I have noticed a trend recently among the Catholic community. I understand that “Catholic community” is a broad statement. For our purposes let us think of those who attend mass, or work in Catholic education, and those who seek to form their knowledge with greater study through things like Bible studies or conferences. By “Catholic community”, I do not mean simply those who are baptized, but those who are intentional about their faith formation.
Within the world of intentional Catholics, there are a myriad of apologists, bloggers, and “experts”. On the internet, you can find “liberal” Catholic blogs, or “conservative” Catholic blogs. You can find “traditionalist” Catholic outlets, and although I have yet to come across it, you could probably find something like a “neo-con-traditionalist” blog. Catholicism is not politics, it cannot be “liberal” or “conservative”, it can only be orthodox or heterodox. More often than not, “traditionalists” tend to be orthodox, although I dare not exalt all traditionalists to this level of orthodoxy, as all faith communities can bare bad fruit. Now, there are some legitimate apologetics outlets, those who, for the most part, stay diligently in line with the Tradition and Magisterium of the Church. However, even among the most diligent, Catholic Answers comes to mind, there are instances when the intelligence and argumentation of the resident apologist is perceived to have a level of authority that is inappropriate, and can lead to error.
For example, Catholic Answers is a generally orthodox Catholic apologetics outlet, but even they can fall prey to this idolization of apologists. I mean to say that they can at times head the words of the apologist even if they are in error, simply because the apologist is highly intelligent. I see this frequently in how some apologists speak on the topic Evolution. I will not name any apologists because this is not meant to be a hit-piece on anyone’s work in the field, but instead a critique of a trend. If you were to peruse through the forums on Catholic Answers, or the articles and recordings, you will find a whole host of content with regard to evolutionary theory and how it can be reconciled with Catholicism. I have written in other articles about how this is an untenable position, which can be found here, and here. In almost all the quandaries that are found in the Catholic Answers catalogue, you will find references to Councils, Papal Encyclicals, or some big deal saints, like Thomas Aquinas. Nevertheless, this is not the case with Evolution, as for the most part you will find a host of articles by so-called “apologists”, like this article. Like most articles that suffer from the complexities of Modernism, it is very academic, a tad convoluted, and clarifies nothing except the fact that there is a lack of clarity. There are surely many papal statements mentioned, curiously, none of them from any time before the last 70 years. Furthermore, paragraph 36 from Humane Generis, the go-to proof-text for Catholic evolutionists, is of course cited, yet without any mention of the other 30+ paragraphs that offer a scathing condemnation of a whole host of Modernist theories, evolution included. There is a curious lack of citations from magisterial documents from the major councils of the past, like Trent or Lateran IV, including the following:
God…creator of all visible and invisible things, of the spiritual and of the corporal; who by His own omnipotent power at once from the beginning of time created each creature from nothing, spiritual and corporal, namely, angelic and mundane, and finally the human, constituted as it were, alike of the spirit and the body (D.428).
Now, there is a common theme among apologists who advocate for an evolutionary position, in that they tend to be great admirers of the Second Vatican Council, and the so-called “Spirit of Vatican II”. They tend to bring up the various documents, and how the Church “opened” the windows to let in some fresh air… and a perhaps a little Smoke of Satan… In addition, they speak of the Church post-Vatican II as if the preceding twenty centuries had not happened. Vatican II is the most Triumphant Council in their eyes, and they will lay out how all of the documents must be believed in full (even though Ratzinger and Paul the 6th have other ideas).
The Second Vatican Council has not been treated as a part of the entire living Tradition of the Church, but as an end of Tradition, a new start from zero. The truth is that this particular council defined no dogma at all, and deliberately chose to remain on a modest level, as a merely pastoral council; and yet many treat it as though it had made itself into a sort of super dogma, which takes away the importance of all the rest.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI given July 13, 1988, in Santiago, Chile
In view of the pastoral nature of the Council, it avoided any extraordinary statements of dogmas endowed with the note of infallibility, but it still provided its teaching with the authority of the Ordinary Magisterium, which must be accepted with docility according to the mind of the Council concerning the nature and aims of each document.
