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God the Author of Nature and the Supernatural
Part Two: Creation as a Divine Fact

Section Two: Supernatural Anthropology

The Body of Adam was Made by an Immediate Operation of God.

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

The object of inquiry in this thesis is the origin of the body of the first man. In view of the preceding analysis, we can easily conclude that the soul of Adam must have been immediately created by God. For if the souls of men in general must be created by divine power, the soul of the first man could have been no exception. Otherwise we should have to postulate an origin either by emanation from the divine essence or by transformism from pure matter, neither of which is theologically or philosophically tenable. Even St. Augustine who had doubts about creationism, assumed it was certain that God directly created the soul of Adam.

Consequently our study is concerned only with the body of Adam. Unquestionably God might have immediately created not only the soul but also the body of the first man. But relying on the biblical narrative, theologians commonly hold that God utilized pre-existing matter to form Adam's body. And according to St. Thomas this was more consonant than immediate creation because man was thus seen to be the bond of union between the world of pure spirits and the cosmos of pure matter.

Among theologians until modern times there were two principal areas of controversy about the origin of Adam’s body. One theory required angelic cooperation in the process; the other discussed the question of how precisely God formed the body of the first man, whether in an instant of time or progressively through different stages of development.

Since the middle of the last century, however, the problem facing theologians was whether and to what extent the Catholic faith allows acceptance of the theory of evolution. Actually this problem has only minor importance in the complexes of Christian revelation. What is important is that God is the ultimate author of man's soul and also of his body. On the other hand, few questions are more popularly discussed or have become more symbolic of the so-called conflict between faith and reason.

Our purpose therefore is the eminently practical one of determining what are the limits of reconciliation between faith and anthropological evolution. However to avoid the mistake so often made when one science undertakes to discuss another scientific field, we shall confine ourselves to the area of theology. Consequently we are not going to evaluate the arguments for or against biological evolution as a scientific hypothesis. We may freely admit that the theory which says that the human species has descended from a lower living being is accepted as probable nowadays in the scientific world. In fact in some circles it is held as absolutely certain. Moreover it explains a fair number of facts. But as theologians we are directly interested only to know if it is not in contradiction with revealed doctrine. The point is that even if the evolutionary theory were one day to be abandoned on scientific grounds, our answer and understanding of the harmony or discord with faith would have meaning and correspondingly would add to a deeper penetration of revealed doctrine.


The body as understood in the thesis is the material counterpart of the soul, which is understood to have been directly created by God. moreover the body is taken as a human body, informed by the rational spirit.

Adam is synonymous for the first man, as described in the first chapters of Genesis and commonly recognized in Judaic and Christian tradition as the father of the human race.

The expression "was made" means effective causality which is not creation. It may be called "eductive," in the sense that it presupposed existing matter, whether living or inorganic.

By an immediate operation of God we mean there was no natural co-cause which God used in the production of Adam's body. In other words, God is said to have acted otherwise than He does normally as the immediate first cause which concurs with a secondary cause, where the latter, as principal agent by its natural power would have produced the body of Adam. Rather God is declared to have acted by a special action as the principal efficient cause, in such a way as to exclude the function of a brute animal, as principal natural cause, producing a human body by natural generation or some other way through its own purely natural evolution.

Strictly speaking the immediacy of God's action does not exclude what is called special transformism, namely, that under same special divine influence on the brute animal, it would evolve into something from which the human body was derived by divine operation. In view of the importance of careful distinction of terms at this point, we shall further clarify the difference between generation and derivation; so that the thesis might be restated to read that "The first man was not properly speaking generated from a brute animal."

To generate really means to give life to a being like to oneself. It is imperative to keep the concept of generation clearly in mind because it is often used by writers on this subject in a purely metaphorical sense.

Thus it would not be true generation to produce non-living things by transformation from something else, as happens, for example, in the transformation of elements into compounds.

It would also not be generation in the strict sense if the one generating and the one generated both were living things, but the life they possessed was not of the same nature. God created the first man, but He did not generate him. So also if in forming the first man God had used the ministry of angels, as the ancient scholastics believed, reserving to Himself the creation of the soul, the angels would not become man's progenitors just because they helped to prepare the body for infusion of the soul; the natures of man and angel are specifically different.

Moreover it would not be real generation even when generator and generated are both living beings with the same nature, if the action of the one generating was not intrinsically ordained to produce a being possessed of the same nature. For example, if ever artificial human parthenogenesis were achieved, the scientist who made it possible would not become the father of the child born in this way. His action would not be generation because it was not intrinsically directed to produce a being similar in nature to the person who performed the parthenogenesis.

