The Firmiter of Lateran IV in Its Historical Context Defines the Fiat Creation of All Things

by Hugh Owen

In 1215 Pope Innocent III convened the Fourth Lateran Council to define fundamental doctrines of the Faith against heretical errors, to launch a Crusade for the liberation of the Holy Land and for the elimination of heretical strongholds in the South of France, and to spell out a comprehensive program of Church reform.  A top priority of the Council was to stop the spread of heresy, especially in southern France and northern Italy, where the Cathar-Albigensian and Waldensian heresies had lured many of the faithful away from the true Faith.  The Pope and the Council Fathers framed a profession of faith specifically to affirm the doctrines of the Faith against the predominant heresies of the day, those that rejected the traditional doctrine of creation.  An examination of the dominant errors of the principal heretical movements of the time reveals that the language of the Firmiter was specifically designed to refute those errors in a way that excludes theistic evolution or progressive creation.[1]

Before examining the dogmatic decree on creation of Lateran IV in its historical context, it is important to acknowledge a deep division within contemporary Catholic academia in regard to dogmatic decrees.  On the one hand, Catholic academia boasts a large number of members—perhaps the majority—who hold that the Church has often contradicted her authoritative teaching and that therefore it is of no great consequence whether the intended meaning of the Firmiter excludes evolution and progressive creation or not.  For this group of Catholic scholars, “development of doctrine” entails the possibility that a doctrine once taught at a high level of authority can evolve or develop into a contradictory form—as, for example, in the recent alleged “development” of the teaching of the Church on capital punishment.[2]

On the other hand, Catholic academia still numbers among its members a few who hold fast to the dogmatic teaching of Vatican I which anathematized anyone who holds that the doctrine of the faith develops and acquires a meaning different from that which the Church has assigned to it in the past.[3]  It is to these faithful Catholic scholars that this paper is addressed, since the others have, willingly or inadvertently, abandoned the clear teaching of Vatican I and risked the anathema that it pronounces against those who depart from the traditional doctrine of the Church in the precise meaning that it has always possessed.

The Historical Context of the Firmiter of Lateran IV

The most important dogmatic statement on creation in the history of the Catholic Church was the Firmiter decree of Lateran Council IV in 1215.  According to this decree:

Deus…creator omnium visibilium et invisibilium, spiritualium et corporalium: qui sua omnipotenti virtute simul ab initio temporis utramque de nihilo condidit creaturam, spiritualem et corporalem, angelicam videlicet et mundanam: ac deinde humanam, quasi communem ex spiritu et corpore constitutam.

God…creator of all visible and invisible things, of the spiritual and of the corporal; who by His own omnipotent power at once from the beginning of time created each creature from nothing, spiritual and corporal, namely, angelic and mundane, and finally the human, constituted as it were, alike of the spirit and the body (Denz 428).

Eyewitness accounts of the proceedings of the Fourth Lateran Council confirm that the crusade against the Albigensian-Catharist heresy and its supporters in Languedoc[4] stood at or near the top of the list of priorities for the Pope and the Council Fathers.  In his opening sermon to the assembled Patriarchs, Bishops, and Abbots at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome, at the commencement of the largest Ecumenical Council in the history of the Church up until that time, Pope Innocent III reminded the Council Fathers that “on the sixth day God completed [the creation] of heaven and earth and all their beauties.”[5]

The Meaning of the Firmiter Decree on Creation

It is important to establish the original meaning intended by the Lateran IV Council Fathers regarding their dogmatic statement on creation. The argument that the Council wording does not exclude long ages, and therefore allows time for evolution or progressive creation to take place, is based principally on two words in the text, simul and utramque. These two terms will now be examined.

Recent research has demonstrated that simul in this dogmatic decree was understood to mean “at once” from the time of the Fourth Lateran Council until the rise of Lyellian geology in the nineteenth century.  Only then did some theologians begin to try to find another meaning for simul in Lateran IV so as to reconcile the traditional doctrine of creation with long ages of geologic time.[6]

The original, plain sense of simul in Lateran IV indicated that God created all of the different kinds of corporeal and angelic creatures “at once from the beginning of time.”  This was compatible with St. Augustine’s speculative instantaneous creation or with the majority view of the Fathers who taught that everything was created in six natural days.  But it was totally incompatible with a longer creation period.  Even at the end of the nineteenth century, the editor of the Catholic Theological Dictionary, Fr. A. Vacant, observed that “This meaning of simultaneity of date had been adopted, without any hesitation, by almost all the earlier theologians. Some, such as Sylvestre de Ferrare, claimed it should be held as de fide since Lat. IV”[7]  As an example of simul meaning a relative simultaneity of time, Fr. Vacant (Art. 205) referred to the verse For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth and all that is in them (Exod. 20:11).[8]

Creation of All Things “At Once” from the Beginning, or According to a Common Plan?

The Catholic Theological Dictionary, begun in  1903 under the direction of Fr. Vacant, in its “Creation” article (165 columns, printed in 1908 for this volume), taught that the simultaneity of the creation of all things, spiritual and corporeal, was considered so well-established by Lateran IV that leading commentators on the Council like Cardinal Mazzella regarded those who contested this meaning as “temerarious.”  The Dictionary states:

It seems clear that the text [of Lateran IV] affirms the simultaneity of the two creations—[those of the spiritual and corporeal creatures]—and most theologians interpret it that way.  Indeed, many of them, like Suarez in De Angelis and also it would seem Cardinal Mazzella in De Deo Creante, regard those who contest this simultaneity of creation as “temerarious.”[9]

Besides the commentators named by Fr. Vacant, there were others of even greater stature who taught that Lateran IV had defined the relative simultaneity of the creation of all things.  Perhaps the most authoritative was St. Lawrence of Brindisi (1559-1619), a Doctor of the Church, and the foremost post-Lateran IV commentator on Genesis.  In his commentary on Genesis 1, St. Lawrence rejects the opinion that the angels might have been created before the material universe and all of “the creatures of the world” and writes:

The Holy Roman Church determined in the Fourth Lateran Council that the angels along with the creatures of the world were at once created ex nihilo from the beginning of time. (St. Lawrence of Brindisi, commentary on Genesis 1:1.)

A contemporary of St. Lawrence, the highly esteemed Flemish Jesuit and exegete Cornelius a Lapide (1537-1637), also taught that Lateran IV taught de fide that the angels were not created long before the corporeal creatures of the earth—as some Church Fathers had speculated—but at the same time.  He writes:

To be sure, the Lateran Council under Innocent III declared: One must believe with firm faith that from the beginning of time God created from nothing both spiritual and corporeal creatures, viz., the angelic and the mundane . . . .

After answering a possible objection to this judgment, he adds:

The Council’s words seem too well expressed and clear to be twisted into another meaning. Wherefore, my opinion is no longer just probable, but is both certain and de fide, for this is what the Council itself declares and defines.[10]

Traditional Theology Trumps Speculative Geology

In the nineteenth century Catholic theologians were being told that the science of geology had proved that the earth was enormously old and that fossils in the rocks proved that humans had existed for a much longer time than was recorded in the biblical genealogies.  These theologians, therefore, looked again at the Church’s teaching on the subject. In particular they examined the key infallible definition of creation from the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.  In his 1893 report on Vatican I (Etudes Théologiques sur les Constitutions du Concile du Vatican), Fr. Vacant, also editor of the prestigious and comprehensive theological dictionary the Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, examined the problem of reconciling the Council definition with geology. He wrote:

The same text [Lateran IV] says that God created together (simul), at the beginning of time, the angels and corporeal creatures, and afterwards man.

The meaning of the word simul presents a real difficulty and has been understood in several ways. It seems taken from this text of Sirach 18: 1: “God created all things together. Creavit omnia simul”, which itself received a great number of interpretations. Cornelius a Lapide mentions 10 of them. Some see simul as meaning a simultaneousness of time; they consider it as a résumé of this other text: “for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth and the sea and all that is in them (omnia quæ in eis sunt)” (Exod. 20:11). Others give to the word simul one of the meanings of the Greek koine which it translates. Accordingly, simul would mean “in common”, indicating that God had made all things equally or according to a single overall plan. It is this latter interpretation which is more commonly held today, because the other conforms less easily with the system of “days-periods”, which allows for long centuries between the creation of the heavens and the earth and of man (emphasis added).[11]

The bolded words above clearly indicate that two meanings had been attached to the word simul in the Lateran IV text. Fr. Vacant’s report goes on to say:

In the texts of Lateran IV and Vatican I, however, the word simul hardly seems to lend itself to the second meaning. Indeed, it is followed by the words ab initio temporis and deinde which seem clearly to indicate that simul should be understood as simultaneousness of time. On the face of it, this is what Lateran IV would have declared, that is, that the creation of the angels and corporeal creatures took place simultaneously at the beginning, and that the creation of man followed afterwards.[12]

The report continues:

However, some contemporary authors of real authority such as P. Hurter (Theol. Dogm. 6th edit., t. II, n.425/6) and M. Jungmann (De Deo Creatore, 4th edit. n.77) admit that simul taken from the text of the two councils could be understood in the sense, not of simultaneity of time for the creation, but of a unity of plan and a community of origin for the creatures. They allow the word here to have the second interpretation which is given in the text: Creavit omnia simul of Sirach 18:1 (emphasis added).[13]

The “second”—incorrect—"interpretation,” was selected because it allowed for long periods of time between the creations attributed to each of the Genesis “days.”  Fr Vacant cites two authoritative theologians who opted for this different meaning of simul, and indicates that because of the introduction of long ages the traditional meaning presented “a real difficulty.” He is referring, of course, to a difficulty for “contemporary” theologians. These subscribed to the conventional wisdom of the theological community in the years immediately following the First Vatican Council. As practicing theologians of the day they would have been conversant with the then-recent dogmatic pronouncements of Vatican I on creation reproducing the Lateran IV definition of creation.  These theologians would have examined the dogmas in detail to find some other way of resolving their “difficulty,” some indication that they could accommodate an old earth and evolution. Having found none, they turned their attention to simul.

