Nearly 140 years after the publication of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, the pope has recently written about the theory of evolution. Said a recent papal letter: "New knowledge leads us to recognise in the theory of evolution more than a hypothesis."
Yet the pope's version is something akin to so-called theistic evolution-the belief being that God somehow had a hand in the whole process. Pope John Paul II wrote about "spiritual readings of evolution" and spoke of "the spiritual soul" being "directly created by God."
Still, this latest papal revelation is a significant departure from the position of Pius XII in 1950. According to one source, he "claimed that Catholics must believe there was a literal Adam, a first man [from] whom all subsequent humans descend[ed]."
Even earlier in this century a French priest, Teilhard de Chardin, pioneered in the metaphysical study of human evolution, drawing on what was then known about early humanlike creatures and the fossil record. He wrote several such books, with perhaps The Phenomenon of Man his principal work in that field. The Catholic Church, however, viewed his writings with suspicion.
According to a recent book review, the church has some 100,000 priests and 200,000 nuns. One wonders what they think of this latest letter. (Sources: The Sunday Times; The Independent; The Independent on Sunday; Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, Harper & Row, New York, 1959.)