Rorate Caeli

Benedict XVI on the Creation Account in Genesis

From Benedict XVI's Easter Vigil Homily (to which our regular Easter post also links):

At the Easter Vigil, the journey along the paths of sacred Scripture begins with the account of creation. This is the liturgy’s way of telling us that the creation story is itself a prophecy. It is not information about the external processes by which the cosmos and man himself came into being. The Fathers of the Church were well aware of this. They did not interpret the story as an account of the process of the origins of things, but rather as a pointer towards the essential, towards the true beginning and end of our being. Now, one might ask: is it really important to speak also of creation during the Easter Vigil? Could we not begin with the events in which God calls man, forms a people for himself and creates his history with men upon the earth? The answer has to be: no. To omit the creation would be to misunderstand the very history of God with men, to diminish it, to lose sight of its true order of greatness. The sweep of history established by God reaches back to the origins, back to creation.

***

The central message of the creation account can be defined more precisely still. In the opening words of his Gospel, Saint John sums up the essential meaning of that account in this single statement: “In the beginning was the Word”. In effect, the creation account that we listened to earlier is characterized by the regularly recurring phrase: “And God said ...” The world is a product of the Word, of the Logos, as Saint John expresses it, using a key term from the Greek language. “Logos” means “reason”, “sense”, “word”. It is not reason pure and simple, but creative Reason, that speaks and communicates itself. It is Reason that both is and creates sense. The creation account tells us, then, that the world is a product of creative Reason. Hence it tells us that, far from there being an absence of reason and freedom at the origin of all things, the source of everything is creative Reason, love, and freedom. Here we are faced with the ultimate alternative that is at stake in the dispute between faith and unbelief: are irrationality, lack of freedom and pure chance the origin of everything, or are reason, freedom and love at the origin of being? Does the primacy belong to unreason or to reason? This is what everything hinges upon in the final analysis. As believers we answer, with the creation account and with John, that in the beginning is reason. In the beginning is freedom. Hence it is good to be a human person. It is not the case that in the expanding universe, at a late stage, in some tiny corner of the cosmos, there evolved randomly some species of living being capable of reasoning and of trying to find rationality within creation, or to bring rationality into it. If man were merely a random product of evolution in some place on the margins of the universe, then his life would make no sense or might even be a chance of nature. But no, Reason is there at the beginning: creative, divine Reason. And because it is Reason, it also created freedom; and because freedom can be abused, there also exist forces harmful to creation. Hence a thick black line, so to speak, has been drawn across the structure of the universe and across the nature of man. But despite this contradiction, creation itself remains good, life remains good, because at the beginning is good Reason, God’s creative love. Hence the world can be saved. Hence we can and must place ourselves on the side of reason, freedom and love – on the side of God who loves us so much that he suffered for us, that from his death there might emerge a new, definitive and healed life.


Photo from Daylife

39 comments:

Gratias said...

The Holy Father is our greatest living philosopher logos=Word=Reason is the main theme of His pontificate. This is aggiornamento we can believe in.

A blessed Easter everyone!

LeonG said...

"It is not the case that in the expanding universe, at a late stage, in some tiny corner of the cosmos, there evolved randomly some species of living being capable of reasoning and of trying to find rationality within creation, or to bring rationality into it. If man were merely a random product of evolution in some place on the margins of the universe, then his life would make no sense or might even be a chance of nature."

Finally, a post-conciliar pope states this truth publicly. May The Blessed Trinity during the final moments of his pontificate lead Pope Benedict XVI to even greater acts of Roman Catholic charity.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! A Blessed Easter to everyone.

Johannes said...

". . .This is aggiornamento we can believe in."

If you refer not only to the very etymological and obvious observation about the word λόγος - but also to the reduction of the Book of Genesis to something other than an account of the origin of the world and man, then I would say that this is not aggiornamento "we can believe in" - but which some of us incorrectly believe we must.

It is not true that the fathers rejected the Book of Genesis as an account of the origin of the world. Sanctvs Ambrosivs Mediolanensis (Hexameron vel Sex Diervm) and Basilivs Magnvs (Homiliae IX) come immediately to my mind. Statements from several and very many other fathers as forcefully and clearly contradict this claim as well. Not even Augustine can be (easily. . .) interpreted to be against it as an account of creation - which it explicitly from it's first word, is.

This is an unedifying misinterpretation of the Law of Moses. A weak action, a pale apologetic stand in the face of an increasingly merely mathematico-speculative science (in the pertinent fields) which has little in substance (empirical or logical) to commend it as dogma to us and less authority than a book given to man by the Living God Himself responsible for the creation. There are possible false interpretations (it is so with any text; this turns not upon the text itself but the reader) and there are some here indeed that are owed to a facile or simplistic exegesis of poor vernacular translations by less than capable readers - but to deny it is a creation account? And what other kind of creation account could there be except a description of "external processes"? And why does the text look so much like a creation account involving external processes? Rather one would ask, if it could bear sense - why is it a creation account, if it is not a creation account?! So explicit it is.

Does this interpretation of Genesis as not actually Genesis satisfy any sincere reader? If it were not that modern cosmology or physics presently, apparently, contradict it - would anyone so interpret it?

hilaron said...

I might have also emphasized what our Holy Father said at the end: "If man were merely a random product of evolution in some place on the margins of the universe, then his life would make no sense or might even be a chance of nature. But no, Reason is there at the beginning: creative, divine Reason."

The way you emphasize now would make it seem our Holy Father maintained the notion that God is not the Creator ex nihilo of the world (and since I, and I think others also, often only read the emphasized parts of these posts it might be misleading). I would concede that it might be ambiguous in some places, but Pope Benedict clearly states that man is not a "chance of nature" nor "a random product of evolution in some place on the margins of the universe".

