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

Section Two: Supernatural Anthropology

Adam was an Individual Man, From Whom the Whole Human Race Derives Its Origin.

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

The present thesis is a bridge which spans our investigation of the first human being and the rest of mankind. Its importance, however, is more than to state a historical fact, that the human race descended from one man by natural generation. In fact we are not directly concerned with proving monogenism from palaeontology or other scientific data, but rather to establish the unitary origins of humanity on dogmatic grounds - and with dogmatic ends in view.

Derivation of all existing men from Adam has manifold implications in the social order. If we are commonly descended from our first parents, we are natural brothers and sisters in the flesh, with consequences that affect human relations on every level of society.

In spite of superficial differences, then, we are not only alike in sharing the same human nature but literally bound together by ties of blood that natural instinct, elevated by grace, makes the basis of social justice and charity.

Correspondingly the sense of solidarity with the human family tends to break down the barriers of race prejudice and national differences; it spans the obstacles of space and time by making us not only feel but know that men of all periods in history and in all places of geography are related to us in the most intimate way conceivable.

This in turn lays the foundation for that supernatural communion of spirit which finds expression in the Mystical Body, so that here, if anywhere, "grace builds upon nature," or better, grace sublimates the common natural bond of the human species by elevating it to communion with God under the headship of Jesus Christ.

From still another viewpoint, our common descent from Adam affects and explains our inheritance of original sin. It is just because we are naturally the offspring of the first man who sinned, that what he contracted we receive by paternal generation. And the importance of this thesis rests especially on the need for explaining the transmission of sin from Adam to the human race.

Conversely, even as we inherit sin from the father of mankind in the flesh, so we are redeemed by the passion and death of Christ because He, too, was a descendant of Adam. The human nature which Christ assumed was not by carnal generation, but through Mary it was truly human and therefore like to Adam's and to ours in all things, "sin alone excepted." He could thus redeem what Adam had lost. The merits of salvation He gained were due to the operations of a human will, no less than Adam's or ours; and the trials He suffered were endured in the same kind of nature that Adam had and that we possess - by our derivation from the first man and our relationship with Christ our Brother.


Adam is understood as that individual whom St. Paul describes in his epistle to the Romans, and about whom Scripture often speaks elsewhere. We do not derive our understanding of the term from its etymology, which is disputed, nor base our knowledge for Adam exclusively on the account in Genesis, which is complex. Rather the name and concept are taken in the sense understood in Christian tradition and more than once imbedded in solemn documents of the Church.

Saying that Adam was an individual man we mean that he was numerically one human being, namely, one physical person and not a multitude of first parents.

The whole human race signifies all those who were and are true human beings and who existed on this earth since Adam. Therefore we prescind from any human race which might have lived on earth before Adam, and also from possible human beings who lived or may still live on other planets than earth.

Derivation of origin is synonymous with descent and means coming into being through natural generation, whether mediately or immediately from Adam as the first parent. Although Eve is not mentioned in the statement of the thesis, the latter might have read with equal validity that the whole human race derives its origin from Adam and Eve, and many authors so state the doctrine. Within the body of the thesis, Eve's partnership with Adam will be duly recognized; but because of the documentation on the subject which stresses and practically limits reference to Adam, it seemed more dogmatically sound to mention only Adam in the title.

As a statement of Monogenism, our thesis is opposed to Polygenism, whether of the kind which claims that mankind derives from many original ancestors or the type which says there were more than a single original pair. Historically both forms of Polygenism speak of Adam as being merely a symbol for an indeterminate number or kind of man's first progenitors.


In general, the position adversative to Monogenism is called Polygenism and may be of two kinds. It may either deny the specific or essential unity of the human race, and then it is philosophic Polygenism; or deny the unitary origin of mankind, and then it is theological Polygenism because of its theological implications.

Both types of Polygenism may in turn be either pre-adamite or co-adamite, depending on their relative attitude towards Adam as the first man.

