What does a non-literal reading/interpretation of Genesis do to the Catholic concept of original justice, original sin, and death?


I’m asking the following questions under two premises. The first premise is that the theory of evolution is correct and that mankind physically evolved from lower life forms. Personally, I’m still not sure of the correctness of this theory but I think these questions are still invaluable for discussing since many others (Catholics included and intellectuals outside of the faith) hold to this premise. The second premise is that the Genesis account of creation and early events of mankind refer to true concepts but are not to be understood literally. Working within the framework established by these premises, I have a few interrelated questions that naturally arise and which have been troubling me for years.
First, if mankind did evolve from lower life forms (and which we do have some evidence for from the fossil record), did God gradually raise our level of consciousness such that our soul, i.e. our free will and ability to comprehend God, evolved along with our physical evolution? Or did, in one definable day/moment, God bestow free will and an immortal soul upon an early human couple (whom we would term ‘Adam and Eve’) thereby irrevocably opening up a brand new era on planet earth?

My second question refers to death. From the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church #72 states: ‘in the original plan they [mankind] would not have had to suffer and die’. The idea of mankind never having to have suffered or die raises a number of questions. How are we do understand this in relation to what we know about inherent ecological limits on earth? It’s very clear from science as well as common sense that the earth can only support so many creatures and if mankind never died and kept on breeding this would have quickly exhausted the earth’s carrying capacity as we live on a finite planet that can only support so much life. It’s clear from the fossil record that creatures have come and gone, and just looking at the way the earth works now and the ways animals are physically equipped to kill/avoid being killed, it seems very reasonable to assume that this is how things have always worked here on earth. Also, what about all the pain receptors in human beings? If mankind was never originally supposed to have suffered, then why was he built/evolved in a way that is meant to respond to pain?

I also have a further question/comment relating to all of this in regard to the term ‘death’ as originally used by the Hebrews who wrote the Genesis account. Could death here be primarily referring to a spiritual state and/or a spiritual and physical state with the latter referring to the corruption of the human body as opposed to its freedom from decay and assumption into heaven (all of which may make more sense in the allegorical way Genesis seems to be written)? In Fr. Mario P. Romero’s Unabridged Christianity, he quotes in footnote 10 on page 283 a man named Mark Miravalle, author of An Introduction to Mary, who writes: ‘According to St. Paul (cf. Rom 5-8; Hebrews 2), the consequences of Satan’s seed, evil, are twofold: sin and death (or bodily corruption). Therefore, Mary, who shared in her Son’s victory over Satan and his seed (cf. Gen 3:15), would have to be saved from both sin and death or corruption. Mary did triumph over sin in her Immaculate Conception and triumphed over death (specifically corruption of the body) in her glorious Assumption at the end of her earthly life.” From this passage, Miravalle seems to be indicating that we can look at death as referring to bodily corruption.

My thoughts: perhaps in God’s original intention, humans did ‘die’ but not in the way we do whereby there is pain, fear of what’s next, and the decay of the physical body. Perhaps in the original scheme, humans would have been assumed into heaven like Enoch and Elijah, or put to sleep by God Himself and then assumed into heaven like our Mother the Virgin Mary. In this way, the carrying capacity of the earth would have been respected and each human would have passed the test of not eating of the forbidden tree and taken after this much different death into the full glory of the beatific vision.

My final question relating to all of this is the issue of original sin. I know the CCC speaks of this event and in #75 writes: ‘When tempted by the devil, the first man and woman allowed trust in their Creator to die in their hearts. In their disobedience they wished to become “like God” but without God and not in accordance with God (Genesis 3:5). Thus, Adam and Eve immediately lost for themselves and for all their descendants the original grace of holiness and justice.’ Are we to understand the fall and the entrance of original sin as having happened to the very first fully human beings and in a definable moment/time period (the one’s with complete free-will and a rational soul)? What was the fate of the lower pre-human life forms they evolved from, i.e. did they not have a partial soul that could also be tempted and fall into sin? How did Adam and Even, the first couple that were fully human relate to the relatives they evolved from and who they were now distinguished from having been graced by God with a full human soul? Is it possible that there were other humans before and/or existing simultaneously to Adam and Eve?

I realize that most if not all of these questions are speculative and in turn the answers will be speculative. Still, I wanted to try and get a better grasp on possible solutions to these issues and also see what other Catholics on here have come up with when confronted with some of these and other related questions. I’m in the process of reconciling to the Catholic Church, and having a better grasp on these issues will enable me to feel more comfortable with my current Christian faith and hopefully later on with my entrance into the Church.
God Bless,

P.S. I realized that I had a supplemental question relating to the second question from above. My question is: how does the Church’s teaching on not using contraception reconcile with our finite world that has a clear carrying capacity (and one in which our 7 billion people are rapidly exceeding). Basically, if every human couple on earth were to not use contraceptives, and just NFP, still most couples would likely have more than 2 children to replace themselves and over time you would see an exponential growth of human numbers even with disease, accidents, wars, and other mechanisms of death reducing the numbers some. Again, how do we square the Church’s teaching on this with what we know about the finite limits of our earth?