May the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost be praised and adored in all their Majesty!
May all of creation give homage to their Creator!

Christus resurrexit, alleluia, alleluia,
David, Sweden

Anonymous said...

I found it a tad confusing on the Easter vigil.

Pascal said...

"(and since I, and I think others also, often only read the emphasized parts of these posts it might be misleading)."

Well, that is your problem!

Pascal said...

"The way you emphasize now would make it seem our Holy Father maintained the notion that God is not the Creator ex nihilo of the world"

It's quite strange that you would say that. The passage I chose to emphasize clearly goes against your interpretation:

"In effect, the creation account that we listened to earlier is characterized by the regularly recurring phrase: “And God said ...” The world is a product of the Word, of the Logos, as Saint John expresses it, using a key term from the Greek language. “Logos” means “reason”, “sense”, “word”. It is not reason pure and simple, but creative Reason, that speaks and communicates itself. It is Reason that both is and creates sense."

LeonG said...

Johannes

I agree with your assessment of the reductionist sentiments earlier. For the post-conciliar church man is the centre not only of the new revolutionary liturgy but of the cosmos.
What interested personally was a refutation of evolution as have been led to believe. It was certainly positive. For that answer to prayer may Almighty God be praised.

For the vast remainder prayer will continue.

Jordanes551 said...

It is not true that the fathers rejected the Book of Genesis as an account of the origin of the world.

Read more carefully. The Holy Father said, "They did not interpret the story as an account of THE PROCESS OF the origin of things." And that is absolutely correct.

This is an unedifying misinterpretation of the Law of Moses.

No, your comment is an unedifying misinterpretation of the Holy Father's words, and indicates a lack of understanding of the traditional Catholic doctrine of Creation.

but to deny it is a creation account?

He didn't deny it is a creation account. Please retract your presumptuous accusation against the Pope.

How could anyone be so dense as to think that the Pope would deny that the biblical account of Creation is not an account of Creation at all? You may as well expect him to deny that the Messiah's name according to the Bible is Jesus.

And what other kind of creation account could there be except a description of "external processes"?

The kind that the Holy Spirit inspired Moses to write in Gen. 1-2.

If you really think Gen. 1-2 includes a description of external processes, then why do these divine and inerrant words say nothing of DNA and cellular division? Why doesn'y it tell us in any detail of exactly how each order and form of life came into existence through His Word? From the Genesis text, we cannot tell, for example, if God instantaneously created birds out of some previously existent living or nonliving substance, or rather called them into being ex nihilo. That's because the narrative does not describe external processes.

And why does the text look so much like a creation account involving external processes?

It certainly doesn't. Perhaps you do not know what external processes are.

hilaron said...

Pascal: I had no intention of attacking you and I think I expressed myself in a modest fashion. So I certainly don't understand why you would be so snappy towards me. I am not your enemy, I am your brother in Christ. Let us then greet each other with the Kiss of Peace and not with the fire of the tongue.

The point of highlighting is to make the reader focus on what is important, otherwise it would be quite pointless. So, since I don't always have the time necessary to read an entire piece I might read just the emphasized parts to get the gist out of it and hopefully derive some benefit thereof. Is it strange or inconceivable that this is how human beings actually work? If not, why do you give me this comment that it is "my problem"?

The passage you now quote in conjunction with the other emphases would give a kind of "high philosophical feel" to the Creation account in Genesis, that it was not a matter of Creation at all, but only in some esoteric sense would there be creative Reason behind all things.

But the Holy Father quite clearly states later that:

"It is not the case that in the expanding universe, at a late stage, in some tiny corner of the cosmos, there evolved randomly some species of living being capable of reasoning and of trying to find rationality within creation, or to bring rationality into it. If man were merely a random product of evolution in some place on the margins of the universe, then his life would make no sense or might even be a chance of nature."

Is this passage not a much clearer and more explicit expression of the idea which is latent in your emphasis? Would it not be more charitable towards the Holy Father to emphasize this part, so that we might not see the type of uncharitable and presumptuous comments which now declare that the Pope is in undoubtable error, guilty of "an unedifying misinterpretation of the Law of Moses", on this point -- no doubt due to the inevitable narrowing of the scope of the sermon by using emphases?

In all Charity and Peace,
In Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
David, Sweden

John McFarland said...

Dear Jordanes,

The creation account IS an account of the process of the origin of things. The process is that day by day, God said, let there be this and this and this, and it was done and done and done.

That is also what virtually all the Fathers interpreted it to be.

It is surely more than that, but it surely is that.

Presumably each living thing, created after its own kind, came DNA, cells and all, thereupon beginning the processes that continue to this day, and whose remarkable complexity and order show forth the glory of God, and proclaim his handiwork, as much if not more so, than the heavens.

It is true that the scriptures do not give us a blow-by-blow. But they do tell us that all that that the heavens and the earth contains was made in six days, evening and morning, out of nothing, by God's commanding that it be thus. The particulars will still be unravelling what Gabriel's trumpet blows. Things that the greatest biologists didn't know when I started grade school are now a whole new science that is expanding so fast that my wife has to work like the dickens to pound it into her AP Bio students in a single year.

Anonymous said...

