Mark Bonocore and a fellow Catholic discuss how to interpret Genesis 6 and the “angels” described therein. Mark comments are in blue. His opponent’s comments are in red.
I hold the “fallen angel” view. I see no textual justification for the “Sethian” view. I agree with Mark that no Church Father before the third century took the “Sethian” view and all the early rabbis held the “fallen angel” view. An interesting note is that the Septuagint translates the phrase “sons of God” as “angels.” I, of course, wholeheartedly disagree with Mark’s mythological view of Genesis.
Well, that’s really, really interesting, Bill because, it necessarily follows that, if you don’t accept a mythological interpretation of Genesis 6, then that means you must believe that angelic beings literally mated with earthly women but, if you believe that, you’ve embraced a heresy that has been condemned by the Magisterium and several Church councils. In other words, Catholics do not believe that angels can father offspring because we do not believe that they have physical bodies. So, how, as a Catholic (if you don’t mind sharing), do you reconcile these two things? I would think that this alone illustrates the untenable nature of interpreting Genesis literally.
Satan is “pure evil” isn’t he? Presumably these angels were the fallen ones who were cast out of heaven with Satan. St. Peter tells us: For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but condemned them to the chains of Tartarus and handed them over to be kept for judgment; (2 Peter 2:4)
A couple things 1) The above interpretation comes, not from the original Hebrew understanding of Genesis 6, but from a Greek (Hellenized Jewish) understanding that these “sons of Heaven” did wrong by mating with the daughters of men. Yet, there is no hint of this in the older rabbinical traditions, nor in the text of Genesis itself. Rather, in the context of Genesis 6 itself, the offspring of the “sons of Heaven” (the Nephliim) are described as “heroes” or “mighty men”-that is, antedeluvian supermen (Hebrew versions of “Hercules”), who were seen as the product of Divine power being still-present in humanity (i.e., “My Spirit will not remain in man forever”). And, 2) Satan cannot create life. Only God can. Thus, Satan (or his minions) cannot father human children (or angel-human hybrids).
Here St. Peter uses “Tartarus” a word borrowed from Greek mythology. Tartarus is the lowest place of hell (Hades) where the most evil and vile are tormented.
Yes. And, again, St. Peter is drawing from a tradition among the Hellenized (Greek) Jews in order to illustrate a point. This was not the original (Hebrew) interpretation of Genesis 6, however, where there is not the slightest suggestion that these “sons of Heaven” did wrong by mating with the “daughters of men.” Rather, the “intercourse” between these angels and human women is a parallel idea for God’s Spirit remaining in (and then being withdrawn from) human flesh. That’s all the passage is about. If it were otherwise, then the Genesis narrative would have had to continued to deal with the subject, and point out how God was specifically angry because of these angelic-human hybrids, and how the Flood specifically destroyed them, etc. (But that is all part of a, much later, Greek presumption …which saw this passage as a challenge to monotheism, and thus an occasion of “evil”). Yet, we don’t see any of this in the text. Rather, what we have is a poetic illustration of how God’s Spirit was slowly withdrawn from antediluvian man (again, see the “decreasing” genealogies in Genesis 5), thus explaining why people cannot live past 120 today. In other words, Genesis 6 was drawing from a very well-established oral tradition (belonging to the pan-Semitic culture), and is using it here to illustrate a truth-that the former intimacy which existed between Heaven and earth before the Flood-i.e., that little which was left of a physical “Divine spark” after the Fall of Adam-was withdrawn and the Flood itself was the benchmark for this. That’s all.
The use of this word is interesting because in Greek mythology this was the place where the Titans were imprisoned. The Titans were said to be the primal gods who had sexual relations with human women.
Two more things: 1) Whose admitting that Genesis draws from (or pays “homage” to) popular mythology now? And 2) The Titans never had relations with mortal women. That’s not part of the myth. However, what is part of all Near Eastern myth (Greek, Persian, Babylonian, pan-Semite) is that the “strength” of heroes (Hercules, Gilgamesh, etc.) was always attributed to Divine paternity-that is, the hero was always the son of a god or other heavenly being. This is what Genesis 6 is playing off in order to illustrate how such “heavenly strength” (which was common before the Flood) was slowly withdrawn from humanity as we came closer and closer to the Flood after the Fall of Adam (see Genesis 5). However, the BIG difference (and it is a very striking difference if one bothers to notice it) is that the monotheistic author of Genesis does not allow these heavenly “fathers” to be gods, but calls them “ben Elohim” (“sons of God” / “sons of Heaven”) – a common term for the angels: Job in order to hammer home the fact that he is speaking of “Heaven” in an open-ended, generic sense-that is “heavenly power” being intimately united with humanity. Again, that’s all it refers to.
