In honor of Reformation Day, I am once again submitting my Papal complaint.

The primary reason that Catholics believe God provided the Roman Catholic Church as an infallible authority is for unity. Christ prayed in the upper room that His people would be one (John 17:21-22). This unification Christ prayed for would most certainly involve some degree of doctrinal solidarity. For the Catholic, the Magisterial authority made up of the Pope and the congregation of bishops along with the Pope serve to keep the peace and unity. In each contemporary situation, if there are issues of doctrine or morals that are causing division, the Magisterium is able to step in and make clear and binding statements of truth concerning the particular issue. Whether it is the issue of birth control or the reality of Hell, the Magisterium will draw from tradition and Scripture and infallibly reveal the truth. Tradition, Scripture, and the Magisterium; these are the three legs of the Catholic stool that give stability.

From the standpoint of the Catholic, the Magisterium holds the sole right to interpret the “deposit of faith.” This deposit is made up of Scripture and Tradition. Both are given by Christ to the Apostles. The Apostles in turn handed this deposit and authority to others forming an unbroken chain of “apostolic secession.” The Pope resides as the supreme authority as his secession is traced back to Peter, to whom were given the keys to the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 16:19).

Since the Magisterium, headed by the Pope, has been handed this deposit of faith and authority, they alone can interpret Scripture with fidelity. In other words, if there is an issue about the interpretation of Scripture, private interpretation is not an option. While Catholics can read Scripture, they are not allowed to interpret it independently.

Contemporary issues that cause division within the church are many. People are divided over inerrancy, the gift of tongues, Open Theism, women in ministry, gay marriage, and many others. While these are significant and divisive, without question the issue that has caused more division in the church over the last century, Catholic or Protestant, is the issue of evolution. The last two blogs on it I posted have gone over 300 and 1000 comments.

While this is a scientific issue, it is also interpretive. How do we understand the early chapters of Genesis? Did God create the earth in six literal days or did He use an evolutionary process taking billions of years? How are we to interpret the word “day” in Genesis 1? Are there gaps in the genealogies? Did the snake really talk? Were Adam and Eve real people or symbolic representations of mankind in general? Those who take a more conservative approach, such as John MacArthur, say that the stakes cannot be higher. Some will say that if you allow for evolution, you have denied the inspiration of Scripture. Others will go so far as to say that if you don’t believe in a young earth, you have denied the reality of sin. The other side battles to protect their scientific integrity by offering alternative interpretations to the creation narrative. Whether it be the day-age theory, gaps in genealogies, or some sort of accommodating language hermeneutic, from their standpoint there are ways for them to interpret Genesis in a way that harmonizes with current scientific trends.

Either way, this issue is as divisive as any issue in the history of the church. The lines have been drawn. The questions is, can Rome come in and fulfill its primary purpose? Can the Magisterium draw from the deposit of faith and interpret the Scripture so that this matter is settled, bringing unity to this religious anarchy among those who claim Christ?

In 1996 Pope John Paul II did step in. This is what he had to say:

“Today, almost half a century after the publication of the encyclical [Humani Generis], new knowledge has led to the recognition in the theory of evolution of more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory” (Message to the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences [Oct. 22, 1996] 4. (emphasis mine)

“More than a hypothesis?” Is that it? Is that supposed to bring unity to the Church? With all the authority of his seat, with keys in hand, and shod with the authoritative hermeneutic of peace, the Pope clears the air by saying that evolution is “more than a hypothesis.” I want my money back!

OK, enough tongue in cheek. Do you see the basic problem here? The Roman Catholic Church is not doing is job. Why? Why can’t the Pope clear the interpretive air and let us know, infallabily and and finally, how we are to read this text and how to shape our theology? Why can’t the Roman Catholic Church bring unity here?

Here are the options as I see it:

1. The Pope does not know how to interpret the early chapters of Genesis. He does not know what “day” means. He does not know if there are gaps in the genealogy. He does not know if the narrative is literal or figurative. He does not know if the snake talked.

But if this is the case doesn’t his authority to interpret the Scripture become irrelevant since he and the rest of the Magisterium don’t know the answer to the most divisive theological issue of the last century?

2. The Pope does know how to interpret the early chapters of Genesis, he just does not think it is important enough to dogmatically speak upon.

But if this is the case, what is important enough to speak upon? The assumption of Mary? The immaculate conception of Mary? Eating meat on Friday? Those things need Papal intervention, but this issue doesn’t?

