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Four basic truths about Genesis and Creation

The fact that the woman is created from the man stresses a cardinal tenet of the Judaeo-Christian Tradition, namely, that man and woman share a common life and enjoy a God-given equality.

"Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden" (c 1530) by Lucas Cranach the Elder [WikiArt.org]

Editor’s note: The following homily preached by the Reverend Peter M. J. Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.D., on February 12, 2019, at the Church of the Holy Innocents, Manhattan.

Beginning yesterday and for the next couple of weeks, at daily Mass the Church will be treating us to passages from the Book of Genesis. This afternoon, I shall limit myself to the first two chapters, given that this is a noontime Mass on a work day.

The first book of the Bible, interestingly enough, is rather a late-comer and shows the hand of several authors and editors. Genesis is the Greek name for the work (meaning, “beginning”), while the Hebrew name comes from the first words of the volume, “In the beginning, God created.” The book may be divided into two principal sections. The first eleven chapters deal with the beginnings of the universe and of human beings in general, while chapters 12-50 are more specific and describe the national origins of the Hebrew people.

Even a casual reader of Genesis will notice that there are two creation accounts with very different explanations of how things came to be. The first (1:1-2:4a) is from what is termed the Priestly source (because of this writer’s concern with matters liturgical); the second begins at 2:4b and is attributed to the Yahwist (so called because he consistently uses “Yahweh” to name God). Neither purports to be an eyewitness recording of those first events. On the contrary, they are poetic and theological works designed to convey certain basic religious truths – which is why St. Augustine (writing in the fifth century) would caution his readers not to interpret these initial chapters of Genesis literally. Indeed, the apparent inconsistencies of the two accounts (from a contemporary scientific or historical viewpoint) did not upset the final editor, which is why he placed them side by side (in the liturgy, the first version yesterday and today, and the second tomorrow and Thursday). In fact, their theologies complement each other.

The Priestly account is a masterpiece of creative literature. The author divides God’s creative activity into six days, thus foreshadowing what would become man’s work week, because he intends to teach a lesson at the end. He has God rest on the seventh day, providing human beings with a divine example for the Sabbath observance. The creation is carefully arranged in an ascending order. One gets the same feeling as when listening to a symphony: There is a recurring theme; it is embellished and undergoes variations; the piece reaches crescendo in the creation of Adam and Eve and is resolved in the Lord’s Sabbath rest. This account differs from all the primitive creation stories of other cultures and religions in that God creates the world from nothing, in an effortless manner (by a word) and in a majestic style (“let us”). The biblical story highlights the Hebrew conviction that their God is unlike any other god.

Creation occurs through a word. For the Hebrew, a word was a very powerful concept, the very extension of the speaker. Therefore, we can say that God puts Himself into the act of creation. The power of the word is emphasized very often throughout the Old Testament and achieves a new depth of meaning in the New Testament when John’s Gospel informs us that “the Word became flesh.”

The Yahwist account is much older and is written in such a manner that the man and the woman become prototypes of Everyman and Everywoman. It is interesting that here humans are created first. The theological reason seems to be to stress the fact that the entire universe is made specifically for human beings and is at their disposal. This is hit upon again when we read that the man named all the creatures: To name something implied sovereignty over that thing.

The man is created from the clay of the earth and is enlivened by the breath of God. This gives expression to the belief that humans are of the earth, yes, but that they share in the life of God Himself.

In this primitive theology, God is described in very anthropomorphic terms. In fact, it is somewhat amusing to picture God creating all sorts of beings to make the man happy, but to no avail. Of course, even this has a theological purpose, for the author may have been trying to discourage the people of the time from engaging in pagan rites of bestiality. Therefore, the sacred author seizes the opportunity to make this point: Only another human being can properly complete and fulfill a human being. The fact that the woman is created from the man stresses yet another cardinal tenet of the Judaeo-Christian Tradition, namely, that man and woman share a common life and enjoy a God-given equality.

Doubtless, some of you are asking how all this fits or does not fit with the theory of evolution. First, we have to say that there is no one, single theory of evolution but several. In the main, though, we must say that Catholic teaching eschews any purely materialistic view of the origins of the universe and of man. However, it does not require adherence to various forms of creationism. From St. Augustine to Pope Pius XII to Pope John Paul II to Pope Benedict XVI, the Church has staked out a kind of via media. Realizing that the early chapters of Genesis are written in poetry and that the Bible is a theology text and not a science book, the Church is able to navigate a path through the Scylla and Charybdis of materialistic evolution and “young earth” creationism.