Jordanes,

I think that Johannes has a point: the Holy Father seems to imply that the Fathers took the specifics of the Creation account (the creation of the world in six days, the creation of the world only a few millennia before the present era, etc.) allegorically and *did not* take them literally. While some Fathers may have taken these *specifics* allegorically, what is the evidence that the Fathers generally did *not* take these specifics as literal representations of what occurred. Of course the account of the Hexaemeron is not complete, of course it does not tell us precisely what God made the birds from, but there is nevertheless a narrative of specifics that, if taken literally, conflicts with the Darwinian account, especially with the claim that mankind is many thousands of years older than Genesis says. The fact that the Hexaemeron and the rest of Genesis are not a science book or a work of secular empirical history does not mean that claims made in Genesis that pertain to the origin of the world or to human history can be dismissed summarily as "allegory, devoid of literal value." The Church certainly affirms that the special creation of one individual Adam and one individual Eve is a literal fact. Sadly, when Churchmen and theologians say, "Genesis isn't history/science," many listeners infer that monogenism, for instance, need not be affirmed. Truth be told, it seems that the necessity of affirming the literal reading of verses and Genesis should proceed on a case by case basis, as the Pontifical Biblical Commission did.

~Bonifacius

Johannes said...

Jordanes, the substance of your remarks begin at the end.

The Genesis account is a narrative of six days of external processes from light to man. If you want to say it is not sufficiently detailed or it is inaccurate in terminology - that is one thing. To say it does not concern external processes is another, and false. This all turns upon how we treat the phrase "external processes". I am willing to grant that you have a point; in that your understanding of the first chapter of the Book of Genesis perhaps is the same as that of Benedictvs. But I still disagree.

Creation quite clearly is in itself an external process, making one thing to be that was not and now is. Explain how an account of the creation of an external object - leave aside the sum total of all external objects - could fail to involve external processes. To make is an external process. To make several things is several external processes. DNA and cellular division are mere operative terms and concepts invented to answer questions imposed upon the raw data; they are the means by which men speculate their own account of the origins of the world (which remains the same). In a sense the Book of Genesis does treat these things because the raw data which is re-named and reinterpreted today is the same as it was when it was originally made.

"Why doesn'y it tell us in any detail of exactly how each order and form of life came into existence through His Word? and ectera"

It is well that you asked "why doesn't it tell us?". Why should He have? And no - that it does not give a description that agrees with present scientific terminology and speculations concerning such things, or answer along every strain of modern (or historical) thought upon the subject, does not entail that it is not a description of external processes. Next door a little girl strikes her little brother. I saw it. The mother comes out and the two children give conflicting accounts of why the boy is crying. The mother sees me and then asks me and I tell her "I saw her strike him". This is a description of an external process. That I do not go into a detailed account of the angles and ectera by which her "scientific word for a human palm" and phalanges were forcibly brought down on the left "scientific term for his cheek", and so on, does not make it any less an account of an external process. Imagine if you insisted on carrying this logic down to the micro, perhaps even quantum level. According to your standard - almost no one has ever given an account of or even seen an external process.

The first chapter of the Book of Genesis is a general narrative telling man all that he needs to know (not all that he could ask) and very clear that God created the world and man - and directly. This is a superior account of the external processes that were the creation of the world and man. The fathers have always read and held it to be so. Indeed - they answered Aristotle or Plato or other pagan accounts, more detailed and with their own theory or thought specific terminology, with this incomparable and explicit account of the prophet Moses. What is this that we now distrust this account and try to dilute it to suit present pagan opinions? I repeat. If it were not that modern cosmology or physics presently, apparently, contradict the first chapter of the Book of Genesis - would anyone so interpret it?

This has nothing to do with "a lack of understanding of the traditional Catholic doctrine of Creation." The fathers contradict this exegesis. This exegesis is only a hundred years old. It is the line of thought taken up by those who forget that modern science - and not the Law of Moses - is a hazard (expensive, time consuming and purely inductive) on the part of mere men at an explanation of the origin of the world and man.

Jordanes551 said...

I think that Johannes has a point: the Holy Father seems to imply that the Fathers took the specifics of the Creation account (the creation of the world in six days, the creation of the world only a few millennia before the present era, etc.) allegorically and *did not* take them literally.

I disagree that he seems to imply any such thing. Maybe he does imply it, but he in fact doesn't say or imply that they didn't take the words literally. He says, rather, that "they did not interpret the story as an account of the process of the origins of things, but rather as a pointer towards the essential, towards the true beginning and end of our being." And that is precisely correct. They accepted it as what it is, a divinely-revealed telling of the origin of things -- but not of all or even most of the processes by which the universe and life and the human race came into being.

there is nevertheless a narrative of specifics that, if taken literally, conflicts with the Darwinian account

And not only conflicts with the Darwinian account, but with itself. For example, the Fathers were at pains to try to explain how there could be night and day without the rising and setting of the sun. Some tentatively suggested this or that explanation, others more or less confessed that we don't have an answer. There's also the problem of fitting the account of the naming of the beasts and Eve's creation as related in Gen. 2 into just a few hours.

The Church certainly affirms that the special creation of one individual Adam and one individual Eve is a literal fact.

I'm not so sure about that, in light of Pius XII's Humani Generis 36. My own belief is that Adam and Eve both were specially created, but I admit that the text of Genesis does not exclude the possible interpretation that the human body had its origin "from pre-existent and living matter" through a evolutionary process of some sort. I do think, however, that Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium teach that Eve was marvelously fashioned from the side of her husband.

The creation account IS an account of the process of the origin of things. The process is that day by day, God said, let there be this and this and this, and it was done and done and done.

No, that is not an account of the process of the origins of things. Saying that God called things into existence, and then they came into existence, tells us nothing about HOW they came into existence. We don't know, from what the text tells us, whether it was instantaneous creation, or whether it involves other processes under the class of creatio secunda.

That is also what virtually all the Fathers interpreted it to be.

