Ontological leaps and the loss of preternatural gifts

A fellow catechist raised this question to me a few months ago and it’s one of those itchy ear type questions that just seems to hang around. I can’t seem to shake it. Bear with me here, as I believe this question deserves a preamble.

If any of this is a misinterpretation of church teaching, then by all means set me straight.

I recognize that the Bible reveals theological truths, not scientific ones and I believe the church makes it clear that when it comes to the interpretation of the early world creation narratives in Genesis, devout Catholics are free to believe anything from a "literalist" seven day creation / 6-8000yr old universe to a 5 billion year old planet. I also recognize that when it comes to these types of questions we will never know with certainty. That being said, many (most) Catholics tend to lean towards a view that legitimate science has shown the age of the Earth to be at the very least hundreds of thousands, if not billions of years old, that the geological sciences in particular point to an earth that is MUCH older than a strict literal interpretation of the Bible presents. "The use of figurative language" is usually employed as a means to reconcile this perceived conflict between faith and science. The church has formally declared that the belief that man may have evolved from a lower form is not in strict conflict of the faith (nor is it a requirement of it). Proponents of this view suggest that at some point man would have taken an ontological leap from his predecessor . Uniquely becoming self-aware, rational and imparted with a soul. 

but here’s the rub,

If man evolved from some lower form, if he took an ontological leap from some earlier form. what does that say about the preternatural gifts? (or the fall in the garden)

Sin and death entered the world with the fall of our first parents. Man was initially created to be eternal. How does that reconcile with evolving from some previous form? An infinite form could not have come from a finite one..could it?

Even if you take the story in the garden as mostly figurative, the loss of the preternatural gifts is not something that can be looked over.

 I'm just curious, if you lean towards the idea of man evolving from a lower form, how do you reconcile that idea with the loss of the preternatural gifts? :shrug:

Ooops…I just read that there is a temporary ban on evolution threads. I’m new to posting here, I hope I’m not breaking the rules already. I just thought it was interesting food for thought. If the question gets zapped, I get it…these evolution threads can get some people really going.

Peace; DD

To answer your question, answer mine:

FWIW my thought is that the moment God Almighty infused a soul into the first man and woman, and made them full of sanctifying grace, He also infused the preternatural gifts.

Actually, all I know is that it is wise to obey the Church in her teachings. There are things we just cannot wrap our minds around to anyone’s satisfaction. Faith in what the love letter of the Sacred Scriptures tell us is what matters!

I cannot quite see the problem?
If you can accept that God could intervene in animal nature and create an animal with an eternal soul…then intervening again and also supplying both preternatural gifts and supernatural gifts (ie sanctifying grace) which are “easier” to understand…what is the difficulty?

We also need to understand what “God initially made them to be eternal” means.
Their souls were certainly eternal.
Their bodies, even in Eden, aged. They needed to eat from the Tree of life to maintain bodily “eternity.”
Had they not done so that would probably constitute sin and hence original sin and hence death (separation of body and soul).

Had they never sinned it seems God may well have eventually assumed them to heaven bodily. Even God may have become Man and dwelt with them eternally in Eden.

We just don’t know re the latter points.

As their name indicates, the preternatural gifts were “extras” that went beyond what nature (even unfallen human nature) would ordinarily have bestowed. So there is no contradiction between any version of human origins and the idea that God bestowed those gifts on our first parents. Whether He literally formed the first unique human from dust* or granted spiritual awareness to one or two specimens that He isolated out of a larger hominid population, He could then have bestowed the preternatural gifts to that creature.


  • I find it odd that some people are bothered by the idea that humans descended from non-sapient ancestors, but don’t bat an eye at the assertion in the Adam and Eve story that we were literally made from dirt. Either way, it seems that God did not create humans ex nihilo but formed our bodies from previously created material.

The belief here is not that man evolved into self-awareness and rationality. Rather, that our hominid ancestors had advanced enough to “house” a rational soul, and that at some point God infused them with rational, self-aware souls. But this is a unique intervention on the part of God, not an evolutionary step.

I might suggest that the preternatural gifts were granted alongside the creation of their rational souls.

Well, technically man was created to be everlasting, not eternal, but I don’t want to focus on that. As I stated above, the rational, immortal soul was not an evolutionary step, but a creative act on the part of God, intervening in evolutionary history. So no, an infinite form did not come from a finite one. The human body, which is finite, came from other finite bodies, while the everlasting soul came from an infinite being; God.

The loss of preternatural gifts is due to sin, and is two-fold. First, the loss is a result of a broken relationship with God, and thus man was no longer able to partake of the Tree of Life (the Divine Nature). Second, man’s nature became disordered, and his spiritual soul became subject to his material body, meaning the attributes and appetites of the body came to dominate the human person (concupiscence), subjecting him not just to the spiritual death that he suffered, but also to the physical death that his body is bound to.

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