The correlative term to generation is derivation of a human being from another organism.

To further clarify the meaning of derivation, we may postulate for the sake of argument that to form the body of the first man God made use of "matter already existing and alive," that is, of some lower organism which had sensitive life and which had been generated from a brute animal. In this hypothetical case, what would Adam's relation be with the previous generating animal? No doubt there would be a physical connection of descent: we should say that Adam was derived from the animal. But the animal would not be Adam's father in any sense. Not only does Adam have a nature which is essentially superior to the generating animal, but the generative function of the animal is intrinsically ordained to produce only an inferior organism of the same species and nature which, in our hypothesis, would be transformed by divine action into man.

In the theoretical case described, therefore, the action of the animal would be totally different than that of human parents. True the human parents do not produce a spiritual soul, which must be created and directly infused by God. Yet their whole parental function is directed to prepare a material subject duly adapted to receive the rational spirit. The actio generative of the animal, on the other hand, is to produce an organism that God must step in to transform into a man; it is not to produce an apt subject for receiving a spiritual soul. Moreover the ultimate dispositions in the body, produced by the soul at the moment of its infusion, are not therefore in intrinsic continuity with the preceding dispositions.

Still on the speculative level, the divine intervention for transforming an animal into a man might have occurred from an animal in full age maturity or in the state of embryo. In these cases, the generative action of the animal and the transformative action of God would be successive. Or the two operations might be conceived as simultaneous and coordinate as principal and instrumental cause. In this case, the generative power of the animal would terminate with producing an organism which, under special divine influx, became fit to receive a human soul. This fitness, however, was not due to animal generation alone, but to the generation plus its use by God to produce an effect superior to the natural exigencies or capacities of animal nature.

Even in the last hypothesis there is still no question of true generation. At most there would be derivation, since an animal would “produce” a being which is essentially superior to itself, namely, a human body. Its action would not be internally ordained to produce such an effect, but does so only under the influence of God as special, principal agent, using the prior animal function as instrument operating beyond its native inherent ability.

In view of the foregoing, we see more clearly the difference between generation and derivation. The distinction, however, cannot be ascertained by mere analysis or scientific experimentation in the sense order. To all external appearances the same thing may seem to take place. It is only by reasoned reflection that we know the difference, on the principle that when an essentially inferior being or organism gives rise to a higher, living thing, that is, from animal to human body, there had to be a special divine intervention, and consequently (appearances nothwithstanding) it would not be true generation.

There is a further subtle question which does not basically change the explanation so far given. Could this divine intervention have come at the very beginning, at the time when primitive organisms were first being formed, so that they were endowed with a certain preter-native power, destined successively to develop and finally produce a human body? The essential fact still remains, that no matter when God is said to have intervened, this intervention logically implies that the organism producing an effect superior to itself was acting as instrumental cause, in virtue of an energy that was added to its nature. By instrumental cause we here mean a cause which does not act only with the forces proper to its essence, flowing from its substantial or accidental forms, but with a power received from the principal cause, in this instance God.


Since the principal issue concerned in the thesis is the legitimacy of evolution of the body of the first man from a lower species, the meaning of evolution and its various types should be explained.

Evolution in general is the theory that holds the natural and successive change of things from one genus or at least from one species into another genus or species. Two kinds of evolution are postulated. A universal type which extends the theory to inorganic matter and claims that organisms developed from non-living things; and a restricted kind which concerns itself only with the postulated change among living beings. In theological sources, restricted evolution is also called Transformism.

Both evolution and transformism may be either radical or mitigated. The radical form claims that man evolved from the brute animal both in body and soul; the mitigated type says the evolution concerned only the body. There is also a theory of transformism which prescinds from the development of man, and limits speculation only to the lower species. It is then purely biological transformism; but when man's body is included in the theory, we have biological-anthropological transformism. In ordinary parlance, evolution means the latter kind.

Finally mitigated biological-anthropological transformism may be either absolute and exigitive or relative and non-exigitive. In the first instance, the theory holds that the body of lower animals by successive organic evolution finally became so disposed that, in virtue of this disposition, the perfected animal body requires (exigit) a rational soul as its principle of life. In the second case, the animal body is also said to develop through successive evolution of its organs and becomes disposed for a human soul, but not so as to require the infusion of the rational spirit as a vital principle.

While the literature on evolution in all of its phases is immense, it is not difficult to isolate representatives of the one main adversative position: radical transformism, which claims that all of man, body and soul, developed by inherent energy from the animal species. Certain names stand out as classic radical evolutionists: Herbert Spencer, Ernst Haeckel, Charles Darwin, H.G. Wells, Julian Huxley, and J.B.S. Haldane.

