Theistic Evolution in Roman Catholicism

Theistic Evolution in Roman Catholicism

The historic belief of Roman Catholicism is young-earth creationism. But today, the predominant belief among Roman Catholics is theistic evolution. That is, all life evolved from a common ancestor which means Adam and Eve were not the first human beings and they had human parents. This viewpoint must allegorize Genesis 1-3 instead of treating it as literal history. Theistic evolution fits in well with the allegorizing tendency Rome has toward the Bible.

Pope John Paul II embraced theistic evolution as true in his address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences:

“Today, nearly half a century after the publication of the encyclical, new knowledge leads to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor provoked, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory.”

This belief is shared by Pope Francis and Vatican astronomers who argue that young-earth creationism is “almost blasphemous” and that the Bible should not be used as a science textbook. Things have certainly changed from the time Galileo was condemned by the Catholic Church for teaching that the earth revolves around the sun. Now contrast what Pope John Paul II said with the Pontifical Biblical Commission of 1909:

“Genesis 1-3 is historical, not a fictional or mythological narrative, nor derived from pagan mythologies nor are they allegories, nor partly historical and partly fictional.”

It affirmed as true the creation of all things by God at the beginning, the special creation of man, and the formation of the first woman from the first man. The statements of this commission were given approval by Pope Pius X. Because this commission and Pius X believed that all of Genesis 1-3 is historical and not allegorical or fictional, they believed that Adam was literally created out of the dust of the ground by an act of special creation. But in theistic evolution, Adam had a mother and a father and was not literally created out of the ground. This means that John Paul II and Pius X had two different interpretations of Genesis and approaches to the question of evolution. So, which one are we supposed to believe? How does papal infallibility help us out when it comes to the question of evolution?


Sunday Meditation – A Cloak for Sin

Sunday Meditation – A Cloak for Sin

“It is the devil’s method to delude the understanding, and make men believe that duty is no duty, and sin is no sin; and then no wonder if duty be neglected, and sin committed: and therefore he raiseth up one false prophet or other to say to Ahab, ‘Go, and prosper;’ or to say, There is no hurt in this; to dispute for sin, and to dispute against duty. And it is almost incredible how much the devil hath got, when he hath once made it a matter of controversy. Then every hypocrite hath a cloak for his sin, and a dose of opium for his conscience, when he can but say, It is a controversy; some are of one mind, and some of another, you are of that opinion, and I am of this: especially if there be wise and learned on both sides.”

Richard Baxter

The Origin of the Belief in the Bodily Assumption of Mary

The Origin of the Belief in the Bodily Assumption of Mary

The bodily assumption of Mary is the belief that Mary was assumed into heaven after completing her work on earth. This dogma of the Catholic Church was defined by Pope Pius XII in Munificentissimus Deus:

“We pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.”

But what Pope Pius XII probably didn’t know is that the first historical reference to this belief is found in the apocryphal Transitus Beatae Mariae from the fifth century. This work was condemned by Pope Gelasius I in 495 and he ordered that Catholics avoid it as heretical literature. This means that the first reference in history to a belief in Mary’s bodily assumption into heaven comes from a piece of literature condemned as heretical by the pope! Gelasius placed the book (listed as Transitus, id est Assumptio sanctae Mariae, apocryphus) among the apocryphal works which are rejected by the church. It is listed together with other heretical writings from Simon Magus, Marcion, Montanus, Apollinaris, Valentinus, Manichaeus, Sabellius, Arius, Macedonius, Eunomius, Novatus, Donatus, and Pelagius.

But if that was not enough, the condemnation of the work was reaffirmed by Pope Hormisdas. But unlike the decree of Gelasius which listed it as an apocryphal work rejected by the church among other works which are heretical, Hormisdas went a step further and listed it as in aeternum confitemur esse damnatam which translates into English as “forever acknowledged to be condemned” or as Google translates it: “to be damned for eternity.” It is not merely apocryphal, but damnable. It is damnable literature which contains false teaching. The first reference to Mary being bodily assumed into heaven comes from literature that was considered to be heretical by two different popes.