May i suggst that if we abandon a literal interpretatio, that does not mean that Genesis does not contain revealed truth, chief among them being that there is a Creator, that he created man in his image, and that we have knowledge about their relationship relationship from that beginning. As for the facts of evolution, they are pretty skimpy, and that they tell us almost nothing about the nature of the first human beings,less than we can learn from the bones of an unknown person plucked from his grave and laid on a table can tell us about his relationship to his family and nation.


On this last part, the world is not overpopulated and never will be. Physically you could put all 6 billion people into Texas, for example. There is plenty of land area and there always will be. The mass poverty problem is not that there are too many people but is mainly one of inequitable distribution of resources by the wealthy countries and big corporates, further compounded by corruption in the developing countries.
The population in the developed countries is in fact declining and will continue to do so. Population modelling shows that the global population will peak in the future about 12 billion and then fall and settle back at around 8 billion.



You asked a lot, and I have an awful headache right now. Perhaps in the next day or two I will check in again, and if the specific detailed questions you have posed are not by then addressed, I will take a stab.

But in the meanwhile, I suggest and urge you to get a copy of Scott Hahn’s A Father Who Keeps His Promises: God’s Covenant Love in Scripture. It does a good job of taking the text of Genesis seriously, without being pedantically literalistic.

It makes constant reference to the biblical texts themselves, and frequent reference to the learned commentaries by the Church Fathers and also the rabbinic tradition. It tries to read Genesis as it was meant to be read.



Thanks so far to those that have replied to my post. I will be out of town for over two weeks starting tomorrow night so I will not be able to respond until then. Please continue to respond to this post if you wish.


Poverty is indeed caused by an inequitable distribution of resources among the nations, but it is simplistic to blame it on
wealthy nations and corporations, Five hundred years ago, the richest "nations: in the world were the Muslim empires and China. Marco Polo tells us what China was like in his time, and China remained rich and powerful until the end of the 18th Century. But China, and the Ottomans, choice to live on their capital, and drew in on themselves, until their institutions crumbled. In 1421 Chinese fleets far larger than those of westerners explored much of the world, rewaching Africa and then the West Coast of North America, and maybe South America, Then, they burnt their fleets. The Ottomans depended on conquest to increase their wealth, and a domination of the ancient trade Routes. The Mugul Empire in India did trade with the East, but this was limited. In time, the Muslim and the Chinese empires dwindled away, in part because they could not compete with the West. Westerm imperialism was never more exploitive than any early imperialisms, and unlike them it gave as much backs as it took. The poverty in the old "Third World"today is owing to its politics, which remains traditional or socialist, each form of which concentrates the wealth of the land in the hands of the ruling cliques.


Concerning cosmological evolution, the Church has infallibly defined that the universe was specially created out of nothing. Vatican I solemnly defined that everyone must “confess the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, as regards their whole substance, have been produced by God from nothing” (Canons on God the Creator of All Things, canon 5).

The Church does not have an official position on whether the stars, nebulae, and planets we see today were created at that time or whether they developed over time (for example, in the aftermath of the Big Bang that modern cosmologists discuss). However, the Church would maintain that, if the stars and planets did develop over time, this still ultimately must be attributed to God and his plan, for Scripture records: “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host [stars, nebulae, planets] by the breath of his mouth” (Ps. 33:6).

Concerning biological evolution, the Church does not have an official position on whether various life forms developed over the course of time. However, it says that, if they did develop, then they did so under the impetus and guidance of God, and their ultimate creation must be ascribed to him.

Concerning human evolution, the Church has a more definite teaching. It allows for the possibility that man’s body developed from previous biological forms, under God’s guidance, but it insists on the special creation of his soul. Pope Pius XII declared that “the teaching authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions . . . take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter—[but] the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God” (Pius XII, *Humani Generis *36). So whether the human body was specially created or developed, we are required to hold as a matter of Catholic faith that the human soul is specially created; it did not evolve, and it is not inherited from our parents, as our bodies are.

While the Church permits belief in either special creation or developmental creation on certain questions, it in no circumstances permits belief in atheistic evolution.


Any theory of evolution acceptable to the Church must admi the moral unity of mankind, that is that there exists a human nature in ther traditional sense, which holds that underlying human differences of appearance and culture is a relative fixity, permitting us to enjoy communions with al humans past, past, present and future, and a moral law that leads finally to amity. But this can be accomplihsed pnly by divine intervention.


The Church says, the way I understand it, as far as a ‘moral’ unity of humankind is concerned, there isn’t any except in and through Christ. We can only find legitimate communion with all human beings past, present, and future, in and through Christ.


Catechism of the Catholic Church **
116 **The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: “All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal.”


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