Dear Friends of the Kolbe Center,
Greetings from England, Our Lady’s Dowry!
After leaving Uganda and before arriving in London, I spent three days with some Trappist hermits in Norway, an experience to which I want to devote an entire newsletter in the near future. While in Norway, I had occasion to reflect on the fact that in times of crisis, the Church has continually been renewed by holy monastics who have stepped into the breach and obtained from God through their prayers, sacrifices, and holy example, the grace of widespread repentance, conversion and renewal of Catholic civilization.
The history of the Church in this country and in Ireland, Scotland and Wales, has certainly followed that pattern, and some of the greatest monastic evangelists and founders of monastic foundations hailed from these islands, like St. Boniface from England and St. Colomban from Ireland, who restored the Faith and founded monasteries over huge areas of what is now Germany, France, and Italy. By studying the lives of these spiritual giants, we can easily see that every one of them believed in the literal historical truth of every word of the sacred history of Genesis, and that the miracles that God worked to confirm the Truth of their preaching were for these holy men simply manifestations of the same divine power by which God created the heavens and the earth, the seas and all they contain, in the beginning of creation.
The oldest preserved poem in the English language is the monastic brother Caedmon’s “Hymn of Creation,” which fittingly testifies to the firm faith of the whole Church in the sacred history of Genesis:
Now we should praise the heaven-kingdom’s guardian,
the measurer’s might and his mind-conception,
work of the glorious Father, as he each wonder,
eternal Lord, instilled at the origin.
He first created for men’s sons
heaven as a roof, holy creator;
then, middle-earth, mankind’s guardian,
eternal Lord, afterward made
the earth for men, Father Almighty.
With these beautiful words, an un-schooled soon-to-be lay brother expressed the same insight that St. John Chrysostom and other Church Fathers had expressed in their homilies on the Hexameron (the six days of Creation) – that the work of creation was entirely supernatural and did not involve any kind of natural process. For example, commenting on the creation of heaven and earth in the beginning, St. John Chrysostom had written:
Notice how the divine nature shines out of the very nature of creation, how He executes His creation in a way contrary to human procedures, first stretching out the heavens and then laying out the earth beneath, first the roof and then the foundation. No matter what human beings produce, this could never have happened – whereas when God decides, everything yields to His Will and becomes possible (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 2 on the Hexameron)
One of the greatest saints and scholars in the history of the Church, Venerable Bede, knew people who knew Caedmon personally, and shared his faith in the literal historical truth of the sacred history of Genesis. Nowadays, we are often told that the Church Fathers and Doctors did not care about the age of the universe, but the life of Venerable Bede offers a striking refutation of that false thesis. According to one of the greatest modern authorities on Bede’s life and work, like many Church Fathers and Doctors before and after him:
[Bede divided the history of the world] into six ages, with a seventh running concurrently and an eighth still to come. The days of the week of Easter lay behind this in the early Church, which in turn relied on the idea of six days of creation in Genesis, ending in the seventh day of rest of the Creator. In the Christian dispensation these were completed by an ‘eighth day’ which was also the first and only day of the New Creation . . .
Bede was also interested in the number of years from the Creation to the end of the world and in his rearrangement in this area he differed from some of his contemporaries. Popular millenarianism had taken the phrase used in 2 Peter 3:8: ‘one days is with the Lord as a thousand years and a thousand years is as one day’ and interpreted in in connection with the consummation of all things to mean that each of the ages of the world had been a thousand years long and the last, age, beginning in AD1, would also last a thousand years; thus arriving at a foreseeable Day of Judgement in the year AD 1000. Bede countered such a notion in De Temporibus, where he set the beginning of the sixth age at 3,952 years from Creation instead of 5,199, which destroyed the millennial calculation.
Here we see that for Venerable Bede, as for all of the Church Fathers, the age of the universe was not a trivial matter. These great Doctors knew that Almighty God through Moses had provided information in the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 sufficient to allow the serious scholar to establish a chronology from Creation down to later times for which other historical records existed. Readers who attend the Traditional Latin Mass hear the chronology from the Roman Martyrology at the Midnight Mass for Christmas which announces that 5,199 years elapsed from the Creation of the world to the Nativity of Christ. As mentioned above, this was the chronology that most of the early Church Fathers and Doctors embraced, drawn from the data provided by the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Indeed, just over 50 years after Bede’s death, the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, in one of their documents, mentioned – as obiter dicta, not as the subject of a dogmatic decree – a chronology almost identical to the one in the Roman Martyrology. It is a testimony to Venerable Bede’s integrity and love for the Truth that he made the most thorough possible examination of the different Scriptural traditions regarding the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 and was prepared to correct the majority view when the preponderance of evidence justified him in doing so.
