God the Author of Nature and the Supernatural
Part Two: Creation as a Divine Fact
Section Two: Supernatural Anthropology
The Body of Adam was Made by an Immediate Operation of God.
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
The object of inquiry in this thesis is the origin
of the body of the first man. In view of the preceding analysis, we can easily
conclude that the soul of Adam must have been immediately created by God. For
if the souls of men in general must be created by divine power, the soul of
the first man could have been no exception. Otherwise we should have to postulate
an origin either by emanation from the divine essence or by transformism from
pure matter, neither of which is theologically or philosophically tenable. Even
St. Augustine who had doubts about creationism, assumed it was certain that
God directly created the soul of Adam.
Consequently our study
is concerned only with the body of Adam. Unquestionably God might have immediately
created not only the soul but also the body of the first man. But relying
on the biblical narrative, theologians commonly hold that God utilized pre-existing
matter to form Adam's body. And according to St. Thomas this was more consonant
than immediate creation because man was thus seen to be the bond of union between
the world of pure spirits and the cosmos of pure matter.
Among theologians until
modern times there were two principal areas of controversy about the origin
of Adams body. One theory required angelic cooperation in the process; the
other discussed the question of how precisely God formed the body of the first
man, whether in an instant of time or progressively through different stages
Since the middle of the
last century, however, the problem facing theologians was whether and to what
extent the Catholic faith allows acceptance of the theory of evolution. Actually
this problem has only minor importance in the complexes of Christian revelation.
What is important is that God is the ultimate author of man's soul and also
of his body. On the other hand, few questions are more popularly discussed or
have become more symbolic of the so-called conflict between faith and reason.
Our purpose therefore is the eminently practical
one of determining what are the limits of reconciliation between faith and anthropological
evolution. However to avoid the mistake so often made when one science undertakes
to discuss another scientific field, we shall confine ourselves to the area
of theology. Consequently we are not going to evaluate the arguments for or
against biological evolution as a scientific hypothesis. We may freely admit
that the theory which says that the human species has descended from a lower
living being is accepted as probable nowadays in the scientific world. In fact
in some circles it is held as absolutely certain. Moreover it explains a fair
number of facts. But as theologians we are directly interested only to know
if it is not in contradiction with revealed doctrine. The point is that
even if the evolutionary theory were one day to be abandoned on scientific grounds,
our answer and understanding of the harmony or discord with faith would have
meaning and correspondingly would add to a deeper penetration of revealed doctrine.
The body as understood
in the thesis is the material counterpart of the soul, which is understood to
have been directly created by God. moreover the body is taken as a human body,
informed by the rational spirit.
Adam is synonymous for the first man, as described in the
first chapters of Genesis and commonly recognized in Judaic and Christian tradition
as the father of the human race.
The expression "was
made" means effective causality which is not creation. It may be called
"eductive," in the sense that it presupposed existing matter, whether
living or inorganic.
By an immediate operation
of God we mean there was no natural co-cause which God used in the production
of Adam's body. In other words, God is said to have acted otherwise than He
does normally as the immediate first cause which concurs with a secondary cause,
where the latter, as principal agent by its natural power would have produced
the body of Adam. Rather God is declared to have acted by a special action
as the principal efficient cause, in such a way as to exclude the function of a brute animal, as principal natural cause, producing a human body by
natural generation or some other way through its own purely natural evolution.
Strictly speaking the immediacy
of God's action does not exclude what is called special transformism,
namely, that under same special divine influence on the brute animal,
it would evolve into something from which the human body was derived by divine
operation. In view of the importance of careful distinction of terms at this
point, we shall further clarify the difference between generation and
derivation; so that the thesis might be restated to read that "The
first man was not properly speaking generated from a brute animal."
To generate really
means to give life to a being like to oneself. It is imperative to keep the
concept of generation clearly in mind because it is often used by writers
on this subject in a purely metaphorical sense.
Thus it would not be true generation to produce
non-living things by transformation from something else, as happens, for example,
in the transformation of elements into compounds.
It would also not be generation
in the strict sense if the one generating and the one generated both were living
things, but the life they possessed was not of the same nature. God created
the first man, but He did not generate him. So also if in forming the first
man God had used the ministry of angels, as the ancient scholastics believed,
reserving to Himself the creation of the soul, the angels would not become man's
progenitors just because they helped to prepare the body for infusion of the
soul; the natures of man and angel are specifically different.
Moreover it would not be
real generation even when generator and generated are both living beings with
the same nature, if the action of the one generating was not intrinsically ordained
to produce a being possessed of the same nature. For example, if ever artificial
human parthenogenesis were achieved, the scientist who made it possible would
not become the father of the child born in this way. His action would not be
generation because it was not intrinsically directed to produce a being similar
in nature to the person who performed the parthenogenesis.
