Does the Catechism of the Catholic Church abrogate the traditional doctrine of creation?
Many Catholics who want to be faithful to the traditional teaching of the Church have been confused by passages in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) which seem to be incomplete or ambiguous. In this article, we will see why there is nothing in the CCC that calls into question the traditional teaching of the Church on creation as set forth in the Catechism of the Council of Trent and other, prior authoritative Magisterial teaching.
In the first place, it is important to remember that the Catechism is not intended to be the last word in proclaiming the Catholic Faith. The only truly “catholic” way to read the Catechism is in the light of the prior almost two thousand years of Sacred Tradition and authoritative Magisterial teaching. A good example of this can be seen in the Catechism’s treatment of Holy Marriage. It says many beautiful things about Holy Marriage and the family, but not once does it say anything about the complementary roles of husband (as head) and wife (as heart) of the family. Since every Father and Doctor of the Church for almost two thousand years has taught that the husband is the spiritual head of the family and his wife is the heart of the family, it is apparent that the Catechism has to be understood in light of the Tradition of the Church–and not only the Catechism but the modern Popes as well. Thus, when Pope St. John Paul II wrote in Mulieris Dignitatem of “mutual submission” of spouses, his statement cannot be taken out of the context of the Tradition of the Church. It can be understood in an orthodox way, but only in the light of the Church’s Tradition. When understood in that way, it means that the husband must submit himself to the NEEDS (not wants) of his wife and children, while his wife must submit to her husband’s authority in all things but sin. That is the only Catholic way to understand mutual submission, and it is perfectly consistent with the Church’s Tradition.
In a very important essay on the difference between traditional and neo-conservative Catholicism, Fr. Chad Ripperger (formerly professor of dogmatic theology at the Fraternity of St. Peter’s North American Seminary) offers another example of the way that the CCC sometimes gives an incomplete explanation of an important point of doctrine:
the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in 1975 (Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics, as found in the official English translation of the Vatican by The Wanderer Press, 128 E. 10th St., St. Paul, MN 55101) asserts the following regarding masturbation: “The main reason is that, whatever the motive for acting this way, the deliberate use of the sexual faculty outside normal conjugal relations essentially contradicts the finality of the faculty.” This indicates that regardless of one’s intention or motive, the act is in itself gravely immoral. Then, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church,8 a definition is given that seems to allow for different intentions to modify whether such an act is evil or not: “Masturbationis nomine intelligere oportet voluntarium organorum genitalium excitationem, ad obtinendam ex ea veneream voluptatem” (“by the name masturbation must be understood the voluntary excitement of the genital organs to obtain venereal pleasure”). The last part of the definition therefore includes in the act of masturbation a finality – “to obtain venereal pleasure.” This appears to contradict the prior teaching of the Church as well as the teaching of the CDF. If one does not do it for the sake of pleasure, does that mean that it is not masturbation? For example, if one commits this act for the sake of determining one’s fertility, does this justify it? One can rectify the situation by arguing that when it is done for the sake of pleasure it is an instance of masturbation, but that the actual definition is what the Church has always held. Clearly, however, this example is testimony to how careless the Magisterium has become in its theological expression.
An even more grievous example of teaching that would tend to be given a false interpretation except in the context of Sacred Tradition and the prior authoritative Magisterial teaching is the CCC’s teaching on the Mosaic covenant. From the beginning of the Church, the Fathers, Doctors and Popes in their authoritative teaching maintained that the Mosaic covenant had been superseded by the New Covenant and thus was no longer valid, but today many Church leaders, like Cardinal Koch, hold that the Mosaic covenant is salvific and that it is no longer appropriate to evangelize Jews. This was certainly the plain and obvious sense of paragraph 839 in the original English version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church which read:
“. . . the covenant that God made with the Jewish people through Moses remains eternally valid for them.”
Largely through the work of a Catholic layman who protested against this apparent deviation from the constant teaching of the Church, the United Sates bishops voted to ask the Vatican to approve a small change in the U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults. In the words of The Catholic Review, the newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, the purpose of the change was:
to clarify church teaching on God’s covenant with the Jewish people. The proposed change – which would replace one sentence in the catechism – was discussed by the bishops in executive session at their June meeting in Orlando, Fla., but did not receive the needed two-thirds majority of all members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at that time. After mail balloting, the final vote of 231-14, with one abstention, was announced Aug. 5 in a letter to bishops from Monsignor David Malloy, USCCB general secretary. The change, which must be confirmed by the Vatican Congregation for Clergy, would remove from the catechism a sentence that reads: “Thus the covenant that God made with the Jewish people through Moses remains eternally valid for them.” Replacing it would be this sentence: “To the Jewish people, whom God first chose to hear his word, ‘belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ’” (Rom 9:4-5; cf. CCC, No. 839).
