Friday, November 30, 2012

Quote of the Day

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved...Thus faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.

--Romans 10:9-10, 17

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Catholic Biblical Fundamentalism v. the Church's Teaching on Creation

Well over a year ago, in a tweet on my Twitter page, I praised Father Victor Warkulwiz's book The Doctrines of Genesis 1-11 as an "excellent book" and "highly recommended." Today, after having done a bit more research on what the Catholic Church actually teaches about the creation of the world, I am forced in good conscience to retract those compliments and warn other Catholics about the dangers that Catholic biblical fundamentalism presents to a proper understanding of Catholic creation doctrine. During my first few months of studying this book beginning in September 2010, I thought it was an excellent work entirely faithful to the Church's Magisterium, and as such I was willing to heartily endorse it. However, a year later and halfway into the book, my initial impression had begun to change significantly. I was starting to find myself in disagreement with some of the things Fr. Warkulwiz was saying and having some misgivings about the book. The claim I found most disturbing of all--and which is really fundamental to the thesis of the whole book--is that, for a Catholic, the only reasonable interpretation of the Hebrew word yom in Genesis chapter 1 (which means "day") is a strict literal interpretation. This bothered me so much that I wrote the following essay about it, which I sent to Fr. Warkulwiz:

The Meaning of Yom in Traditional Catholic Creation Theology
by Justin Soutar
September 14, 2011

In his well-researched book, The Doctrines of Genesis 1-11: A Compendium and Defense of Traditional Catholic Theology on Origins, Father Victor P. Warkulwiz, M.S.S. strives to faithfully transmit the essentials of Catholic creation doctrine as drawn from Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and Magisterial teaching; he also delves into the theological exploration of this doctrine by the Fathers and Doctors of the Church over the centuries. Father Warkulwiz presents this doctrine and theology in the form of sixteen theses drawn from the first eleven chapters of Genesis, which he interprets literally, and he assembles an impressive array of theological, philosophical and scientific arguments to defend them.

Although I have been enjoying my study of Father Warkulwiz’s scholarly work, there is one part of it that really bothers me. It’s where he insists that the Hebrew word yom (“day”) in Genesis 1 can only be reasonably interpreted to mean a literal natural day, in opposition to two of the greatest Doctors of the Church, Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas, who preferred a symbolic interpretation of yom. Father Warkulwiz takes this position in support of his sixth thesis, “God created the world in six natural days,” and defends it on the following grounds: 1) The word yom is never used in Sacred Scripture for a period of time of a definite length other than a natural day. 2) A literal interpretation of yom in Genesis 1 is in accordance with the hermeneutical principle of Pope Leo XIII, originally formulated by Saint Augustine, that Scripture must be understood in its literal and obvious sense except where reason or necessity force us to do otherwise. 3) Nearly all of the Church Fathers and Doctors held a literal interpretation of yom in Genesis 1. 4) The creation day is the prototype of the natural day, which sets the rhythm for our lives and life in general. 5) The natural sciences are unable to confirm or refute the idea that God created the world in six literal natural days.

The key point here is whether the interpretation of yom is a matter of doctrine or of theological opinion. A reliable test to distinguish between the two is this: 1) If the Church Fathers and Doctors are in perfectly unanimous agreement on a certain point, it is a doctrine of the faith. 2) If they are not in unanimous agreement on a certain point, it is a matter of theological opinion. Most, but not all, of the Church Fathers and Doctors believed in a literal six-day creation. The outstanding exceptions were Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas, who held that God created the world instantaneously and that the six days of Genesis 1 are symbolic. So the idea that God created the world in six natural days is a traditional, widely held, non-binding theological opinion within Catholicism, not a compulsory doctrine of the faith.

Father Warkulwiz concludes that “it is not reasonable to take the word yom in Genesis 1 to mean other than a literal natural day.” (p. 171) But Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas took it to mean other than that, and their reasons for doing so seemed quite reasonable to them. Augustine interpreted the word “day” in Genesis chapter 1 as referring to the creation of light and of the angels. The following quotation from his commentary on Genesis 1 appears in Father Warkulwiz’s book:

The obvious conclusion is that if the angels are among the works of God of those days, they are that light which received the name of “day.” And the unity of that day is underlined by its not being called “the first day,” but “one day.” Thus the second day, and the third, and the rest are not different days; the same “one day” was repeated to complete the number six or seven, to represent the seven stages of knowledge [in the minds of the angels], the six stages comprehending the created works, and the seventh stage embracing God’s rest….Thus, the angels, illuminated by that light by which they were created, themselves became light and are called “day” by participation in the changeless light and day, which is the Word of God, through whom they themselves and all other things were made.
(p. 166)
And Saint Thomas sided with Saint Augustine:

