Letters to the Editor
FAITH Magazine November – December 2012
THE MOMENT OF MAN
Dear Father Editor,
I read the recent correspondence and features about the question or evolution, original sin and the soul with interest. There are unfocused areas, it seems to me, in contemporary theology that need exploration. An evolutionary view of the world requires mortality and suffering as part of nature. A superficial reading of the Genesis story suggests that all was aglow and perfect before we lost it with the Fall. This fuels much popular theology and more conservative, fundamentalist thinking both in Evangelicalism and some types of Catholic piety. Clearly, we need a solid exposition of how such imperfection might all fit together with orthodox teaching and biological evolution. Some correspondents and the editor himself have begun to do this in the pages of this journal.
The issue of the Fall impinges upon the question of monogenism or polygenism. As Pius XII stated in Humani Generis, it is difficult to see how original sin can be transmitted without an original, soul-bearing couple. We need creative ideas to suggest how polygenism might appropriate this. C S Lewis began to do so in a very original and thoughtful meditation in a chapter of his book The Problem of Pain, written in 1940. He imagines one group of early hominids, in one zone, who had been elevated to soul and had a direct experience of God which resulted in the subjugation of nature and matter to the spirit. However, this was in one location. How do we conceive of the Fall across continents?
The other question, regarding the soul, is which hominids and when? This is probably unanswerable right now. Do we deal with the species "homo", archaic homo sapiens in their many varieties (including Neanderthals), or just with homo sapiens sapiens? An article in New Scientist (12 May 2012) explored the fact that a double mutation of a single gene seems to have taken place about 2.5 million years ago, beginning the separation of homo from Australopithecus. This led to the development of neurones, larger brains and the ability of speech. Infant skulls started to appear more flexible, fusing together later as with ourselves. This allowed larger brains to develop. The writer comments that this amazing randomness could have been the trigger for the eventual emergence of our species. Theconcept of divine guidance did not enter into his imagination, regrettably.
This leads on to the question of whether the soul is a completely new intervention or a more gradual emergence. It would be good for us to look at "from below" and "from above" language in this regard, rather as in Christology. I recall Professor John MacQuarrie writing that we need the two languages of encountering immanence and active incarnation to capture the whole truth. Philosophically, an emergence is a new state of being or play. It cannot be reduced to the sum of its parts or what went just before. Things come together that allow something new to be.
An immanent view of divine presence and guidance would allow this as an exciting possibility without denying the uniqueness of the soul and its special faculties. Perhaps we need to re-read Teilhard de Chardin with this in view. Though some of his ideas were slightly bizarre and his pan-en-theism could easily become a form of pantheism, the idea that the spiritual was bound up in the weave of creation, and that God was active in the organic growth of nature, might be very constructive.
To be so, though, and remain orthodox, we would need a lofty and hefty idea of emergence. The soul, as it came to be, was something new, a pinnacle, allowing new possibilities of relationship with God. I offer this to you for further reflection. We need to think these issues through to present the faith to a searching, but unbelieving, world.
Fr Kevin O'Donnell
EDITORIAL COMMENT: We thank Fr O'Donnell for engaging with these issues, which we believe are very important. We would think that the introduction of man "over continents" is ruled out by Catholic tradition (cf. our pamphlet Evolution and Original Sin purchasable from the subscriptions address or downloadable free from https://faith.org.uk/Shop/SciencePamphlets.htm).
For the Catholic tradition, spirit is intellect and will. God the Creator is absolute Spirit. Also, in their very nature, angels are pure spirit made in His image, and the human soul is spiritual. For us the relationship of God to the deterministic matter of the whole cosmos, as well as of the created human soul to the deterministic matter of his body, is that of providing intrinsically complementary and founding control and direction. God the Creator controls and directs the whole physical cosmos, to which He is transcendent. The whole thus mediates this to the parts, as the defining environment of those parts. The human soul controls and directs the human body, with which it is unified as one person, in its characteristically human, top-level, personal actions.
So while we would certainly see matter as ontologically non-reducible to its parts, and thus support a certain emergence, when we come to man this involves the direct creation of the new principle of the spiritual soul, as taught in Catholic tradition.
The moment within the progress of the evolution of the human body that this happens would indeed, we think, be related to brain size. Once this cerebral organic "supercomputer" evolves to become too big for the surrounding environment to mediate naturally the control and direction which it needs, we would think it makes perfect sense for God to infuse a free principle of control and direction, the spiritual soul, which is directly in the image of the creative spiritual Mind of God. This would, we think, be in accord with the one wisdom, plan and unique logos or idea of God for the whole cosmos.
Dear Father Editor,
In your courteous and thoughtful reply to my letter, in your July-August issue, you clearly state the Faith movement's view on animal death, namely that it is one inherent aspect of evolution. This view overlooks four items of biblical evidence which bear adversely on your thesis about animal suffering and death.
