Page 3, 9th May 1941

9th May 1941
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Page 3, 9th May 1941 — Here's the Answer..

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Organisations: Catholic Church
Locations: Florence


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Here's the Answer..


In siew of the discrepancies between the teaching of modern science (especially the theory of evolution) and the narrative of Genesis, how can you justify the Church's doctrine that the Bible Is the inspired word or God ? (F. S. R.)

You 'seem to be concerned with the inerrancy of the Scriptures rather than with their Inspiration as such, and we shall deal with your question in this sense. The Church teaches that the Scriptures, rightly interpreted, contain no error, One must emphasize the words " rightly interpreted," for any book, however true, can be made to seem false if ft is misinterpreted, and your question resolves itself into a problem of interpretation. Is the narrative of Genesis, in the meaning intended by its author (i.e., the immediate meaning intended by the actual writer, and the possibly deeper meaning intended by God, the principal author) contrary to the teaching of modern science? That is what we have to answer.

In the interpretation ot any book, three things must, be taken into account: the ideas which the author wished to express, the literary mode and style in which he chose to express them, and the nature of the audience to whom he was addressing him self. We must consider his ideas: if he were writing a biography. one would not expect him to write it in scientific terminology : to work out his genealogies, for instance, in terms of chromosomes and genes; and it would be unjust to accuse him of inaccuracy for failing to do so. His work should be written with the kind and measure of accuracy which is required to express the sort of ideas he wishes to express: nothing more. Allied with this is the question of literary form. For the same ideas can be expressed in many ways. A man desiring to express the ideals of democracy, for

example. might do so by a philosophical examination of them, or by a history of their

origin and development, or by writing an historical novel, or in a poem. It would be mistaken pedantry to look for historical accuracy in the novel or the poem, nor could one reasonably expect a philosophical justification of democracy in the history, nor poetic sublimity in the philosophy. The poem would not be judged " false " for including legends, nor the novel for introduc

ing imaginary characters, nor the history for

employing terms in a general and not strictly philosophical sense, nor the philoso phy for being written in an uncouth and unmelodious style. Truth is one, but has many aspects or facets; a writer is truthful so long as he faithfully represents that aspect of truth which he intends to repre sent : philosophic, scientific, historic, aesthetic, or religious.

Finally, one must consider the audience. An author writes to be understood : he must use such terms, ideas, figures of speech, as his readers can understand. And we, in examining the authors of past times must take their woicis in the sense and with the connotations which they had for contemporaries, not in the way in which we ourselves would like to understand them.

Now the primary intention of the authors of the Scriptures (both of God, the principal author, and of the actual writers) was to

teach religious truths: to explain the nature of the relations between God and man in

general, and between God and the Chosen People in particular. It is to these religious truths that inspiration is primarily referred : what truth each book has in other respects will depend on the author's choice of a mode of expression. If he chose to express himself in poetry, we shall be mistaken if we look to him for historical or scientific truth. " The mountains skipped like rams," says the Psalmist: in his imagina

tion, no doubt they did, but not in reality. Furthermore, the very choice of a mode of

expression will depend on the nature of the audience: the writer must express the Divine truths which are the heart of his message in terms which his readers can understand and remember. We shall expect, then, to find thk inspired hooks written in language and using ideas familiar to those to whom they are addressed.

In other words, the inerrancy of the Scriptures applies first and foremost to the reli gious ideas therein expressed: it is abso lutely true that they teach nothing contrary to faith or morals. Whether they also con tam other kinds of truth (historical or scientific) will depend on the intentions of each author. If he meant Co write true his tory, then no doubt his history is true; but if he meant to express his divine message in poetry or allegory or fiction, then his work need not he historically or scientifi cally true. To determine his intention, his book must be examined in precisely the same way as any other document. This is work for experts; though one would hardly think so to sec how eagerly hiologists and palaeontologists rush in where theologians fear to tread.

