It is not often that I find myself in agreement with Professor Jerry Coyne, but this is one of those occasions. Over at his Website, Why Evolution is True, Professor Coyne has written a lengthy post entitled, Catholics proclaim complete harmony between science and their faith, trot out Aquinas again, in which he cites (without naming me) a post of mine from 2010 on Why Aquinas’ views on Scripture would have prevented him from becoming a Darwinist.
I stand by the conclusions I reached in that post, regarding Aquinas’ views on God, creation and Scripture, and I share Coyne’s sense of indignation with the following statement, made by a prominent Catholic theologian from the University of Oxford and a scientist from the American Museum of Natural History:
Evolutionary biology and faith in God are not incompatible, two professors asserted at the international Rimini Meeting, an event that brings hundreds of thousands of people to Italy.
“A proper understanding of creation, especially an understanding set forth by a thinker such as Thomas Aquinas, helps us to see that there is no conflict between evolutionary biology or any of the natural sciences and a fundamental understanding that all that ‘is’, is caused by God,” Professor William E. Carroll of Oxford University’s theology faculty told CNA Aug. 22…
Professor Carroll was a keynote speaker at the Rimini Meeting, an international gathering organized by the Catholic lay movement Communion and Liberation…
Sharing a platform with him was Professor Ian Tattersall of the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Unlike Aquinas, I happen to be a Catholic who believes in common descent. However, I know enough about the history of the Church’s teachings on human origins over the last 2,000 years, to realize that some things are not up for grabs for Catholics, as Professor Carroll seems to think they are. The contemporary scientific consensus on evolutionary biology clearly contradicts Catholic teaching on several points – the most notable of which is Adam and Eve. (The doctrine that God directly and supernaturally created Adam and Eve’s human souls is another point of conflict.) I thought I’d assemble the evidence here, and let readers judge for themselves.
I intend to show below that the Catholic Church is still committed to the view that the human race is descended from a single original pair, Adam and Eve, and from nobody else.
But there’s more. Fr. Brian Harrison, a conservative Catholic priest who is Associate Professor of Theology, at the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, has written a two part article entitled, Did Woman Evolve From the Beasts? – A Defence of Traditional Catholic Doctrine – Part I and Part II, has gone further, and argued that Catholics are, to this day, bound to believe as infallible Catholic teaching the proposition that Eve was formed from Adam’s side, and that if Adam was descended from the animals, the final step in his physical evolution must have been accomplished not naturally, but by supernatural intervention. Or as Fr. Harrison puts it in another article entitled, Did the Human Body evolve naturally? A Forgotten Papal Declaration, “Hence, … a last-minute supernatural intervention at the moment of Adam’s conception would have been necessary in order to give his embryonic body the genetic constitution and physical features of a true human being.” As I am not a theologian, I will content myself with presenting the evidence, so that people can assess it and form their own judgement. I will say, though, that in my opinion, Fr. Harrison makes a very good case (on theological grounds) for his view that while Adam may have evolved, Eve must have been created.
Our review of Catholic tradition will begin in the third century. Even the early Church Father Origen (185-254 A.D.), De Principiis, Book IV, chapter 21, who was a great allegorizer of Scripture, taught the existence of a single individual named Adam, who is the “father of all men”:
For every beginning of those families which have relation to God as to the Father of all, took its commencement lower down with Christ, who is next to the God and Father of all, being thus the Father of every soul, as Adam is the father of all men.
In the fourth century, St. Epiphanius (c. 310- 403 A.D.), Bishop of Constantia in Cyprus, forcefully asserted the truth of monogenism (the doctrine that all human beings are descended from a single pair, Adam and Eve) in his Panarion Book I, Section III, section 39 (Against the Sethians):
4 (2) Two men were not formed (at the beginning). One man was formed, Adam; and Cain, Abel and Seth came from Adam. And the breeds of men before the flood cannot derive from two men but must derive from one, since the breeds all have their own origins from Adam.
(Panarion. Translated by Frank Williams. Copyright 1987 and 1997, by Koninklijke Brill, Leiden, The Netherlands)
The fourth century bishop, St. Ambrose of Milan (c. 339-397 A.D.), who is honored as a Doctor of the Church and who also baptized St. Augustine, clearly taught that Adam was the unique source for the propagation of the human race and that Eve was made from Adam’s side, in chapter 10 of his work, “On Paradise” (c. 375):
(48) … Not without significance, too, is the fact that woman was made out of the rib of Adam. She was not made of the same earth with which he was formed, in order that we might realize that the physical nature of both man and woman is identical and that there was one source for the propagation of the human race. For that reason, neither was man created together with a woman, nor were two men and two women created at the beginning, but first a man and after that a woman. God willed it that human nature be established as one. Thus from the very inception of the human stock He eliminated the possibility that many different natures should arise.