If no “second meaning” of simul had been suggested, the theologians would have been bound by the context of the Firmiter and by the infallible nature of the Lateran IV dogma to accept the meaning of “simultaneous,” “at once” or “all together” which excluded long ages and therefore evolution. As Fr. Vacant admits:

… the word simul hardly seems to lend itself to the second meaning…On the face of it, Lateran IV and Vatican I would have declared, that the creation of the angels and corporeal creatures took place simultaneously at the beginning, and that the creation of man followed afterwards.[14]

However, the belief that simul could have the second meaning of “in common” (koinè in Greek)—without a temporal significance—won the day. Consequently, the evolutionary speculations emanating from the new sciences of stratigraphy, paleontology and evolutionary biology, which conflicted with the biblical genealogies and the traditional teaching of the Fathers, were allowed to be taught in all places of learning within the Church.

Recent research has demonstrated that this permission to teach evolution over long ages in contradiction to the traditional interpretation of the Firmiter depended for its justification on two serious errors.  In the first place, it has been shown that “simul” in the Firmiter when cited by St. Thomas Aquinas, Francisco Suarez, St. Lawrence of Brindisi, and other great commentators without reference to Sirach 18:1 mentioned above by Fr. Vacant—always refers to the whole work of creation, not just to the first moment of creation.[15]  In the second place, the geological principles on which Charles Lyell, James Hutton and their disciples constructed the geological column as it exists as a purely theoretical construct in geology textbooks to this day, have been completely invalidated by empirical research in the field of sedimentology.[16]  For both of these reasons, Catholic theologians are not justified in abandoning the traditional interpretation of simul in the Firmiter.


 The second term in the Firmiter that has been used to accommodate theistic evolution and progressive creation is utramque which appears in the text as follows:

Deus…simul ab initio temporis utramque de nihilo condidit creaturam, spiritualem et corporalem, angelicam videlicet et mundanam ac deinde humanam quasi communem ex spiritu et corpore constitutam.

The English equivalent is:

God…at once from the beginning of time created each creature from nothing, spiritual and corporal namely angelic and mundane (“earthly” CCC 327) finally the human, constituted as it were, alike of the spirit and the body (DZ, 428).

Those who disagree that Lateran IV excludes theistic evolution point to the dictionary meaning of utramque as meaning “each of two.”  Their argument is that the word each “creature” refers to each of the angelic and mundane “orders,” and does not mean the angels on one hand and each of the individual species of animals on the other. The term “creature,” they quite correctly point out, does not necessarily refer to living things.  It can just as well refer to inanimate things. In consequence they argue that Lateran IV is not declaring that all things were created from nothing, but only the heavens and the unadorned earth, created on Day One. This argument is invalid for several reasons:

(a)   Lateran IV is most certainly referring to the spiritual and corporal as two “creatures,” (Vatican I, Session III, chapter I, uses the expression "the twofold created order")[17] but the corporal (or mundane) “creature”[18] according to the Catholic Catechism (CCC, 327) includes all the “earthly” world. Hence the first words of the Lateran text “creator of all visible and invisible things” refers to all things created from nothing at the beginning. This fact is confirmed by the Vatican I text which states:

…the world and all things which are contained in it both spiritual and material as regards their whole substance, have been produced by God from nothing (canon 5) (bold added).

The CCC’s use of “earthly” (meaning mundane or corporal—those things with bodies) is the equivalent of mundanam or corporalem in the original Latin text of Lateran IV. It is the opposite of spiritual and angelic things without a body (spiritualem and angelicam).

According to dogmatic theologian Fr. Fehlner’s essay In the Beginning (Christ to the World, 1988) this canon teaches that:

The essences of finite species, and the essential structure of world order are not the fruit of the activity of those species, but their necessary prerequisite, only possible in virtue of a distinctive, divine productive action.

(b) In his 1895 commentary on the Vatican I text, Fr. Vacant makes it clear that the Council is not using the word utramque in reference to the two “creatures” heaven and earth of Genesis I, but to the “mundane” (as opposed to the angelic), i.e. all things created other than man. He writes:

Our text [Dei Filius in Vatican I] affirms the creation and consequently the existence and distinct nature of three classes of creatures. It also indicates the time of this creation. The three classes mentioned are the angels, material bodies, and men whose existence and nature are defined in chapter 1 and the fifth canon… [Our text] calls angels spirits, as opposed to bodies being of quite different species; thus it shows the spirits are not bodies. Moreover it compares angels to men composed of body and spirit…The second class of creatures is composed of corporal or material beings which form the world. The Council mentions they are distinct from pure spirits and men…Note here that the words “corporalem” and “materiales” designate not only “raw”  matter but also organised matter, even the “sensible” beings deprived of intelligence and endowed with only sensitive faculties. It is clear here that the term must extend to all creatures inferior to angels and men… The context of the chapter (Chapter 1 – Dei Filius Vat. 1) shows the word “mundanam” only applies to material creatures, whilst the word “mundus” in the Canon corresponds to all creatures both spiritual and material…The Council defines the three classes of creatures as having been produced from nothing in the totality of their substance. Without defining it as such, the Council says indirectly that the three classes are substances as opposed to simple accidents (bold added).[19]

The above excerpts from Fr. Vacant’s study on Vatican I, prove that he has no doubt that the expression utramque de nihilo (each creature from nothing) in the two Council texts refers to the prototypes of living kinds being specially created by God from nothing. Theistic evolutionists and progressive creationists assert that the only things not created from pre-existing matter were the heavens and earth, created on the first day of the hexameron. They conclude therefore that the living matter produced subsequently was not created.  Genesis 1, they rightly say, states that each species or kind was created from pre-existing matter. The plants and animals, for instance, were summoned into existence from the ground, Adam from the dust of the earth, and Eve from Adam’s rib.

To say that the things they came from were not part of or included in their substance seems to them illogical. This thinking comes from human experience that all living things come from other living things. Dogs come from dogs, cats from cats, and elephants from elephants. The concept of a living thing coming from a non-living thing is contrary to experience. All the living productions in Genesis 1, however, are reported as coming from non-living matter, i.e. water, earth or dust. To say that the water and earth contained atoms which could be used by God to produce living beings is like saying that an artist used a canvas to create a picture. The picture was not in the canvas it was a concept in the artist’s mind. It was immaterial until the concept was transmitted by oils and paint to the canvas. God conceived the various species before giving them existence. They were conceptually in His mind until the concept was transmitted to the water, earth or dust; they were given materiality through God’s word. Thus the dust, water, and earth contributed nothing to the creation of man, fish or trees; the latter were created immediately in their entire substance.  According to St. Thomas Aquinas:

...the corporeal forms that bodies had when first produced came immediately from God, whose bidding alone matter obeys, as its own proper cause. To signify this, Moses prefaces each work with the words God said, Let this thing be, or that, to denote the formation of all things by the Word of God . . .[20]

Writing in 1845, the translator of an authoritative French edition of the Summa Theologica, F. Lachat comments as follows on the creation of corporeal creatures:

Things are said to be composed in two cases: first when they enclose different entities or multiple parts, like bodies; second when they are constituted definitively, completely, by the unity of their principles. It is in the latter case that the article under discussion should be taken (ST, I, q. 45, a. 4). On the other hand, things can, either subsist by themselves, and according to this hypothesis they are substances; or exist in the subject by adhesion, and then they are accidents. What should be understood by composed or subsisting things? They should be understood as substances which are complete, finished, perfect which enclose all of their elements, matter, form and accidents.

