Dear Friends of the Kolbe Center,
Glory to Jesus Christ!
In our interactions with the champions of theistic evolution and progressive creation, no authority is invoked against us more frequently than that of St. Augustine. One of the members of our leadership team, Chris De Vos, has done the Church a great service by producing a beautiful little book entitled Catholic Creationist: St. Augustine in which he demonstrates that—like all of the other Fathers and Doctors of the Church—St. Augustine would have shed his last drop of blood for the literal historical truth of every word in the sacred history of Genesis.
St. Augustine on the Age of the Universe
With the possible exception of geocentrism—which St. Augustine and all of the Fathers also embraced—no view is considered less intellectually acceptable in Catholic academia today than an adherence to the traditional Biblical chronology. Consequently, we often hear Catholic intellectuals invoke St. Augustine against a literal reading of Genesis that would justify the traditional chronology. Nevertheless, St. Augustine was as firmly convinced as the rest of the Fathers that the age of the universe can be derived from the Sacred Scriptures. Moreover, he publicly rejected the long ages propounded by pagan philosophers and other religious systems—which were as popular in the patristic era as they are today. Thus, he excoriated:
those highly mendacious documents which profess to give the history of many thousand years, though, reckoning by the sacred writings, we find that not 6000 years have yet passed. And, not to spend many words in exposing the baselessness of these documents, in which so many thousands of years are accounted for, nor in proving that their authorities are totally inadequate, let me cite only that letter which Alexander the Great wrote to his mother Olympias, giving her the narrative he had from an Egyptian priest…[…] And therefore the former must receive the greater credit, because it does not exceed the true account of the duration of the world as it is given by our documents, which are truly sacred. 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, which predicted that the whole world would believe them, and which the whole world accordingly has believed; which proved, too, that it had truly narrated past events by its prediction of future events, which have so exactly come to pass! (St. Augustine. The City of God, trans. by G. G. Walsh and G. Monahan, Book 12, Chapter 10(Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1952), pp.390-391.)
St. Augustine was not only willing to contradict the intellectual elite of the pagan world who believed in long ages of time; he also refused to take them seriously:
Consequently, how utterly unconvincing is the presumptuous prattling of those who maintain that Egyptian astronomical science has a history of more than 100,000 years! From what books, pray, did they cull this number, if Queen Isis taught them to write not much more than 2,000 years ago? This point about the origin of Egyptian letters is made by Varro, no negligible authority in matters historical, and it fits in well with what we know from Holy Writ. Besides, since 6,000 years have not yet elapsed from the days of Adam, the first man, should we not ridicule, rather than bother to refute those who strive to convince us of a temporal duration so different and so utterly contrary to this established truth? (Augustine, City of God, 18. P. 40.)
Moreover, while in his earlier work on Genesis, in which he had to rely on a faulty Latin translation of the Hebrew text, St. Augustine favored an instantaneous creation of all things, revealed to the angels in six installments that corresponded to the six days of creation, in the City of God St. Augustine unequivocally defends the historical “fact” that God created light on Day One to alternate with darkness to produce the day-night cycle:
“[A]ccording 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 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 kind of 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. (St. Augustine. The City of God, trans. by G. G. Walsh and G. Monahan, Book 11, Chapter 7 (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1952), 212-213.)
Even more remarkable than St. Augustine’s defense of the literal historical truth of the first chapters of Genesis is his dismay at the way that Christians, even in his day, allowed themselves to be intimidated by the learned criticisms of “experts” in natural science. Again and again, critics of the Kolbe Center quote St. Augustine’s warning to his fellow believers not to bring disgrace upon the Scriptures and our holy religion by trying to use Scripture to support some false hypothesis in natural science. As editor Chris De Vos demonstrates, however, St. Augustine never intended to apply this warning to Catholics who defend the literal historical truth of God’s Genesis account of the supernatural work of creation. On the contrary, he writes that:
critics full of worldly learning should restrain themselves from attacking as ignorant and uncultured these utterances that have been made to nourish all devout souls. Such critics are like wingless creatures that crawl upon the earth and, while soaring no higher than the leap of a frog, mock the birds in their nests above. (St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, trans. John Hammond Taylor, Vol. 1, Book 1, Chapter 20, paragraph 40, (New York: Newman Press, 1982) p. 44.)
