Evolution and Revisionist Catholicism
In life there are some things we can change, and some things we cannot or must not change. This is true in spades in matters of religion. Looking back over the past half-century of Catholic life we remember Pope John XXIII calling the Second Vatican Council for the purpose of aggiornamento, to bring the Church up to date in some way. Aggiornamento makes sense if we distinguish between style and substance. At the heart of the Church there is a timeless, immutable core of eternal truth, the living Tradition of the Church, the Church’s unchanging teachings on faith and morals. This is the unchanging substance of the Church. At other levels of Church life there can exist customs and practices that pertain to a particular time or place. These are the stylistic features of the Church that are subject to change. One stylistic change implemented in the 1960’s had to do with the length of the capa magna or large cape which bishops and cardinals wore on grand occasions. As a young “go for baroque” seminarian at the time, I was disappointed when the length was reduced from 40 feet to a mere 20 feet.
Style and substance are easily recognized in the abstract, but are devilishly difficult to sort out in practice. Vatican Council II had been summoned to be not a doctrinal council (like Vatican I or Trent) but a “pastoral” council, whatever that may mean. Thus the binding force of the Council documents is not entirely clear. The documents presumably are less binding than the dogmas of a doctrinal council. If they are less binding than the irreformable dogmas of a doctrinal council, are they then reformable? The question, in other words, is whether they belong the unchanging substance of the Church, or to the Church’s changeable style in the latter half of the 20th Century. Beyond the official documents of the Council is the ubiquitous and often spurious “spirit of Vatican II” which is frequently invoked as the rationale for changes of doctrine and practice that have been proposed and in some quarters adopted.
The Church has been contending for decades with the phenomenon of “cafeteria Catholics,” those who look over the Church’s “menu” of doctrines and “take what they like and leave the rest.” In many intellectual circles, lip service is paid to the official teaching authority of the Church, while a so-called “parallel magisterium” is set up in opposition to and in competition with the real Magisterium. All too often what is actually taught in religious education classes, renew groups, RCIA sessions, and seminary and university seminars is not the true substance of the Church’s doctrine, but the mendacious novelties of revisionist theology.
If we take a retrospective look at the Church’s Magisterium in the 1950’s we find a remarkably cohesive and consistent body of doctrine that represented a genuine consensus of the Pope and the world’s bishops, and also enjoyed the willing assent of the vast majority of Catholics. Of particular interest to readers of WATCHMAKER is the fact that in the 1950’s the theory of evolution had not yet been widely accepted as compatible with the Catholic Faith. Catholics for the most part still thought of origins in the traditional Catholic way, namely in terms of special creation by the Intelligent Designer and Creator, God. Pope Pius XII’s great 1950 origins encyclical Humani generis was, by any fair assessment, hostile to evolution theory. The writings of the evolutionist paleontologist, Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin were still proscribed by the Church. Catechists were still unabashedly telling the story of Noah and the universal Flood, without introducing the caveats that would later arise from compromises with uniformitarian geology.
Over the past forty years virtually every doctrine of the Catholic Faith has been subjected to serious challenge from significant elements within the Church. In this brief article we can take only a few examples to illustrate the development of revisionist thinking in the Church. We hope to demonstrate that the Church’s doctrine on origins has been subjected to a particularly serious challenge from theistic evolutionists, and that this challenge is part of a larger and generalized pattern of revisionist speculations. These speculations are departures from the Sacred Tradition of the Church, and are therefore illegitimate. Wherever these speculations take hold, the true Faith suffers devastating consequences.
In revisiting the 1950’s we find the Church’s Magisterium boldly proclaiming several doctrines that would stir controversy in the 1960’s and occasion wide dissent in the decades following. The Church was teaching: (1) the infallibility of the Church and of the Pope; (2) the immorality of contraception; (3) the reality of Original Sin as committed by Adam and Eve and passed on to us by biological inheritance; (4) the reality of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist effected by transubstantiation of the substance of bread and wine into the substance of the flesh and blood of Christ; (5) the exclusivity of the male priesthood as necessitated by the eschatological wedding banquet of the Lamb (Christ) anticipated in the nuptial dimension of the Mass. At this time the Church’s story of origins, especially as it was taught on the popular level, was still largely unaffected by the naturalistic theory of evolution, and the Darwinian story of origins was still widely regarded as adversarial to and incompatible with the biblical story of the Intelligent Designer and Creator.