Of those few Fathers who had something to say about it, most just took the text at face value. But none said the story of Creation provides us with an account of external processes of creation, and none stopped at just the literal sense.

Jordanes551 said...

The Genesis account is a narrative of six days of external processes from light to man.

Really? Then name just one external process described in Gen. 1-2. What was the process by which God created light? Hint: God expressing His creative will is not an external process.

If you want to say it is not sufficiently detailed or it is inaccurate in terminology - that is one thing.

The Holy Spirit provided all the detail that we need, and He is incapable of using inaccurate terminology.

To say it does not concern external processes is another, and false. This all turns upon how we treat the phrase "external processes".

Yes, it does. If you understand the term "external processes" correctly, you will see that what the Holy Father said is correct. If, however, you persist in your your erroneous understanding of that term, you will remain in your error.

Creation quite clearly is in itself an external process

Really? Even creatio prima?

Explain how an account of the creation of an external object - leave aside the sum total of all external objects - could fail to involve external processes.

Easy. Let's say we're talking about the manufacture of a golf ball. I can say, "Titleist made this golf ball," which fails to describe external processes, or I can say, "Titleist contracted with a supplier of plastic and rubber, which was crafted through an industrial procedure into the core and outer materials and skin of the golf ball, which was then stamped with Titleist's brand name." The latter goes somewhat into the external processes, the former does not mention any of them. But it is the former kind of statements that we find in Gen. 1-2.

In a sense the Book of Genesis does treat these things because the raw data which is re-named and reinterpreted today is the same as it was when it was originally made.

True, but the Book of Genesis says nary a word about them. From the divine inerrant text, we don't know a thing about what it looked like, what REALLY happened, when God said, "Let the earth bring forth grass," or, "Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that has life." We only know that God spoke, and it was done. We don't even know from the text if these things were done immediately and solely through God's power, or rather that He employed mediating agents, such as angels, to do the direct work of creation.

Imagine if you insisted on carrying this logic down to the micro, perhaps even quantum level. According to your standard - almost no one has ever given an account of or even seen an external process.

You clearly have no idea what my standard is.

This has nothing to do with "a lack of understanding of the traditional Catholic doctrine of Creation."

The fathers contradict this exegesis.

But not everything the Fathers said was correct, nor constitutes binding doctrine. As you know, the Church allows that the "days" of Creation Week need not have been literal days, even though most of the few Fathers who addressed this subject thought those days were literal days.

This exegesis is only a hundred years old.

No, these exegetical principles and applications are a bit older than that.

Anonymous said...

Special Creation is the doctrine of the Church.

The Kolbe Center for the Study of Creation:

http://kolbecenter.org/

Dan said...

I don't think any rational person reading the Holy Father's words can come to any other conclusion than that he apparently believes in evolution. That is most certainly what I got out of it.

If I could make one humble suggestion, I would ask that the papolaters who have commented not go to pieces each and every time someone points out certain difficulties with this papacy. No one here is denying the positive aspects of Benedict's reign. We can, however, assess the evidence of our own eyes and that evidence does strongly suggest that the Holy Father is, indeed, undermining the traditional creation story, a story taught infallibly by the Church for two millenia.

New Catholic said...

Dan, you are absolutely wrong on all counts. The Holy Father's words cannot be read as anything other than a powerful testimony and a doctrinal masterpiece.

And, in any event, I recommend a prayerful and humble reading of Humani Generis.

NC

Brian said...

It is not information about the external processes by which the cosmos and man himself came into being. The Fathers of the Church were well aware of this. They did not interpret the story as an account of the process of the origins of things, but rather as a pointer towards the essential, towards the true beginning and end of our being.

The world is a product of the Word, of the Logos, as Saint John expresses it, using a key term from the Greek language. “Logos” means “reason”, “sense”, “word”. It is not reason pure and simple, but creative Reason, that speaks and communicates itself. It is Reason that both is and creates sense. The creation account tells us, then, that the world is a product of creative Reason.

The Holy Father's words cannot be read as anything other than a powerful testimony and a doctrinal masterpiece.

Actually, the Holy Father's words are pretty much exactly what I heard in a early 1970's New Testament course based on Bultmann and his de-mythologizing the Bible to discover deeper truths. If this is a masterpiece then my agnostic New Testament professor must have been a genius.

Brian said...

Correction: Old Testament course

hilaron said...

Dan: Why would you use the word "papolater", which is a Protestant demeaning word for Catholics? I don't think anyone here is an "ultramontanist" in the strict sense of the word. Of course we are to hold reservations about things which -- by ambiguities, improper emphasis on one or other part of the given Truth or straight out contradiction -- contradict the Faith given once and for all to the Apostles, even if they come from the mouth of the Pope. Has anyone here denied that?

I have, for instance, signed The Remnant's reservations regarding the upcoming beatification of JPII. Does that mean that I now should be uncharitable towards the Holy Father by not giving him the benefit of the doubt regarding certain passages of the sermon when he clearly states that man is not "a random product of evolution" nor "a mere chance of nature"? It is so easy for our fallen nature to come into play, that when we see something negative in the Pontificate of Benedict we onward only perceive the negative parts of this Pontificate. Then let us heed the words of Saint Gregory the Great, certainly one of the greatest Popes to have ever walked the earth:

"Subjects should be admonished not rashly to judge their prelates, even if they chance to see them acting in a blameworthy manner, lest, justly reproving what is wrong, they be led by pride into greater wrong. They are to be warned against the danger of setting themselves up in audacious opposition to the superiors whose shortcomings they may notice. Should, therefore, the superiors really have committed grievous sins, their inferiors, penetrated with the fear of God, ought not to refuse them respectful submission. The actions of superiors should not be smitten by the sword of the word, even when they are rightly judged to have deserved censure." (quoted by Leo XIII in Sapientiae Christianae, n. 37)

I would also like to remind everyone of the meekness of Archbishop Lefebvre in all his conflicts with the Holy See, even though there can be made quite the case that he was treated unjustly (see Michael Davies' books).