So what did God create? Some teachers reply that he created primary matter, with the elements mixed up, the poets call this unformed mass chaos . . . then they say he drew from it the stars, the planets, the earth, the plants, the substances, the forms and accidents which make up the universe. In this system, the supreme Worker operates from the simple to the complex, moving by degrees in the accomplishment of his task, doing it in several successive operations, carefully underpinning it; obtaining the satisfaction of demonstrating the plagiarism of modern industrialists who claim to have invented division of labor, because they are not powerful enough to do the work in one go, nor wise enough to avoid useless detours.

Such is not the case with the prince of the school. He says God created the substances and concreated the primary matter: he created the substances complete, as they exist in nature, together with their accidents, forms, principles, and the elements of which they are composed; he concreated the prime matter, for it is necessarily contained in the substances. It is in this way that Holy Scripture recounts creation. We read in Genesis 1:1 “in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” The Mother of the Maccabees says to her son (2 Mac. 7:28) “I beseech you my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God created them from nothing. Thus also mankind came into being”. And the [Fourth Lateran] Council . . . states: “The Creator of all things visible and invisible, spiritual and corporal, drew from nothing the spiritual and corporal creatures, the angels, the world, then man composed of a body and soul.” Try to show that these words only refer to prime matter; all we can see are substances in their final completeness (italics in original).[21]

This passage from an authoritative commentator on St. Thomas from the pre-Darwinian period shows how the statements of Lateran IV on creation, in conjunction with 2 Maccabees 7:28, were understood as teaching the creation by God alone of the complete substances of all kinds of corporal and spiritual beings,[22] just as one would expect from a straightforward reading of Genesis, Chapters 1 and 2. The same commentary helps to explain the radical distinction between the transformation of, say, uranium into lead and the (imagined) transformation of a reptile into bird.  In the former case, the transformation merely involves a rearrangement of the atomic building blocks of matter—a rearrangement that can occur naturally, without generation.  In the latter case, the transformation of one organic unity into another distinct organic unity involves the transformation of one irreducibly complex organic unity into another, totally distinct, irreducibly complex organic unity, and—and this is an essential point—without generation!

According to Lachat, substances that possess this irreducibly complex organic unity are “complete, finished, perfect substances, which enclose all of their elements, matter, form and accidents.” Such substances cannot come into existence through non-generative natural processes, nor could they ever be generated unless their prototypes were first divinely created.   Indeed, even if the matter for the first birds, reptiles, mammals and other living things was not “concreated,” the formation of these creatures would still be a divine act.  As St. Thomas teaches, God alone could create, ex nihilo, the form of a bird or a whale and shape matter according to that form by his fiat.  No natural process would result in the production of a whale from water or of a lion from the dust of the earth.  The statements of Lateran IV and Vatican I on creation are entirely consistent with the constant teaching of the Church that the formation of the prototypes of all kinds of living things was part of the creative work of God that ended with the creation of Adam and Eve.

Heresies Excluded by the Firmiter of Lateran IV

Contemporary descriptions of the beliefs of the principal heretical groups in Languedoc confirm that all of them rejected the traditional orthodox teaching of the Church on creation defined at Lateran IV and embraced one of two heretical doctrines regarding the origins of man and the material universe.  The first group, usually designated as absolute dualists, believed in the existence of two principles of creation—a good god who created all of the spiritual creatures, and an evil god who created all of the corporeal, or bodily, creatures.  The second group, usually designated as mitigated dualists, believed in one God who created the spiritual creatures and the four elements, but held that the angel Lucifer made all of the different kinds of corporeal creatures as well as the human body from those four elements.  According to both sects, created spirits were trapped in corporeal bodies as punishment for a primordial sin, and the purpose of life was to follow the authentic teaching of Christ who came into the world as a pure spirit disguised as a bodily man, to liberate men and women from their bodies so that they could return to their original state as pure spirits.

These false beliefs in regard to creation shaped a Catharist anti-culture.  These errors explain why the Catharist priests, or “perfects,” abstained from foods derived from animal bodies, despised sacraments—including the Most Blessed Sacrament—on account of their material elements, looked down on Holy Marriage and childbirth, and viewed the death of the body as a good thing.  It is important to note that this anti-culture encompassed all of the Catharist heretics, both the absolute dualists and the mitigated dualists, since all of them shared the conviction that corporeal creatures—and the human body itself—were directly created by Lucifer or the evil god.  This also helps to explain why the Catharist priests, or “perfects,” appeared so attractive to many lay Catholics, scandalized as they so often were by the worldliness of many Catholic clergy and religious.  It also helps to explain why the new mendicant orders, especially the Dominicans, played such a key role in combating the Catharist movements in Languedoc and in northern Italy.  St. Dominic and his followers recognized the goods of this world as good things but renounced them to an even greater degree than the Catharist heretics.

The Scope of the Firmiter

Among contemporary scholars who adhere to the correct teaching on the unchanging and unchangeable truth of defined Church dogmas, most seem to believe that the Firmiter merely defined that God created the angels and some kind of primitive matter at the beginning of time, not all of the different kinds of spiritual and corporeal creatures—and then man.  However, the historical facts set forth in this article render this view completely untenable.  The Catholic response to the Catharist anti-culture hinged on the fact that God had directly created all of the different kinds of spiritual creatures and all of the different kinds of corporeal creatures and then man, body and soul, who summed up in himself the spiritual and the corporeal orders.  Thus, to argue that the Firmiter merely defined that God created the angels and some primitive matter is to imagine that the Pope and the Council Fathers failed to contradict the most fundamental doctrine of the Catharist heresy by failing to define the doctrine of creation opposed to that false doctrine.  As Quay has pointed out in his work on Lateran IV, the Firmiter’s account of what God created “at once” from the beginning of time is exhaustive—that is, it includes every kind of living creature that God created: the spiritual creatures, the corporeal creatures, and man.

It is indeed certain that the Council was deeply concerned to defend God's being the unique and sole creator of all things without exception. Hence Firmiter takes over the phrase "creator of all things, visible and invisible," already utilized for just this purpose in Eastern professions of faith prior to 325 and consecrated by I Nicaea and I Constantinople. This would seem to take care of the universality of His creative activity as well as can be done, since it provides what logicians refer to as an adequate distinction (in the thirteenth century, disjunctio exclusiva), one such that all possible beings can be assigned properly to one or the other of the two categories.[23]

Just as the phrase “spiritual creatures” encompasses all of the angels, each of them a distinct species according to Scholastic thought, so the phrase “corporeal” must encompass all of the different kinds of corporeal creatures, other than man.

Records of debates between Catholic preachers and Catharist heretics prove again and again that the phrase Creator of “all things visible and invisible” for Catholics in contrast to Cathar heretics meant all of the different kinds of creatures in heaven, on the earth and in the sea and all that dwell within them.  At the end of the twelfth century, a convert from the Catharist cult named Bonacursus revealed the doctrines of the cult in a published confession.  He wrote that:

Their heresy is, indeed, not only terrifying, but is, truly, too frightful and execrable to speak or hear about.  For some of them say that God created all the elements, others say that the devil created these elements; but their common opinion is that the devil divided the elements. They state also that the same devil made Adam from the dust of the earth and with very great force imprisoned in him a certain angel of light . . .[24]

At a public inquiry in Toulouse, France, in 1178, heretics were accused of teaching that

There were two gods, one good, the other evil; the good had created only invisible things, those which could not be altered or corrupted; the evil one had formed the heavens, the earth, men, and other visible things.[25]

Nor is it possible to argue that the Firmiter would allow Catholics to believe that God used angels or other secondary causes to produce the different kinds of corporeal creatures since the Cathar belief that something other than the Most Holy Trinity created the corporeal creatures always stood at the top of the list of errors to be refuted by Catholic speakers in public debates.  Writing just five years after the proclamation of the Firmiter, the Cistercian monk Caesarius of Heisterbach wrote an account of the Church’s struggles against the Albigensian/Catharist heresy and identified the principal error of the Cathars:

Some of the heresiarchs selected tenets from the teaching of Manes, others chose from among the errors which Origen is said to have written in Peri archon . . . With Manes, they believed in two principles, a good God and an evil one, the latter the devil, who, they say, created all bodies, just as the good God created all souls.

To this, a novice replies in Caesarius’ text:

Moses proves that God created bodies and souls by saying, “God formed man,” that is, the body, “of the slime of the earth and breathed into his face the breath of life,” which is the soul.