The correlative term to generation is derivation
of a human being from another organism.
To further clarify the meaning of derivation,
we may postulate for the sake of argument that to form the body of the first
man God made use of "matter already existing and alive," that is,
of some lower organism which had sensitive life and which had been generated
from a brute animal. In this hypothetical case, what would Adam's relation be
with the previous generating animal? No doubt there would be a physical connection
of descent: we should say that Adam was derived from the animal. But
the animal would not be Adam's father in any sense. Not only does Adam have
a nature which is essentially superior to the generating animal, but the generative
function of the animal is intrinsically ordained to produce only an inferior
organism of the same species and nature which, in our hypothesis, would be transformed
by divine action into man.
In the theoretical case
described, therefore, the action of the animal would be totally different than
that of human parents. True the human parents do not produce a spiritual soul,
which must be created and directly infused by God. Yet their whole parental
function is directed to prepare a material subject duly adapted to receive
the rational spirit. The actio generative of the animal,
on the other hand, is to produce an organism that God must step in to transform
into a man; it is not to produce an apt subject for receiving a spiritual soul.
Moreover the ultimate dispositions in the body, produced by the soul at the
moment of its infusion, are not therefore in intrinsic continuity with the preceding
Still on the speculative level, the divine intervention
for transforming an animal into a man might have occurred from an animal in
full age maturity or in the state of embryo. In these cases, the generative
action of the animal and the transformative action of God would be successive.
Or the two operations might be conceived as simultaneous and coordinate
as principal and instrumental cause. In this case, the generative power of the
animal would terminate with producing an organism which, under special divine
influx, became fit to receive a human soul. This fitness, however, was not due
to animal generation alone, but to the generation plus its use by God
to produce an effect superior to the natural exigencies or capacities of animal
Even in the last hypothesis
there is still no question of true generation. At most there would be derivation,
since an animal would produce a being which is essentially superior to itself,
namely, a human body. Its action would not be internally ordained to produce
such an effect, but does so only under the influence of God as special,
principal agent, using the prior animal function as instrument operating
beyond its native inherent ability.
In view of the foregoing,
we see more clearly the difference between generation and derivation. The distinction,
however, cannot be ascertained by mere analysis or scientific experimentation
in the sense order. To all external appearances the same thing may seem to take place. It is only by reasoned reflection that we know the difference,
on the principle that when an essentially inferior being or organism gives rise
to a higher, living thing, that is, from animal to human body, there had to
be a special divine intervention, and consequently (appearances nothwithstanding)
it would not be true generation.
There is a further subtle
question which does not basically change the explanation so far given. Could
this divine intervention have come at the very beginning, at the time when primitive
organisms were first being formed, so that they were endowed with a certain
preter-native power, destined successively to develop and finally produce
a human body? The essential fact still remains, that no matter when God is said
to have intervened, this intervention logically implies that the organism producing
an effect superior to itself was acting as instrumental cause, in virtue of
an energy that was added to its nature. By instrumental cause we here mean a
cause which does not act only with the forces proper to its essence, flowing
from its substantial or accidental forms, but with a power received
from the principal cause, in this instance God.
Since the principal issue
concerned in the thesis is the legitimacy of evolution of the body of the first
man from a lower species, the meaning of evolution and its various types should
general is the theory that holds the natural and successive change of things
from one genus or at least from one species into another genus or species. Two
kinds of evolution are postulated. A universal type which extends the theory
to inorganic matter and claims that organisms developed from non-living things;
and a restricted kind which concerns itself only with the postulated
change among living beings. In theological sources, restricted evolution is
also called Transformism.
Both evolution and transformism
may be either radical or mitigated. The radical form claims that
man evolved from the brute animal both in body and soul; the mitigated
type says the evolution concerned only the body. There is also a theory
of transformism which prescinds from the development of man, and limits speculation
only to the lower species. It is then purely biological transformism;
but when man's body is included in the theory, we have biological-anthropological
transformism. In ordinary parlance, evolution means the latter kind.
Finally mitigated biological-anthropological
transformism may be either absolute and exigitive or relative
and non-exigitive. In the first instance, the theory holds that the body
of lower animals by successive organic evolution finally became so disposed
that, in virtue of this disposition, the perfected animal body requires (exigit)
a rational soul as its principle of life. In the second case, the animal body
is also said to develop through successive evolution of its organs and becomes
disposed for a human soul, but not so as to require the infusion of
the rational spirit as a vital principle.