In Charity and Faith,
David, Sweden

Anonymous said...

"The Church certainly affirms that the special creation of one individual Adam and one individual Eve is a literal fact.

I'm not so sure about that, in light of Pius XII's Humani Generis 36. My own belief is that Adam and Eve both were specially created, but I admit that the text of Genesis does not exclude the possible interpretation that the human body had its origin "from pre-existent and living matter" through a evolutionary process of some sort. I do think, however, that Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium teach that Eve was marvelously fashioned from the side of her husband."

Jordanes, you infer things that were not implied. I said special creation, I did not say special creation *from non-living matter.* I simply said "special creation," and even the creation of Adam and Eve from ape parents (ugh) would fall under that category. I for one would truly appreciate it if the present Holy Father would reinforce the teaching of Pope Pius XII on the singularity of Adam and the singularity of Eve (monogenism). So what "you're not sure of" is something I didn't refer to.

Also, you ought to know that most people living today will interpret what the Holy Father said as saying that the Fathers interpreted Genesis allegorically, not literally, when it speaks of 6 days, etc. If you say, "they may interpret it that way, but that's not what he said," then that's just saying that the Holy Father needn't consider the mentality of his listeners when speaking. If saying, "didn't take it as an account of the process of the origins of things," *doesn't* at least *suggest* that the people you're speaking of took the *narrative of events* allegorically then I'd say the listener is one with a far different mentality than the bulk of listeners who actually need to hear this message.

~Bonifacius

Anonymous said...

The Genesis account was overwhelmingly interpreted literally by the Fathers.

Why wouldn't it be?

They believed God, not the pagan philosophers.

It is important to the moderns to find a way to get around this.

Let them employ their gymnastics as they will.

God said what He said and the Church believed it literally-- right up until modern times.

It is strange that the moderns find it so important to claim the Fathers did not interpret Genesis literally.

But the Fathers did so interpret Genesis, and their exists not a single bit of evidence, scientific, theological, philosophical, or otherwise, that the literal interpretation is incorrect.

Mike B. said...

I appreciate Jordanes551 coming into this dialogue at an early point. Those who tend to find fault with this Pope were quickly checkmated, and the dialogue became very instructive for me.

It is my impression of recent history that Benedict reflects the Church's position that She does not need to be involved in a doctrine vs. science debate. Genesis clearly allows the Church to separate the details from what She must believe and preach, and let science eventually uncover what God has set them up to uncover. Logos will become apparent to all as the source of all creation.

As Gratias said: "The Holy Father is our greatest living philosopher Logos=Word=Reason is the main theme of His pontificate. THIS IS AGGIORNAMENTO WE CAN BELIEVE IN."

In addition the Shroud of Turin [5th Gospel] has become a message to science more than the Church in this age of parallel universe investigations.

Michael F Brennan
St Petersburg, Fl

Jordanes551 said...

But the Fathers did so interpret Genesis, and their exists not a single bit of evidence, scientific, theological, philosophical, or otherwise, that the literal interpretation is incorrect.

The challenge, however, is to ascertain WHICH literal interpretation is correct.

I said special creation, I did not say special creation *from non-living matter.* I simply said "special creation," and even the creation of Adam and Eve from ape parents (ugh) would fall under that category.

I'm not familiar with "special creation" being used in that way -- I'd thought it referred specifically to creation that would exclude evolutionary external processes. Thanks for clarifying your meaning.

If you say, "they may interpret it that way, but that's not what he said," then that's just saying that the Holy Father needn't consider the mentality of his listeners when speaking. If saying, "didn't take it as an account of the process of the origins of things," *doesn't* at least *suggest* that the people you're speaking of took the *narrative of events* allegorically then I'd say the listener is one with a far different mentality than the bulk of listeners who actually need to hear this message.

Well, the Holy Father does have a most unfortunate habit of speaking in academese rather than in words accessible to the average person. . . .

Anonymous said...

It would seem safe to conclude that no literal interpretation can encompass the heavens coming into existence nine or so billions of years before the Earth.

So, apparently, it is not simply a matter of determining which literal interpretation, but rather of changing all possible literal interpretations into a new and unprecedented "interpretation" never before known to the Church, on the basis of a scientific creation myth which is itself collapsing.

May I suggest this has not proven to be an excellent idea.

One of its fruits is the apparent immediate and grave danger of the magisterium formally reversing a dogmatic definition of the Faith and declaring Scripture to be "limitedly inerrant" (oh how desperate are these times).

Jeff Culbreath said...

Jordanes, if Gen 1-2 really contains nothing that might plausibly be interpreted as "an account of the process of the origins of things", then why bother mentioning it at all?

The Holy Father mentions this because many do, in fact, believe that Genesis reveals some details related to "process", and that those details conflict sharply with evolution. The subtext is that there exists an alternative interpretation of Genesis which the pope, for whatever reason, is at pains to discourage.

This alternative interpretation - that the creation accounts, while not comprehensive by any means, do reveal important historical details of process at odds with certain claims of modern science - is not some fringe extremist fundamentalism, but rather the historically mainstream exegesis of the Catholic Church.

I have tremendous love, respect, and gratitude for this saintly pontiff. But there is nothing disloyal or unfaithful about a common sense observation about what the pope means here. He is clear enough in this passage. He knows his audience. The whole world will interpret his words as rejecting a literal, historical reading of Genesis 1-2 and proposing something else.