The pre-adamite Polygenism may again be either absolute or relative. It is absolute when it says that there were indeed men living before Adam came into the world but the race had died out, before Adam. It is relative if it claims that men who lived before Adam were not extinct by the time he came on the scene; that these people continued to live along with Adam and procreated children through Adam and his posterity.

Co-adamite Polygenism simply holds that other human beings were formed simultaneously with Adam, from both of whom the present human race is derived.

Among those who taught Preadamism, Isaac de la Peyrere (1594-1676) is perhaps the outstanding. Writing as a Calvinist (he later became Catholic), Peyrere argued from the two creation accounts in Genesis. The first narrative, in Genesis l:26sqq., he said deals with the formation of the father of the Gentiles; whereas the second account, in Genesis 2:7, treats of the formation of Adam proper. The latter, according to Peyrere, was father of the Jews, yet in such a way that all men inherit original sin "through the imputation of Adam's fall."

In the eighteenth century and later, Deists like Voltaire claimed that Polygenism is necessary to explain the diversity among peoples of the human family. This is still a theory in some circles, held by men like Klaatsch, Arldt, Sergi, Sera and others. They say that the wide variety of differences - morphological, physiological and intellectual - among existing and extinct human beings, cannot be adequately explained except on the postulate of an origin from different original ancestors. Proponents of this theory call it Polyphyletism.

A more subtle form of Polygenism has arisen since the theory of evolution has gained ground. No doubt the majority of modern anthropologists favor a monophyletic origin of the human race, that is, admitting there was one original ancestry, from which the present family of mankind with its different types of people directly descended. However to admit monophyletism is not ipso facto to grant our thesis, which declares not only that all men now living derive from a common stock but that all men descend from a single human pair, Adam and his partner Eve.

Scientists rarely concern themselves with this further, theological Monogenism. And when they do, not a few explicitly state that there were originally and simultaneously many people appearing on the earth in different parts of the world. This is a logical corollary to the evolutionary hypothesis, assuming the natural development of man from brute animal and the species homo sapiens arising at different places at the same time or in succession but without genetic relationship.

Dogmatic Value

It is at least theologically certain or, as others prefer, proxima fidei, that Adam was a single, physical individual. The evidence may be drawn either by argumentation from the Council of Trent or by direct citation from Humani Generis of Pius XII.

In the same way it is theologically certain or proxima fidei that the whole human race descended from Adam by natural generation. Again the evidence derives from papal documents, notably Trent, and from Humani Generis.

Theological Proof

Part One: "Adam was an individual man."

  1. Ecclesiastical Documents

    1. In the Tridentine decree on justification, the Council explicitly regards Adam as a single, physical individual. He is said to have been "the first man Adam (who) immediately lost the justice and holiness in which he was constituted when he disobeyed the command of God in the Garden of Paradise;" also it is heretical to say that “it was for himself alone that he lost the holiness and justice which he had received from God" (DB 788-789). Several times Adam is compared with Christ, as individual to individual, for example, justification is defined as "a passing from the state in which man is born of the first Adam, to the state of grace and adoption as sons of God through the second Adam, Jesus Christ our Savior" (DB 796).

      However the most direct text in Trent is the statement that "this sin of Adam…is one by origin (hoc Adae peccatum quod origine unum est)," where the sin of one person is contraposed to the multitude of sinners who derive their origin from the first parent (DB 790).

    2. More recently Pius XII in Humani Generis directly treated the subject, declaring that whereas in the matter of evolution Catholics enjoy a certain freedom regarding the development of man's body from a lower organism, in the question of Polygenism it is quite different. The following passage has probative value for both parts of the thesis. Here the full text is quoted with the relevant words underlined.

      "As regards another theory, however, namely so-called Polygenism, the sons of the Church by no means enjoy the same liberty. No Catholic can hold that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam was merely a symbol for a number of first parents. For it is unintelligible how such an opinion can be squared with what the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Magisterium of the Church teach on original sin, which proceeds from sin actually committed by an individual Adam (vere commisso ab uno Adamo), and which, passed on to all by way of generation, is in everyone as his own” Weston College, parag. 38.