As for St. Peter’s comments, which, once again, play off the popular beliefs of Hellenized Jews (in order to make a point), it was Greek-speaking peoples (Hellenized Jews) who equated these “sons of Heaven” with the Titans-the beings who ruled the earth prior to the pagan GREEK version of the Flood story (the myth of Decurion and his boat/ark). Thus, even in taking a more literal approach in regard to these “sons of Heaven” (an approach which Rome, in her more practical, Latin understanding, later condemned… by making it clear that angelic beings, esp. fallen ones, cannot father children) the early Greek-speaking Christians are still SCREAMING the fact that Genesis 6 is an element of mythology because these Greek-speaking Christians equate these “sons of Heaven” with the mythological Titans.
Their offspring were “giants” who attempted to enslave mankind.
Again, that’s incorrect. In Greek mythology, the Titans themselves were the giants. And, again, the Titans did not mate with mortals; rather, it was the gods, their successors, who used to do that a lot.
Clearly St.Peter is making a connection between the Greek myth and the Genesis account.
Well, I agree that he is. But also, keep in mind, that even Matt 16:18 uses the word “Hades”-an element of Greek myth. Thus, Peter’s reference to Tartarus (the lowest region of Hades) is not surprising. In this, we really need to appreciate how ingrained Greco-Roman mythology was in the minds of the earliest, Greek-speaking Christians and likewise how ingrained pan-Semitic myth was in the minds of Hebrews, both before and after the introduction of Mosaic Law. Yet, unlike modern Anglo-Saxons, our Jewish and Christian forefathers were by no means threatened by this, but used it to the advantage of the true, Abrahamic Faith and the Gospel itself.
The New American Bible makes this connection in its footnote on the text. This second example draws on Genesis 6:1-4 as elaborated in the apocryphal Book of Enoch: heavenly beings came to earth and had sexual intercourse with women. God punished them by casting them out of heaven into darkness and bondage.
Please note that this is part of the later sections of Enoch. Again, we see Greek influence here.
My problem with viewing the Noah account as myth is that Noah is presented to us as an historical person in the New Testament, and an ancestor of Jesus. >
Okay. The events depicted in Genesis are TRUE and HISTORICAL… BUT, they are not presented using literal or historical LANGUAGE, but rather in the LANGUAGE of myth. Why do so many of my fellow-Catholics (ESPECIALLY the Protestant converts) have a problem accepting this? What’s more, no one ever said that Genesis, or any book of Scripture, is a straight, comprehensive narrative, as opposed to a collection of various sources. The account of the Nephilim in Genesis 6 is one of these independent sources-an isolated story intended to theologically support what surrounds it. Notice, for example, that Noah himself is never mentioned in this account, nor is he or his Flood ever connected to the Nephilim. Rather, these are independent “vignettes” with no narrative connection to each other, save the intention of introducing the context of the Flood. But, despite popular belief, that context is not because of the conception of the Nephilim, but exactly the opposite. Because man had become “fleshy” with no “heavenly virtue” in him and so God’s Spirit was being slowly withdrawn (see the decreasing genealogies in Gen 5) and man was growing in wickedness.
Noah’s covenant forms part of the basis of salvation history. If Noah’s story is nothing more than a reworking of the Gelgamesh epic or some other myth, then St. Peter and Jesus Himself were mistaken.
Again, Noah is a historical person (although his literal name wasn’t “Noah”), and the Covenant really happened. BUT, what we have in Genesis is NOT a literal historical narrative, but an account written in MYTHIC language. And, if you do not come to terms with this, you will, sooner or later, hit a brick wall. Catholicism is a REAL faith, and one must deal with our Traditional heritage REALISTICALLY. We may not bury our heads in the sand.
It is also true that the Flood was a major historical event in the fertile crescent that is attested to in several places. The Greeks, the Hindus, the Babylonians, and several others have stories about the Deluge. Recently, it has been shown that there was catastrophic flooding in the area of the Black Sea about 7000 years ago which inundated many coastal cities and towns very rapidly. This has been implicated by some as the flood of Noah.
