JMC : The Catholic Religion / by Charles Coppens, S.J.


With respect to man, the doctrines of revelation regard chiefly, 1. His origin, 2. His nature, 3. His supernatural elevation, 4. His fall, with its consequences.


162. St. Gregory of Nyssa remarks (De Hom. Op.) that, as a place is made ready before the arrival of the King, so the earth was prepared and supplied with all that was necessary to fit it for its lord and master. Its adaptation to the wants of man is most marvellous; the division of sea and land; the nature of the soil, of the atmosphere, of the water, fresh and salt; the countless varieties of beast and bird and insect life; the trees and grasses, the staple aliments of man and brute; the medicinal herbs; the brilliant tints of flower, feather, and shell; the abundance of metals and fuel, stored in deep yet accessible recesses; etc., etc., all proclaim with irresistible power the providence, the bounty, and the munificence of the Creator. Only a few of these treasures are of any use to each species of brute animals; but all of them contribute to the support, the comfort, the pleasure, the knowledge, and the mental and moral elevation of the human family.

163. There is, as it were, deliberation on the part of God before He enters on the creation of man: "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" (Gen. I, 26). The compound nature of man, and his twofold origin, are destinctly marked in the narrative "And the Lord formed man out of the slime of the earth, and breathed into his face the breath of life" (ib. II, 7). No one who accepts the Divine authority of the Scriptures (n. 55) can refuse to see here a different origin for the body and the soul of Adam. In consequence of this revelation, and also because reason teaches that matter cannot, by any modification, become capable of thought, it has long been the practically universal teaching of Catholic Doctors that each soul is created immediately by almighty God. This consent constitutes that ordinary teaching of the Church which is no less infallible than her express definitions. Hence we look upon it as a part of the course of nature, that a human soul is created and infused into each body as soon as the body is fit to receive it. The science of Biology suggests many reasons to think, and no reason to doubt, that the specific life-principle of every species of plant and animal begins its work as soon as there is produced a new organism of the species. Theology does not settle this point with regard to man, except on the practical side it absolutely forbids all wilful and direct destruction of life in the human embryo from the first moment of its conception.

164. Every one is familiar with the theory of certain modern scientists which pretends that man has originated by a natural process of constant evolutions, or ascents in the scale of perfection, from a lower animal, and this from a still lower one ultimately from a most imperfect organism, perhaps from the very clod of inorganic matter. There are two very different schools of evolutionists. The atheistic school considers all the marvellous series of evolutions as the outcome of mere accidental changes, or of blind forces of matter, always tending towards an increase of perfection in all existing things. This school runs counter to some of the absolutely certain principles of reason; for instance, that order cannot come from chaos by mere accident, that there must always be a due proportion between a cause and its effects, and that there can never be a perfection in the result which was not in some manner contained in the cause. A theory so evidently unphilosophical is not worthy of further consideration.

Theistic evolution is very different from this. It supposes, though it does not claim to prove conclusively, that the all-wise Creator brought about the existence of plants and animals by endowing imperfect forms of life with certain wonderful powers, which, either by steady tendencies, or by a succession of sudden transitions, have eventually produced all the species of plants and animals. Most Christian scientists except man from the series of evolutions; but a few are willing to allow that the body of the first man has evolved from the body of a brute animal, though they do not pretend to know from which species: it would then have been made out of the earth, but not immediately. They maintain, however, that the soul of man was immediately created by the Almighty, and united with Adam's body, which thus became human.

165. It the more perfect study of the book of nature should show, in course of time, that there has been an evolution from inferior to superior organisms, this would make the works of God more wonderful still than we now suppose them to be. In this theory, God would indeed have produced all the species of life, but He would have done so by mediate, not immediate causation. It would be as if a very skilful mechanic would construct a machine so ingeniously contrived that it would gradually evolve new capabilities. We may also grant that many assumptions of this theory do not conflict with the Holy Scriptures. But we must, by all means, take exception to the derivation of Adam's body from that of a brute animal; since this appears to be totally at variance with the inspired narrative. It is certainly so, if we take into account, as we must, the details of the formation of Eve from the body of Adam. (See Hurter's Comp. Theol. Dogm. II, ii. 307).