Now, why would Hormisdas consider the text to be damnable? After examining the text, the only doctrine I see in it that could be considered to be heretical by the Catholic Church at this time is the bodily assumption itself. That means when these popes condemned the transitus literature, they were condemning the belief in the bodily assumption of Mary. What other reason could they have had for condemning the document other than the novel belief that Mary was bodily assumed into heaven as Jesus had been? Hence, Gelasius and Hormisdas would have been in disagreement with the dogma of the bodily assumption of Mary and been heretics if they were living today. Therefore, their condemnation of the transitus literature is another example of papal fallibility.

Sunday Meditation – Heart Work

Sunday Meditation – Heart Work

“The greatest, and hardest work of a Christian is least in sight, which is the well ordering of his heart; some buildings have most workmanship underground; it is our spirits that God who is a Spirit, John iv. 24, hath most communion withal; and the less freedom we take to sin here, the more argument of our sincerity, because there are no laws to bind the inner man, but the law of the Spirit of grace, whereby we are a law to ourselves. A good Christian begins his repentance where his sin begins, in his thoughts, which are the next issue of his heart.”

Richard Sibbes

The Donation of Constantine and Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals

The Donation of Constantine and Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals

How exactly did the papacy come to have so much power? In 1077, King Henry IV of Germany stood outside of Canossa Castle barefoot in the snow for three days and three nights begging to be forgiven by the Pope Gregory VII so that the anathema against him would be lifted. How could the pope have the power to declare a person to be anathema until he says otherwise? How could just one man have the power to declare someone to be outside of a state of salvation? This was a power even kings had to submit to.

Forgeries played an important role in helping to give rise to the political power of the papacy over secular rulers. The first forgery we will examine here is the Donation of Constantine. This forged document claimed that emperor Constantine handed over his royal power to the papacy including authority over all the churches of the world. Therefore, as a result of a decision by the Roman emperor, the papacy was to have both religious and political power over the Roman Empire. While this forgery was eventually exposed by the humanist Lorenzo Valla, it helped to create the environment in which the papacy was seen to be supreme over temporal rulers. It was partially responsible for the split between the Eastern and Western church in 1054 since Pope Leo IX used it to justify why he should be seen as superior to the Patriarch of Constantinople.

A helpful article on the Donation of Constantine in Christianity Today explains its true origin:

“Apparently it had been forged during the Frankish Empire in the 8th or 9th century. In that period the papacy was in a constant struggle for control with the powerful Carolingian rulers (such as the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne). The Church at Rome, seeing its power threatened, devised the idea, and produced the document that came to be known as The Donation. The Waldensians (unaware that the document was a forgery) considered Sylvester’s supposed acceptance of worldly political power as a denial of the humility and poverty fundamental to obedient followers of Christ and the Apostles. They believed that from the 4th century on, the Church had compromised with the world, and therefore had denied Christ. And the power and luxury they saw in the Church seemed to support their claim.”

It was not until 1929 that the papacy ceded its political power back to Italy.

A lesser-known forgery is the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals. George Salmon explains their significance in promoting the power of the papacy:

“In the ninth century another collection of papal letters . . . was published under the name of Isidore, by whom, no doubt, a celebrated Spanish bishop of much learning was intended. In these are to be found precedents for all manner of instances of the exercise of sovereign dominion by the pope over other Churches. You must take notice of this, that it was by furnishing precedents that these letters helped the growth of papal power. Thenceforth the popes could hardly claim any privilege but they would find in these letters supposed proofs that the privilege in question was no more than had been always claimed by their predecessors, and always exercised without any objection. . . . On these spurious decretals is built the whole fabric of Canon Law. The great schoolman, Thomas Aquinas, was taken in by them, and he was induced by them to set the example of making a chapter on the prerogatives of the pope an essential part of the treatises on the Church. . . . Yet completely successful as was this forgery, I suppose there never was a more clumsy one. These decretal epistles had undisputed authority for some seven hundred years, that is to say, down to the time of the Reformation. If we want to know what share these letters had in the building of the Roman fabric we have only to look at the Canon Law. The ‘Decretum’ of Gratia quotes three hundred and twenty-four times the epistles of the popes of the first four centuries; and of these three hundred and twenty–four quotations, three hundred and thirteen are from the letters which are now universally known to be spurious” (The Infallibility of the Church, 449, 451, 453).

