Sunday, May 20, 2018

FLASHBACK: When a German Bishops Council Attacked the New Theory of Darwin

Pope Leo XIII

Yes, it was a German bishops council.

As Cardinal Tobin might put it, we've come a long way, baby.

Charles Darwin first published the Origin of Species in 1859. While there would soon be some attempts by Catholic authors to harmonize Darwin's theory with Catholic doctrine, it's fair to say that the initial general response by Catholic prelates and theologians, at least among the hierarchy, was quite negative.

Among the first responders were the German Catholic Bishops, who in their Provincial Council of Cologne (1860) condemned the proposition that Adam and Eve evolved from lower creatures:
Our first parents were formed immediately by God. Therefore we declare that the opinion of those who do not fear to assert that this human being, man as regards his body, emerged finally from the spontaneous continuous change of imperfect nature to the more perfect, is clearly opposed to Sacred Scripture and to the Faith.
The now somewhat hidden history of the Church's initial reactions to Darwin and the theory of evolution is chronicled by Father Brian Harrison in two fascinating papers, "Early Vatican Responses to Evolutionist Theology" (2001) and "Did the Human Body Evolve Naturally? A Forgotten Papal Declaration" (1998).

In the second paper, Fr. Harrison analyzes the 1880 Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII Arcanum (On Christian Marriage). Here is the Pope on the relation between the literal interpretation of God's creation of Adam and Eve and Christian marriage and sexuality:
What is the true origin of marriage? That, Venerable Brethren, is a matter of common knowledge. For although the detractors of the Christian faith shrink from acknowledging the Church's permanent doctrine on this matter, and persist in their long-standing efforts to erase the history of all nations and all ages, they have nonetheless been unable to extinguish, or even to weaken, the strength and light of the truth. We call to mind facts well-known to all and doubtful to no-one: after He formed man from the slime of the earth on the sixth day of creation, and breathed into his face the breath of life, God willed to give him a female companion, whom He drew forth wondrously from the man's side as he slept. In bringing this about, God, in His supreme Providence, willed that this spousal couple should be the natural origin of all men: in other words, that from this pair the human race should be propagated and preserved in every age by a succession of procreative acts which would never be interrupted. And so that this union of man and woman might correspond more aptly to the most wise counsels of God, it has manifested from that time onward, deeply impressed or engraved, as it were, within itself, two preeminent and most noble properties: unity and perpetuity (Arcanum, para. 5, English translation by Harrison).
"He formed man from from the slime of the earth," and Eve was "(drawn) forth wondrously from the man's side as he slept."

Pope Leo was a creationist.

Harrison argues that the Church's initial reactions to Darwin were actually similar to its earlier responses to the claims of Galileo and Copernicus:
In the first place, we are in a position to correct a widespread popular perception about the history of the Church’s relations with science. It is commonly held that while the Vatican notoriously blundered in the seventeenth century by condemning Galileo and proscribing all works propagating the Copernican worldview, Rome ‘learned her lesson’ from having ‘burnt her fingers’ during that first great outburst of tension between traditional faith and modern scientific theories, and therefore ‘prudently’ abstained from intervening with similar condemnations the next time around, when evolution became the new bone of contention, even though many theologians were shrilly calling for Darwin’s head on a plate. Indeed, it is not uncommon to hear statements to the effect that the Catholic Church "has never had a problem with evolution". 
In fact, the record shows great similarities between the initial Vatican responses in both historic controversies. As Galileo was called in and rebuked by the Holy Office, so were Fr. Caverni and Fr. Léroy [Catholic authors who were sympathetic to Darwin]. As, in the seventeenth century, works defending the Copernican system were placed on the Index of Forbidden Books, so, in the nineteenth, were works defending human evolution — by Caverni, Mivart, Léroy (and possibly others). The main difference seems to have been that, for whatever reason, these anti-Darwinian censures emanating from Rome never received nearly as much publicity as the Galileo case. 
There was in fact a consistent, if relatively quiet, rejection of human evolution on the part of the See of Peter throughout the last three decades of the nineteenth century...
I suppose one could add, the responses were similar for better or worse, as atheists and liberal Catholics would presumably crack their knuckles with glee at this. See how stuffy and ignorant the pre-Vatican II Church was.

We've come a long way, baby.

What would then happen in the 20th century is of course a crucial part of the story.

Next: The (Vatican II) Cardinal was a Creationist.


  1. I've been reading your posts, but have refrained from commenting. I gather you support Evolution.

    The Bible does not and neither do I. So I shall read your posts less frequently.

    1. Not at all. I think evolution is one of the greatest hoaxes in history.

    2. Oakes us right; evolution is bunk. Here is a video to prove it.

    3. Then my apologies, Oakes. I was misreading you.

    4. No worries. As I mentioned, I'm somewhat skeptical of all the alternatives, even though I know that one of them must be true.

    5. There's SOME "truth" to found in each. Distorted and twisted, but there.

      Remember, Almighty God is the greatest Scientist and Mathematician the Universe has ever known, or ever will know.

      There is no "magic" in what God did. Our scientist reject God because they're too stupid to figure out how He did it.

      The Bible DOE NOT tell us THE EARTH'S age, but it does provide us with the means of calculating MAN'S age, how long WE have been upon the earth.

      The Bible is not a science text book. That's not why it was written.

      It's purpose is to instruct us as to what God did, what went wrong and what God is doing to "fix" it.

      A trail is being held and we are at the center of it.