But even within this retrenchment, the theistic view of evolution is so far from being demonstrated that we can scarcely call it a truly scientific theory. For to be such, it should give at least a plausible explanation of the leading phenomena of nature. We will briefly point out some of its important shortcomings in this respect.

We have no quarrel with what is called "the Nebular theory", though it too is not demonstrated. But, 1. The derivation of living from non-living bodies is totally opposed to all known facts; and, in Huxley's own words, after the scientific labors of Pasteur, spontaneous generation "has received its coup-de-grâce" (Origin of Spec., p. 79). There is no more evidence in nature of the evolution of any plant into an animal than there is of inorganic matter into an organism. 2. Many scientists maintain to the present day that there is not, either in the vegetable or in the animal kingdom, a single well authenticated case of the transition of one species into another. This is almost universally admitted by the learned as far as existing species are concerned. Thus Huxley granted that selective breeding had never produced a new species (Man's Place in Nat., p. 107); much less had natural selection been known to do so. It is pretended by some scientists that a few transitional forms between certain species have been found in a fossil state, in particular some strivings of nature to produce the horse. But they fail to prove that the specimens found do not represent perfect species. Besides, it must be remembered that the theory supposes every one of the known species of organisms to have been preceded by incipient stages. Why have all those missing links perished? 3. The explanations suggested by Darwin as accounting for evolution are now generally acknowledged to be unsatisfactory; and no better ones have been advanced in their stead. 4. Even Darwin grants that man's body could not have been evolved from the highest species of known brute animals, but only from some other supposed species of which all traces are lost. It was confidently asserted at first that further explorations would soon supply the missing links; but they have failed to do so.

166. It is a dogma of the faith that all men are descended from Adam; for the statement of this fact is clear from Scripture, and on it rest the doctrines of original sin and of Christ's atonement: "As by the offence of one unto all men to condemnation, so also by the justification of One unto all men to justification of life" (Rom. V, 18; nn. 177, 197). The Council of Trent calls Adam the first man, and speaks of all the human race as his offspring (Sess. 5). It was formerly objected that the various races of men could not have sprung from a common stock; if churchmen had said this, scientists would now sneer at their ignorance; but the objection came from scientists.

167. The age of mankind on earth is not determined by any teaching of the Church. Owing to differences which occur in manuscripts and various versions of the Scriptures, and to different interpretations of certain phrases, calculations of the years that elapsed from the creation of Adam to the birth of Christ vary considerably. St. Jerome counts 3,941 years; St. Clement of Alexandria, 6,621; the Roman Martyrology for Christmas day gives 5,119 years; the common reckoning, founded on the Vulgate, 4004. If in many nations there is a traditionary history reaching back indefinitely, it finds no sober defenders. Egyptian astronomical sculptures, supposed to represent the heavens as they were seen ten thousand years before Christ, have been proved to have been made during the Christian era. The most ancient nations, Egypt, Babylonia, and China, according to their trustworthy history, may have had their beginning not far from the year 4000 before Christ, a date which may easily be reconciled with the history given in Genesis.

Archaeologists find works of man in geological strata which are calculated to be very ancient; but these calculations rest on various unproved assumptions, regarding chiefly the rate of deposition of strata and the contemporaneousness of certain formations. Such names as "stone age", "neolithic", "palaeolithic", and "tertiary period", etc., are being abandoned by geologists.


168. The excellence of man over the brute animal is clearly seen from the history of his creation; for he was made to the image of God, and appointed to rule over the fishes of the sea, the fowls of the air, and all living creatures that move upon the earth (Gen. I). Every thing that moveth and liveth is given to him for meat (ib. IX,). The Psalmist proclaims him a little less than the Angels, crowned with glory and honor, and set over the works of God's hands; God has subjected all things under the feet of man (Ps. 8). The Fathers find the foundation of this excellence in man's spiritual soul, in his exclusive power to know and praise God. Since the world is created to give glory to God, and glory cannot proceed except from intelligent beings, man is the most important creature naturally known to us; he is the high-priest of this earthly temple, and probably of thus whole material world.