Champions of St. Augustine as a proto-theistic evolutionist may well argue that St. Augustine’s statement quoted above from The Literal Interpretation of Genesis refers to the several “senses” of Scripture, and not just to the literal and obvious sense. However, in the same work St. Augustine consistently affirms the historical truth of the literal and obvious sense of the text, while recognizing that other interpretations can be built upon that foundation. For example, when commenting on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, he writes:
We must now consider the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This tree was certainly visible and corporeal, as the other trees were. That it was a tree, therefore, there is no doubt; but what we must seek is the reason for its name . . . I am aware that many authors have written at great length on Paradise, but their theories on the subject in general can be reduced to three. There is, first, the opinion of those who interpret the word “paradise” in an exclusively corporeal sense. Then there are those who prefer to give an exclusively spiritual meaning to the word. Finally, there are those who accept the word “paradise” in both senses, sometimes corporeally and at other times spiritually. Briefly, then I admit that the third interpretation appeals to me. According to it I have undertaken to treat of Paradise, if God will make this possible. Man was made from the slime of the earth – and that certainly means a human body – and was placed in a corporeal paradise. (St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, trans. John Hammond Taylor, Vol. 1, Book 1, Chapter 20, paragraph 40, (New York: Newman Press, 1982) 44.)
Far from advising the faithful to allow natural scientists to shake their faith in the historical truth of Genesis, he laments:
the error of certain weak brethren who faint away when they hear these irreligious critics learnedly and eloquently discoursing on the theories of astronomy or on any of the questions relating to the elements of this universe. With a sigh, they esteem these teachers as superior to themselves, looking upon them as great men; and they return with disdain to the books which were written for the good of their souls; and, although they ought to drink from these books with relish, they can scarcely bear to take them up. Turning away in disgust from the unattractive wheat field, they long for the blossoms on the thorn. (St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, trans. John Hammond Taylor, Vol. 1, Book 1, Chapter 20, paragraph 40, (New York: Newman Press, 1982) 44.)
How ironic that so many contemporary Catholic intellectuals invoke St. Augustine to assert a patristic basis for their exaltation of fallible hypotheses in natural science above the literal and obvious sense of the sacred history of Genesis! They have turned St. Augustine upside down, and in the process they have persuaded millions of Catholic young people to “turn away from the . . . wheat field” of God’s inerrant Revelation to embrace the “blossoms on the thorn” of a dogmatic scientism that demands a naturalistic explanation for things that God and His Church have clearly revealed to be supernatural.
Kolbe Spring Seminar Tour of the United Kingdom
Since Coronamania erupted we have not been able to travel internationally as much as we did previously. However, I am planning to return to the United Kingdom in late April, so if you know of any possible venues in the UK, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would be especially grateful for any venues in Wales, the land of my fathers.
Yours in Christ through the Holy Theotokos in union with St. Joseph,
P.S. One of our faithful co-workers in Arizona would love to connect with other Kolbe supporters in her state, especially in the Chandler, Gilbert, and Mesa areas. If you live in or near any of those areas, please email me at email@example.com and I will introduce you so that you can work together.
P.P.S. Cosmic Evolution Debate on Zoom: On Saturday, February 17, at a time TBA. Please join us for a virtual debate between Fr. Robert Boyd, FSSP (PhD, Princeton) and Dr. Thomas Seiler, (PhD, Technical University of Munich) on whether the Big Bang Theory constitutes a sound explanation for the origins of our universe in the light of current scientific research. Please use this link to join the debate.