While the literature on evolution in all of its
phases is immense, it is not difficult to isolate representatives of the one
main adversative position: radical transformism, which claims that all of man,
body and soul, developed by inherent energy from the animal species. Certain
names stand out as classic radical evolutionists: Herbert Spencer, Ernst Haeckel,
Charles Darwin, H.G. Wells, Julian Huxley, and J.B.S. Haldane.
Darwin had many pious statements about the Creator
which should not obscure his basic attitude towards evolution as explanatory
of the whole of visible existence. The primary source for his doctrine on human
evolution is not The Origin of Species but The Descent of Man.
The following passage deserves full quotation:
"By considering the
embryological structure of man - the homologies which he represents with the
lower animals - the rudiments which he retains, and the reversions to which
he is liable - we can partly recall in imagination the former condition of
our early progenitors; and can approximately place them in their proper place
in the zoological series.
We thus learn that man
is descended from a hairy, tailed quadruped, probably arboreal in its habits,
and an inhabitant of the Old World. This creature, if its whole structure had
been examined by a naturalist, would have been classed among the Quadrumana,
as surely as the still more ancient progenitor of the Old and New World monkeys.
The Quadrumana and the higher mammals are probably derived from an ancient marsupial
animal, and this through a long line of diversified forms, from some amphibian-like
creature, and this again from some fish-like animal.
The high standard of our intellectual powers
and moral disposition is the greatest difficulty which presents itself, after
we have been driven to this conclusion on the origin of man. But everyone who
admits the principle of evolution, must see that the mental powers of the higher
animals, which are the same in kind with those of man, though so different in
degree, are capable of advancement.
Thus the interval between
the mental powers of one of the higher apes and of a fish, or between those
of an ant and scale insect, is immense. Yet their development does not offer
any special difficulty; for with our domesticated animals, the mental faculties
are certainly variable, and the variations are inherited. No one doubts that they are of the utmost importance to animals in a state of nature. Therefore
the conditions are favourable for their development through natural selection.
The same conclusion may be extended to man; the intellect must have been all-important
to him, even at a very remote period, as enabling him to invent and use
language, to make weapons, tools, traps, etc., whereby with the aid of his social
habits, he long ago became the most dominant of all living creatures."
The Descent of Man, 1896, pp. 609-610.
Typical of a present-day radical evolutionism
are the articles in the Rationalist Encyclopedia on "Biogenetic
Law," "Evolution," and "Vestigial Organs." Particularly
instructive is the thoroughness with which evolution is taken to explain the
origin of all life processes, along with arguments in its favor.
"Haeckel, deepening and expanding the work of earlier embryologists, established
as a proof of evolution that in the course of its embryonic development the
organism passes through a series of forms which, with certain reserves,
corresponds to the series of forms of its ancestors in past time
called this the Biogenetic Law, and the expression is retained in science. Controversial
writers often say that the law has been abandoned. This is quite false.
It is given as proof of the evolution of man in such recent and authoritative
works as Dr. Julian Huxley's Stream of Life, J.B.S. Haldane's Causes
of Evolution, Graham Kerr's Evolution, Dendy's Outlines
of Evolutionary Biology and even the apologetic symposium Creative Evolution.
means that when the organism
reached a certain stage of somatic development the animal mind 'emerged,' and
that when the ape-man in turn reached a certain stage of development the human
mind 'emerged,' in each case in correlation with brain development, mind and
brain being two aspects of one and the same reality, as in Spinoza's philosophy.
has now discarded the old sharp antithesis of instinct and reason,
of subhuman and human faculties, and traces a gradual development of modes and
mechanism of behavior from the flagellates or the simplest bacteria to the highest
We have not
only a complete gradation of mental capabilities and culture from the lowest
human level, the Negritos, to the highest, but, in co-operation with prehistoric
archaeology, the science (of anthropology) shows how the hierarchy of peoples
is explained by the departure into isolation and stagnation of these various
peoples at successive stages of man's development from the ape-form, so that
they have substantially, allowing for some further development according to
circumstances and the diffusion of culture, preserved those stages in nature's
(are) atrophied organs or structures in the plant and the animal organism which
must have functioned normally in ancestors
Obvious examples in man are the
body hair, the external ears, the male breasts, and the nictitating membrane
in the inner corner of each eye. Familiar examples are also the vermiform appendix,
the coccyx (base of the vertebral column or vestigial tale), the pineal body,
Because earlier writers on them, like Wildersheim and Haeckel, included
one or two, like the thymus and thyroid glands, in a list of more than a hundred
at a time when physiology was still imperfectly informed, apologists sometimes
claim that the whole list is discredited and unreliable. Such vestigial organs
as the male breasts, the hair on arms and chest, and the external ears, have
so clear an evolutionary significance that no one with a knowledge of
physiology attempts to interpret them in any other way. Such structures are
found, as relics of organs which were useful to former ancestors, throughout
the higher animal and plant worlds." Rationalist Encyclopedia,
1950, pp. 183, 200, 605.