We’ve discussed this before, but I don’t believe that a “regional flood” takes care of the account in Genesis, both because Genesis is clearly speaking of a universal catastrophe (i.e., one that HAD TO affect all of the peoples outlined in Genesis 10 – a demographic stretching from Persia to Spain, and from the Ukraine to Nubia), and also because Genesis is not speaking of a literal flood at all (although floods may have been literally part of it), but rather of the “waters of chaos” (a common mythic image of pan-Semitic mythology) which are, in the Genesis narrative, first cited in Gen 1:2, then “divided” by the firmament in Genesis 1:6-7 into the “waters above” and the “water below.” It is these same “waters above” and “waters below” (that is, not literal water, but the primordial principal of “chaos”) which are permitted to flow back into creation (from both “above” AND “below”) in Genesis 7:11, thereby destroying the world, which is presented (in Genesis’ cosmology) as a kind of “bubble” surrounded by this “watery chaos” above and below. The Flood account is merely saying that God allowed “chaos” to flow back into His Creation and destroy it-that is, some universal (though unspecified) catastrophe nearly wiped mankind out. And, if we look at physical evidence before 15,000 years ago, near the end of the last Ice Age (when mankind mysteriously first appears on this planet), this approach seems to be the reality.
Let’s put this to rest. Show me where I am running counter to the Church in my interpretation of Genesis six, and I will concede my position.
Okay. Well, as I touched on before, in taking Genesis 6 literally, you fall into four errors which are simply not Catholic:
1) You are claiming that angelic beings have the ability to procreate. However, this is not the teaching of the Catholic Church, which has always authoritatively maintained that angels are purely spiritual beings, and that they cannot procreate. In response to Matt’s request for a citation, there have been numerous Magisterial statements to this effect …beginning with the synod of Rome in 745, under Pope Zachery, which directly condemned the idea that angels reproduce. But, if you want something more ecumenical in authority, the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 (the same Council that defined Transubstantiation) re-affirmed the Church’s position that angels are spiritual beings ALONE, and this teaching was quoted again by the First Vatican Council in the context of the doctrine on creation: ‘God at the beginning of time created from nothing both creatures together, the spiritual and the corporeal, that is, the angelic and the earthly, and thus He created human nature as having both, since it is made up of spirit and body” (Constitution De Fide Catholica, DS 3002). And, in 1986, in his Catechesis on the Holy Angels, Pope John Paul re-affirms this same truth, teaching: “According to Sacred Scripture the angels, inasmuch as they are purely spiritual creatures, are presented for our reflection as a special realization of the ‘image of God’, the most perfect Spirit, as Jesus Himself reminds the Samaritan woman in the words: “God is spirit” (Jn 4:24).” (Pope John Paul II – Catechesis on the Holy Angels, 1986)
Thus, literally speaking, angels cannot themselves father children who will inherit their “heavenly attributes,” as seemingly described in Genesis 6 in regard to the Nephilim.
Now, … Here, it should be pointed out that the Church does concede that angels sometimes can assume, and have assumed, quasi-human bodies. For example, in the same Catechesis, our present Pope writes …
“Their purely spiritual being implies first of all their non-materiality and their immortality. The angels have no “body” (even if, in particular circumstances, they reveal themselves under visible forms because of their mission for the good of men), and therefore they are not subject to the laws of corruptibility which are common to all the material world.” (Ibid).
And, likewise, in the Summa, St. Thomas says …
“Some have maintained that the angels never assume bodies, but that all that we read in Scripture of apparitions of angels happened in prophetic vision–that is, according to imagination. But this is contrary to the intent of Scripture; for whatever is beheld in imaginary vision is only in the beholder’s imagination, and consequently is not seen by everybody. Yet Divine Scripture from time to time introduces angels so apparent as to be seen commonly by all; just as the angels who appeared to Abraham were seen by him and by his whole family, by Lot, and by the citizens of Sodom; in like manner the angel who appeared to Tobias was seen by all present. From all this it is clearly shown that such apparitions were beheld by bodily vision, whereby the object seen exists outside the person beholding it, and can accordingly be seen by all. Now by such a vision only a body can be beheld. Consequently, since the angels are not bodies, nor have they bodies naturally united with them, as is clear from what has been said (1; 50, 1), it follows that they sometimes assume bodies.”
Yet, while admitting that angels can assume bodies, St. Thomas then clarifies what is meant by that, saying …
“The angels have not bodies naturally united to them. For whatever belongs to any nature as an accident is not found universally in that nature; thus, for instance, to have wings, because it is not of the essence of an animal, does not belong to every animal. Now since to understand is not the act of a body, nor of any corporeal energy, as will be shown later (75, 2), it follows that to have a body united to it is not of the nature of an intellectual substance“
In other words, if an angel assumes a body, that body is not part of its angelic nature, but a (miraculous?) accident. It therefore follows, on this point alone, that even ‘incarnate angels’ cannot procreate with human women and/or pass on their “angelic attributes” to their (supposed) offspring. This likewise refutes Art’s suggestion, drawn from the “Malleus Maleficarum,” that such incubi use (or used) sperm extracted from living men in order to impregnate women (per the conception of the Nephilim) … which would, of course, nullify any possibility that the Nephilim inherited their supernatural size and power from “angelic fathers.” …because, obviously, the sperm would have been normal human sperm.