To which Caesarius replies:

If they would accept Moses and the prophets, they would not be heretics.[26]

Recalling the preaching of the heretics in 1205 forty years later, Peire Jocglar testified that he had “’heard the heretics saying errors about visible things’ . . . namely, ‘that God didn’t make them.’  The sacred host, he remembered hearing, ‘isn’t the body of the Lord.’”[27]  In what one historian calls the “most circumstantial report of heretical ideas [from the Albigensian-Cathar movement] that survives among records of inquisitorial processes before 1250,” Franciscan Friar William Garcias deposed that when he mentioned the text from the beginning of St. John’s Gospel, “Without Him was made nothing,” the Catharist heretic Peter Garcias of Toulouse answered that “the word ‘nothing’ was used to designate visible things, which are nothing.”[28]

“Also when Friar William Garcias spoke with Peter Garcias about the text, “In Him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible,” Peter said that it should be expounded:’ visible to the heart and invisible to the eyes of the flesh’ . . . and “when Friar William Garcias spoke with Peter Garcias about the text, ‘Preaching to you to be converted from these vain things [to the living God who made the heaven, the earth, and the sea and all that are in them],’ Peter said that “the sea” signified not the material sea where sea creatures lived but the “prison,” where heretics were unjustly confined.[29]  In short, Peter Garcias completely rejected the literal and obvious sense of the sacred history of Genesis for a purely figurative interpretation that had no precedent in the writings of the Fathers of the Church.  It was this kind of purely figurative interpretation which denied the direct creation by God of all of the different kinds of corporeal creatures, including the human body, that the Firmiter was specifically intended to exclude.

In a widely-circulated literary account of a debate between a Catholic and a dualist heretic, from around 1250, of which 28 manuscripts have been preserved, the principal point of contention between the Catholic and the heretic concerns the correct meaning of the “creation of all things.”  At the very beginning of the debate, the Catholic apologist interprets the words of St. John’s Gospel, “All things were made by Him,” to mean that God directly created “heaven and earth and the sea and all things that are therein” (Acts 17).  To this, the heretic rejoins:

I admit that God created all things.  This means all good things, but He did not make the evil, vain, perishable, and visible things; a lesser creator, Lucifer, made them, whence the words of John, “Without Him was made nothing,”  Moreover, [we must] interpret the phrase, “The world was made by Him,” as meaning worldly souls, namely, our own.  But our bodies and all other visible things were made by a lesser creator, the devil.  Yet God also created “the heavens,” which are our heavenly souls; the earth which means the earthbound souls of all believer; “the sea,” which means our souls, abounding with the water of doctrine; and “all things which are therein,” which means our whole faith which is in these aforesaid souls.  All these things God created.[30]

It took a hundred years for the Inquisition to eradicate the Catharist heresy in the South of France, and the records of the Inquisition testify to the persistence of the principal errors of the sect.  A few generations after the promulgation of the Firmiter decree, the Bishop of Pamiers recorded the testimony of a woman who had been led astray by a Catholic priest who had secretly promoted the heresy in his diocese for many years.  She told the Inquisition:

This priest told me that God had only created spirits, those which can neither be corrupted or destroyed, because the world of God would live eternally. But all the bodies which one sees and one senses, that is to say the sky and the earth and all that is found therein, with the sole exception of spirits, these were created by the devil, who rules the world. Because it was he who made them all—he who could not make anything stable and solid—these things are the prey of corruption.[31]

This testimony demonstrates that the principal errors condemned by the Firmiter persisted into the fourteenth century and remained prominent among the tell-tale signs of heretical belief for inquisitors in the Catharist heartland.

Contemporary Catholic Neo-Catharism

The mistaken belief that the Firmiter only defined the creation by God of angels and some simple material elements at the beginning of time has prompted many Catholic intellectuals to try to reconcile the Firmiter with the long ages of evolution and progressive creation.  It is bitterly ironic to find Catholic scholars of the stature of Philip Trower even arguing that Satan was permitted to enter creation and engineer creatures like carnivorous dinosaurs when this is precisely the kind of falsehood propagated by the Catharist heretics—a falsehood which the Firmiter explicitly excluded by defining that the good God created all of the different kinds of corporeal creatures at once from the beginning of time!

Using as a springboard Abbot Vonier’s Thomistic view (derived from Greek philosophy rather than Scripture) that the heavenly bodies are moved by intelligent powers (cf. ST, I, 70, a.3c), Mr. Trower hypothesizes that God appointed the angels to be in some way engineers of biological evolution.[32] He suggests that they “were to have much more than a supervisory role” in the cosmos and were empowered “to influence the evolutionary or transformative creative process”. And when some of the angels rebelled and became God’s enemies, he did not then terminate their role as agents of evolution any more than he terminates that of tyrants like Hitler and Stalin as agents of human history. Rather, Mr. Trower suggests, God allowed Satan and his cohorts to stay on the job, injecting their perverse, diabolical malice and cruelty into the evolving animal kingdom, presumably in competition with good angels doing their best to steer it in the direction of health, enjoyment, tranquility and beauty.[33]

After summarizing Dr. Trower’s hypothesis in these words, Fr. Brian Harrison explains why it cannot hold up under scrutiny:

First, Mr. Trower tries to make this supposed pre-Adamic suffering more theologically acceptable by blending it with post-Adamic evil into a single grand evolutionary process: creation itself is depicted as an unfinished project in which good and evil together somehow prod the cosmos onward toward ultimate perfection. “Creation”, Mr. Trower asserts, “is not something that came to an end or its climax with Adam and Eve. It is still going on.”  But how can this Teilhardian/Hegelian-sounding thesis be reconciled with the Genesis account, according to which the creative process long ago reached a very definite “end” and “climax”?  We read in Gn. 2: 1-2: “Thus the heavens and the earth and all their array were completed. Since on the seventh day God was finished with the work he had been doing, he rested on the seventh day” (emphasis added). And according to Catholic teaching, these early chapters of Genesis, while written in a simple, popular genre, are an ancient form of genuine history (cf. DS 3512-3519 = Dz 2121-2128; DS 3898 = Dz 2329).

Likewise, Mr. Trower’s scenario underestimates the central importance of the Fall: instead of the unique primal catastrophe that carved a sharp “before-and-after” division into our planetary history, Adam’s sin now becomes just part and parcel of an ongoing dialectic between good and evil. This view conflicts with Gn. 2: 17-18, where God declares the earth “cursed” through Adam’s disobedience, since it depicts the earth as already cursed for millions of years previously – and for reasons that had nothing to do with Adam. [34]

While Fr. Harrison’s arguments are sound, the same truths can also be defended from the Firmiter of Lateran IV as it was intended to be understood by the Council Fathers—and recent scholarship has demonstrated that the Angelic Doctor himself maintained this view.

The Angelic Doctor Sheds New Light on the Firmiter

In recent years, it has been possible to positively identify a very important early commentary on the Firmiter as the work of St. Thomas Aquinas: his Expositio super primam et secundam decretalem ad archdiaconum Tudertinum, a work which underscores the intention of the Firmiter to define the direct creation by God of all of the different kinds of corporeal creatures, as well as the human body.  According to one of the greatest living experts on the life and work of St. Thomas, Jean-Pierre Torrell:

The exposition of these two decretals seems to be dedicated to Gifredus of Anagni, Archdeacon of Todi and socius of the provost of Saint-Omer, Thomas’s friend, Adenulf of Anagni.  . . this dedication invites us to situate the opusculum during the Orvieto period (1261-1265). The first decretal on which St. Thomas presents a doctrinal commentary is the profession of faith known under the name Firmiter, formulated by the Lateran Council in 1215.[35]

In his commentary on the Firmiter, St. Thomas teaches that:

Another error was Origen's, positing that God, from the beginning, created spiritual creatures alone, and afterward, with some of them sinning, He created bodies to which the spiritual substances were bound, as if by some bonds: as if bodily creatures were not produced out of the principal intention of God because it was a good thing for them to exist, but only for punishing the sins of spiritual creatures, although notwithstanding it is said in Gen. 1.31 that "God saw all the things that He had made, and they were very good." This being the case, in order to exclude this [notion], [the chapter Firmiter] says that at the same time [simul] He created both creatures, namely spiritual and bodily, that is say, angelic and mundane.[36]

As demonstrated above, monk Caesarius of Heisterbach wrote an account of the Church’s struggles against the Albigensian/Catharist heresy a few years after Lateran IV and identified the principal error of the Cathars, stating that:

Some of the heresiarchs selected tenets from the teaching of Manes, others chose from among the errors which Origen is said to have written in Peri archon . . . With Manes, they believed in two principles, a good God and an evil one, the latter the devil, who, they say, created all bodies, just as the good God created all souls.[37]

Thus, St. Thomas joined the monk Caesarius in witnessing to the fact that the Firmiter attributes the direct creation of all of the different kinds of bodies to God alone, and he teaches that God created all of the spiritual and corporeal creatures at the beginning of time—not just the spiritual creatures who were then imprisoned in bodies at a later time.  Moreover, by the words “bodily creatures were . . . produced out of the principal intention of God” St. Thomas means the special creation of the different kinds of bodily creatures.  This is clear from his teaching on creation in Part I of the Summa, composed at roughly the same time as his commentary on the Firmiter.  There he writes that:

The corporeal forms that bodies had when first produced came immediately from God, whose bidding alone matter obeys, as its own proper cause.  To signify this, Moses prefaces each work with the words, “God said, ‘Let this thing be,’ or ‘that,’ to denote the formation of all things by the Word of God . . .[38] (emphasis added)

Objections Refuted

These valuable contemporary records anticipate an objection often raised by modern scholars against the thesis that the Firmiter was intended to define once and for all that God created all of the different kinds of corporeal creatures in the beginning of time.  This objection rejects our thesis on the ground that the Firmiter itself is rarely mentioned by theologians or Doctors of the Church in their writings against later errors in regard to the doctrine of creation.  If the Firmiter was intended to define the creation of all of the different kinds of corporeal creatures at the beginning of time, the argument goes, then later Doctors and preeminent theologians would have cited the Firmiter as a kind of proof text against other later heretics who deviated from the true doctrine of creation.