So, what must we hold? First, that all that exists is created by Almighty God; second, that there was a special and direct creation of man, done by the spirit or breath of God; third, that every human being coming into the world to the present day is likewise a special and direct creation, being endowed with an immortal soul by God; finally, that all creation is held in existence by the ongoing providential care of the Creator.

Quite appropriately, then, did we join our voices to that of the Psalmist as we prayed: “O Lord, our God, how wonderful your name in all the earth!”


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About Peter M.J. Stravinskas 117 Articles
Reverend Peter M.J. Stravinskas is the editor of the The Catholic Response, and the author of over 500 articles for numerous Catholic publications, as well as several books, including The Catholic Church and the Bible and Understanding the Sacraments.

11 Comments

  1. Wonderful article. Fr. Stravinskas writes: “The Yahwist account is much older and is written in such a manner that the man and the woman become prototypes of Everyman and Everywoman.”

    Pope St. John Paul II, also, proposes that the Yahwist account gives us special “food for thought.” Adam rises from sleep, and:

    “…the analogy of sleep indicates here not so much a passing from consciousness to subconsciousness, as a specific return to non-being (sleep contains an element of annihilation of man’s conscious existence), that is, to the moment preceding the creation [!], in order that, through God’s creative initiative, solitary ‘man’ may emerge from it again in his double unity as male and female.”

    (And as for Adam’s mere “rib”, JP II reports that for the ancient Sumerians the cuneiform sign for “rib” is the same one used for “life”… [Original Unity of Man and Woman, 1981, later the Theology of the Body]).

    Equal to the scientific question of “evolution,”—today’s sexual abuse crisis and the February gathering in Rome (beginning on the feast day of St. Peter Damian, author of Gomorrah), could [!] yet be elevated, or not, as a teachable moment. A teachable moment on the mystery of fecund human sexual unity/ complementarity/mutual belonging, as a beautifully gifted freedom from dead-end solitude in all of its addictive disguises including homosexual “involution”.

  2. Consider how many misconceptions and misunderstandings would be corrected if every literate person in the world read and believed this article. This is practically a firmware upgrade for one’s worldview. Thank you.

  3. Already in the l980’s, dna research had shown that all human beings are descended from one woman. No one can disprove this finding, so they prefer to ignore it or say it is irrelevant. They usually claim that other maternal lines simply became extinct. However, given the nature of human society, people would have spread quickly in such a way as to make the extinction of all other hypothetical maternal lines impossible.

    • The science of DNA establishing the fact of all as descendants of one woman is a conundrum for agnostic, radical feminists who unduly demand recognition in that it requires them to accept creation in the Biblical version of Eve.

    • Yes. Please allow me to agree—

      DNA-based findings have “strengthened the claim that all humans alive today are descended from a single African woman” who lived perhaps 140,000 years ago [Allan Wilson, an international genetics conference, 1989].

      Science itself adds another twist, or “bottleneck,” to the earlier scientific doctrine of proto-species. This is physical evolution as it was narrowly channeled [toward the above] by outside pruning…Genome research (1995) suggests that “Homo sapiens “came into existence and replaced a more primitive [pre-human] ancestor, often called ‘archaic Homo sapiens’, which appeared perhaps half a million years ago as the descendant of Homo erectus.”

      Recent site excavations in South Africa also reveal new evidence of very early technological and possible symbolic behavior. These “sites . . . belie the claim that modern cognition evolved late in our lineage and suggest instead that our species had this faculty at its inception [!]” [Marean, Atlantic Monthly, 2010]….

      The totally new humanity of the “person” is different in kind as well a degree from anything that came before…The short-lived theory of polygenesis, multiple human origins, favored even by some avant-garde theologians in the mid twentieth century, now is specifically rejected by a consensus of qualified scientists using a breadth of recent evidence…

      Moreover, each body-and-soul person is created “for its own sake” [Second Vatican Council] in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:27-29)…Each person “carries within him the seed of eternity, which cannot be reduced to matter alone . . . .” The precise moment of emergence as an integral human person is termed the “ONTOLOGICAL leap (into) the uniquely human factors of consciousness, intentionality, freedom, and creativity” [International Theological Commission, Origins, July 23, 2004, often mistranslated—either innocently or not—as a mere “evolutionary leap”].

      As St. Paul says, all of nature now is “groaning” (Romans 8:22-24) as we await face-to-face deification.