3. The Pope is on a need to know basis only, and this is something He does not need to know.

But I don’t think the Pope is allowed to watch Top Gun. This actually cannot work since it is not new revelation that the Pope and the Magisterium receives, but protection in his dogmatic pronouncements. Whether through ordinary means (ecumenical councils) or extraordinary means (Papal bulls), the issue can be dealt with or the organization is sterile when it comes to bringing about doctrinal unity when it is most important. 

4. The Pope does not know; he only knows issues that are essential to the Christian faith. How one interprets the Genesis narrative is not essential.

But isn’t unity the issue? Isn’t unity essential? This issue is causing disunity in doctrine. If the Pope cannot solve this, what good is the claim that the Magisterium steps in and answers contemporary theological issues to bring about unity? As well, is the assumption of Mary really essential. Sure, if you are Catholic post-facto it is, but is the controversy over Mary’s assumption really more divisive than the origins debate?

5. The Pope does not know; this is an issue of science, not faith.

This is simply not true. While I would agree that this is a non-essential issue that should not cause division to the degree that it is, the point is that it is causing massive division. The issue can be solved among Christians if we knew how to interpret the Scriptures. The Pope would simply need to tell us if the word “day” in Genesis 1 is figurative or literal. If he did, it would solve a lot of problems. Further, if he would tell us if Adam and Eve are literal figures or figurative, we would solve even more. In short, there are many interpretive decisions that people are making and these decisions are causing division.

6. The Pope does not know; the emperor has no clothes.

This supposed deposit of faith and authority do not apply to the really hard issues that can be tested since this could expose the Pope as fallible. Rome does not want another Galileo incident where the Catholic Church gets a black-eye and then has to bend backward to cover it up. Understandable.

To sum up my argument this Reformation day: I don’t believe in the infallibility of the Pope. Theologically speaking there is no historic or Biblical warrant for such a belief. Pragmatically speaking, it would be great. However, practically speaking, as we can see with regard to Genesis, the claim for Papal infallibility is sterile.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    38 replies to "Dear Pope, What is Up with Genesis?"

    • EricW

      Well, I guess the Pope could just take the fossil record and DNA evidence, etc., and say: “Hoc Est Liber Meus,” and by the power and authority he has as a priest due to the indelible mark on his soul he received when he was ordained, claim it for his own and make it say and mean whatever he wishes or decrees.

      I mean, if by his spoken word he can actually change bread and wine into Jesus Christ’s body/flesh and blood and soul and divinity, transforming the natural elements and constituents and making them what he wishes should be a piece of cake.

      Voila! Problem solved. 🙂

    • RickGTTP

      Eric, for those of unschooled in Latin would you please translate “hoc est lieber meus”? I’m pretty sure about “this is my…” but I have no idea what “lieber” means. Thanks.

    • John Roberts

      “Holy Father”, Vicar of God, “God on earth”, “Infallible”, “To speak against the pope is to speak against God”.

      “The pope is Jesus Christ himself hidden under the veil of the flesh” (pope pius x)

      “You know that I am the Holy Father, the representative of God on earth, the Vicar of Christ, which means that I am God on the earth.”(pope pius xi)

      All Blasphemy!

    • Sisterlisa

      I agree Mr. John Roberts. However I would also like to challenge us all to really take a deeper look at many traditions surrounding most ‘protestant’ and ‘reformed’ churches and find all the Catholic traditions that Luther and the other reformers took from the Catholic Church and have kept and created into doctrines for the people, that are not found anywhere in scripture. Be careful pointing out the speck in the Catholic religion until you are absolutely positive your religions are not full of the same splinters. I do not condone or support false doctrines, but if we’re going to make a division about it, better divide it all the way down the line.

    • rick

      “I want my money back!”

      Too funny. Tetzel is not offering a refund!

      Seriously, you base your thesis on the idea of unity, in the univeral church. However, the Pope is only focused on unity in the RCC.

      Is there division on this issue in the RCC?

    • C Michael Patton

      Yeah, but the point is that the whole idea and defense and necessity of having a Pope—the reason why Christ appointed a Pope—is for unity in the church.

    • Christin

      How about actually looking at the real facts about the theory of evolution. The facts speak for themselves – even the scientists who believed in it found it to be in error and still would not look to a Creator. Even Darwin was nervous about his theory being false and knowing that there were things that could make it so – which have already been proven.

