One of the great mysteries in this life is the question of the origin of the human species. The discoveries of scientists raise as many questions as they answer about where we human beings came from. The Creation account in Genesis, meanwhile, preserves a sense of mystery and awe. The fact is that the exact circumstances of the origin of man remain unclear, and it seems unlikely that the veil will be lifted until the end of time. When all is revealed, will it turn out to have been like those odd diagrams in natural history museums that depict a progress from apes to Neanderthal-like creatures to something that looks human? Or will it be more like that majestic event depicted by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? Probably all of us – atheists and fundamentalist creationists included – should prepare ourselves to be amazed.
The physical origins and the development of the human body are a fitting subject for scientific research. If scientists prove that the human body has somehow evolved from fish, reptiles and furry mammals then the Church will not object. Whether it is expressed in the language of science, philosophy or Divine Revelation, truth is always a good that She embraces wholeheartedly. The first chapters of Genesis do not claim to provide a scientific or a strictly historical narrative account of the beginnings of the universe. They do, however, communicate truths which furnish us with the most significant and fascinating information about our origins and nature, and about the purpose of Creation.
One of these truths is that there is something utterly remarkable about human beings. According to the second chapter of Genesis, when God formed man out of the dust of the ground, He “breathed into His nostrils the breath of life.” Furthermore, Genesis quotes God’s own words: “Let us make man to our image.” The Church teaches that this divine image lies is our mind and in our will, i.e. in our capacity to know and to love. This image of God means that we each possess a soul which is spiritual and immortal. And, whatever the origins of the human body might be, God creates every human soul individually.
Genesis also suggests that one man and one woman are the first parents of the whole human race, and names them as Adam and Eve. The Church upholds the principle of ‘monogenesis’ that states that the whole of humanity can trace its genealogy to a common origin. Although monogenesis has never been solemnly defined as a dogma, it would seem to be the only theory of human origin consistent with the doctrine of Original Sin (see Humani Generis n. 37).
“Who is my neighbour?” This question is asked by a lawyer who is quizzing Our Lord on how to achieve salvation. It is in response to this question that Our Lord relates the parable of the good Samaritan (Gospel of St Luke 10.23-37).
The principle of monogenesis should help us to answer this question “Who is my neighbour?” If the whole of humanity is descended ultimately from the same source, then there is just one human family. This means that every man, woman and child, from the moment of conception in the womb, is my neighbour, brother, sister, or at least a distant cousin. Monogenesis makes nonsense of any ideology based on ‘racism’ because, if true, it means that there is ultimately just one race, the human race. Theories based on polygenesis (the hypothesis that different groups of humans are ultimately descended from multiple origins) which promoted the idea that some races spring from superior stock and are better-developed, or even ‘more human’, than others, contributed to some quite un-neighbourly behaviour in the last century. We should probably be relieved that more recent scientific investigations into DNA lend support to the idea that everyone alive today can trace his ancestry back to a common origin.
If we look at the teaching and at the inner dynamics of our Church, we find living proof of Her belief in the essential unity of the human race. The Church proclaims that every innocent human life is sacred to God and inviolable from the moment of conception, regardless of religion. The “image of God” that is imprinted on the human soul means that every human life has an intrinsic and inalienable value.
The parable of the good Samaritan was controversial. The Jewish lawyer to whom Our Lord was speaking would have been conditioned to believe that the Samaritans were a lesser class of human being. The fact that it is the despised Samaritan rather than the professionally religious priest or the righteous Levite who comes to the aid of the wounded man illustrates how the duty of charity extends beyond religious, cultural and national boundaries.
This parable provides a powerful stimulus to the Church’s charitable activities. Catholic aid agencies are normally amongst the first on the scene whenever disaster strikes around the globe. Like the good Samaritan, they minister to the sick, the starving and the homeless without prejudice to culture or religion.
The Fathers of the Church – those eminent theologians who unpacked the Deposit of Faith in the centuries that followed the Apostolic Age – also discerned a deeper spiritual meaning in Our Lord’s parable. In the robbed and wounded man they recognised fallen man in his sins, unable to help himself. To the Fathers, the good Samaritan was a figure for Our Lord Himself. Christ heals us by forgiving our sins, binding up the wounds that those sins have caused, restoring us to the life of Grace. The oil and wine that the Samaritan pours into the man’s wounds have a strong sacramental significance.
All of this suggests that if we really wish to imitate the Good Samaritan, then we have not only to feed the hungry and bring relief to those who suffer physically, we also have to be serious about bringing people of every nation, colour and language into the Ark of Salvation.
A glance along the altar rails of the Oratory Church at any Sunday Mass gives a heartening impression of the universal nature of Catholicism. Faithful of many nations and languages kneel down together at the same Altar to receive the one Body of Christ in Holy Communion. No one could ever be barred from incorporation into the Mystical Body of Christ on grounds of colour or nationality. We are truly one family, one race, one body. Through the grace infused into us in Baptism, we have the same divine life force coursing through us and uniting us. We are all called to the same eternal destiny, beholding the same Beatific Vision of God in Heaven.
Fr Julian Large