2) You hold that angels were once able to father children with women (that is, before the Flood), but that they were punished for doing this in those days (per 2 Peter 2:4-5), and so cannot do the same afterwards (or today). Yet, as I said before, this does not square with the rest of Scripture. Firstly, Genesis 6:4 says that these Nephilim appeared on earth “later” (as well as in antediluvian times), and numerous other Scripture verses, esp. Numbers 13:32-33 directly cite them by name:
“And all the people we saw there are huge men, truly Nephilim …we felt like mere grasshoppers, and so we must have seemed to them.”
Thus, if Nephilim existed after the time of the Flood, and indeed well into the reign of David (per 2 Samuel), then your assertion that angels literally fathered children only in antediluvian times (and were punished for it only then) cannot stand. (MORE ON THIS BELOW)
3) You hold that 2 Peter 2 and Jude 6 literally refer to the punishment of the “sons of Heaven” in Genesis 6 –that is, punishment for a transgression which took place after man’s creation and the fall of Adam and Eve. Yet, the Magisterium of the Church does not apply these Scriptures in this way. For example, in John Paul’s Catechesis on the Holy Angels, the Pontiff writes …
“In fact, we read in the Letter of St. Jude: ‘ . . . the angels who did not keep their dignity, but left their own dwelling, are kept by the Lord in eternal chains in the darkness, for the judgement of the great day’ (Jude 6). Similarly, in the second Letter of St. Peter, we hear of ‘angels who have sinned’ and whom God ‘did not spare, but… cast in the gloomy abysses of hell, reserving them for the judgement’ (2 Pet 2:4). It is clear that if God ‘does not forgive’ the sin of the angels, this is because they remain in their sin, because they are eternally ‘in the chains’ of the choice that they made AT THE BEGINNING, rejecting God, against the truth of the supreme and definitive Good that is God Himself. It is in this sense that St. John writes that “the devil has been a sinner from the beginning…” (Jn 3:8). And he has been a murderer “from the beginning”, and “has not persevered in the truth, because there is no truth in him” (Jn 8:44).”
So, according to John Paul, these Scriptural references to the angels in Tartarus refer, not to some antediluvian sexual indiscretion with human females, but to the Fall of Lucifer’s rebel angels at, or near, the beginning of time.
And, connected to this, …
4) In asserting that these angels sinned and were punished AFTER the rebellion of Lucifer (because Genesis 6 apparently depicts them as mating with human women in the days of Noah, just before the Flood), you violate yet another dogmatic Catholic position, which maintains that all angels made their compete and irrevocable choice to either serve God or to oppose Him at the point of Lucifer’s rebellion. As the Catechism says …
“Scripture speaks of a sin of these angels. This ‘fall’ consists in the free choice of these created spirits, who radically and irrevocably rejected God and His reign. We find a reflection of that rebellion in the tempter’s words to our first parents: ‘You will be like God.’ The devil ‘has sinned from the beginning‘; he is ‘a liar and the father of lies.’ It is the irrevocable character of their choice, and not a defect in the infinite Divine mercy, that makes the angels’ sin unforgivable. ‘There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death.’ ” (Catechism, 392 & 393)
In other words, the angels made their choice once, at the beginning; and that choice is irrevocable. Thus, despite Hollywood movies like the horror film “The Prophecy,” there is no danger of Michael or Gabriel “changing their minds” and falling into sin next week, or some time in the future. And, this being the case, it was simply not literally possible for some of these “sons of Heaven” to commit a sin AFTER the fall of man (by having sex with the female descendents of Adam) because all angels had already made their irrevocable choice (for or against God) long before that time.
So, in short, your literal interpretation of Scripture places you in conflict with the Magisterial teaching of the Catholic Church in regard to points 1, 2, 3, & 4 above …thus illustrating the untenable nature of interpreting Genesis literally. Indeed, in looking up the quote above from the Catechism, I happened to notice this one too:
390 HOW TO READ THE ACCOUNT OF THE FALL “The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man.”
Needless to say, “figurative language” is not the same as literal language …And this is precisely what I’ve been saying from the start regarding the nature of Genesis as a literary work. In other words, it uses the language of myth –that is, figurative language in order to describe true historical events. So, are you now going to dispute the Catechism of the Catholic Church too???
Now, with all this spelled out, you also responded to a number of my earlier points:
I had written …
Oh, I’m certainly not “branding you with heresy,” Bill. I’m merely pointing out that you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place on this issue; and, sooner or later, you’re going to have to deal with the untenable nature of your position. That’s all.
