Response to Review in Answers in Genesis

Kolbe Center for the Study of Creation
952 Kelly Rd., Mt. Jackson, VA 22842
Tel: 540-856-8453 E-Mail: howen@shentel.net

For me You have created the skies scattered with stars . . . and all the beautiful things on earth.
(St. Maximilian Kolbe)

[Editor’s Note: Answers in Genesisposted a response to this letter,and the Kolbe Center replied.]

Dear Answers in Genesis,

Praised be Jesus Christ!

I am writing in response to your article on the Catholic Church and The Gift of Scripture, by Dr. A. J. Monty White, “The Gift of Scripture—It’s an issue of authority,” (October 7, 2005). I am sure that you would agree that the official teaching of AIG or any other institution should be judged according to its authoritative statements—and not according to the opinions and non-authoritative statements of its representatives, no matter how high-ranking they may be. Unfortunately, your article gave the impression that the recent document produced by the two highest-ranking Roman Catholic bishops in Great Britain contained the official, authoritative teaching of the Catholic Church on Sacred Scripture in general and on the interpretation of Genesis in particular.

But this is not so.

The teaching authority of St. Peter and the Apostles and their successors has guided the Church from the beginning of her history. As recorded in Acts, chapter 15, differences in the interpretation of Holy Scripture were resolved when St. Peter and the other Apostles convened the first general Council of the Church in Jerusalem. St. Peter opened the meeting and proposed a solution to the crisis which was ratified and articulated by St. James the first Bishop of Jerusalem and by the other Apostles and presbyters. In this way, the unity of the Body of Christ was preserved and the correct interpretation and application of the “God-breathed” Word of God was communicated to the faithful. In the words of St. Luke:

As [St. Paul and Silas] went though the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were obtained of the Apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem. And so were the churches established in the faith and increased in numbers daily (Acts 16:4-5).

From that time until now, the Catholic Church has continued to interpret and apply the Word of God infallibly through the Magisterium, or teaching authority, of the Church. This Magisterium is exercised by the successor of St. Peter, the Pope, and the Successors of the Apostles, the bishops in union with him—but only within strict parameters laid down by the Magisterium itself, notably in Vatican Councils I and II. According to the authoritative teachings of these Councils, the teaching of the successor of St. Peter is infallible when he teaches authoritatively on a matter of faith or morals. Vatican II explained:

[The Pope] enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith (Luke 22:32), he proclaims by a definitive act some doctrine of faith or morals. Therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly held irreformable, for they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, an assistance promised to him in blessed Peter.

The same Council explained that the teaching of the bishops is also infallible within certain specified limits:

Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they can nevertheless proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly. This is so, even when they are dispersed around the world, provided that while maintaining the bond of unity among themselves and with Peter’s successor, and while teaching authentically on a matter of faith or morals, they concur in a single viewpoint as the one which must be held conclusively. This authority is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church. Their definitions must then be adhered to with the submission of faith (Lumen Gentium 25).

The authoritative teaching of the Magisterium holds that the revelation of Christ is contained in Sacred Scripture and in Sacred Tradition. St. Paul referred to Sacred Tradition when he exhorted the Christians in Thessalonica to “stand fast and hold the traditions ye have been taught, whether by word or our epistle” (II Thessalonians 2:15). This Tradition of which St. Paul speaks, consists of the teachings of Christ handed down from the Apostles orally rather than in writing, and articulated by the Magisterium.

The official, authoritative and (for Catholics) binding teaching on Sacred Scripture and creation has been fully articulated in authoritative papal and Conciliar teachings, notably by the First and Second Vatican Councils. According to Vatican I, “Scripture is holy not because it contains revelation without error, but because it is God-breathed.” You erred when you implied that any cardinal—or even the Pope himself—could supersede or alter this or any authoritative teaching once it has been defined. For example, the virgin birth of Jesus from the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary— defined once and for all in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed—is infallible and unchangeable. No subsequent Pope or Council can ever alter this teaching.[1]

In your commentary on “The Gift of Scripture,” you also gave your readers the impression that the British cardinals presented the “official, authoritative teaching of the Catholic Church” when they wrote that Genesis was not historical and that the Bible contains errors—especially in subjects such as history, geography, and natural science. In reality, the official authoritative teaching of the Catholic Church holds that Genesis is historical and that the entire Bible is free from all error. In the words of St. Pius XII, in his encyclical Humani Generis:

Some go so far as to pervert the sense of the [First] Vatican Council’s definition that God is the Author of the Holy Scriptures, and they put forward again the opinion already often condemned, which asserts that immunity from error extends only to those parts of the Bible that treat of God or of moral and religious matters (bold added) (Humani Generis, par. 22).

