Tuesday, December 15, 2020

High School Youth Group, December 13th -- The Catholic Response to Atheism, Session 7 -- The Catholic Understanding of the Creation Accounts (Father Ryan Erlenbush, Corpus Christi)

While the most straight forward interpretation of Genesis 1 is that there were six twenty four hour days in which God created the heavens and the earth, St Augustine (through careful study of both Genesis 1 and 2) believed that we do not need to think that the world was literally created in six days. St Thomas Aquinas follows St Augustine in this theory - which, reflected against modern scientific investigation, would allow for an initial creation of matter with the gradual development of galaxies and planets, and even the gradual emergence of life and plant/animal species through billions of years.

There is nothing in Genesis or in the Catholic Understanding of Creation which is contradicted by modern scientific theories.

Listen online [here]!


High School Youth Group – Fall 2020 – The Catholic Response to Atheism

December 13th  - Session 7 – The Catholic Understanding of the Creation Account

“The fool hath said in his heart: There is no God.”  -Psalm 13:1



I. Calendar: December 20th, Last Class of Fall, resuming January 10th and continuing until May 2nd.


II.  The Creation Account(s)

Genesis 1:1-2:3, “In the beginning God created heaven and earth, and the earth was void and empty, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God moved over the waters.”

Day 1: Light;  Day 2: Firmament, division of waters above and below; Day 3: Dry land “earth” and “seas” and every sort of plant; Day 4: Day and night, sun and moon and stars; Day 5: fish and fowl; Day 6: beast and man and woman; Day 7: Rest “sabbath”.

“There was evening and morning, one day”


Genesis 2:4-25, “These are the generations of the heaven and the earth, when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the heaven and the earth.”

“Every plant of the field before it sprung up in the earth … but a spring rose out of the earth, watering all the surface of the earth … and the Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth … and the Lord God brought forth of the ground all manner of trees … and the Lord God said: It is not good for man to be alone … and the Lord God formed out of the ground all the beasts of the earth, and all the fowls of the air …”


III. Various Interpretations Related to Time

A. The story of the “six days” of Creation: 1 Light, 2 Firmament, 3 Land and plants, 4 Sun and moon, 5 Fish and birds, 6 beasts and man.  But Genesis 2 says “in the day” that God created the world, not six days. And makes the seeds of all plants, but nothing buds forth until after man is created, and only then are the animals created. And then, finally, woman.


B. Nearly every Church Father interprets the “days” of Genesis 1 as referring to a passage of time – either of 24hrs or of thousands of years.


C. However, there is a difficulty: If we take the more common approach and say that a day is a thousand years or a billion years, then it is all the more difficult to explain how plants were created and lived on day 3 but the sun was not created till day 4!  Do we want to claim that plans lived a billion years, or even 1,000 years without the sun?!  Or again, must we affirm that every type of fish and every bird existed before any sort of land animal began to exist, and even existed 1,000 or 1,000,000,000 years before any land animal existed?!  Some Catholics say that we have to believe that the universe was literally created in six days, but I am not so sure – and neither are St Augustine or St Thomas Aquinas.



IV. St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas

A. St Augustine seems to be entirely original and unique in his interpretation of the “six days” – every other Father of the Church, and nearly every other theologian tries to interpret the “days” as measurements of time (whether 24 hrs or millions of years). St Augustine sees them as “literally” being metaphors for how the angels came to understand creation. The “evening” is natural angelic knowledge; the “morning” is divine beatific knowledge.


B. Explanation of how this interpretation is not allegorical or spiritual, but truly literal.  St Augustine doesn’t see this as a metaphor or a parable, much less as a spiritual interpretation of the text – rather, this is a literal description of the ordering of all creation according to type and category; but not according to historical chronology.


C. How St Augustine comes to this from the study of the Biblical text (reference his commentary on Genesis), and how this also solves all the modern “scientific” objections to Genesis 1.  Notice that Genesis 2 speaks of “the day” while Genesis 1 speaks of 7 days in which the Earth was created. Also, notice the differences in the order of creation.


D. St Thomas seems to agree with St Augustine, even though every other Father says otherwise – and again, St Thomas is not responding to science, but recognizing the nuances of Scripture.


E. Brief note on the creation of the angels:  “Let there be light,” St Augustine speculates that this could reference the creation of the angels, or “when God created the heavens” could refer to all the angelic spirits.  The angels were all created in the state of grace, but did not enjoy the beatific vision. The angels were given a choice, either to serve God in the mystery of the incarnation or to rebel – Satan and his angels decided that it was better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven, and so they fell. But the good angels accepted God’s plan for the salvation of men, and so entered into eternal glory.



V. St Augustine and Evolution

A. While St Augustine would not support modern ideas of evolution developed from Darwin (and neither would I), he does have a basic understanding of species of creatures slowly emerging in the world.

B. St Augustine believed that God had planted “seeds” in the Earth which would develop into all the various species of creatures throughout the [billions of] years of existence.  And, before any laugh at the idea that all the species are “seeds” in the Earth, St Augustine is using the word “seed” or “semina” in a metaphysical sense, not to mean a physical plant seed but referring to the causal principal of a nature or species.    It was not until Darwin that people actually entertained the outrageous belief that plant seeds could become fish and that fish could become monkeys and that monkeys could become human beings – St Augustine was never as foolishly imaginative as modern “scientists.”







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