Does the Church require that we believe in a literal Adam and Eve as the first couple?

Hey everyone. Another thread going on about science and the faith inspired me to ask this question. Does the Church require that we believe that Adam and Eve were the first couple with human souls?


Yes, that we all descended from a first pair of parents, by whatever names, who committed the first sin, the first act of disobedience of God.
**390 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.264 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.265
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Oh okay. I thought so. Thank you very much Fhansen. :thumbsup:

FWIW, science and theology are not far apart (and it may be possible to completely reconcile the two).

Genetics insists that all of humanity (homo-sapiens-sapiens) are descended from a common mother (scientifically known as Mitochondrial Eve) and a common father (scientifically known as Y-Chromosome Adam). Every human on earth can trace his lineage back to these two parents.

Humanity is hardly unique in this regard. Every species on earth shares a common ancestor from which all members of that species originate. This ancestor is called the Last Common Ancestor (LCA). All life on earth (bacteria, moss, trees, ants, birds, dinosaurs, and humans) originated from a common one-celled organism, called the Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA).

Every species on earth has an LCA. The LCA for humans are Mitochondrial Eve and Y-Chromosome Adam.

However, scientists do not presently believe that M-Eve and Y-Adam ever knew each other. M-Eve came first, and her genetic descendants mated with Y-Adam or one of his descendants. Older studies separated M-Eve and Y-Adam by ten thousand years. More recent research has suggested they may have lived “only” a few thousand years apart. Who knows what further research may reveal?

But, even if we accept that Adam and Eve never met, science agrees with the Catholic Faith that all humans (and every other sexual organism) share a common male/female ancestor. Science required the discovery of analytic genetics (the ability to study the genome) to determine this - a field of study that was developed well into my own lifetime. The Catholic and Jewish Churches have been teaching this for more than six thousand years.

As I recall, one of the Popes taught that Catholics are to believe the story in the book of Genesis about the first woman being created from Adam, which shows an event that actually happened.

You might be confusing this with a protestant myth which claims that men have one fewer rib than women (because, in the first creation account, Eve was created from one of Adam’s ribs). Some gullible protestants cite this as “proof” that Adam came first.

Biologically, this is nonsense - men and women have the same number of ribs. The only way that a female skeleton can be positively differentiated from a male skeleton is the pelvic area. In a female, the pelvic opening is enlarged and flared, to permit child birth.

The belief that males have fewer ribs than females is not restricted to protestants.

More to the point…

From the encyclical of Pope Leo XIII, Arcanum Divinae Sapientiae:

We record what is to all known, and cannot be doubted by any, that God, on the sixth day of creation, having made man from the slime of the earth, and having breathed into his face the breath of life, gave him a companion, whom He miraculously took from the side of Adam when he was locked in sleep.

Well, let’s have the whole quote now:

We record what is to all known, and cannot be doubted by any, that God, on the sixth day of creation, having made man from the slime of the earth, and having breathed into his face the breath of life, gave him a companion, whom He miraculously took from the side of Adam when he was locked in sleep. God thus, in His most far-reaching foresight, decreed that this husband and wife should be the natural beginning of the human race, from whom it might be propagated and preserved by an unfailing fruitfulness throughout all futurity of time.

So, Pope Leo interprets this primeval message (something that we all know) from Genesis as meaning that God intended a man and a woman to be the natural beginning of the human race. He then goes on to describe why marriage is a union blessed by God and affirmed by Christ.

The broader meaning is the point. That woman was created from this side of Adam is also a type of how the church is created from the side of Christ. So this is a literary technique used to convey lots of meanings simultaneously.

Some folks think that things must be either literal or symbolic. But in the case of scripture it is both.

But if you stop at the literal, you can miss the point of what it is saying at a broader level.

So I believe that the correct answer is that our Church requires us to understand that Adam and Eve were real people, and that what is described in Genesis is symbolic with many layers of meaning, including meaning with respect to the New Testament and for our own lives personally and as a society today. Our church requires us to understand that it is both literal and symbolic at the same time.

Do you mean to say that the Pope taught that male and female skeletons differ in regard to the number of ribs?

I don’t find any such teaching in the passage that you cited.

No, I was referring to other Catholics who believe that.

The quote from the encyclical was in response to post #5. Apologies for not being clearer.

May I respectfully point out that in 21st century science (biology and paleoanthropology), the most recent common ancestor for the human species consists of a breeding population estimated in the thousands and not the two sole married parents of humankind. For example, as Wikipedia points out, Mitochondrial Eve is one ancient being in a population of many ancient beings including breeding females. Eve, the spouse of Adam, was the only human female in the Garden of Eden. Because there are only two parents originally procreating, all humanity can share in the victory of Jesus Christ. (Information source. CCC 356; CCC 1730; CCC 1260, first sentence)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition, says plainly that "The whole human race is in Adam “as one body of one man.” (CCC 404)

For Catholics, the hypothesis of a founding human population of more than two is in direct opposition to the doctrines regarding Adam and Eve.

There can be a problem for those who didn’t believe in a first man with saying that the breeding population of man came from thousands, who were “the founding population.” Where did these thousands come from, if they were men? Or if these thousands weren’t men, there would still be a first man somehow. Or we would not exist.

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