169. While the body of man is vastly superior in its structure to that of the highest brutes, in particular in his upright posture, in the versatility and efficiency of his hands, the bony and muscular structure of his skull, the size and weight of his brain, the power of expression of his face, the suitableness of his vocal organs to the utterance of thought, etc.; his achievements mark him as the intended ruler of the earth and of all its living creatures. He has known how to adapt himself to every climate, and to draw nourishment from an endless variety of sources; he finds use for every part of each natural production. He makes the elephant and the horse do him service, he subdues the most savage beasts; he digs the earth for the supply of his wants, and utilizes all sorts of minerals. He alone can make and maintain a fire, and he uses it for the most varied purposes. The making and wearing of clothes, the fashioning of tools are also peculiar to man. The parade with which certain apparent exceptions to these facts are put forth proves how sorely our opponents feel the cogency of the argument.

170. The soul of man is a spirit; that is, a simple substance endowed with intellect and free-will, and therefore capable of actions in which matter has no intrinsic share. For the intellect can grasp simple and universal ideas, and the will can embrace spiritual good, such as holiness, justice, religion, morality, etc., objects beyond the reach of material forces. The brain forms phantasms, or brain images, of material objects, and as long as the soul is substantially united with the body, the two work in perfect unison; or, to speak more correctly, the one vital principle performs both simple acts in itself, and organic acts in the body. But the brain, being material, may become diseased; and thus the action of the mind may be rendered abnormal, insanity being the result. Still it is not the intellect as such, nor the will as such, that is liable to bodily disease, but the organs that assist the simple soul in its functions. The Fourth Council of Lateran has defined that "man is made up of spirit and matter"; and Ecclesiastes says that at man's death, "the dust returns into its earth from whence it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it" (XII, 7).

But though soul and body are really distinct, yet their union is so intimate that, while it lasts, they constitute only one complete substance; for the body has all its powers from the soul, and this is meant by saying that "the soul is the form of the body", the principle of all its activity. This truth was defined by the General Council of Vienne in 1312. The actions of every man, therefore, belong to him as a whole.

171. The Fifth Council of Lateran has defined that the soul of man is immortal. All nations have ever believed this truth, and reason can demonstrate it. For the soul, being simple, cannot be dissolved into parts; and being able to act without intrinsic dependence on the body (n. 170), it can continue the main work for which it was created, namely, to know and love God, after the body is destroyed. It is thus naturally immortal, and cannot cease to exist unless it be annihilated by the Creator. But a wise God would not have given it an immortal nature if He had intended to destroy it; therefore the soul will not cease to be. Moreover, God has implanted in all men a desire to exist forever; and thereby He has pledged Himself to give us immortality. Again, His justice requires that the virtuous shall be ultimately more happy than the wicked; but such is not always the case in this life: therefore a future life must be provided, which, to suit the nature of the soul, must be everlasting.


172. In a wider sense, supernatural means "above the nature of a being"; that is, not a part of its nature, nor due to its nature, nor attainable by the unaided powers of its nature. Theology uses the word "supernatural" in a more restricted sense, to mean "what is above the order and exigency of all created nature". Thus understood, the word applies particularly to adoption as sons of God, and consequent destination to the enjoyment of the beatific vision (n. 283). "The supernatural state", therefore means the state of an adopted child of God.

Man is raised to this supernatural state by the infusion of sanctifying grace into his soul. This grace gives him a beauty superior to his nature, such as becomes a child of God. And this same grace is for man a principle of supernatural life, whereby he can produce such fruits of good works as merit a Heavenly reward.

173. That Adam was endowed with sanctifying grace is defined by the Council of Trent, which states that, by his sin, he lost the holiness and justice which was his condition; therefore he must have had that holiness before his fall. This doctrine lies at the root of the whole religion of Christ; for the purpose of His coming on earth was to restore to our race what it had lost by the sin of Adam. St. John Damascene sums up the doctrine of the Fathers in these words: "The Creator imparted grace to the first man, and through grace communicated Himself to him" (De Fid. Orth. II, 30). St. Irenaeus represents Adam as lamenting: "I have lost that robe of sanctity which I received from the Holy Spirit" (De Hier. II, 23). Modern theologians generally teach that Adam was endowed with this grace from time very moment of his creation.

