St Augustine’s Rationes Seminales

To make their argument credible, modern theistic evolutionists turned to St. Augustine’s idea of seeds being created from which forms appeared subsequent to the period of creation.  For instance, they reasoned that a seed was planted by God which some millions of years later would produce a dinosaur. They went even farther and cited St. Thomas as affirming Augustine’s thesis. Apart from the fact that neither Augustine nor Thomas had any interest in accommodating a period of creation longer than a single instant or six days, the theological argument for things being created in their causes or potentially as seeds was shown to be false by Fr. Francesco Suarez, S.J.  This Jesuit theologian is considered as one of the greatest the Church has produced. He lived in the seventeenth century when theories of long ages and evolution had not been introduced. His arguments reflect his evident knowledge of the dogma of ex nihilo creation pronounced by Lateran IV in 1215. This was his advantage over St. Augustine who taught eight centuries before the Council. He also showed that St. Thomas did not support St. Augustine’s argument concerning these seeds. In his second book On the Works of Each of the Six Days and on the Seventh Day’s Rest, he wrote:

Wherefore, since the former basis has been removed, and a real temporal interval has been established for these days, as other Fathers have taught, and as we maintain, Augustine’s explanation is not necessary. And besides if that discussion of his is on firm ground, the same thing might be said about the production of fishes and birds on the fifth day, and of other animals on the sixth day, because all these animals are composite, and therefore they were not made in themselves in the first moment:  therefore it will be necessary to say that on the fifth and sixth days they were made only in potentiality or in seed. But this cannot in any way be said.  First, because that patently is contrary to the words of Scripture, for it says first: God created the large great-sea-creatures and every living thing and flying thing etc. These words are sufficiently explicit in themselves, nevertheless they are more evidently made clear because as soon as the things were so produced, God blessed [them], saying, Increase and multiply.  These words clearly suppose that the animals had already been created, [animals] that could generate ones like themselves.  And in the same way the words of the sixth day can be introduced, in which what is said is most apparent, And God created man. Besides a special process (ratio) is added in animals because they cannot be produced by seed, because the seed must be separated from the animal itself, and neither can it be naturally preserved outside the animal itself nor [can it] effect its own operation, and therefore it was necessary that each species of animal be immediately made at first by the author of nature in some individual or in some individuals.

. . . Hence therefore we turn to the same method of argumentation with respect to plants. First indeed, because not only has it been said, Let the earth spring forth but also And it was so done has been added.  But what had been done is made clear, since subjoined [are the words]: And the earth brought forth green vegetation, and [that] making seed according to its own kind, and the tree making fruit, and every one having seeds according to its own kind. Where in the first place I do not see how that phrase the earth brought forth can confirm the authenticity about production in seed.  For the earth, if it had seed before plants, did not bring forth the seed but rather received it from God; therefore, if it brought forth vegetation, as Scripture says, it is necessary that it produced vegetation in act not in seed or in potentiality. Also Scripture immediately declares what kind of vegetation it was, green vegetation, and [that] making seed, and the tree making fruit and having seeds, where by distinguishing vegetation and trees from seeds, it is manifestly clear that the earth did not produce vegetation in seed or trees in seeds, but rather produced vegetation or trees: from which the seeds of similar things come forth.  Besides, the different process made for animals can analogically (cum proportione) be made for plants or for vegetation. For these things are not made without their particular seed, especially those things that are more complete; on the contrary, in some products of the earth, the fruit and the seed are the same thing; therefore they could not be made in seed before [they were made] in fruit, as is manifest in wheat and similar [grasses]. Therefore they could not be made at the first moment of creation in potentiality or in seed rather than in act, since they are of the same nature in either case.  Therefore on the third day they were made not as seeds but as fruits, or at least in vegetation, just as the facts are literally narrated. But in woody plants or trees, although the seed is usually distinguished from the fruit, even the seed itself is a somewhat composite thing that cannot be created in the beginning more than other composite things. But after the instant of creation, we must say that such seeds were made from woody plants or trees, as Scripture speaks, rather than the converse. But if by chance someone should say that by potentiality or potency Augustine did not understand the seeds of plants of such kind but that another power was given to the earth for germination, this must be rejected with the same ease by which it was affirmed because it has no basis in Scripture, and Augustine himself makes this clear that the kind of power it is cannot be explained according to the natures of things: but one must not give credence to (audienda non sunt) miraculous works, either by extraordinary necessity or with sufficient testimony.  This will be confirmed by answering the arguments or the previous opinion.

He alone produced those things by way of first creation, before they could be produced by the earth itself in a natural or ordinary way. We have confirmed that explanation from the context itself and the ensuing words, and St. Thomas teaches it, and it is common and sufficiently plain.  Regarding the second, from the phrase let the earth spring forth, the first reply is, if that phrase alone, without any further statement had been affirmed, the explanation would have been tolerable; nevertheless, from the words that follow it clearly stands that God not only gave the earth the power of germinating but also made it germinate immediately, or He produced in it by His power vegetation and plants.  Whence it can also be added that God gave to the earth on this day the power of springing forth forever through a continuous series of generations, and certainly that was meant in the phrase let it spring forth; yet still this power was given to the earth for producing in it plants, trees, etc. from which seeds came forth, whereby the earth became fertile in order to bring forth other similar things.  That also seems to be indicated in the words themselves, when it is explained that the earth produced vegetation making seed, and the tree making fruit, every one having seeds according to its own kind. Regarding the third, St. Thomas replies best, that the work, insofar as it was done on this day, pertained not to the work of propagation, because it was not done in the ordinary manner of generation from scattered seed, but [it pertained] to the first constitution of the universe, to the extent that it was immediately produced by the Author of all nature not only with respect to simple bodies, but also with respect to extraordinary composites (so I should thus affirm) extended per se in the universe. And it especially pertained to the work of adornment in respect to the earth, for when in the beginning it was void and empty, and also invisible and covered with water. With the removal of the waters it became visible, at least as to the removal of the impediment. In order that it not be void and empty, it was immediately adorned with vegetation and trees.  This can be confirmed in Chapter 2 of Genesis, where it is said that in these six days the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their adornment.  But no one can deny that plants and grasses produced in act and rooted in the earth pertain to its grand adornment, which seeds alone, or the potency of producing them, do not confer (italics in original, bold added).[1]



[1] Francisco Suarez, On the Works of Each of the Six Days and on the Seventh Day’s Rest, pp. 139-141.

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