Humani generis is a papal encyclical that Pope Pius XII promulgated on 12 August 1950 "concerning some false opinions threatening to undermine the foundations of Catholic Doctrine". Theological opinions and doctrines known as Nouvelle Théologie or neo-modernism and their consequences on the Church were its primary subject.
Encyclical of Pope Pius XII
|Signature date||12 August 1950|
|Number||18 of the pontificate|
Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange (1877–1964), professor of the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas Angelicum, is said to have been a dominant influence on the content of the encyclical. Humani generis is the papal encyclical that deals most directly with the topic of evolution.
Role of theology
In Humani generis, Pope Pius held a corporate view of theology. Theologians, employed by the Church, are assistants, to teach the official teachings of the Church and not their own private thoughts. They are free to engage in all kinds of empirical research, which the Church will generously support, but in matters of morality and religion, they are subjected to the teaching office and authority of the Church, the Magisterium.
Humani generis is critical of some trends in modern theology, but does not mention or attack individual opinions or even groups of dissenting theologians, possibly because of the much larger, still looming power issue of who teaches authoritatively the Catholic faith: bishops, as successor to the Apostles; or theologians, who have constant access to relevant information and research tools.
The Pope later refers to a new axiom, "a new intellectual current, a new public mood within the Church, and, new behaviour patterns" of its members. He asked his fellow bishops, to heal this "intellectual infection", which should not be allowed to grow.[verification needed]
In areas of both "human sciences and sacred theology", the encyclical authorized "research and discussions" where "reasons for both opinions, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution" were to "be weighed and judged."
Obstacles to finding God
The Church teaches that God can be known with certainty from the created world with human reason. Yet in the historical conditions in which he finds himself, man experiences many difficulties in coming to know God by the light of reason alone: This is why Humani generis begins with a recognition of several obstacles to seek and find God by the light of reason alone:
Though human reason is, strictly speaking, truly capable by its own natural power and light of attaining to a true and certain knowledge of the one personal God, who watches over and controls the world by his providence, and of the natural law written in our hearts by the Creator; yet there are many obstacles which prevent reason from the effective and fruitful use of this inborn faculty. For the truths that concern the relations between God and man wholly transcend the visible order of things, and, if they are translated into human action and influence it, they call for self-surrender and abnegation. The human mind, in its turn, is hampered in the attaining of such truths, not only by the impact of the senses and the imagination, but also by disordered appetites which are the consequences of original sin. So it happens that men in such matters easily persuade themselves that what they would not like to be true is false or at least doubtful.
This is why man stands in need of being truthfully enlightened by God's revelation.
Having thus established a main principle, the encyclical continues with a review of the philosophical currents of modern culture and their potential and dangers in light of divine revelation of faith in the distinct levels. It reviews recent theological, philosophical and scientific developments.
In describing erroneous development in the Catholic Church after World War II, the encyclical does not mention names, nor does it accuse specific persons or organizations. Nouvelle théologie in France and its followers in other countries increasingly viewed Catholic teaching as relative. It departed from traditional neo-Thomism using relativistic historical analysis and engaging philosophical axioms, such as existentialism, or positivism. Nouvelle théologie scholars expressed Catholic dogma with concepts of modern philosophy, immanentism or idealism or existentialism or any other system. Some believed that the mysteries of faith cannot be expressed by truly adequate concepts but only by approximate and ever-changeable notions. Pius has some sympathy for the need to deepen and more precisely articulate Church doctrine:
Everyone is aware that the terminology employed in the schools and even that used by the Teaching Authority of the Church itself is capable of being perfected and polished; and we know also that the Church itself has not always used the same terms in the same way. It is also manifest that the Church cannot be bound to every system of philosophy that has existed for a short space of time. Nevertheless, the things that have been composed through common effort by Catholic teachers over the course of the centuries to bring about some understanding of dogma are certainly not based on any such weak foundation. These things are based on principles and notions deduced from a true knowledge of created things. In the process of deducing, this knowledge, like a star, gave enlightenment to the human mind through the Church. Hence it is not astonishing that some of these notions have not only been used by the Ecumenical Councils, but even sanctioned by them, so that it is wrong to depart from them.
Pius pleads with the "rebels" not to tear down but to build up. He demands not to neglect, or to reject, or devalue so many and such great resources which have been conceived, expressed and perfected over the centuries. A new philosophy like existentialism, "today, like a flower of the field in existence, tomorrow outdated and old-fashioned, shaken by the winds of time", he says, is a poor and unstable basis for the theology of the Church.
The encyclical took up a nuanced position with regard to evolution. It distinguished between the soul, held as created divinely, and the physical body, whose development may be subject to empirical and prudent study:
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, on the part of men experienced in both fields, 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 – for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God.