      “I remember well the time when the thought of the eye made me cold all over, but I have got over this stage of the complaint, and now small trifling particulars of structure often make me very uncomfortable. The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!” -Charles Darwin, Letter to Asa Gray, dated 3 April 1860, The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin.

      Creation is too intricate and structured too perfectly to have been an accident. Darwin’s theory is broken down by this very fact.

      Darwin said, “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.” cited in Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box

      Behe says, “To Darwin, the cell was a ‘black box’ -it’s inner workings were utterly mysterious to him. Now, the black box has been opened up and we know how it works. Applying Darwin’s test to the ultra-complex world of molecular machinery and cellular systems that have been discovered over the past 40 years, we can say that Darwin’s theory has ‘absolutely broken down.’
      Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box

      By the way, I agree with John Roberts.

    • rick

      “the reason why Christ appointed a Pope—is for unity in the church.”

      But doesn’t he have unity in what he considers “the church”= RCC, on that issue?

      He does not consider the splinter groups (EO and Protestants) as part of “the church”, at least not to the necessary standards. If they are not part of the “true” church, RCC, then he is not interested in internal problems they have with Genesis. He is just focused on the “true” church.

    • C Michael Patton

      No, Catholics disagree all the time about the Evolution thing. It is an issue across traditional lines.

    • Sisterlisa

      I also find it interesting to find man proclaiming to be reformers. Okay so reformers of the Catholic religion? Because Jesus Christ was the one who reformed the old covenant into the new covenant.
      Hebrews 9

    • C Michael Patton

      Let me clear things up once again as I can see where this might go:

      This post has nothing to do with whether or not the theory of evolution has an validity. It is only about my charge of legitimacy of the Pope considering the primary argument for his infallibility is to bring unity in areas of doctrinal controversy. The interpretation of the early chap of Gen are and have been the most divisive issue over the last century and the Pope has not spoken to the issue with resolve. Therefore, my presentation of the options.

      Let’s keep it there, not on the evolution debate.

    • C Michael Patton

      Both the Benedictine order and the Jesuits were “reform” movements. However, the Catholic church allows them because they agree with the reform. Therefore, men reforming is not the issue.

    • EricW


      When the priest says the “Words of Institution” that change the bread into Christ’s body and the wine into Christ’s blood, he says:

      “Hoc est corpus meum” – “This is My body”


      “Hic (I believe) est sanguis meus” – This is My blood”

      corpus is neuter; sanguis is masculine. Hence, hoc/hic and meum/meus.

      So I think I should have written “Hic est liber meus” since “liber” (book) is masculine.

      FWIW, that’s likely how the term “hocus-pocus” came into being. I.e., people mocking the priest’s claim to change bread and wine into God’s flesh and blood by saying “Hoc est corpus meum,” etc., which sounds like “Hoc-us poc-us”

      FYI: I don’t know Latin; I was just cribbing from a Latin-English dictionary.

    • Christin

      My apologies. I did read that wrong. *blush*

    • Lisa Robinson

      Rick – “Tetzel doesn’t give refunds” Too funny.

      Excellent post and assertion.

    • Bill Heroman

      Perhaps his holiness JP had a different understanding of how to maintain unity than you do, Michael. It sounds like you think the head man should take a decisive stand on the issue one way or the other, to promote “unity of understanding” on the issue. On the other hand, his deliberate vagueness is brilliantly crafted to maintain the peace and “political unity” of the larger group.

      I’m confident you’re smart enough to have noticed this, but I can’t tell from reading your post. You call evolution “the most divisive theological issue of the last century”. Do you really not understand that – from the Catholic perspective, evidently – to decide is to divide?

      It seems you have a fundamentally different definition of “unity”.

      Please note, none of this necessarily reflects my own views…

    • C Michael Patton

      You are saying that the Pope does know the answer, but he does not want to cause controversy by giving to the Catholic church, who, by definition must submit to any dogma he produces, the answer to a controversial theological issue?

      Now I really want my money back 😉

    • C Michael Patton

      I also seem to remember that Nestorianism was very devisive from a political and theological standpoint. I, personally, am glad that Leo I and the rest of the church did not follow the same pattern as JPII, if what Bill says has validity.

    • Lisa Robinson

      Michael, you just might incite a Vatican III. Who knows

    • Dallas

      According to Eph 4:11-16 unity in the faith happens when everyone uses the gifts that God has given to build. God first raised up leaders to equip the rest of the church for ministry, and then the church entered into maturity in faith and in Christ as each person speaks the truth in love.