(Cited in Eve and Adam: Jewish, Christian and Muslim readings on Genesis and gender by Kristen E. Kvam, Linda S. Schearing and Valarie H. Ziegler, Indiana University Press, 1999, page 138.)
St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.), writing in his City of God, Book XVI, Chapter 8, on “Whether Certain Monstrous Races of Men are Derived from the Stock of Adam or Noah’s Sons”, taught that Christians are obliged to believe that all human beings on Earth, no matter how different they may appear to other human beings, are descended from a single progenitor or “protoplast”, named Adam:
But whoever is anywhere born a man, that is, a rational, mortal animal, no matter what unusual appearance he presents in color, movement, sound, nor how peculiar he is in some power, part, or quality of his nature, no Christian can doubt that he springs from that one protoplast [original progenitor – i.e. Adam – VJT]. We can distinguish the common human nature from that which is peculiar, and therefore wonderful.
St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), who is known as the Angelic Doctor, Summa Theologica I, q. 102, art. 1, quoted St. Augustine when explaining why Christians are bound to believe in a literal Garden of Eden (Paradise):
I answer that, As Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xiii, 21): “Nothing prevents us from holding, within proper limits, a spiritual paradise; so long as we believe in the truth of the events narrated as having there occurred.” For whatever Scripture tells us about paradise is set down as a matter of history; and wherever Scripture makes use of this method, we must hold to the historical truth of the narrative as a foundation of whatever spiritual explanation we may offer.
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I, q. 32, article 4, also taught that Christians are bound to believe factual assertions made in Scripture, even when they have no direct bearing on faith and morals:
A thing is of faith, indirectly, if the denial of it involves as a consequence something against faith; as for instance if anyone said that Samuel was not the son of Elcana, for it follows that the divine Scripture would be false.
And here’s St. Thomas Aquinas again, in his Commentary on Job (Prologue), on why Christians are not permitted to believe that the story of Job was originally intended as nothing more than a parable, as some people in his day (including the Jewish philosopher Maimonides) had suggested:
In Ezechiel, the Lord is represented as saying, “If there were three just men in our midst, Noah, Daniel, and Job, these would free your souls by their justice.” (Ez. 14:14) Clearly Noah and Daniel really were men in the nature of things and so there should be no doubt about Job who is the third man numbered with them. Also, James says, “Behold, we bless those who persevered. You have heard of the suffering of Job and you have seen the intention of the Lord.” (James 5:11) Therefore one must believe that the man Job was a man in the nature of things.
Not the wording: “one must believe” that Job was a real man. If this is what Aquinas held about the historicity of Job, what would he have thought about modern-day Catholics who deny the historical reality of Adam?
Regarding the formation of Eve from Adam’s side, Fr. Brian Harrison handily summarizes the views of Aquinas in his article, Did Woman Evolve From the Beasts? – A Defence of Traditional Catholic Doctrine (Part II):
The most universally approved of all theologians, St. Thomas Aquinas, lived before the modern vocabulary of theological notes had been developed, but it is clear that he judged the doctrine, understood literally and historically, to be totally certain. This is evident from ST, Ia, Q. 92, articles 2 and 3, inquiring, respectively, whether in general it was fitting for woman to be formed from man, and whether, more specifically, it was fitting for her to be formed from the man’s rib. In both articles, the ‘sed contra’ is a peremptory appeal to Scriptural texts: Sir. 17: 5 in art. 2 and Gen. 2: 22 in art. 3. When, in his ‘sed contras’, Aquinas cites a Scriptural text rather than magisterial, patristic or philosophical authorities, he means to show that the answer he discerns to the question being posed is backed up by the supreme authority of God’s own written word, in a passage, moreover, whose meaning is so clear that merely to cite it is to understand it. So in modern theological parlance, we would have to say that St. Thomas is proposing the formation of Eve from Adam’s rib or side as at least ‘proximate to faith’.
A few decades after St. Thomas Aquinas’ death, the ecumenical Council of Vienne in 1312 published the Constitution Fidei catholicae, which referred to the formation of Eve from Adam’s side as pre-figuring the formation of the Church, which the New Testament describes in Ephesians 5:25-32 as the Spouse of Christ:
[We confess] … that after [Jesus’] spirit was already rendered up, his side suffered perforation by a lance, so that through the ensuing flow of water and blood, the one and only, immaculate, virgin holy Mother Church, the Spouse of Christ, might be formed, just as from the side of the first man, cast into sleep, Eve was formed for him unto marriage. This happened so that the reality manifested in our last Adam, that is, Christ, might correspond to a certain prefiguring of that reality constituted by the first and ancient Adam, who, according to the Apostle, “is a type of the one who was to come” [cf. Rom. 5: 14]. (DS 901 = D 480)
The great theologian Francisco Suarez (1548-1617), a Spanish Jesuit who is generally regarded as one of the greatest Scholastic philosophers after St. Thomas Aquinas, held that the immediate formation of Adam’s and Eve’s bodies by God is to be held definitively as Catholic doctrine, as Fr. Brian Harrison notes in his article, Did Woman Evolve From the Beasts? – A Defence of Traditional Catholic Doctrine (Part II):
Suarez, another truly great theologian, teaches that the immediate formation of both Adam’s and Eve’s bodies by God is “doctrina catholica“, that is, definitive tenenda.