We can be grateful that Holy Father elaborated on the prophetic meaning of the text, but he obviously wanted to do more than that: he wanted to contrast it with what he believes to be an error, a literal and historical reading of Genesis that excludes the possibility of evolution. At least that is how everyone is going to understand his words, and it's impossible to believe that he would be ignorant of that.

Anonymous said...

Jeff Culbreath was put on earth as a test of my adherence to the 10th Commandment; I envy his clarity of expression and thought.

Also, by special creation I meant only that Adam and Eve were not "routine" productions of evolution; even if born of "d***ed dirty apes," God specially infused a human soul into Adam and then *specially* made Eve.

~Bonifacius

Anonymous said...

Yes.

It is historically the mainstream exegesis of the Catholic Church.

The enterprise of reform, if it is to involve the abandonment- in the end it will have to be the repudiation- of that historically mainstream exegesis, will also, logically, involve the surrender of the Catholic dogma of the inerrancy of Scripture (after all, no amount of prophetic interpretation can change "in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" into "God created the heavens and the Earth came into existence nine billions of years later").

Just how far are the Holy Father and bishops prepared to go, in order to impose this (conscientiously held, no doubt!) conclusion that the Church's historically mainstream exegesis is in fact wrong?

After all....... this once granted, would it not follow that these modern bishops could, in turn, also prove to have been wrong......and so on?

Almost as if dogma were to become something which is true for its time, but not true for all time.........as if our understanding of Revelation itself were to be subjected to the periodic review, amendment, and updating of the scientific magisterium.

Is not this the very heart and essence of what was ceaselessly preached against by the Popes of the 19th century as the gravest danger facing the Catholic Church, the "synthesis of all heresies"?

Interesting times.

Jordanes551 said...

But the Fathers did so interpret Genesis,

As does the Church.

and their exists not a single bit of evidence, scientific, theological, philosophical, or otherwise, that the literal interpretation is incorrect.

There is more than more possible literal interpretation. Young Earth Creationism, which you favor, is just one of them -- and the least likely given everything we now know.

It would seem safe to conclude that no literal interpretation can encompass the heavens coming into existence nine or so billions of years before the Earth.

It would seem safe to you, but it would not be safe. Since the Church allows that "day" in Gen. 1-2 need not mean an ordinary day, there is no reason to conclude that the days may not have lasted untold ages. Furthermore, St. Augustine argued that all six "days" of Creation Week may have been in fact just one "day." Agree with that proposal or not, it is a permitted position for Catholics to hold, and thus the literal interpretation of Gen. 1-2 as seven 24-hour periods is not the only possible or permissible literal interpretation.

So, apparently, it is not simply a matter of determining which literal interpretation,

On the contrary, it is, as St. Thomas Aquinas indicated, a matter of of determining which literal interpretation is the right one, and holding any such interpretation only in such way as to be ready to abandon it if it is ever shown to be impossible.

Jordanes551 said...

Jordanes, if Gen 1-2 really contains nothing that might plausibly be interpreted as "an account of the process of the origins of things", then why bother mentioning it at all?

On the contrary, Gen. 1-2 can plausibly, albeit erroneously, be interpreted that way.

The Holy Father mentions this because many do, in fact, believe that Genesis reveals some details related to "process", and that those details conflict sharply with evolution.

Yep.

This alternative interpretation - that the creation accounts, while not comprehensive by any means, do reveal important historical details of process at odds with certain claims of modern science - is not some fringe extremist fundamentalism, but rather the historically mainstream exegesis of the Catholic Church.

True. It was not, however, ever proposed infallibly or irreformably.

He knows his audience.

Or so we may hope.

The whole world will interpret his words as rejecting a literal, historical reading of Genesis 1-2 and proposing something else.

But "the whole world" doesn't even know what the Church means by "a literal reading" and "a historical reading."

We can be grateful that Holy Father elaborated on the prophetic meaning of the text, but he obviously wanted to do more than that: he wanted to contrast it with what he believes to be an error, a literal and historical reading of Genesis that excludes the possibility of evolution.

The Church does not exclude the possibility of evolution, so why wouldn't he wish to discourage the view that the correct approach to interpreting Gen. 1-2 is to see it as excluding the possibility of evolution?

Jordanes551 said...

The enterprise of reform, if it is to involve the abandonment- in the end it will have to be the repudiation- of that historically mainstream exegesis, will also, logically, involve the surrender of the Catholic dogma of the inerrancy of Scripture

No, that does not logically follow at all. Your words indicate a lack of understanding of the Catholic dogma of the inerrancy of Holy Scripture.

(after all, no amount of prophetic interpretation can change "in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" into "God created the heavens and the Earth came into existence nine billions of years later").

True -- but a "prophetic" interpretation is necessarily not the literal sense. . . and it is only after determining the literal sense of a text that one proceeds to non-literal senses. Though you may not be willing to accept it, the fact is there is nothing in the literal sense of Gen. 1-2 that necessarily excludes a universe and earth that are billions of years old rather than a mere 5,500 years (and I say these things as one who is inclined to see Adam's creation as happening at around that time, regardless of however long the earth and universe may have been around before Adam, whether one week or billions of years).

Just how far are the Holy Father and bishops prepared to go, in order to impose this (conscientiously held, no doubt!) conclusion that the Church's historically mainstream exegesis is in fact wrong?

This far:

"Since Holy Scripture can be explained in a multiplicity of sense, one should adhere to a particular explanation only in such measure as to be ready to abandon it if it be proved with certainty to be false."

and

"When philosophers are agreed upon a point, and it is not contrary to our faith, it is safer, in my opinion, neither to lay down such a point as a dogma of the faith, even though it is so presented by the philosophers, nor to reject it as against faith."