  2. Sacred Scripture

    St. Paul in his epistle to the Romans leaves no doubt that he is speaking of Adam as an individual man from whom the human race derived its sinful state. "As through one man," he says, "sin entered into the world and through sin death…(and) as from the offense of one man the result was unto the condemnation to all men, so from the justice of the one the result is unto justification of life to all men" Romans 5:12, 18. Throughout the chapter he repeats the same theme, comparing Adam as a single person with Christ as one individual, the one who brought sin and death, and the other grace and life to the human race. Practically the same idea is found again in I Corinthians 15:22.

    The context of the creation narratives in Genesis points to Adam as the first man, since the whole account proposes to deal with the beginnings of the world, including mankind. No valid argument against Adam being a single, physical person can be drawn from his name, which is a familiar biblical custom to give symbolic names to leading personages. Here the name "Adam" should be a reminder that man is derived from adamah (earth), since he is "the one born of earth" (Genesis 3:19, Wisdom 7:l). When man dies his body returns to earth because its constituents are "dust and ashes" (Genesis 18:27, Psalm 103:14, Wisdom 15:10). Patristic evidence is unanimous in teaching that Adam was numerically one person from whom all of mankind descends by natural procreation.

  3. Theological Reason

    Given the facts of revelation, that there is original sin, propagated by natural generation from one parent of the human race to the whole of mankind, and that Christ, the second Adam, redeemed us from the sin we contracted - it is inescapable that Adam must have been a real physical person and a single individual. If he were merely symbolic, there would be no real sin he committed and none he could transmit; if he were vaguely plural and not one man, the Church's insistence on his unitary character and on our descent from one man, contracting sin from the first progenitor of our nature, would not stand.

Part Two: "The whole human race derives its origin from Adam."

  1. Ecclesiastical Documents

    The Church's documentation reveals a constant tradition that all men are descended from Adam, either in the context of original sin or otherwise. For this reason we may say the whole thesis, including the present part on the subject of Monogenism, is De Fide ex Jugi Magisterio.

    1. Profession of faith of Pope Pelagius I (556-561): "I confess that all men until the end of time, born of Adam and dying with Adam and his wife, who themselves were not born of other parents...will rise and stand before the judgment seat of Christ, to receive each one according to his works" DB 228a.

    2. Anathemas of Trent:

      "If anyone does not profess that the first man Adam immediately lost the justice and holiness in which he was constituted...let him be anathema" DB 788.

      "If anyone asserts that Adam's sin was injurious only to Adam… and not for us also; or that after his defilement by the sin of disobedience, he transmitted to the whole human race only death and punishment of the body but not sin itself which is the death of the soul: let him be anathema" DB 789.

      "If anyone says that this sin of Adam, which is one by origin, and which is communicated to all men by propagation not by imitation, and which is in all men and proper to each…let him be anathema” DB 790.

      "If anyone denies that newly born infants are to be baptized… or says…that they do not contract from Adam any original sin...let him be anathema…In accordance with apostolic tradition, even infants, who have not yet been able to commit any personal sins, are baptized for the remission of sin in a true sense, that they may be cleansed by regeneration of what they have contracted by generation" DB 791.

    3. In the Encyclical Humani Generis, quoted above, Pius XII expressly declared that "No Catholic can hold that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all."

  2. II. Sacred Scripture

    As explained before from the Pauline texts on original sin, unless it were true that Adam was the parent of the human race, it could not be held (as Paul insists) that all mankind derives its sin from Adam as the father of the human race. Thus especially in the fifth chapter of Romans. Of special value is the Apostle's studied comparison between "one man" through whom "upon all men" came sin and consequent death and condemnation, and Christ "the one man" by whom the world was redeemed.

  3. Patristic Evidence

    The Fathers of the Church are unanimous in teaching as part of the deposit of faith that the human race derived from Adam as its common father. In the Pelagian controversy, for example, it was precisely the unitary origins of mankind on which they based the universality of original sin and the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation.