Turning now to the particular question " heavens and the earth " were brought into being) in an ordering and populating of these three divisions. Order is introduced into heaven by the creation of light, into water by the separation of the " waters under the firmament " from the " waters above the firmament," and into earth by the emergence of land from the sea. These three operations occupy the first three

" days " of creation. The last three are taken up with the populating of heaven, water and earth ; the first by the sun, moon, and stars, the second by fish and birds, and the third by animals, and lastly, by man. This is obviously a logical schematisation of the work of creation; it does not necessarily imply chronological succession, any more than does the economist's arrangement of the factors of production under the headings of land, labour and capital. Nor does it imply any judgment on the mode whereby God created the world. The language of Genesis is as consistent with an evolutionary theory of the world's development as with any other. Indeed, when we read in verse two, " let the earth bring forth the green herb," etc., we may reasonably surmise that the author had in his mind the generation of life from non-living matter: an evolutionary process. But this, like all similar considerations, is it relev,ant to his purpose, which was to expound the simple facts of creation in a way which his audience could understand and remember.

There is nothing new in this exegesis. The Catholic Church has never thought it neces. sary to receive Genesis I as either historically or scientifically accurate. St. Augustine believed it possible that the whole of creation took place simultaneously, without any chronological succession: a theory certainly as difficult to reconcile with the historicity of Genesis 1 as any evolutionary theory. The truth is that the reception of it as inspired history by the so-called fundamentalists is due to the effect on simple minds of that Curious heresy of Luther's private interpretation of the Bible: a doctrine which has led to many other strange aberrations.

' in the space at our disposal it is impossible to deal with all the other difficulties which may be raised against Genesis. We have shown you the principles on which exegetes work, and a simple application of these principles to Genesis 1, and we hope this will convince you that Catholics are neither so ignorant nor so foolish as you have supposed. For information about the general state of Old Testament study we would refer you to The Old Testament, by various authors, published by Burns Oates at 7s 6d, We shall consider the general attitude of Catholics towards evolutionary theory in a later issue. Evolution and Theology, by Dr. Messenger (Burns Oates, 125. 6d.). is a good book to read in this connection.


Is it sinful for a Catholic to cause himself or another Catholic to be circumcised? W. A.).

It would be sinful if it were done as a sign of adherence to a false religion. It would not be sinful if there were a good reason for it is sometimes necessary, for example, for health. A doctor is the best judge of this.

If sin is an act of the will, how can we commit a sin of thought, since thoughts are involuntary ?—(F. M.) It is true that often we cannot help thoughts coming into our minds: we see pictures, posters, people, and, hear the remarks of others. But much depends on what we do with our thoughts, and why. If evil thoughts come into our minds, it is, s you say, practically useless to fight against them by trying to force ourselves not to think of them: the more I tell myself not to think about a thing, the more, obviously, I am keeping my mind on it. I must therefore try to think of something else. It is an advantage to do something, but if this is not possible, then I should think about something positive, however absurd—Fr. Martindale suggests composing a cricket eleven of the eleven fattest men you know ! Though I cannot prevent a thought from entering my mind, I can avoid dwelling on it: and we commit sins of thought by deliberately fostering thoughts which we recognise to be sinful, or by taking no means to dispel them.

Is there a Patron Saint for those engaged in advertising?—(Anon.).

As far as I know there is no official patron, the nearest being St. Francis of Sales, who is the patron of journalists. However, St. Antoninus of Florence or St. Philip Neri might, for different reasons, be claimed as patrons. St. Antoninus was the first moral theologian to deal expressly with business men and their affairs. St. Philip Neri " advertised " himself: he drew men's attention by pretending to be foolish, so that they might not call him a saint. Or, again, St. Francis and St. Dominic, the first great popular preachers, may be said to have advertised the Faith Contradictions in the Gospels. (G. C.) The texts you rerer to are Matthew 12-20: " He that is not with me is against me," and Luke 9-50: " He that is not against you is for you." These texts are not contradictory though at first sight they may appear so. Our Lord means that indifference is not possible when men know what the Faith means. People are indifferent because they have imperfect knowledge or second-band accounts of what our Lord teaches. Once they know, they cannot be indifferent—they must be with our Lord or against Him.

Have you any problem on your mind? If you hare and y014 feel that its solution would be of assistance to other people let's have it. If, on the other hand, your difficulty is a private one, it will be solved by private letter.

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