…Ambrose and other saints hold that there was an order of time by which things were distinguished. This opinion is indeed more generally held, and seems to accord better with the apparent literal sense (of Scripture). Still, the previous theory (that of Augustine) is the more reasonable, and ensures a better defense of Holy Scripture against the derision of unbelievers. To this, insists Augustine, must the fullest heed be given: “the Scriptures are so to be explained that they will not incur the ridicule of unbelievers”; and his theory is the one that appeals to me.

(p. 167, footnote [bold added])

Aquinas not only did not interpret the word yom in Genesis 1 literally, he actually commended Augustine’s symbolic interpretation as being more reasonable! And he did this with full awareness that he was swimming against the tide of most of the Church Fathers and Doctors before him, who held a different and more literal view of this same Scripture passage. Augustine, moreover, who first laid down the general rule of sticking to the literal sense of Scripture, himself did not apply it to the word yom in Genesis chapter 1. Father Warkulwiz appears to have taken Saint Augustine’s principle out of context in order to justify a strict literal interpretation of yom that the saint himself opposed.

Unfortunately, the logical breakdown doesn’t end there. Father Warkulwiz goes so far as to state unequivocally in the preamble to his sixth thesis that “there is no justification for a Catholic to deny that God created the world in six natural days.” (p. 164) This is insulting to the intelligence of the reader as well as to the two great saints and Doctors quoted above. Is Father Warkulwiz implying that two of the most renowned minds in Church history had no justification for their positions?

The Church, the ultimate authority for teaching the truth and interpreting Sacred Scripture, has not formally defined the meaning of yom in Genesis 1; rather, she has opened it to discussion. In 1909, the Pontifical Biblical Commission issued a statement (which is still in force) authorizing Catholic biblical interpreters to freely discuss the question of whether the word yom in Genesis 1 means strictly “a literal natural day” or less strictly “a certain space of time.” Yet while admitting in his book that the Church has permitted discussion of the meaning of yom in Genesis chapter 1 (and that Augustine and Aquinas held symbolic interpretations of it), Father Warkulwiz effectively negates this permission by arguing that the hermeneutical principle of Pope Leo XIII forbids a less strict interpretation of yom. This raises the question of the proper application of that principle. How is one to decide which passages of Sacred Scripture must be interpreted in the literal and obvious sense; which must be understood symbolically; and which may be interpreted either way? The answer is that no individual Catholic has the authority to make such decisions on his or her own. Only the Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, can infallibly guide the interpretation of Scripture by the faithful.

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 337, we are told: “Scripture presents the work of the Creator symbolically as a succession of six days of divine ‘work,’ concluded by the ‘rest’ of the seventh day.” As Father Warkulwiz correctly points out (p. 164), this does not mean that the six days and the work of the six days weren’t real. However, in this passage the Church is clearly and officially teaching a symbolic interpretation of Genesis 1 that in no way denies the literal and historical truth of that Scriptural text—that God, at the beginning of time, created the world and everything in it. Father Warkulwiz opines that the Church “could someday declare that yom in Genesis 1 means a literal day because that interpretation has strong support in Scriptural exegesis and in Tradition.” (p. 189) But the Church cannot make a doctrinal declaration that contradicts the teaching of her own Catechism. The Catechism is a “statement of the Church’s faith and of catholic doctrine” (Pope John Paul II, Fidei Depositum, § 3), not a handbook of theological opinion. As “a sure norm for teaching the faith” (Ibid), it is free from error in matters of faith and morals.

For the benefit of his Catholic readers, out of respect for the Church and her Doctors, and for the sake of logical consistency, I hope that in a future edition of his book Father Warkulwiz will concede the validity and reasonableness of less than strictly literal interpretations of yom in Genesis chapter 1. It is not reasonable to oblige Catholics to accept a particular theological opinion, whatever merits it may possess. Maintaining the proper distinction between binding Church doctrine and matters of non-binding theological opinion is essential to an accurate and fair presentation of traditional Catholic creation doctrine and theology.

Copyright © 2011 by Justin D. Soutar.