    Also in their homilies and non-controversial writings, the Fathers appealed to man's common origin in Adam to urge the faithful to the practice of charity and justice, and to emphasize the universality of Christ's redemptive work. Even as Adam was the one father of all people, so Christ the second Adam is the one Redeemer of the human race. Thus St. Augustine in a famous passage, commenting on the Gospel according to John. "In the very beginning," he wrote, "Adam and Eve were the parents of all nations, not of the Jews only. And whatever was represented in Adam concerning Christ, undoubtedly concerned all nations, whose salvation is in Christ" In Joannem, 9: 10.

Kerygmatic Development

  1. The Formation of Eve's Body. In the second chapter of Genesis (18-25), we have a graphic description of the origin of the first woman. The Lord judges that it is not well for man to be alone. After giving him the world of animal creation to dominate, He gives Adam a companion like to himself. Adam falls into a deep sleep, during which God takes one of Adam's ribs (sela, rib, side, or part in general) and closes up its place with flesh. Out of the rib the Lord made the body of Eve. Adam immediately recognized in the woman "bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh," as one who belonged to the same human family as he.

    Using this account as basis, the sacred writer (following a popular etymology) reflects on the identity of nature between man and woman, the mutual coordinaticn of the two sexes, and the indissolubility of marriage. Elsewhere in Scripture, as in St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians, woman's origin from man is recognized. From a theologian's standpoint, how should we appraise this narrative and its implications - particularly in distinguishing the religious from historical content and seeing the dogmatic truth beneath each?

    Modern Catholic writers commonly hold that the use of a rib to form the body of Eve need not be taken literally. When Cajetan (1469-1534) suggested that the passage in Genesis could be taken metaphorically, he was generally opposed. Yet Suarez (1548-1617), who did not follow Cajetan's interpretation, felt it was a legitimate opinion. Since 1900 many exegetes followed Cajetan, although in 1909 the Biblical Commission declared that "the literal historical sense may not be questioned" as regards, among other things, "the formation of the first woman from the first man" DB 2123. However no reference was made to the manner of this formation.

    Some Catholic authors, like Chaine and Hauret, believe there is no need of postulating any kind of physical dependence of Eve's body on Adam. The latter's priority with respect to Eve, they say, would not be one of physical origin but due to the fact that Adam was the "exemplary cause" of Eve. The first woman, like the first man, was divinely made through the process of evolution from a lower organism. The Encyclical Humani Generis, they point out, is silent on the subject.

    On the other hand, theologians generally hold that there was some physical derivation of Eve's body from Adam, without attempting to explain exactly what this dependence consisted in. They argue that Humani Generis does not directly treat the question, but yet cautions about evolution being taken as an established fact or "as if there were nothing in the sources of revelation which demanded the greatest reserve and care in this controversy." The origin of Eve from Adam, in some physical manner, is said to belong to these fontes of revelation.

    Moreover, as noted before with regard to evolution in general, Humani Generismakes direct reference to Pius XII's Allocution of 1941, in which he not only states that the first man was not derived from a brute animal by strict generation but also passes judgment on the formation of the first woman. "Only from a man could another man descend whom he would call father and progenitor. And the helpmate who was given by God to the first man also came from him and was flesh of his flesh, formed into his companion and bearing the name of man, because she was taken from him" Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 1941, P. 506.

    Apart from the preceding, however, we know that the story of Eve's origin is meant to teach certain profound spiritual truths. It was intended to stress the identity of nature between man and woman, where both sexes are immeasurably superior to the brute creation. Ancient history, contemporary with the time Genesis was written, and pagan attitudes up to modern times are eloquent testimony of the need for insistence on this fundamental postulate of human society.

    The author of Genesis also wished to teach that in the divine mind man and woman are complementary personalities. He created them both in His image, male and female, and intended by Him as His cooperative instruments in the propagation of the human race. Eve's derivation from Adam, therefore, no matter how explained, emphasizes the natural correlation of the two sexes, even while we recognize that in the Christian dispensation God gives grace to certain people to live a life of virginity "for the sake of the Kingdom of God."