The most famous exponent of a mitigated transformism
which was also exigitive in claiming that the naturally evolved animal body
required a human soul was St. George Mivart (1827-1900). Mivart was a convert
to Catholicism and one of the ranking scientists of his day. After Darwin published
his theory of evolution, Mivart took issue with materialistic transformism and
published a series of books and articles against Darwinianism. Later editions
of The Origin of Species included lengthy replies to Mivart. Substantially
what Mivart held was that the soul of the first man was directly created by
God, but his body reached human perfection by a process of natural evolution.
The only divine intervention he postulated was the infusion of a rational soul.
to the old scholastic definition, is 'a rational animal' (animal rationale),
and his animality is distinct in nature from his rationality, though inseparably
joined, during life, in one common personality. This animal body must have had
a different source from that of the spiritual soul which informs it, from the
distinctness of the two orders to which those two existences severally belong.
plainly to indicate this when it says that 'God made man from the dust of the
earth, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.' This is a plain and
direct statement that man's body was not created in the primary
and absolute sense of the word, but was evolved from preexisting material (symbolized
by the term dust of the earth'), and was therefore only derivatively
created, i.e., by the operation of secondary laws.
His soul, on the other hand, was created
in quite a different way, not by any preexisting means, external to God Himself,
but by the direct action of the Almighty, symbolized by the term breathing:
the very form adopted by Christ, when conferring the supernatural powers
and graces of the Christian dispensation, and a form still used in the rites
and ceremonies of the Church.
That the first
man should have had this double origin agrees with what we now experience. For
supposing each human soul to be directly and immediately created, yet each human
body is evolved by the ordinary operation of natural physical laws.
In this way
we find a perfect harmony in the double nature of man, his rationality making
use of and subsuming his animality; his soul arising from direct and immediate
creation, and his body being formed at first (as now in each separate individual)
by derivative or secondary creation, through natural laws. By such secondary
creation, i.e., by natural laws, for the most part as yet unknown but controlled
by 'Natural Selection,' all the various kinds of animals and plants have been
manifested on this planet. That Divine action has concurred and concurs in these
laws we know by deductions from our primary intuitions; and physical science,
if unable to demonstrate such action, is at least as impotent to disprove it.
these deductions, the phenomena of the universe present an aspect devoid of
all that appeals to the loftiest aspirations of man, that which stimulates his
efforts after goodness, and presents consolations for unavoidable shortcomings.
Conjoined with these same deductions, all the harmony of physical
nature and the constancy of its laws are preserved unimpaired, while the reason,
the conscience, and the aesthetic instincts are alike gratified. We have thus
a true reconciliation of science and religion, in which each gains and neither
loses, one being complementary to the other." The Genesis of Species,
1871, pp. 282, 287.
Mivart was severely criticized by Catholic authors
after the publication of The Genesis of Species, but the Church did not
directly intervene. In fact Mivart was honored in 1876 by receiving from
Pius IX the title of doctor in philosophy. His later difficulties with
ecclesiastical authorities stemmed from other causes than his position on evolution.
Nevertheless Mivart should be listed as adversative to the thesis as will be
Since the Vatican
Council has defined that, "If anyone dares to assert that nothing exists
except matter: let him be anathema" (DB 1802), we may say it is implicitly
defined or at least theologically certain that the whole of the first
man did not arise from matter. Or reasoning from the fact that it is De Fide
ex Jugi Magisterio that souls are immediately created by God, we may say
it would be heretical
to hold that Adam's soul (along with his body) naturally evolved from a
Taking the thesis
as it stands, in the sense of affirming a special divine action in the formation
of the body of the first man, it is common theological doctrine. It
would therefore be temerarious to claim that Adam's body arose by a purely
natural transformism, for example, in the sense of Mivart who taught that the
body of the first man developed naturally from the lower animal species and
that the only divine "intervention" was to create a rational soul.
it would be theologically unsafe, without further qualifying as heretical
or temerarious, to assert the strict generation of the first man's body from
a brute beast.
We can also
say that transformism of any kind, whether involving special divine operation
or not, is held as less probable among theologians; or conversely it
is probable doctrine that the body of the first man did not evolve from the
animal species, even allowing for God's intervention.
If we postulate
some special divine agency in the formation of the first mans body,
even without excluding all animal instrumentality, it is better to withhold
a theological note on the nature of God's operation - while awaiting further
judgment of the Church, based on the evidence still needed to raise the certitude
about anthropological evolution.
Our proof of
the thesis will consist of two parts, the first to establish some kind of immediacy
in God's formation of the first man's body, and the second to inquire in the
limits of admission that Adam's body was derived from a lower organism.