“Talking points” distributed to the bishops along with Monsignor Malloy’s letter said the proposed revision “is not a change in the church’s teaching.” “Catholics understand that all previous covenants that God made with the Jewish people have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ through the new covenant established through his sacrificial death on the cross,” the talking points say. “The prior version of the text,” they continue, “might be understood to imply that one of the former covenants imparts salvation without the mediation of Christ, whom Christians believe to be the universal savior of all people” (emphasis added). http://catholicreview.org/article/news/bishops-vote-to-revise-u-s-catechism-on-jewish-covenant-with-god#sthash.jgCfYNiz.dpuf
From this report we can see that the “ambiguity” in the original, approved text of CCC 839 was not a minor mishap but a matter of spiritual life and death, as it inclined Catholic readers to believe that Cardinal Koch is correct when he instructs Catholics to stop evangelizing Jews, thus depriving them of the opportunity to hear the Good News of salvation.
In light of these examples, it should be possible to see that the same kind of incompleteness characterizes some of the Catechism’s treatment of the doctrine of creation. The CCC itself states that the literal sense is the basis for all other senses of Scripture (CCC, 116). Thus, by the CCC’s own teaching, the six days can be literal AND symbolic at the same time. This is how almost all of the Fathers of the Church understood them. Many of them held that the days were 24 hour days but that they also foreshadowed (“symbolized,” if you will) six thousand years of human history before the coming of Antichrist. This was the view of St. Irenaeus, St. Hippolytus and other Fathers, (In fact, many of the quotations Catholic Answers apologists use to criticize the literal interpretation of the days of Genesis 1 can be explained in this way.)
Most of the CCC’s statements on creation pose no challenge at all to the traditional understanding. CCC 283 that speaks of the insights that science has given us about the age of the universe is in small print precisely because it is not talking about a doctrine of faith or morals, and it is not even specific about the age of the universe. CCC 302 and 310 offer an incomplete treatment of the “perfection of the universe,” because they leave out the teaching of ALL of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church without exception on what St. Thomas calls the “first perfection of the universe.”
According to St. Thomas, the perfection of the original creation did not preclude a development of that creation to a final end. But this was not an evolutionary development, because he insists that “all the parts” of the first creation were complete in the beginning:
The perfection of a thing is twofold, the first perfection and the second perfection. The first perfection is that according to which a thing is substantially perfect, and this perfection is the form of the whole; which form results from the whole having its parts complete . . . Now the final perfection, which is the end of the whole universe, is the perfect beatitude of the saints at the consummation of the world; and the first perfection is the completeness of the universe at its first founding, and this is what is ascribed to the seventh day (ST, I, q. 73, a. 1) (emphasis added).
In contrast to evolutionary models which hold that new kinds of organisms came into existence and others became extinct long before the appearance of the first human beings, St. Thomas, with all of the Fathers and Doctors, held that the first created world was perfect because 1) God brought all of the different kinds of creatures into existence together with Adam and Eve in perfect harmony; 2) the creation of new kinds of creatures ceased after the creation of Adam and Eve, so that—as St Thomas says in the Summa—“In the works nature creation does not enter, but is presupposed to the works of nature”; and 3) because each kind of creature was perfectly designed for its place in the universe. In the words of St. Augustine, in the City of God: In this creation, had no one sinned, the world would have been filled and beautified with natures good without exception (City of God, Book XI, Chapter 23).
It should now be apparent that, like the CCC’s treatment of holy marriage, of Onanism, and (its original treatment) of the Mosaic covenant, its treatment of the final perfection of the universe is incomplete because it does not discuss it in relation to what St. Thomas and all of Catholic Tradition teaches regarding the FIRST PERFECTION of the universe.
In conclusion, there is nothing in the CCC that cannot be reconciled with the traditional doctrine of creation. The ambiguities and apparent contradictions are unfortunate, but they are just a sign of the times–of the influence of modernism even on Popes and many bishops in our day, but without corrupting their authoritative teachings on the content of the Deposit of Faith. And if it is hard to accept that such ambiguities and apparent contradictions are really present within the Catholic community today, just look at the world around you and ask yourself whether it could have reached such a deplorable state if many of the members of the Catholic community had not been deeply wounded by the same errors that are leading the world to destruction. Indeed, has not Our Lady warned us of this very thing in her approved apparitions, as at Akita, Japan, where, after weeping human tears 101 times, She said:
If man does not repent, the Heavenly Father will inflict a punishment worse than the Deluge, such as one will never have seen before. Fire will fall from the sky, wiping out a great part of humanity, the good as well as the bad, sparing neither priest nor faithful (emphasis added) (Mother of God to Sister Agnes Sasagawa, October 13, 1973).
Moses tells us that before the Deluge:
God [saw] that the wickedness of men was great on the earth, and that all the thought of their heart was bent upon evil at all times (Genesis 6:5)
It follows that if we deserve a punishment “worse than the Deluge,” then some false way of thinking must have entered the very air that we breathe, so that even the hearts of good and well-intentioned people are “turned towards” evil and error at all times. With its denial of the perfect goodness and wisdom of God and of the goodness and perfection of the original creation before the Original Sin, and with its assertion that God allowed His Church to teach a false account of the origins of man and the universe for almost two thousand years–and then enlightened her not through saints and scholars from within her ranks but through the work of godless scientists who hated the Church and wanted to destroy her!–evolutionism, in both its theistic and atheistic forms, certainly fits the bill. Indeed, it has been well said that atheistic evolution turns men into demons, but theistic evolution makes a demon out of God!
Through the prayers of the Mother of God, may the Holy Spirit lead us all into all the Truth!