St. Augustine and Evolution
by Lewis Loflin
The most notable Church Father in the West would be St. Augustine. (353-430) The idea of evolution as misused by atheists and denied at any level by many Christian fundamentalists such as Pat Robertson, was not a problem to thinking Christians.
The true idea of evolution is change over time towards greater perfection. Saint Gregory of Nyssa (331-396) "taught that the Creation was potential - that God imparted to matter its fundamental laws and properties, but that the objects and completed forms of the Universe then developed gradually, under their own steam, out of primordial chaos." To quote Wiki,
Gregory's idea of epektasis or constant progress. The platonic philosophy was that stability is perfection and change is for the worse. In contrast, Gregory described the ideal of human perfection as constant progress in virtue and godliness. In his theology, God himself has always been perfect and has never changed, and never will.
Humanity fell from grace in the Garden of Eden, but rather than return to an unchanging state, humanity's goal is to become more and more perfect, more like God, even though humanity will never understand, much less attain, God's transcendence. This idea has had a profound influence on the Eastern Orthodox teaching regarding theosis or "divinization".
Gregory thus shared Origen's conviction that man's material nature is a result of the fall and also Origen's hope for ultimate universal salvation. While the question of salvation or damnation is settled at the moment of death, nobody is known to have been damned and so prayers are offered for absolutely all the dead, even for those who seem to have been great sinners.
Note under scientific evolution for example there is no "fall," but the idea of negative "material" world smacks of Gnosticism, the branch of Christianity declared heresy by the official Church. In Christian Orthodoxy On Creationism Deacon Andrey Kuraev remarks of Western fundamentalists,
These Creationists are not just arguing against an atheistic understanding of the process of evolution but, more generally, against the very possibility of evolution itself. For them, the pre-human world is no older than six literal days. The Earth is incapable of evolutionary development, even in response to a call from the Creator...
From the view of Orthodox Christianity Gregory does influence their thoughts. Kuraev remarks,
Orthodoxy has neither a textual nor a doctrinal basis to reject evolutionism. Neither does it make sense for Orthodox Christians to indulge the current fashion of irrationality (since any irrationality, in the end, will favor occultism and will work against the Church)..."the Days of creation should be understood not literally ("For a thousand years in Thine eyes, O Lord, are but as yesterday that is past, and as a watch in the night.") but as periods!"
Secondly, the idea of evolution, given its separation from its atheist interpretation...Darwinism does not contradict the biblical teaching on the creation of living things because evolution does not address the question of who created the first animals..."
He says God commanded the earth to merely bring forth life as a gradual process and not "poof" as depicted by many Protestant fundamentalists. What brought this about? The primary influence of Calvin and Luther was St. Augustine. He says of Augustine,
"Why did a part of the Protestant world resurrect the pagan attitude that matter is "passive" and make this into a principle of its faith? There are, it seems to me, three reasons for that."
1. The first one comes from a peculiar tradition of Western Christianity. A clear biblical depiction of the gradual calling into being of the different levels of being was obscured by an imprecise Latin translation of the phrase from Sirach 18:1 "He that liveth for ever Hath created all things in general," where the Greek koine means "together," linked together, but the Latin translation was "simul" in the Vulgate, meaning, "God created everything simultaneously" rather than "everything was created by God." This quote from the Vulgate is closely linked to resistance against evolutionary views in the West...
St Augustine knew little of Greek and stated so in his Confessions and to quote, "St. Augustine was thus already sure that God "created all simultaneously." This view became part of tradition in Western schools of theology and so was inherited by the Protestants. It is ironic that a phrase from an "uncanonical" book still affects the thinking of those who otherwise reject these books of Scripture."
As he notes, this is related to the Protestant vision of "faith alone." To quote, "This second reason is found in the Protestant principle of "salvation by faith alone," rejection of synergy (a biblical word, 1 Cor. 3:9). The result is denial that man takes an active part in his salvation by God...This is how a Seventh-Day Adventist textbook opens its criticism of the theory of evolution: "Even Paul the Apostle could not be righteous through his own efforts. He knew the perfect ideal of the law of God, but could not live accordingly."
Next, it turns out that "Calvary is overturning the theory of evolution in the most decisive manner." The same textbook states with disapproval that "more and more Christians accept the atheistic evolutionary theory, according to which God has used an evolutionary process in creating the world." It is unclear why people who accept that "God has used..." are called atheists...
Why are fundamentalists acting like this? To quote,
"The reason for the persistence of the fundamentalists, which makes this not merely a privately held belief, is social...to come into open conflict with scientific data. At the end of this century statements contrary to science have become fashionable. Astrologers, fortunetellers, magicians, and other occultists are free to say the most bizarre things. It seems that people are tired of scientific sobriety and responsibility and are ready to accept anything...
Views and opinions of radical creationists can not be accepted because they use scientific data in an arbitrary and non-objective way, by which they produce fair objections from those who are professionally involved in science. There is a real danger here that a biologist, having read some arrogant creationist book, will apply the word "rubbish" to Christianity in general.
But to quote Darwin, a Life in Science on evolution,
Saint Augustine (353-430) painted an even clearer picture. He taught that the original germs of living things came in two forms, one placed by the Creator in animals and plants, and a second variety scattered throughout the environment, destined to become active only under the right conditions.
He said that the Biblical account of the Creation should not be read as literally occupying six days, but six units of time, while the passage `In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth' should be interpreted:
As if this were the seed of the heaven and the earth, although as yet all the matter of heaven and of earth was in confusion; but because it was certain that from this the heaven and the earth would be, therefore the material itself is called by that name.
Augustine likens the Creation to the growth of a tree from its seed, which has the potential to become a tree, but does so only through a long, slow process, in accordance with the environment in which it finds itself.
God created the potential for the heavens and earth, and for life, but the details worked themselves out in accordance with the laws laid down by God, on this picture.
It wasn't necessary for God to create each individual species (let alone each individual living thing) in the process called Special Creation. Instead, the Creator provided the seeds of the Universe and of life, and let them develop in their own time.
In all but name, except for introducing the hand of God to start off the Universe, Augustine's theory was a theory of evolution, and one which stands up well alongside modern theories of the evolution of the Universe and the evolution of life on Earth.'
His views were influential throughout the Middle Ages, and followed by such important thinkers as William of Occam (in the fourteenth century) and, most importantly, by Saint Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century.
Aquinas simply quoted Augustine's teaching on the subject of the Creation and the interpretation of Genesis; but as he was one of the highest authorities in the Christian Church at the time, and has been one of the most influential since, this amounted to an official seal of approval for the idea that God had set the Universe in motion and then rested.
Thus through bad translations used by St. Augustine, it seems he influenced the creation of radical Deism and along with the actions of Protestant fundamentalists are reducing Christianity in general to "rubbish."
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