And you respond …
Thank you for the clarification, but if we can define a heretic as one who “embraces heresy” that that is indeed what you did.
Sigh! Okay, Bill have it your way. I said what I said in order to point out that you have fallen (innocently) into error. But, if you want to hold fast to that error and make it your own, then fine: You’re a heretic. 🙂 My earlier comments, and brotherly correction, were made in the light of the observation of the late, great Bishop Fulton Sheen, who said, “We are, all of us, closet heretics.” …Meaning that no one person (not even the Pope …and certainly not Mark Bonocore! 🙂 has a perfect grasp of the Catholic Faith. However, if you wish to press the issue and talk material heresy, then okie-dokie. You are not in accord with Catholicism in regard to your interpretation of Genesis 6. That places you in heresy. So, what do you want to do about it? Receive correction? Or continue to think and believe apart from the Church? And, again … What I say here is in regard to one thing and one thing only: That is, your assertion that you believe Gen 6 refers to angels (and nothing else) and your further assertion that these angels literally mated and reproduced with human women. These two positions together paint you into a corner (as I have pointed out several times), and place you in opposition to official Catholic doctrine. Now, despite Art’s characterization of my criticisms of you, I AM NOT saying that you must follow my interpretation of Genesis 6 in order to be orthodox. For example, any Catholic may maintain the Sethite interpretation (as late and as unsatisfying as it is) and still remain in accord with the Catholic Church. Yet, to concede that these “sons of Heaven” are indeed angels, and THEN to say that theyliterally reproduced with human women, simply places you outside of the Church and her Magisterial teaching. I’m sorry if you find that insulting, but it’s simply the truth.
I also wrote ….
Well, I also said that the Church grants such freedom in the context of not overburdening the “little ones” –that is, non-intellectuals who simply cannot grasp the idea of historical reality being described in non-literal language (e.g. “milk” vs. “solid food”). However, an intellectual like yourself cannot ignore the obvious …that is, if he wishes to remain an intellectual (e.g. apologist).
And you responded …
Nonsense. In all charity my brother this statement is nothing more than intellectual snobbery. So if I believe literally what the Scriptures say, both Old and New, this disqualifies me as an intellectual and an apologist, a strange position to take.
Well, the truth is often “strange,” my friend. Yet, like Bob Sungenis and his ilk, for a 21st Century Catholic to take an ultra-literalist position on Scripture reduces Catholicism to the realm of “fairy tale” and is tantamount to denying JPII’s teaching in “Fides et Ratio.” In other words, given what we now know about ancient history, science, and the literary nature of Genesis, the Fundamentalist/ultra-literalist position is simply not reasonable and paints all of Catholicism as an unreasonable Faith. Because of this, there is simply no place for it among Catholic intellectuals. However, the Church does permit it for the sake of those who have difficulty incorporating more mature views. Call it “snobbery” if you will. But, I prefer to call in mercy on the part of the Church.
I wrote ….
Well, I cannot do that, Bill, because I still don’t understand what you full position is. That’s why I asked you for it. However, what we do know is that you reject the Sethite “solution.” We also know that you take Genesis literally. However, if we add these up, it seems to imply that you believe that angels fathered children with women; and if that’s the case, then you HAVE embraced a heretical position because the Magisterium and several Councils have infallibly taught that angels cannot do this.
You respond ….
Quite the contrary, you understand exactly what my position is. Again, show me where the Church condemns my view and I will concede, and with many thank to you I may add.
See above. And, again … If angels are “purely spiritual,” and if they can only assume bodies “as accidents,” and if these assumed bodies are “not part of their nature,” then how, pray tell, could the “sons of Heaven” in Genesis 6 have procreated, let alone pass their “angelic qualities” onto their supposed offspring? Face it, Bill. Assuming that the “sons of Heaven” are indeed angels, one simply cannot interpret Genesis 6 in a literal fashion and still remain in accord with the official teaching of the Catholic Church. Rather, the only options open to you are a) abandon your literalist interpretation, or b) deny that these “sons of Heaven” are angels (e.g. embrace the Sethite interpretation), or c) follow the path of the reformers and deny the authority of the Catholics Church, which teaches that angels cannot procreate. What’s more, as I showed above, you interpretation of Genesis 6 contradicts the Catholic teaching that angels did not, and do not, sin after the initial rebellion of Lucifer, where all angels made an irrevocable choice, whether for or against God. To interpret Gen 6 literally means that you assert some angels sinned after the initial rebellion …which is against Catholic doctrine.
I wrote ….
