An Evolution Debate in The Wanderer and Cardinal Ruffini's Book

Cardinal Ruffini On page 2 of the January 29, 2015 issue of The Wanderer, a debate about the teaching of the Church and evolution appears under two titles. The first article, "Lateran IV Excludes Evolution," was written by Dominique Tassot, Peter Wilder and Hugh Owen. The second title, "Yet Popes and Others Admit Evolution is Possible," was written by John Young of Melbourne, Australia. The debate revolves around a central question: Does the teaching of the Church oppose evolution or approve it?

In response to Messrs. Tassot, Wilders and Owen, John Young cites the key text from the Fourth Council of Lateran in the original Latin, and then translates it as stating that God "together from the beginning of time made each creature from nothing." The Latin word for "together" is simul, from which comes the English word simultaneously. Does this adverb indicate that according to Lateran IV, God created everything together in an initial act, as the first three writers understand it, or simply that God created the material of the universe, leaving evolution to produce the various forms of life, as their opponent Mr. Young allows?

Theory of Evolution, Judged by Reason and Faith Because the statement of Lateran IV is very general, it is only by turning to subsequent theologians and later judgments of the Magisterium that one can properly interpret it. Mr. Young realizes the importance of consulting later interpreters, but he does so by mentioning "thousands and thousands of Catholic scholars" who hold to the position favoring evolution. The problem with this argument is that he refers to scholars of more recent times, and overlooks a consensus of theologians prior to the present generation. To cite an important historical example, the thirteenth century gave rise to two great doctors of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure. But historians point out that after this high point of Catholic theology, later centuries saw Scholasticism enter into a period of decline, and this decline is generally associated with erroneous scientific opinions of the time.

To understand and evaluate the thinking of what Mr. Young calls "thousands and thousands of Catholic scholars" of very recent times, one must ask if we live in an era analogous to that of St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure, or if our period in the history of the Church instead resembles more that previous period of Scholasticism in its decline.

The decisive work providing an answer to such questions was published by Cardinal Ernesto Ruffini in 1948, and in English translation in 1959 with the title The Theory of Evolution Judged by Reason and Faith. Reprinted in 2008 by Preserving Christian Publication, this book offers a systematic study of the Fathers, the doctors and the theologians, as well as the Magisterium, relating to evolution. Although the Italian edition appeared two years before the encyclical Humani Generis of Pope Pius XII in 1950, the English edition contains two articles by Cardinal Ruffini previously published in l'Osservatore Romano, one of them after the encyclical, as well as a foreword by the late Archbishop Thomas A. Boland of Newark, New Jersey, and an introduction by the American Scripture scholar Msgr. John E. Steinmueller. Whereas Mr. Young states that Pius XII "allowed the possibility of even human evolution," Archbishop Boland quoted from the encyclical, including the passage where Pius XII stated, "...those go too far and transgress this liberty of discussion who act as if the origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter were already fully demonstrated..." This sample papal statement, written after the original Italian edition of Cardinal Ruffini's book, serves as a summary of Catholic teaching on the central point as explained in detail in Cardinal Ruffini's work.


The Theory of Evolution Judged by Reason and Faith Ernesto Cardinal Ruffini / Fr Francis O'Hanlon, tr / Archbishop Thomas Boland, foreword by 2008 205 pages [reprint of 1959 ed.] $16 #55674