Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

Evolution for the Catholic Student

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Humility before the Word of God

Humility before the Word of God

          I recently saw a pamphlet in which a catechist related how she hated teaching about Creation because she felt like a fool teaching that light was created on Day One, and the sun on Day Four.  Perhaps she feared getting questions to which she didn’t know the answer, which is understandable.  Anyway, the conclusion of the story is how relieved she was to learn that the creation accounts in Genesis only have spiritual meaning and no real relation to the physical creation of the universe.
          Now, I would take issue with her new found knowledge, but that’s not my main point.  I would like to use this simple story of a no doubt sincere woman to reflect on the need for humility when approaching Scripture.
          The book of Genesis has some elements that secularists like to use to scorn Christians.  However, as time goes on, it is they who end up looking foolish. 
          It is important to note that Scripture has both a literal and spiritual meanings.  According to the teaching of Pope Leo XIII, the spiritual is always based on the literal.  It is also important to note that “literal” does not mean “literalistic.”  What’s the difference?  Literal refers to the literal meaning intended by the sacred author who wrote the piece of Scripture.  It allows for metaphor and poetic language, etc.  Literalistic means applying the Webster’s dictionary definition to every word and then constructing the meaning, so for example, to say that “It’s raining cats and dogs,” in the literalistic sense, would mean that felines and canines were falling from the sky.
          This does not mean that anything that seems difficult to us, such as light being created before the sun, can just be explained away as figurative.  It requires a little more work than that.  One thing that is quite interesting is that physicists have discovered, according to their theory of the development of the universe, that light did in fact exist first, as the Bible says, before the sun.  Photons, which are the essence of light, seem to be, according to the most accepted research of modern physicists, the beginning of material creation.  The Bible, it seems, even in the literal interpretation, got it right.
          Just a couple of months ago, I wrote an article about how scientists have shown that all humanity did in fact come from an original man and an original woman, another Christian doctrine scoffed at by the prevailing culture.  (Of course, it is considered a brilliant discovery when hit on by scientists.)
          These instances highlight a very important need for humility when approaching Scripture.  We tend to think that if something does not match our experience or understanding, it must not be true, or there must be a purely spiritual explanation.  We don’t often think that it is our experience or perception that may be limited.
          Another important thing to remember is that ancient peoples were not idiots.  They all knew where light came from, for example.  So the notion of light being created before the sun would have been just as confusing to them, even more, actually, given the discoveries about light and celestial bodies over the centuries to which we are privy.
          We can not dismiss Biblical accounts as the mythology of a naïve or unsophisticated generation.  In many ways, it is our own generation that is the most naïve and unsophisticated in many centuries.
          None of this is to say that I can give a perfect or authoritative exegesis on the book of Genesis.  There is much symbolism in the book, and it is not a science text, but a religious text, containing that Truth which is necessary for our salvation, as stated by the Second Vatican Council.  However, we suffer greatly when certain people try to give an authoritative interpretation, especially when it is based on their own discomfort with some of the text.  We must approach it, as with all Scripture, with humility.
          The Church has given us some clear doctrines in which we can trust.  But she has left much open for study and debate.  The debates are fruitful, and the study is edifying, but only if we engage in both with a spirit of humility.