From the vantage point of the 1990’s we can look at the doctrinal challenges that were launched after Vatican II and see that they were conducted on the modernist assumption of the possibility of evolution of doctrine. Church doctrine allows of organic development (like a baby developing in the womb yet maintaining its identity), but not evolution (a transforming of one thing into something entirely other). Thus it was that Hans Kung, famous as a peritus or official expert at Vatican II, led an assault on the infallibility of the Church and of the Pope, not to refine or nuance the doctrine of infallibility but to transform it into its exact opposite, namely, a doctrine of the fallibility of the Church and the Pope. In a similar way Fr. Charles Curran, famous as a moral theologian at the Catholic University of America, led an assault on the Church’s condemnation of contraception, not to nuance or refine the Church’s doctrine , but to transform it into its exact opposite, a “non-condemnation” or endorsement of the practice of contraception.
We remember some Dutch theologians of the 1960’s operating, no doubt, from an evolutionistic bias, who attempted to reinterpret the doctrine of Original Sin, not to nuance or refine it but to give it a totally new meaning. No longer would Original Sin be an historical event, a real breach of holy obedience committed by two real people. Rather, the term Original Sin would simply designate the human condition that is marked by sin, selfishness, greed and suffering.
Another Dutch theologian led an assault on the doctrine of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist understood as the effect of transubstantiation, the transformation of the substance of bread and wine into the substance of the flesh and blood of Christ. The traditional doctrine, strongly reaffirmed by the Council of Trent, highlights the divine power of God that is required to transform bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. The reinterpretation of the doctrine in terms of “transignification” exhibits a naturalistic and humanistic bias in its emphasis on a supposed change of meaning, something well within the power of human beings to accomplish and therefore not dependent on an exercise of divine power.
This revisionist tampering with the doctrine of Christ’s real presence effectively evacuates from the doctrine the whole of its traditional substance. Hence bread does not become the flesh of Christ and the wine does not become the blood of Christ. The bread remains bread, and the wine remains wine; these elements are simply invested with a new meaning. Regardless of how profound that meaning might be, these elements are not the Deity, and are not worthy of worship. Any attempt to accord to them true worship ( latria) will result in formal idolatry. No wonder, then, that in “progressive” Catholic circles where this revisionist theology of the Eucharist has been adopted, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is ridiculed as “cookie worship.”
Our penultimate example of a revisionist attempt to induce a doctrine to evolve into something totally different is the feminist assault on the doctrine of the exclusively male priesthood. The male priesthood was virtually unquestioned in the 1950’s, but by the 1970’s this institution and the doctrinal rationale behind it were under serious challenge. The issue was portrayed as a matter of justice. Just as blacks had been victimized by slavery and deserved the full restoration of their civil rights, so too, feminists argued, women are victimized by injustice in the Church and deserve to be given their full rights including the right to be priests, bishops and even pope. Sacred Tradition offers no useful arguments for the cause of women’s ordination, but that is irrelevant to the modernist mind preoccupied with evolution of doctrine. Evolution of doctrine is by definition the emergence of a totally new idea out of an historical context that nurtured a completely different idea. Such drastic transformations are the very essence of evolutionary progress.
Thus far we have noted modernist reinterpretations of five doctrines of the Faith. One could go to any meeting of Call to Action and find Catholics, or persons who claim to be Catholics, who subscribe to all of the reinterpreted doctrines. They believe in the fallibility of the Church and the Pope, the positive value of contraception, the human condition (not Original Sin) as the occasion of all efforts human and divine that can be called redemptive or salvational, the heightened significance of bread and wine during the Lord’s Supper, and the simple fairness and equity of admitting women to Holy Orders. Such is the faith of many in the “progressive” wing of the Church. Traditional Catholics for the most part are dissenters from these revisionist doctrines. But there is one more doctrinal reinterpretation that is upheld not only by Progressives but also by many who think of themselves as traditional Catholics, namely, the doctrine of creation reinterpreted to accommodate the theory of evolution.