In his encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu, Pope Pius XII, citing the authority of Vatican I, strongly condemned the idea that the Bible contains errors of any kind. He wrote:

When, subsequently, some Catholic writers, in spite of this solemn definition of Catholic doctrine, by which such divine authorityis claimed for the “entire books” with all their parts as to secure freedom from any errorwhatsoever, ventured to restrict the truthof Sacred Scripturesolely to matters of faithand morals, and to regard other matters, whether in the domain of physical science or history, as “obiter dicta” and, as they contended, in no wise connected with faith, Our Predecessor of immortal memory, Leo XIIIin the encyclical letter Providentissimus Deus…justly and rightly condemned these errorsand safeguarded the studies of the divine books by most wise precepts and rules (Divino Afflante Spiritu, par. 1).

Your readers need to understand that this—and only this—is the official, authoritative, and unchangeable teaching of the Catholic Church. With regard to the historicity of Genesis, that, too, is still the official, authoritative teaching of the Catholic Church, as articulated by the Pontifical Biblical Commission in 1909, when it was still an arm of the Magisterium and dissent from its teachings was condemned as a “grave sin” by Pope St. Pius X (Motu proprio, “Praestantia Scripturae,” November 18, 1907).

I understand that the correct evaluation of doctrinal statements by Catholic Church leaders can be challenging even for Catholics—and it is doubly so for non-Catholics. But this only increases the responsibility of prominent organizations like AIG to consult with Catholics who know the authoritative Catholic doctrine on such topics as creation and the inerrancy of Sacred Scripture. Under the oversight of Bishop Roman Danylak, the Kolbe Center for the Study of Creation provides a forum for Roman Catholic theologians, philosophers, and natural scientists who uphold the traditional, authoritative teaching of the Church on creation. We would be delighted to assist you in evaluating the non-authoritative pronouncements of Catholic churchmen in the light of the Church’s authoritative teaching.

In conclusion, please permit me to answer a question that must be on your mind: “If what you are saying is true, why are so many Catholic Church leaders contradicting the authoritative teaching of the Magisterium on fundamental issues?”

The answer is quite simple.

The Catholic Church is undergoing a crisis of faith similar to other crises she has endured during her two-thousand-year history—a crisis predicted by St. Peter, the first Pope, in the third chapter of his Second Epistle. To put the present crisis in perspective, it may be helpful to recall a doctrinal crisis that took place after the first Ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325.

The Pope and the bishops of that Council published a Creed containing an authoritative definition of the divine and human natures of Christ. The Council Fathers professed that Christ was “God from God . . . of one essence with the Father” (“homoousion”). But the word “homoousion” carried heterodox associations from the past as a result of thewritings of Paul of Samosata. Therefore, the intended meaning of the Council Fathers was subverted for several decades by an unintended meaning that gained currency as the “correct”meaning of the word in the Nicene Creed. This ultimately ledto the temporary triumph of the Arian heresy that Jesus was merely the greatest of all creatures.

At one point most of the Church’s Bishops were Arians. But the orthodox, or right-teachingbishops, like St. Athanasius of Alexandria, knew that Jesus would never permit the successor of St. Peter to teach error and that the Holy Spirit would eventually restore the orthodox Faith. Eventually, the true, intended meaning of “homoousion” was re-affirmed by the Magisterium and the crisis was resolved.

The prophet Amos reminds us that “God does nothing without telling his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). During the past 400 years many Catholics with an authentic gift of prophecy—including many canonized saints—have predicted the current crisis of Faith and its resolution through an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, a restoration of authentic faith and worship, and a global evangelization such as the world has never seen.

In the meantime, we work and pray for that restoration, ever mindful of Our Lord’s unbreakable promise to St. Peter in Matthew 16:18:

Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Yours in Christ,

Hugh Owen, Director

Kolbe Center for the Study of Creation


[1] In his recent letter to the New York Times, Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna, Austria, rightly described Pope John Paul II’s statement to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences—that “evolution is more than an hypothesis” or “there is more than one hypothesis of evolution”—as “insignificant” in terms of magisterial authority. His statement gave Catholics and non-Catholics a much-needed reminder that the successor of St. Peter teaches infallibly only when he teaches authoritatively on matters of faith and morals.