Pope Paul VI General Audience, 12 January 1966
Nevertheless, let us take them at their word and put Vatican II on a pedestal. If we do this, there is still no reason to accept evolution according the council. Now, let us use their logic that a council must be fully believed and lived out in its entirety, lest we become “disobedient”. If we do this, then we also have to honour the ancient councils, many of which clearly state that Adam and Eve are real, and that 6 days of creation took place in a historical manner. Furthermore, it is laid out in preceding magisterial teachings and Councils that no with the weight of infallibility, which has happened in many councils, can be contradicted in the future. This is why some of the more controversial documents from Vatican II are labeled with names like “Dogmatic Constitution,” or the documents will be de facto “Dogmatized”. This is because they are not simply dogmatic or doctrinal because they can be interpreted to be contradictory in some places, which would render them untenable from the outset as per the infallible statements of preceding magisterial teaching and Councils. We see a similar thing with talk of the SSPX. Yes, some Cardinals like Cardinal Burke, of whom I am a great admirer, have said things like the SSPX are in schism, so have many “apologists”. Yet, official statements from the Ecclesia Dei (Vatican office in charge of dealing with traditionalist orders) in recent years have made it clear that SSPX attendance does fulfill a Sunday obligation, yet attendance should be avoided because of the “Schismatic” attitude or history. Once again, we see the confusion caused by Modernism in the Church. Are they in schism, or is the atmosphere simply “schismatic” in tone. Are the documents from Vatican II dogmatic, or is there a “dogmatized” nature to them.
Recently, in conversation with people about the status of belief in Evolution concerning Catholic doctrine, it was made clear to me that even the most devout of individuals can fall prey to the idolization of an apologist. There seems to be more faith put in Trent Horn, than in the Council of Trent. When you ask many Catholics what they know about what we are to believe regarding evolution, you are more likely to hear the person say that they are going to do more research into contemporary cosmology than pre-conciliar Christology.
It has been said that there are in reality only two or three real heresies, namely, Gnosticism, Arianism, or a combination thereof. We see Gnosticism in Protestantism with the individual believer having their own grasp on Truth in how they interpret, or with an individual preacher preaching about the “real” message in the Gospel. We see both Gnosticism and Arianism in Mormonism and Islam, with their secret texts and private revelations to secret prophets, and with their denial of the divinity of Jesus. Commonly, we tend to think that the Devil would work to use our weakness, and surely, he does this at times. But, it is probably more likely that he would use the strengths of a devout catholic versus the weaknesses. A weekly communicant in a state of Grace is not likely to fall prey to sins of the flesh, or to follow an obviously “false-prophet”. However, an esteemed apologist and their flock are fertile ground for the seed of intellectual sin or the idolization of the apologist who acts a pseudo-prophet, what with his “ground-breaking” interpretations of scripture or “synthesis” of religion and science. All the while, no one takes the time to head the words of Solomon when he says, “What is it that hath been? the same thing that shall be. What is it that hath been done? the same that shall be done.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
There is nothing “new” to be said of creation that has not already been said by the Church Fathers or Tradition. There is nothing “new” to be found in the errors of Evolutionism that cannot be found in the ancient works of Epicurus or Democratus. There is nothing that any apologist or RCIA leader should be allowed to espouse to the inquiring faithful that does not fit with the Tradition of the Church, which is given the same authority as Sacred Scripture. There can be no contradicting of either of the approved Catechisms, and there cannot be any suggestion that we are to interpret anything other than what the Church Fathers unanimously agreed on, which was clarified at Vatican I.
We must take very seriously Saint Paul’s words when he says “Therefore, brethren, stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle”. No apologist is above Scripture. No apologist is above Tradition. Moreover, no apology should be made for the apologist who willfully disregards the Truth for the whims of their own intellectual fancy.