Apologetics for the Masses - Issue #155

Bible Christian Society


Q:     I had a former theology teacher at my parish’s school tell me that Vatican II changed the Church’s teachings on Adam and Eve and that the first few chapters of Genesis are to be considered as myths.  Is that true?
A:    No, it is not.  Below are nine teachings of the Church regarding the first three chapters of Genesis.  These teachings can be found in a document which was issued by the Pontifical Biblical Commission, and confirmed by Pope St. Pius X, in 1909.  These teachings have been the constant teachings of the Church throughout the centuries, and the Pontifical Biblical Commission expounded them in 1909 as a response to the errors of the Modernists that had developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Modernists were, among other things, denying the reality of Adam and Eve.  

Now, you might say, “John, this was before Vatican II, the question is: didn’t Vatican II change all of this?”  No, it did not.  We can find every single one of these nine teachings of Pope St. Pius X, as expounded by the 1909 Pontifical Biblical Commission, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) that was published in 1994.

So, here they are, the nine teachings of the Church regarding chapters 1-3 of Genesis, as expounded in the 1909 document from the Pontifical Biblical Commission, followed each time by the paragraphs of the 1994 Catechism that carry the corresponding teachings:

1) The creation of all things out of nothing by God at the beginning of time…and including time; CCC #’s 296-299

2) The special creation of man; CCC #’s 355-359

3) The creation of woman from man [Eve was created from Adam’s rib – well, the Church doesn’t say that it                       absolutely happened in exactly that way, but it does teach that woman was created from man in some manner]; CCC #371

4) That all of humanity is descended from an original pair of human beings – Adam and Eve; CCC #’s 54-55, 359-360, 375, 390-392, 402-405, 407, 416-417

5) That Adam and Eve were created in an original state of holiness, justice, and immortality; CCC #’s 374-379, 384, 398, 415-416

6) That a Divine Command was laid upon man to prove his obedience to God [“Thou shalt not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” – again, exactly what that means, we don’t know.  Was it really a tree with fruit that they weren’t supposed to eat?  Probably not, but we don’t really know.  But we do know that there was some command from God, laid upon man, to prove his obedience.]; CCC #’s 396-397, 399

7) The transgression of that Divine Command at the instigation of Satan; CCC #’s 379, 390-392, 394-395, 397-398, 413-415

8) The loss of the state of holiness, justice, and immortality of our 1st parents, because of their disobedience – Adam and Eve were kicked out of Paradise; CCC #’s 379, 390, 399-400, 410

9) The promise of a future Redeemer, a Savior – Gen 3:15, the protoevangelium, the first “good news”; CCC #’s 410-411

I doubt anyone will contend that the Catechism is pre-Vatican II.  So, if the teachings of the 1909 Pontifical Biblical Commission on Adam and Eve are also found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, then it is obvious that Vatican II did not change the Church’s teachings in regard to Adam and Eve.

Q:     In your column on Adam and Eve, you were saying that Adam and Eve were real people, but I have been told that Adam and Eve are merely representative of a number of “first parents” of the human race.  What do you think of that?
A:    Well, it’s not really what I think of that, the correct question is: What does the Church think of that?  This idea that Adam and Eve are merely symbolic representations for a number of first parents is known as polygenism – multiple origins.  Pope Pius XII addressed the belief in polygenism in an encyclical entitled “Some False Opinions Which Threaten to Undermine Catholic Doctrine,” also known as “Humani Generis.”  Here is what the Pope had to say:

“When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty.”  The first conjectural opinion the Pope is talking about had to do with evolution and the Pope had said, in essence, that there are some open questions, some opinions, on evolution that the children of the Church have the liberty to hold to until such time as the Church authoritatively rules on those matters.  No such liberty, though, in regards to polygenism.  The Pope continued,

“For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which through generation is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own,” (Humani Generis, #37)

If Adam and Eve are merely literary representations of a number of first parents, and there were actually multiple Adams and multiple Eves, then what happens to the Church’s teaching on Original Sin?  It falls apart.  Was it one particular Adam that committed a sin that was passed down only to his descendants and, therefore, we have some people born with Original Sin and some born without Original Sin because their “Adam and Eve” ancestors did not commit the original sin?  Or, do we have multiple Adams committing multiple original sins?  Or, is the whole doctrine of original sin merely a metaphor for the selfishness and pettiness and greed that we find when men gather together in a society, but it wasn’t actually a personal sin committed by a particular individual?

