Post-Lateran IV Magisterial Teaching on Creation

In its commentary on the Nicene Creed, the Council of Trent provided an authoritative basis upon which to understand the Lateran IV text on creation, especially in relation to the words, “I believe in one God the Father the Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.”  According to the introduction to the Catechism of the Council of Trent, the Council Fathers:

deemed it of the first importance that a work should appear, sanctioned by the authority of the Council, from which pastors and all others on whom the duty of imparting instruction devolves, may be able to seek and find reliable matter for the edification of the faithful; that, as there is one Lord, one faith, there may also be one standard and prescribed form of propounding the dogmas of faith (emphasis added).

The Catechism of the Council of Trent, in defining terms in the Nicene Creed, explained that the creation of “all things seen and unseen” (“visibilium omnium et invisibilium”) was instant and immediate by God. This brings into focus the meaning of virtually the same expression “creator omnium visibilium et invisibilium” used in the Lateran Council of 1215.

As it was His own goodness that influenced Him when He did all things whatsoever He would, so in the work of creation He followed no external form or model; but contemplating, and as it were imitating, the universal model contained in the divine intelligence, the supreme Architect, with infinite wisdom and power, attributes peculiar to the Divinity, created all things in the beginning. He spoke and they were made: he commanded and they were created (Ps 148:5) (emphasis added).

Contrary to the popular interpretation widely circulating today that the phrase “all things visible and invisible” of Lateran IV in the beginning of creation refers only to the creation of angels and primitive matter, the Catechism of the Council of Trent taught that “the heavens and the earth” created “in the beginning” (emphasis added) included the sun, moon, and stars, as well as the earth and all it contains, including plants and every kind of creature of the air, land, and sea.

The words heavens and earth include all things which the heavens and the earth contain; for besides the heavens, which the Prophet has called the works of his fingers (Ps 8:4), He also gave to the sun its brilliancy, and to the moon and stars their beauty; and that they might be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years (Gn.1:14). He so ordered the celestial bodies in a certain and uniform course, that nothing varies more than their continual revolution, while nothing is more fixed than their variety . . .

The earth also God commanded to stand in the midst of the world, rooted in its own foundation, and made the mountains ascend, and the plains descend into the place which he had founded for them. That the waters should not inundate the earth, He set a bound which they shall not pass over; neither shall they return to cover the earth. He next not only clothed and adorned it with trees and every variety of plant and flower, but filled it, as He had already filled the air and water, with innumerable kinds of living creatures . . . (emphasis added)

Lastly, He formed man from the slime of the earth, so created and constituted in body as to be immortal and impassible, not, however, by the strength of nature, but by the bounty of God. Man’s soul He created to His own image and likeness (Gn. 1:26); gifted him with free will, and tempered all his motions and appetites so as to subject them, at all times, to the dictates of reason. He then added the admirable gift of original righteousness, and next gave him dominion over all other animals. By referring to the sacred history of Genesis the pastor will easily make himself familiar with these things for the instruction of the faithful.

It is noteworthy that according to the Council Fathers, the plain sense of the “sacred history” of Genesis is so sure a guide to the truth of the creation and early history of the world and of man that the Council Fathers directed pastors to read the sacred history so that they could “easily” make themselves familiar with the facts.  It is also significant that the Catechism of the Council of Trent elaborates on the teaching of Lateran IV that God created man “finally” (“deinde”) at the end of the creation period.  In their discussion of the Third Commandment, the Council Fathers teach explicitly that the sixth day—the day on which God created Adam and Eve—was the last day of the creation week:

The seventh day was called the Sabbath, because God, having finished the creation of the world, rested on that day from all the work which He had done. Thus it is called by the Lord in Exodus.

