Dear Friends of the Kolbe Center,
The Vatican has announced that Pope Francis will soon declare St. Irenaeus a Doctor of the Church in view of his historical role as a bridge-builder, a second-century Eastern Bishop consecrated to shepherd the Diocese of Lyons in the West. As defenders of the traditional Catholic doctrine of creation, we welcome this good news, since St. Irenaeus boldly proclaimed and defended the literal historical truth of the sacred history of Genesis and of the six-day creation of all things. The designation of St. Irenaeus as a Doctor of Unity highlights the fact that the literal historical truth of Genesis constitutes the common foundation of the Faith for all apostolic Christian communities. Moreover, it offers a great opportunity to clear up a widespread misunderstanding regarding the Fathers’ interpretation of the six days of creation in the sacred history of Genesis.
In recent decades, the overwhelming consensus in the natural sciences in favor of the standard billions-of-years evolutionist chronology of the Earth and of the universe has led many Catholic theologians and apologists to seek a basis in the Church Fathers for expanding the age of the universe far beyond the traditional Biblical time-frame of six to eight thousand years. St. Irenaeus leads the list of Church Fathers who allegedly taught that the days of Genesis One represented thousands of years, thus opening the way for Catholics to renounce the literal and obvious sense of “yom” or “dies” in Genesis as a 24-hour day. The following quotation is typical of those that allegedly “prove” that the Fathers rejected the literal and obvious sense of “day” in Genesis One for a “symbolic” interpretation that equated the days of creation week with thousands of years. In Against Heresies, St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, writes:
For in as many days as this world was made, in so many thousand years shall it be concluded. And for this reason the Scripture says: Thus the heaven and the earth were finished, and all their adornment. And God brought to a conclusion upon the sixth day the works that He had made; and God rested upon the seventh day from all His works (Genesis 2:2). This is an account of the things formerly created, as also it is a prophecy of what is to come. For the day of the Lord is as a thousand years (2 Peter 3:8); and in six days created things were completed: it is evident, therefore, that they will come to an end at the sixth thousand year.
Here it is apparent that St. Irenaeus understands the days of Genesis to be 24-hour days, but he sees in them a foreshadowing of six thousand years of human history before the coming of the final Antichrist, prior to the Final Judgment and the end of the world. St. Justin Martyr, another apostolic Father, helps us to understand the source of this interpretation:
...[W]e understand that a period of one thousand years is indicated in symbolic language. When it was said of Adam that “in the day that he eateth of the tree, in that he shall die,” we knew he was not a thousand years old [Adam lived to be 930]. We also believe that the words, “The day of the Lord is a thousand years,” also led some to the same conclusion. Moreover, a man among us named John, one of Christ’s Apostles, received and foretold that the followers of Christ would dwell in Jerusalem for a thousand years, and that afterwards the universal and, in short, everlasting resurrection and judgment would take place.
In short, while interpreting the days of Genesis One as 24-hour days, St. Justin Martyr equates the word “day” in the period of providence after the creation of the world with a period of a thousand years, in light of Our Lord’s warning to Adam that he would die “in the day” that he ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Since Moses handed down the fact that Adam lived to be 930 years old—almost a full thousand years—St. Justin found a Scriptural confirmation for his interpretation. However, this interpretation never called into question the literal and obvious sense of “day” as a 24-hour day in Genesis 1.
Another Church Father often pressed into service for a “metaphorical” interpretation of the days of Genesis One is St. Cyprian, third-century Bishop of Carthage. Commenting on the seven Maccabean martyrs, St. Cyprian writes:
What, indeed, do we find in the Maccabees of seven brethren, equals alike in their lot of birth and virtues, filling up the number seven in the sacrament of a perfected completion? Seven brethren were thus associating in martyrdom. As the first seven days in the divine arrangement containing seven thousand of years, as the seven spirits and seven angels which stand and go in and out before the face of God, and the seven-branched lamp in the tabernacle of witness, and the seven golden candlesticks in the Apocalypse, and the seven columns in Solomon upon which Wisdom built her house l so here also the number seven of the brethren, embracing, in the quantity of their number, the seven churches, as likewise in the first book of Kings we read that the barren has borne seven. And in Isaiah seven women lay hold on one man, whose name they ask to be called upon them.
The commentary appears in St. Cyprian’s Treatise, 11:11, in which he speaks of the “seven days in the divine arrangement containing seven thousand years.” However, St. Cyprian does not teach here that the seven days of creation week lasted seven thousand years. Rather, he says that they “contained” seven thousand years. This is consistent with the view of other Apostolic Fathers, including St. Irenaeus, that the six days were 24-hour days which foreshadowed the six thousand years of human history before the reign of Antichrist. In a similar way, the seven brethren of the Maccabees “embrace” “in the quantity of their number,” the seven churches, even though the members of the Churches are much more numerous than the seven brethren. There is no doubt that this is the correct interpretation because it is consistent with the interpretation of the other Apostolic Fathers mentioned above and there is no precedent in the writings of any other Church Father for a creation period for the entire material universe longer than six 24-hour days.
