There are some elements from the book of Genesis that can be interpreted as (non-literal) figures or symbols [i]. However, it is a dogma of the Catholic Church that Adam and Eve were literal persons when She teaches that one man with body and soul (Adam) married one woman who was like him (Eve) [ii] and that we are all their descendants. Adam and Eve are our first parents. All of us humans come from these two real human persons.
“If any one does not confess that the first man, Adam, when he had transgressed the commandment of God in Paradise, immediately lost the holiness and justice wherein he had been constituted; and that he incurred, through the offence of that prevarication, the wrath and indignation of God, and consequently death, with which God had previously threatened him, and, together with death, captivity under his power who thenceforth had the empire of death, that is to say, the devil, and that the entire Adam, through that offence of prevarication, was changed, in body and soul, for the worse; let him be anathema.” – (General Council of Trent: Session V – Decree Concerning Original Sin # 1).
Adam was changed in body and soul for the worse immediately when he transgressed the commandment of God. Anyone with body and soul (spiritual, immortal soul) is a real human person [iii]. Symbols do not have bodies and souls. Allegories do not have bodies and souls. Also, the Council is clearly talking about an individual, one man (Adam’s body and soul). The Church does not teach or imply that Adam is a representation of a group of people. Trent does not refer to Adam as “bodies and souls” (plural) changing for the worse.
“If any one asserts, that the prevarication of Adam injured himself alone, and not his posterity; and that the holiness and justice, received of God, which he lost, he lost for himself alone, and not for us also; or that he, being defiled by the sin of disobedience, has only transfused death, and pains of the body, into the whole human race, but not sin also, which is the death of the soul; let him be anathema:–whereas he contradicts the apostle who says; By one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death, and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned.” – (Ibid, # 2).
Trent mentions Adam as an individual. This Council does not even give a hint about Adam being a mere symbol or representation. The above also applies to Eve, of course (See CCC #’s 399-400).
Yet, I hear some Bishops and priests who teach or imply that Adan and Eve were not real persons, that they were non-literal figures, or that they represent a group of people (polygenism). I wonder if this error is even taught in some Seminaries. Individual Bishops and priests do not exercise the Magisterium by themselves separated from the Pope (CCC# 85), they do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility (Lumen Gentium 25, n2). Individual Bishops or a group of Bishops apart from the Pope can go astray and even teach grave errors to the extent of heresy when such teachings are not in communion with the Pope’s teachings.
Ron Conte gives us a good answer to their false teaching on this subject:
“If Adam did not fall, because he did not exist, then from what are we being saved? And if there were no original sin, baptism would not be necessary to take away original sin.
And as concerns the Blessed Virgin Mary, if there was no original sin, then from what was she preserved at her Immaculate Conception? No Adam and Eve implies no original sin, which then makes our baptism and the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary meaningless. To reject a literal Adam and Eve, as two real historical persons who actually sinned and fell away from God, is to reject the need for redemption by Christ as well as the dogmas of original sin and the Immaculate Conception. Therefore, faithful Catholics must accept Adam and Eve as two literal historical persons.” – (Adam and Eve versus Evolution, Chapter 2).
Also, if Adam and Eve are only figures that represent a group of early humans, then the concept of Cain as one person, Abel as another person, and the rest of Adam and Eve’s descendants fall away. It would also mean that Cain, Abel, and other of their descendants have not been individual persons but mere “representations of a group of early humans”. Cain or Abel could not have been born from “a group of people” other than one man and one woman. We learn from Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium that such one man was Adam and such one woman was Eve.
Throughout the history of the Church, She has been teaching us that we are all descendants of one man named Adam and one woman named Eve. That one man named Jesus is the New Adam and one woman named Mary is the New Eve.
The following Magisterial teaching destroys the idea of polygenism:
“When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which through generation is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own. – 12. Cfr. Rom., V, 12-19, Conc. Trid., sess, V, can. 1-4.” – (Humani Generis # 37; Pope Pius XII – 1950).
The above teaching should suffice to understand that Adam was a real person.