Unfortunately, this objection exemplifies the very attitude that makes it so hard for modern scholars to understand the thinking of the medieval doctors and the Firmiter correctly—an attitude of irreverence for Sacred Scripture as the totally inerrant, God-breathed Word of God.  The Firmiter was intended to correct heresies based on a rejection or misinterpretation of the first chapters of Genesis, but it was never intended to replace Genesis as the primary source of information revealed by God about the creation of the world.  The common notion among Catholic theologians today, that the content of Genesis 1-3 is not sufficient to prove that God created all of the different kinds of creatures by fiat at the beginning of time, would have been incomprehensible to Pope Innocent III and the fathers of Lateran IV.  To repeat: The Firmiter was meant to exclude erroneous teachings about creation based on the rejection or misinterpretation of Genesis, not to supplant Genesis as God’s inerrant account of how He created all of the different kinds of spiritual and corporeal creatures for man at the beginning of time.  Thus, for St. Thomas and the Church Doctors who came after him, it was sufficient to say, “according to Moses, God said X, Y, or Z,” to settle an argument.  No reference to a Church Council or papal document was necessary.  This approach stands in direct opposition to the methodology of most contemporary Catholic theologians.

Proof that the plain sense of Scripture had sufficient authority for the Fathers of Lateran IV to define doctrine can be found in the teaching of St. Thomas in the Summa Theologica on transubstantiation.  Since Lateran IV had just defined the dogma of transubstantiation for the first time, one might expect St. Thomas to cite the teaching of the Council in his treatment of the topic. But he does not.  It is sufficient for him to cite the text of Scripture and to comment on it with the help of the Church Fathers.[39]  The same is true of the Firmiter’s treatment of the doctrine of creation.  It makes no mention of Genesis because it assumes that the literal and obvious sense of Genesis is true.  It merely defines creation in a way that excludes any doctrine of creation that rejects or misinterprets the literal and obvious sense of the sacred history of Genesis—and that includes the modern errors of progressive creation and theistic evolution.

Marcionism Redux

One of the most destructive heresies of the early Church was the heresy of Marcion who denied the divine origin of the Old Testament and set up an opposition between the alleged evil god of the Old Testament and the good God of the New Testament.  Although Marcion’s errors were rejected and condemned in his lifetime, Marcion predicted that his heresy would divide the Church until the end of time, a prediction that history has unfortunately borne out to a great extent. Indeed, the interpretations of Genesis 1-3 and of the Firmiter of Lateran IV commonly offered by contemporary Catholic theologians can only be described as neo-Marcion in their failure to recognize or affirm a consistent, continuous doctrine of creation in Genesis, in the writings of the Apostles, Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and in the conciliar teaching of Lateran IV and Vatican I and other authoritative Magisterial teachings on creation from the time of the Apostles until now.

The neo-Marcion modernist sounds remarkably Albigensian as he sets up an opposition between the benevolent God of the New Testament and the cruel god of the Old; between the historically accurate New Testament Scriptures and the mythological, or, at least, non-historical, contents of the first five books of the Bible; between the “primitive” creation account[s] in Genesis and the “enlightened” synthesis between faith and reason that advances in natural science have allowed theologians to formulate in the benevolent spirit of the New Testament.  However, the neo-Marcions pose a much greater threat to the faithful than Marcion ever did, because so many of them speak in the name of the Church, even as doctors of theology, as bishops, even as Popes.  Yet, at the end of the day, even Popes cannot change the defined doctrines of the faith, and God who has bound in heaven what was previously bound on earth by His lawful representatives will ultimately vindicate the Faith “once delivered to the saints,” as it has been defined and handed down to us from the Apostles.


It is no coincidence that the recent change to the Catechism of the Catholic Church declaring “capital punishment” intrinsically evil in contradiction to the constant teaching of the Magisterium collided most spectacularly with a Profession of Faith promulgated by Pope Innocent III, the very Pope who convened the Fourth Lateran Council which defined the Firmiter decree on creation in a way that completely excludes molecules-to-man evolution as a credible explanation for the origins of man and the universe.  This providential “coincidence” draws attention to the fact that the attempt to change the constant teaching of the Church on capital punishment can only be justified within a modernist “evolutionary” framework which holds that the Church’s understanding of the Truth “evolves” into doctrinal understandings which directly contradict her prior understanding and teaching of the Faith.[40]  It was largely to prevent this perversion of sound doctrine and right reason that Pope St. Pius X in Pascendi warned that modernism was “the synthesis of all heresies” and that “evolution” was among “the chief” of the doctrines of the modernists.[41]  Yet few, if any, of the valiant scholars who have resisted the proposed change to the Catechism of the Catholic Church trace the revolutionary spirit behind this unlawful innovation to its true source in evolution-based modernism.

It is high time that Catholic scholars faced up to the facts regarding the historical context of the Fourth Lateran Council and the intended meaning of the Firmiter decree.  Either they should accept the meaning of Lateran IV as intended—as did St. Thomas Aquinas, Francisco Suarez, St. Lawrence of Brindisi, Cornelius a Lapide, and the greatest commentators on the Firmiter for six hundred years—and reject theistic evolution and progressive creation; or they should deny the infallibility of dogmatic decrees as they were intended to be understood by the Popes and Council Fathers who promulgated them and confess that God allowed His Church to err in her understanding and teaching on creation from the beginning. In that case, they should also admit that He willed His Church leaders to receive the correct understanding of the origins of man and the universe, not from the saints and scholars among her members, but from godless scientists like Charles Lyell and T.H. Huxley who hated the Church and wanted to destroy Her. By the widespread acceptance of this blasphemous view of recent history within Catholic academia, “mere anarchy” has been “loosed upon” the Church as well as “the world,” as God’s own representatives have exalted the wild conjectures of fallible human science above God’s inerrant Word as it has been understood in His Church from the beginning.

Maranatha!  Come, Lord Jesus!

Appendix I

Table and Commentary on the Meaning of “Simul” in the Firmiter of Lateran IV

The table below illustrates the views of various prominent Catholic commentators on the meaning of “simul” in the Firmiter of Lateran IV and in relation to Sirach 18:1.

What was created “simul”?

Spirits and undifferentiated matter *

Creatio Prima

All spiritual and corporeal creatures

Creatio Prima and Creatio Secunda

St. Hildegard Suarez
Peter Lombard Lachat
St. Thomas Aquinas (Summa) St. Thomas Aquinas (Decretals)
St. Lawrence
A Lapide
De Charmes


What does simul mean? Instantaneous At the same time According to a common plan Six Day Creation or Instant Citing Firmiter of Lateran IV Citing Sirach 18:1
St. Hildegard of Bingen * NO YES
Peter Lombard * An Instant for formless matter; Six Days for creation, adornment and distinction NO YES
St. Thomas Aquinas (I) * An Instant for formless matter; Six Days for adornment and distinction NO YES
St. Thomas Aquinas (II) * YES NO
Sylvester de Ferrara * Six Days YES NO
Gabriel Vasquez * YES YES
Cajetan * YES YES
Francisco Suarez * Six Days YES NO
Cornelius a Lapide * Six Days YES NO
St. Lawrence of Brindisi * Six Days YES NO
Thomas de Charmes * Six Days YES NO


Here are the texts:

St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)

[S]ome clerics turned to Hildegard in this difficult matter: “How should one comprehend when reading: He who lives in eternity has created everything at once [Sirach 18:1], when it is reported that God has divided up His works into six days?”

Hildegard answered this question according to her vision:

The almighty God, who is life without beginning and end and who knows about everything at all times, created the matter for everything heavenly and earthly at the same time, heaven as a shining matter and earth, which was of an opaque matter. The shining matter however radiated the splendor of eternity like a dense light that was shining over the opaque matter in such a way that it connected with it. And the two matters were created simultaneously and appeared in a sphere. For with the first 'Fiat' ('Let there be') angels came forth from the above mentioned shining matter in their appearance of light. And since God is God and man at once, He created the angels in the image of the Father; and man, whose garment He would put on, He created in His image and likeness. So also appeared, on the order of the almighty God, each and every creature of an opaque matter according to its nature.