Because the power of the papacy could not be justified from the Bible, forged documents had to be made to supplement their misinterpretation of Scripture.

Sunday Meditation – Sanctified Imagination

Sunday Meditation – Sanctified Imagination

“So the Lord sets out hell to us by whatsoever is terrible or tormenting. Here is a large field for our imagination to walk in, not only without hurt, but with a great deal of spiritual gain. If the wrath of a king be as the roaring of a lion, Prov 19:12, what is the wrath of the King of kings? If fire be so terrible, what is hell fire? If a dark dungeon be so loathsome, what is that eternal dungeon of darkness? If a feast be so pleasing, what is the ‘continual feast of a good conscience?’ Prov 15:15. If the meeting of friends be so comfortable, what will our meeting together in heaven be? The Scripture, by such like terms, would help our faith and fancy both at once. A sanctified fancy will make every creature a ladder to heaven. And because childhood and youth are ages of fancy, therefore it is a good way to instill into the hearts of children betimes, the loving of good and the shunning of evil, by such like representations as agree with their fancies, as to hate hell under the representation of fire and darkness, etc. Whilst the soul is joined with the body, it hath not only a necessary but a holy use of imagination, and of sensible things whereupon our imagination worketh. What is the use of the sacraments but to help our souls by our senses, and our faith by imagination? As the soul receives much hurt from imagination, so it may have much good thereby.”

Richard Sibbes

Gregory the Great and Cyprian on Universal Bishop

Gregory the Great and Cyprian on Universal Bishop

The modern concept of an infallible papacy who has authority over the whole church was not the view of the early church fathers. In fact, the concept was abhorrent to Pope Gregory the Great. He argues in his letter to Emperor Maurice Augustus that anyone who takes upon himself the title of universal priest is the precursor of the Antichrist:

“But I beseech your imperial Piety to consider that some frivolous things are very harmless, and others exceedingly harmful. Is it not the case that, when Antichrist comes and calls himself God, it will be very frivolous, and yet exceedingly pernicious? If we regard the quantity of the language used, there are but a few syllables; but if the weight of the wrong, there is universal disaster. Now I confidently say that whosoever calls himself, or desires to be called, Universal Priest, is in his elation the precursor of Antichrist, because he proudly puts himself above all others. Nor is it by dissimilar pride that he is led into error; for, as that perverse one wishes to appear as above all men, so whosoever this one is who covets being called sole priest, he extols himself above all other priests” (Registrum Epistolarum, Book 7, Letter 33).

He says in another letter to the emperor that the title “universal bishop” is a new and profane title which is blasphemous:

“Lo, he [Peter] received the keys of the heavenly kingdom, and power to bind and loose is given him, the care and principality of the whole Church is committed to him, and yet he is not called the universal apostle; while the most holy man, my fellow priest John, attempts to be called universal bishop. . . . And yet priests, who ought to lie weeping on the ground and in ashes, seek for themselves names of vanity, and glory in new and profane titles. . . . Who is this that, against the evangelical ordinances, against the decrees of canons, presumes to usurp to himself a new name? Would indeed that one by himself he were, if he could be without any lessening of others – he that covets to be universal. . . . If then any one in that Church takes to himself that name, whereby he makes himself the head of all the good, it follows that the Universal Church falls from its standing (which God forbid), when he who is called Universal falls. But far from Christian hearts be that name of blasphemy, in which the honour of all priests is taken away, while it is madly arrogated to himself by one” (Registrum Epistolarum, Book 5, Letter 20).

