In the post-“Enlightenment” intellectual haze in which we find ourselves, there are two areas of inquiry — one scientific, the other strictly theological — where we especially find man being put in the place of God.
One of those subjects pertains to origins, the other to destiny. The first pertains to creation (vs. evolution), the second to the necessity of the Church for salvation (vs. Indifferentism). In both of these areas, man is entirely dependent on supernatural revelation to know the truth.
Contrary to the twin errors of “Traditionalism” (not to be confused with a legitimate love of tradition) and Fideism, Vatican I defended the capacity of the unaided human intellect to know the truth of God’s existence as well as those moral truths which we call the natural law. Traditionalism held that the passing on of knowledge through language was the only way to arrive at certitude concerning God, religion, and moral truth; Fideism held that all knowledge of such things comes exclusively through the theological virtue of Faith, and hence through revealed religion.
It is worth reviewing chapters two (“On Revelation”) and four (“On Faith and Reason”) of the Dei Filius, the “Dogmatic Constitution On The Catholic Faith” from Vatican I to see how masterfully the Church defends both supernatural Faith and human reason against the above mentioned errors on one side, and the twin errors of rationalism and naturalism on the other.
Respecting the legitimate domain of the natural sciences, we must agree with the Fathers of that twentieth ecumenical council that, because truth cannot contradict truth and since the truths of Faith have God as their source, then no actual scientific truth can possibly contradict what God has supernaturally revealed. God is, after all, the Author of both the natural and the supernatural orders.
It can similarly be said of the theological sciences that their conclusions cannot contradict the dogmatic contents of the sacred deposit of Faith, which it is their task to explain systematically. Truth cannot contradict truth.
Regarding natural science, any hypothesis that would contradict Holy Scripture in the sense in which the Church has received it must plainly be false. Now, there is a general consensus among the Fathers and Doctors of the Church that the Book of Genesis is literally true — that is to say, they all believed that Genesis has a literal sense, and was not some allegory or merely “poetic” account. (See Genesis According to the Saints for a scholarly reinforcement of that assertion.) Even the unique interpretation of the first three chapters of Genesis given by Saint Augustine, which theistic evolutionists have dishonestly used to claim the Doctor from Hippo as one of their own, actually proves my point. The book of his that they cite, after all, is called De Genesi ad Litteram (“The Literal Meaning of Genesis”). It boggles the mind that theistic evolutionists can transform into one of themselves a saint that was plainly a young-earth creationist who believed that God directly and specifically created all the individual natures in existence in their so-called “seminal reasons,” and then directly put these potencies into act Himself. Yes, his ideas are complicated, but they aren’t evolutionist — not by a long shot (see here for much more on this subject).
Since men were not present at the creation of all things before man, we are radically dependent on God to explain these things to us in as much detail as He cares to do it. He did so through Moses in Genesis. As to what happened after man’s creation, our first parents passed down their own memory of these things through a tradition that made its way, again, to Moses, who wrote it down in Genesis under inspiration from the Holy Ghost.
Evolution, both in its theistic and atheistic forms, has derogated from the Faith of Catholics a great deal. This is plain to anyone who speaks with any frequency to people who have lost the Faith. The need to combat evolutionism in both of its forms is real, which is why I’m very excited about Foundations Restored, a Catholic Perspective on Origins, a DVD series produced by the Kolbe Center for the Study of Creation and Restoring Truth Ministries.
Regarding our supernatural destiny and how to get there, we are equally radically dependent upon God to reveal it to us. The supernatural elevation and union of humanity in the Mystical Body of Christ is that “mystery which hath been hidden from eternity in God, who created all things” (Eph. 3:9) mentioned by Saint Paul. It was hidden, and God had to reveal it in order to make it known. Why, then, do men think they can explain it away?
Now, in order to teach mankind, God established His Church and gave it supernatural offices and charisms to transmit His truth infallibly to men. Such powers are not guaranteed in the latest utterances of the current incumbent of the See of Peter when not using either his ordinary and universal or his extraordinary magisterium. If the current situation in the Church teaches us nothing else by God’s providence, we ought to learn from it at least that there are clear and definite limits to the teaching office of the pope and the bishops. And what is non-infallible does not trump the infallible simply because it is newer. The truth is the other way round.
So, when the Vicars of Christ and Ecumenical Councils, surveying the Scriptural data and the received tradition of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, teach us infallibly in three definitions that the Catholic Church is necessary for salvation, we ought to accept this as the Catholic truth and not manufacture theories to render these teachings into meaningless formulae, which is exactly what many a modern theologian does.
