The Vatican Confronts Evolution, 1877–1902
Publication Year: 2006
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
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Work in the Vatican archives has not been easy. Systematic cataloging of records is currently in progress, but for our work the only catalogs available were the old ones. At times we had to search blindly, though usually successfully, for dossiers of whose existence we were not sure, among a host of other dossiers carrying the dust of a century and with no clear indication of their contents. Of ...
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When on October 22, 1996, Pope John Paul II declared that the theory of evolution was considered today as more than a hypothesis, he was acknowledging the Church’s inclusion in the great evolutionary consensus, a step that followed from an open and creative debate over the issue in the years after Pope Pius XII’s encyclical Humani Generis (1950). The occasion was provided by an address to the members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, gathered in the Vatican for a meeting on the origins and evolution of life. ...
1. The New Documents
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January 22, 1998, was a historic day for the Vatican and for cultural history. In the seat of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, successor of the famous academy founded by Prince Federico Cesi in 1603, there took place a symposium titled “The Opening of the Archives of the Roman Holy Office.” Although the whole archive has not been preserved, the collection is still ample. For the first ...
2. An Ineffective Decree
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One of the biggest surprises emerging from the Archive of the Index is that the Vatican condemned a book favorable to evolution, but no one ever knew it. For more than half a century, theology texts mentioned the cases of Leroy, Zahm, Bonomelli, Hedley, and Mivart, in none of which did the Vatican pronounce publicly. But they never mentioned Raffaello Caverni, the only instance in which the support of evolutionism by a Catholic merited a public condemnation. ...
3. Retraction in Paris
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The Leroy affair is very well documented in the Vatican archives and can be reconstructed in fine detail. Early on, it looked as though the denunciation of Leroy’s book, The Evolution of Organic Species, would lead nowhere. But then the book was examined in greater detail, and four written reports, some very long, were produced. The final decision was to condemn the book but, out of consideration for the author—a Dominican—and for his order, the prohibition was never ...
4. Americanism and Evolutionism
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The compatibility of evolutionism and Catholic doctrine. Zahm extended his thesis to the origin of man (that is, of the human body). The Congregation of the Index decided to condemn the book, but it did not publish the corresponding decree. The matter was then carried into the public arena, because both Zahm’s supporters and his adversaries waged a long struggle with the Roman ...
5. Condemned for Evolutionism?
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For more than a century, Bishop Bonomelli has been cited as one of the authors who retracted his defense of evolutionism because of pressure from the Holy Office. The case is significant because Bonomelli was an important figure in Italian public life. The Archive of the Holy Office furnishes new data, although Bonomelli’s correspondence had already shown that his retraction was not the ...
6. “The Erroneous Information of an Englishman”
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Among the evolutionists who retracted, John Hedley, bishop of Newport, Wales, is usually listed, alongside Bishop Bonomelli. Gruber presents him as “Mivart’s first champion among the hierarchy” and attributes to him a retraction that can be summed up in the following line: “the ‘Mivartian’ theory . . . can no longer be sustained.”1 However, in Hedley’s original text, this phrase is preceded by two limiting conditions. Hedley says that “according to ...
7. Happiness in Hell
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St. George Mivart is the author most cited whenever the difficulties of reconciling evolution with Christianity are mentioned. This English scientist published a book in 1871 in which he accepted evolution, said it was compatible with Christianity, and, at the same time, criticized the importance, exaggerated in his view, that Darwin attributed to natural selection as a mechanism that explained evolution. His objections were important, to the extent that Darwin gave close ...
8. The Church and Evolution: Was There a Policy?
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It would be an illusion to expect a simple conclusion or a short summary of the six cases we have examined. Each was the product of very different circumstances, and if the cases appear to have been similar, that is not owing to any preconceived plan that guided the Church authorities. Indeed, in assessing the role of the Church, one of the principle conclusions that we might extract from the archival documents is that, in three of the cases examined (Bonomelli, Hedley, and Mivart) there was no action taken against the authors, nor did ...
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Page Count: 336
Illustrations: 7 halftones
Publication Year: 2006
Series Title: Medicine, Science, and Religion in Historical Context
Series Editor Byline: Ronald L. Numbers, Consulting Editor