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The supernatural religious teaching which is the task of Scripture, is not often closely connected in the Bible with the occasional and indirect allusions to natural things; and after what has been said, such passages are of no great difficulty compared to the Hexaemeron. But here we find a whole chapter in which the Bible treats of a subject on which it usually only touches occasionally and slightly. Certainly here also the first object is religious dogmatic instruction, but it is in this case completely interwoven with an account of events in the realm of nature. The foregoing general discussion will enable us in some measure to decide beforehand what quantity of information concerning natural things we may expect to find in the Hexaemeron, and what its character will be.
I have already quoted an instance from the first chapter of Genesis, in which the Bible adapts its expression to the ordinary popular idea; it speaks of two great lights in the heavens, apart from the other stars; and this not because the sun and moon are in reality the largest stars, but because they appear so to us, and when we are not speaking astronomically we call them so. We shall find other similar expressions, and during our explanation of the Hexaemeron we shall be justified in applying the standard by which we judge a popular account of the events and appearances in nature, and not that by which we judge the account given us by a savant.
Further, with reference to the Hexaemeron, we must,
and all this only to give some satisfaction in the nineteenth century; for by the twentieth much of the satisfaction of the nineteenth would have been lost."—Ausland, 1861, p. 410.
with S. Thomas Aquinas,1 make the following distinction. Some of the things which are therein related to us belong ad substantiam fdei, they are essentially of a theological and dogmatic character, especially those statements which occur in the first verse of Genesis, that the world has a beginning, and has been created. Other things which are related in the Hexaemeron are not in themselves of a theological or dogmatic character, and therefore do not belong per se ad Jidem; but because they are combined with the dogmatic statements in the Biblical account, they belong per accidens ad Jidem. Genesis does not only say that the world was created by God,—which, properly speaking, if taken strictly, constitutes dogma,—but it also describes the manner and order in which the world was created; and if this description is not in itself of a dogmatic or theological character, it yet partakes of it because it is combined in Holy Writ with statements which are purely theological. Now, with reference to the first and strictly theological statements, proceeds S, Thomas, no one must have any opinion concerning them but the established, traditional, ecclesiastical one. The Bible here treats of its own special subject, that of the truths of faith, and therefore its expressions are clear and decided; the meaning of its words in this respect is clear to every impartial reader; they have always been understood in one certain sense both by the Jews in olden time and by the Christians later; there is a unanimis consensus patrum with reference to their meaning, and there is a traditional interpretation which, according to the rules of Catholic hermeneutics,
1 In 1. 2. Sent. dist. 12. art. 2.
is binding on the exegete. It is otherwise with the other elements of the Hexaemeron, with the statements and expressions which do not refer actually to dogma, but to the natural things connected with it. With reference to these things, says S. Thomas, the account given in the Bible is differently explained by the Fathers. This observation is somewhat superficial but quite accurate. The separation of light from darkness, of water from land, and similar things which are related in the Hexaemeron, have no dogmatic importance per se, but only per accidens, in so far as they are combined with the dogmatic statement that the world was created by God. Holy Writ need therefore only express itself clearly and unequivocally about these things when they are connected with dogma. But it is not the aim of Holy Writ to teach things that are of interest only to the natural philosopher, and not to the theologian, and therefore it is not necessary that it should express itself clearly and completely about them, as its teaching is to be altogether theological and not scientific. Now things which by their nature are not the objects of Biblical revelation, cannot either be the objects of ecclesiastical tradition; therefore a consensus patrum or an ecclesiastical decision can no more exist about questions of science than about questions of medicine or grammar. The Church is the infallible interpreter of Holy Writ, but only in rebus Jtdei et morum. Savants may discuss the meaning of the Hebrew word Kikajon, and decide what kind of tree or shrub it was, under which Jonah, according to the Biblical account, awaited the fall of Nineveh; a council will never decide these questions, and even if the Fathers were to agree on the subject as completely as in fact they differ, if a unanimis consensus patrum were to exist about it, the Catholic exegete would yet be free to hold another opinion; for this question has nothing to do with the rebus Jidei et morum. But a consensuspatrum never could exist about such questions, and therefore if, as S. Thomas observes, we find in the first chapter of Genesis much which has been variously explained by the holy Fathers and other expounders, this only proves, first, that these passages and expressions are capable of divers interpretations; and secondly, that in explaining these passages and expressions we are left on the whole unfettered by theology.
S. Thomas therefore teaches this. Whatever is of dogmatic importance in the Hexaemeron is declared clearly and decidedly; whatever is not of dogmatic importance is mentioned by the Bible correctly no doubt, because it is inspired, but obscurely and ambiguously, so that its words allow of several interpretations, and this because it is not intended to instruct us on non-religious questions. By reason of the inspired character of the Bible, therefore, we may expect to find no errors even in natural science; by reason of the religious character of the Bible, we must not expect to find in the Hexaemeron anything which is new and cannot be discerned by the ordinary man respecting the sciences of astronomy, geology, etc.; because the Bible is not intended to instruct us about science, and its expressions on the subject are not so clear and unequivocal as those which concern theology.
You will see at once after what I have said, that the opinions of Kurtz as expressed in the following quotation completely agree with those of the prince of schoolmen which I have just described to you :—
"A physical element may no doubt be conceivably interwoven with the revelation of religious truth, either as the necessary means through which the latter is revealed, or as the more accidental foil and background of these truths. The subject of revelation is the religious and ethical bearing of the natural thing3 whose physical condition is the subject of science. Now the relation of the two may be such, that a false account of the latter would pervert and disturb the former. So, for example, the physical condition of the universe, the different functions of the separate heavenly bodies, their relation to each other, and so on, has undoubtedly a religious importance, which as such might very well be itself the object of revelation, in so far as this knowledge would give us a deeper, wider, or clearer insight into the Divine Cosmos. But even in such cases revelation would neither convey nor wish to convey physical teaching; it would never induce the faithful believer to give up any error in physical science which he might hold, nor would it enable him on any occasion to anticipate the discoveries of human science. Revelation abstains from any teaching in such cases, for it is not its object to reveal at once everything which is of religious importance. It is more like a teacher who does not impart to the child at once everything which he knows himself, but each time only so much as is necessary for its further education, and for which it has been prepared by former teaching. In Holy Scripture all future science can find a place; it has made no mistake, no new science