Darwin had many pious statements about the Creator which should not obscure his basic attitude towards evolution as explanatory of the whole of visible existence. The primary source for his doctrine on human evolution is not The Origin of Species but The Descent of Man. The following passage deserves full quotation:

"By considering the embryological structure of man - the homologies which he represents with the lower animals - the rudiments which he retains, and the reversions to which he is liable - we can partly recall in imagination the former condition of our early progenitors; and can approximately place them in their proper place in the zoological series.
We thus learn that man is descended from a hairy, tailed quadruped, probably arboreal in its habits, and an inhabitant of the Old World. This creature, if its whole structure had been examined by a naturalist, would have been classed among the Quadrumana, as surely as the still more ancient progenitor of the Old and New World monkeys. The Quadrumana and the higher mammals are probably derived from an ancient marsupial animal, and this through a long line of diversified forms, from some amphibian-like creature, and this again from some fish-like animal.
The high standard of our intellectual powers and moral disposition is the greatest difficulty which presents itself, after we have been driven to this conclusion on the origin of man. But everyone who admits the principle of evolution, must see that the mental powers of the higher animals, which are the same in kind with those of man, though so different in degree, are capable of advancement.
Thus the interval between the mental powers of one of the higher apes and of a fish, or between those of an ant and scale insect, is immense. Yet their development does not offer any special difficulty; for with our domesticated animals, the mental faculties are certainly variable, and the variations are inherited. No one doubts that they are of the utmost importance to animals in a state of nature. Therefore the conditions are favourable for their development through natural selection. The same conclusion may be extended to man; the intellect must have been all-important to him, even at a very remote period, as enabling him to invent and use language, to make weapons, tools, traps, etc., whereby with the aid of his social habits, he long ago became the most dominant of all living creatures." The Descent of Man, 1896, pp. 609-610.

Typical of a present-day radical evolutionism are the articles in the Rationalist Encyclopedia on "Biogenetic Law," "Evolution," and "Vestigial Organs." Particularly instructive is the thoroughness with which evolution is taken to explain the origin of all life processes, along with arguments in its favor.

"Haeckel, deepening and expanding the work of earlier embryologists, established as a proof of evolution that in the course of its embryonic development the organism passes through a series of forms which, with certain reserves, corresponds to the series of forms of its ancestors in past time…Haeckel called this the Biogenetic Law, and the expression is retained in science. Controversial writers often say that the law has been abandoned. This is quite false. It is given as proof of the evolution of man in such recent and authoritative works as Dr. Julian Huxley's Stream of Life, J.B.S. Haldane's Causes of Evolution, Graham Kerr's Evolution, Dendy's Outlines of Evolutionary Biology and even the apologetic symposium Creative Evolution.
Emergent evolution…means that when the organism reached a certain stage of somatic development the animal mind 'emerged,' and that when the ape-man in turn reached a certain stage of development the human mind 'emerged,' in each case in correlation with brain development, mind and brain being two aspects of one and the same reality, as in Spinoza's philosophy.
Comparative psychology…has now discarded the old sharp antithesis of instinct and reason, of subhuman and human faculties, and traces a gradual development of modes and mechanism of behavior from the flagellates or the simplest bacteria to the highest intelligence.
We have not only a complete gradation of mental capabilities and culture from the lowest human level, the Negritos, to the highest, but, in co-operation with prehistoric archaeology, the science (of anthropology) shows how the hierarchy of peoples is explained by the departure into isolation and stagnation of these various peoples at successive stages of man's development from the ape-form, so that they have substantially, allowing for some further development according to circumstances and the diffusion of culture, preserved those stages in nature's museum.
Vestigial organs (are) atrophied organs or structures in the plant and the animal organism which must have functioned normally in ancestors…Obvious examples in man are the body hair, the external ears, the male breasts, and the nictitating membrane in the inner corner of each eye. Familiar examples are also the vermiform appendix, the coccyx (base of the vertebral column or vestigial tale), the pineal body, etc…Because earlier writers on them, like Wildersheim and Haeckel, included one or two, like the thymus and thyroid glands, in a list of more than a hundred at a time when physiology was still imperfectly informed, apologists sometimes claim that the whole list is discredited and unreliable. Such vestigial organs as the male breasts, the hair on arms and chest, and the external ears, have so clear an evolutionary significance that no one with a knowledge of physiology attempts to interpret them in any other way. Such structures are found, as relics of organs which were useful to former ancestors, throughout the higher animal and plant worlds." Rationalist Encyclopedia, 1950, pp. 183, 200, 605.

