As a service to our members, Catholics United for the Faith has a Catholic Responses department that’s always available to answer their questions. One particular member sent us three questions last week, and I’ll reprint them below along with my responses.
(1) Does the Church have an official answer on the age of the earth in terms of numbers? I read a couple of things at other sites, but did not seem to find an actual accepted age. I have been in dialogue with a fallen-away Catholic.
Answer: The Church has no official teaching as to the actual, chronological age of the earth. This points to two important considerations: First, the Church does not consider it her domain to make pronouncements in the area of natural science. Second, and related to this, the Church does not require the faithful to accept that the “days” in the creation account in Genesis are actual, chronological days as we understand the term. Once we say that the faith does not require a strictly literalistic interpretation of the opening chapter of Genesis, we have no basis as a matter exclusively of faith to calculate the age of the earth, and of course modern science is only able to give us estimates and hypotheses.
(2) This may be rather simplistic but here goes: Why, if we want to teach the layperson exactly between right and wrong according to our Faith, does the Pope speak in such “heavy” terms. I have read encyclicals, homilies, official responses; etc and find them to be esoteric. I can get the message most times but it seems very well, esoteric – not designed for the theologically challenged. In this unintellectual age, we need simple, clear speech for the masses from the Holy See, no?
Answer: That’s a very good question. Of course when we get beyond the basic core (or “kerygma”) of our faith, we get into some very detailed issues, from bioethics to systematic theology to biblical interpretations involving the translation of obscure languages. It’s important for the Pope or Vatican offices to write with precision in encyclicals and other such formal documents so that the faith is never watered down or compromised.
The work of bringing this teaching to the level of people’s understanding is the work of catechesis. This takes place at home, at Catholic schools and religious education programs, at the parish, particularly through homilies that have some substance, and also through our culture, as we take our faith with us into the community. The problem isn’t the Pope speaking over our heads so much as the fact that in recent decades we’ve had a breakdown of Catholic teaching across the board in this country and elsewhere, leading to a decline in our “Catholic literacy.” This is turning around, but we still have a ways to go.
(3) Have you read Love your God with All Your Mind by J.P. Moreland? It was recommended to me by a Protestant but I am unfamiliar with it.
Answer: I’ve never read anything by J.P. Moreland. I know he’s a well-respected Protestant author in the area of Christian apologetics. My understanding is that his stuff is on the “heady” side, as he explores the philosophical and intellectual basis of a Christian worldview. Obviously he’s not Catholic, so like C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, his book will only take you so far. Also, given your previous question, perhaps you would prefer somebody who addresses similar subjects not only from a Catholic perspective, but also in more accessible prose. In that regard, I would highly recommend the work of Dr. Peter Kreeft, a former professor of mine who has written dozens of excellent books on related topics.
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