. But that's not the same as saying it stands for nothing.

Stomachosus said...

"I am not aware of any Catholic authors who defend evolution by demonstrating that it does not conflict with Aristotelian metaphysics. "

Charles DeKoninck. That is one ;)

Boniface said...


Do you know how he handles the problem of substance?

Anonymous said...

I vote for six days of 24 hours. After all, its a pretty common use of the word "day." I mean, Who are we talking about here? God? Then what is wrong with 6 DAYS.

But then I don't buy evolution, and I also accept the historical and recent reality of the Deluge.

I expect that the Christmas Proclamation to snap back to its original form in a few years, and include the following:

" and x years from the purification of the Minor Chastisement, the enthronement of the Great Monarch and the reforms of the Angelic Pastor..."

Boniface said...

I just take the 6 days literally too.

Anonymous said...

The six days as literal? Really? How could that logically be when God Himself separated light from darkness (day from night)? God created everything, time included! Did that too happen in one of those 24 hour periods?

Boniface said...

Short answer is yes. But let's leave that for another post.

Keep in mind that literal 24 hour periods were affirmed by a great number of fathers and saints. Don't dismiss it so quickly.

Anonymous said...

Ok, but I don't see how it's logical in the slightest.

Let me ask you this, which is a more general question. I was reading the article on the enthronement of evolution and noted the contrast between the first official Catholic response to the theory in 1860, which was a clear denunciation that left no room for many of the nuanced compromises later proposed by Pius XII, St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and those later compromises.

I believe this same thing has occurred with any number of matters, not just evolution. So how do we make sense of this? Either the compromises are legit or they're not. If not, then the prior statements are not only true, but seem to be authoritative. If they are legit, then it calls into question the legitimacy of prior statements.

Now, expanding this a bit, if the compromises are legit, then it seems to me to put us always in a position of needing to be skeptical of statements when they occur, at the time that they occur, because they could be reactionary, or time bound, or simply false or lacking nuance. Whatever the specific outcome may be, what's newest is truest.

This, as I see it, is the one of the central dividing lines in the Church today. If we do not definitively know how to understand the past statements, evaluate their authority and worth, then we cannot possibly make any sense of the rush of seeming compromises that occur now.

How do we arrive at the truth with all of this?

Boniface said...

I'm sorry, Anon. I see the difficulty, but with Christmas about upon us I don't really have time to address it now. But keep in mind the 1860 condemnation was by a regional synod with no binding magisterial authority, although there is (some) evidence that Pius IX approved of their proceedings. Even if so, that would not make its declarations binding. Similar with the condemnations and placing of works on the Index.

Pius XII Humani Generis remains the highest level pronouncement ever spoken on evolution itself, although as I said in the article, I think Vatican I is very relevant as well. I do agree that Pius XII "allowance" was against the mind of the 19th century Magisterium, but the 19th century Magisterium never made a high-level, authoritative pronouncement on this question, so in the strict sense Pius XII was really free to allow the compromise without formally contradicting or violating anything other than the mind of the Magisterium of Pius IX, Leo XIII and Pius X - and this happens all the time.

I'm afraid that's all I have time for now. Merry Christmas.

A.R. Danziger said...

Is that a photo of Fr. Saguto, FSSP? I know firsthand that his rendition of the Christmas Proclamation is an illustration of the ideal: both fully traditional and awe-inspiring!

Boniface said...


Yes! That is him!

(Thanks for visiting on Christmas Day)

brian springer said...

I also found something that may be of relevance. In volume 76 of the Thomist there appears an article written by Travis Dumsday entitled "Is There Still Hope for a Scholastic Ontology of Biological Species?" In which he treats this subject. You can find it online; I was able to gain access the article through Avan Aversa's Aristotelian Thomism webpage. The pages that deal with the issue are on 18-21 of the PDF file, though you should probably read the entire article which is twenty-five pages long.

I would love to tell you what Dumsday said, but I don't have a strong grasp on philosophical discourse, so I was not able follow his argument, at least not well enough to provide you with a useful summary.

brian springer said...

In addition to the article I just shared with you, I also found another author who deals more explicitly with the whole becoming vs. being debate; the name of the author is Edward Oakes; Oakes' article which is called "Dominican Evolution" can be accessed through the same resource I had given you, only this time it is in volume 77 of the Thomist. As was the case with Dumsday, I lack the training to understand Oakes' argument, but perhaps you can take a shot at it.