“St. Paul tells us that the human race takes its origin from two men: Adam and Christ. . . the first man, Adam, he says, became a living soul, the last Adam a life-giving spirit.” – (CCC# 359).
The Council of Trent also teaches that all men are “born propagated of the seed of Adam” – (Trent: Session VI; Decree on Justification, Chapter III). That’s why Christ died for us all.
Notice that we all come of the seed of an individual man, not of different “seeds” (plural). If Adam did not exist, such seed also did not exist making this doctrinal teaching a lie.
The Church also teaches that the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony is done the way it was decreed by God since the beginning, that is between one man and one woman:
“God thus, in His most far-reaching foresight, decreed that this husband and wife should be the natural beginning of the human race, from whom it might be propagated and preserved by an unfailing fruitfulness throughout all futurity of time. And this union of man and woman, that it might answer more fittingly to the infinite wise counsels of God, even from the beginning manifested chiefly two most excellent properties — deeply sealed, as it were, and signed upon it — namely, unity and perpetuity. From the Gospel we see clearly that this doctrine was declared and openly confirmed by the divine authority of Jesus Christ. He bore witness to the Jews and to His Apostles that marriage, from its institution, should exist between two only, that is, between one man and one woman” – (Arcanum – On Christian Marriage; Pope Leo XIII – 1880).
“The first parent of the human race, under the influence of the divine Spirit, pronounced the bond of matrimony perpetual and indissoluble, when he said; This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh. But, that by this bond two only are united and joined together, our Lord taught more plainly, when rehearsing those last words as having been uttered by God, He said, therefore now they are not two, but one flesh; and straightway confirmed the firmness of that tie, proclaimed so long before by Adam, by these words; What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” – (General Council of Trent: Session XXIV – Doctrine on The Sacrament of Matrimony).
The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony is between one man and one woman because, since the beginning, one man (Adam) married one woman (Eve). Holy Matrimony is not between one group of men and a group of women.
Pope Pius X includes Adam between true historical persons:
“Adam, the father of mankind, looked to Mary crushing the serpent’s head, and he dried the tears that the malediction had brought into his eyes. Noah thought of her when shut up in the ark of safety, and Abraham when prevented from the slaying of his son; Jacob at the sight of the ladder on which angels ascended and descended; Moses amazed at the sight of the bush which burned but was not consumed; David escorting the arc of God with dancing and psalmody; Elias as he looked at the little cloud that rose out of the sea. In fine, after Christ, we find in Mary the end of the law and the fulfillment of the figures and oracles.” – (Ad Diem Illum Laetissimum; Pope Pius X – 1904).
Notice that the above quote is referring to real individual persons in the history of salvation. The “figures” of the O.T. were real persons such as Noah, Abraham, or Moses. They were pre-figures, yes, but that doesn’t mean that they did not exist as true historical persons.
“Adam and Eve, first couple and also first nucleus of human society.” – Pope Saint John Paul II, General Audience, Wednesday, September 3, 1986.
We are the descendants of two persons (a “couple”). We are not descendants of a tale or of a group of people.
By a man came death, and by a man the resurrection of the dead.” – (Catechism of the Council of Trent).
There are other Magisterial documents, teachings of Popes, regarding the historicity and authenticity of the first man (Adam) and the first woman (Eve), but this should be clear enough. Faithful Catholics are not free to interpret Adam and Eve as non-literal persons, as allegorical figures, as fictional characters, as mere symbols, or as mere representations of something else.
[i] “In the first Chapters of the Book of Genesis we find two important images: the garden, with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the serpent (cf. 2:15-17; 3:1-5)…. Then the serpent is a symbol that comes from the Oriental fertility cults that fascinated Israel and were a constant temptation to abandon the mysterious covenant with God.” – (Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience – 6 February 2013).
[ii] CCC# 369, 371, 372.
[iii] CCC # 363, 366.
Thank you, Francisco, for this very fine article. I teach at a Catholic seminary, and I affirm all that you say in this essay. It should also be noted that the CCC, 390 tells us that “The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed (factum) that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.” So the CCC affirms that original sin was an actual deed freely committed by our first parents–not a group of early humans.