Fr. Warkulwiz did send me a written response, which I reprint below for the sake of fairness and out of respect for a Catholic priest:

Reply to J. Soutar on the Meaning of Yom in Genesis One

Mr. Soutar seems to be saying that since St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas felt free to deny the interpretation of yom in Genesis One as a literal natural day, we are free today to interpret yom in any symbolic way that we please. That is simply not so. First of all, Augustine and Aquinas held that everything in the universe was created at once. That is not the interpretation pressed on us today. Today we are told that yom means an immensely long undefined period of time because the universe as we see it today was not created that way but slowly evolved from an amorphous state over billions of years. St. Augustine and St. Thomas would have certainly found that interpretation outrageous. Augustine castigated those who stretched the length of the history of the world beyond its biblical limits.

Second, we do not necessarily have the same freedom of interpretation today that Augustine and Aquinas had. Influenced by the false science of his day, St. Thomas also denied the Immaculate Conception. The Church eventually declared that such denial is not merely unreasonable and unjustifiable but heretical. That is not an insult to St. Thomas. It is a development of doctrine. I am saying that the issue of the meaning of yom has reached the point in development that no one can provide a theological, philosophical or scientific reason good enough to justify denying its literal interpretation as a natural day. One must have a very good reason, not just an opinion, for denying that God created the world in six natural days because the literal interpretation is the one favored by the Church in light of the hermeneutical principle of Leo XIII. The 1909 decree of the Pontifical Biblical Commission did not nullify that principle but presumes it. The Catechism of the Catholic Church in saying that the six days are symbolic is not affirming that a purely symbolic meaning (as opposed to a symbolic meaning superimposed on the literal meaning) is permissible because the Catechism must be read in the light of Catholic Tradition, which was formally elucidated by Leo XIII. I did not say that such denial is heretical but that it is unreasonable and unjustifiable. But it is possible that some time in the future if the Church may formally affirm the literal interpretation of yom as she did the Immaculate Conception. Its denial would then be heretical. This issue is immensely important because denial of the six natural days of creation lends support to the atheistically-inspired notion of universal evolution; which has poisoned the faith of many Catholics, leading them eventually to declare that there are errors in genuine passages of Sacred Scripture.

Rev. Victor P. Warkulwiz, M.S.S.
October 2011

I think my original argument stands. Note that I was NOT saying that Catholics are free to interpret yom any way they want to but that they should interpret it as the Church does--and the Church, in her own official Catechism, has unambiguously sided with the symbolic interpretation of yom. The Church will never formally affirm the literal interpretation of yom as binding doctrine of the faith because it isn't. The Immaculate Conception, on the other hand, is a binding doctrine of the faith, so comparing it to the meaning of yom is comparing apples to oranges. Fr. Warkulwiz claims that "the Catechism must be read in the light of Catholic Tradition," but the Catechism itself does not say this. The Catechism itself is a synthesis of 2,000 years of Catholic tradition; it contains exactly what the Church teaches and has always taught, and as an authoritative text of the Magisterium it can stand on its own.

The actual content of the Church's creation doctrine is pretty basic and succinct. The Church teaches that "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1); that God created "all things visible and invisible," including the universe, angels, and human beings; and that He brought them into existence ex nihilo (out of nothing). That is the literal and historical truth about creation that the Church has always upheld and will always uphold. However, the Church leaves open the question of how God accomplished his work of creation. He could have done it instanteously, or in six literal days, or in six thousand years, or in six million, or even in six billion years. After all, He is God. He is all-powerful. The point is that He did it. That is our faith. How He did it is a mystery. We don't know for sure how he did it because we weren't there. Only God was there. The divinely inspired Genesis creation account is not meant to give us scientific data or to satisfy our curiosity about how it happened, but to teach us the essential truth that God created the world. It's not the business of the Church or of science to explain how God created the world. That is purely a matter for philosophical speculation, theological opinion, and personal preference. I personally happen to be a young-earth creationist who favors the literal six-day creation scenario. Many Catholic leaders today happen to be theistic evolutionists who believe that God carried out His creative work through gradual evolutionary processes over an immensely long period of time. Both positions are ultimately opinions, neither of which affects the basic principle of our faith that God created the world and holds it continuously in existence.

Many atheists today use the theory of evolution as scientific support for their absurd idea of the universe having come into existence without a Creator. But the theory of evolution no more proves their atheism than young-earth creationism proves my faith in God the Creator. How the world came into existence is irrelevant to the central issue here. The crux of the matter is: Do we believe in an all-powerful God who created the world, or do we not? That is the important question facing us, the crucial choice we must make.