The six days are six works; for the beginning and completion of each work is called a day. Also, after the creation of the basic matters there was no break, but virtually instantly the Spirit of God moved upon the waters, and even after that there was no delay, but God said at once: “Let there be light!” - and there was light.” (Letters)

This answers the question of the works of the days. God created the world by expressing His Will. After the sounding of the order: “Let there be!” things took shape and form.

God existed before the creation of the world, without beginning; for HE IS. He has been the light and all glory forever and always will be. He has always been life. When God then thought to create the world, he didn't have to do anything else; for in His Will all the matter of the world already existed. So when God's Will came out of Itself to create all of reality, the matter of the world, still unshaped and like a dark lump, came out of the Will itself and as God willed it (H. S. 11).

Peter Lombard (1100-1160)

Deinde elementa distinxit Deus et species proprias atque distinctas singulis rebus secundum genus suum dedit, quæ non simul, ut quibusdam sanctorum Patrum placuit, sed per intervalla temporum ac sex volumina dierum, ut aliis visum est, formavit.

Then God distinguished the elements and gave to each separate thing its proper and distinct appearance according to its own genus; He formed those things not at once (simul), as was the opinion of certain holy Fathers, but through intervals of times and through the changes of the Six Days, as it seemed to others.

Alii quidem tradiderunt, omnia simul in materia et forma fuisse creata; quod Augustinus2 sensisse videtur.  —  Alii vero hoc magis probaverunt atque asseruerunt, ut primum materia rudis atque informis, quatuor elementorum commixtionem atque confusionem tenens, creata sit; postmodum vero per intervalla sex dierum ex illa materia rerum corporalium genera sint formata secundum species proprias.

Some have related that all things were created at once (simul) in matter and form – what Augustine seems to have thought. But others have to a greater extent proved and maintained that at first matter raw and formless, containing a mixture and combination of the four elements, was created; afterwards, however, through the intervals of the Six Days, from that matter the genera of bodily things were formed according to their proper species (Peter Lombard's Sentences (IV, 2, d. 12).

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)


Objection 2: Further, it is said (Sirach 18:1): "He that liveth for ever, created all things together." But this would not be the case if the days of these works were more than one. Therefore they are not many but one only.

Reply to Objection 2: God created all things together so far as regards their substance in some measure formless. But He did not create all things together, so far as regards that formation of things which lies in distinction and adornment. Hence the word "creation" is significant.

Commentary: Please note the similarity between St. Thomas’s answer here and the statements of St. Hildegard and Peter Lombard.  Notice the difference between the extent of the things created in the passage above from the Summa and in the commentary on the Decretals below.


Alius error fuit Origenis ponentis quod Deus a principio creavit solas spirituales creaturas, et postea quibusdam earum peccantibus creavit corpora quibus quasi quibusdam vinculis spirituales substantiae alligarnetur: ac si corporales creaturae non fuerint ex principali Dei intentione productae quia bonum erat eas esse, sed solum ad punienda peccata spiritualium creaturarum, cum tamen dicatur Gen. 1.31 «Vidit Deus cuncta quae fecerat et erant valde bona» ; Unde ad hoc excludendum dicit quod simul condidit utramque creaturam, scilicet spiritualem et corporalem, angelicam videlicet et mundanam.

Another error was Origen's, positing that God, from the beginning, created spiritual creatures alone, and afterward, with some of them sinning, He created bodies to which the spiritual substances were bound, as if by some bonds: as if bodily creatures were not produced out of the principal intention of God because it was a good thing for them to exist, but only for punishing the sins of spiritual creatures, although notwithstanding it is said in Gen. 1.31 that "God saw all the things that He had made, and they were very good." This being the case, in order to exclude this [notion], [the chapter Firmiter] says that at the same time [simul] He created both creatures, namely spiritual and bodily, that is say, angelic and mundane.

From the 1969 edition of the Leonine Aquinas, vol. 40, published in Rome by the St. Thomas Aquinas Foundation: Super Decretales: Expositio super primam et secundam decretalem ad archdiaconum Tudertinum.

Commentary: Note that in the passage from the Summa St. Thomas says that the ONLY things created “simul”—at the “same instant”—were spiritual creatures and formless matter.  However, in the passage from the Decretals where St. Thomas explicitly mentions the Firmiter, he says that the spiritual and corporeal creatures were all made “at the same time” (“simul”)—not the spiritual before the corporeal creatures.

Sylvester de Ferrara (1474-1528)

The position that  both souls and other immaterial natures had not been produced before bodies is in agreement with the Catholic Faith, and it has been determined by the Church, as is clear in the chapter  Firmiter credimus: extra de Sum. Trin. et fid. cathol.  And St. Thomas did not ignore this decision of the Church, because he interpreted that decretal, if the monographs (opuscula) of the saint, which are in circulation, be genuine.

It also can be answered that the Church determines that the angels were created simul cum (“at once, along with,” “together with”, etc.) bodily creation, as indeed it must necessarily be held, as it is contrary to the opinion of Origen,… (De Anima ["On the Soul"], p. 488 of volume 2, Book II, ch. 83, in a discussion of Origen's position that souls were created before the body).

The word "extra" in the reference to Firmiter, viz.  Firmiter credimus: extra de Sum. Trin. et fid. cathol. is not a preposition but an abbreviation for the Decretals of Gregory IX (Extra Decretum Gratiani [conciliar decisions and papal letters "Outside the Decretal of Gratian"] ). This is significant because Ferrara, the Master General of the Dominican Order, is showing that St. Thomas himself attributed the meaning of “at the same time” to simul in the Firmiter with the above explanation.

Gabriel Vasquez (1549 [51]-1604)

This very verse (of Ecclesiasticus) demonstrates against Nazianzenus (Gregorius) that angels were made (conditos) together with corporeal creatures, and not before: it proves even that all the bodies of the elements, and the living beings, were created at the same time, as wanted by Augustine whose sentence in this matter is commonly rejected by all: because we all must interpret this verse in the following way: that it does not prove that all bodies, and angels with all bodies, were produced at the same time. The Doctors indeed understand differently this testimony (of Scripture). (…) For Gregorius (32 Lib. Moralium. C.9-10) “God said that He made all things at the same time (simul), because all that are made after, are made from these two (heaven and earth).”  With this particle “simul”, Gregorius refers not to corporeal and spiritual things (in general), but to those that were made after by propagation: but they can be said made at the same time in their cause. Stars were indeed made after the Heavens, living beings indeed made from water and from earth, as writes Gen.1, following the interpretation of saint Thomas in Ia Qu. 74, art.2 ad. 2*. Therefore I consider, as both explanations of this verse are possible, that nothing can be proved here against Nazianzenus. (…) Moreover one can explain this verse of Ecclesiasticus in a much simpler way, considering that the particle “simul” does not refer to a length of time, nor implies that all things were made by God at the same time (eodem tempore), but means the same thing than “pariter” or “communiter. In this way it means the grouping of numerous things. Then the meaning becomes: “He who lives from ever, created all things evenly (pariter); He created all things, none excepted but Himself. And the Greek adverb κοινη (koine), which our Vulgate translates “simul”, has this meaning (emphasis added) (translation by Dominique Tassot).

Thomas Cajetan (1469-1534)

“If  this particle “simul”, that used the Lateran’s Council in its definition, denotes the length of time, and therefore that angels have been created at the same time than bodies, we cannot refuse to affirm, this coming from the Pope, that it was defined as a dogma of faith, as it begins with the formula: “Firmiter credidimus, et simpliciter confitemur, etc.” And in the same way is added: “Deum utramque de nihilo simul condidisse creaturam”. With such a wording one understands plainly that a dogma has been defined by the Council. But I consider that the Council did not define that angels have been created at the same moment than corporeal creatures, because the particle “simul”, which is seen to mean this, does not always refer to a length of time, but has sometimes the same meaning than “pariter”, as we have noted in cap. II. We can therefore explain the intention and the words of the Council as we explained in cap. II  the verse of Ecclesiast. “Creavit omnia simul”.  And this interpretation is for me the best one, because absolutely nothing in this Symbol shows that the Council wanted to announce a definition, new at that time, according to which both creatures were created by God at the same moment. Both creature were created equally (pariter), this is what is the most important to explain the article “Dei omnipotentis, et creatoris”. As the Council had no strong basis to define that all things were created at the same moment (as we have shown in cap. III), we should not estimate that it wanted to define that. Regarding the fact that the Council said: “simul ab initio temporis utramque de nihilo condidit creaturam”, it nevertheless did not say “at the same moment” (simul tempore), so as to define (only) that both creatures had  equally (pariter) a beginning to their existence, although not necessarily at the same moment (simul), meaning the same point in time. In the same way we have explained (cf. infra) the particle “tecum” in Job 40 (Ecce Behemot, quem feci tecum: Here is Behemot, that I have made with you). We can see this particle tecum, absolutely similar to simul, with a meaning of time” (emphasis added) (translation by Dominique Tassot).