Part One: "The Body of Adam was Made
by an Immediate Operation of God."
We shall confine ourselves to the published statements
of Pius XII, both because of their extensive nature and because they represent
the most recent judgments of the Holy See on the question of human origins.
The first was an address given to the Pontifical
Academy of Sciences in 1941, when the Pope listed certain "elements
which must be retained as certainly attested by the sacred author (of Genesis),
without any possibility of an allegorical interpretation." These elements
in question are:
The essential superiority of man in relation
to other animals, by reason of his spiritual soul.
The derivation of the body of the first woman from
the first man.
The impossibility that the father and progenitor
of a man could be other than a human being, i.e., the impossibility that the
first man could have been the son of an animal, generated by the latter in the
proper sense of the term. In context, the Pope said, "Only from a man can
another man descend, whom he can call father and progenitor" Acta Apostolicae
Sedis, 1941, pg. 506. On other questions concerning the origin of
man, the pontiff said we must wait for more light "from science, illumined
and guided by revelation." Augustine Bea of the Biblical Institute believed
these "other questions" still open include the degree in which a lower
species may have cooperated in the formation of the first man, the way in which
Eve was formed from Adam, and the age of the human race.
In the Encyclical Humani Generis, published
in 1950, Pius XII expressed himself at length on the subject of evolution.
This was the first time in history that the Holy See had officially treated
in a document of such authority the question of the evolutionary origin of
the human body. The passage should be quoted in detail:
"The Magisterium of the Church does not
forbid that the theory of evolution concerning the origin of the human body
as coming from preexistent and living matter - for the Catholic faith obliges
us to hold that human souls are immediately created by God - be investigated
and discussed by experts as far as the present state of human sciences and sacred
However, this must be done so that reasons for
both sides, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, be
weighed and judged with the necessary gravity, moderation and discretion. And
let all be prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church to whom Christ has
given the mission of interpreting authentically the Sacred Scriptures and of
safeguarding the dogmas of faith.
On the other hand, those go too far and transgress this liberty of discussion
who act as if the origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter
were already fully demonstrated by the facts discovered up to now and by reasoning
on them, and as if there were nothing in the sources of revelation which demanded
the greatest reserve and caution in this controversy" Acta
Apostolicae Sedis, 1950, pp. 575-576.
Pertinent to our thesis is the twice used phrase,
"origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter." When
using the term, the papal document explicitly cites the previous Allocution,
quoted above, in which the Pope emphasizes that only from a man can another
human being descend as child from parent. True generation from an animal is
ruled out, so that if the preexistent and living matter from which Adam's
body derived were animal, the derivation had to be by some special action of
God (which is our thesis) and not by merely natural evolution.
Briefly summarized, the first narrative of human
creation in the first chapter of Genesis clearly excludes materialistic evolution
but not so clearly excludes the Mivartian type of transformism because nothing
is said about the way Adam's body came from God.
The second creation narrative (Genesis II), though
certainly anthropomorphic and the degree of anthropomorphism not easily discernible,
yet is too detailed and contrasts too strongly with the rise of other creatures
less than man not to imply some special action of God relative to Adam's body.
Patristic and Theological Evidence
Before the theory of evolution
came on the scene, the ancient Fathers on through the Scholastics in the middle
Ages to the theologians of modern times universally held that some special
action of God was operative in the formation of the first man's body, distinct
from the ordinary concursus with secondary causes.
It may be worth quoting
the conclusion of a current, exhaustive study of the Fathers relative to evolution.
"There is not a single patristic text on which the theory of evolution
could rest. On the other hand, neither are there any explicit and valid texts
which deny evolution from the viewpoint of dogma and theology" Evolution
in Philosophy and Theology (E. Gonzales), 1956, pg. 175.
Only two main questions
on the subject were raised among theologians prior to modern evolutionism: whether
and to what extent God used preternatural agencies, like the angelic,
in the formation of the first man's body; and whether the limus terrae
of Genesis implied a body divinely prepared to receive a rational soul before
actual infusion, or whether the predisposition was effected along with the
infusion by a special act of God.
But since the theories
of evolution theologians have come to agree that transformism is compatible
with the faith, provided that the soul of the first man was immediately created
by God and that somehow God specially entered the evolutionary process relative
to Adam's body so that the first man was not technically generated by a brute
Arguing from philosophy
alone, we know that the generation of a human being in the strict sense is had
only if the generative action tends ex natura sua to produce a body which
is proximately apt to receive an intellectual soul. A brute animal, however,
is incapable of placing such generative action, since animal generation,
in common with all operations of a being, is proportionate to the nature of
an animal. This according to the principle operatio sequitur esse. Of
itself, then, an animal tends to procreate only another animal.
and anticipating the proof of monogenism, if we admit evolution of any kind
(apart from a special action of God), it is hard to explain how only one
human being was generated by only one animal, and not rather many human beings
by many animals.