It's not the theory of evolution that threatens the faith of individual Catholics. It's the godless, radically secular social and political ideology of evolutionism that does that. As Cardinal Christoph Schonborn (a leading theistic evolutionist) has pointed out, the problem is not Darwin, but Darwinism. Darwin chose to believe in the Creator of the world. The Darwinists, by contrast, have chosen to reject faith in God the Creator.

Catholic biblical fundamentalists and traditionalists like Fr. Warkulwiz are certainly well-intentioned and sincere. They are passionately devoted to Catholic doctrine and anxious to carefully preserve and vigorously defend that doctrine, and their writings have a certain appeal to those of like mind. The problem is, they have a flawed understanding of some of the teachings of the Church and they look to their own flawed understanding, rather than to the Magisterium (the Pope and the bishops in union with him), as the ultimate authority on what the Church teaches. Deep down they don't really trust that the Holy Spirit is continuing to protect the modern Church from teaching error in the post-Vatican II era, and they see themselves as the few faithful guardians of true Catholic doctrine. The danger of Catholic biblical fundamentalism as exemplified by a book like The Doctrines of Genesis 1-11 is that ordinary lay Catholics in union with Rome will become subtly and unconsciously infected by the traditionalist mentality and begin to distrust the Magisterium, listening more to what the traditionalists are saying than to what the Church is saying. By devouring traditionalist literature and neglecting official magisterial texts like the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a person's Catholic faith can become seriously distorted and he or she may end up breaking off from full communion with the Catholic Church due to refusal to accept certain binding Church teachings (such as that the Holy Spirit protects the Church from teaching error).

Due to the immense importance of us Catholics being properly formed in our faith, I would strongly discourage reading Fr. Warkulwiz's book. Instead I would like to recommend Chance or Purpose? Creation, Evolution, and a Rational Faith by Cardinal Schonborn. Another great read is The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Dr. Francis Collins, a convert to Christianity and world-renowned DNA expert who was appointed a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Quote of the Day

"O my God, Trinity whom I adore...grant my soul peace; make it your heaven, your beloved dwelling, and the place of your rest. May I never abandon you there, but may I be there, whole and entire, completely vigilant in my faith, entirely adoring, and wholly given over to your creative action."
--Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sentinels of the Shenandoah

I was inspired to write this little poem one winter morning a  few years ago by the beauty of the fog-shrouded, tree-clad mountain slopes of western Virginia, where I came to live in 2008.

Sentinels of the Shenandoah
by Justin Soutar -- 11/26/2012

The world is gray and white
   On a soundless winter morning.
Wrapped in mist and shrouded in fog,
   The mighty ranks of trees
Stand guard over the valley
   From their mountainside post.
Dimly, I can see them
   All crowded together,
The great white pines and cedars,
   Spruce and hemlock,
Oak, maple and hickory,
   Walnut and hornbeam,
Towering into the gloom
   Like hundreds of church steeples;
Ever so still and silent,
   Their presence never failing.

Copyright © 2012 Justin D. Soutar. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Quote of the Day

What does it mean, then, to be a Christian? It means to continue to receive and accept the witness of the apostles, the eyewitnesses of our salvation. It means to believe in Christ with the same faith that was born in them from the works and the words of the risen Lord.

This is what the Apostle John writes: "The way we can be sure of our knowledge of him is to keep his commandments. The man who claims, 'I know him,' without keeping his commandments, is a liar; in such a one there is no truth. But whoever keeps his word, truly has the love of God been made perfect in him" (1 Jn. 2:3-5).

The apostle is speaking of a living faith. Faith is living when it bears the fruit of good works. These are the works of love. Faith is alive through God's love in us. Love is expressed in the observance of the commandments. There can be no contradictions between the knowledge of "I know him" and the actions of one who confesses Christ. Only he who completes his faith with good works remains in the truth.

--Blessed John Paul II

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving

Perhaps more than any other national holiday, Thanksgiving demonstrates America's fundamental identity as a Christian nation, a nation "under God." The Pilgrims who celebrated the first Thanksgiving in October of 1620 were deeply religious Christians who had sailed to this land primarily in order to worship God freely without government interference. They thanked God for the blessings of liberty as well as for the blessing of an abundant harvest that he bestowed upon them. Four centuries later, the Thanksgiving tradition that they started continues up to this day. More than two hundred years after that first Thanksgiving celebration, during a time of great national crisis, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln officially instituted Thanksgiving as an annual national holiday set on the fourth Thursday of November.