If the age of the universe derived from the Holy Scriptures had not been an important part of Divine Revelation for the Church Fathers, it seems unlikely that they would have risked the ridicule of the pagan intellectual elite by affirming and defending the Biblical chronology so firmly. The Fathers were very familiar with evolutionary accounts of the origins of man and the universe, such as the systems proposed in the writings of Epicurus and Lucretius. All of these systems involved long ages of time and denied the supernatural character of the creation of all things as revealed to Moses. Thus, all of the Fathers, including St. Augustine, upheld the fiat nature of the whole work of creation which necessarily entailed that it was completed at the beginning of time—whether that was the six 24-hour days of creation—as the overwhelming majority of the Fathers believed—or an instant, as St. Augustine was inclined to believe in the light of Sirach 18:1.
When the extraordinary Belgian Jesuit exegete Cornelius a Lapide wrote his great commentary on Scripture, he did not hesitate to endorse the interpretation of St. Irenaeus et al that there would be six thousand years of human history before the rise of the final Antichrist. There are several reasons why no Catholic should be scandalized by this interpretation, apparently so naïve and counter to the alleged scientific chronology of millions and billions of years. In the first place, the numbers in the Book of Revelation, or the Apocalypse, are symbolic numbers, because the Apocalypse is not an historical but a prophetic book. Thus, the “seven” Churches of which St. John writes not only represent the variety of Churches in the world at the time of St. John’s revelation, but rather all of the Churches that will ever be, the number “seven” being the number of fullness or perfection. Similarly, the number “one thousand” in this context does not mean a literal thousand years, but a period that represents a certain “fullness” of time—as when the psalmist records God’s declaration that “the cattle on a thousand hills are Mine”—not as if the cattle on the thousand and first hill belonged to someone else, but as a poetic way of saying that the full number—the totality—of all of the creatures belong to Him.
This use of numbers stands in marked contrast to the way that Moses uses numbers in the sacred history of Genesis, so it is not surprising that there was a tendency to see the six literal 24-hour days of Genesis One as a foreshadowing of a literal six thousand years of human history before the rise of the final Antichrist. On the other hand, Venerable Bede was one of the great Fathers and Doctors of the Church who divided the history of the world into six ages rather than into six literal thousand-year periods. And when the seventeenth century prophet Venerable Bartholomew Holzhauser wrote his remarkable predictions concerning the future of the Church and of the world—so many of which have already been fulfilled—he was also inspired to divide human history into six periods, but not into a literal six millennia, thus showing his correct understanding of the “thousand years” of Revelation 20 as a “period of a fullness of time” rather than as a literal thousand years. According to Venerable Bartholomew:
During the fifth period, we saw only calamities and devastation; oppression of Catholics by tyrants and heretics; execution of Kings, and conspiracies to set up republics . . . Are we not to fear, during this period, that the Mohammedans will come again, working out their sinister schemes against the Latin Church? . . . During this period men will abuse the freedom of conscience conceded to them . . . there will be laxity in divine and human precepts. Discipline will suffer. The holy canons will be completely disregarded, and the clergy will not respect the laws of the Church. Everyone will be carried away and led to believe and to do what he fancies, according to the manner of the flesh.. . . But, by the hand of God Almighty, there occurs so wondrous a change during the sixth period that no one can humanly visualize it.
The sixth period of the Church will begin with the powerful Monarch and the holy Pontiff . . . and it will last until the revelation of Antichrist. In this period, God will console His Holy Church for the affliction and great tribulation she has endured during the fifth period. All nations will become Catholic. Vocations will be abundant as never before, and all men will seek only the Kingdom of God and His justice. Men will live in peace, and this will be granted because people will make their peace with God. They will live under the protection of the Great Monarch and his successors. All nations will come to worship God in the true Catholic and Roman faith. There will be many Saints and Doctors on earth. Peace will reign over the whole earth because God will bind Satan for a number of years until the days of the Son of Perdition. No one will be able to pervert the Word of God since, during the sixth period, there will be an Ecumenical Council which will be the greatest of all councils. By the grace of God, by the power of the Great Monarch, by the authority of the Holy Pontiff, and by the union of all the most devout princes, atheism and every heresy will be banished from the earth. The Council will define the true sense of Holy Scripture, and this will be believed and accepted by everyone.
Through the prayers of Our Lady of Fatima, of St. Irenaeus and of all the Holy Angels and Saints, may God grant repentance to all the nations and hasten the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the social reign of Christ the King throughout the world!
P.S. Youtube and other big social media entities have been intensifying their censorship of anything that does not conform to the secular humanist, evolution-based globalist agenda. As part of our effort to work with other traditional Catholic apostolates to make it possible for Catholics to operate independently of these godless entities, we are helping our friends at Sensus Fidelium to launch a Catholic alternative to Youtube. Please keep this initiative in your prayers and support it as soon as it becomes available. We will let you know as soon as that happens.