(De Opere Sex Dierum, 1, 3. ch. 1, nos. 4 and 6.)
Echoing the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, Cardinal St. Robert Bellarmine, S.J. (1542-1621), another Doctor of the Church, affirmed the absolute inerrancy of all factual assertions made in Scripture, in his celebrated Letter to Paolo Foscarini on Galileo’s Theories, April 12, 1615:
It would be just as heretical to deny that Abraham had two sons and Jacob twelve, as it would be to deny the virgin birth of Christ, for both are declared by the Holy Ghost through the mouths of the prophets and apostles.
Nor has the teaching of the Church changed in modern times. More than two decades after the publication of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species, Pope Leo XIII wrote about the origin of marriage in his 1880 encyclical, Arcanum (On Christian Marriage), paragraph 5, and affirmed that the creation of Eve from Adam’s side was an historical fact that is known to all, and “cannot be doubted by any”:
…The true origin of marriage, venerable brothers, is well known to all. Though revilers of the Christian faith refuse to acknowledge the never-interrupted doctrine of the Church on this subject, and have long striven to destroy the testimony of all nations and of all times, they have nevertheless failed not only to quench the powerful light of truth, but even to lessen it. We record what is to all known, and cannot be doubted by any, that God, on the sixth day of creation, having made man from the slime of the earth, and having breathed into his face the breath of life, gave him a companion, whom He miraculously took from the side of Adam when he was locked in sleep. God thus, in His most far-reaching foresight, decreed that this husband and wife should be the natural beginning of the human race, from whom it might be propagated and preserved by an unfailing fruitfulness throughout all futurity of time.
Fr. Brian Harrison, commenting on the above passage in his article, Early Vatican Responses to the Evolution Controversy, makes the following observation on the state of the controversy regarding evolution within the Catholic Church in the late nineteenth century:
It is noteworthy that no censure was even necessary, during this period, either of a polygenistic account of human origins or of the thesis that the body of the first woman was also a product of evolution. This is because no Catholic author, it seems, had yet dared advocate these theses, in opposition to truths which were so firmly established in Scripture and Tradition.
Some Catholics believe that Pope Pius XII reversed the Church’s stance on evolution. The truth, however, is quite different. In November 1941, Pope Pius XII expressly affirmed that Eve was formed from Adam’s side in an allocution given to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences:
God formed man and crowned his brow with the diadem of his image and likeness… . Only from man could there come another man who could call him father and parent; and the helpmate given to the first man also comes from him and is flesh of his flesh …. Her name comes from the man, because she was taken from him.
(“… Dio plasmò l’uomo e gli coronò la fronte del diadema della sua immagine e somiglianza… . Dall’uomo soltanto poteva venire un altro uomo che lo chiamasse padre e genitore; e l’aiuto dato da Dio al primo uomo viene pure da lui ed è carne della sua carne …, che ha nome dell’uomo, perché da lui è stata tratta“)
(Acta Apostolicae Sedis 33 , p. 506.)
Several years later, Pope Pius XII cautiously permitted theological enquiry into the possible origin of the human body from pre-existing living organisms, in his 1950 encyclical Humani Generis, paragraph 36:
…[T]he Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter – for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God.
However, Pope Pius XII, in the same encyclical, Humani Generis, paragraph 37, reminded Catholics that polygenism (the view that the human race was descended from more than two first parents) is off-limits to Catholics:
When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents.
Pope Pius XII also affirmed that the first eleven chapters of Genesis must be considered free from all historical errors, even if they borrow from popular narratives that were current at the time when Genesis was written, in his encyclical, Humani Generis, paragraphs 38-39:
[T]he first eleven chapters of Genesis, although properly speaking not conforming to the historical method used by the best Greek and Latin writers or by competent authors of our time, do nevertheless pertain to history in a true sense… If, however, the ancient sacred writers have taken anything from popular narrations (and this may be conceded), it must never be forgotten that they did so with the help of divine inspiration, through which they were rendered immune from any error in selecting and evaluating those documents.
Therefore, whatever of the popular narrations have been inserted into the Sacred Scriptures must in no way be considered on a par with myths or other such things…
Finally, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, approved by Pope John Paul II, affirms the reality of Adam and Eve as historical individuals in paragraphs 366 and 375:
The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God – it is not “produced” by the parents – and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection…
The Church, interpreting the symbolism of biblical language in an authentic way, in the light of the New Testament and Tradition, teaches that our first parents, Adam and Eve, were constituted in an original “state of holiness and justice”.
Well, there’s the evidence. What do readers think?