A believer in God who tries to accommodate evolution under the umbrella of biblical faith is like the Bedouin who tried to share his tent with a camel. The camel got its nose under the tent, then its neck, and finally got its whole body into the tent by pushing the Bedouin out. And the camel seemed like such a nice, friendly animal! We need to see evolution theory and its nemesis, special creation, in their proper context, the context of the dualistic warfare described in the writings of St. John in the New Testament, the warfare between the forces of Light and the forces of Darkness. These forces are really the two religions competing for our allegiance, theism versus naturalism. Theism looks beyond nature to a supernatural and intelligent Cause of all things, God. Naturalism denies the existence of anything supernatural and holds that “nature is all there is.” Theism and naturalism, then, present us with a choice between two candidates for ultimate reality, God or nature.
Each religion offers an interpretive scheme or origins story, an account of the origins of the cosmos, the plants and animals on earth, and man. The theistic origins story is the story of the Supernatural, Eternal, and Intelligent, Designer and Creator who brings the temporal cosmos, including the earth, plants, animals and man, into existence. The naturalistic origins story is the story of eternal nature ever changing, modifying itself over time by means of random or chance processes. We must understand clearly that atheism, the denial of the reality of God, is the premise from which naturalism proceeds. Atheism is the very antithesis of theism, and is the mortal enemy of theism. Atheism is poison. Atheism is deadly. Atheism is the great lie that emanates from the Father of Lies, Satan. Atheism will utilize any lie, any deception, any trickery, any hoax, any illusion or any pseudo-science that can advance its purpose of blotting out God.
Therefore let it be said that the titanic conflict between Light and Darkness, theism and atheism, is an all-out, total war. The rules of engagement are similar to the wars unto death we read about in the Old Testament between the Israelites and some of their enemies who were placed under the ban, the decree of absolute annihilation. Let it be said loud and clear: There can be no “ecumenical dialog” between theism and atheism! Mixing elements of the naturalistic origins story into the theistic origins story is like putting arsenic into koolaid to produce a Jonestown cocktail. There can be no compromise between the theistic and naturalistic origins stories, no synthesis of the two. Among theists there should develop a common sense consensus that any attempt to accommodate the naturalistic origins story into the theistic origins story should be branded Anathema .
Traditional Catholic doctrine on origins proclaims and celebrates the Intelligent Designer and Creator, God, doing wonderful acts of special creation that are untainted with any hint of biological evolution. But the revisionist thinkers have eviscerated the doctrine of creation, removing the entrails of special creation, replacing them with naturalistic evolution, and calling the new monstrosity theistic evolution. In the war between the forces of Light and the forces of Darkness, theistic evolution would appear to be an attempt at a truce or armistice, a middle of the road policy of peace. Pope Pius XII saw it for what it really is, and in his encyclical Humani generis branded it a false peace, a “false irenism.”
The time has come for Catholics who cling to the authentic doctrines of the Church and who reject revisionist substitutes to abandon their defensive strategy, and go over onto the offensive to attack and displace the distorted and diluted “dogmas” of the modernist “parallel magisterium.” It is time for Catholics to get serious about challenging and overcoming the greatest superstition of the modem world, the theory of biological evolution, and its handmaiden, theistic evolution. The theory looks fierce and threatening, but it is a paper tiger. When evil is unmasked it loses its power. When the “science” of evolution is unmasked and revealed as pseudo-science, the faith that people once reposed in it collapses. Militant Catholics, soldiers of Christ, should be taking up the sword of the Word of the Lord, puncturing evolution theory at its vital pressure points. Evolution theory advances no credible mechanism for the transformations it claims. There is no mechanism to account for the spontaneous generation of first life (chemical evolution). Our best empirical science tells us that spontaneous generation is bunk. There is no mechanism to account for the spontaneous generation or “auto- programming” of life codes such as DNA and RNA that can stand up to the requirements of 21st Century information science. Evolution theory without these critical mechanisms is wishful thinking, not science.
Fr David R. Becker