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Faith/Spirituality Forum: Creation

by Catherine Frakas 27 Sep 2001

Creation QUESTION from Antonio Basto on May 22, 2002 Is it in keeping with our Catholic Faith to interpret the account of Creation contained in the Genesis as a symbolic account, while accepting as True the definitions of faith and morals given by the Book of Genesis account of Creation?
For example, is it against the Faith of the Church to believe that the Creation took more then seven astronomical days to be accomplished?
In my point of view, the Catechism of the Catholic Church appears to endorse a poetic and non-literal interpretation of the biblical account of Creation, when it uses the expression symbolic language, in the following passage:

362 The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual. The biblical account expresses this reality in symbolic language when it affirms that then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.229 Man, whole and entire, is therefore willed by God.
Of course, even if we agree that the biblical account of creation is symbolic, this does not mean that the account is irrelevant. All the teaching of faith and morals contained in the account of creation would still be valid.
The Church's teaching about original sin, and about the origins of evil, for example, would still be valid even if there had been no real apple for Eve to eat, right? No Book in the Bible is irrelevant, but not all Biblical statements are to be read literally, right?
I believe it would not be wrong to say that there are some mysteries that are far beyond our human capacity of understanding, and that therefore, the Lord sometimes has made use of symbolic accounts to make men grasp certain moral values.
I believe that that thecnique was specially present in the times of the Old Convenant, in a time when the People of God was not yet ready for a fuller, more complex, revelation of the Truth.
But I fear that holding to that view might be, in some way, contrary to the Catholic Faith. Is this view in keeping with the Faith? What are your views on Creation and on the above mentioned aspects of Divine Revelation?
Thanks for your help. If I make such a question (it seems a complex question for me) it is because I trust on the St. Michael's Call Q&A; as a most loyal interpreter of the Church's Magisterium, and I assure you that my prayers are with you so that your good work may continue, grow, and give good fruits.
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, OLSM on May 23, 2002 Dear Mr. Basto:
Thank you for your vote of confidence in our ability to relate accuratly the Magisterial teaching of the Church. But never take us blindly. I do and have made mistakes though I bend over backward to try not to especially on issues of Official Church Teaching.
As for the Genesis record of creation, the story is a mythic account that tells us WHO the Creator is, not HOW He created. It is not a book of science, but of religion.
The purpose is to tell a religious truth, not a scientific truth, of the nature of God as Creator and the nature of the Fall of Man.
This does not mean necessarily that the Genesis account is not literally true; it can be, or it may not be. The story is derived from Oral History and myth (myth DOES NOT mean fiction).
In the context of a mythic oral history a particular religious truth is expressed in the context of story-telling. Particular elements of the story may be literally true, or may be exaggerated or fictionalized, or may be total fiction. It does not matter because the point is to teach a religious truth in a way that is interesting and that will be remembered and passed on from generation to generation.
In other words, the story of creation can be like a TV Docu-drama -- based on a true story, but literary license is taken to make the story more dramatic and interesting and thus the end story may not be totally accurate to what really happened.
Officially, a Catholic may believe in a literal interpretation of the Creation story or may believe it to be not literal.
I would say that the best scholarship of Biblical writing forms and the nature of Oral History forms lends to a conclusion that the Creation story is not strictly literal in its details, but a good Catholic can believe either way.
The Church leaves the issue of the mechanism of the development of the universe and life to science. Science is the proper medium for that investigation. BUT.....
...true science will NEVER contradict religious truth.
The Church insists upon 3 things:
1) that we did in fact have an original pair of parents
2) that the soul is not evolved but individually created by God and the person ensouled at conception.
3) that God is the Creator of all things and evolution or any other theory of origins, properly posited, cannot refute this fact.
With these three conditions, the Church leaves the details up to scientific investigation.
For a complete discussion of this by the Pope you might want to read his speech before the Pontifical Academy of Sciences: On Evolution
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