The most famous exponent of a mitigated transformism which was also exigitive in claiming that the naturally evolved animal body required a human soul was St. George Mivart (1827-1900). Mivart was a convert to Catholicism and one of the ranking scientists of his day. After Darwin published his theory of evolution, Mivart took issue with materialistic transformism and published a series of books and articles against Darwinianism. Later editions of The Origin of Species included lengthy replies to Mivart. Substantially what Mivart held was that the soul of the first man was directly created by God, but his body reached human perfection by a process of natural evolution. The only divine intervention he postulated was the infusion of a rational soul.

"Man, according to the old scholastic definition, is 'a rational animal' (animal rationale), and his animality is distinct in nature from his rationality, though inseparably joined, during life, in one common personality. This animal body must have had a different source from that of the spiritual soul which informs it, from the distinctness of the two orders to which those two existences severally belong.
Scripture seems plainly to indicate this when it says that 'God made man from the dust of the earth, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.' This is a plain and direct statement that man's body was not created in the primary and absolute sense of the word, but was evolved from preexisting material (symbolized by the term ‘dust of the earth'), and was therefore only derivatively created, i.e., by the operation of secondary laws.
His soul, on the other hand, was created in quite a different way, not by any preexisting means, external to God Himself, but by the direct action of the Almighty, symbolized by the term ‘breathing’: the very form adopted by Christ, when conferring the supernatural powers and graces of the Christian dispensation, and a form still used in the rites and ceremonies of the Church.
That the first man should have had this double origin agrees with what we now experience. For supposing each human soul to be directly and immediately created, yet each human body is evolved by the ordinary operation of natural physical laws.
In this way we find a perfect harmony in the double nature of man, his rationality making use of and subsuming his animality; his soul arising from direct and immediate creation, and his body being formed at first (as now in each separate individual) by derivative or secondary creation, through natural laws. By such secondary creation, i.e., by natural laws, for the most part as yet unknown but controlled by 'Natural Selection,' all the various kinds of animals and plants have been manifested on this planet. That Divine action has concurred and concurs in these laws we know by deductions from our primary intuitions; and physical science, if unable to demonstrate such action, is at least as impotent to disprove it.
Disjoined from these deductions, the phenomena of the universe present an aspect devoid of all that appeals to the loftiest aspirations of man, that which stimulates his efforts after goodness, and presents consolations for unavoidable shortcomings. Conjoined with these same deductions, all the harmony of physical nature and the constancy of its laws are preserved unimpaired, while the reason, the conscience, and the aesthetic instincts are alike gratified. We have thus a true reconciliation of science and religion, in which each gains and neither loses, one being complementary to the other." The Genesis of Species, 1871, pp. 282, 287.

Mivart was severely criticized by Catholic authors after the publication of The Genesis of Species, but the Church did not directly intervene. In fact Mivart was honored in 1876 by receiving from Pius IX the title of doctor in philosophy. His later difficulties with ecclesiastical authorities stemmed from other causes than his position on evolution. Nevertheless Mivart should be listed as adversative to the thesis as will be further explained.

Dogmatic Value

Since the Vatican Council has defined that, "If anyone dares to assert that nothing exists except matter: let him be anathema" (DB 1802), we may say it is implicitly defined or at least theologically certain that the whole of the first man did not arise from matter. Or reasoning from the fact that it is De Fide ex Jugi Magisterio that souls are immediately created by God, we may say it would be heretical to hold that Adam's soul (along with his body) naturally evolved from a brute animal.

Taking the thesis as it stands, in the sense of affirming a special divine action in the formation of the body of the first man, it is common theological doctrine. It would therefore be temerarious to claim that Adam's body arose by a purely natural transformism, for example, in the sense of Mivart who taught that the body of the first man developed naturally from the lower animal species and that the only divine "intervention" was to create a rational soul.

Correspondingly it would be theologically unsafe, without further qualifying as heretical or temerarious, to assert the strict generation of the first man's body from a brute beast.

We can also say that transformism of any kind, whether involving special divine operation or not, is held as less probable among theologians; or conversely it is probable doctrine that the body of the first man did not evolve from the animal species, even allowing for God's intervention.

If we postulate some special divine agency in the formation of the first man’s body, even without excluding all animal instrumentality, it is better to withhold a theological note on the nature of God's operation - while awaiting further judgment of the Church, based on the evidence still needed to raise the certitude about anthropological evolution.

Theological Proof

Our proof of the thesis will consist of two parts, the first to establish some kind of immediacy in God's formation of the first man's body, and the second to inquire in the limits of admission that Adam's body was derived from a lower organism.