Again on a theological
plane, granting that Eve was formed in body from Adam, it is again difficult
to see why only the first man and not also the first woman should have been
generated from an animal - on the postulate that evolution took place without
special divine action beyond even the Mivartian kind. It may be stressed that
the only tuta sententia, in view, e.g., of Pius XII's statement to the
Academy of Sciences, is that Eve was somehow derived from Adam.
Finally a grave problem arises from the known supernatural
possessions and special gifts that Adam had from his very creation - sanctifying
grace, bodily immortality, integrity and extraordinary knowledge. It would
seem that this required a highly developed organism, which appears more likely
if man did not descend from an animal by real generation.
Part Two: "Limits of Admission that Adam's
Body Derived from a Lower Organism"
The Encyclical Humani
Generis leaves open for discussion the fact and degree of derivation of
the first man's body by evolution from some kind of inferior living being.
This suggests that nothing in the fontes revelationis is directly contrary
Scripture is not opposed
to the possibility on several counts. The expression limus terrae (Genesis
2:7) is still ambivalent as to whether it should be taken literally or metaphorically.
Equally dubious is the phrase "man became a living being," since this
is inevitably tied in with the description of God as a potter shaping clay.
Other parts of Scripture which repeat the Genesis account are no less open to
various interpretations, since they ultimately depend on the Genesis narrative.
Although the Fathers always
describe man as having been formed from the slime of the earth, it is less clear
that their consent on this point becomes a matter of faith. It may have been
they were not proposing their explanation as part of revealed doctrine but simply
as their opinion, or interpretation, derived from the state of scientific knowledge
at that time.
As a matter of fact, a
strong if not conclusive case can be made out for having the Fathers favorably
disposed to a progressive development of the human body. Those who appeal to
the Fathers for at least negative support of transformism concentrate on Sts.
Augustine and Gregory of Nyssa. The main source for Augustine's mind is the
commentary De Genesi ad Litteram and De Trinitate. Gregory's
principal source is the Apologetic Treatise on the Hexaemeron. One passage
from each of these men illustrates their attitude towards a progressive development.
Before quoting Augustine it is well to recall that a metaphorical literary genre
for certain parts of Genesis was recognized already in the patristic age. "To
suppose that God with bodily hands formed man from the dust is very childish...God
neither formed man with bodily hands nor did He breathe upon him with throat
and lips" De Genesi contra Manichaeos 2, 14.
A classic text in Augustine
comes in the form of a dubium which he proposes to himself. He asks:
How did God make man from the slime of the earth? "Did He make him suddenly,
in a perfect age, namely as a man or a youth, or did He make him as He now forms
human beings in the maternal womb?" In the latter case, the only peculiarity
would be that Adam came from dust and without human parents. "Adam would
have been unique in not having been formed by parents, but was made from the
earth, yet at the same time in such a way that in the making, and the growth
through the ages, the same periods of time would have been occupied which we
now see required by the nature of the human species." Given the problem,
Augustine suggests "perhaps we should not try to solve it," for in
either case the method depended on the will of God. However Augustine favors
the opinion that Adam was made in full maturity. In other words, while leaving
open the possibility of Adam's body being formed per modum embryonis,
he personally opts for a formation "sine ullo progressu incrementorum
virili aetate" De Genesi ad Litteram, 6.
Gregory of Nyssa appears
to be more explicit. Commenting on Genesis, he first pointed out that plants
preceded animals, and animals man in the order of creation. Then he proceeds
to show that because the higher presupposes the lower, the higher can only come
after the lower.
"Corporeal being is
either altogether without life or else shares in the vital activity. And among
living bodies, some possess sensation, others are without it. Lastly, sentient
beings are divided into rational and irrational.
This is why the legislator (Moses) says that,
after inanimate matter was made as a foundation, the notion of life appeared
first in the form of vegetative life in plants, and then is introduced the origin
of beings governed by sensation. And because, according to the same order of
succession found in those to whom life has come through the flesh, on the one
hand the sensitive may exist alone, even without the intellectual nature, but
on the other hand, the rational could originate in a body only by being mingled
together with sensation - man was formed last of all, after the plants and animals,
nature proceeding successively in a certain course towards the perfect.
When, therefore, Scripture
says that man arose last of all the animated beings, the legislator
(Moses) is simply giving us a philosophical lesson about souls, seeing the most
complete perfection realized in the beings formed last of all, because of a
certain necessary succession of order. For in the rational being the others
are also comprised, and in the sensitive the vegetative kind is also wholly
included. And this last is found only in matter. That is why nature is elevated
by degrees as it were, that is, through the varieties of life, from the lower
stages up to the perfect." De Hominis Opificio, 8.