So, if you want to stick with the Bible, you cannot say that angels (or a class of angels) once could father children, but now cannot …because such angels were clearly still “having kids” LONG after the Flood, and into the reign of David and beyond. But, according to your interpretation, drawing from 2 Peter, the angels of Genesis 6 were condemned to Tartarus in the DAYS OF NOAH (2 Peter 2:4-5). So, according to Scripture, this was not merely an antediluvian phenomenon; and if your really want to take it literally, then what that means is a) angels still fall (despite the Church’s teaching to the contrary …that all angelic beings made their final decision during the War against Lucifer) and b) that God neglected to punish the angels who “fathered children” after the Flood …because Scripture never says that they were punished, but only the antediluvian “Watchers” were. So, again, your position is untenable.
You responded ….
No so. As you know the term Nephilim is used in the sense of a giant else where in Scripture and no indication is given that they are the offspring of fallen angels and humans. So when are the Nephilim to appear again, we are not told.
Nice try, Mr. Literalist. 🙂 But, that obvious dodge doesn’t work. And why? Well, not only does Gen 6, which defines where the Nephilim come from, say that they (the Nephilim) also showed up later (that is, after the Flood) …and thus were the product of post-diluvian unions with angelic beings, but …To cite an even clearer example, … In Numbers 13:33, these Nephilim are directly referred to as “Anakim” —that is, the sons of “Anak” (a.k.a. “Arba”) who was a Canaanite solar deity, and who is listed as an angel of God in the Zohar and other ancient Jewish sources (see Ginzberg, “Legends of the Jews”).
You also write …
Your arguments against equating David and Giggamesh are exactly the same as I would use in countering your theory that Genesis is based on Babylonian and Sumerian myth.
It is not a “theory” that Genesis is based on Sumerian-Babylonian myth, Bill. Rather, it is an established scholarly fact; and the Catholic Church concedes it to be such. In an earlier email, I quoted Pope Pius XII on this subject (and you ignored him). I now give you John Paul II saying the same:
“…..The second description of the creation of man (cf. Gen 2:18-25) makes use of different language to express the truth about the creation of man, and especially of woman. In a sense the language is less precise, and, one might say, more descriptive and metaphorical –closer to the language of the myths known at the time. ” (John Paul II Letter to Women on the Eve of the 4th World Conference on Women, 1995)
…and also …
“Cosmogony itself speaks to us of the origins of the universe and its makeup, not in order to provide us with a scientific treatise but in order to state the correct relationship of man with God and with the universe. Sacred Scripture wishes simply to declare that the world was created by God, and in order to teach this truth, it expresses itself in the terms of the cosmology in use at the time of the writer (i.e., Babylonian / pan-Semitic myth). The sacred book likewise wishes to tell men that the world was not created as the seat of the gods, as was taught by other cosmogonies and cosmologies, but was rather created for the service of man and the glory of God. Any other teaching about the origin and makeup of the universe is alien to the intentions of the Bible, which does not wish to teach how heaven was made but how one goes to heaven. (Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on 3 October 1981)
Hear that, Bill??? 🙂 “Alien to the intentions of the Bible.” That’s your style of interpretation that the Vicar of Christ is talk’n about. …and he’s talking to Catholic intellectuals above.
So, I’ve now give you Pius XII, John Paul II, and the Catechism, all of which clearly define the literary nature of Genesis for you. Yet, you still wish to take it literally and call yourself an intellectually-mature Catholic in regard to this subject???
I wrote …..
as I said before, Bill, your problem is that you’re approaching this from a black-or-white, on-or-off mentality, without appreciating the “balancing act”(as I cited in my previous email to Matt today) that is going on –that is, taking parts of what modern Scriptural scholarship has revealed to us (very good things) without going over-board or abusing it (as the liberals do). Either we approach Genesis for what it really is, or we murder part of the Truth and embrace the opposite error of Fundamentalism. And a Catholic intellectual is simply not free to do that. This is why I strongly urge you to re-consider your position.
You respond …
I agree that there is much good to be found in liberal and secular scholarship and believe it of not I do read them. I have learned much of value but as you point out there is a lot of junk there too.
Agreed. Yet, what I have presented, in union with, and in submission to, the authoritative teaching of Pius XII, JP II, and the Catechism, etc., is not “junk.” Rather, it is the mind of the Church, and thus the Breath of the Spirit.
I also read fundamentalist scholars and the same applies. I will be the first to admit that there is still a lot of fundamentalism left in me. I realize that my ideas can be colored by that and I am ever vigilant and open to correction. But, on the other hand, this is not all bad either and I hope I never loose my fundamentalist bent, I feel that because I can “speak the same language” as those Protestants that I meet here in the Bible Belt, I have a distinct advantage apologetically.
