Catholic Dogma and Teaching on Creation
and the 1909 Pontifical Biblical Commission on Genesis


Catholic Dogma and Teaching on Creation and the Fall

And he said: Let us make man to our image and likeness: and let him have dominion over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and the beasts, and the whole earth, and every creeping creature that moveth upon the earth. And God created man to his own image: to the image of God he created him: male and female he created them....And the Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth: and breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul. And the Lord God had planted a paradise of pleasure from the beginning: wherein he placed man whom he had formed....And the Lord God took man, and put him into the paradise of pleasure, to dress it, and to keep it. And he commanded him, saying: Of every tree of paradise thou shalt eat: But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat. For in what day soever thou shalt eat of it, thou shalt die the death. (Genesis 1:26-27; 2:7-8, 15-17 Douay-Rheims) 

For God created man incorruptible, and to the image of his own likeness he made him. But by the envy of the devil, death came into the world... (Wisdom 2:23-24 Douay-Rheims)

Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world and by sin death: and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned. (Romans 5:12 Douay-Rheims)

Dogmas and teachings on Creation and the Fall from Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma by Ludwig Ott (TAN Books, 1974), pages 79-122 on "The Divine Act of Creation" and "The Divine Work of Creation" :

  • God was moved by His Goodness to create the world. (De Fide)
  • The world was created for the Glorification of God. (De Fide)
  • The Three Divine Persons are one single, common Principle of the Creation. (De Fide)
  • God created the world free from exterior compulsion and inner necessity. (De Fide)
  • God has created a good world. (De Fide)
  • The world had a beginning in time. (De Fide)
  • God alone created the world. (De Fide)
  • God keeps all created things in existence. (De Fide)
  • God, through His Providence, protects and guides all that He has created. (De Fide)
  • The first man was created by God. (De Fide)
  • Man consists of two essential parts -- a material body and a spiritual soul. (De Fide)
  • Every human being possesses an individual soul. (De Fide)
  • Our first parents, before the Fall, were endowed with sanctifying grace. (De Fide)
  • The donum immortalitatis, i.e. the divine gift of bodily immortality of our first parents. (De Fide)
  • Our first parents in paradise sinned grievously through transgression of the Divine probationary commandment. (De Fide)
  • Through the original sin our first parents lost sanctifying grace and provoked the anger and the indignation of God. (De Fide)
  • Our first parents became subject to death and to the dominion of the Devil. (De Fide)

The highest degree of certainty appertains to immediately revealed truths. The belief due to them is based on the authority of God revealing (fides divina), and if the Church, through its teaching, vouches for the fact that a truth is contained in Revelation, one's certainty is then also based on the authority of the Infallible Teaching Authority (Magisterium) of the Church (fides catholica). If truths are defined by a solemn judgment of faith (definition) of the Pope or of a General Council, they are "de fide definita" (or simply De Fide).

There are other levels of certainty as well: faith which is based on the sole authority of the Church (fides ecclesiastica); a teaching proximate to faith (sententia fidei proxima); a teaching pertaining to the faith (sententia ad fidem pertinens, i.e. theologice certa); a common teaching (sententia communis); lesser grades of certainty are called probable, more probable, or well-founded (sententia probabilis, probabilior, bene fundata); there are also pious opinions (sententia pia); and the least degree of certainty is tolerated opinion (opimo tolerata).

With regard to the doctrinal teaching of the Church it must be well noted that not all the assertions of the Teaching Authority (Magisterium) of the Church on questions of faith and morals are infallible and consequently irrevocable. Only those are infallible which emanate from General Councils representing the whole episcopate, and the Papal Decisions declared Ex Cathedra (cf. the 1869-70 Vatican Council I definition).

The ordinary and usual form of the Papal teaching activity is not infallible. Further, the decisions of the Roman Congregations (Holy Office, Biblical Commissions -- see below) are not infallible.


From philosopher Dennis Bonnette, Origin of the Human Species (2003), chapter "The Truths of Revelation" :

The Catholic Church's teaching magisterium has clearly identified essential facts whose literal and historical meaning Catholics may not call into question because they touch upon fundamental Christian teachings. The 1909 Pontifical Biblical Commission affirms these facts include:

"...the creation of all things which was accomplished by God at the beginning of time; the special creation of man; the formation of the first woman from man; the unity of the human race; the original happiness of our first parents in a state of justice, integrity, and immortality; the divine command laid upon man to prove his obedience; the transgression of that divine command at the instigation of the devil under the form of a serpent; the fall of our first parents from their primitive state of innocence; and the promise of a future Redeemer." (from Acta apostolis sedis, 1 [1909 Pontifical Biblical Commission], pages 567-69, translated in Rome and the Study of Scripture, 7th edition, and cited from Origin of the Human Species by Dennis Bonnette, page 145)

Not all of these doctrines touch directly upon science. Sanctifying grace is not subject to empirical speculation. The theory of evolution cannot confirm or falsify concrete historical acts of God (e.g. miracles) or human beings such as (1) the divine command to Adam and Eve, (2) the transgression and fall, or (3) the promise of a Redeemer. God's creation of the world in time concerns evolution's preconditions, not evolution as such (from Bonnette, page 145-146).

