Adam and Eve at Bryan College

Painting of Adam and Eve by Peter Wenzel displayed in the Pinacoteca at the Vatican Museums. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

In the wake of some Catholic schools' attempt to strengthen faculty fidelity to the moral teachings of the Catholic Church, a recent New York Times story highlights a similar effort underway at a Bryan College, a Christian college in Dayton, Tenn., which is tweaking its statement of belief and causing division as a result: 

Since its founding in 1930, Bryan College’s statement of belief, which professors have to sign as part of their employment contracts, included a 41-word section summing up the institution’s conservative views on creation and evolution, including the statement: “The origin of man was by fiat of God.” But in February, college officials decided that professors had to agree to an additional clarification declaring that Adam and Eve “are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life-forms.”

It's hard to see how this statement squares with the overwhelming evidence furnished by modern science. For an overview of the Catholic understanding of Genesis and the complications of a literal interpretation of the Adam and Eve story, see this post of America contributor John W. Martens.  

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Jonathan James
4 years 5 months ago

Adam and Eve: Real People

It is equally impermissible to dismiss the story of Adam and Eve and the fall (Gen. 2–3) as a fiction. A question often raised in this context is whether the human race descended from an original pair of two human beings (a teaching known as monogenism) or a pool of early human couples (a teaching known as polygenism).

In this regard, Pope Pius XII stated: "When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parents of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now, it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the teaching authority of the Church proposed with regard to original sin which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam in which through generation is passed onto all and is in everyone as his own" (Humani Generis 37).

The story of the creation and fall of man is a true one, even if not written entirely according to modern literary techniques. The Catechism states, "The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents" (CCC 390).


Matt Emerson
4 years 5 months ago

Jonathon, thanks for your reply. The matter is complicated. The Catholic articulation of the meaning of Adam and Eve -- particularly the language in the Catechism -- leaves lots of questions. What, for example, does it mean that Genesis uses "figurative language" to describe a "primeval event"? It's a deed, says the Catechism, that took place at the beginning of the history of man, but does this mean it occurred exactly as Genesis describes? How early in human history did this episode occur: at the time the human brain had developed to appreciate morality or to be capable of self-analysis -- in a word, to be responsible for our actions? And how do we square Humani Generis and its opinion of polygenism with the findings of modern science? (See here for a good overview of the monogenism and polygenism issue). From my reading of the Tradition, this discussion is a fruitful area for scholars and theologians to bring further clarity.  



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