Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Lamentabili Sane on Evolution

I have been doing a lot of research on the Catholic Church and evolution lately (see this post) and have found quite a bit of interesting material that I had previously been unaware of. We are all aware that Humani Generis (1950) gives some leeway for Catholics to entertain the possibility that the human body alone may have evolved from preexisting matter. I personally don't see how this is consonant with what Vatican I taught, that "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" (Canons on God the Creator of All Things, canon 5). Vatican I seems to be sayins that all creatures, even in their materiality, were created in their "whole substance" from God immediately. This seems to rule out any idea of God creating the material aspect of man and then, at some later point, infusing the spiritual element directly.

I decided to reread the Syllabus of Errors and Lamentabili Sane of St. Pius X and see if anything in these syllabi contained any references to evolution, and I was surprised to find two statements in the latter document that could be brought to bear on the debate. But first, let me preface this with some references to modern popular Catholic takes on evolution and creation.

For many Catholics, the question appears pointless because the objection is given that evolution is a problem of science, and the Church cannot properly make judgments in the realm of science, only on things that pertain to faith and morals. Then it is usually pointed out that there can be no real divergence between faith and true science (which is true), and hence we need to have no fear of "updating" our understanding of the traditional dogmas in light of the advances of modern science. This is the message of the Catechism (CCC 159) and of Catholic apologist Mark Brumley, who in a Catholic.net article stated that the evolution of the body was not properly the realm of faith but of science, and hence we have nothing to fear by postulating an evolutionary origin for the body (source).

I find it hard to explain how this is congruent with the perennial Catholic doctrine that man is a composite being, a body and soul united intimately. Man has but a single substance (human nature), and that very nature is to be an enfleshed spirit. If this composite being, which is man, has but a single substance, how can we postulate that the different parts of this being could have completely different origins? Furthermore, how could we hold that it is a matter of faith that man is a composite body-soul being, that the soul was created directly by God, that man as to his "whole substance" was created ex nihilo, but then go ahead and say that the body could have evolved, adding to this that it is not a matter pertaining to faith? If man is indeed a composite being with a single substance, then the origin of the body is very much a matter pertaining to faith.

Let's look at the pertinent quotes from Lamentabili Sane of 1907. First, in article 5, the following preposition is condemned:

Since the deposit of Faith contains only revealed truths, the Church has no right to pass judgment on the assertions of the human sciences.

Isn't that interesting! Pius X is telling us that the fact that the Church's de fide teaching extends only to matters of faith and morals does not therefore mean that it cannot weigh in on matters of science. Therefore, whether or not evolution pertains to faith directly is not essential to the argument. The Church can indeed pass judgments on scientific theories in totu, whether or not they pertain directly to faith and morals.

More interesting is article 64, which condemns the following:

Scientific progress demands that the concepts of Christian doctrine concerning God, creation, revelation, the Person of the Incarnate Word, and Redemption be re-adjusted.

Pius X here tells us that our doctrine about creation (among other things) need not be re-adjusted based on scientific progess. But is that not exactly what contemporary Catholicism has been trying to tell us, though? That we need to reevaluate our doctrines in light of modern scientific advances? After all, truth can't contradict truth. That may be the case, but "truth can't contradict truth" has too often become a mantra of those seeking to overthrow the traditional cosmology with one completely friendly to Darwinist evolution, and Pius X tells us that we ought to feel in now way compelled to do this.

Too often people take a concession of the Church and run with it as the norm. If a father tells his son he can take the car out only one night of the week and only under certain conditions, this is the language of concession, which implies that the norm (i.e., what goes on the other 6 days out of the week and under normal conditions) is that the son does not take the car out. If Pius XII tells us in Humani Generis that it is permissible to entertain the idea of the evolution of the body, and even then under only certain parameters, then we ought to realize that this, too, is the language of concession, and that it implies that the regular course of things demands that we adhere to the traditional understanding of instantaneous creation.

More on this later...


Anonymous said...

Bravo. Whether you call it Evolution, Chemical Evolution, Inteligent Design, Creationism, Men hatching from eggs, or whatever, none of that matters. What does matter is that God created all. To be honest, who really cares how He did it, it's just that He did. And while everyone is arguing the possiblities of the past there is one real question that lurks in the darkness.

Are you ready for His coming?

While everyone is concerned about creation's how, are you preparing for what's to come. Seems pretty difficult to do both and still be fully prepared.

Anonymous said...

I do not follow your objection. All matter was created ex nihilo during the events of Genesis 1. Thus, the creation of a new human does not involve creating more matter ex nihilo, but only the spiritual matter, the soul, which is created and fused to matter at the moment of conception.

This accords with theories of theistic evolution, which posit that, at a certain point in time, out of a pool of various humanoid beasts, God chose a male and created a soul for him, thus creating Adam, with Eve shortly following him. The other humanoid beasts died off eventually and humanity, as we know it, sprang from the original two. It is very similar to how God "created" the people of Israel.