Francisco Suarez (1548-1617)

The aforementioned chapter Firmiter . . . says that God created each nature, spiritual and corporal, at the same time (The Works of the Six Days, Book I, Chapter I, 14).

Cornelius a Lapide

You will ask, Where and when were the angels created? Some have thought that they were created before the world. This was the opinion of Origen, Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus,  Ambrose, Jerome, and Hilary. Others such as Acacius and Gennadius (in the Catena) have thought that they were created before the world. However, I hold that they were created together with the world in the beginning of time . . . My opinion is no longer just probable, but is both certain and de fide, for this is what the Council itself declares and defines.

St. Lawrence of Brindisi

Verum Sancta Romana Eccleasia in Laterano magno Concilio determinavit angelos simul cum mundana creatura initio temporis ex nihilo esse creatos; nec tamen crediderim præfatos Doctores sensisse ante omnem corpoream creaturam fuisse creatos; nam temporis initio, quando angeli creati sunt, invisibilis omnino erat hic mundus. Et ita videtur intellexisse D. Gregorius, qui tractans illud B. Iob: Ubi eras cum me laudarent...astra matutina? sic inquit: <<Quia enim prima in tempore condita natura rationabilium spirituum creditur, non immerito matutina astra angeli vocantur. Quod si ita est, dum terra esset invisibilis et incomposita, dum tenebrae essent super abyssum, venturum diem subsequentis saeculi per lucem sapientiae existendo praevenerunt>>. Atque ita nos et cum mundana creatura et ante visibilem mundum angelos esse creatos dicere possumus. Ergo, ad propositum revertentes, per cœlum hic angelos cum cœlo empyreo vel, quod idem est, cœlum empyreum cum angelis debemus intelligere.

Notwithstanding these opinions, the Holy Roman Church determined in the Fourth Lateran Council that the angels along with the creatures of the world were at once created ex nihilo from the beginning of time. Nevertheless, I should not be inclined to believe that the aforementioned Doctors thought that the angels were created before every corporeal creature; for at the beginning of time, when the angels were created, the world was completely invisible. This seems to have been St. Gregory’s understanding. In his discussion of that verse in Job (viz. Where were you when I founded the earth…when the morning stars sang in chorus), he says, “Since the created nature of rational spirits is supposed to be first in time, the morning stars are not without reason called angels. If that is so, while the earth was invisible and unformed, while the darkness was upon the deep, the stars by being visible anticipated the day of the subsequent time that was about to come by means of the light of Wisdom.” Therefore, we can say that along with the creatures of the world, the angels were created before the visible world.

Note on the above commentary of St. Lawrence: St. Lawrence argues that since there was evening and then morning, the first day, the heavens and the earth were created in darkness and were at first (for the first part of the first day) “invisible.”  Thus, he argues that the opinion of St. Gregory that the angels were created before the “visible creatures” can still be reconciled with the plain sense of the Firmiter that the corporeal and spiritual creatures were created (“simul”) at the same time.

Thomas de Charmes

Fr. Thomas de Charmes (1703-1765), Compendium Theologiæ Universæ ad usum Examinandorum

This Compendium was used throughout Europe for more than a hundred years.  After initial publication in Vienna and Nancy in 1750, new editions were published in Nancy 1755, Nancy 1760, Madrid 1824, Milano 1872, Augsburg 1780, Paris 1859, Paris 1872, Paris, 1876, 1885, 1886,

This Theologia universalis ad usum S. Theologiæ candidatorum gives (in the 4th edition, Nancy, 1765):

Tomus 2: De Deo trino et Creatore

Tractatus De Deo creatore

Dissertatio 1 : De Angelis

Caput 1: De existentia Angelorum

Quaeres 1: Quo tempore Angeli fuerint creati? (p. 515)

Resp. Simul cum mundo creati sunt, nec ante, ut constat ex cap. Firmiter , et prob. ex Genes. 1 in principio creavit Deus cœlum et terram, ubi sub nomine cœli comprehendit Angelos, ut explicatur Exodi 20. Sex diebus fecit Dominus cœlum et terram, et omnia quæ in eis sunt; ergo et Angelos qui in cœlis continentur.

Commentary: Fr. de Charmes notes that the Firmiter harmonizes with Exodus 20: “In six days God created the heavens and the earth and all they contain,” and he concludes that “as the angels are also contained in the heavens,” it follows from this that the angels were created simul cum mundo (at the same time as the material universe), that is to say during the same brief creation period (the “six days”) and “not before” (nec ante) the creation of the material universe.


The table posted above sheds abundant light on the intended meaning of “simul” in the Firmiter of Lateran IV.  Of greatest significance is the fact that ALL of the statements re: “simul” that understand it to mean “instantaneous” AND which apply it exclusively to “formless matter” ALSO make reference to Sirach 18:1.  On the other hand, ALL of the statements re: “simul” that understand it to mean “at the same time” in the sense of “in the same short period of time”—i.e. the six days—do NOT mention Sirach 18:1 and DO mention the Firmiter explicitly.  Finally, it is fascinating to discover that Vasquez and Cajetan are the ONLY commentators cited above who cite Sirach 18:1 AND the Firmiter to arrive at an interpretation of simul different from “at the same time.”  Vasquez did so out of respect for St. Gregory of Nazianzus and other Fathers who believed that the angels existed for a long time before the creation of the material universe.  However, as St. Lawrence of Brindisi demonstrates in his commentary, it is not necessary to do violence to the plain sense of “simul” in the Firmiter by invoking Sirach 18:1 to achieve this reconciliation.  Cajetan broke from the constant tradition of the Church by denying the literal historical truth of the first three chapters of the sacred history of Genesis.  He rejected the literal historical truth of the Mosaic account of the creation of Eve from Adam’s rib on the grounds that this would entail the initial creation of an “extra” rib for Adam—in spite of the fact that the Angelic Doctor had resolved this apparent “contradiction” centuries earlier by pointing out that Adam’s “rib” was created to be given away to give life to Eve, just as all men are endowed with life-giving seed so that it can be given away for the procreation of children, according to God’s Holy Will.

It should now be apparent that “simul” in relation to the doctrine of creation has been understood in three different ways by leading commentators: first, as “at the same time” in the sense of “instantaneous” (always with reference to Sirach 18:1 and NEVER—except for Vasquez and Cajetan—with explicit reference to the Firmiter); secondly, as “at the same time,” in the sense of “in six days” (as in St. Lawrence, Lapide, De Charmes et al., WITH EXPLICIT REFERENCE TO THE FIRMITER and WITHOUT reference to Sirach 18:1): and thirdly, in the sense of “according to a common plan” which was the deviant interpretation first proposed by Vasquez and Cajetan and welcomed by the modernists of our day.  It should be apparent from the historical context of Lateran IV explained above, that it was entirely gratuitous for Vasquez and Cajetan to invoke Sirach 18:1 to explain the meaning of “simul” in the Firmiter of Lateran IV, and so it remains for post-Vatican I theologians.

Even if “simul” in the Firmiter merely meant that God created the angels and some material elements “in the beginning,” this would still refute evolution, because only God could form the different kinds of corporeal creatures from undifferentiated matter or from some simple material elements.  As St. Thomas wrote in the Summa:

Divine Power, being infinite, can produce things of the same species out of any matter, such as a man from the slime of the earth, and a woman from out of man.[42]

However, the table demonstrates conclusively that orthodox authorities have consistently interpreted “simul” in the Firmiter as “at the same time” NOT in the sense of “instantaneous” but in the sense of “in the same short period of time” which they understood to be compatible with the six days of creation but not with a longer creation period.  The Latin Vulgate in use at the time of Lateran IV contains many examples of the use of “simul” in the sense of “relatively simultaneous,” or “in the same short period of time.”  For example, Joshua 10:5 : «Congregati igitur ascenderunt quinque reges Amorreorum rex Hierusalem rex Hebron rex Hieremoth rex Lachis rex Eglon simul cum exercitibus suis et castrametati sunt circa Gabaon obpugnantes eam. » « So the five kings of the Amorrhites being assembled together went up: the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jerimoth, the king of Lachis, the king of Eglon, they and their armies, and camped about Gabaon, laying siege to it.” In other words, the five kings went up together (simul) not at the same instant but in a coordinated series of movements.  In the same way, God made all things simul in a coordinated relatively simultaneous series of creative acts.

Similarly, in Numbers 6:17, Moses writes: “arietem vero immolabit hostiam pacificam Domino offerens simul canistrum azymorum et libamenta quæ ex more debentur.” “But the ram he shall immolate for a sacrifice of peace offering to the Lord, offering at the same time (simul) the basket of unleavened bread, and the libations that are due by custom.”  In this instance, these items are not offered at the same instant, but in a coordinated series, with relative simultaneity, like the fiats of the Hexameron in Genesis Chapter One.