174. Together with sanctifying grace, God bestowed on our first parent several other gifts not due to their nature; these are supernatural in the wider sense of the term (n. 172). These gifts were: 1. Great power of mind and abundance of infused knowledge: "He (the Creator) gave them counsel and a heart to devise: he filled them with the knowledge of understanding. He created in them the science of the spirit, He filled their heart with wisdom, and showed them both good and evil" (Ecclus. XVII, 5, 6).

2. Their will perfectly controlled their passions. Naturally each faculty tends to its own direct object, the senses to sensual pleasure. This craving for sensual pleasure, often against the dictate of reason, is called "concupiscence". It is not sin; for sin supposes a disorder of the free-will; while concupiscence only tempts the will to be disorderly. Adam and Eve were at first free from it; for "they were both naked, and they were not ashamed" (Gen. II, 25), because it did not arouse unruly passions in them. The order of justice, said St. Augustine, "effected that, as the soul obeyed God, the body obeyed the soul" (De Pece. II, 22); and the Council of Trent teaches that concupiscence is the product of sin (Sess. 5, can. 5).

3. It is the nature of every animal to be mortal; but our first parents were gifted with immortality: "God created man incorruptible; . . . . but by the envy of the devil death came into time world" (Wis. II, 22, 24). St. Paul states explicitly that "by a man came death" (1 Cor. XV, 21), and adds "as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive" (ib. 22). And the Council of Trent says: "Adam by his disobedience incurred death" (Sess. 5, can. 1).

Exception from suffering and decay is also indicated by the text just quoted, "God created man incorruptible"; and the Council of Trent mentions pains of body amomig the effects of Adam's sin (ib. can 2). The supernatural state, in which our first parents enjoyed all these blessings, is called the state of original justice.


175. "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 whatever day thou shalt eat of it, thou shalt die the death' " (Gen. II, 15-17). The purpose of the prohibition was evidently to put man's obedience to the test. Therefore, though the eating of <> an apple is a trifling matter the obligation to abstain from it was strict and weighty; as is also indicated by the severity of the threatened penalty. Satan was permitted to tempt Adam; he did so through Eve. He gained control of the organs of a serpent, or he assumed its appearance, and thus spoke to her, promising that they should not die, but should be "as gods, knowing good and evil". She "did eat, and gave to her husband, who did eat" (Gen. III, 5, 6). The sin of Adam was a formal and grievous sin of disobedience (Rom. V, 19); it also implied pride, and ambition to be as gods.

176. The consequences of their sin were most grievous for both the souls and the bodies of Adam and Eve. They did not indeed loose whatever perfections belong strictly to human nature, as part of it, or due to it, or attainable by it; but they lost all their supernatural endowments enumerated in the preceding article, -- namely sanctifying grace, adoption as children of God, and a right to the beatific vision, -- and also those gifts which we have called "supernatural in a wider sense". For their intellects were darkened, their wills weakened, their concupiscence left unchecked, their death and sufferings decreed. Thus man was changed for the worse in all his powers of body and soul. All these consequences are clearly stated by the Council of Trent, which teaches (Sess. 5, can. 1) that Adam by his sin lost holiness and justice, incurred the anger of God, death, subjection beneath the power of the Devil, and was wholly changed for the worse in soul and body.

177. These same consequences have descended to every one of Adam's posterity, all of whom are born deprived of those privileges. His sin was his own individual act; while our sin is the consequence of our origin from Adam, and is therefore called original sin; it is the sin in which we are born. The Council of Trent says (ib. can. 2) that holiness and justice were lost to us also, and that Adam has transfused, not death and poison only into the whole human race, but sin also, which is the death of the soul.