Those who are properly critical about seeing
in Gregory some type of modern evolutionism, which conceives present-day species
as not previously existent but as coming into being, yet admit that Gregory
of Nyssa postulated "that all species existed from the beginning, each
in their own species, but in a hidden manner" (C. Boyer).
There is no problem from
the viewpoint of theologians to admit development of Adam's body from prior
and lower organism. Though always opposed to materialistic evolution, where
soul would emerge from body; and to Mivartian transformism, which demands only
creation of a soul; yet they have not rejected evolution outright, provided
some peculiar divine action is included in the developmental process of man's
On the debit side, however,
and apart from the hypothetical status of the evolutionary theory, Adam would
have evolved either as a fully developed adult (which is common patristic doctrine)
or in the embryonic stage (which seems more consonant with evolutionism). In
the first case it is hard to square the rise of an adult man from an
animal by means of generation; in the second we have the problems raised by
the more common theological position that Adam was gifted with all his natural
and supernatural powers at the moment of creation.
A brief comment is in place
on the nature of the special action of God which we say is philosophically and
theologically required in the formative development of Adam's body if we admit
transformism. Was this action natural or preternatural, i.e.,
miraculous? Certainly it would have exceeded the native powers of the animal
in which it operated, since its purpose was precisely to render the animal capable
of a higher than natural effect, making it suited for receiving a rational soul.
However it was not strictly miraculous, on the principle that while God certainly
acted in His almighty capacity, yet in the first origins of the human race there
was need for an extraordinary and superior kind of divine activity,
given the absence of existing secondary causes such as concur with God in normal
However such special divine
action in the production of Adam's body, whatever its nature, can be known
only by faith and reason, and not by the investigation of experimental
sciences. The sciences can assemble facts, which might prove the successive
rise of different living forms from the lower to the higher and up to man. But
it is outside the scope of the experimental method to decide how this
transit from imperfect to more perfect forms occurred, whether by ordinary
divine concursus or by special divine agency. The modus quo pertains
to reason and revelation, since there is question of the creatures' relationship
with God, which is not within the ambit of mere sensible experience but
of intellectual principles that belong to philosophy and theology.
The amount of literature
currently written on evolution suggests the corresponding amount of thinking
which is being on the subject. Two main streams of thought are discernible:
the prospect of reconciling the various forms of evolution with the demands
of Christian revelation, and the speculation (mostly in non-Christian circles)
on a possible evolutionary process going on in the universe which comprehends
all being and levels of reality and not only the biological and human. Parallel
with this concern is an immense library of information furnished by experimental
scientists, which it is well for theologians at least to know where to find
and perhaps be impressed with the modest claims that authentic scientists make
for established facts about anthropological evolution.
Scientific postulates from the Study of Fossil Man. Since one of the main sources of evidence for evolution
of the human species is fossil remains, it is enlightening to read the statement
recently made by a ranking scientist before the British Association for the
Advancement of Science. According to Sir Wilfred Le Gros Clark, of Oxford
University, present-day knowledge of man's origins from fossil deposits is quite limited. He asks, "What, now, do we actually know from the fossil
record of the origin of mankind?" and answers, "Not
nearly so much as we should like, and not nearly as much as some people seem
to suppose. The fossil record has certainly become much more abundant as the
result of discoveries in recent years...But it is still meagre in comparison
with that of some other group of mammals, so that, while it certainly provides
rather positive indications of the main trends of evolution, many of the details
have to be filled in quite provisionally for the present, with the ready admission
that new discoveries may require quite considerable modifications of current
interpretations of the evidence" Readings in Anthropology, 1959,
The "Seminal Reasons" of St. Augustine. Any discussion of the Christian tradition on the origin
of man's body must take into account the teaching of St. Augustine on the so-called
rationes seminales. Briefly stated, these rationes were in the
nature of potencies which at an appointed time were actuated by God (and may
still be) to effect the rise of new beings. Those who favor an evolutionistic
interpretation of St. Augustine's doctrine of creation see in these rationes
an active potency, which then would explain the progressive rise of new
organisms from lesser ones ab intrinseco. Thus Canon Dorlodot and Ernest
Messenger, who correspondingly minimize (while allowing for) an active agency
on the part of God in the evolutionary process.
