Genesis Reveals Creation
Part 4 – Basic Catechism on the Bible
Each year I begin my high school freshman class with a study of the first three chapters of Genesis. Not all of my students are avowed evolutionists; however, without fail the majority of them object to the literal-historical nature of the text. My objective in this article is not to disprove evolution – there are useful links at the end of this piece for that – instead, I would like to illuminate what the Church does teach regarding Genesis. In my last article, I spoke of the inerrant nature of Sacred Scripture, and how this pertains not only to spiritual matters, but also to historical matters. In order to preserve the precious gift of faith, without which “it is impossible to please God” (cf. Heb 6:11), it is incumbent on us as Catholics to submit to the solemn judgment of the Church in her Tradition. In this rationalistic secular age, such a submission of our intellect might even be considered a heroic exercise of humility and related virtues.
While it is a fact of life that scriptural truths are contradicted by some natural scientific claims of the world, and probably always will be, as Christians we stand firmly in the truth revealed by God. When the ‘wisdom’ of the world contradicts God, we keep in mind the fleeting nature of human philosophies. We remember the words of Our Lord: “Heaven and earth shall pass, but My words shall not pass” (Matthew 24:35). Our Lord here speaks of heaven, i.e. the celestial bodies, and the earth we now inhabit. It is the Word of God that speaks creation into existence; it is the Word of God that sustains life in existence. Thus, we go to the Inerrant Word of God as a primary source of history and religious truths. Fortunately, our Church has given us guidance by which we are to interpret Sacred Scripture.
Both the Council of Trent and the First Vatican Council taught that the unanimity of interpretation amongst the Church Fathers is the manner by which we must interpret Scripture. This means that where all the Church Fathers agree, we are to submit to their judgment. In the case of the first chapters of Genesis, all the Church Fathers agree on crucial matters. They all consent to a young earth (thousands of years old), an instant or six-day creation of the cosmos, the special creation of Adam and Eve, and thereafter, the cessation of God’s creative work ex nihilo. Even without a solemn pronouncement from the Magisterium, it is an act of reverence towards our Fathers in faith to hold to their interpretations. The Fourth Commandment is to honor thy father and mother, hence we should defer to the perennial interpretations of Scripture by the Church Fathers, Doctors and great saints.
In 1909, the Pontifical Biblical Commission released a series of answers addressing the growing skepticism regarding the traditional interpretation of Genesis. The PBC dealt with eight questions, thus providing subsequent generations, including us, with a clear guide. The first three questions established the literal-historical sense of the first three chapters, and reiterated important truths like the special creation of man and the creation of all things in the beginning. The remaining questions give guidelines on how we are to interpret things beyond the strict literal sense.
Many take too many liberties in their pursuit of the various layers of meaning in biblical texts. However, it is acceptable, to look at the Scriptures according to its different senses, so long as one abides by the parameters and limitations established by the Church. For example, we can consider the allegorical and metaphorical sense of different events in Scripture. This means that we can look for moral, philosophical and typological meaning in the events detailed in the Bible. Considering the objective and historical event of the Crucifixion, one may draw forth a variety of meanings that apply to faith and morals. This being said, St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us that the literal sense is to be presupposed, and all other senses are to be based on the literal sense. If the author intends a historical meaning, then we must oblige the intent of the author. Moreover, we can never interpret any aspect of Scripture in a manner which conflicts with any dogma of the Faith.
The author of the Bible is ultimately God, and as Catholics we are beholden to certain truths about the nature of creation. The Fourth Lateran Council solemnly declared that at once from the beginning of time, God created each creature from nothing… and finally the human. Thus, it is clear that in the Sacred History of Genesis, the Holy Ghost puts forth true history, and not a myth or fictional story. Surely there is poetry and deep meaning to be found in the account of creation, but this is to be expected. Even with a proper literal approach to Genesis there will always remain a great deal of sacred mystery. After all, how can we humans ever expect to be able to understand the mind and workings of the Infinite and Almighty God?
Our Lord is majestic and beautiful; therefore His Word is majestic and beautiful. Our Lord is creative, He is an Artist; thus His Word is put forth with poetry and artistry. It is a tragic sign of a rationalistic and naturalistic age that modern man cannot see the historical truth in beautiful sacred literature.
Whatever ways of interpretation may be used to read Genesis, it is clear that there are specific confines governing faithful and correct interpretations. I suggest you stay close to the mind of the Church throughout her past, and heed the words of St. Paul: “…stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle.” (2 Thessalonians 2:14)
Further reading and educational information:
– The most complete explanation I know of for the Traditional Doctrine of Creation: http://kolbecenter.org/
– How Darwinism is a Trojan Horse within the City of God: http://www.latinmassmagazine.com/pdfs/Ferrara-Evolution-TLM-2015-Fall.pdf
– A series of Catholic presentations on the issue of creation and evolution: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFwEyZ0g3D0&list=PLOgJFUqetsi42gl7gABD50d82Tf5txdxj
– An audio conference on the moral implications of evolution: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfGZ2VgXuRo&disable_polymer=true
 This interpretation harmonizes with St. John’s vision in the Apocalypse when this “heaven and earth” are destroyed and a new “heaven and earth” are created by God as well (Apoc 21:1), as well as St. Peter’s teaching that these heavens will pass away with great violence and this earth shall be destroyed by fire (2 Peter 3:10).
 In the words of Fr. Victor Warkulwiz: “The Fathers and Doctors of the Church unanimously agreed that Genesis 1-11 is an inerrant literal historical account of the beginning of the world and the human species as related by the prophet Moses under divine inspiration. This does not mean that they agreed on every point in its interpretation, but their differences were accidental and not essential. Pope Leo XIII, following St. Augustine, affirmed the Catholic rule for interpreting Sacred Scripture, ‘not to depart from the literal and obvious sense, except only where reason makes it untenable or necessity requires.’” http://kolbecenter.org/the-traditional-catholic-doctrine-of-creation/
 The Church Fathers of the first five centuries all unanimously believed and proclaimed:
– That less than 6,000 years had passed from the creation of the world to the birth of Jesus.
– That the creation of the cosmos took place in six 24-hour days or in an instant of time.
– That God created the different kinds of living things instantly and immediately.
– That Adam was created from the dust of the earth and Eve from his side.
– That God ceased to create new kinds of creatures after the creation of Adam.
– That the Original Sin of Adam shattered the perfect harmony of the first-created world and brought human death, deformity, and disease into the world.
 Before the Second Vatican Council, the PBC exercised legitimate authority in dealing with scriptural questions. The PBC would clarify matters of interpretation by appealing to tradition and magisterial teaching. In Praestantia Scripturae, a document from Pope St Pius X written against modernist biblical scholarship, he wrote “all are bound in conscience to submit to the decisions of the Biblical Commission.” However, after the Second Vatican Council, the PBC was essentially relegated to an association of biblical scholars with no magisterial authority. This change in the commission’s role and authority does not however impact its solemn and papal approved pronouncements from the past.
 http://www.catholicapologetics.info/scripture/oldtestament/commission.htm (English translation) http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/pcb_documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19090630_genesi_lt.html (original in Latin)
 “God…creator of all visible and invisible things, of the spiritual and of the corporal; who by His own omnipotent power at once from the beginning of time created each creature from nothing, spiritual and corporal, namely, angelic and mundane, and finally the human, constituted as it were, alike of the spirit and the body.” As quoted at the Catholic Origins website.