      The biggest mistake that the church made was taking the ministry away from the entire church and giving a monopoly to an elite. Once the elite was created the temptations of power resulted in corruption of lifestyle and eventually doctrine: These temptations are minimized in a church where everyone is accountable to everyone.

    • Kyle Dillon

      Is it apostolic secession or succession? Sorry, I’m kinda OCD when it comes to spelling.

    • iMonk

      Because the Pope doesn’t do an “Infallible Answers to All Your Questions” tour, the RCCs claims to authority don’t work? Careful where you point that gun Michael. Anyone you know claim to have an inerrant Bible? (Of course, if they can’t give infallible and inerrant answers on everything, I’m not quite sure what that inerrancy is good for.)

      And there must be unity- absolute and complete- on all things for the claim of unity via communion with Rome to be viable in the Catholic scheme? That’s no one’s view of unity in the RCC.



    • Lisa Robinson

      Well that’s interesting. I’ve been deep in research for a paper that I’m doing on the validity of Sacred Tradition in the early church. Here is what one of the Catholic authors have to say about the Church and revealed truth,

      “It is not merely that the Catholic needs the infallible magisterium to settle the more difficult problems of exegesis and to elicit the hidden truths of Scripture, but rather for the Catholic all revealed truth comes to him through the teaching of the Church” (Gabriel Moran F.S.C., Scripture and Tradition: The Controversy, pg 25)

      I believe this statement to be pretty representative of the pope’s declaration of truth regarding Scripture and the expectation that the Pope will provide clarity. Unless, for the Catholic, God did not intend for the Church to understand the interpretation of Genesis. I find that hard to believe that anyone would make that claim.

    • rick


      I hope you will post your research paper, portions of it, or just general findings once you are done. Looks interesting.

    • j

      I had to read a long way down before I realized you weren’t going to talk about the band. Not even a little. Still an interesting post . . . . I guess if Top Gun is off limits, Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins probably are too.

    • EricW

      Why would the Pope say creation was anything other than God speaking the worlds and all that fills them into existence in an instant – or in a day, or in six days – solely by His powerful word? After all, he himself does as much – or more – at every Mass:

      “Behold the power of the priest! The tongue of the priest makes God from a morsel of bread! It is more than creating the world… The Blessed Virgin cannot make her divine Son descend into the host. A priest can, however simple he may be.”

      ~ St. Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney (Curé of Ars)

    • C Michael Patton


      What you will have to do is research the history and defense of Papal infallibility. The primary question is Why is Papal infallibility necessary? Answer that question and you will see the point of this post.

      Of course no one would argue for absolute unity in all things, if by all things you mean issues about which the Church has not dogmatized. But it is the purpose of dogmatization that is important. Again, why possess the power of infallible dogmatization?

    • C Michael Patton


      “Why would the Pope say creation was anything other than God speaking the worlds and all that fills them into existence in an instant – or in a day, or in six days – solely by His powerful word? After all, he himself does as much – or more – at every Mass:”

      Because it is in his job description. When doctrinal and interprative issues arise that are divisive to the church, he steps in and uses his gift in which he is protected by the Holy Spirit from being able to fail. He is there to bring unity on the issues that threaten or divide the church.

    • C Michael Patton

      Another way to look at it is this. While Protestants do not have an infallible canon of infallible texts, the Catholic church does not have an infallible canon of infallible statements from the Pope. They do have the 21 ecumenical councils, but they don’t know how many times the Pope has spoken ex cathedra (infallibly, “from the chair”). While the Pope can miss free throws, he cannot lose the big game. In other words, when the Pope is really serious, he can speak infallibly. But he does not all the time. It is only when it really matters.

      Ask this question: How many times has the Pope spoken ex cathedra? The number will be low. Sometimes as little as three times. There are even some out there who believe that he has yet to exercise this authority. However, most will all agree that he spoke infallibly about the Assumption of Mary in 1950. Either way, you ask the question Why? Why hasn’t the Pope spoken with this divine authority more often?

    • EricW

      Either way, you ask the question Why? Why hasn’t the Pope spoken with this divine authority more often?

      Maybe it’s because even the Pope himself knows (as do his Cardinals, etc.) that it’s a bogus claim? 🙂

    • C Michael Patton

      Eric, this would certianly make for an interesting conversation. However, I don’t think that the Pope and Cardinals know that they are frauds. I think that when they qualify everything so much that it makes it much easier for them to believe something that, from the outside looking in, is so bizzare.