Dr. Dennis Bonnette, a retired professor of philosophy, has written a book which shows that— from a scientific and philosophical perspective—there is nothing that stands in the way of affirming the existence of an original pair of human parents: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1932589686/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0 .
You’re welcome Robert. Thank you for the additional information.
Thank you for the great article. I fear that they do teach erroneous things about Adam and Eve in seminaries, I don’t know how many. But certainly and unfortunately those erroneous ideas are being taught in many Catholic schools and universities.
Here’s another thought as well: if Mary is like she said at Lourdes, “I am THE Immaculate Conception” then Adam and Eve are NOT immaculate conceptions, therefore, NOT conceived in some primate and then endowed with a soul upon creation – like theist evolutionists agree on- therefore, debunking evolution from primates. Otherwise, if Adam and Eve were immaculate conceptions, that would imply maybe having been born of some primate. However, Mary did say at Lourdes “THE” as in the only Immaculate Conception.
Thank you for the input Father. God miraculously created Adam and Eve as the first two true human persons. He miraculously created both the bodies and the souls of Adam and Eve. Our current fallen bodies might have been patterned after the highest form of lower animal that existed previously to Adam and Eve’s coming to this fallen earth from Paradise (that is, having some similitudes), but those lower animals were not human persons at all and did not conceive Adam or Eve for the Church teaches that Adam and Eve are our first parents. Otherwise, our first parents are not Adam and Eve, but lower animals. Like Trent teaches, we all fallen sinners (human persons) are born propagated of the seed of Adam, the first true human person.
So where exactly was the Garden of Eden was it on earth and if so where, are there any traces of it I think I read somewhere that it was thought to be somewhere in Iraq is this true.
The unfallen Paradise of Eden is a place not of this fallen earth. This fallen earth is consequence of Original Sin and it is discontinuous with Paradise (for more details, that would be another post). However, this earth is linked (or associated) in a mysterious way with the Paradise of Eden. When we read Genesis 2:10-14, the narrative tells us of four rivers, two unknown to us (Phison and Gehon) and two well known to us (Tigris and Euphrates). By this figure, Scripture tells us that the Garden of Eden was like earth (with animals, plans, soil, sky, etc.), but also unlike our current fallen earth. Since Paradise is discontinuous with this earth (other places are discontinuous with this earth as well such as Purgatory, Hell), I cannot say where it is located, I don’t know. Ron explains in depth in his book Adam and Eve vs Evolution which I highly recommend.
Does it mean Eden is, simply said in contemporary language, located on another planet that unlike planet Earth floats in God’s grace without the evil influence we witness on Earth?
The different places of purgatory and hell also remember me of some of the viking worlds. The very word in English “Hell” comes from the viking “hel” or “helheim” the home of the dishonored dead.
It would be great if the Church leaders spend more time on that and explain in modern terms what is what in eschatology. Instead of the endless personal attacks or fierce discussions of matters that are important but not dogmatic, such as the married priesthood.
And let me add for the coronavirus crisis and the closure of public Holy Masses including in Rome. That is unprecedented ban in history. Will it be lifted for the Holy week? And if not, do we witness one of the prerequisites of the Great Warning?
I don’t believe the Paradise of Eden is in our physical universe because this universe is fallen. Eden is unfallen. Eden is not any particular location on this fallen universe, not even the farthest of planets. So there are no directions to go there in this world. God has separated certain specialized places from the rest of Creation by His infinite power. It is unknown to me where it is because Paradise’s space is also unknown to this world.
I’m not certain if the Warning is this year but it could be within a few of years. It is good to always be prepared.
I’m going to have another post explaining the differences and similitudes between Paradise and this fallen earth. Stay tuned.
Francisco The Vatican has announced a Synod for October 2023 will this have any significance with the warning I am thinking of Garabandal and one of the visionaries mentioning a synod before the warning.
It could be. I have heard a nun, Mother Nieves Garcia, relating that Conchita was told by the Virgin Mary that an important Synod would precede the Warning.
It could also be this year. We just had an important Synod not too long ago. We’ll see.