Book Break: In the Beginning: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall

One of the many things I meant to do in the past year was to explore and review several books on the Catholic view of creation and evolution, in order to help parish parents and grandparents answer their questions on the topic and those of their children. My hope was to find a book or two that might be helpful to inquiring minds of all ages.

As usual, I bit off more than I could possibly chew and have completed only one such book. On a positive note, it was excellent.

‘In the Beginning…’ A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall is an edited compilation of four Lenten homilies given by Pope Benedict XVI in 1981, when he was still Joseph Ratzinger, archbishop of Munich and Freising. His goal was to develop a catechesis of Creation for adults. The four homilies build, one upon the other, to present a clear case for what the Genesis accounts of Creation and the Fall mean and why they continue to matter:

  • The first homily, “God the Creator,” lays out the so-called conflict between the Creation account(s) and science, and discusses how and why we interpret scripture the way we do: in the context of Jesus, to whom the entirety of scripture, written over the course of centuries, points.
  • The second homily, “The Meaning of the Biblical Creation Accounts,” addresses the Creation story specifically, the reasonableness of belief in Creation, the ways in which science points to Creation, the sabbath structure and rhythm of Creation — and the emergence of the view that humanity is at conflict with nature.
  • In the third homily, “The Creation of the Human Being,” Pope Benedict focuses on the heart of the matter for many modern Catholics: where humans come from. He explains that Genesis has more to do with who we are (imago Dei, or image of God) than how we got here, then tackles evolutionary theory directly — what it can explain about our existence, and what it can’t.
  • In the fourth homily, “Sin and Salvation,” Pope Benedict discusses the Fall of Adam and Eve, and the plan for salvation, with Christ as the new Adam. In perhaps the most profound explanation for me personally, he clearly lays out why, because we are creatures created by God, obedience to God’s law is not a restriction of freedom (like we often perceive it) — we are made for this, and thrive under God’s law because it’s in our nature!
The entire book is exactly 100 pages, including the Appendix, entitled “The Consequences of Faith in Creation, which reads like a fifth homily on how we got to the point that, since the Renaissance, understanding of and belief in Creation theology has diminished to the point that it is rarely spoken of in modern Catholicism, and why our fundamental “creatureliness” is essential to our future. Pope Benedict’s style is straightforward and clear; he is obviously well-read and -researched on this topic, but makes it accessible to (though not always easy for) the patient reader. The book is less specifically about evolution that I imagined, but rewarding and worth the time. It’s fun to imagine these as homilies, sitting in the pews, wishing someone was writing all this down.

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