Ryan Carruth said...

Where did the original dating come from? What is the tradition in the divine office, and by what means did our forebears ascertain the specific dating of the patriarchs?

Johannes said...

Regarding the interpretation of the 6 days in Genesis ch. 1, let us recall the June 30, 1909 reply from the then-magisterial Pontifical Biblical Comission:

VIII : In the designation and distinction of the six days mentioned in the first chapter of Genesis may the word Yom (day) be taken either in the literal sense for the natural day or in an applied sense for a certain space of time, and may this question be the subject of free discussion among exegetes?
Answer: In the affirmative.


Note that while Genesis ch. 1 says at the end of the creative action for each day from 1st to 6th: "And there was evening and there was morning, a [nth] day.", it does not say that for the 7th day, meaning that the 7th day was still ongoing at the time of writing of Genesis.

Since in biblical reckoning of time each day is comprised of a nocturnal part followed by a diurnal part, as the quoted formula shows, I posit the following continuation of the scheme of days of Genesis ch. 1:

- day 7, nocturnal part: from the fall of Adam and Eve till the coming of Jesus;

- day 7, diurnal part: life of Jesus until sunset of Good Thursday;

- day 8, nocturnal part: Passion of Jesus and time while He was dead;

- day 8, diurnal part: from the Resurrection of Jesus till the end of times.

The diurnal part of day 7 started at Jesus' birth for Mary and Joseph (and a few selected witnesses like the shepherds) and at Jesus' baptism in the Jordan for the people of Israel at large, in analogous fashion to the fact that people on the top of a mountain see the rising sun earlier than people at the bottom of a valley.

Johannes said...

The Catholic Church could never teach that the world was created in 5199 because that number is based on Septuagint (LXX) chronology for Genesis, while the official Bible for the Catholic Church is the Vulgate, which is a translation from a quasi-Masoretical Text (MT), which features a different chronology.

This difference arises because LXX and TM differ in the ages of the Genesis' patriarchs at the time of procreating, with the LXX manuscripts, in turn, differing between themselves. Furthermore, among the LXX-based computations, the one from Eusebius' Chronicle, translated and spread by St. Jerome in his own 380 Chronicle and on which the 5199 number is based, is substantially lower than the others.

This is because Eusebius takes from each LXX manuscript the number that results in a lower elapsed time, and also omits the post-diluvian patriarch Cainan, added by the LXX and mentioned by St. Luke in his genealogy.

A clear error in Codex Vaticanus, picked by Eusebius, is that Methuselah was 167 years old when procreating, which implies that he survived the Flood by 14 years. To avoid this, this age must be corrected to 187 as in MT and Codex Alexandrinus.

With this correction, and defining the following intervals:

Tcfl: Creation - Flood
TfbA: Flood - birth of Abraham
TcbA: Creation - birth of Abraham

Source ............: Tcfl + TfbA = TcbA

Masoretic text (MT): 1656 + 0292 = 1948
Eusebius corr. (Ec): 2262 + 0942 = 3204
C. Alexandrinus (A): 2262 + 1072 = 3334
Vaticanus corr (Vc): 2262 + 1172 = 3434

From this point you must add years to a well-dated event: the destruction of the first temple in 587 bC. Here Eusebius makes a simple arithmetic mistake: when adding times from Adam to the second year of Darius he obtains 4680, while the correct result of the addition is 4671. Adding 1 year to shift his assumed age of Jesus at the start of his public life from 29 to 30, the finally correct Eusebian computus is 5209, with the corresponding MT/Vulgate version being

5209 - 3204 + 1948 = 3953

almost exactly the time computed by St. Bede, 3952, in his two books on the subject, of 703 and 725.

FWIW, my own computation places Abraham's birth at 1952 bC, Exodus at 1447 bC and the start of Solomon's reign at 970 bC, which implies dating Creation at 3900, 5156 or 5286 bC, using MT, correct Eusebius, or Codex Alexandrinus chronology.

Johannes said...

Finally, you might find interesting a most remarkable concordance between the Genesis narrative of the first day of creation and a currently wholly plausible hypothesis of "creation at the start of the inflationary epoch" (*), which I presented here:


In the article I then go on with day 2, which also has a remarkable level of concordance independent of this hypothesis, and days 3 to 6, for which the concordance is much weaker.

(*) If you care why this hypothesis is currently wholly plausible, see my comment at the bottom of the discussion under this article: