St. Augustine Rediscovered: A Defense of the Literal Interpretation of St. Augustine’s Writings on the Sacred History of Genesis
by Joseph Gedney
In many articles, books, or pamphlets on the origins debate, one is almost certain to come across a statement such as, “What we should conclude is that St. Augustine was quite ahead of his time and made steps toward the ideas that evolutionary biologists are discovering today. . .” (Augustine on Evolution), or “St. Augustine seems to have affirmed a kind of evolution, though he does not go into detail. . .” (Darwin and Evolution), all the while quoting St. Augustine out of context, if the author quotes him at all. Six-day creationists are not exempt from this either. On the contrary, creationists tend to oversimplify what St. Augustine actually said, and sometimes just dismiss him entirely. The method of this paper will be to let St. Augustine speak for himself, instead of putting words in his mouth. To do this, we will examine St. Augustine’s most well-known, but probably least-read book, De Genesi Ad Litteram, or, in English, The Literal Meaning of Genesis.
Before going any further, we would do well to adopt a proper disposition by reading what St. Augustine thought of his work. More than a decade after St. Augustine published his Literal Meaning of Genesis, he wrote:
The title of these books is Literal Meaning of Genesis; that is; not the allegorical meanings of the text, but the proper assessment of what actually happened. It is a work in which more questions were asked than found; and of those that were found only a few were assured, while the rest were so stated as still to require further investigation (Revisions II, 24).
These are not the words of a man writing a book to promote a pet theory, but of one who is wrestling with the mysteries surrounding the foundation of the world—an event which one cannot go back and witness, where only one written account exists, and about which something other than rocks and fossils should have a say in forming a correct interpretation. So, without further ado, let us delve into the works of St. Augustine on the sacred history of Genesis.
St. Augustine on the Alteration of Evening and Morning
The book of Genesis states:
And God said: Be light made. And light was made. And God saw the light that it was good; and he divided the light from the darkness. And he called the light Day, and the darkness Night; and there was evening and morning one day. (Gen. 1:3-5 DRB)
While commenting on this passage, St. Augustine writes:
It is hard to work out and explain on what kind of circuit, before this happened, they could follow each other, those three days and nights of the light which was first made, while it retained its nature, if it is a bodily light that we must understand as being made then. (Lit. Mean. Gen. I, 24(12))
In other words, how could there have been days with evening and morning before the sun was created? After much discussion, St. Augustine correctly perceives that one cannot fully grasp what one cannot go back in time to witness. He states:
But now at this stage we have been forcibly reminded by our reflections on the seventh day that the easy and sensible thing to do is to admit our ignorance about what is so remote from any experience of ours, and say that we simply do not know how that light which was called day, if it means bodily light, affected the alterations of night and day whether by its circulation or by contraction and emission; or how, if it is spiritual, it was made present to the fashioning of all creatures, and by its presence made day, by its absence night… (Lit. Mean. Gen. IV, 38(21))
Indeed, St. Augustine recognizes that those first three days were extremely “remote from our experience.” An echo of this statement can be found in St. Augustine’s magnum opus, The City of God:
Of course, what we mean by the ‘days’ we know in experience are those that have a morning because the sun rises and evening because the sun sets. But the first three ‘days’ of creation passed without the benefit of sun, since, according to Scripture, the sun was made on the fourth day. Of course, there is mention in the beginning that ‘light’ was made by the Word of God, and that God separated it from the darkness, calling the light day and the darkness night. But no experience of our senses can tell us just what kind of ‘light’ it was and by what alternating movement it caused ‘morning’ and ‘evening’. Not even our intellects can comprehend what is meant, yet we can have no hesitation in believing the fact. (City of God, XI, 7) (emphasis added).
In short, St. Augustine did not consider the belief in a literal interpretation of the word ‘day’ as irrational. Moreover, as a young convert, St. Augustine even believed that the ‘days’ of Genesis should be taken as 24-hour periods of time.  But, St. Augustine was seemingly dissatisfied with this answer because, as we will see, this answer seems completely contradictory to Scripture in St. Augustine’s Latin translation of the text. So, he pursued a different line of approach:
Is it that on the first day, on which light was made, the setting up of the spiritual and intelligent creation is being announced under the name of light—the nature of this creation being understood to include all the angels and powers? (Lit. Mean. Gen. II, 16(8))
In other words, maybe it wasn’t a bodily light that was created, but instead a “spiritual” light; that is, “all the angels and powers” that were created on the first day. St. Augustine returned to this question in The City of God:
[S]o I think they [angels] are spoken of in this book of Genesis under the names of light and darkness; and even if the author perhaps had a different meaning, yet our discussion of the obscure language has not been wasted time; for, though we have been unable to discover his meaning, yet we have adhered to the rule of faith, which is sufficiently ascertained by the faithful from other passages of equal authority. For, though it is the material works of God which are here spoken of, they have certainly a resemblance to the spiritual… (City of God, XI, 33)
So, St. Augustine recognized that when God created light on the first day, even if the text signifies material light, the text also befits the creation and fall of the angels. But in this “spiritual creation” St. Augustine finds a solution to what caused the alteration of day and night in those six days of creation. He writes:
Instead, that “day which God made” is itself repeated through his works, not in a bodily circular motion but in spiritual knowledge, when that blessed company of angels before anything else contemplates in the Word of God that about which God says Let it be made; and in consequence this is first made on their own angelic knowledge when the text says, And thus it was made, and only after that do they know the actual thing made in itself, which is signified by the making of evening. They then refer this knowledge of the thing made to the praise of that Truth where they had seen the idea of making it, and this is signified by the making of morning. (Lit. Mean. Gen. IV, 43(26))
That is to say, the angels see the thing about to be created in God. This is what is called “morning knowledge.” The angels then see the thing actually in existence. This St. Augustine refers to as “evening knowledge.”
Many people forget nevertheless that here we see an attempt by St. Augustine to interpret Genesis literally with the text he had. But theistic evolutionists, unlike St. Augustine, just brush the text of Genesis aside with a sweep of their hand with some mutterings about “unscientific” people. This is not the case with St. Augustine. On the contrary, he searches in Holy Scripture for truth. He does not impose his “truth” on Holy Scripture. As St. Augustine so beautifully puts it:
. . .[L]et them join me in seeking the [O]ne from whom we all have lessons to learn.
(Lit. Mean. Gen. VII, 43(28))
Allegorical or Literal?
Many Catholics seem to have the idea that St. Augustine promoted an allegorical interpretation of Genesis. This notion should be dismissed just from the fact that the title of St. Augustine’s treatise is Literal Meaning of Genesis! As St. Augustine explicitly said:
The narrative indeed in these books is not cast in the figurative kind of language you find in the Song of Songs, but quite simply tells of things that happened, as in the books of the Kingdoms and other like them… [S]ome people think they should not be understood in their proper sense, but just figuratively, and they suggest that history, that is, the account of events that actually happened, begins from the moment when Adam and Eve, turned out of Paradise, came together to have children—as though forsooth we are quite familiar with people living as many years as they did, or with things like Enoch being taken, or a very old and barren woman giving birth, and other things of that sort! (Lit. Mean. Gen. VIII, 2(1))
Interestingly, St. Augustine argues that even his explanation of the days of Genesis is not an allegorical or figurative interpretation:
And please let nobody assume that what I have said about spiritual light… that none of this can be said strictly and properly, but that it all belongs to a kind of figurative and allegorical understanding of day and evening and morning. Certainly it is different from our usual way of talking about this bodily light of every day, but that does not mean that here we have the strict and proper, there just metaphorical, use of these terms (Lit. Mean. Gen. IV, 45(28)).
St. Augustine goes on to explain why this is so:
After all, where you have a better and surer light, there you also have a truer day; so why not both truer evening and truer morning? In these familiar days the light knows a kind of decline towards sunset, to which we give the name of evening, and again a return towards sunrise, which we call morning; so why should we not call it evening there, when there is a turning from the contemplation of the creator to look down at the creature, and morning when there is a looking up again from the knowledge of the creature to the praise of the creator? Not even Christ, you see, is called light in the same way as he is called a stone; no, he is called the first (light) properly and strictly, the second (stone) of course metaphorically (Lit. Mean. Gen. IV, 45(28))
In short, anyone who says that St. Augustine had an allegorical interpretation of the “days” of Genesis ought to think again, for this would be denied by St. Augustine himself. This is why the great Jesuit exegete and writer Cornelius Lapide (1567-1637) referred to St. Augustine’s interpretation as “mystical,” not allegorical or figurative.
St. Augustine’s Objections to Interpreting “Day” in Genesis One
as a 24 Hour period
Objection: Sirach 18:1
Having asserted that the days in Genesis were based on angelic knowledge, St. Augustine addresses the question: How long were these “days”?
But if the angelic mind is able to grasp all the things simultaneously, which the text puts one after the other in an ordered chain of causes, does that mean that the things which were being made were all made simultaneously…? (Lit. Mean. Gen. IV, 51(33))
He goes on to explain:
. . . The creator, after all, about whom the scripture told this story of how he completed and finished his works in six days, is the same as the one about whom it is written elsewhere, and assuredly without there being any contradiction, that he created all things simultaneously (simul) (Sirach 18:1) (Lit. Mean. Gen. IV, 52(33)).
Indeed, there is a passage in the book of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) which states, he created all things simultaneously (Sirach 18:1), and since the angel is a pure spirit whose intellect can grasp the knowledge of all things simultaneously, this means that creation didn’t take place in time, but rather in “an order that that is not set by intervals of time but by linking of causes…”, (Lit. Mean. Gen. V, 12(5)) or simultaneously and in no time.
This is the key to understanding why St. Augustine believed in a somewhat mystical interpretation of the days of Genesis! As St. Augustine correctly deduced:
You must also remember that it is written: The one who lives for ever created all things simultaneously (Sirach 18:1), and then ask yourself how things can be said to have been created simultaneously when their creation was spread over intervals of time, not just of hours but of days (Lit. Mean. Gen. VII: 41(28))
However, as evident in St. Augustine’s previous statement:
no experience of our senses can tell us just what kind of ‘light’ it was and by what alternating movement it caused ‘morning’ and ‘evening’. Not even our intellects can comprehend what is meant, yet we can have no hesitation in believing the fact (City of God XI, 7) (emphasis added).
It follows that St. Augustine did not think that a literal interpretation of the days of Genesis was irrational, as many would suppose, but rather that it would be unreasonable to take the days of Genesis as literal days if the same text asserts that all things were also created simultaneously.
This might look like a logical argument, but there is a major flaw in it: The book of Sirach doesn’t actually say what St. Augustine understood it to say! While commenting on the Augustinian interpretation of “day,” the great Catholic exegete, Cornelius Lapide (1567-1637), stated:
You will say that in Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) xviii.1 it says, “He that liveth forever created all things together (simul).” Therefore, Creation did not occur serially over six days. I answer as follows: The word together must modify not “[He] created” but “all things.” This is to say that God created all things in their entirety, that is, all things categorically, with no exception: there is nothing, and nothing exists that God did not create. Whence in place of together in the Greek text of Ecclesiasticus, we read κοινῇ, koinei, in general.
So according to Lapide, St. Augustine misread Sirach 18:1, first, by supposing that word simul modifies “[He] created” rather than “all things,” but also by assigning a temporal meaning to simul: “at the same time” or “simultaneously” instead of “together.” In reality, simul has the semantic range from “together,” as translated from the Douay-Rheims English translation of Sirach 18:1, to “simultaneously”, as understood by St. Augustine. But which, one might ask, is the correct translation and understanding of simul? Going back to the original Greek, the word used is koine which translates to “in general” or “without exception.” With this in mind, it is obvious that Cornelius Lapide was correct in his assessment of Sirach 18:1 and St. Augustine was wrong. This calls into question whether an exegete can hang his hat on St. Augustine’s somewhat mystical interpretation of the word “day” in Genesis if it was based on a faulty understanding of Sirach 18:1.
Objection: Genesis 2:4
Let us move on to the second chapter of the Book of Genesis which in St. Augustine’s Latin translation it states:
when the day was made God made heaven and earth (Gen. 2:4, Vetus)
Commenting on this, St. Augustine deduces:
So now we get evidence in support, not from another book of holy scripture (i.e. Sirach 18:1) that God created all things simultaneously, but from a next door neighbor’s testimony on the page following this whole matter, which gives us a hint with the words, when the day was made God made heaven and earth and all the greenery of the field (Gen. 2:4). (Lit. Mean. Gen. V: 6(3))
Once again, St. Augustine finds a seeming contradiction, but this time within the Genesis account itself. For how could it be that when God made the day, He also made heaven and earth? To St. Augustine, “heaven and earth” referred to: “everything in them, in the way divine scripture is in the habit of speaking. By “heaven and earth,” sometimes adding the sea” (Lit. Mean. Gen. V: 5(3)). So how could God have created the day when he created the universe if they were separated by six days, that is, unless it was a simultaneous creation?
Before going any further, some historical background must be taken into account. First of all, St. Augustine, for most of his life, did not have a very good command of Greek, and hardly any knowledge of Hebrew. St. Augustine even stated:
But what was the cause of my dislike of Greek literature, which I studied from my boyhood, I cannot even now understand. For the Latin I loved exceedingly — not what our first masters, but what the grammarians teach; for those primary lessons of reading, writing, and ciphering, I considered no less of a burden and a punishment than Greek (Confessions I, 13).
Secondly, from reading St. Augustine’s translation of Scripture, it is obvious that he did not use the Latin Vulgate written by his contemporary, St. Jerome. Because of these two handicaps, St. Augustine had to mainly rely on the Latin translations of his day, usually known as the Vetus Latina Biblia, or the Old Latin Bible. There was more than one Vetus in circulation at the time of St. Augustine, and he complained about their numerous variations:
For the translations of the Scriptures from Hebrew into Greek can be counted, but the Latin translators are out of all number. For in the early days of the faith every man who happened to get his hands upon a Greek manuscript, and who thought he had any knowledge, were it ever so little, of the two languages, ventured upon the work of translation (De Doctrina Christiana II: 11).
Because of this, St. Augustine did not necessarily have a sound translation of Scripture. For example, in Genesis 2:4, the Vetus read:
Hic est liber creaturae coeli et terrae, cum factus est dies, fecit Deus coelum et terram, et omne viride agri…
Which translates to:
This is the book of the creation of heaven and earth, when the day was made, God made heaven and earth, and every green thing of the field…
The key phrase here is “when the day was made,” since this phrase confirmed St. Augustine in his belief in a simultaneous creation. But in the Hebrew, this phrase rather states: בְּי֗וֹם (bə yō·wm), which directly translates to “in the day that,” which is an idiomatic expressions best translated as “when”—as in the sentence “When God had created the heavens and the earth and every green thing of the field . . .” Thus, St. Jerome faithfully translated Genesis 2:4 to:
Istae generationes caeli et terrae, quando creatae sunt, in die quo fecit Dominus Deus caelum et terram: et omne virgultum agri antequam oreretur in terra, omnemque herbam regionis priusquam germinaret…
This in turn was correctly translated into English by the Douay-Rheims Bible as:
These are the generations of the heaven and the earth, when they were created, IN THE DAY THAT the Lord God made the heaven and the earth: And every plant of the field… (emphasis added).
From this, it could be taken that this passage is referring to the period of time which constituted the creation of heaven and earth. While Origen took the correct translation Gen. 2:4 as a figurative explanation of the “days” of Genesis, most other Fathers did not. So, unfortunately, no one can guess how St. Augustine would have interpreted Gen. 2:4 if he had possessed the correct translation, since it can be understood in several different ways. However, the fact remains that he did not possess it; and, because of this, it is misleading to use St. Augustine’s interpretation of Genesis 2:4 as an argument for a non-literal interpretation of day, since it is undeniable that he misread Sirach 18:1 and possessed an incorrect translation of Gen. 2:4.
It could be objected that it really doesn’t matter what St. Augustine believed, as long as he interpreted the days in Genesis non-literally. Because of this, it could be argued, Catholics have a patristic warrant for believing that the days in Genesis could be taken figuratively. But in the preceding sections, we have investigated why St. Augustine was forced into believing in an allegorical interpretation of the days, and none of his objections have held up under scrutiny. So, let us apply St. Augustine’s own rule:
[W]hat is being demanded of us is that anything the author who wrote it relates as historical event should be upheld as such in its proper literal meaning. If, however, in the words of God or of any person performing the prophetic office something is said which taken literally is simply absurd, then undoubtedly it should be understood as being said figuratively in order to signify something more profound. That it was said, though, it is not lawful to doubt. (Lit. Mean. Gen. XI, 2(1))
When we apply St. Augustine’s own rule for the interpretation of Scripture to Genesis: is it absurd or unreasonable to take the days in Genesis literally? Certainly not! And, therefore, in obedience to St. Augustine’s own rule, we ought to understand “day” in Genesis One in its “proper literal meaning.”
It should be noted, however, that if a proposition agrees with reason, it doesn’t follow that it has to agree with “science”—if we use the term “science” to mean “natural science” rather than philosophy or theology. For example, transubstantiation cannot be confirmed by “natural science,” but it is not against reason. The dogma of the Most Holy Trinity cannot be confirmed by “natural science,” but it is not against reason. The resurrection cannot be proven by natural science, but it is not against reason. God bringing all things into being in six days cannot be “proven” by “natural science,” but it is not against reason. In short, St. Augustine’s rule is not that “the literal sense of Scripture must be believed unless science dictates or necessity requires”, but rather “the literal sense of Scripture must be believed unless reason dictates or necessity requires.” The Catholic Faith is never against reason, but it accepts the supernatural—both the supernatural work of creation in the beginning of time and the miraculous interventions of God in the order of providence since the completion of the original work of creation.
Before we continue, it is important to note that St. Augustine’s interpretation of the light in Genesis One is not wrong. The alterations of angelic knowledge between seeing a creature in God and seeing it actually created would indeed form a type of evening and morning. But that does not mean that the literal interpretation is wrong. While commenting on his interpretation of the days in Genesis, St. Augustine himself stated:
So then, if anybody is not satisfied with the line which I have been able in my small measure to explore of trace, but requires another theory about the numbering of those days, by which they may be better understood, not as prophetic types and figures, but as a strict and proper account of the way the foundations of this creation were laid, then by all means let him look for one and with God’s help find one. I am certainly not insisting on this one in such a way as to contend that nothing else preferable can be found (Lit. Mean. Gen. IV, 45(28)).
Looking at this, one can easily see that St. Augustine wanted to take the days literally in accordance with his rule for interpreting scripture, but his misunderstanding of Sirach 18:1 and Gen. 2:4 prevented him from doing so. In the light of St. Augustine’s own exegetical principles, it is obvious that if it had been possible for him to have believed in a literal interpretation of the days of Genesis, he would have done so.
St. Augustine’s Treatment of the Waters Above the Firmament
A proof of this last observation can be found in St. Augustine’s treatment of the waters of above the firmament. He states:
And so the sky or heaven above the air is said to be pure fire, from which, so they suppose, the constellations and the great lamps are made… Now just as both air and water give way to the weight of particles of earth, so they drop down into to the earth, in the same manner air gives way to the weight of water, so that it drops down either to earth or water. From all this they conclude that much less is it possible for there to be any place for the water above that fiery heaven, since air, though much lighter than water, cannot remain there (Lit. Mean. Gen. II, 3(6)).
Although calling it “praiseworthy,” St. Augustine does not accept St. Basil’s theory that the waters above the firmament refer to the clouds in the sky (Lit. Mean. Gen. II, 4(7)). In his final statement on the matter after discussing the “coldness” of Saturn on account of the waters above the heavens, St. Augustine concludes:
In whatever form, however, waters may be there, and if whatever kind, let us have no doubts at all that is where they are; the authority of scripture, surely, overrides anything that human ingenuity is capable of thinking up (Lit. Mean. Gen. II, 5(9))
The difference between St. Augustine’s discussion of the days of Genesis One and the waters above the firmament is that there were no texts from Scripture contradicting the notion of the waters above the firmament. On the contrary, other verses of Scripture reinforced the literal and obvious sense of the text, as in Psalm 148:
[L]et all the waters that are above the heavens praise the name of the Lord (Psalm 148: 4-5).
On the other hand, in the Vetus translations, Sirach 18:1 and Genesis 2:4 make it impossible to take the days of Genesis One literally. Taking all of this into account—and it would hardly be honest to do otherwise—is it truly reasonable to use St. Augustine as a patristic authority for taking the days of Genesis One figuratively?
St. Augustine’s Belief That Nothing Was Created after the Sixth Day
The remainder of St. Augustine’s writings on creation can only be understood in light of a fundamental principle that he held in common with all of the Church Fathers. St. Augustine explains it in these words:
[On the seventh day] God… rested from [the] establishing of different kinds of creatures, because he did not now establish any new kinds any more. (Lit. Mean. Gen. IV, 22(12))
But to say anything is still being made from nothing is to wish to do violence to the finished works in which he created all things together simultaneously… (Lit. Mean. Gen. X, 7(4))
In other words, God does not create “different kinds of creatures” any more. That work was for the six days of creation only. God works now to hold all things in existence, but never again will He create anything new.
St. Augustine’s Seminal Reasons
At last, we arrive at St. Augustine’s most controversial concept, the seminal reasons. This is the area of Augustinian creation that theistic evolutionists mainly call on for support. Unfortunately, theistic evolutionists tend to reduce the seminal reasons to a mere “potentiality.” However, while St. Augustine does describe the seminal reasons in this way, the truth of the matter is more complicated. But let us go back to the method of letting St. Augustine speak for himself.
So, to begin, what are these seminal reasons in the first place?
St. Augustine describes them in this way:
So the earth is said to have produced grass and trees then in their causes, that is, to have received the power to produce them. It was in the earth, that is to say, that things which were going to be realized in the course of time had already been made, if I may so put it, in the roots of time (Lit. Mean. Gen. V, 11(4)).
And in another place:
They will ask me: “In what way later on?” I will answer: “Visibly, with the appearance of the human constitution as we know it—not however born of parents, but he from the mud, she from his rib.” They will ask: “In what way then, the first time?” I will answer: “Invisibly, potentially, in their causes, in the way things to come are made when they have not yet been made in actual fact” (Lit. Mean. Gen. VI: 10(6)).
In other words, in the six days God did not create complete creatures, but rather He made them “potentially and in their causes.”
The Reason for the Seminal Reasons: Gen. 2:5
But before we go further, we must ask a very important question: What led St. Augustine to hold to such a notion as the seminal reasons, and why is he the only Church Father to do so? Most writers just skip over this problem, but this is really the key to understanding the seminal reasons correctly. For to truly understand what someone believes, one must know why they believe it.
The book of Genesis states:
And every plant of the field before it sprung up in the earth, and every herb of the ground before it grew… (Gen. 2:5; DRB)
Commenting on this passage, St. Augustine wrote:
So were the seeds the first thing that the earth produced? But that is not how scripture was talking when it first said, And the earth produced grass for fodder, or grass for hay, sowing seed according to kind and according for likeness, and fruit trees making fruit, of which its seed is in according to kind upon the earth (Gen 1:12). From these words, I mean, it appears rather that seeds sprang from grasses and trees, while these came not from seeds but from the earth… (Lit. Mean. Gen. V, 9(4))
In other words, St. Augustine has a dilemma: One part of Scripture asserts that “seeds came from grasses,” while another part describes “every plant of the field before it sprung up in the earth.” So God could not have created just seeds for “seeds sprang from grasses,” but He also couldn’t have created them in actuality for He created every plant of the field before it sprung up in the earth, but He could have created them in potentiality and in their causes. This is not extremely controversial since this only seems to assert some types of plants were created in potentiality, but definitely not all living things. St. Thomas Aquinas comments on this:
On the day on which God created the heaven and the earth, He created also every plant of the field, not, indeed, actually, but “before it sprung up in the earth,” that is, potentially. And this work Augustine ascribes to the third day, but other writers to the first instituting of the world (Summa Theologiae; Ia q. 74 a. 2).
This might not be such a controversial position if St. Augustine had not committed himself to an instantaneous, simultaneous creation. For in order for anything to grow and spring up from the earth, it must happen over time which, from St. Augustine’s point of view, did not exist in the six days of creation. Accordingly, St. Augustine observes that:
[Rain] after all, now happen over periods of time, of which there was none then, when he made all things simultaneously in the moment from which times too began (Lit. Mean. Gen. V, 19(6)).
This means that these potentialities could not be realized until after the six days of creation were over and time started. This is something that no other Church Father has ever said: that the different kinds of living things that God created came to be only after the creation week was over. This seems to be in favor of the evolutionary theory, but St. Augustine begot this concept of simultaneous creation from two incorrect translations, when the day was made, God made heaven and earth, and he created all things simultaneously. So while St. Augustine might have believed in seminal reasons for greenery and hay of the field, there is no support in this verse of seminal reasons coming to be after the sixth day, or of anything besides some shrubs being created in their seminal reasons. In short, St. Augustine’s belief in the creation of the seminal reasons of all living things in general is based on his belief in a simultaneous creation, which, in turn, was based on faulty translations.
The Reason for the Seminal Reasons: Gen. 2:6-24
The second proof text St. Augustine offers for seminal reasons is Genesis 2:24, as he explains:
However easy it, after all, a human being may think it is for God to have done all this simultaneously with the rest, we know with absolute certainty that the words of a human being can only be uttered aloud over intervals of time. When we hear the man’s words, therefore, when he was giving names wither to the animals or to the woman, or when he also went on to say, For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife; and they shall be two in one flesh (Gn 2:24), whatever the syllables this was uttered with, not even two of them could have been spoken simultaneously; how much less, then, could all of this have happened all together with all the things that were created simultaneously! (Lit. Mean. Gen. VI, 3(4)).
In other words, Adam was talking and naming animals, springs were bubbling from the earth, and other things were taking place that could only happen in time which did not exist during a simultaneous creation; therefore, all these things which happened did not take place during the six days of creation but rather after them. This interpretation has important ramifications, because “God… rested from [the] establishing of different kinds of creatures, because he did not now establish any new kinds any more,” but Adam and Eve were made after the spring bubbled forth, which means that they were made in time and after the sixth day. So how could have they have been created in the simultaneous creation but only come to be after the sixth day, unless they were created “[i]nvisibly, potentially, in their causes…”, or in other words, as seminal reasons. Once again, we see that this interpretation is completely based on simultaneous creation which, in turn, is based on faulty translations of the Hebrew text.
The Reason for the Seminal Reasons: Gen. 2:19
Before we proceed to examine St. Augustine’s third proof text, let us recall that St. Augustine did not have the Vulgate but instead the popular Latin translation of his time, the Vetus Latina Biblia. So according to this translation, after God formed Adam out of the mud:
And God still fashioned from the earth all the beasts of the field and all the flying things of heaven; and he brought them to Adam to see what he would call them… (Gn. 2:19; Vetus)
St. Augustine comments on this:
God went to make him a help like himself out of a rib from his side, and this was done after he had still molded these same beasts of the field and flying things of heaven from the earth, and brought them to him, how can we understand this to have to have been done on the sixth day, seeing that on that day the earth produced live soul in accordance with God’s word, while it was on the fifth day that the waters produced flying things, likewise in accordance to God’s word? So then, it would not say here, And God still molded from the earth all the beasts of the field and all the flying things of heaven, when the earth had already produced all the beasts of the field on the sixth day, and the water still the flying things on the fifth, unless it had been done in another way then, that is potentially and causally, as befitted that work by which all things were created together simultaneously… (Lit. Mean. Gen. VI, 7(5)).
That is to say, after Adam was created, God still molded from the earth all the beasts of the field and all the flying things of heaven. But how could this be? For the birds and land animals were created before man in Genesis One, but in Genesis Two, all these things were taking place outside of the six days of creation, so how could God still be forming them from the earth after Adam had been formed? Besides, if this was happening while time was obviously occurring—something that could not take place in a simultaneous creation—then how could God still be forming the birds and animals outside of the six days of creation? Put simply, how could God produce these creatures in a simultaneous creation but have them come to be outside of the six days of creation? The answer? Seminal reasons.
But one needs to go a little deeper into the Latin. The actual Latin of the Vetus is:
Et finxit Deus adhuc de terra omnes bestias agri, et omnia volatilia coeli…. (Gn. 2:19; Vetus Latina)
The word to pay attention to here is adhuc which translates to “still,” “further,” or “up to this point.” So the Vetus translates into English to:
And God still (or up to this point) molded from the earth all the beasts of the field and all the flying things of heaven…
Conversely, the Vulgate states:
Formatis igitur, Dominus Deus, de humo cunctis animantibus terrae, et universis volatilibus caeli…
There is no trace of adhuc here! St. Jerome in the Vulgate instead used the pluperfect tense when describing how God created the animals and the birds. The Douay-Rheims English translation faithfully translates from the Vulgate to:
And the Lord God having formed out of the ground all the beasts of the earth, and all the fowl of the air… (Gn. 2:19; Douay-Rheims)
So, God was not still molding birds and land animals, as the Vetus would lead one to believe, but rather, having molded them, God brought them to Adam. Once again, one sees St. Augustine trying to resolve the apparent conflicts between texts in the first chapters of Genesis by invoking seminal reasons, when the discordant texts were actually mistranslations. So before one even attempts to find out what St. Augustine meant by “seminal reasons,” one can see that the whole idea arose from the Vetus Latina’s faulty translation of the Hebrew text of Genesis. This calls into question whether anyone can tout St. Augustine’s seminal reasons as proof of anything, since it would not be far from the mark to say that St. Augustine would never have conceived of such a notion if he had possessed a correct translation of the Hebrew text of Genesis in the first place.
At this point, the reader might be caught in a dichotomy: Can St. Augustine be trusted to interpret Scripture if his translation of Scripture did not convey the original meaning of the Hebrew text? To answer this, let us take for example the Vetus translation of Genesis 2:19: “And God still fashioned from the earth all the beasts of the field and all the flying things of heaven; and he brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. . .” (Gn. 2:19; Vetus) As we saw, St. Augustine took the wrongly translated “adhuc” as proof for God creating all living things in seminal reasons. But, the main point of the passage, “God…fashioned from the earth all the beasts of the field and all the flying things of heaven…” was a correct translation and something that St. Augustine firmly held to in agreement with the other Fathers of the Church.
Another example would be Genesis 2:6-24 which St. Augustine realized would obviously have to take place in time and therefore could not be part of the simultaneous creation. In accord with the other Fathers, St. Augustine firmly believed that the whole of Genesis Two was true historical account, but stemming from the incorrect translations of Sirach 18:1 and Gen. 2:4, St. Augustine differed from the other Fathers by maintaining that from Gen. 2:5 onward the events described took place outside of the six days of creation.
One sees a pattern emerging. It seems that almost all of St. Augustine’s rather odd positions that some point towards for patristic support for their theories come from incorrect translations. On the other hand, when St. Augustine’s writings ring in unison with the other Fathers, one can trace this position back to a correct translation.
Augustinian Creation Theology and the Deposit of Faith
Once one realizes that almost all of St. Augustine’s interpretation of the first chapters of Genesis rests on faulty translations in the Vetus Latina, it becomes apparent that his exegesis of Genesis rests on shaky ground. It may still be legitimate to ask, however, if simultaneous creation can be reconciled with the deposit of Faith? In the Encyclical Arcanum Divinae, Pope Leo’s XIII stated:
We record what is to all known, and cannot be doubted by any, that God, on the sixth day of creation, having made man from the slime of the earth, and having breathed into his face the breath of life, gave him a companion, whom He miraculously took from the side of Adam when he was locked in sleep (emphasis added).
One must also take into account what St. Augustine clearly stated:
What it comes to is that the very words in which the story is told how God planted Paradise, and placed in it the man he had made and brought the animals to him for him to give them names, and how, since no helper like him was found among them, he then formed the woman for him from the rib he had removed from him, are enough to indicate to us that none of this belongs to that work of God from which he rested on the seventh day, but rather to this at which he goes on working through the march of time until now (De Genesi Ad Litteram, VI 5(3)) (emphasis added).
If Adam was formed from the slime of the earth and Eve from Adam’s side on the sixth day (which Pope Leo XIII states that none can doubt), then it is obvious that a spring watering the whole face of the earth, Adam naming the animals, and Adam crying out, “Flesh of my flesh,” took place during this day. It is therefore evident that the sixth day took place in time and that everything was not created simultaneously, and the whole edifice of St. Augustine’s simultaneous creation collapses.
The Reason for the Seminal Reasons: All from Scripture
There is another important point that is often overlooked in regard to St. Augustine’s interpretation of Genesis, especially by theistic evolutionists. At the end of Book VII of The Literal Interpretation of Genesis, St. Augustine summarizes why he holds to a simultaneous creation and to the existence of seminal reasons. In the last paragraph he states:
It was by all these evidences, you see, of the divine scripture, of which none doubt the veracity but unbelievers or the ungodly, that we were led to the necessity of saying that God from the start of the ages first created all things simultaneous together, some already in their established natures, some in their pre-established causes (Lit. Mean. Gen. VII: 42(28)).
That is to say that St. Augustine came to this conclusion based on what he thought Moses was actually trying to convey. St. Augustine may have had faulty translations of Scripture, but at the same time, he never doubted their authenticity for a second. This should be a lesson for us all.
But let us now put aside all translations, both correct and incorrect, and investigate what St. Augustine meant by his seminal reasons.
What the Seminal Reasons Are: Determined Potentiality
So now that we have learned why St. Augustine believed in the seminal reasons, we can determine what they actually mean. This is because seminal reasons are simply an answer to the question: “How can something be created in the beginning but come into existence later on?” St. Augustine’s seminal reasons are simply creatures coming to be after God created them in potentiality, comparable to a tree coming from a seed but essentially different from that at the same time. St. Augustine explains:
Seeds do indeed provide some sort of comparison to this, on account of the growths to come that are bound with them; before all seeds, nonetheless, are those causes (Lit. Mean. Gen. VI, 11(6)).
Theistic evolutionists at this point might be saying to themselves, “’Potentiality,’ ‘in their causes,’ this is right up our alley!” But that is not so. Potentiality does not equal evolution. Just because God created things in potentiality in evolution and in the seminal reasons doesn’t mean that evolution and seminal reasons are the same, or even that the seminal reasons constitute a rudimentary form of microbe-to-man evolution. Just because an apple and an orange both have skin, doesn’t mean they’re the same fruit. The potentiality of St. Augustine’s seminal reasons is radically different from the potentiality of evolution. St. Augustine states:
We, however, whose steps are being directed through holy scripture by the same divine Providence, lest they should be led into some kind of perversity, must now make every effort to track down with God’s help, from the clues also supplied by his works, where and how he created simultaneously, when he rested from his completed works, these things we see around us, on whose forms and appearances he is still working right up till now through the succession of times and seasons.
So let us consider the beauty of any kind of tree you like, in its trunk, its branches, its leaves, its fruits. This admirable sight did not of course suddenly spring into being in its full stature and glory, but in the order with which we are also familiar. Thus it rose up from its roots, which the first sprig had fixed in the earth, and from there grew all these parts in their distinct forms and shapes. That sprig, furthermore, came from a seed; so it was in the seed that all the rest was originally to be found, not in the mass of full growth, but in the potentiality of its causative virtue… Does anything, after all, sprout or hang from that tree which has not been extracted and brought out from the hidden treasure of that seed?
. . .Now just as all these elements, which in the course of time and in due order would constitute a tree, were all invisible and simultaneously present in that grain, so too that is how, when God created all things simultaneously, the actual cosmos is to be thought of as having had simultaneously all the things that were made in it and with it when the day was made (Ged. 2:4). (Lit. Mean. Gen. V, 44(23)-45(23))
This passage highlights an essential difference between seminal reasons and evolutionary processes, for “Does anything, after all, sprout or hang from that tree which has not been extracted and brought out from the hidden treasure of that tree?” That is, the tree is in potentiality while in the seed, but it exists as a determined potentiality. That is to say, if one plants an ash seed, it will always grow to be an ash, never a birch. But a tree coming from a seed is not a development of the creature, but as St. Augustine puts it, the seminal reasons were “unwrapped in time from those primordial wrappings” (Lit. Mean. Gen. VI, 9(6)). St. Augustine emphasized this reality when he wrote:
This, you see, is how the earth produced them at the word of God before they had sprung up, by receiving all of their numbers, which it would extrude through the periods of time proper to each kind of plant. (Lit. Mean. Gen. V: 14(5))
To avoid confusion, one must take into account what the saint wrote earlier, “…[N]umber gives everything its specific form. . .”. In other words, for St. Augustine, the “number” of a thing is a synonym for the essential characteristics that make that thing what it is. In philosophy, one would call this its substantial form. So, when the creatures were created in potentiality, the seminal reason of the creature already had all the “numbers” of the creature that it would produce. St. Augustine underscored this point when he wrote:
“[W]hen the day was made,” the whole universe was established, and that simultaneously among its component elements were established those things that would start to burgeoning with the onset of time, whether vegetation or animals, all of them according to their kind. (Lit. Mean. Gen. VI: 2(1))
This passage reaffirms that the seminal reasons are a determined potentiality. That is, God created a seminal reason which had the potentiality of a lion within it, but that seminal reason could only produce a lion and nothing more.
A good analogue to this would be a string on a violin. When tuned, that string has the potential to bring forth an A note, but the note is actually not in existence. But as soon as someone plucks that string, an A note will be produced. Not a B flat or an F, but only an A. This is in fact why one calls a string on an instrument an A string. It is called a string since it has the potential to bring a note into existence, but it is called an A string since once plucked, it will only vibrate at the correct frequency that will produce an A note. Applying this analogy to the seminal reasons, God tuned a certain nature to be a specific creature, and later on, that nature was brought into existence by a “pluck.” However, that “note” was already determined by God in the beginning. St. Augustine affirmed this analogy when he wrote:
…[D]erived from those primordial causes of theirs, in which they were inserted into the world that was created “when the day was made,” before they ever burgeoned into the visible manifestations of their specific natures (Lit. Mean. Gen. VI: 17(10)).
So, the creature is created in potentiality, but when the creature comes to be, it will be according to its “specific nature.” But how is this different from evolution? It is totally different from evolution because evolution not only needs a potentiality of things coming to be. It demands that the original matter possess an almost unlimited potentiality. For example, an ameba (in theory) has the potential to produce a creature besides itself. But what is stopping an ameba from producing a six-armed, quadruped human that breathes through his fingertips? Nothing. For not only does the ameba have the potential to produce a creature besides itself—within an evolutionary framework, there is unlimited potential as to what it can produce. In other words, evolutionary potentiality is not a determined potentiality, like a definite tree coming from a particular seed, or a specific note coming from a string, but rather something that one could describe as an unlimited potentiality, based on random chance. And if anyone would say that it is not an unlimited potentiality, and that God intervened every so often in evolutionary history to make it a determined potentiality, I would respond that not only does evolution cease at that point to be a scientific hypothesis, but this would go against St. Augustine’s fundamental principle—that God stopped creating entities, including new kinds of creatures, after the sixth day of creation. So one will have to choose between St. Augustine and this fabricated story of some sort of “supernatural evolution.” There is no in between.
In short, when God made the seminal reasons, God “pre-tuned” them to have the determined potential to be only one type of creature; He did not give them an unlimited potential. To say otherwise would be to attribute evolutionary fairy tales to St. Augustine in place of what the saint actually thought and wrote.
What the Seminal Reasons Are: God, the Only Creator of All Natures
St. Augustine held that God only did, and can only do, the “tuning” of the creatures within the six days of creation:
It cannot, however, be said that he then added something to creation which he had not made before, something as it were to be added later to the perfection of all the very good things he finished and completed on the sixth day. No, all the natures of shrubs and trees had already been made in the first setting up of creation, and from this work of setting up God rested (Lit. Mean. Gen. V: 11(4)).
To say that natures are still being created now or any time outside the six days of creation would be against Holy Scripture. The saint also stated:
But [God] cannot rightly be thought to set up any new kinds, since he did then complete them all (Lit. Mean. Gen. V: 41(20)).
Indeed, not only does God not create any new kinds, but He completed them within the six days of creation. This is completely against evolutionary theory, for, according to evolution, not only did God not complete all the kinds in the beginning, but new kinds are being brought forth right now which have the potential to bring forth new kinds ad infinitum. But this is completely contrary to St. Augustine’s writings.
It would seem that the most obvious discrepancy between St. Augustine’s seminal reasons and evolution is, in his words:
[T]he one and only creator of any nature you like, great or small, is God… (Lit. Mean. Gen. VIII, 26(15))
For St. Augustine, God is the only being who can create a nature. But this is completely contrary to evolution! For the very basis of evolution is that a nature, other than God, can make another nature. Ten years later in St. Augustine’s opus, City of God, he even more strongly condemns the position that anything other God can create a nature:
Even before the nature of God is understood, it is wrong to think and say that there can be any other Creator [than God] of any nature whatsoever, however tiny and mortal it may be (City of God, XII, 24).
So not only is St. Augustine not some sort of “early evolutionist,” but he would reject molecules-to-man evolution as a blasphemy against the Creator God. For evolution is not a creation of all individual natures by God, but a natural process by which all natures seen today are a result of a nature creating from itself a nature higher than itself.
What the Seminal Reasons Are: Length of Time to Form
A question that naturally arises from all of this discussion is, how long—according to St. Augustine—did it take for the seminal reasons to produce “the visible manifestations of their specific natures”? Millions of years? Days? Hours? Instead of speculating or assuming, let us go to St. Augustine to see what he has to say:
But in what manner did God make [Adam] from the mud of the earth? Was it straightaway as an adult, that is, as a young man in the prime of life? Or was it as he forms human beings from then until now in their mother’ womb? . . . Is anybody unaware, I mean, that when water mixed with earth comes to the roots of a vine, it is led up into the vine-stock as rich nourishment, and there takes on the quality with which it goes on into budding bunch of grapes, and becomes wine as it grows, and sweetens the wine as it matures, which still has to ferment when pressed out, and left to settle and age until it is fit to drink with real profit and pleasure? Does that mean that the Lord had to go looking for a vine or earth or these set intervals of time, when with a wonderful conciseness he changed water into wine, and such wine as even a tipsy table guest could praise? Did the one who instituted time need the help of time?
…When these things happen they are not happening against nature except from our point of view, to which the course of nature appears from a different angle, but not from God’s point of view, since nature for him is simply what he has made. (Lit. Mean. Gen. VI, 23(13))
Having asserted that the One who instituted time didn’t need the help of time, St. Augustine inquires whether these seminal reasons came to be as fully formed adults, or as seeds or eggs.
What is our business, though, to inquire about is how those causal formulae were set, with which he primed the universe when he first created all things simultaneously. Was it so that all things that come to birth in the way we see, whether shrubs or animals, would go through the different intervals of time appropriate to each species in its taking shape and its growth: or so that they would be fully formed forthwith (synonym for immediately), in the way it is believed that Adam was made in without any growing pains in adult manhood? But why should we not believe that those formulae contained each potentially, so that anything would be actualized from them that pleased the one who would make them?
If we limit, you see, to the first mode (over a period of time), it begins to look as if not only was that turning of water into wine a deed done in defiance to them, but also are all miracles which are performed in defiance of the usual course of nature. If, on the other hand, we limit ourselves to the second mode (fully formed, immediately), there will be a much more absurd consequence that these everyday forms and appearances of nature run through their various spans of time in defiance of those primary causal formulae of everything that comes to birth. It remains, therefore, that they were created with an aptitude for each mode, whether for this one by which temporal events most commonly transpire, or for that one by which rare and miraculous things are done, as it may please God to do whatever is appropriate to the time. (Lit. Mean. Gen. VI, 24(13)-25(14))
So St. Augustine leaves no room for millions of years in the formation of his seminal reasons. After much discussion, St. Augustine decides on the second mode, the immediate, and forthwith:
Hence, if the causes of all that was to be in the future were sown in the world when “that day was made” on which God created all things simultaneously, Adam was not made otherwise when he was formed from the mud already in adult manhood, in the more credible view, than he was in those causes, when God made man in the works of the six days (Lit. Mean. Gen. VI, 29(18))
In other words, St. Augustine is saying that the seminal reasons brought forth the specific creature just as Christ turned water into wine, that is, instantaneously, and in full maturity. But the consequence of this view is that this takes the seminal reasons out of the realm of natural science, or any natural occurrence. This is a massive distinction, for evolution is based on the overriding assumption that all things came to be naturally.
What the Seminal Reasons Are: The Jump from Potentiality to Actuality
While commenting on the formation of Eve from Adam’s side, St. Augustine makes this eye-opening declaration:
What I will say with complete certainty, nonetheless, is that the flesh which filled up the place left by the rib, and the woman’s body and soul and the shape and arrangement of her limbs, with all the entrails, all the senses and everything else which marked her as both creature and human and female, all this was made by none but God, not acting through angels but directly himself. . . (Lit. Mean. Gen. IX, 29(16))
One must remember what St. Augustine had said before:
… God went on to make him a help like him out of a rib from his side… how can we understand this to have been done on the sixth day…? (Lit. Mean. Gen. VI, 8(5))
And one must also keep in mind what he wrote in another place:
God… rested from [the] establishing of different kinds of creatures, because he did not now establish any new kinds any more (Lit. Mean. Gen. IV, 22(12)).
So how can St. Augustine say that God made Eve directly from Adam’s rib, but in potentiality in the beginning? Instead of speculating, let us go to St. Augustine to see what he has to say:
So then, God has in himself the hidden causes of certain deeds and events, which he did not insert in things he had made; and he does not activate them by that work of providence by which he sets up natures in order for them to be, but by that other one by which he administers as he may wish the natures he established as he wished. . . Accordingly all the things too which were done miraculously, not by natural process . . . had their causes also hidden in God. If one of these was the woman being made like that from the side of man, and of him fast asleep what’s more, and her being made strong through him, as though strengthened by his bone, while he was weakened in her account because the place of his rib was not filled up with another rib but with flesh, none of this was prescribed in the first establishment of things, when it was said on the sixth day “male and female he made them,” in such a way that the woman quite simply would be made like that. All that prescribed there was that she could be made like that, and that God would not make anything by a vacillating change of mind, against causes which he had deliberately instituted. What precisely would be done, however, such that there would be nothing different taking place at all, all that was hidden in God, who created all things (Eph 3:9). (Lit. Mean. Gen. IX, 33(18)-34(18))
To break this very confusing statement down a little bit, let us make an analogy. Grass is made in such a way that it quite simply will spring from the ground, but one will never see a person sprouting from the ground for it is not within the nature of a human. So what St. Augustine is referring to is this: Eve was not made in the beginning so as to just pop out of Adam’s rib, like grass from the ground, on the appointed time. No, “All that prescribed there was that she could be made like that.” In other words, God did not need to create anything new when He brought froth Eve, but just used the potentiality already existent. Just as when the Balaam’s donkey reproved Balaam for beating him (Numbers 22:21-39). It wasn’t that speaking was against the nature of the donkey, but only that the nature of the donkey did not prescribe that it could speak. It was not until God brought forth this “potential” that it possessed that faculty. For it was not necessarily contrary to the nature of the donkey to do this, but rather, that its nature itself did not possess that faculty.
So, when Eve was in Adam’s side, her coming from Adam’s rib was not prescribed in the seminal reasons, but in God. So Eve’s nature and “numbers” were made a determined potentially within the six days, but that Eve would be made from Adam’s rib was not in potentiality, but was a direct and miraculous act of God. In short, God brought the potentiality into actuality by a direct, miraculous act. But this brings up a very important question: Did St. Augustine describe all the seminal reasons, animals and Adam, coming to be in this way, or only Eve? St. Augustine certainly placed the formation of Adam into this category as St. Thomas Aquinas clearly saw:
As Augustine says (Gen. ad lit. ix, 15), we do not know whether the angels were employed by God in the formation of the woman; but it is certain that, as the body of man was not formed by the angels from the slime of the earth, so neither was the body of the woman formed by them from the man’s rib (Summa Theologiae; Ia q. 92 a. 4).
An echo of this can be found in St. Augustine’s work:
[T]o form or build a the rib into being a woman was something that only God, who maintains nature as a whole into being, was able to do—so much so that I cannot even believe the supplying of the man’s body with flesh to take the place of his rib was done by angels, any more than the making of man himself from the dust of the earth. (Lit. Mean. Gen. VI, 26(15))
So, for St. Augustine, God alone is the ‘bridge’ between the potentiality and actuality of seminal reasons. But did St. Augustine place seminal reasons as a whole into this grouping? He most certainly did:
Nor can it be said: “He [God] himself made the made the man, while as for the beasts he gave the order and they were made”; he made both the man and them, after all, through his Word, through which all things were made. . . This same text, you see, which says that God molded the man from the mud of the earth, when he led them to Adam, together with the flying things of heaven, to see what he would call them. That, you see, is what is written: And God still (adhuc) molded from the earth all the beasts (Gn 2:19). So if he himself formed both the man from the earth and the beasts from the earth, what pre-eminence does the man enjoy in this respect, other than that he was created to the image of God? (Lit. Mean. Gen. VI, 22(12))
Using this quotation, we can formulate a syllogism:
Adam was made in the same way as the animals
Adam was made in a direct and supernatural manner
Therefore, the animals were made in a direct and supernatural manner
A summary of all of this can be found in another statement from St. Augustine:
[W]e understand God to have finished these works when he created all things simultaneously so completely, that there was nothing for him still to create in the series of times which had not already been created by him here in the series of causes, while we take him to have started in that he here fixed the causes which he would put into effect later on (Lit. Mean. Gen. VI, 19(11)) (emphasis added).
That is to say, God created the seminal reasons so completely so that He didn’t need to create anything new when He brought the seminal reasons into actuality. In short, God “fixed the causes”, or made them a determined potentiality, and then “he,” God himself, took that potential and “put [it] into effect later on.”
It is also important to recall what St. Augustine said earlier about the seminal reasons coming into actuality in the same way as the water turned into wine at Christ’s command at the Wedding at Cana. From this one can see that Our Lord’s act of turning water into wine was a direct, miraculous event. By comparing the seminal reason with this event, St. Augustine once more reminds us that the “germination” of the seminal reasons was not a natural occurrence but a supernatural one. Going back to the string analogy: When the string is plucked, a specific note is produced. The question then arises: “Who plucked the string?” Well, God did, of course. And that note did not take a million years to come into being; it did so instantaneously and completely. But this once again puts the seminal reasons in a totally different category from microbe-to-man evolution. Not only are the seminal reasons a determined potentiality, but God brought these seminal reasons into actuality by a direct act of His will. Indeed, Genesis deals in the realm of theology, not biology or geology! St. Augustine asserted this himself when he wrote:
Here on the other hand, because things are being said which do not meet the gaze of eyes fixed on the ordinary course of nature, some people think they should not be understood in their proper sense, but just figuratively… So must we assume that God did not make the world just because he is not still making worlds, or that he did not make the sun because he still is not making suns? (Lit. Mean. Gen. VIII, 2(1)-3(1)).
Even in the days of St. Augustine, there were naturalists whose eyes were “fixed on the ordinary course of nature,” and who, as a consequence, attempted to explain the origins of things in nature through natural processes, thereby denying the literal meaning of Genesis. St. Augustine rebukes them for trying to explain the origin of the world naturally just because one can’t observe the way that God said that He created it in Genesis. As St. Augustine said in another place, “We should not be in the class of those who only believe what they have usually seen” (Lit. Mean. Gen. IX, 7(3)). But this is exactly the “class” to which all evolutionists belong! Indeed, microbe-to-man evolution is nothing if not a naturalistic explanation for the origin of life and of living things—an explanation that has nothing in common with the Mosaic account of origins in Genesis or St. Augustine’s seminal reasons.
An objection can be made to this by using St. Augustine himself. As previously quoted, St. Augustine states:
So the earth is said to have produced grass and trees then in their causes, that is, to have received the power to produce them. It was in the earth, that is to say, that things which were going to be realized in the course of time had already been made, if I may so put it, in the roots of time (Lit. Mean. Gen. V, 11(4)) (emphasis added).
In these statements, it seems as though St. Augustine is implying that the jump between potentiality and actuality wasn’t a direct act of God, but rather God just made some specific dirt to have the “power” to produce all the kinds of plants we see today. Theistic evolutionist might even go so far as to say that St. Augustine is here referring to some sort of ‘primordial soup’.
First of all, it must be realized that St. Augustine in the above statement was specifically referring to the passage in Genesis:
Let the earth bring forth the green herb, and such as may seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after its kind, which may have seed in itself upon the earth. And it was so done. (Gen. 1:11)
Not necessarily what someone would describe as a natural process. But let us test these interpretations against what St. Augustine actually said, not what we want him to say:
So when he says, he still [adhuc] cast up from the earth every tree that had a beautiful look about it (Gen. 2:9), he makes it perfectly clear that he was now casting up trees from the earth quite differently from the way the earth then on the third day produced fodder, seeding seed according to its kind, and fruit trees according to their kind. This surely is the force of he still cast up: over and above that is to say, what he had already cast up. Then [on the third day], of course, it was done potentiality, causally, in the work involved in creating all things together simultaneously, from which he rested on the seventh day when they were completed; whereas now [when God as still casting up from the earth every tree] it was being done visibly in the work belonging to the march of time (Lit. Mean. Gen. VI, 5(4)) (emphasis added).
So here St. Augustine is implying that the “germination” of the seminal reasons was not something that he gave the seminal reasons the ability to do on its own. St. Augustine vindicates and emphasizes this when he stated:
[I]n those works of the six days God established not only the casual formula of the future human body but also the material it would be made from, earth that is to say, from the mud or dust of which it would be molded. . . (Lit. Mean. Gen. VII, 9(6))
So, the seminal reasons and the building blocks from which the creature will be formed are completely different entities. One should also notice that St. Augustine did not say, ‘from the mud or dust of which it [the human body] would be molded by the seminal reasons or a natural process.’ No, as we saw in the preceding section, the molding of Adam was considered by St. Augustine a divine, miraculous event.
But what about this statement from St. Augustine where he once again seems to imply that the “germination” of the seminal reasons was a natural process seemingly endowed on the elements by the creator? He sates:
“[W]hen the day was made,” the whole universe was established, and that simultaneously among its component elements were established those things that would start to burgeoning with the onset of time, whether vegetation or animals, all of them according to their kind. (Lit. Mean. Gen. VI: 2(1))
Indeed, St. Augustine does state that the seminal reasons “would start to burgeoning” after being made, but the question is, who or what caused it to do so? St. Augustine states:
[H]e [Adam] also was made in some secret workshop, like the hay of the field before it sprang up, so that his being made from the dust would be for him to burgeon later on with the onset of time (Lit. Mean. Gen. VI, 2(1)).
So for St. Augustine, “[Adam] being made from the dust of the earth (which St. Augustine understood to be a miraculous event) would be for him to burgeon later on. . .” So the “germination” of Adam was when he was formed form the earth. This statement alone puts the “germination” of Adam outside of the realm of any natural process, let alone a primordial soup! Indeed, St. Augustine used the words “burgeon” and “germinate” synonymously with describing these events as divine acts. St. Augustine makes his position more clear:
In that original establishment of the world, you see, when God created all things simultaneously (Sirach 18:1), the man was made in order to come into being in the future—there was the idea or formula of one to be created, not any action of one already created (Lit. Mean. Gen. VI: 16(9)) (emphasis added).
It seems from this statement that St. Augustine is saying that when God made the seminal reasons, there was more divine creation, or more accurately, making to be done. The problem with this statement as some might see is that it seems to fly in the face of other statements:
[On the seventh day] God… rested from [the] establishing of different kinds of creatures, because he did not now establish any new kinds any more. (Lit. Mean. Gen. IV, 22(12))
But to say anything is still being made from nothing is to wish to do violence to the finished works in which he created all things together simultaneously… (Lit. Mean. Gen. X, 7(4))
If studied more carefully however, St. Augustine does not contradict himself here. St. Augustine disallowed only two things, 1: no new kinds of creatures after the seventh day, and 2: nothing else was created from nothing. The above statement goes against neither. Indeed, God was not creating a new kind of creature, nor was he creating anything from nothing, but rather, God formed Adam using the preexisting seminal reason. St. Augustine emphasizes this when he stated:
But all this is different in the word of God, where these things were not made but are eternal; different in the constituent elements of the universe, where all things to come in the future were made simultaneously; different again in things that are being created, not now simultaneously, but each in its own time, in accordance with its simultaneously created causes, like Adam already formed out of the mud and “ensouled” by the breath of God, like hay that sprang up. . . (Lit. Mean. Gen. VI: 17(10)) (emphasis added)
So, St. Augustine again states—this time not limiting it just to Adam, but to seminal reasons in general—that God is creating the creatures from the seminal reasons. Let us end this discussion with this statement:
So what am I to do but advise them [the reader], as best I can, to trust God’s scriptures, and to believe that the man was made both then, when “God made heaven and earth when the day was made,” about which scripture says elsewhere, The one who lives for ever created all things simultaneously (Sirach 18:1); and also then, when no longer creating things simultaneously but each in its own time, he molded him [Adam] from the mud of the earth and the woman from his bones? (Lit. Mean. Gen. VI, 11(6)) (emphasis added)
What the Seminal Reasons Are:
The First of Each Kind of Creature Had No Parents
Perhaps the most important difference between St. Augustine’s seminal reasons and the alleged mechanisms of microbe-to-man evolution pertains to the creation of Adam and Eve who were, as St. Augustine asserted:
Not however born of parents, but he [Adam] from the mud, she [Eve] from his rib. (Lit. Mean. Gen. VI, 10(6)) . . . So that the only thing proper to Adam was that he was not born of parents but made from the earth. . . (Lit. Mean. Gen. VI, 23(13)) . . . he [Adam] did not have to be born from parents, who were not there before him anyway, but to be formed from the mud in accordance with the casual formula in which he was made… (Lit. Mean. Gen. VI, 26(15))
But St. Augustine makes the same distinction between the normal production of plants and animals and their origin in the beginning of creation:
[B]oth [trees and seeds] came from the earth, not the earth from them. So their first parent was the earth. The same too with animals… (Lit. Mean. Gen. V, 44(23))
…[S]eeds sprang from grasses and trees, while these came not from seeds but from the earth… (Lit. Mean. Gen. V, 9(4))
These passages put the final nail in the coffin of the imaginary proto-evolutionist St. Augustine! Indeed, his own account of the origin of plants, animals and humans runs completely contrary to evolutionary attempts to account for the origin of these creatures through some kind of natural process. Moreover, if microbe-to-man evolution were true in any way, shape or form, the first of any kind of species that arose, such as the first man or horse must have had billions of parents, suffering, dying, and trying to pass their genes down to their descendants. But no such history could have existed before the seminal reasons as is evident from the statements of St. Augustine quoted above.
On a side note, there was a heresy at the time of St. Augustine called Manicheanism which denied the fact that Adam had no parents. Interestingly, St. Augustine was considered one of its greatest enemies. The Catholic Encyclopedia states that these heretics maintained:
Finally, Naimrael, a female, and Ashaklun, a male devil, bring forth two children, Adam and Eve… Powers of Light had pity and sent a Savior, the luminous Jesus. This Jesus approached innocent Adam, awoke him from his sleep of death…
In other words, Adam and Eve were children of two demons and God infused a human soul into them.
This is a statement from Catholic Answers about the creation of Adam and Eve:
[the Church] allows for the possibility that man’s body developed from previous biological forms, under God’s guidance, but it insists on the special creation of his soul. 
That is to say, Adam and Eve were the children of apes, but God infused a human soul into them. I find this a little too close to the Manichean belief for comfort.
So, in summary, the difference between St. Augustine’s seminal reasons and alleged mechanisms of evolution are as follows:
St. Augustine’s Denial of Evolution
Considering all that has been discussed in the preceding sections, this segment seems to be redundant. But to lay this notion of an Augustinian evolutionist to rest, one needs to search to see if St. Augustine even had a concept of a primitive form of evolution. For anyone to say that St. Augustine was some sort of proto-evolutionist, one must be able to find some sort of primordial notion of evolution within his works. Evolution really is a change of natures, such as an ape turning into a man, so let us see what St. Augustine had to say on this subject:
But clearly, if we suppose that he now sets any creature in place in such a way that he did not insert the kind of thing it is into that first construction of his, we are openly contradicting what scripture says, that he finished and completed all his works on the sixth day. Yes, within the categories of the various kinds of thing which he set up at first, he manifestly makes many new things which he did not make then. But he cannot rightly be thought to set up any new kinds, since he did then complete them all. (Lit. Mean. Gen. V: 41(20))
In other words, an apple tree can beget a honey crisp apple tree, but not an orange. So, is St. Augustine a proto-evolutionist?
…[S]o he [God] had both finished them because of the limit set to all the different kinds of things, and begun them because of the extension of the ages into the future (Lit. Mean. Gen. VII: 42(28)).
One might as well have found this statement in a creationist publication! For what St. Augustine is saying is that the way that God finished creation was by setting a “limit” to the different kinds. In other words, according to St. Augustine, there is only a certain range within which livings things can change. Put differently, a wolf can produce a golden retriever, but not an elephant. So, is St. Augustine a proto-evolutionist?
. . . [T]he elements of this world have their distinct energies and qualities, which determine what each is or is not capable of, what can or cannot be made from which. It is from these base-lines, so to say, that whatever comes to be takes in its own particular time span, its risings and continued progress, its ends and its settings, according to the kind of thing it is. Hence the fact that beans are not produced from grains of wheat or wheat from beans, nor human beings from cattle or cattle from human beings (Lit. Mean. Gen. IX: 32(17)).
After reading the preceding statements, I defy anyone to produce solid evidence that St. Augustine was in any way an evolutionist. One cannot say that St. Augustine was some sort of proto-evolutionist when he denied the premise that undergirds all evolutionary accounts of origins—the Cartesian premise that it is possible to extrapolate from the present order of nature to explain the origin of things in nature.
St. Augustine and “Progressive Creationism”
What is Progressive Creationism?
It is obvious from what St. Augustine actually wrote, that his writings completely exclude naturalistic evolution—that is, that everything we see today is the result of natural processes. It is also apparent from the fact of St. Augustine’s affirmation that the first of a new kind had no parents, that he would have rejected even the notion of a ‘supernatural evolution,’ that is, that evolution occurred because of God’s intervention. But what about so called ‘progressive creationism’? Progressive creationists generally believe:
that God created new forms of life gradually over a period of hundreds of millions of years. As a form of old Earth creationism, it accepts mainstream geological and cosmological estimates for the age of the Earth, some tenets of biology such as microevolution as well as archaeology to make its case. In this view creation occurred in rapid bursts in which all “kinds” of plants and animals appear in stages lasting millions of years. The bursts are followed by periods of stasis or equilibrium to accommodate new arrivals. These bursts represent instances of God creating new types of organisms by divine intervention.
While not specifically mentioned in the above statement, early progressive creationists generally held to the ‘day-age theory,’ that is, that the days of Genesis really meant eons of time. More recent versions of progressive creationism reject any “concordism,” or proportion between the days of Genesis One and the chronology of cosmic and terrestrial development but hold that God intervened periodically over millions of billions of years to create new kinds of creatures.
St. Augustine and Progressive Creationism: Millions of Years
Can a case be made that one could fit millions of years into St. Augustine’s interpretation of Genesis? Though it was definitely not his intention, one could conceivably fit millions of years into St. Augustine’s understanding of origins, because, in St. Augustine’s view, one cannot use the genealogies from Adam to Abraham (Gen. 5, Gen. 11) to determine the age of the world. This is because, in light of his belief in a simultaneous creation, St. Augustine maintained that the seminal reasons that God created in the beginning were only brought into actuality by God outside of the six days of creation. Consequently, there is a gap between creation and Adam that could possibly accommodate eons of time within an Augustinian framework (refer to table below).
Unfortunately for progressive creationists, however, St. Augustine rejected the view of many pagan intellectuals who believed in long ages. Of them he wrote:
They are deceived, too, by those highly mendacious documents which profess to give the history of (man as) many thousand years, though, reckoning by the sacred writings, we find that not 6000 years have yet passed (City of God, XII, 10).
Indeed, while St. Augustine did not necessarily identify an exact time-span between Creation and Adam, St. Augustine left no room for any notion of an ancient humanity—on the testimony of Moses he held that Adam was formed from the dust less than 6000 years ago! But this has implications—because what does one do with human remains that have been dated to more than 6000 years before the present? If one accepts the radiometric dating of these remains, Homo Sapiens existed more than 160,000 years ago. But this stands in clear contradiction to St. Augustine. So, while one might conceivably jam millions of years into St. Augustine’s framework for the interpretation of Genesis, one would then be bound to deny the standard interpretation of radiometric dating results, the most often touted “proof” for the long-ages.
It is not as if there was no evidence that man had been around for more than 6000 years in the time of St. Augustine:
…[L]et me cite only that letter which Alexander the Great wrote to his mother Olympias, giving her the narrative he had from an Egyptian priest, which he had extracted from their sacred archives, and which gave an account of kingdoms mentioned also by the Greek historians. In this letter of Alexander’s a term of upwards of 5000 years is assigned to the kingdom of Assyria; while in the Greek history only 1300 years are reckoned from the reign of Bel himself, whom both Greek and Egyptian agree in counting the first king of Assyria. Then to the empire of the Persians and Macedonians this Egyptian assigned more than 8000 years, counting to the time of Alexander, to whom he was speaking… Further, if this letter of Alexander, which has become so famous, differs widely in this matter of chronology from the probable credible account, how much less can we believe these documents which, though full of fabulous and fictitious antiquities, they would fain oppose to the authority of our well-known and divine books. . . (City of God, XII, 10) (emphasis added)
It is apparent from this statement that St. Augustine joined with the other Church Fathers in considering the Sacred Scriptures to be completely “divine” and inerrant in all that they affirmed in regard to the history of the world and that he joined with them in rejecting the false chronologies of pagan historians who contradicted the sacred history of Genesis.
St. Augustine and Progressive Creationism: The Order of Creation
A huge problem with the day-age theory of progressive creationism arises from the order in which things were created. If the days of Genesis really meant millions or even billions of years, then must the earth and plants, which were created on the third day, have existed for eons of time before the sun? Some progressive creationists, such as members of the organization Reasons to Believe, try to get around this problem by denying the order in which these things were created:
- Creation, by fiat miracle, of the entire physical universe (space-time dimensions, matter, energy, galaxies, stars, planets, etc.)
- planet Earth singled out for a sequence of creation miracles. At its beginning, Earth is empty of life and unfit for life; interplanetary debris and Earth’s primordial atmosphere prevent the light of the sun, moon, and stars from reaching the planet’s surface
- clearing of the interplanetary debris and partial transformation of the earth’s atmosphere so that light from the heavenly bodies now penetrates to the surface of Earth’s ocean
- formation of water vapor in the troposphere under conditions that establish a stable water cycle
- formation of continental land masses and ocean basins
- production of plants on the continental land masses
- transformation of the atmosphere from translucent to occasionally transparent. Sun, Moon, planets, and stars now can be seen from the vantage point of Earth’s surface
- production of swarms of small sea animals.
- creation of sea mammals and birds
- creation of three specialized kinds of land mammals: a) short-legged land mammals, b) long-legged land mammals that are easy to tame, and c) long-legged land mammals that are difficult to tame—all three specifically designed to cohabit with humans
- creation of the human species
In order to fit millions of years into Genesis, these progressive creationists deny the order that God said He used in His work of creation. But what did St. Augustine say about this matter? St. Augustine also had some difficulty with the fact that the sun was created on the fourth day, but he never denied it. If theistic evolutionists and progressive creationists even cared about what St. Augustine said—except to justify their own viewpoint—they would see that the day-age theory fails to find a solution to this problem without completely denying the veracity of Genesis as Reasons to Believe ultimately does. Even with a belief in a simultaneous creation, St. Augustine defended the order in which all things were created:
… [W]e should rather reflect upon the work from which time began, the work of making all things at once, simultaneously, and also endowing them with an order that is not set by intervals of time but by linking of causes… (Lit. Mean. Gen. V, 12(5)).
So even though St. Augustine did not believe that these things were created with time in between, he did not deny the order, but rather said that they were set in order by way of the linkage of causes. On the other hand, day-agers point to the sun being created on the fourth day as proof that these days should be interpreted allegorically, but then they deny the order that they point to as a proof of their interpretation! The day-age theory does not square with St. Augustine.
St. Augustine’s View of the Relationship between Faith and Science
At this point some may say, “But St. Augustine said that we must not let the Faith be laughed at by unbelievers.” While this is true, let us go back to St. Augustine himself for clarification:
Now it is quite disgraceful and disastrous, something one should be on one’s guard at all cost, that they [unbelievers] should ever hear Christians spouting what they claim our Christian literature has to say on these topics, and talking such nonsense that they can scarcely contain their laughter when they see them to be toto caelo, as the saying goes, wide of the mark. (Lit. Mean. Gen. I, 39(19))
To cite this passage in favor of theistic evolution, one would need to assume that evolution has been proven to be a viable scientific hypothesis–which it hasn’t, but we will not go into that in this article—in order for St. Augustine’s instruction to be applicable to the origins debate. But there is a huge problem with touting this as a proof that St. Augustine believed that all revelation, Holy Scripture, and the Faith itself must bow before the demands of natural science. For if the people who make these claims actually read St. Augustine’s works instead of spouting whatever they have heard others say, they would see that exactly two paragraphs from St. Augustine’s previous statement, he directly attacks the principal error of all theistic evolutionists:
Some of the weaker brothers and sisters, however, are in danger of going astray more seriously when they hear these godless people holding forth expertly and fluently on the numbers of the heavenly bodies, or on any question you care to mention about the elements of this cosmos. They wilt and lose heart, putting these pundits before themselves, and while regarding them as great authorities, they turn back with weary distaste to the books of salutary godliness, and scarcely bring themselves to touch the volumes they should be devouring with delight – shrinking from the roughness of the husks of the wheat and eagerly eyeing the flowers of the thistles (Lit. Mean. Gen. I, 40(20)).
But this is exactly what we are experiencing in the Church today! The mass exodus of youth out of the Church is not taking place because unbelievers are laughing at us for being “unscientific”–although they do laugh at our pathetic attempts to reconcile Genesis 1-11 and the writings of Church Fathers, like St. Augustine, with evolution. No, the Catholic Faith is fading because we exalt “pundits” like Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, and Lawrence Krauss above God and the Magisterium of His Church. So now we, and the world at large, “turn back with weary distaste to the books of salutary godliness and scarcely bring” ourselves “to touch the volumes” we “should be devouring with delight”—volumes such as Genesis, and the works of the Fathers, Doctors, Popes and Council Fathers in their authoritative teaching.
If we had a fraction of the love and devotion that St. Augustine had for Genesis, the Church would not be undergoing her current crisis of faith. For as St. Augustine so beautifully put it: “…[T]he authority of this text of scripture, surely, overrides anything that human ingenuity is capable of thinking up” (Lit. Mean. Gen. II, 9(5)). Indeed, ever since we began to deny the truth of the historical narrative of Genesis, we have surely been “shrinking from the roughness of the husks of the wheat and eagerly eyeing the flowers of the thistles.”
May God grant that through the intercession of St. Augustine, the members of the Mystical Body of Christ will return once more to the true, historical, and literal meaning of Genesis.
St. Augustine, Doctor of Grace, pray for us!
References and notes
 Daniel L. Marcum, Augustine on Evolution, http://cainaweb.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/AugustineonEvolution.pdf
 Joseph Bolin, Darwin and Evolution, p.g.29
 All English quotations from The Literal Meaning of Genesis and On Genesis: A Refutation of the Manichees come from: Edmund Hill O.P., On Genesis: A Refutation of the Manichees Unfinished Literal Commentary on Genesis The Literal Meaning of Genesis, ©2002 Augustinian Heritage Institute, New City Press. In light of the original Latin, some of the quotations were changed slightly. All mistakes are mine.
 Quotations from The City of God, unless stated otherwise, come from: Saint Augustine The City of God, An abridged Version from the Translation by: Gerald G. Walsh, S.J., Demetrius B. Zema, S.J., Grace Monahan, O.S.U., and Daniel J. Honan, Image Books edition, 1958.
 On Genesis: A Refutation of the Manichees, I, 20(14)
 Pope Leo XIII, (Arcanum Divinae), issued 10 February 1880, http://w2.vatican.va/content/leo-xiii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_10021880_arcanum.html