With all the strife over the meaning of Genesis with respect to the neo-Darwinian model of creaturely origins, it is easy to lose track of the central Truth that Scripture seeks to pass on to us. In 1981, before he ascendended to the papacy, Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Ratzinger) gave a series of four Lenten homilies (sermons) on creation. These homilies recollect our attention to the core purpose of the creation accounts:
And so it came to be understood that this God of Israel was not a God like the other gods, but that he was the God who held sway over every land and people. He could do this, however, because he himself had created everything in heaven and on earth. It was in exile and in the seeming defeat of Israel that there occurred an opening to the awareness of the God who holds every people and all history in his hands, who holds everything because he is the source of all power.
I just said how, gradually, in confronting its pagan environment and its own heart, the people of Israel experienced what "creation" was. Implicit here is the fact that the classic creation account is not the only creation text of sacred Scripture. Immediately after it there follows another one, composed earlier and containing other imagery. In the Psalms there are still others, and there the movement to clarify the faith concerning creation is carried still further: In its confrontation with Hellenistic civilization. Wisdom literature reworks the theme without sticking to the old images such as the seven days. Thus we can see how the Bible itself constantly readapts its images to a continually developing way of thinking, how it changes time and again in order to bear witness, time and again, to the one thing that has come to it, in truth, from God's Word, which is the message of his creating act. In the Bible itself the images are free and they correct themselves ongoingly. In this way they show, by means of a gradual and interactive process, that they are only images, which reveal something deeper and greater.
That something deeper and greater is the touchstone of Christianity and the standard by which we judge any interpretation of Scripture. At the beginning of his second homily, Ratzinger summarizes the unified Message that God has been trying to communicate from the beginning:
In our first encounter with the Bible's and the church's faith in creation, two realizations became particularly clear. We can sum up the first in this way: As Christians we read Holy Scripture with Christ. He is our guide all the way through it. He indicates to us in reliable fashion what am image is and where the real, enduring content of biblical experssion may be found. At the same time he is freedom from a false slavery to literalism and a guarantee of the solid, realistic truth of the Bible, which does not dissipate into a cloud of pious pleasantries but remains the sure ground upon which we stand. Our second realization was this: Faith in creation is reasonable. Even if reason itself cannot perhaps give an account of it, it searches in faith and finds there the answer that it had been looking for.
Above the fray of the evolution wars, the Truth stands serene.
Joseph Ratzinger, trans. Boniface Ramsey, In the Beginning...: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman's Publishing Company), 11-12, 14-15, 21.
See also: Pius XII, Humani Generis (12 August 1950).