Theologian Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, comments:

"The doctrine of evolution based on the theistic conception of the world, which traces matter and life to God's causality and assumes that organic being, developed from originally created seed-powers (St. Augustine) or from stem-forms (doctrine of descent), according to God's plan, is compatible with the doctrine of Revelation. However, as regards man, a special creation by God is demanded, which must extend at least to the spiritual soul [creatio hominis peculiaris Denz 2123]. Individual Fathers, especially St. Augustine, accepted a certain development of living creatures.....The question of the descent of the human body from the animal kingdom first appeared under the influence of the modern theory of evolution. The Biblical text does not exclude this theory. Just as in the account of the creation of the world, one can, in the account of the creation of man, distinguish between the per se inspired religious truth that man, both body and soul, was created by God, and the per accidens inspired, stark anthropomorphistic representation of the mode and manner of the Creation. While the fact of the creation of man by God in the literal sense must be closely adhered to, in the question as to the mode and manner of the formation of the human body, an interpretation which diverges from the strict literal sense, is, on weighty grounds, permissible." (Ott, pages 93-94, 95, emphasis added)


Response of the Pontifical Biblical Commission on Genesis -- June 30, 1909

  • Question 1: on the literal and historical sense of Genesis 1-3
  • Question 2: on whether Genesis 1-3 is purely fable or legend or "myth"
  • Question 3: on whether essential truths the Church has defined in Genesis can be called into question
  • Question 4: on opinions and interpretations of Genesis that the Church has not defined
  • Question 5: on words and phrases and metaphor in Genesis
  • Question 6: on allegorical interpretations of the early chapters of Genesis
  • Question 7: on the "science" of the early chapters of Genesis
  • Question 8: on the "six days" of Genesis 1

English Translation

Question I: Whether the various exegetical systems which have been proposed to exclude the literal historical sense of the three first chapters of the Book of Genesis, and have been defended by the pretense of science, are sustained by a solid foundation? -- Reply: In the negative. Back