[1] Theistic evolutionism holds that God created matter and natural laws in the beginning, and then used billions of years of natural processes, including death, destruction, mutations, and disease, to produce the various kinds of living things, including the human body.  Generally speaking, theistic evolutionists deny the historicity of Genesis 1-11 and believe that Noah’s Flood was a local flood, that the Tower of Babel incident never actually happened, and that human languages evolved from primitive to more complex over long periods of time. Progressive creation can be defined as the view that God created all of the different kinds of creatures supernaturally by fiat but spread out the work of creation over billions of years.  History attests that no Father or Doctor of the Church ever held either of these views and that they were invented by theologians in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to reconcile the dogma of creation with the alleged “irrefutable evidence” that the Earth and the universe were billions of years old and that the different kinds of living things either evolved from a common ancestor over hundreds of millions of years or were specially created by God through periodic interventions over the same vast ages of time.  Of course, the Council Fathers did not have the concept of theistic evolution or progressive creation in mind when they promulgated the Firmiter, but, as will be demonstrated below, the meaning they intended to affirm, in and of itself, contradicts these errors.

[2] Pope Francis recently ordered a revision of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to reflect his opinion that the death penalty must be considered “in itself contrary to the Gospel” (“in sé stessa contraria al Vangelo”).  Yet the same Pope who convened the Fourth Lateran Council, Pope Innocent III, in 1210 added the following statement to a 1208 Profession of Faith: “Regarding the secular power, we assert that it may without mortal sin exercise the death penalty, provided this is imposed through justice, not hatred, and proceeds after due consultation, not incautiously.” (De potestate saeculari asserimus, quod sine peccato mortali potest iudicium sanguinis exercere, dummodo ad inferendam vindictam non odio, sed iudicio, non incaute, sed consulte procedat. DS 795 = Dz 425, emphasis added.)

[3] If anyone says that it is possible that to the dogmas declared by the Church a meaning must sometimes be attributed according to the progress of science, different from that which the Church has understood and understands, let him be anathema (Vatican Council I, Faith and Reason – Canon 4; 3).

[4] Languedoc refers to the south of France where the Catharist-Albigensian believers lived in fairly large numbers.

[5] Pope Innocent III, Between God and Man: Six Sermons on the Priestly Office (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2004), p. 61.

[6] Cf. Tassot et al, Creation and Time, (2014). In order to provide the necessary context, the sections of this paper up to “Heresies Excluded by the Firmiter of Lateran IV” are taken from Creation and Time.

[7] A Vacant, Etudes Théologiques sur les Constitutions du Vatican d’après les actes du Concile, Art. 224.

[8] Ibid, Art. 205.

[9] Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique (DTC) (sous la direction de A. Vacant et E. Mangenot, Paris, Letouzey, 1903, Art. Ange, col 1269,1270).  “Temerarious” was a theological note signifying opposition to "a truth authentically taught by the Ordinary Magisterium but not as revealed or intimately connected with revelation" or "a truth unanimously held by all schools of theologians which is derived from revealed truth, but by more than one step of reasoning."  Such temerity was considered a “mortal sin indirectly against the faith” – or – “usually a mortal sin” according to the work On the Value of Theological Notes and the Criteria for Discerning Them by Father Sixtus Cartechini S.J. (Rome, 1951), a work which was drafted for use by auditors of the Roman Congregations.

[10]  Cornelius a Lapide, Commentary on Genesis 1:1.

[11] A. Vacant, Etudes Théologiques sur les Constitutions du Concile du Vatican, Paris-Lyon, Delhomme et Briguet  1895, T. 1, p. 224, n. 205.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Cf. Appendix I to this article: “Table and Commentary on the Meaning of ‘Simul’ in the Firmiter of Lateran IV.”

[16] Cf. Berthault, G., “Analysis of the Main Principles of Stratigraphy on the Basis of Experimental Data,” Journal of Lithology and Mineral Resources, Institute of Geology, Russian Academy of Sciences (Vol. 37 September/October 2002, pp 442-446).

[17] This translation of “creaturam” is found in Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, Volume Two, ed. Norman P. Tanner, S.J. (Georgetown University Press, 1990).

[18] Fr. Vacant explains that the term “creature” is attributed to man, as it is to the angels and bodies (corps), and (the text) declares that man was made from nothing LIKE the other creatures – de nihilo condidit (Art. 208).

[19] Fr. A. Vacant, Etudes Théologiques sur les Constitutions du Vatican d’après les actes du Concile, Art. 199-202.

[20] St. Thomas Aquinas, ST,1 Q.65 a.4.

[21] F. Lachat, Commentary on ST, I, q. 45, a. 4. Lachat inadvertently attributes this quotation from Lateran IV to the Council of Florence.

[22] Commentary by F. Lachat who translated St. Thomas’s Summa from Latin into French (Parish, Vivier, 1855).

[23] Paul M. Quay, S.J, “Angels and Demons: The Teaching of IV Lateran” (Saint Louis University), p.23.

[24] Walter L. Wakefield and Austin P. Evans, Editors, Heresies of the High Middle Ages (New York: Columbia University Press,1991), p. 171.

[25] Op cit., p. 198.

[26] Walter L. Wakefield, Heresy, Crusade, and Inquisition in Southern France 1150-1200 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974), pp. 195-196.

[27] Mark Gregory Pegg, A Most Holy War: The Albigensian Crusade and the Battle for Christendom (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 46.

[28] Op. Cit, p. 243.

[29] P. 244.

[30] Walter L. Wakefield and Austin P. Evans, Editors, Heresies of the High Middle Ages (New York: Columbia University Press,1991), pp. 290-291.

[31] Inquisition Records of Jacques Fournier, Bishop of Pamiers, 1312-1325; Confessions of Beatrice de Planissoles.
Original Electronic Text at the web site Nancy P. Stork, English Department , San Jose State University.

[32] Philip Trower, “Creation, The CCC, Evolution and Angels,” The Wanderer, July 13, 2017, p. 8B.

[33] Fr. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., “Did Demons ‘Help’ God Create The World?” The Wanderer, September 6, 2017.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Jean-Pierre Torrell, St. Thomas: The Person and his Work, Vol. I, Revised Edition, Translated by Robert Royal (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2005), page 352 (accessed 8-20-14)

[36] Ibid.  In N. 206 of Etudes Théologiques sur les Constitutions du Concile du Vatican (Paris-Lyon, Delhomme et Briguet  1895), T. 1, Vacant proposes that St Thomas in the decretal gives simul the meaning “according to a common plan,” but he later admits that both interpretations are not contradictory. For the Lateran Fathers who used Latin as an everyday language, there was no need to appeal to Sirach 18:1 to grasp the meaning of “simul” as “at once” in the same sentence with the temporal terms “deinde” and “ab initio temporis,” but it is hardly surprising that the “concordist” Vacant would try to find support from St. Thomas for his day-age theory.

[37] Walter L. Wakefield, Heresy, Crusade, and Inquisition in Southern France 1150-1200 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974), pp. 195-196.

[38] ST, I, q. 65, a. 4.  .

[39] ST, III, Q. 75 http://www.newadvent.org/summa/4075.htm

[40] Cf. the excellent article by Fr. Brian Harrison, O.S., “Can Doctrinal ‘Development’ Flout the Laws of Logic?” (October 18, 2017) in which he quotes and exposes the fatal flaws in the following statement by Pope Francis on capital punishment:  “Here we are not in the presence of any kind of contradiction with the teaching of the past, because the defense of the dignity of human life from the first moment of conception until natural death has always found its coherent and authoritative voice in the teaching of the Church. The harmonious development of doctrine, however, requires us to cease defending arguments which now appear decisively contrary to the new understanding of Christian truth” (bold added). Pope Francis made these comments at a conference promoting the New Evangelization, in Rome, on October 11th, 2017. The words in bold would certainly seem to contradict the solemn teaching of Vatican Council I: ”The doctrine of the faith which God has revealed has not been proposed to human intelligences to be perfected by them as if it were a philosophical system, but as a divine deposit entrusted to the Spouse of Christ to be faithfully guarded and infallibly interpreted. Hence also that sense of the sacred dogmas is to be perpetually retained which our Holy Mother the Church has once declared, nor is this sense ever to be abandoned on plea or pretext of a more profound comprehension of the truth” (Vatican Council I, Constitution Dei Filius, cap. 4.) (emphasis added).

[41] “First of all they lay down the general principle that in a living religion everything is subject to change, and must change, and in this way they pass to what may be said to be, among the chief of their doctrines, that of Evolution. To the laws of evolution everything is subject - dogma, Church, worship, the Books we revere as sacred, even faith itself, and the penalty of disobedience is death” (Pope St. Pius X, Pascendi dominici gregis, 28.)

* This quæstio discusses God’s rest after the Hexameron.

[42] ST, I, q. 92, a. 2, ad 2.

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