And, if the doctrine of Original Sin falls apart, then what else happens?  Well, the doctrine of Baptism falls apart as well.  After all, if we are not born with Original Sin, then we have no need of Baptism – certainly, at least, not as infants.  And if it is not Baptism that brings us into covenant with God, and it is not Baptism that is the beginning of our salvation, and it is not through Baptism that we receive the Holy Spirit, then how does all of that happen?  And, if we are born without Original Sin, then that means we are born in covenant with God, which leaves open the possibility that we might not need a Redeemer to come and die for us on the Cross.

In other words, if you try to monkey with the Church’s teaching on Adam and Eve, the repercussions go way beyond Adam and Eve.  Which is why Pius XII stated that Catholics, in regard to polygenism, “cannot embrace that opinion…” 

Q:     A small question originating from your discussion of polygenism. Did you mean to take the position that in rejecting polygenism, our Church at the same time requires believing Catholics to also believe as a matter of dogma in the literal reading of the Bible? 
A:    In my discussion of polygenism (the belief in more than one set of original parents for mankind), I said nothing at all about the “literal reading of the Bible.” I simply pointed out what the Church requires its children to believe about that particular topic as quoted from “Humani Generis” and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the ramifications to Church doctrine of a belief in polygenism.  Also, when discussing Church teaching, it is not my “position” or opinion that counts, what counts is what the Church teaches.  That is why I quote from papal encyclicals, Church Councils (particularly Vatican Council II) and the Catechism. 

Regarding, however, the “literal reading of the Bible,” it might surprise you to know that the Church does indeed require Catholics to read the Bible literally: “According to an ancient tradition, one can distinguish between two senses of Scripture: the literal and the spiritual, the latter being subdivided into the allegorical, moral, and anagogical senses,” (Catechism, #115). 

The Catechism continues: “The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: ‘All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal,’” (Catechism, #116).

In other words, the literal sense of Scripture is the most important sense, because if you don’t get the literal sense of the words right, then you cannot get the spiritual sense of the words right, since the spiritual sense is based on the literal sense.  But, what does the Church mean when it speaks of the “literal sense” of Scripture?  The literal sense of Scripture is simply the meaning that “the human authors truly wanted to affirm and that God wanted to reveal to us by their words,” (Catechism, #109).

And, in order to properly discern the sacred authors’ intentions, “the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking, and narrating then current,” (Catechism, #110).  So, the Church does indeed insist on a literal reading of the Bible.  It does, however, warn against a “literalist” reading of the Bible. 

What’s the difference between a literal and literalist reading of Scripture?  Again, the literal meaning is simply the meaning the author intended to convey.  A “literalist” reading of Scripture is, essentially, taking the words on the page at absolute face value.  No taking into account literary genre, culture, idioms of speech, the author’s intent, and so on.

To give an example of the difference between the two, consider the phrase: It was raining cats and dogs.  The literal meaning, the meaning the author intended to convey?  It was raining really hard.  The literalist meaning, taking the words at absolute face value?  Cats and dogs were falling from the sky like rain.  The former is very Catholic, the latter is very fundamentalist.

So, again: Yes, Catholics are to read the Bible literally (check out paragraphs 105-119 of the Catechism for more on this particular topic).  And, yes, according to the Church, the literal sense of the early chapters of Genesis, the meaning the author of Genesis intended to convey, is that all of humanity descended from one original pair of human beings – Adam and Eve.


In Conclusion

Adam and Eve were real people. All of humanity descended from them. That’s what the Church teaches. That’s what we believe, as Catholics. If Adam and Eve are just “myths,” then the Church teaching on Original Sin, Infant Baptism, Baptism in general, and even on salvation are all called into question.

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Apologetics for the Masses