I do not necessarily agree with this theory, or think that it is necessary based on the findings of science, or possible based on the reading of Scripture. It is dangerous and untested. No saint has every believed this. No doctor has ever taught it. I do agree with the post-V2 teaching that an evolutionary reading of Genesis 1-2 is not necessarily contrary to the Faith, but nothing more.

However, you're absolutely right that concessions are often turned into norms. The Church is often too precise for her own good. It's one thing for a Scholastic philosopher to say something is "not necessarily" false - quite another for a pastor. Some other example might be:

1) "Fish is allowed on Friday" read as "Lobster night!"

2) "NFP is not necessarily sinful" read as "Contraception for Catholics!"

3) "Georgorian chant has pride of place, other things being equal" read as "Companions on the Journey!"


Boniface said...

The objection is this: Vatican I says that creatures were created ex nihilo with their "whole substance," spiritual and material. To me, this implies that man's body and soul were created together at once and excludes any possibility that the body was developed earlier out of preexisting material with the soul added later.

Anonymous said...

But no new matter is created at the moment of conception. The sperm simply fertilizes the egg, which then starts dividing, using materials from the mother's body.

However, I think I understand your point now. The key phrase is "according to their whole substance", which implies that God created all things as we currently find them. Thus, he did not create a mouse which then became a giraffe. This, I believe, is what the Fathers believed, as well as Aristotle - that the world was created in a discrete number of steps, in which successively more and more substances were created. Thus, all processes in Nature are merely one substance turning into another substance. Modern science, on the other hand, insists that processes are fluid and organic, and that the appearance of discrete substances is a subjective mental construction. Eastern mysticism often dwells on the false doctrine that we are all one interconnected pantheistic being.

If God simply created a blob of energy which exploded into the various particles of matter that we observe today, it is useless to talk of form and substance, which has been the conclusion of science since the Enlightenment.

I cannot come to any conclusion at this time, but do post your further findings.

Boniface said...


Now you are closer to what I was getting at, but I think part of the confusion is that I am referring to the creation of the first man and woman, not to the conception of life subsequently. I, too, am out on this one, though I am leaning towards the Aristotelian rather than the Darwinian view.

Anonymous said...

I understand you are mainly referring to the creation of the first man and woman, but I bring up the moment of conception of subsequent humans to illustrate the point that God must still be creating spiritual matter (souls) ex nihilo at each moment of conception, so it is not unreasonable to suggest that he created a soul for Adam millions of years after he created the materials that developed into his body.

The book of Genesis does say that Adam's body was formed from clay, not created ex nihilo, meaning that Adam was not created "according to his whole substance" but derived his materials from previously existing substances.

Boniface said...


I see what you're saying, but we cannot say that the Genesis account denies that man was created according to his whole substance, since V1 specifically says that all things were created according to their whole substance. I'm not saying the body have man can't have been created first, but that when it was created, it was a complete human body as we know it now, and furthermore, that it was in no way alive before God put the soul into it.

But, I'm not going to rigidly stand on this assertion because I am not sure...as Pius XII taught and you point out, there certainly is room for your understanding of man's creation.

Anonymous said...

"I'm not saying the body have man can't have been created first, but that when it was created, it was a complete human body as we know it now, and furthermore, that it was in no way alive before God put the soul into it."
This seems to me like the discussion of the chicken and the egg and which came first, where we know that the egg was first, as it held the first chicken as we know it having taken that final step from the previous non-perfect chicken. Hah. Anyway, it stands to reason that all "humans" or rather "humanoids" before Adam did not fulfill the full check-list of what made our bodies completely human (stil evolving today if we go by science), and thus, no complet human body was before Adam.

Sleeping is for Heretics said...

I was reading Apocalypse today and I came across a curious verse.

"[D-R 16:18] And there were lightnings, and voices, and thunders, and there was a great earthquake, such an one as never had been since men were upon the earth, such an earthquake, so great."

Isn't it a curious verse? It certainly seems to imply that there were earthquakes, much greater ones than we know, on earth before the dawn of man. I don't know anything about greek or latin, but maybe if you also find it interesting you could look it up some day and make a post / reply about it, and see whether or not it is a just translation.

I've been feeling extremely reserved about evolution, especially human evolution, for a long time (which is saying a lot, being a convert from atheism), and I just wanted to share! Interesting, no?

This, of course, says nothing about any evolution, but it does weigh in on the age of the world and what was really "unleashed" with Original Sin. (I'm the same person who found the Tree of Life interesting as it is seems to strongly imply that only by eating that were they preserved from death, as the Haydock commentary states, if you remember, but that is a whole other discussion!)

CyberAngel said...

Either you believe the pseudo science of the Devil...or GOD!

Gen 2:7 And the Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth: and breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul.

Unknown said...

All Pope John Paul II only said "volution is more than a hypothesis" he didnt try to readjust the traditional Doctrine on Creation