In the Lateran IV Latin text utramque is used as follows:

Deus…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.

The English equivalent is:

God…at once from the beginning of time created each creature from nothing, spiritual and corporal namely angelic and mundane (“earthly” CCC 327) finally the human, constituted as it were, alike of the spirit and the body (DZ, 428).

Those who disagree that Lateran IV excludes theistic evolution point to the dictionary meaning of utramque as meaning “each of two.”  Their argument is that the word each “creature” refers to each of the angelic and mundane “orders,” and does not mean the angels on one hand and each of the individual species of animals on the other. The term “creature,” they quite correctly point out, does not necessarily refer to living things.  It can just as well refer to inanimate things. In consequence they argue that Lateran IV is not declaring that all things were created from nothing, but only the heavens and the unadorned earth, created on Day One. This argument is invalid for several reasons:

(a)   Lateran IV is most certainly referring to the spiritual and corporal as two “creatures,” (Vatican I, Session III, chapter I, uses the expression “the twofold created order”)[1] but the corporal (or mundane) “creature”[2] according to the Catholic Catechism (CCC, 327) includes all the “earthly” world. Hence the first words of the Lateran text “creator of all visible and invisible things” refers to all things created from nothing at the beginning. This fact is confirmed by the Vatican I text which states:

…the world and all things which are contained in it both spiritual and material as regards their whole substance, have been produced by God from nothing (canon 5).

The CCC’s use of “earthly” (meaning mundane or corporal—those things with bodies) is the equivalent of mundanam or corporalem in the original Latin text of Lateran IV. It is the opposite of spiritual and angelic things without a body (spiritualem and angelicam).

According to dogmatic theologian Fr. Fehlner’s essay In the Beginning (Christ to the World, 1988) this canon teaches that:

The essences of finite species, and the essential structure of world order are not the fruit of the activity of those species, but their necessary prerequisite, only possible in virtue of a distinctive, divine productive action.

St. Augustine of Hippo had said the same thing centuries before Lateran IV:

…He (God) made and created all things that exist, insofar as they do exist. This means that every creature, whether intellectual or corporeal, – or to say it more briefly in the words themselves of the divine Scriptures: whether invisible or visible, – is not born of God but is made out of nothing by God The Literal Meaning of Genesis  4.33, 52-53 (De Genesis ad Litteram ).

(b) In his 1895 commentary on the Vatican I text, Fr. Vacant makes it clear that the Council is not using the word utramque in reference to the two “creatures” heaven and earth of Genesis I, but to the “mundane” (as opposed to the angelic), i.e. all things created other than man. He writes:

Vatican I affirms the creation and consequently the existence and distinct nature of three classes of creatures. It also indicates the time of creation. The three classes mentioned are the angels, material bodies, and men whose existence and nature are defined in chapter 1 and the fifth canon… Our text calls angels spirits, as opposed to bodies being of quite different species; thus it shows the spirits are not bodies. Moreover it compares angels to men composed of body and spirit…The second class of creatures is composed of corporal or material beings which form the world. The Council mentions they are distinct from pure spirits and men…Note here that the words “corporalem” and “materiales” designate not only “raw”  matter but also organised matter, even the “sensible” beings deprived of intelligence and endowed with sensitive faculties. It is clear here that the term must extend to all creatures inferior to angels and men… The context of the chapter (Chapter 1 – Dei Filius Vat. 1) shows the word “mundanam” only applies to material creatures, whilst the word “mundus” in the Canon corresponds to all creatures both spiritual and material…The Council defines the three classes of creatures as having been produced from nothing in the totality of their substance. Without defining it as such, the Council says indirectly that the three classes are substances as opposed to simple accidents (bold added).[3]

The above excerpts from Fr. Vacant’s study on Vatican I, prove that he has no doubt that the expression utramque de nihilo (each creature from nothing) in the two Council texts refers to the prototypes of living kinds being specially created by God from nothing. Theistic evolutionists and progressive creationists assert that the only things not created from pre-existing matter were the heavens and earth, created on the first day of the hexameron. They conclude therefore that the living matter produced subsequently was not created.  Genesis 1, they rightly say, states that each species or kind was created from pre-existing matter. The plants and animals, for instance, were summoned into existence from the ground, Adam from the dust of the earth, and Eve from Adam’s rib. To say that the things they came from were not part of or included in their substance seems to them illogical. This thinking comes from human experience that all living things come from other living things. Dogs come from dogs, cats from cats, and elephants from elephants. The concept of a living thing coming from a non-living thing is contrary to experience. All the living productions in Genesis 1, however, are reported as coming from non-living matter, i.e. water, earth or dust. To say that the water and earth contained atoms which could be used by God to produce living beings is like saying that an artist used a canvas to create a picture. The picture was not in the canvas it was a concept in the artist’s mind. It was immaterial until the concept was transmitted by oils and paint to the canvas. God conceived the various species before giving them existence. They were conceptually in His mind until the concept was transmitted to the water, earth or dust; they were given materiality through God’s word. Thus the dust, water, and earth contributed nothing to the creation of man, fish or trees; the latter were created immediately in their entire substance.  According to St. Thomas Aquinas:

