Today in Catholic History – Humani Generis

On 12 August 1950, Pope Pius XII issued the encyclical Humani Generis, subtitled Concerning Some False Opinions Which Threaten to Undermine the Foundations of Catholic Doctrine.

In this encyclical, Pius addresses the importance of the teaching authority of the Church, the need to seek out the truths of divine revelation, and dangerous tendencies he sees in the modern exercise of theology.

Pius asserts that while human reason unaided can come to the knowledge of God’s existence, only divine revelation can enable us to understand the true relationship between God and humanity. While it is important for humanity to seek out this true relationship, it is also necessary to recognize the the existence of the teaching authority of the Church in order to avoid falling into error while doing theological inquiry.

Amongst the errors that Pius condemns are the belief that the theory of evolution can be used to explain all things so that religious beliefs only reflect a particular stage of humanity which will one day be left behind as the human species evolves. Pius also condemns a philosophy of existentialism which sees humanity only in terms of its temporary characteristics and does not concern itself with what Pius calls “their immutable essences” – that which is common to all humanity and is unchanging.

Overall, Pius wants to call Catholics back to what he believes are the unchanging truths of the faith and to condemn any treatment of these truths which would consider them as of only temporary importance. He agrees that some of these truths only came to their fullness through long periods of theological investigation, but denies that this history of a development of doctrine means that these truths can be rejected by simply treating them as relics of the past or by simply considering “truth” something relative to one’s situation in history.

In order to respond to these errors, Pius calls for all theologians to recognize the role of the Papacy to define and identify the unchanging truths of the faith and for a greater emphasis on the teaching of an authentic philosophy in the seminaries which would defend against the problems of relativism.

Of particular note are Pius XII’s comments in regard to the theory of evolution. While Pius is unwilling to accept the theory of evolution as definitively proved, he does state that scientists and theologians can continue to discuss it. However, what is not permitted is a belief that the creation of the human soul is also a product of evolution. He says, “Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God.” Pius also addresses the theory of polygenism, or the belief that the human species descended from multiple ancestors rather than from a single “Adam” and “Eve”. Pius believes that such an opinion would be incompatible with the Catholic understanding of original sin.

Pius XII is open to scientific and intellectual investigation, but argues that any authentic search for truth must not conflict with the truths of the faith as defined by the Catholic Church and her Magisterium.

Humani Generis

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