“From where did the world originate? Is the universe the result of coincidence or was it created by God? Our lives were longed for, does this make any sense or is it meaningless? Should we really put any stock in creation according to what we read in the book called the Bible or should we give credence to Darwin’s theory of evolution as affirmed by both men and women of ‘science?’” These are the questions, that define and convey a very modern subtleties of the theme ‘where did the world originate from, are thoughts are not all that far from what man has been pondering for eons, and no different from what Saint Thomas Aquinas had been meditating upon some 747 years ago.
Today, at primary schools in the UK, ‘Evolution and Inheritance’ is being taught in KS2 Science, where eleven-year-old boys and girls are now being taught Darwin’s theory of evolution. They suddenly come to life as though they have suddenly been stimulate by the question, as though they have been awakened by something that genuinely interests them and to which they feel the need to respond to: everyone tries to have their say, proposing a panacea of divergent opinions and, in some cases the most inconceivable diversity of evolutionary theories, some even venture to mention the Word of God, God as Creator of the universe. To them, as for us (be it consciously or unconsciously), it often seems as though God has spoken in a somewhat half-finished manner and that our task becomes precisely that of “fixing His aim” in order to make Him more credible, rather than attempting to deepen the Word in order to conform to Him and not ‘conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.’ (Romans 12: 2).
And so when it happens in class that children are told that the ‘Big Bang’ is in fact in one of the books of the Bible (to be more precise, the second, after Genesis) as my grandfather once told me, ‘in the Bible there are things that you have to believe in, but you don’t have to believe everything!’ And, in fact, this second statement from a certain point of view is true: as the title of a well-known book by theologian Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar declares, ‘Love Alone is Credible.’ Turning this maxim into your predominant philosophy, the Word of God is and always will be credible only if read, meditated upon and interpreted in the light of God’s boundless love. Without your having had this experience, the sacred texts are just simply distant myths to hard to be believed or to have an iota of credibility, and the probability that the ancient texts could ever compete against the pursuit of scientific discoveries is a self-deception that soon loses its lustre and then dies away. All that remains would be to make a religion in “our own” image and likeness; we simply have to become self-contradictory in order to become men and women in “our own” image and likeness.
With regard to the Big Bang, it has a number of scientific problems. Big-bang supporters are forced to accept on “blind faith” a number of notions that are completely inconsistent with real observational science. “The big bang today relies on a growing number of hypothetical entities, things that we have never observed—inflation, dark matter and dark energy are the most prominent examples. Without them, there would be a fatal contradiction between the observations made by astronomers and the predictions of the big bang theory. In no other field of physics would this continual recourse to new hypothetical objects be accepted as a way of bridging the gap between theory and observation. It would, at the least, raise serious questions about the validity of the underlying theory” (E. Lerner et al., An open letter to the scientific community, New Scientist 182 (2448): 20, May 22, 2004. Available online at www.cosmologystatement.org.)
To state that “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth—” as the book of Genesis reveals (1:1), means that God created absolutely everything that exists, both what we can see and that which is invisible or incomprehensible to us: nothing is a result of chance, everything that exists derives from Him. There are no other possibilities. “Heaven and earth,” in fact, cited together constitute a unique example in Jewish philosophy, a binomial that indicates the totality of all that exists. Creation was accomplished and perfected in just “six” days, an unspecified emblematic period of time, because within God’s eternity “A thousand years in your eyes are merely a day gone by, before a watch passes in the night…” (Psalm 90:4). Fr. Jarlath McDonagh who was one of my seminary instructors defined it this way “God has made everything appropriate to its time, but has put the timeless into their hearts so they cannot find out, from beginning to end, the work which God has done” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). The timeless: others have translated as “eternity.” The words of King Solomon credit God with keeping human beings ignorant about God’s “work”—present and future. Therefore instead of attempting to elaborate on matters that are beyond my infantile knowledge, I simply remind myself and others that we can trust God with the timing of things and that it is something we need not worry our little heads about.
By analysing the contexts in which the term “earth” is referred to in Thomas Aquinas’ theological writings, we can simply get a glimpse of how the earth delineates the path that leads from creation toward redemption, in the same manner when we consider the term “sky”. Here, however, a dynamic takes place that even more directly implies humanity —who comes from the earth, lives upon the earth and returns into the earth— and specifically involves one who is in all respects is genuinely and completely man, even in his divinity:
Jesus Christ. To delineate this path, Thomas Aquinas frequently quotes Scripture; in addition to Genesis, he largely refers to the Gospel of Matthew, this is the gospel that to all intents and purposes is related to themes that touch upon the realm of the daily life of humanity, richly filled with parables, and which the preachers of the Middle Ages used most frequently: not surprisingly, St. Dominic himself always had the Gospel of Matthew and the letters of St. Paul with him, which allowed him to meditate upon them unceasingly.
On several occasions St. Thomas uphold that God not only created the earth but also that He “governs” it in every moment with His divine intervention: He established the world into being and ensures that the world continues to exist, since nothing at all that exists is unknown to Him. This planet, the earth is the place where we humanity live and it is the place where we find nourishment. Man was shaped by God with earth; God then commanded man to be fertile and to multiply, to fill the earth and to “subdue it” that is to “take care” of all of creation, because man’s domination is nothing other than carrying out a function within God’s creation, carrying on the work that God Himself had begun. Man is, in fact, at the pinnacle of all of creation. Nevertheless, we need to be reminded that this command does not, give human beings unlimited power, for even the biblical kings only had limited dominion and were always subject to prophetic review.
Christ is the Son of the Father who descended from heaven to earth: assuming human nature, He became man just as Adam, the first man had been shaped with earth. However, while the body of mankind is destined to return to the earth, only the body of Christ has not ben subjected to this corruption. Christ’s soul descended into hell, but after three days He rose again and then ascended to heaven. For this very reason, Christ raised from the earth attracts a multitude to himself: even the final destination of man is, in fact, that of “a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (Revelation 21:1. See also Isaiah 65:17–25; 66:22; Matthew 19:28). For Thomas, according to what the biblical text affirms, it is necessary that the men who will journey toward this ultimate perfection, participating in Christ’s resurrection of the flesh, and therefore have a different state from corporeal creatures, because the whole world will be renewed at the moment of Christ’s final judgment. It is the Risen One who has received all the power both in heaven and upon earth: those who have committed evil, and have not entrusted themselves to God’s love, will remain “upon the old earth” at the moment of judgment; they will not be transformed; quite the opposite, whilst the good will be exalted and raised to the new heavens and earth, deferring to Christ and summonsed to govern with Him.
Ultimately, the earth is a place of prayer which creates a bridge that traverses both creation and redemption: for St. Thomas the comprehension and acknowledgement of this path, and of all of life as a rule, comes to us through our faith. Faith also happens to belong to the same sphere as the “earth,” owing to the fact that God Himself has placed faith within the earth and “for the sentence of the Lord on the earth will be executed quickly and with finality” (Romans 9:28). The earth is the place where the recollection of Christ disseminated for over two millennia, from where the prayers of the people to God rise up with firm conviction, because “… if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:19-20).