And I, for one, would never fault you (or any convert) for that very powerful gift, which is, and has been, a great asset to the English-speaking Catholic Church. But, at the same time, and especially since you admit that you still have some lingering Fundamentalism, I do not see how you can take any offense when a cradle Catholic like myself suggests that you adjust your newly-acquired “sensus fidelium” (sense of the Faith) so that it is more in keeping with the mind of the Church. Needless to say, conversion to Catholicism is not completed in a year or two; and far too many American converts (esp. apologists) tend to forget that (thus the fall of Bob Sungenis, etc.). As for cradle Catholics, we too, of course, are by no means infallible. I myself, for example, used to go around teaching that Jesus could have sinned if He had freely chose to …that was, until a very wise priest took me aside and corrected him, pointing out how that is a species of Nestorianism, and thus a heresy. So, again, Bill, despite how some here have recently depicted me, I am not in the business of casting anathemas at anyone. Rather, I’m merely trying to celebrate Catholicism in ALL its profound truth and its abundance …a dimension that is often lost when we limit our experience of the Faith to dialoguing with Protestants or with contemplating Catholicism only in the light of how it is “better than Protestantism.” If we’re to truly defend and promote the Faith, we must go deeper than that …far deeper.
Thank you for your response. One favor please. I am unable to find the document from the Synod of Rome where the notion of angels procreating with humans is condemned. Would you please forward the text to me and a web link would be great.
Well, two things, Bill … I wasn’t able to find a quote from the synod itself, but only a passing reference to it in one of my books on angels. As Matt and some others here know, I have the rest of my library packed away because I’m moving to a new house next weekend. But, give me a couple weeks to settle in, and I’ll get you some more substantial info on it.
However, with that said, you also write …
Where as the other material that you referenced does maintain that angels are spiritual beings, they really do not address the issue at hand.
I’m sorry, Bill, but that’s simply not the case. The Fourth Lateran Council, and numerous other Magisterial teachings, make it abundantly clear that angels are purely spiritual beings; and if they are purely spiritual, then they simply cannot biologically reproduce with human beings …because they possess no biological material to pass on to such supposed “offspring.” That goes without saying. Also, consider the words of the Lord Himself in Matt 22:30, where, speaking of mankind at the end of time, He says ….
“At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”
Here, as in Matt 19:12, the word “marriage” refers to sexual intercourse –the physical consummation of marriage. And so, even according to the NT itself, angels simply cannot engage in physical reproduction. And this has been the consistent official position of the Church.
To cite yet another example, St. John Cassian writes to the West, saying …
“We cannot possibly believe that spiritual existences can have carnal intercourse with women. But if this could ever have literally happened how is it that it does not now also sometimes take place, and that we do not see some in the same way born of women by the agency of demons without intercourse with men? especially when it is clear that they delight in the pollution of lust, which they would certainly prefer to bring about through their own agency rather than through that of men, if they could possibly manage it, as Ecclesiastes declares: ‘What is it that hath been? The same that is. And what is it that hath been done? The same that is done. And there is nothing new that can be said under the sun, so that a man can say: Behold this is new; for it hath already been in the ages which were before us.’ “
Cassian then goes on to champion the (pastoral) Sethite interpretation of St. Augustine. But, even so, again and again, we see the Church (once it realizes that it must present a practical interpretation for Genesis 6) clarifying the fact that angels are purely spiritual and cannot literally reproduce. St. Augustine, St. John Cassian, and Julius Africanus all do this by proposing the Sethite interpretation; the Malleus Maleficarum comes up with the (very creative 😉 idea that succubai “harvest sperm” from male humans, then give it to incubi, who in turn use it to impregnate human females; etc. Rather, it is only the Protestant heretics who “resurrect” a literal understanding of Genesis 6 …because it is “what the Scripture says,” and these Protestants are not about to submit to “Roman” doctrine on the matter. 😉
So, we again arrive at your problem, Bill …which is that, if you take Genesis 6 literally (while rejecting the “pastoral” Sethite interpretation), you clearly oppose the teaching of the Church. …thus revealing that Genesis 6 is not intended to be taken literally. And, if you disagree with this, can you please explain how you can justify the idea that angels can (or once could) procreate? For, since angels are pure spirits and have no biological material to pass on to offspring, it can only mean that …
a) These angels took the biological material from somewhere else (e.g. the idea of incubi using harvested male sperm). Yet, Genesis 6 says that the “sons of Heaven” themselves were the fathers of the Nephilim …thus accounting for their great size and power. And so, if these angels used normal biological material that was not their own to “father” these children, they could not pass on their supernatural attributes to them. Rather, the Nephilim would resemble these “sons of Heaven” as much as a test tub baby resembles the OB-GYN doing the lab work. 🙂
b) These angels were able to father children using “assumed” bodies. But, as St. Thomas pointed out (more on this below) such assumed bodies would not be natural to these angels, and so, again, no “supernatural attributes” would be passed on to their offspring ….even if we were to accept that such “assumed bodies” allowed angels to reproduce.