The first is from the well-known passage in Isaiah 11: 6-9: "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb: and the leopard shall lie down with the kid: the calf and the lion, and the sheep shall abide together, and a little child shall lead them... the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp: and the weaned child shall put his hand into the den of the basilisk." If this is God's ideal plan for the animal kingdom, it doesn't make sense for the Book of Genesis to allow for the existence of carnivorous beasts, violence and death before the Fall.
Secondly, the creation narrative in Genesis 1 ends: "And God saw all the things that He had made, and they were very good." Has the Faith movement solid reasons for implicitly asserting that Isaiah's prophecy does not depict the conditions which existed on earth before the Fall? The original food of man and animals alike was vegetarian. Only after the Fall was the eating of flesh permitted to man.
Thirdly, your exegesis of Saint Paul (Romans 8, 19-22) is too narrow. In his note on verse 19, Bishop Challoner, echoing traditional Catholic exegesis, says: "He [Saint Paul] speaks of the corporeal creation, made for the use and service of man; and, by the occasion of his sin, made subject to vanity, that is, to a perpetual instability, tending to corruption and other defects."
Fourthly, the adoption by Faith movement of uniformitarianism and evolutionism as controlling principles in historical geology has led to results that contradict biblical - in particular Genesis - inferences. The universal Flood of Noah surely provides the true explanation for fossil formations in the earth's crust. The assumption of uniformitarian palaeontology that countless animals had experienced natural or violent deaths before Adam's Fall is just that: a mere assumption with no corroborative evidence.
A LACK OF PENANCE
Dear Father Editor,
From time to time we have a Decade of Evangelisation, a Year of Faith etc, but nothing very much seems to come of these grand designs. Numerous well-meaning conferences, workshops, learned theological articles in your magazine, beautifully written documents by the Pope are devoted to the cause but apparently to no avail, or to very little avail.
Something is clearly lacking and I am pretty sure what it is. If we step out of the glorious sunshine of the post-Vatican II church and into the dark ages that preceded it, we find some highly relevant advice coming down from heaven by someone who knows our situation exactly and whose authority is to be respected and obeyed absolutely.
Our Lady uses very few words in her apparitions; in fact only two stand out - prayer and penance, the only coinage that is able to attract God's grace! Without these two indispensable things no years of this or that will ever have the spiritual power to achieve anything so big as evangelisation of modern society/culture. The Pope can start things but he has no power to ensure their success.
Why have I not heard the two "p" words coming out at any level of the hierarchy? Surely we need an official period of prayer and penance with special emphasis on the Sacrament of Penance, now so terribly neglected. Then something might happen!
I remember in the early Sixties in my large London parish on Saturday evenings the marvellous "holy hush" and spiritual intensity as penitents queued up outside two confessionals and kept the priests busy for up to two hours. Now, sadly, a parish priest is lucky if he absolves four or five.
Since the Council there has been a tendency to regard it as a more important reference point for policy than Fatima. Amazingly Vatican II did not produce a document on Our Lady, presumably to gain some dubious ecumenical advantage. No wonder we have reports of statues of Mary weeping.
I know you don't "do" "p and p" in Faith magazine, but since it is the basis of the enabling power to convert, surely it should regularly receive an honourable mention or you may begin to think that academic theology is the most important factor in the Church! "For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power" (1 Cor 4: 20).
Seymour Drive, Torquay
EDITORIAL COMMENT: We are always grateful to receive salutary reminders of important themes in the tradition. We would, though, think an Ecumenical Council is the Church's supreme teaching authority (see our current editorial), and would refer Mr Allen to our well-received March editorial "Restoring Frequent Confession".
In the January issue of Faith magazine, I asked this question: "Are 'gay rights' now the most prominent defining issue delineating - at least in Europe and the US - the gulf between the Catholic Church and the modern world?" This was a rhetorical question inviting the answer yes: and in the months that followed I have, it seems to me, been proved right. Related issue after related issue has arisen in public life, in Parliament and in the courts of law, both national and international: here in the United Kingdom, both north and south of the border, the debate has centred on the issue of gay marriage.
It is one of those questions that seems more and more to be proving, a secularist would say, how out of touch Catholics are with the modern world. To which we would reply: well, not out of touch at all but certainly, in many ways and not for the first time, diametrically opposed to contemporary "values" -though this time we are hardly alone. As I write, the Coalition for Marriage petition against gay marriage has reached a total of 600,783 signatures and by the time this is in print, that total will be considerably higher - you can check its current level at https://c4m.org.uk/, and sign the petition while you are about it if you haven't already done so. I am not sure, but I think that this is the highest ever total for an online petition.
That didn't stop Nick Clegg using - now notoriously - the word "bigot" to describe anyone who opposed gay marriage. His view emerged, by mistake, in the draft version of a speech in which he originally intended to describe as "bigots" all those who oppose the proposed legislation to redefine the nature of marriage.
But the wording of initial extracts released to the media was suddenly changed, and Mr Clegg later insisted he never intended to use such language since it was "not the kind of word" he would ever use. Well, not in public.