      (Adapted from Beaulieu, “Beyond Secularism and Jihad–A Triangular Inquiry into the Mosque, the Manger & Modernity” (2012): http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Item/5602/The_Mosque_the_Manger_and_Modernity.aspx)

  4. Thank you, Fr. Stravinskas. This would be good for St. Valentine’s Day tomorrow, as well!

    Just to make a little point here though – God took something (a rib) out of man to create woman, so yes, God created someone who complements man in every way. But let’s remember that the order of creation is surprisingly accurate, and it occurred to me one day that in that order, the last one created is the highest in the order of creation: woman.

    Indeed, God made woman’s body so complex that she constitutes creation itself, as we see was fulfilled through Our Blessed Mother. No man had any part in Our Lord’s creation; it was between woman and God. Even God Himself had to ask her permission to participate in the manifestation of Our Lord. And by the grace of free will bestowed on her, she said, “yes”. All this, from one simple rib!

    • The whole point of Eve being made from the rib of Adam was so that Adam and Eve would be made of the same substance. Adam and Eve were consubstantial, pointing to the Nicene Creed. It’s all about image and likeness. The Incarnation involved a supernatural exchange of love between the Holy Spirit and Mary. Mary is called the Spouse of the Holy Spirit. Any admixture of sin or coercion would have defiled the Incarnation and made it an act of domination and imposition and something less than one of loving union.

  5. You say: “man and woman share a common life and enjoy a God-given equality”. That may have been then, but it is not true today. Women are scorned and are demanded to wear burqas and walk behind their husbands. My Mother laundered the altar linen, but could not retrieve it. Being male I had to. It is written that God knows all and see all then he was responsible for creating a society that will self destruct.

    I can’t get the metaphysical meaning of “original sin”. God knew that Eve would tempt Adam with the forbidden fruit he therefore consigns all of humanity to “original sin” when those babies who followed were pure.

    • Here are some notions re “original sin” from a non-theologian:

      On the mystery of evil in the world, Pelagius felt that children were pure, and therefore concluded with the heresy (Pelagianism in the time of St. Augustine)that we can save ourselves by only our own efforts, without gratuitous grace.

      But, Luther was so convinced that we are all so totally corrupt that it is only by gratuitous grace alone than anyone can be saved (faith without works).

      Prior to both of these notions, and more than simply an apparent middle ground, the orthodox teaching (centered always on the total mystery of the Incarnation at a point in historical time–the “eternal man”) is that our shared human nature is neither totally pure nor totally corrupt, but (rather), inclined toward evil even as also oriented toward the good, and while at the same moment always gifted with free will–by which we, “in His image and likeness,” are empowered to “consign” ourselves…He does not consign us. In a finite way, we share His freedom. Julian of Norwich contrasts created love with uncreated love.

      Sacramental Baptism is more than a smiley-button welcoming into some kind of self-defined and flat-earth congregation.

      An intriguing possibility—more than a possibility—is the proposition that within God’s “eternity”, all of us are created at the same “time”. ..That is, all of us are at least implicated, if not exactly responsible, for the mystery-of-sin recounted in Genesis as from the chronologically first Adam. As well as individual agents, are we also all Adam in some real and easily forgotten (metaphysical)sense? The original sin is origin-al (of our personal origins) in a deeper sense than chronology.

      And, Mary, of course, is exempted (with Christ, the only one “predestined”—-John Calvin, take that!). The angels at the “beginning”, when they noticed that the infinite and eternal Divinity would enter into his own creation (!), through Mary (!), rebelled (past tense?). The humility of God and the wonderfully elevated nature of creation (which he loves through and through) were a bit too much for them to stomach, so to speak.

      So, the angels fell, in the beginning, because they already saw that somewhere later in the dimension of time, Mary would say, “fiat”. Original sin is not simple, nor is redemption and resurrection.

      JP II wrote of both “original innocence” and “original sin.”

    • If you want a worldly analogy I would compare Original Sin to being like a disease that is passed on by genetic inheritance. Original Sin damaged Adam and Eve’s image and likeness and that damage was transmitted to their offspring.

      • To take your line of thought as a starting point: just as a fish is genetically designed to breathe in the water and will suffer if it is placed on the dry ground, human beings were designed to have a specific union with God that was lost by Adam and Eve. We continue to survive, but not the way God had originally intended: he alone can restore us and elevate us to a higher level. As was mentioned in an earlier post, physically we are flesh of the flesh of the first Eve, which is how we can trace her DNA. Her rebellious flesh (and Adam’s) is ours as well, and we need the healing that only God can give.

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