…the corporeal forms that bodies had when first produced came immediately from God, whose bidding alone matter obeys, as its own proper cause. To signify this, Moses prefaces each work with the words God said, Let this thing be, or that, to denote the formation of all things by the Word of God . . .[4]

 Writing in 1845, the translator of an authoritative French edition of the Summa Theologica, F. Lachat comments as follows on the creation of corporeal creatures:

Things are said to be composed in two cases: first when they enclose different entities or multiple parts, like bodies; second when they are constituted definitively, completely, by the unity of their principles. It is in the latter case that the article under discussion should be taken (ST, I, q. 45, a. 4). On the other hand, things can, either subsist by themselves, and according to this hypothesis they are substances; or exist in the subject by adhesion, and then they are accidents. What should be understood by composed or subsisting things? They should be understood as substances which are complete, finished, perfect which enclose all of their elements, matter, form and accidents.

So what did God create? Some teachers reply that he created primary matter, with the elements mixed up, the poets call this unformed mass chaos . . . then they say he drew from it the stars, the planets, the earth, the plants, the substances, the forms and accidents which make up the universe. In this system, the supreme Worker operates from the simple to the complex, moving by degrees in the accomplishment of his task, doing it in several successive operations, carefully underpinning it; obtaining the satisfaction of demonstrating the plagiarism of modern industrialists who claim to have invented division of labor, because they are not powerful enough to do the work in one go, nor wise enough to avoid useless detours.

Such is not the case with the prince of the school. He says God created the substances and concreated the primary matter: he created the substances complete, as they exist in nature, together with their accidents, forms, principles, and the elements of which they are composed; he concreated the prime matter, for it is necessarily contained in the substances. It is in this way that Holy Scripture recounts creation. We read in Genesis 1:1 “in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” The Mother of the Maccabees says to her son (2 Mac. 7:28) “I beseech you my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God created them from nothing. Thus also mankind came into being”. And the [Fourth Lateran] Council . . . states: “The Creator of all things visible and invisible, spiritual and corporal, drew from nothing the spiritual and corporal creatures, the angels, the world, then man composed of a body and soul.” Try to show that these words only refer to prime matter; all we can see are substances in their final completeness (italics in original).[5]

 This passage from an authoritative commentator on St. Thomas from the pre-Darwinian period shows how the statements of Lateran IV on creation, in conjunction with 2 Maccabees 7:28, were understood as teaching the creation by God alone of the complete substances of all kinds of corporal and spiritual beings, just as one would expect from a straightforward reading of Genesis, Chapters 1 and 2.[6] The same commentary helps to explain the radical distinction between the transformation of, say, uranium into lead and the (imagined) transformation of a reptile into bird.  In the former case, the transformation merely involves a rearrangement of the atomic building blocks of matter—a rearrangement that can occur naturally, without generation.  In the latter case, the transformation of one organic unity into another distinct organic unity involves the transformation of one irreducibly complex organic unity into another, totally distinct, irreducibly complex organic unity, and—and this is an essential point—without generation!  According to Lachat, substances that possess this irreducibly complex organic unity are “complete, finished, perfect substances, which enclose all of their elements, matter, form and accidents.” Such substances cannot come into existence through non-generative natural processes, nor could they ever be generated unless their prototypes were first divinely created.   Indeed, even if the matter for the first birds, reptiles, mammals and other living things was not “concreated,” the formation of these creatures would still be a divine act.  As St. Thomas teaches, God alone could create, ex nihilo, the form of a bird or a whale and shape matter according to that form by his fiat.  No natural process would result in the production of a whale from water or of a lion from the dust of the earth.  The statements of Lateran IV and Vatican I on creation are entirely consistent with the constant teaching of the Church that the formation of the prototypes of all kinds of living things was part of the creative work of God that ended with the creation of Adam and Eve.


Similarly, Adam, a concept of the Creator’s mind, was produced from dust. But the first man’s body and soul were neither in the dust nor caused by it.  Aphraates, one of the Church Fathers explains:

In regard, then, to this resurrection of the dead, my beloved, I will instruct you as well as I can. For from the beginning God created Adam. From the dust He shaped Him and raised him up. And if, when Adam did not exist, He made him from nothing, how much easier will it now be for Him to raise him up; for he has been sown like a seed in the earth.[7]

[1] This translation of “creaturam” is found in Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, Volume Two, ed. Norman P. Tanner, S.J. (Georgetown University Press, 1990).

[2] Fr. Vacant explains that the term “creature” is attributed to man, as it is to the angels and bodies (corps), and (the text) declares that man was made from nothing LIKE the other creatures – de nihilo condidit (Art. 208).


[3] Fr. A. Vacant, Etudes Théologiques sur les Constitutions du Vatican d’après les actes du Concile, Art. 199-202.

[4] St. Thomas Aquinas, ST,1 Q.65 a.4.

[5] F. Lachat, Commentary on ST, I, q. 45, a. 4. Lachat inadvertently attributes this quotation from Lateran IV to the Council of Florence.

[6] Commentary by F. Lachat who translated St Thomas’s Summa from Latin into French (Paris, Vivier, 1855).

[7] Aphraates the Persian Sage, Treatises (8,6).

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