Venerable Bede actually blazed a trail for later Doctors and scholars by noting that while St. Jerome followed the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures to a great extent, the numbers that he included in the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 in the Vulgate disagree with the Septuagint, reflecting a tradition that St. Jerome deemed more reliable than the Septuagint chronology, and one that resulted in a chronology 1200 years shorter than the Septuagint chronology of 5200 years from Creation to the Nativity of Our Lord. That Bede was almost certainly correct to deviate from the Septuagint tradition in this respect can be seen by examining the Genesis commentaries of St. Ephraim the Syrian who was a fluent Aramaic speaker who could understand the idioms of Moses in Genesis as well as, or better, than any of the other Church Fathers. In his commentary on the first genealogy in Genesis, St. Ephraim writes:
Then after he [Moses] had finished writing about the tribes of the descendants of Cain and had completed the story of the words of Lamech to his wives, [Moses] turned to record the generations of the house of Seth, beginning from Adam, saying that when Adam had lived one hundred thirty years, he begot a son in his own likeness according to his image (St. Ephraim the Syrian, Commentary on Genesis).
The reader familiar with the Septuagint text of Genesis 5 will immediately recognize that the age that St. Ephraim gives for Adam at the birth of Seth is one hundred years less than the age that is given in the Septuagint! Yet St. Ephraim, like St. Jerome, and St. Bede after them, does not hesitate to depart from the Septuagint – at least in the form in which it has come down to us – in this respect. By a rigorous examination of all of the manuscripts available to him, Venerable Bede concluded that the chronology derived from the Hebrew manuscripts that St. Jerome used for the Vulgate was more reliable than the chronology derived from the Septuagint genealogies, even though this chronology had been accepted by most of the theologians and Church leaders of his time. Thus, his biographer writes that:
In 708, when he was thirty-five and an established writer, he was told that he had been cited as an heretic on this subject before the aged bishop Wilfrid of York. In De Temporum Ratione he had challenged the calculation of the last age of the world by the recalculation of the years belonging to each age, while saying, as did St. Augustine, that the end of the last age and the coming of Christ was known only to God: ‘it is not for you to know the times and the seasons’, he quoted, ‘ that the Father has put in his own power’ (Acts 1:8). The charge of heresy distressed Bede profoundly; he wrote to a friend:
How could I, denying Christ, be a priest of the church of Christ and with what logic could I, believing in the gospels and the epistles, disbelieve that he had become incarnate in the sixth age? (Benedicta Ward, SLG, The Venerable Bede (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publication, 1998), pp. 32-33)
As she concludes her account of this excruciating episode in Bede’s life, Sister Benedicta adds that “Bede was sure he was innocent, never altered his opinion,” and never suffered any kind of penalty for arguing against the majority view, but the fact that he was cited as a heretic for daring – after years of the most meticulous research – to differ from the accepted chronology by a mere 1200 years explodes the myth that our Fathers in the Faith cared little about the date of creation and that late-nineteenth century protestant fundamentalists were the first self-identified followers of Christ to get worked up about the age of the universe.
Thanks in part to the work of Venerable Bede, the Magisterium of the Catholic Church eventually embraced his reasoning, and in the post-Tridentine era the greatest Doctors of the Roman Church, like St. Alphonsus Liguori, upheld the chronology derived from the genealogical data contained in the Vulgate, which is why all of the Douai-Rheims Bibles in the United States published at the beginning of the twentieth century had an appendix citing a chronology of four thousand years from Creation to the Nativity of Christ, almost identical to Venerable Bede’s! 
Of course, the Fathers and Doctors who disagreed on which of the two chronologies had a better claim to authenticity had much more in common with each other than with any of the theistic evolutionists or progressive creationists of our day – whose views all of the Fathers and Doctors would have rejected as incompatible with the Word of God as it had been understood in the Church from the beginning. All of them rejected the views of the pagan philosophers like Lucretius and Epicurus, the forerunners of Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins, who held that all of the different kinds of living and non-living things came into existence through undirected material processes over millions and billions of years.
Indeed, the Fathers and Doctors knew that the age of the universe matters, and matters greatly, because the chronology revealed by God in His revelation to Moses, confirms that man holds the central place in God’s plan for the universe, in space and in time – in view, we would add, with St. Maximilian Kolbe, of the Incarnation and the Immaculate Conception. It was this conviction that enabled men like St. Columban and St. Boniface to leave their homes on these islands to wander all over the world as evangelists in a state of total dependence on God – because they knew that they were “the apple of his eye”; that their loving Heavenly Father had created everything for them; and that when they were lost in sin He had suffered and died to redeem them so that He could give them the Holy Spirit and allow them to share in His very own life as God.
Through the prayers of the Mother of God, may the Holy Spirit restore to all of God’s children the knowledge that they are the apple of His eye, called to be His living tabernacles and the heralds of His Kingdom!
Yours in Christ through the Immaculata,
References: You can listen to a beautiful recitation of Caedmon’s original poem in Anglo-Saxon at this link:  For a demonstration that sound natural science has no convincing evidence to contradict the traditional chronology, and much to confirm it, please see the article “A Question of Time” on the Kolbe website.
The Venerable Bede translating the Gospel of John by James Doyle Penrose