Part One: "The Body of Adam was Made by an Immediate Operation of God."

  1. Ecclesiastical Documents

    We shall confine ourselves to the published statements of Pius XII, both because of their extensive nature and because they represent the most recent judgments of the Holy See on the question of human origins.

    The first was an address given to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1941, when the Pope listed certain "elements which must be retained as certainly attested by the sacred author (of Genesis), without any possibility of an allegorical interpretation." These elements in question are:

    1. The essential superiority of man in relation to other animals, by reason of his spiritual soul.

    2. The derivation of the body of the first woman from the first man.

    3. The impossibility that the father and progenitor of a man could be other than a human being, i.e., the impossibility that the first man could have been the son of an animal, generated by the latter in the proper sense of the term. In context, the Pope said, "Only from a man can another man descend, whom he can call father and progenitor" Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 1941, pg. 506. On other questions concerning the origin of man, the pontiff said we must wait for more light "from science, illumined and guided by revelation." Augustine Bea of the Biblical Institute believed these "other questions" still open include the degree in which a lower species may have cooperated in the formation of the first man, the way in which Eve was formed from Adam, and the age of the human race.

      In the Encyclical Humani Generis, published in 1950, Pius XII expressed himself at length on the subject of evolution. This was the first time in history that the Holy See had officially treated in a document of such authority the question of the evolutionary origin of the human body. The passage should be quoted in detail:

      "The Magisterium of the Church does not forbid that the theory of evolution concerning the origin of the human body as coming from preexistent and living matter - for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that human souls are immediately created by God - be investigated and discussed by experts as far as the present state of human sciences and sacred theology allows.

      However, this must be done so that reasons for both sides, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, be weighed and judged with the necessary gravity, moderation and discretion. And let all be prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church to whom Christ has given the mission of interpreting authentically the Sacred Scriptures and of safeguarding the dogmas of faith.

      On the other hand, those go too far and transgress this liberty of discussion who act as if the origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter were already fully demonstrated by the facts discovered up to now and by reasoning on them, and as if there were nothing in the sources of revelation which demanded the greatest reserve and caution in this controversy" Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 1950, pp. 575-576.

      Pertinent to our thesis is the twice used phrase, "origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter." When using the term, the papal document explicitly cites the previous Allocution, quoted above, in which the Pope emphasizes that only from a man can another human being descend as child from parent. True generation from an animal is ruled out, so that if the preexistent and living matter from which Adam's body derived were animal, the derivation had to be by some special action of God (which is our thesis) and not by merely natural evolution.

  2. Sacred Scripture

    Briefly summarized, the first narrative of human creation in the first chapter of Genesis clearly excludes materialistic evolution but not so clearly excludes the Mivartian type of transformism because nothing is said about the way Adam's body came from God.

    The second creation narrative (Genesis II), though certainly anthropomorphic and the degree of anthropomorphism not easily discernible, yet is too detailed and contrasts too strongly with the rise of other creatures less than man not to imply some special action of God relative to Adam's body.

  3. Patristic and Theological Evidence

    Before the theory of evolution came on the scene, the ancient Fathers on through the Scholastics in the middle Ages to the theologians of modern times universally held that some special action of God was operative in the formation of the first man's body, distinct from the ordinary concursus with secondary causes.

    It may be worth quoting the conclusion of a current, exhaustive study of the Fathers relative to evolution. "There is not a single patristic text on which the theory of evolution could rest. On the other hand, neither are there any explicit and valid texts which deny evolution from the viewpoint of dogma and theology" Evolution in Philosophy and Theology (E. Gonzales), 1956, pg. 175.

    Only two main questions on the subject were raised among theologians prior to modern evolutionism: whether and to what extent God used preternatural agencies, like the angelic, in the formation of the first man's body; and whether the limus terrae of Genesis implied a body divinely prepared to receive a rational soul before actual infusion, or whether the predisposition was effected along with the infusion by a special act of God.

    But since the theories of evolution theologians have come to agree that transformism is compatible with the faith, provided that the soul of the first man was immediately created by God and that somehow God specially entered the evolutionary process relative to Adam's body so that the first man was not technically generated by a brute animal.

  4. Theological Reason

    Arguing from philosophy alone, we know that the generation of a human being in the strict sense is had only if the generative action tends ex natura sua to produce a body which is proximately apt to receive an intellectual soul. A brute animal, however, is incapable of placing such generative action, since animal generation, in common with all operations of a being, is proportionate to the nature of an animal. This according to the principle operatio sequitur esse. Of itself, then, an animal tends to procreate only another animal.