178. This canon of Trent rests on the clear teachings of Scripture. For St. Paul writes to the Romans: "By one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death; and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned. . . . by the offence of one man unto all men to condemnation" (V, 12, 18). The canon rests also on the constant practice of the Church of baptizing infants; for Baptism, says the Nicene Creed, is conferred "for the remission of sin"; therefore the infants are believed by the Church to be in sin. Now infant Baptism is also practised by all those heretical sects which date back to the earliest ages; thus showing that the same doctrine was held by the first Christians. The Pelagians in the fourth century denied the doctrine of original sin; in his answers to them St. Augustine constantly appealed to Tradition, saying to their champion "Original sin is not of my invention; the Catholic Church has held it from of old; you who deny it are unquestionably the teacher of novelty, the heretic" (Adv. Jul.).

179. The nature of original sin, as explained by many though not by all Catholic writers, is as follows: men are now born deprived of sanctifying grace, or without that grace which they ought to have; this privation had its origin in an actual sin, that of Adam; and it is identical with the state to which a Christian is reduced when he commits a mortal sin. This explanation commended itself to the great St. Anselm, who declares that he cannot understand original sin to be anything but the absence, due to time disobedience of Adam, of that robe of justice which ought to be ours.

The propagation of original sin is explained if we remark that, when God creates the soul and unites it with the body, which has the nature of the race to which it belongs, He abstains, in view of the sin of Adam, from conferring upon that soul the gifts above and beyond nature which He would otherwise have conferred.

180. The mystery of original sin consists in the Divine dispensation whereby the fortunes of mankind were placed in the hands of Adam. This does not violate the rights of men; for they have lost none but supernatural gifts, to which they had no right. And the punishment of original sin in the next world is not pain of sense, but privation of the beatific vision, which is not due to any created nature. Therefore God would have done us no injustice, even if, without the fault of any man, He had created us as we are now born, but without stain of sin. Gregory XI censured time contrary doctrine of Baius. Such an imaginary state of man as we have just supposed is called the state of pure or simple nature; but, owing to the Redemption, man is actually in the state of restored nature. The State of Adam and Eve before the fall was the state of original justice.

181. The Episcopalian doctrine on original sin makes this sin consist in the corruption of the nature of every man whereby he is inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit; and therefore every person deserves God's wrath and damnation; and, though there is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptized, yet the lust is sin (Article IX).

Most of the Protestant sects would probably agree with this teaching of the English Church. But the Unitarians do not admit original sin in any form, nor do the Remonstrants, or Arminians, who, however, never loved definite declarations of doctrine. It may be said that the very prevalent form of religion called by its friends "liberal" or "undogmatic" originated with Arminius, who died in 1609. All theological systems that deny original sin are spoken of as Pelagian (nn. 178, 361).

It is true that the rebellion of all the human passions against the rational will, which we call concupiscence, comes fromn Adam's sin, and it allures to sin; in this sense it is called sin by St. Paul, as the context shows (Rom. VII, 20, 23). St. James distinguishes it from sin "When concupiscence hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin" (I, 15); there is certainly a distinction between that which bringeth forth and that which is brought forth.

If concupiscence itself were sin, then we should sin necessarily, for we all have it. St, Paul said: "I see an other law in my members, fighting against the law of my mind" (Rom, VII, 23). If we could not resist this concupiscence. it would follow that we have no free-will to do good or evil. This is in fact the radical error of Luther's whole scheme of "salvation by faith alone." He denied man's free-will, and wrote a treatise "On the Slave-Will" (De Servo Arbitrio). He teaches that the will of man is like a beast of burden: if God rides it, He takes it to Heaven; but if Satan straddles it, he takes it to hell. It is strange that a heresy so insulting to God and ignominious to man should have found favor with liberty-loving races, nor could it ever have done so, if it had not been imposed upon the people by tyrannous princes (nn. 35, 361, I, VI).

But while the Reformers have exaggerated the degradation of man resulting from original sin, yet the real weakening of his intellect and will, the rebellion of concupiscence, with death and bodily infirmities, are humiliating enough to our pride. And in this humiliation we clearly see the wisdom of God, who wished to provide a permanent antidote against pride. For to this sin had Satan tempted men by promising that they should be like to God (nn. 175).

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