It is no exaggeration to state that every authoritative magisterial teaching on creation from Lateran IV until Vatican I held that the work of creating new kinds of creatures occurred rapidly and ceased with the creation of Adam and Eve. This is witnessed by the Church Fathers whose unanimous teaching on instant creation was taken into account in the Lateran IV dogma by the word “simul” (“at the same time”). According to the Fathers, “…every act of creation was instantaneous and simultaneous.”[1] Here are some examples:

Regarding the First Day of creation St. Ephraim the Syrian wrote:

Although both the light and the clouds were created in the twinkling of an eye, still both the day and the night of the First Day continued for twelve hours each.[2]

St Basil, regarding the Third Day of God’s creation, wrote:

At this saying all the dense woods appeared; all the trees shot up…Likewise, all the shrubs were immediately thick with leaf and bushy; and the so-called garden plants…all came into existence in a moment of time, although they were not previously upon the earth . . . Let the earth bring forth. This brief command was immediately a mighty nature and an elaborate system which brought to perfection more swiftly than our thought the countless properties of plants.[3]

St. Ambrose of Milan wrote of the Fifth Day:

At this command the waters immediately poured forth their offspring. The rivers were in labor. The lakes produced their quota of life. The sea itself began to bear all manner of reptiles…We are unable to record the multiplicity of the names of all those species which by Divine command were brought to life in a moment of time. At the same instant substantial form and the principle of life were brought into existence…The whale, as well as the frog, came into existence at the same time by the same creative power.[4]

He (Moses) did not look forward to a late and leisurely creation of the word out of a concourse of atom[5] . . . And fittingly (Moses) added: He created, lest it be thought there was a delay in creation. Furthermore, men would see also how incomparable the Creator was Who completed such a work in the briefest moment of His creative act, so much so that the effect of His will anticipated the perception of time.[6]

None of the Church Fathers expressed doubt that the things created on each of the Six Days were created instantaneously. St. Athanasius the Great, in his Four Discourses Against the Arians, wrote:

As to the separate stars or the great lights, not this appeared first, and that second, but in one day and by the same command, they were all called into being. And such was the original formation of the quadrupeds, and of birds, and fishes, and cattle and plants…No one creature was made before another, but all things originally subsisted at once together upon one and the same command.[7]

The Fathers held that the period of creation was completed on the sixth day and that the period of Providence began on the Seventh day.  They based their teaching on Genesis 2:3: “The seventh day was called the Sabbath, because God, having finished the creation of the world, rested” and on Hebrews 4:3: “God’s works from the foundation of the world were finished.” Summarizing the patristic teaching on these two points, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote:

…the completion of the universe as to the completeness of its parts belongs to the Sixth day, but its completion as regards their operation, to the Seventh (ST.1. Q.73  r. 3)  . . .Nothing new was afterwards made by God, but all things subsequently made had in a sense been made before, in the work of the Six  Days …those individual creatures that are now generated existed in the first of their kind ( ST.1 Q.73 r.3)

For more than six hundred years, the Church authorities guided by the dogmatic teaching of Lateran IV held that organisms procreated descend from the original created prototypes in whose likeness they are reproduced.[8]

Today, representatives of the same authorities have been led to believe in a continuous transformation of life-forms from unicellular to multicellular, from fish, to amphibians, to reptiles, to birds and mammals. This, of course, conflicts with the unanimous teaching of the Church Fathers and Doctors, who held that all of the different kinds of corporeal creatures were created ex nihilo from the beginning—then man as the final work of creation. 

[1] Hieromonk Seraphim Rose, Genesis, Creation and Early Man (Platina, CA: Saint Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2000), p. 102.

[2]  St. Ephraim the Syrian, Commentary on Genesis 1.

[3]  St. Basil the Great, Hexameron, 5-10.

[4]  St. Ambrose of Milan, Hexameron, 5:1-2.

[5]  Ibid, I:2.

[6]  Ibid, 1:5.

[7] St. Athanasius, Four Discourses Against the Arians,

[8] Commenting on the teaching of Vatican I and Lateran IV on creation, Matthias Scheeben taught: “Organic beings, which now propagate themselves by generation, owe their existence neither to spontaneous generation nor to unconscious evolution of inorganic matter and forces; each species has been created to represent a Divine exemplar, and has received the power to perpetuate itself by producing individuals of the same species.  This doctrine is most expressly contained in the narrative of creation in Genesis” (emphasis added) in A Manual of Catholic Theology Based on Scheeben’s Dogmatik, Joseph Wilhelm and Thomas B. Scannell, Vol I, Chap. IV, Sect. 122 (London: Kegan Paul, 1890), p. 383.

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