    Reasoning theologically and anticipating the proof of monogenism, if we admit evolution of any kind (apart from a special action of God), it is hard to explain how only one human being was generated by only one animal, and not rather many human beings by many animals.

    Again on a theological plane, granting that Eve was formed in body from Adam, it is again difficult to see why only the first man and not also the first woman should have been generated from an animal - on the postulate that evolution took place without special divine action beyond even the Mivartian kind. It may be stressed that the only tuta sententia, in view, e.g., of Pius XII's statement to the Academy of Sciences, is that Eve was somehow derived from Adam.

    Finally a grave problem arises from the known supernatural possessions and special gifts that Adam had from his very creation - sanctifying grace, bodily immortality, integrity and extraordinary knowledge. It would seem that this required a highly developed organism, which appears more likely if man did not descend from an animal by real generation.

Part Two: "Limits of Admission that Adam's Body Derived from a Lower Organism"

The Encyclical Humani Generis leaves open for discussion the fact and degree of derivation of the first man's body by evolution from some kind of inferior living being. This suggests that nothing in the fontes revelationis is directly contrary to evolution.

Scripture is not opposed to the possibility on several counts. The expression limus terrae (Genesis 2:7) is still ambivalent as to whether it should be taken literally or metaphorically. Equally dubious is the phrase "man became a living being," since this is inevitably tied in with the description of God as a potter shaping clay. Other parts of Scripture which repeat the Genesis account are no less open to various interpretations, since they ultimately depend on the Genesis narrative.

Although the Fathers always describe man as having been formed from the slime of the earth, it is less clear that their consent on this point becomes a matter of faith. It may have been they were not proposing their explanation as part of revealed doctrine but simply as their opinion, or interpretation, derived from the state of scientific knowledge at that time.

As a matter of fact, a strong if not conclusive case can be made out for having the Fathers favorably disposed to a progressive development of the human body. Those who appeal to the Fathers for at least negative support of transformism concentrate on Sts. Augustine and Gregory of Nyssa. The main source for Augustine's mind is the commentary De Genesi ad Litteram and De Trinitate. Gregory's principal source is the Apologetic Treatise on the Hexaemeron. One passage from each of these men illustrates their attitude towards a progressive development. Before quoting Augustine it is well to recall that a metaphorical literary genre for certain parts of Genesis was recognized already in the patristic age. "To suppose that God with bodily hands formed man from the dust is very childish...God neither formed man with bodily hands nor did He breathe upon him with throat and lips" De Genesi contra Manichaeos 2, 14.

A classic text in Augustine comes in the form of a dubium which he proposes to himself. He asks: How did God make man from the slime of the earth? "Did He make him suddenly, in a perfect age, namely as a man or a youth, or did He make him as He now forms human beings in the maternal womb?" In the latter case, the only peculiarity would be that Adam came from dust and without human parents. "Adam would have been unique in not having been formed by parents, but was made from the earth, yet at the same time in such a way that in the making, and the growth through the ages, the same periods of time would have been occupied which we now see required by the nature of the human species." Given the problem, Augustine suggests "perhaps we should not try to solve it," for in either case the method depended on the will of God. However Augustine favors the opinion that Adam was made in full maturity. In other words, while leaving open the possibility of Adam's body being formed per modum embryonis, he personally opts for a formation "sine ullo progressu incrementorum virili aetate" De Genesi ad Litteram, 6.

Gregory of Nyssa appears to be more explicit. Commenting on Genesis, he first pointed out that plants preceded animals, and animals man in the order of creation. Then he proceeds to show that because the higher presupposes the lower, the higher can only come after the lower.

"Corporeal being is either altogether without life or else shares in the vital activity. And among living bodies, some possess sensation, others are without it. Lastly, sentient beings are divided into rational and irrational.
This is why the legislator (Moses) says that, after inanimate matter was made as a foundation, the notion of life appeared first in the form of vegetative life in plants, and then is introduced the origin of beings governed by sensation. And because, according to the same order of succession found in those to whom life has come through the flesh, on the one hand the sensitive may exist alone, even without the intellectual nature, but on the other hand, the rational could originate in a body only by being mingled together with sensation - man was formed last of all, after the plants and animals, nature proceeding successively in a certain course towards the perfect.
When, therefore, Scripture says that man arose last of all the animated beings, the legislator (Moses) is simply giving us a philosophical lesson about souls, seeing the most complete perfection realized in the beings formed last of all, because of a certain necessary succession of order. For in the rational being the others are also comprised, and in the sensitive the vegetative kind is also wholly included. And this last is found only in matter. That is why nature is elevated by degrees as it were, that is, through the varieties of life, from the lower stages up to the perfect." De Hominis Opificio, 8.