The encyclical does not endorse a comprehensive acceptance of evolution, nor its outright rejection, because it deemed the evidence at the time not convincing. It allows for the possibility in the future:
This certainly would be praiseworthy in the case of clearly proved facts; but caution must be used when there is rather question of hypotheses, having some sort of scientific foundation, in which the doctrine contained in Sacred Scripture or in Tradition is involved.
While the factual basis for creationism should be researched further, the encyclical issues a clear no to another scientific opinion popular at the time, polygenism, the scientific hypothesis that mankind descended from different groups of original humans (that there were many groups of Adams and Eves).
When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which through generation is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.
Old Testament critiques
A final critique is issued against negative interpretations which downgrade the Old Testament to historical half-truths, or which impute error to the ancient sacred writers.
If, however, the ancient sacred writers have taken anything from popular narrations (and this may be conceded), it must never be forgotten that they did so with the help of divine inspiration, through which they were rendered immune from any error in selecting and evaluating those documents.
Therefore, whatever of the popular narrations have been inserted into the Sacred Scriptures must in no way be considered on a par with myths or other such things, which are more the product of an extravagant imagination than of that striving for truth and simplicity which in the Sacred Books, also of the Old Testament, is so apparent that our ancient sacred writers must be admitted to be clearly superior to the ancient profane writers.
Pope Pius XII, who usually employs diplomatic and carefully measured language in his writings, is convinced of the serious nature of those opinions threatening to (to quote the encyclical's subtitle) "undermine the foundation of Catholic doctrine", a most unusual tone for this pontiff.
Philosophy and theology are the main topics of this encyclical. But it extends further into the realm of culture and science. The encyclical is a document with firm distinctions between right and wrong, good and bad. Pius XII is convinced about the indivisibility and timeless nature of truth. The encyclical is flexible in all areas of scientific research which do not intrude into or exclude theology. It demands respect for the intellectual achievements of past generations, which were equally intelligent, but is not afraid to face a future with new questions and improvements. Humani generis generated much discussion at its time. It reflects many conservative positions of the Pope, but also his openness to science and new developments. It reflects his belief: "It is the primary duty of a Christian, to convince those who consider themselves modern, that human nature should not be interpreted with systematic pessimism nor with shallow optimism."[verification needed]
One effect of Humani generis was "a freezing of systematic theology into a Thomist orthodoxy",[verification needed] The "freeze" was later ameliorated by Pope John Paul II's 1993 Veritatis splendor. For example, Fr. Henri de Lubac (later Cardinal de Lubac) wrote about his plan for a comprehensive theological project integrating "patristics, liturgy, history, philosophical reflection... The lightning bolt of Humani generis killed the project."
Let them strive with every force and effort to further the progress of the sciences which they teach; but let them also be careful not to transgress the limits which We have established for the protection of the truth of Catholic faith and doctrine. With regard to new questions, which modern culture and progress have brought to the foreground, let them engage in most careful research, but with the necessary prudence and caution; finally, let them not think, indulging in a false "irenism", that the dissident and the erring can happily be brought back to the bosom of the Church, if the whole truth found in the Church is not sincerely taught to all without corruption or diminution.
- Catholic Church
- Evolution and the Roman Catholic Church
- "No one has ever found a 'smoking gun' proving that Garrigou-Lagrange shared in ghost-writing Humani generis or has ever fixed his exact contribution. But, as noted above, it is plain that he had a major role in its gestation." "Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange: Defending the Faith from Pascendi dominici gregis to Humani generis", Michael Kerlin, US Catholic Historian, Vol. 25, No. 1, Winter, 2007, 111.
- Pius XII, Encyclical Humani generis: some false opinions threatening to undermine the foundation of Catholic doctrine", Vatican City, 1950, 21.
- Pius XII, Enc. Humani generis, 21.
- Pius XII, The Magisterium of the Bishops, May 31, 1954.
- Pius XII, Enc. Humani generis, 36.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, Vatican City, 36.
- Pius XII, Enc. Humani generis, 2.
- Pius XII, Enc. Humani generis, 15.
- "Looking Back at "Humani Generis"". Homiletic & Pastoral Review. 2013-12-24. Retrieved 2020-08-19.
- "Humani Generis (1950)", Faith and Science, The Vatican Observatory Foundation
- Pius XII, Enc. Humani generis, 35.
- Pius XII, Enc. Humani generis, 37.
- Pius XII, Enc. Humani generis, 38.
- Pius XII, Enc. Humani generis, 39.
- quoted in von Balthasar, Hans Urs, The Theology of Henri de Lubac, pp. 10-11
- Pius XII, Enc. Humani generis, 43.