This is after he wrote a letter to John, patriarch of Constantinople, rebuking him for taking upon himself the title of universal bishop.

Another church father who rejected the concept of a universal bishop was Cyprian:

“It remains, that upon this same matter each of us should bring forward what we think, judging no man, nor rejecting any one from the right of communion, if he should think differently from us. For neither does any of us set himself up as a bishop of bishops, nor by tyrannical terror does any compel his colleague to the necessity of obedience; since every bishop, according to the allowance of his liberty and power, has his own proper right of judgment, and can no more be judged by another than he himself can judge another. But let us all wait for the judgment of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only one that has the power both of preferring us in the government of His Church, and of judging us in our conduct there” (The Seventh Council of Carthage).

Cyprian was opposing Pope Stephen who argued that the baptism given by heretics was valid and therefore those who had been baptized by them did not need to be rebaptized when they returned to the church.

Another church father who opposed the concept of any bishop having preeminence over any another bishop was Tertullian who spoke out against Pope Callixtus I:

“In opposition to this (modesty), could I not have acted the dissembler? I hear that there has even been an edict set forth, and a peremptory one too. The Pontifex Maximus – that is, the bishop of bishops – issues an edict: ‘I remit, to such as have discharged (the requirements of) repentance, the sins both of adultery and of fornication.’ O edict, on which cannot be inscribed, Good deed!” (On Modesty 1).

As Keith Thompson observes:

“Notice, Tertullian mocks Callistus calling him ‘bishop of bishops’ and ‘Pontifex Maximus,’ the latter being a pagan title belonging to the leader of the pagan cults in Rome which means ‘greatest high priest.’ It is ironic that this pagan title Tertullian used to mock the Roman bishop would actually be favourably used by later popes in history. Hence, today you will see Roman coins with the faces of popes and the words ‘Pont. Max.’ inscribed. Tertullian was in a way following in the footsteps of the church father Irenaeus who had to censure Victor the Roman bishop during the Easter controversy, Cyprian who opposed the Roman bishop Stephan the on the issue of baptism, and Augustine who opposed the Roman bishop Zosimus on the issue of Pelagianism.”

In contrast to the opinion of Gregory the Great, Cyprian, and Tertullian, the title “universal bishop,” “head of the church,” “Holy Father,” and many others have been used by the pope to describe himself. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says concerning the pope:

“The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, ‘is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.’ ‘For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered’” (882).

You may have heard of the phrase, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” But what you probably didn’t know is that these words uttered by Lord Acton were in reference to the papacy. Lord Acton was a Roman Catholic, but he initially opposed the definition of papal infallibility as Cardinal Newman did. But eventually, he submitted his conscience to the dictates of the pope even though he knew that papal infallibility went against the testimony of history.

The concept of a universal papacy who has jurisdiction over the whole church is also in violation of the sixth canon of the Council of Nicaea:

“Let the ancient customs in Egypt, Libya and Pentapolis prevail, that the Bishop of Alexandria have jurisdiction in all these, since the like is customary for the Bishop of Rome also. Likewise in Antioch and the other provinces, let the Churches retain their privileges. And this is to be universally understood, that if any one be made bishop without the consent of the Metropolitan, the great Synod has declared that such a man ought not to be a bishop. If, however, two or three bishops shall from natural love of contradiction, oppose the common suffrage of the rest, it being reasonable and in accordance with the ecclesiastical law, then let the choice of the majority prevail.”

Each bishop was to have jurisdiction over the area where he ministered and the Bishop of Rome did not have authority over the area which the Bishop of Alexandria oversaw. When there was a disagreement among bishops, the majority vote would prevail rather than appealing to the authority of the Bishop of Rome.