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  • Negotiating Darwin: The Vatican Confronts Evolution, 1877-1902
  • Don O'Leary
Negotiating Darwin: The Vatican Confronts Evolution, 1877-1902. By Mariano Artigas,Thomas F. Glick, and Rafael A. Martínez. [Medicine, Science, and Religion in Historical Context.] (Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press. 2006. Pp. x, 326. $50.00.)

In this book attitudes toward "evolutionism," extending to the highest levels of the Church, are examined with reference to the published works of six Catholic authors: Raffaello Caverni, Dalmace Leroy, John A. Zahm, Geremia [End Page 118] Bonomelli, John C. Hedley, and St. George Jackson Mivart. Artigas, Glick, and Martínez found that the Holy See adopted a reactive rather than a proactive response to evolutionism, taking action only when published works were brought to its attention. The ecclesiastical authorities in Rome, mindful of the "shadow of Galileo," were extremely careful to be seen to respect the rightful autonomy of science (pp. 281–82). Therefore, no public condemnation of evolutionary theory issued forth from Rome. Instead, the authorities sought to persuade offending authors to issue public retractions. The institutional church could thus impede the acceptance of evolution among Catholics and at the same time retain the option of changing its stance if it thought it prudent to do so.

Negotiating Darwin is a well-researched and insightful study of the Holy See's response to evolutionism from 1877 to 1902. However, a number of critical observations can be made. In the case of Zahm we read that he did not issue a retraction of the controversial views he expressed in Evolution and Dogma (pp. 17, 197, 235, 278). This is certainly true in the context of his letter to Alfonso Maria Galea. But, in a broader context, it does not seem quite so accurate because we read that, in response to the prohibition by the Congregation of the Index, communicated through his Superior General, Zahm "submitted in a praiseworthy manner and repudiated his book" (pp. 157–58, 188). This would seem to qualify as a private rather than a public retraction—but a retraction nevertheless.

The authors, quite rightly, draw the attention of their readers to distinctions in status and function between the Holy Office and the Congregation of the Index. However, we are also informed of the interconnections between the two Congregations, which, in turn, are important for understanding the internal politics of the Vatican. It was not uncommon for the Holy Office to act against an author by instructing the Index to prohibit his work. In the six cases examined here, Artigas and his co-authors found that they were ". . . decided almost in totality by the Congregation of the Index" although they found "some participation by the Holy Office" (pp. 8–9). The involvement of the Holy Office seems to be understated here, considering its role in the cases of Zahm (pp. 141–42) and Mivart—although in the latter case evolutionism was not the central issue. It is highly significant that when Zahm's Evolution and Dogma was being scrutinized in the Holy Office, on May 6, 1897, that five of the seven cardinals of the congregation at that meeting were also members of the Index. Consultors could also work for both congregations, as did the Jesuit, Michele De Maria. In view of this degree of overlap in personnel, and the supreme status of the Holy Office among the congregations of the Holy See, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this congregation—if only in an informal sense—played a very important role in most of the six cases above.

In their examination of the status and influence of the Jesuit journal, La Civiltà Cattolica, the authors observed that it may have had access to privileged information but that it was "not privy" to those internal workings of the [End Page 119] Vatican's bureaucracy which were subject to strict codes of secrecy (p. 28). But it seems that rules of secrecy were not always maintained (p. 170). The authors found no evidence that the Jesuits at La Civiltà Cattolica exercised "direct influence" on decisions made by the Index. However, they do not seem to rule it out absolutely when they state, "This...


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