Those who are properly critical about seeing in Gregory some type of modern evolutionism, which conceives present-day species as not previously existent but as coming into being, yet admit that Gregory of Nyssa postulated "that all species existed from the beginning, each in their own species, but in a hidden manner" (C. Boyer).

There is no problem from the viewpoint of theologians to admit development of Adam's body from prior and lower organism. Though always opposed to materialistic evolution, where soul would emerge from body; and to Mivartian transformism, which demands only creation of a soul; yet they have not rejected evolution outright, provided some peculiar divine action is included in the developmental process of man's body.

On the debit side, however, and apart from the hypothetical status of the evolutionary theory, Adam would have evolved either as a fully developed adult (which is common patristic doctrine) or in the embryonic stage (which seems more consonant with evolutionism). In the first case it is hard to square the rise of an adult man from an animal by means of generation; in the second we have the problems raised by the more common theological position that Adam was gifted with all his natural and supernatural powers at the moment of creation.

A brief comment is in place on the nature of the special action of God which we say is philosophically and theologically required in the formative development of Adam's body if we admit transformism. Was this action natural or preternatural, i.e., miraculous? Certainly it would have exceeded the native powers of the animal in which it operated, since its purpose was precisely to render the animal capable of a higher than natural effect, making it suited for receiving a rational soul. However it was not strictly miraculous, on the principle that while God certainly acted in His almighty capacity, yet in the first origins of the human race there was need for an extraordinary and superior kind of divine activity, given the absence of existing secondary causes such as concur with God in normal human generation.

However such special divine action in the production of Adam's body, whatever its nature, can be known only by faith and reason, and not by the investigation of experimental sciences. The sciences can assemble facts, which might prove the successive rise of different living forms from the lower to the higher and up to man. But it is outside the scope of the experimental method to decide how this transit from imperfect to more perfect forms occurred, whether by ordinary divine concursus or by special divine agency. The modus quo pertains to reason and revelation, since there is question of the creatures' relationship with God, which is not within the ambit of mere sensible experience but of intellectual principles that belong to philosophy and theology.

Kerygmatic Development

The amount of literature currently written on evolution suggests the corresponding amount of thinking which is being on the subject. Two main streams of thought are discernible: the prospect of reconciling the various forms of evolution with the demands of Christian revelation, and the speculation (mostly in non-Christian circles) on a possible evolutionary process going on in the universe which comprehends all being and levels of reality and not only the biological and human. Parallel with this concern is an immense library of information furnished by experimental scientists, which it is well for theologians at least to know where to find and perhaps be impressed with the modest claims that authentic scientists make for established facts about anthropological evolution.

  1. Scientific postulates from the Study of Fossil Man. Since one of the main sources of evidence for evolution of the human species is fossil remains, it is enlightening to read the statement recently made by a ranking scientist before the British Association for the Advancement of Science. According to Sir Wilfred Le Gros Clark, of Oxford University, present-day knowledge of man's origins from fossil deposits is quite limited. He asks, "What, now, do we actually know from the fossil record of the origin of mankind?" and answers, "Not nearly so much as we should like, and not nearly as much as some people seem to suppose. The fossil record has certainly become much more abundant as the result of discoveries in recent years...But it is still meagre in comparison with that of some other group of mammals, so that, while it certainly provides rather positive indications of the main trends of evolution, many of the details have to be filled in quite provisionally for the present, with the ready admission that new discoveries may require quite considerable modifications of current interpretations of the evidence" Readings in Anthropology, 1959, pp. 33-34.

  2. The "Seminal Reasons" of St. Augustine. Any discussion of the Christian tradition on the origin of man's body must take into account the teaching of St. Augustine on the so-called rationes seminales. Briefly stated, these rationes were in the nature of potencies which at an appointed time were actuated by God (and may still be) to effect the rise of new beings. Those who favor an evolutionistic interpretation of St. Augustine's doctrine of creation see in these rationes an active potency, which then would explain the progressive rise of new organisms from lesser ones ab intrinseco. Thus Canon Dorlodot and Ernest Messenger, who correspondingly minimize (while allowing for) an active agency on the part of God in the evolutionary process.