-- St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae

After all....... this once granted, would it not follow that these modern bishops could, in turn, also prove to have been wrong......and so on?

Yep.

This is why the once mainstream, majority exegesis of Gen. 1-2 was never proposed infallibly by the Church's Magisterium, and why the Church is not bindingly declaring (not will it bindingly declare) any newer interpretations that accommodate evolutionary theories.

Almost as if dogma were to become something which is true for its time, but not true for all time.........as if our understanding of Revelation itself were to be subjected to the periodic review, amendment, and updating of the scientific magisterium.

Rot and rubbish. We're not talking about fixed dogma, we're talking about the range of permissible interpretations of Holy Writ.

Is not this the very heart and essence of what was ceaselessly preached against by the Popes of the 19th century as the gravest danger facing the Catholic Church, the "synthesis of all heresies"?

Nope, it's clearly not, and you ought to shudder in terror that you've dared suggest such a thing.

Anonymous said...

[Jeff Culbreath:]
"This alternative interpretation - that the creation accounts, while not comprehensive by any means, do reveal important historical details of process at odds with certain claims of modern science - is not some fringe extremist fundamentalism, but rather the historically mainstream exegesis of the Catholic Church."

[Jordanes:]
"True. It was not, however, ever proposed infallibly or irreformably."

Was it the standard, mainstream exegesis *of the Fathers,* or of a considerable number of them? Because you'd have a hard time telling that from the words of Pope Benedict XVI quoted here.

~Bonifacius

Jordanes551 said...

Was it the standard, mainstream exegesis *of the Fathers,* or of a considerable number of them?

Of those few Fathers who addressed the question (not more than 50), most simply quoted or reiterated the words of Moses without interpretation and comment. Presumably they held to a prima facie literal interpretation, but their cites barely qualify as exegesis. A few of the Fathers addressed the question in greater detail in commentaries (the Cappadocian Fathers, St. Ambrose, etc.), and most of them did hold to a prima facie literal interpretation, though their emphasis was almost always on allegorical, theological senses and lessons. Of this patristic speculation and commentary, St. Augustine's was the most profound and insightful, though St. Basil's Hexaemeron, which took a more prima facie approach, was the most influential (for a good while). But in my view, it really isn't accurate to say that theirs were interpretations of the story as "an account of the process of the origins of things." It wasn't their point or focus.

Jeff Culbreath said...

"The Church does not exclude the possibility of evolution, so why wouldn't he wish to discourage the view that the correct approach to interpreting Gen. 1-2 is to see it as excluding the possibility of evolution?

Because, Jordanes, neither does the Church exclude the view that the correct interpretation of Gen 1-2 excludes the possibility of evolution.

(If that doesn't sound too convoluted.)

Exegetes are supposedly free on this point. But if the historically mainstream exegesis of the Church is now to be discouraged or censured, as the pontiff strongly suggests, the doctrinal implications are massive and exegetes are no longer free at all. We are right to sit up and take note.

I will be bold here: No one, and I mean no one at all, is capable of reading Gen 1-2 as compatible with human evolution without first being coached in a special hermeneutic that would make mince-meat of the rest of Scripture.

The text is historical here, but not historical there; literal here, but not literal there; metaphorical here, but not metaphorical there; day means day here, but it means age there; God spoke literal words here, but only figurative words there; Adam and Eve are material beings, but the serpent and the tree are not; etc.

And why this checkerboard hermeneutic that varies so radically from verse-to-verse? Because of some suggestion or hidden consistency in the text itself? None that I can find, and certainly none that is widely agreed upon. Today's theologians agree only that the historically mainstream approach must be marginalized at all costs: the rest is pretty much up for grabs. It really seems as though the only excuse for this descent into exegetical anarchy is making room for Darwin.

It's fair to ask: If we can apply such an arbitrary, seemingly incoherent exegesis to Gen 1-2, then why shouldn't we apply it also to the Gospels and everything else?

Perhaps there are some of you, on every side, who are inclined to turn this into an argument about the Holy Father's intelligence, integrity, or authority. But I don't believe Pope Benedict XVI would have it that way. Rather, he would have us discuss the topic itself and debate the various perspectives on their own merits.

Jordanes551 said...

Because, Jordanes, neither does the Church exclude the view that the correct interpretation of Gen 1-2 excludes the possibility of evolution.

The Church does permit Catholics to hold that view, while also explaining that their view that evolution is incompatible with the literal sense of Gen. 1-2 is not endorsed by the Church.

Exegetes are supposedly free on this point. But if the historically mainstream exegesis of the Church is now to be discouraged or censured, as the pontiff strongly suggests,

The Holy Father said nothing of censure.

I will be bold here: No one, and I mean no one at all, is capable of reading Gen 1-2 as compatible with human evolution without first being coached in a special hermeneutic that would make mince-meat of the rest of Scripture.

Nonsense. You misunderstand and do not accurately represent the hermeneutic.

The text is historical here, but not historical there; literal here, but not literal there; metaphorical here, but not metaphorical there; day means day here, but it means age there; God spoke literal words here, but only figurative words there; Adam and Eve are material beings, but the serpent and the tree are not; etc.

Moses certainly used metaphors, poetic imagery, figures of speech, and symbolic language, and the Pentateuch is not a single uniform literary genre. That's just reality, whether you like it or not. Ignoring those things, or misinterpreting them, will prevent us from discerning the literal sense.