Others, who form the majority
and follow St. Thomas, interpret Augustine to have meant merely passive potentialities
by his rationes, as regards the original work of creation including
Adam's body. Since the original creative work was finished, the rationes
of Augustine are seen to be both active and passive. According to St. Thomas,
commenting on Augustine, "God impressed a passive virtue upon the
earth, so that through the active power of the Creator the body of man should
be able to be formed from it" De Potentia, 4,2,22. And again, "A thing
is said to pre-exist according to causal reasons in creatures in two ways: in
one way according to both active and passive power, so that not only is it capable
of being made from pre-existing matter, but also there is some pre-existing
creature (secondary efficient cause) which can produce it. The other way is
according to passive power only, that is, it can be made out of pre-existing
matter by God. It was in this second way, according to St. Augustine, that the
body of man pre-existed in the works produced, according to its causal reasons"
Summa Theologica, 1,91,2.
The Religion of Cosmic Evolution. Any estimate of evolution as merely a scientific
theory with incidental relevance to theology is not only inadequate it is misleading.
Religious humanists who discard revelation have made of cosmic evolution their
philosophy of life or, better, they profess it as a religion. We should not
underestimate the motivating force of this attitude, as we should also know
how to recognize in it what is good and commendable.
Julian Huxley, who wrote the Introduction to
Teilhard de Chardin's The Phenomenon of Man, is perhaps the outstanding
spokesman for this thoroughgoing evolutionism. "Evolutionary biology,"
he says, "has given us a new view, impossible of attainment in any earlier
age, of our human destiny. That destiny is to be the agent of the evolutionary
process on this planet, the instrument for realizing new possibilities for the
future." Modern science, he believes, shows us the picture of a single
process of self-transformation. "There has been a creation of new actualities
during cosmic time: it has been progressive, and it has been self-creation."
All the inspiration of
this concept rests on the fact of "self creation," inherent in the
world, from the "dawn" of existence. The spirit of man is no exception,
since "the entire cosmos, in all its appalling vastness, consists of the
same world-stuff. Following William James, I use this awkward term deliberately
in place of matter, because 'matter' is commonly opposed to 'mind', whereas
it is now apparent that the world-stuff is not restricted to material properties...It
is now clear that minds, in the sense of all activities with obvious mental
component, have evolved just as have material bodies." (Religion Without
Revelation, 1957, pp. 6-7, 213-214, 217).
Science has thus revealed to the religious humanist
man's place in nature. He is the highest form of life produced by the evolutionary
process on this planet, the latest dominant type, and the only organism capable
of further major advance or progress. But the process is intrinsic and
the agency uniquely human, which not only prescinds from the admission
of a personal God but removes the very need for His existence. When Huxley said,
"I disbelieve in a personal God in any sense in which that phrase is ordinarily
used," he was expressing something more than personal bias. It was the
conviction that man, or men collectively, of and by themselves and without a
"God hypothesis" are destined to improve and perfect the world, even
as until now the world has reached its present state of perfection from within
and not as the object of a divine handiwork from without.
Apart from other aspects, the emphasis on self-determination
which characterizes religious humanism is praiseworthy. The duty of Christians
is to show on the one hand that belief in God and supernatural power is not
a deterrent but a spur to human effort, and on the other hand to prove that
man is not self-sufficient but needs divine assistance to reach his human destiny.
- What do we mean by the body of
the first man in the thesis?
- Explain the term "immediate operation,"
and distinguish this from creation.
- What does generation in the strict
sense mean, and give examples of production of a human being that is not real
- Clearly distinguish derivation of Adam's body
from a lower organism and its real generation.
- Briefly explain at what stages in the evolutionary
process the special divine influx regarding Adam's body might have taken place.
- Define evolution in general, and describe
its various forms or types.
- How, ultimately, does exigitive transformism
differ from non-exigitive.
- Briefly state the evolutionary positions of
Charles Darwin and George St. Mivart.
- Outline the basic reasons given by evolutionists
for the progressive development of the human species from a lower organism.
- What are the postulates from
which radical evolutionists argue to the development of the whole man, body
and soul, from the lower animals?
- Summarize the theological notes for
various aspects of the thesis.
- How do we reason from Pius XIIs two documents
to the need for some immediate divine operation in the formation of the body
of the first man?
- State the main items of Humani Genenis relative to human evolution.
- Give the philosophical and theological
reason for requiring more than mere nature to produce the body of the first
man, on the hypothesis of evolution.
- Why does not Scripture argue against
- Comment on St. Augustine's ideas regarding
the origin of man's body.
the position of Gregory of Nyssa regarding the formation of Adam's body,
while quoting at least one pertinent statement from his writings.
- What is the current, scientific evidence
for human evolution from fossil remains?
- Explain briefly what St. Augustine meant
by the rationes seminales, and how did St. Thomas understand them?
- State the position of religious humanists on the
subject of cosmic evolution, and comment on the valid and invalid features
of their doctrine.
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