    Others, who form the majority and follow St. Thomas, interpret Augustine to have meant merely passive potentialities by his rationes, as regards the original work of creation including Adam's body. Since the original creative work was finished, the rationes of Augustine are seen to be both active and passive. According to St. Thomas, commenting on Augustine, "God impressed a passive virtue upon the earth, so that through the active power of the Creator the body of man should be able to be formed from it" De Potentia, 4,2,22. And again, "A thing is said to pre-exist according to causal reasons in creatures in two ways: in one way according to both active and passive power, so that not only is it capable of being made from pre-existing matter, but also there is some pre-existing creature (secondary efficient cause) which can produce it. The other way is according to passive power only, that is, it can be made out of pre-existing matter by God. It was in this second way, according to St. Augustine, that the body of man pre-existed in the works produced, according to its causal reasons" Summa Theologica, 1,91,2.

  3. The Religion of Cosmic Evolution. Any estimate of evolution as merely a scientific theory with incidental relevance to theology is not only inadequate it is misleading. Religious humanists who discard revelation have made of cosmic evolution their philosophy of life or, better, they profess it as a religion. We should not underestimate the motivating force of this attitude, as we should also know how to recognize in it what is good and commendable.

    Julian Huxley, who wrote the Introduction to Teilhard de Chardin's The Phenomenon of Man, is perhaps the outstanding spokesman for this thoroughgoing evolutionism. "Evolutionary biology," he says, "has given us a new view, impossible of attainment in any earlier age, of our human destiny. That destiny is to be the agent of the evolutionary process on this planet, the instrument for realizing new possibilities for the future." Modern science, he believes, shows us the picture of a single process of self-transformation. "There has been a creation of new actualities during cosmic time: it has been progressive, and it has been self-creation."

    All the inspiration of this concept rests on the fact of "self creation," inherent in the world, from the "dawn" of existence. The spirit of man is no exception, since "the entire cosmos, in all its appalling vastness, consists of the same world-stuff. Following William James, I use this awkward term deliberately in place of matter, because 'matter' is commonly opposed to 'mind', whereas it is now apparent that the world-stuff is not restricted to material properties...It is now clear that minds, in the sense of all activities with obvious mental component, have evolved just as have material bodies." (Religion Without Revelation, 1957, pp. 6-7, 213-214, 217).

    Science has thus revealed to the religious humanist man's place in nature. He is the highest form of life produced by the evolutionary process on this planet, the latest dominant type, and the only organism capable of further major advance or progress. But the process is intrinsic and the agency uniquely human, which not only prescinds from the admission of a personal God but removes the very need for His existence. When Huxley said, "I disbelieve in a personal God in any sense in which that phrase is ordinarily used," he was expressing something more than personal bias. It was the conviction that man, or men collectively, of and by themselves and without a "God hypothesis" are destined to improve and perfect the world, even as until now the world has reached its present state of perfection from within and not as the object of a divine handiwork from without.

    Apart from other aspects, the emphasis on self-determination which characterizes religious humanism is praiseworthy. The duty of Christians is to show on the one hand that belief in God and supernatural power is not a deterrent but a spur to human effort, and on the other hand to prove that man is not self-sufficient but needs divine assistance to reach his human destiny.

Study Questions

  1. What do we mean by the body of the first man in the thesis?

  2. Explain the term "immediate operation," and distinguish this from creation.

  3. What does generation in the strict sense mean, and give examples of production of a human being that is not real generation.

  4. Clearly distinguish derivation of Adam's body from a lower organism and its real generation.

  5. Briefly explain at what stages in the evolutionary process the special divine influx regarding Adam's body might have taken place.

  6. Define evolution in general, and describe its various forms or types.

  7. How, ultimately, does exigitive transformism differ from non-exigitive.

  8. Briefly state the evolutionary positions of Charles Darwin and George St. Mivart.

  9. Outline the basic reasons given by evolutionists for the progressive development of the human species from a lower organism.

  10. What are the postulates from which radical evolutionists argue to the development of the whole man, body and soul, from the lower animals?

  11. Summarize the theological notes for various aspects of the thesis.

  12. How do we reason from Pius XII’s two documents to the need for some immediate divine operation in the formation of the body of the first man?

  13. State the main items of Humani Genenis relative to human evolution.

  14. Give the philosophical and theological reason for requiring more than mere nature to produce the body of the first man, on the hypothesis of evolution.

  15. Why does not Scripture argue against human evolution?

  16. Comment on St. Augustine's ideas regarding the origin of man's body.

  17. Outline the position of Gregory of Nyssa regarding the formation of Adam's body, while quoting at least one pertinent statement from his writings.

  18. What is the current, scientific evidence for human evolution from fossil remains?

  19. Explain briefly what St. Augustine meant by the rationes seminales, and how did St. Thomas understand them?

  20. State the position of religious humanists on the subject of cosmic evolution, and comment on the valid and invalid features of their doctrine.

Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica

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