    Finally, as St. Paul later declared, the narrative of Eve's origin gives color to the marked difference between men and women. Both share the same nature, yet in many ways the Creator made women dependent on men. "For man is not from woman, but woman from man. For man was not created for woman, but woman for man" I Corinthians 11:8-9.

  2. Origin of various Races. Theologically we know the human family is ultimately derived from one pair and in that sense are related to one another not only in having the same nature but having the same ancestors. Yet human beings are vastly different, both individually and collectively. The latter difference is primarily racial.

    According to anthropologists, race formation depends on three factors especially: the degree of inbreeding or outbreeding of people, the adaptation of the unstable human organism to the demands of physical and cultural environments, and social selection. Inbreeding or outbreeding is largely determined by such things as geographic isolation, the limits of technological development which permits or deters migration or permits settlement, and by cultural rules sanctioning or prohibiting intermixture. The human organism shows itself capable of a wide range of adaptive physical changes to varied climatic conditions, diets, and requirements of cultural adjustment. Social selection is practiced usually within the limits of the cultural definitions of desirable or undesirable matings, including the current concepts of beauty or ugliness.

    Combine the above factors in varying degrees and we have a natural explanation both for the diversity of racial characteristics and for the relative stability of racial stocks, as distinct one from the other. From the moral viewpoint we are helped to recognize how ultimately superficial are even the greatest differences among the various races, and how deeply unified is the race of mankind by reason of its common nature and descendence from a common parent.

  3. Implications of Monogenism for the Christian Life. The conviction that all men are children of the same father, have the same blood, and are members of the same family is calculated to inspire deep sentiments of solidarity towards others, in whom we literally see a part of ourselves.

    No doubt Christian charity is not expected to stop here, since even pagans and unbelievers can see a brother in their fellowman. Yet even the highest love of neighbor may draw strength and added motivation from the revealed fact of our unitary origin. Among the Jews the sense of community from ties of blood was a powerful religious bond, and on occasion gave rise to the highest deeds of heroism. Christians are asked to extend this affection towards all members of the human race, guided by the truth that all are alike the children of one heavenly Father. They can be helped to realize their ideal as they reflect that men are also children of one father on earth.

    Since we are all members of the same family, the person of Christ in His humanity takes on a new dimension. He died for all mankind not only because He wished to redeem all but also because, united with all in sharing their common blood, He could offer vicarious satisfaction for everyone. A restricted or limited salvific will in Christ, given the Incarnation of the Word in the family of Adam, is a contradiction in terms. The Savior could not be indifferent to the destiny of His brethren in the flesh. Correspondingly the believing Christian has more reason than ever for the practice of fraternal charity, seeing that the ones he is bid to love are not only his own brothers but the brothers of Jesus Christ.

Study Questions

  1. Briefly describe the etymology of the biblical word Adam.

  2. What do we mean when we say that Adam was "an individual man"? To what is this concept opposed?

  3. How universal is the "whole human race" in the thesis: past, present, future?

  4. In what sense are all men said to derive their origin from Adam?

  5. Outline the various kinds of Polygenism, and briefly describe each type.

  6. What is the logical relationship between the first and second parts of the thesis, i.e., between proving that Adam was a single individual and that the whole human race is derived from Adam?

  7. What are the essential elements in Humani Generisto prove that Adam was a single, physical individual?

  8. How do we prove from St. Paul that Adam was one physical person?

  9. What is there in the Council of Trent to show that the first man was one person and not a glomerate multitude, or less still only symbolic?

  10. Quoting Humani Generis, prove that the whole human race was derived from Adam as from its first parent.

  11. Prove the same dogma from the definitions of Trent on original sin.

  12. How do we argue from St. Paul, both to Adam’s individual personality and to the unitary origin of mankind from Adam?

  13. What was the basic Patristic argument for the universal descent of men from Adam?

  14. Explain the dogmatic position on the origin of Eve's body from Adam, giving the main lines of argumentation.

  15. What factors contribute to racial formation? Explain.

  16. How does Monogenism give motivation for the practice of Christian charity?

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