The concept of “long ages,” with the destructive force of a bulldozer, drove into nineteen centuries of carefully constructed Catholic teaching. The first major casualty was the first three chapters of Genesis. The alarm by the custodians of the Faith in seeing these chapters under attack produced a declaration by the Cardinals of the Pontifical Biblical Commission of 1909 that the literal and historical sense of Genesis 1-3 could not be called into question. The decision of the Commission was incorporated into the teaching Magisterium by Pius X (Motu proprio, “Praestantia Scripturae,” Nov. 18, 1907, which extended to subsequent biblical commission decisions).  In the enthusiasm to accommodate geological speculation, this preventative measure was soon no more than a dead letter. The second victim was Genesis 4-11. Higher biblical criticism joined the attack declaring all the chapters contrary to long ages to be allegorical. The Great Flood and the Tower of Babel not fitting the long age scenario fell in the battle. Not that there was a real battle because, in retrospect, it appears that theological thought had put up no resistance whatsoever. It had reconciled itself with the geological massive epochs in an amazingly short time.


Apart from the damage being done to doctrine, the archaeological discoveries from the nineteenth century onwards should have counseled caution. Indeed these discoveries showed that biblical history was being corroborated from unearthed buildings, artifacts and clay tablets that gave chronological data. They indicated the length of recorded biblical history to be no more than a few thousand years. They showed that the sacred texts talk of facts and not just symbols. Since all of Scripture is written as a guide to salvation, it seems legitimate to ask why suddenly the reader should be expected to treat all the texts preceding Genesis 12 as allegorical. Why suddenly instead of a continuum of history over relatively short periods of time is one expected to jump hundreds of thousands of years backwards without solid justification? Why relegate biblical texts (Genesis 1-11) to the mists of inconceivable past time which refer to ancestors of personages mentioned in chapter 12, such as Abraham’s father, brother and wife Sarai already mentioned in chapter 11? If the author thought it necessary for his people to know about its origins, why are the most important salvific doctrines revealed in a part of Sacred Scripture detached from the main body, and attributed to an unimaginable and uncertain distant past? Original Sin, in Genesis 3, was taught as being the reason, since the Fall, for mankind’s inclination to sin and for every difficulty encountered in daily life and for suffering and death. Why should the effect of such teaching, so relevant to man’s existence, go unrecorded for all those hundreds of thousands of years? Why are the roots of redemption, baptism and the Eucharist arising from man’s first sin so obscured by time as to appear irrelevant? Why is the reason for the Immaculate Conception separated by eons of time from the rest of revealed truth? Why do the first eleven chapters in Genesis, without any break in their narrative style, give the impression they should be followed by chapter 12 onwards? Is the author being deceptive? Difficult questions to answer unless those long ages never existed.


For Catholics a de fide dogmatic teaching by a Church Council is infallible. This is the case for both Lateran IV and Vatican I regarding the doctrine on creation.  Both evolution theory and progressive creation are excluded by the Council’s simple declarations, rightly expounded:  (i)…God creator of all visible and invisible things…simultaneously from the beginning of time (Lat. IV) and (ii) the world and all things in it…as regards their whole substance were produced by God from nothing (Vat. I). Those in disagreement are closing their eyes to the theological meaning of the terms simultaneously, from the beginning of time, all things, creator and created as understood against their Scriptural background by all of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. It is because of this that untenable disputes over translation of these dogmatic decrees by theistic evolutionists and progressive creationists have misled the faithful into doubting God’s word authoritatively interpreted by the Councils. The current crisis of faith, which has intensified in recent years, is the direct result of believing and teaching that there is a natural explanation for the origin of all things. Materialism powered by naturalism has replaced belief in the omnipotence of the Creator that produced the world and all that is in it from nothing. Children sheltered from naturalism by the rare parents who still believe in divine creation will eventually succumb once they are absorbed into the scholastic system. Ironically, progressive creationists, those teaching that God introduced new species ex nihilo each one separated by long periods of time, are the most responsible. They appear to be teaching orthodoxy by invoking the Church Fathers on ex nihilo creation, whilst embracing long ages refuted by the same Fathers.


If the decrees of Lateran IV and Vatican I had a bearing upon evolution theory, why, it is asked, have modern defenders of the traditional doctrine not used them as an argument against theistic evolution?  It is even alleged that no theologian has ever used these Council dogmas in the creation/evolution debate. The answer must be that modern day theologians are more than a century removed from the post Vatican I drama mentioned above. Having been taught biological evolution and long ages as “facts” that can be harmonized with Catholic doctrine, modern theologians no longer study Lateran IV in its theological context and consequently do not understand the incompatibility of its statements on creation with these purported “facts.”[1] Where they have some knowledge, they dismiss the dogma on the basis that it makes no specific mention of evolution theory. This literalist reasoning demonstrates not only a lack of awareness of the historical situation, but the extent to which belief in long ages has become so entrenched that it inhibits objective theological discussion of the subject.  The vigorous debate in the context of Lateran IV and Vatican I dogmas which took place among leading theologians towards the end of the nineteenth century regarding long ages and its hand-maiden evolution theory has been forgotten, as has the fact that simul, rightly expounded, signals a fatal incompatibility between evolutionary theory and Catholic doctrine.


Because modern theologians have allowed natural scientists to go beyond their proper role as investigators of natural phenomena to pontificate on the metaphysics of creation, the important theological debate surrounding Vatican I’s statements on creation has been overlooked and forgotten.  It should be a great relief to Church leaders to discover that they can trust the traditional understanding of creation expressed by the plain sense of Lateran IV, Vatican I, the Sacred Liturgy, and Sacred Scripture, as expounded by all of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church.

[1] The translation of “simul” as “at once” in some modern translations is a further indication that the late nineteenth century debate over the original meaning of the firmiter has been forgotten.  When “simul” is translated as “at once” in contemporary documents it is taken to refer only to the creation of the angels and formless matter in the beginning, and not to the creation of all of the corporeal and spiritual creatures, as understood by Fr. Vacant and his contemporaries.

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