By the way, it's hardly a new or unbiblical interpretation to see Adam and Eve as material beings but the Serpent as Satan. If you object to "Adam and Eve are material beings, but the serpent and the tree are not," you'll have to take it up with St. John the Apostle.

And why this checkerboard hermeneutic that varies so radically from verse-to-verse?

It doesn't vary at all in its treatment of the seven days of Creation Week. Care to supply any examples of exegetes who treat Gen. 1-2 the way you say they do?

Anonymous said...

"But in my view, it really isn't accurate to say that theirs were interpretations of the story as "an account of the process of the origins of things." It wasn't their point or focus."

1.) Even if it wasn't their "point of focus," they still did consider Genesis "an account of the process of the origins of things." If they took the 6 days literally, there is no other way of describing that position than as an account of a process. It would be more accurately to say that the Fathers did not regard the text *merely* or *primarily* as a step-by-step account of the process of mundane origins. But most still regarded as such on the literal level.

2.) Next, as Jeff Culbreath points out, there is little reason for the Holy Father to make this distinction except so as to get around the Darwinist objections to Genesis. But even if the Fathers's focus was elsewhere, you just admitted that *most* Fathers' interpretation *still* conflicts with Darwinism. Most listeners to Pope Benedict's words would infer from what he said that most of the Fathers did *not* take Genesis as literally true in its historical sense. This is especially true as what he's trying to do is obviate the Darwinistic objections. Well, his attempt on further inspection is relatively weak (at the bare minimum he's merely adverting to the problem and a possible solution without applying it, probably rightly in the context of this address, but still in a manner that will almost certainly confuse) as we're still left with most of the Fathers' exegesis being wrong.

~Bonifacius

Jordanes551 said...

Even if it wasn't their "point of focus," they still did consider Genesis "an account of the process of the origins of things." If they took the 6 days literally, there is no other way of describing that position than as an account of a process.

I'm not sure about that.

For example, St. Theophilus of Antioch seems to have held to a prima facie literal interpretation of the six days, though he never said so explicitly, but rather expressed humility as he confessed, "Of this six days’ work no man can give a worthy explanation and description of all its parts, not though he had ten thousand tongues and ten thousand mouths; nay, though he were to live ten thousand years, sojourning in this life, not even so could he utter anything worthy of these things, on account of the exceeding greatness and riches of the wisdom of God which there is in the six days’ work above narrated." (Letter to Autolycus 2:12)

St. Cyril of Alexandria, who also takes a prima facie literal approach, was similarly humble about our ability to understand from Gen. 1-2 the process or processes of the origin of things:

"As for the way in which he made creation happen, we do not have the means to say. I affirm that it is beyond any way of expression known to us: how indeed could what exceeds understanding be explained? In my opinion, the approach imagined by the supreme Being and the way that leads to an understanding of his enterprise will be always as inaccessible to our human condition as we are by nature lower than this Being himself. When Moses said, 'In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,' understand that he condenses and summarizes in some way all the details in a single word, when he describes the genesis of all creation. Then, he attempts to say somehow how this creation was put in order and how all the things created were assigned the role in life which they have." (Against Julian the Apostate 2:27)

It would be more accurately to say that the Fathers did not regard the text *merely* or *primarily* as a step-by-step account of the process of mundane origins. But most still regarded as such on the literal level.

A few of them regarded it that way -- but when we're only talking about a few Fathers, it's risky to say "the Fathers" held this or that opinion.

Next, as Jeff Culbreath points out, there is little reason for the Holy Father to make this distinction except so as to get around the Darwinist objections to Genesis. But even if the Fathers's focus was elsewhere, you just admitted that *most* Fathers' interpretation *still* conflicts with Darwinism.

Most of the very few Fathers who addressed the question had views incompatible with Darwinism, true -- but then Darwinism isn't the only possible sort of evolutionary theory. Darwinism could be false and yet God may still have brought life into existence through some kind of evolutionary process, or a process (or processes) that externally appear to be evolutionary or Darwinistic.

Most listeners to Pope Benedict's words would infer from what he said that most of the Fathers did *not* take Genesis as literally true in its historical sense.

Most listeners don't know enough about these things to have a right to an opinion.

This is especially true as what he's trying to do is obviate the Darwinistic objections.

Or obviate the false notion that Catholicism is irreconcilable with evolutionary theories.

we're still left with most of the Fathers' exegesis being wrong.

Comparatively few Fathers did any exegesis on Gen. 1-2 at all, and the Church has long cautioned that the individual Fathers didn't always get such things right.

Picard said...

Good discussion.

Truth seems to lie in the middle:

Yes, Jordanes is right: there are several different interpretations of the Fathers (and Augustin ,f.e., had a very special one!).
And yes, the text and the teaching of the Church [see espec. Humani Generis] is compatible with some kind of evolutionary process. Re the body of Adam it would be possilbe that it evolved out of some living materia.

But this all does, f.e., Bonifacius not deny.

And more, he and others have also a point:
The language and interpretation His Holyness uses to solve this difficult problems is not the traditional one.
It realy sounds like my modernist exegets at the universitiy sounded.

There is no doubt that the hexaemeron is not to be easily interpreted and that we should not take it too literally. (Jordanes´point)

On the other hand, the Pope really suggests that the text is only allegorical or "prophetic" and in no sense to be taken literally and as a real chronological history of creation. At least he sounds so.
(Bonifcacius´ and others point - valid point!)

Such an interpretation would not fit the standards given by the Pont. Biblical Commission of the early 20th century (read the decisions of it re our matter!!).

It is more than just prophecy and allegory etc.
The problem is that the Pope sounds as if he would not uphold this view but wanted to reduce the text to such a "prophecy".