And so, since both a) and b) above cannot solve the problem posed by a literal interpretation of Genesis 6 (i.e., how were the Nephilim the literal offspring of angelic beings, complete with inheriting their supernatural attributes), how can you say, then (setting aside the Church’s Magisterial statements to the contrary) that angelic beings can (or could) reproduce?
Indeed, Bill … Since all reproduction is really a transcendent act of creation on the part of Almighty God, are you saying that God chose to “create” in the context of an unnatural union between angels and mortal women? How could that be? For, while the Church fully grants that God, for His own mysterious reasons, sometimes chooses to create in the context of evil or sin (e.g. a rape victim who becomes pregnant by her attacker), this is STILL part of God’s natural order –His natural biological design put to an illicit or sinful use. But, in the case of angelic beings having sex with mortal women, this is not part of the natural design, but something that is dramatically and intrinsically disordered; and I would submit to you that God would no more honor this unnatural context, in order to create through it, than He would bring about a child through the copulation of two homosexuals …even though God, if He wanted to, could obviously (miraculously) create a new life this way too. And so, given the disordered and unnatural context of Genesis 6, are you saying that the Nephilim came into being apart from God? Are you saying that God was not their Creator? And, if so, then you have, unfortunately violated yet another canon of the Fourth Lateran Council, which condemned the idea that satan, or any other infernal creature, came into being independently of God (that they were not once good creatures who became corrupted, etc.). So, what exactly is your position on the Nephilim? Did God create them? If so, why? And if He created them, why did He destroy them in the Flood?
As for Aquinas, you write …
In quoting St. Thomas I believe you did not fully grasp what the Holy Doctor has to say on the subject. While maintaining that angels are spiritual beings and that their accidence is by nature non-physical he does maintain that they can assume physical bodies as you have pointed out. But the word “accidence” here does not reference some miracle as you seem to maintain but the physical properties of something (cf the accidence and substance as they apply to St. Thomas’ teaching on the Eucharist).
Sorry, Bill, but you yourself apparently did not grasp my point. In the quote I provided, yes, Aquinas is not speaking directly about angels, but about corporal beings (us). However, if you read what he wrote, it necessarily follows that any “body” which an angel assumes is likewise an “accident” …since it is not part of the angel’s (spiritual) nature. …anymore that “bread” or “wine” become part of the Divine and/or human natures of Christ in the Eucharist. Rather, the bread and wine are accidents, and are not part of Jesus’ communicated Eucharistic natures (i.e., His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity) at all. And, indeed, … Just as we do not receive or become “one flesh” with bread and/or wine in the Eucharist (but with the Divine and human natures of Christ Himself), so the Nephilim could not have inherited the angelic natures of their “fathers,” via supposed “assumed bodies,” because these “assumed bodies” (being “accidents) could not pass on their angelic natures to their offspring.
As for St. Jude 1:6 the New American Bible ties the text directly to Genesis 6 in the foot note: “This second example draws on Genesis 6:1-4 as elaborated in the apocryphal Book of Enoch: heavenly beings came to earth and had sexual intercourse with women. God punished them by casting them out of heaven into darkness and bondage.”
Well, as I already pointed out, the NAB footnotes leave much to be desired; and certainly don’t compare to Magisterial teaching. John Paul II, and all of Sacred Tradition, say that the angels fell and were punished in accord with the primordial rebellion of Lucifer. There was no “subsequent fall” of the angels, just as there can be no future falls. Rather, the choices of angels at the time of the War (for or against God) were irrevocable …even as the Catechism teaches.
As I have continually maintained I am open to correction. You arguments are persuasive, but as of yet, I, nonetheless, remain un-persuaded.
Fair enough, Bill. As I said, I will try to find you a direct Magisterial quote condemning the idea that angels can reproduce …something the Catholic Church clearly believes. But, even without that, you must be able to see the profound problems which your position leads to. As I said from the start, this should urge you to reconsider your literalist approach to Genesis, which is thoroughly untenable on many counts. And, again … I am a stickler on this issue, not because I wish to take anyone’s freedom away, but because it is most necessary in our day and age to appreciate and promote the fullness and reasonableness of Catholic truth –something which cannot be done if we don’t first recognize Genesis to be what it really is.
The Catholic Legate
August 20, 2004