Taking the long historical view and considering these matters of Evolutionism and Indifferentism against the vast backdrop of the history of ideas, it becomes manifest to me that they are but particular embodiments of the dethroning of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King, and the usurpation by man of God’s rights. We can expand the list and say that Liberalism, Americanism, Indifferentism, and Scientism are all different forms of this very dethroning and usurpation.
The same twin evil is one of the great themes of Dom François de Sales Pollien (1853-1936), as expressed in a volume I frequently quote on this website: The Interior Life Simplified and Reduced to Its Fundamental Principle. We can simplify one of this great Carthusian’s central ideas in three sentences:
- God’s rights come first, man’s second.
- God’s glory comes first, man’s satisfaction second.
- God first, man second.
I would like to finish these lines by borrowing from pages 77 and 78 of that wonderful book, to give my readers a lofty view of the glory of God as meditated by this profound author. If, perchance, some reader thinks that “the glory of God” has nothing to do with science or theology, then the nature of our present crisis is only further highlighted.
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IN the life of the patriarchs, we feel that God, their God, is everything to them. He dominates, inspires, and, in practice, guides their lives. In their history, we feel at every moment a sense of the Spirit of God. It is the same throughout the history of the chosen people. It is God who is the centre of everything. If human passions cause His memory to be forgotten, punishments recall it; and, beneath the rod, the cry that arises and begs for victory over enemies is always in the first place God’s honour. “For the glory of Thy name, O Lord, deliver us” (Ps. lxxviii. 9). And when the victory is won, they rejoice above all, because God is glorified (Ex. xv. 1). When Moses (Num. xiv. 13), Judith (Judith ix), and Esther (Esther xiv) wish to obtain the salvation of their people, they do it by invoking God’s glory, and this is the motive which moves God to save His people (Ps. cv. 8). In the Psalms, what a place is given to the glory of God! It is the supreme and constant end of these sublime songs.
In the ages and countries of faith, how much more real and living was the place assigned to God in the customs of His faithful peoples! Nothing expressed it so vividly as popular speech. It is in the turns of everyday conversation that we find the best reflection of this state of mind. But how and when was God spoken of in the times and ages in which the notions of faith prevailed?—The name of God perpetually occurred with an appropriateness and reality which were indeed admirable. They used to say with such simplicity and sincerity: “Thank God,” “God be praised,” “Please God,” “With God’s help,” and so forth. Private documents began with the sign of the cross, and public deeds were drawn up in the name of the Blessed Trinity, and laws were promulgated in God’s name; the custom of giving first-fruits, inherited from the ancient faith, consecrated to God the first-born of everything; paternal, judicial, and civil authority acted as a delegation of that which is divine; there was respect for persons and solemnities and things sacred; the dread of the punishment of blasphemy and so many other customs, unfortunately so far removed from our days; all these testified in practice how far the thought of God held the foremost place in everything. God lived in people’s thoughts and conduct, in their customs and institutions. Human wretchedness no doubt made its appearance, for it always does. But God also was manifested above human wretchedness. It was felt that He was the King of souls and bodies, of individuals and peoples, of time and eternity, and His sovereignty remained above all.
In our utilitarian age, if we still have recourse to God, it is rather because we need Him than because of His glory. We still know what carnal love means, but what of the love of benevolence! . . . To ask above all else that God may be glorified, and to rejoice above all that He is glorified, this is the case of a few, but they are daily becoming fewer. And the great heresy which breaks asunder the union of God with man, the co-ordination of the One with the other, is drunk in by everyone, it enters everywhere, it darkens the mind, it misleads the feelings and perverts action. “The Lord knoweth the thoughts of men, that they are vain” (Ps. xciii. 11). Even in the sanctuary and in the cloister this cloudy and unwholesome atmosphere has found its way; and slowly, in small doses, but constantly and surely, its poison filters in.
Oh, how terrible it is to have to walk in this fog which is as thick as darkness, and to inhale this air which is as heavy as death! . . . And how hard it is to cast out the virus from the spiritual organism, and to render mind, heart, and act, completely sound! . . . If, however, we mean to live, it must be done at all costs; otherwise the virus, daily creeping in more and more deeply, will kill us, will kill all Christian vitality in us, and induce the putrefaction of death itself. Alas! how sick we are!