Lateran IV – The Church’s Key Dogmatic Teaching on Creation

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

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

Lateran IV opposed the belief:

  1. of the world being eternal, as proposed by many Aristotelians – thus the definition states the world was created in the beginning of time to make clear the exact meaning of finitude.
  1. by the Manichees of the visible material world not being within God’s power, by declaring that “all  visible…things…were created from nothing” de nihilo (i.e. instantly).
  2. that the world was not created solely (unum) by God’s omnipotent power omnipotenti virtute (i.e. without cooperation of instruments) as believed by the medieval Neo-Platonists.

These beliefs are precisely those advanced either severally or individually by the theory of evolution or progressive creation.  According to dogmatic theologian Fr. Peter Fehlner:

The roots of the “modern” theory of evolution, in so far as “modern” indicates a relatively novel form for a very hoary theory, are to be discovered, not in the 18th and 19th centuries, but in the 13th century with the appearance of “Latin Aristotelianism”, a mode of interpreting Aristotle so as to make of Aristotelian thought an apt instrument for a radical repudiation of the entire Catholic faith and tradition. As St. Bonaventure saw so clearly, the cornerstone of this position was the denial of the dogma of creation as incompatible with an intellectual affirmation of the eternity of the world, in effect a thoroughgoing secularism.[1]

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

SIMUL – Creation by God of all things together, or to a common plan?

The Catholic Theological Dictionary of 1903, [still] under the direction of Fr. Vacant, taught that the simultaneity of the creation of all things spiritual and corporeal was considered so well-established by Lateran IV that leading commentators on the Council like Cardinal Mazzella regarded those who contested this meaning as “temerarious.”  The Dictionary stated:

It seems clear that the text [of Lateran IV] affirms the simultaneity of the two creations—[those of the spiritual and corporeal creatures]—and most theologians interpret it that way.  Indeed, many of them, like Suarez in De Angelis and also it would seem Cardinal Mazzella in De Deo Creante regard those who contest this simultaneity of creation as “temerarious.”[2]

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

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

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

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

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

the Council’s words seem too well expressed and clear to be twisted into another meaning. Wherefore, my opinion is no longer just probable, but is both certain and de fide, for this is what the Council itself declares and defines.[3]


[1] Fr. Peter D. Fehlner, O.F.M., Conv.. STD , In the Beginning, 1987, p. 19.

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

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

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