The Catholic Church on Evolution: A Short History (1/2)

What follows is a sampling of Catholic thought from theologians and popes. The case has been often made that history shows a great deal of support by the Church for scientific efforts. In popular thought the Galileo case is seen as the classic example of the Church’s general hostility to science.

354-430 – St. Augustine
“One does not read in the gospel that the Lord said: ‘I will send you the Paraclete who will teach you about the course of the sun and moon.’, for he willed to make them
Christians, not mathematicians.”
“Even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much than an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men (On the Literal Meaning of Genesis, Book 1, Ch. 19)

1257 – St. Thomas Aquinas
“No opinion or belief…is implanted in man by God which is contrary to man’s natural knowledge.” (Contra Gentiles, lib.i,ch.7 (4))

1869-70 – First Vatican Council: Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, 4.
“Although faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason, since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the
light of reason on the human mind, and God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth.”

1893 – Pope Leo XIII. Encyclical Providentissimus Deus
“Truth cannot contradict truth and we may be sure that some mistake has been made either in the interpretation of the sacred words, or in the polemical discussion itself…There can never, indeed, be any real discrepancy between the theologian and the physicist, as long as each confines himself within his own lines, and both are careful, as St. Augustine warns us ‘not to make rash assertions’.”
“It could not have been the intention of the sacred writers, or rather…of the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, to instruct us about things that cannot be of service for the salvation of man, namely, the internal constitution of the visible world.”

1950 – Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Humani Generis
“Some imprudently and indiscreetly hold that evolution, which has not been fully proved, even in the domain of natural sciences, explains the origin of all this, and audaciously support the monistic and pantheistic opinion that the world is in continual evolution.” But: “The 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 preexistent and living matter – for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God.”

“The first eleven chapters of Genesis…do nevertheless pertain to history in a true sense; the same chapters…both state the principal truths which are fundamental for our salvation, and also give a popular description (italics mine) of the origin of the human race and the chosen people. 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.”

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2 thoughts on “The Catholic Church on Evolution: A Short History (1/2)

  1. Thank you for posting this.
    I think the actual position of theologians over the centuries needs to be pointed out more often. Far too many seem to be assuming that all Christians in all times have taken the same line that modern fundamentalist movement does toward science and Biblical interpretation.

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