    • David

      According to the catechism, it is essentially the people of God who possess this infallibility; this is expressed by the Magisterium and ultimately the Pope. This is why the Catholic Church at the time of the Reformation could say that if the reformers were bringing a new doctrine then it had to be heterodox because everyone knows what is orthodox: it is what has always been known… . The Magiesterium ‘sees to it that the people of God abide in the truth that liberates’, which is specifically exercised by the Pope speaking infallibly ‘pertaining to faith or morals’.

      As for Genesis 1, the Pope undoubtedly has an opinion on it: here is some commentary on Genesis by Ratzinger ( and here is the link to a recent book on ‘creation and evolution’ ( Does he ‘know’ the ‘answer’? It’s irrelevant, isn’t it? Genesis 1 doesn’t pertain to either faith or morals. All Christians believe God is the creator: it isn’t just dependent on the beginning of the Pentateuch but is there throughout the psalms. All Christians act as Christians: your opinion on Genesis doesn’t affect the way you behave.

      So, the Pope’s infallibility isn’t a quality he alone possesses, it is a characteristic of the Church; Genesis 1 probably doesn’t relate to faith and morals; and finally, unity. No Catholic group has split from the Church because of an interpretation of Genesis; I’m not sure that any Christian group ever has. The deposit of faith which the Church guards and passes on is related to the interpretation of Scripture but it not exactly the same as its interpretation. Interpret Genesis 1 however you like but if you stray from the theological understanding of God as Creator then you are straying from the truth that liberates… .

    • jjc

      I’m not Roman Catholic, but I appreciate the statement as it was said. I see it as a statement of political moderation and academic caution… a very wise position. There is still much that is not known about the origins of life and the universe. And what the pope said in 1996 was far more than most evangelicals were (or still are) willing to concede. The statement allows for further research, knowledge, and information to be included in the years ahead. Centuries earlier, the RCC had already experienced the displeasure of painting themselves into a scientific corner. This statement keeps them from another painful confrontation when the next Galileo sets up his telescope.

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      CMP: “But I don’t think the Pope is allowed to watch Top Gun.”

      Why not?

      FWIW, I just wanted to skip the preliminaries and focus my question on this key aspect of your polemical argument.

      P.S. I-monk, did your wife swim the Tiber? If so, are you going to join her?

    • Bryan

      Very late, I know. Sorry.

      It is a little surprising to see this kind of post here. Given that the Church has declared original sin to be real and to have been the result of some act by specific people, how does the question of evolution or the precise manner in which to read Genesis rise to the level of requiring a statement *ex cathedra*?

      There are lots of theological questions that are important, but the Magisterium is not desigend to cut off debate unless debate must be cut off for the good of the body.

      Catholics are free to read Genesis either way. Demanding some dort of statement on a scientific matter seems a little strange to me.


    • C Michael Patton

      Thanks Bryan,

      I would disagree. First I would ask you to look at this again. I am not asking for a scientific explanation, but an interpretive one. What does “day” mean.

      As I said originally, the infallible authority of the Church is there to provide unity in doctrine and practice. My point is that there are not many issues in the last 100 years that have caused more problems and disunity, even among Catholics.

      At the very least, I would say that this is much more controversial (i.e. causing problems) than the assumption of Mary! Which, for the sake of unity, the Pope did speak about. Why didn’t he just allow freedom here.

      In the end, and I hope I don’t sound too harsh, this issue demonstrates the impotence of the doctrine of infallibility. But, this is just too me. However, I think I have made a good case here.

      OK, thanks for letting me clarify. I normally never engage in posts more than a day old so please forgive if I clarify and run.

    • Daedelus76

      This isn’t a huge issue for Catholicism or Orthodoxy. Genesis being literal history is only critical to somebody who has a fundamentalist understanding of the Bible, where the Bible must be primarily propositional truth that reveals scientific knowledge, rather than knowledge of God in the Person of Jesus Christ (a Christological reading of the Bible).

      In Orthodoxy, the tradition I am exploring, Genesis can be understood as the story of the fall of every human being that lives. The historiocity is much less critical. It is also not relevent immediately to salvation because Christ doesn’t die to propitiate God’s just wrath at humanity’s sinfullness from Adam. He enters into death to destroy the power of death, the fear that we all have as rational creatures whose hearts are set on eternity, so that rising from the grave and ascending to heaven, he goes to prepare a place for us in the Father’s house and be our high priest in heaven.

      “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life”.

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