Today our nation is again in crisis as our federal government, led by President Barack Obama and his cohorts in the U.S. Senate, is now attacking the very foundation of religious liberty on which America was built by legislating immorality and attempting to reshape our country into a radically secularist nation without God. Thus our country's fundamental identity risks being lost. We must heed the warnings of our Founding Fathers that without the indispensable supports of religion and morality, our liberty will soon collapse. Faith in God and the observance of his Law is the foundation of our religious freedom as well as of all our other freedoms.

We should also gratefully recall the sacrifices of those who fought and gave their lives to defend the rights to life and religious freedom that we enjoy today. Their faith and courage should inspire us to continue praying and working for the end of legalized abortion, the repeal of the HHS mandate, and the defeat of radical secularism, so that this great nation will once again be "one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Thought for the Day

If yesterday's Scripture quote was directed at our government leaders, today's should jar the rest of us out of our comfortable complacency:

"But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"

--St. Luke 18:8

Friday, November 16, 2012

Thought for the Day

As I present today's little reflection from the word of God, I am thinking particularly of President Obama and the five Supreme Court justices who ruled in favor of Obamacare.

Hear therefore, ye kings, and understand: learn, ye that are judges of the ends of the earth.

Give ear, you that rule the people, and that please yourselves in multitudes of nations:

For power is given you by the Lord, and strength by the Most High, who will examine your works, and search out your thoughts:

Because being ministers of his kingdom, you have not judged rightly, nor kept the law of justice, nor walked according to the will of God.

Horribly and speedily will he appear to you: for a most severe judgment shall be for them that bear rule.

--Wisdom 6:2-6 (Douay-Rheims Version)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Thought for the Day

And the apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith." The Lord replied, "If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you."

--St. Luke 17:5-6

Friday, November 9, 2012

Quote of the Day

When reading a little inspirational book called Reasons for Hope, I recently came across an excellent quote for the Year of Faith from our late great hero in the faith, Blessed John Paul II. When reading it, keep in mind that Pope Benedict XVI calls the Year of Faith "a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the World." This beautiful quote concisely summarizes what the Year of Faith is all about:

The proclamation of the word of God has Christian conversion as its aim: a complete and sincere adherence to Christ and his gospel through faith. Conversion is a gift of God, a work of the Blessed Trinity. It is the Spirit who opens people's hearts so that they can believe in Christ and "confess him" (see 1 Cor. 12:3); of those who draw near to him through faith Jesus says: "No one can come to me unlesss the Father who sent me draws him" (Jn. 6:44).

From the outset, conversion is expressed in faith which is total and radical, and which neither limits nor hinders God's gift. At the same time, it gives rise to a dynamic and lifelong process which demands a continual turning away from "life according to the flesh" to "life according to the Spirit" (see Rom. 8:3-5). Conversion means accepting, by a personal decision, the saving sovereignty of Christ and becoming his disciple.

--Blessed John Paul II

Another Four Years of the Obama Nightmare

Sadly, President Obama--the most radically secularist and pro-abortion president in American history who has dared to attack our fundamental religious liberties and conscience rights with the monstrosity known as Obamacare while utterly neglecting to help the average American deal with the worst recession in 80 years--has managed to pull re-election out of the hat with 50 percent of the American popular vote to 48 percent for Romney.

This isn't just a defeat for Mitt Romney--it's a defeat for the innocent unborn, a defeat for religious liberty, a defeat for traditional marriage, a defeat for our economy and jobs, a defeat for responsible limited government and lower taxes, a defeat for our Constitution, and a defeat for the Christian moral and ethical values that made America great.

Our nation is in big trouble. God help us.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Tomorrow is Election Day

This is a pivotal election in American history. The right to life of the innocent unborn, our religious liberties and conscience rights, traditional marriage, our economy, and the future of our country are on the line. We can't just sit idly by and watch our nation go to the dogs. Edmund Burke once said, "All that is needed for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." In our case, all that is needed for the triumph of evil is that good people fail to exercise their right to vote.

As Catholics and as American citizens, it's our duty to God, our neighbor and our country to vote for candidates who stand for what we believe in.

Let's do it.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Quote of the Day

"In giving us his Son, his only and definitive Word, God spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word, and he has no more to say."
--St. John of the Cross

Friday, November 2, 2012

Thought for the Day

If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him.
--Romans 6:8-9