Original Latin

Dubium I.: Utrum varia systemata exegetica, quae ad excludendum sensum litteralem historicum trium priorum capitum libri Geneseos excogitata et scientiae fuco propugnata sunt, solido fundamento fulciantur? Resp.: Negative.
Question II: Whether, when the nature and historical form of the Book of Genesis does not oppose, because of the peculiar connections of the three first chapters with each other and with the following chapters, because of the manifold testimony of the Old and New Testaments; because of the almost unanimous opinion of the Holy Fathers, and because of the traditional sense which, transmitted from the Israelite people, the Church always held, it can be taught that the three aforesaid chapters of Genesis do not contain the stories of events which really happened, that is, which correspond with objective reality and historical truth; but are either accounts celebrated in fable drawn from the mythologies and cosmogonies of ancient peoples and adapted by a holy writer to monotheistic doctrine, after expurgating any error of polytheism; or allegories and symbols, devoid of a basis of objective reality, set forth under the guise of history to inculcate religious and philosophical truths; or, finally, legends, historical in part and fictitious in part, composed freely for the instruction and edification of souls? -- Reply: In the negative to both parts. Back Dubium II.: Utrum, non obstantibus indole et forma historica libri Geneseos, peculiari trium priorum capitum inter se et cum sequentibus capitibus nexu, multiplici testimonio Scripturarum tum Veteris tum Novi Testamenti, unanimi fere sanctorum Patrum sententia ac traditionali sensu, quem, ab Israelitico etiam populo transmissum, semper tenuit Ecclesia, doceri possit: praedicta tria capita Geneseos continere non rerum vere gestarum narrationes, quae scilicet obiectivae realitati et historicae veritati respondeant; sed vel fabulosa ex veterum populorum mythologiis et cosmogoniis deprompta et ab auctore sacro, expurgato quovis polytheismi errore, doctrinae monotheisticae accomodata; vel allegorias et symbola, fundamento obiectivae realitatis destituta, sub historiae specie ad religiosas et philosophicas veritates inculcandas proposita, vel tandem legendas ex parte historicas et ex parte fictitias ad animorum instructionem et aedificationem libere compositas? Resp.: Negative ad utramque partem.
Question III: Whether in particular the literal and historical sense can be called into question, where it is a matter of facts related in the same chapters, which pertain to the foundation of the Christian religion; for example, among others, the creation of all things wrought by God in the beginning of time; the special creation of man; the formation of the first woman from the first man; the oneness of the human race; the original happiness of our first parents in the state of justice, integrity, and immortality; the command given to man by God to prove his obedience; the transgression of the divine command through the devil's persuasion under the guise of a serpent; the casting of our first parents out of that first state of innocence; and also the promise of a future restorer? -- Reply: In the negative. Back Dubium III.: Utrum speciatim sensus litteralis historicus vocari in dubium possit, ubi agitur de factis in eisdem capitibus enarratis, quae christianae religionis fundamenta attingunt: uti sunt, inter cetera, rerum universarum creatio a Deo facta in initio temporis; peculiaris creatio hominis ; formatio primae mulieris ex primo homine; generis humani unitas, originalis protoparentum felicitas in statu iustitiae, integritatis et immortalitatis, praeceptum a Deo homini datum ad eius obedientiam probandam; divini praecepti, diabolo sub serpentis specie suasore, transgressio; protoparentum deiectio ab illo primaevo innocentiae statu; nec non Reparatoris futuri promissio? Resp.: Negative.
Question IV: Whether in interpreting those passages of these chapters, which the Fathers and Doctors have understood differently, but concerning which they have not taught anything certain and definite, it is permitted, while preserving the judgment of the Church and keeping the analogy of faith, to follow and defend that opinion which everyone has wisely approved? -- Reply: In the affirmative. Back Dubium IV.: Utrum in interpretandis illis horum capitum locis, quos Patres et Doctores diverso modo intellexerunt, quin certi quippiam definitique tradiderint, liceat salvo Ecclesiae iudicio servataque fidei analogia, eam, quam quisque prudenter probaverit, sequi tuerique sententiam? Resp.: Affirmative.
Question V: Whether all and everything, namely, words and phrases which occur in the aforementioned chapters, are always and necessarily to be accepted in a special sense, so that there may be no deviation from this, even when the expressions themselves manifestly appear to have been taken improperly, or metaphorically or anthropomorphically, and either reason prohibits holding the proper sense, or necessity forces its abandonment? -- Reply: In the negative. Back Dubium V.: Utrum omnia et singula, verba videlicet et phrases, quae in praedictis capitibus occurrunt, semper et necessario accipienda sint sensu proprio, ita ut ab eo discedere numquam liceat, etiam cum locutiones ipsae manifesto appareant improprie, seu metaphorice vel anthropomorphice usurpatae, et sensum proprium vel ratio tenere prohibeat vel necessitas cogat dimittere? Resp.: Negative.
Question VI: Whether, presupposing the literal and historical sense, the allegorical and prophetical interpretation of some passages of the same chapters, with the example of the Holy Fathers and the Church herself showing the way, can be wisely and profitably applied? -- Reply: In the affirmative. Back Dubium VI.: Utrum, praesupposito litterali et historico sensu, nonnullorum locorum eorundem capitum interpretatio allegorica et prophetica, praefulgente sanctorum Patrum et Ecclesiae ipsius exemplo, adhiberi sapienter et utiliter possit? Resp.: Affirmative.
Question VII: Whether, since in writing the first chapter of Genesis it was not the mind of the sacred author to teach in a scientific manner the detailed constitution of visible things and the complete order of creation, but rather to give his people a popular notion, according as the common speech of the times went, accommodated to the understanding and capacity of men, the propriety of scientific language is to be investigated exactly and always in the interpretation of these? -- Reply: In the negative. Back Dubium VII.: Utrum, cum in conscribendo primo Geneseos capite non fuerit sacri auctoris mens intimam adspectabilium rerum constitutionem ordinemque creationis completum scientifico more docere, sed potius suae genti tradere notitiam popularem, prout communis sermo per ea ferebat tempora, sensibus et captui hominum accommodatam, sit in horum interpretatione adamussim semperque investiganda scientifici sermonis proprietas? Resp.: Negative.
Question VIII: Whether in that designation and distinction of six days, with which the account of the first chapter of Genesis deals, the word (dies) can be assumed either in its proper sense as a natural day, or in the improper sense of a certain space of time; and whether with regard to such a question there can be free disagreement among exegetes? -- Reply: In the affirmative. Back Dubium VIII.: Utrum in illa sex dierum denominatione atque distinctione, de quibus in Geneseos capite primo, sumi possit vox Ym (dies) sive sensu proprio pro die naturali, sive sensu improprio pro quodam temporis spatio, deque huiusmodi quaestione libere inter exegetas disceptare liceat? Resp.: Affirmative.

see also these articles on creation and evolution on this site

Evidence for Evolution and an Old Earth
Theistic Evolution and the Roman Catholic Church
Intelligent Design and the Church: An Exchange
Adam, Eve, and the Hominid Fossil Record


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