Rev. Father Angelo,
I have watched a documentary about cannibalism in the animal kingdom and I would like to ask you: in the Garden of Heaven, before the Fall, were there carnivorous animals? Or is the predatory function due precisely to the appearance of death brought about by the original sin?
When Christ, at His second coming, will make all things new, shall the lion eat hay like the ox or will the predatory instincts remain unchanged?
Long Live Christ the King!
The priest’s answer
- In the light of the Sacred Scripture we cannot say anything about what happened before the creation of man. Science is entitled to put forward all its hypotheses.
- We believe the sacred text as a matter of faith and only as a matter of faith, even though this text has no scientific purpose, as it has been said many times, already.
We learn from the narrative of the Scripture that at least since the appearance of man no animal would eat another animal’s meat.
Here is what we read in the book of Genesis: “God blessed them [scilicet the man and the woman He had created, note by Father Angelo], saying: ‘Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth’.” (Gen 1:28).
- The text goes on: “God also said: ‘See, I give you every seed-bearing plant all over the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; and to all the animals of the land, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the ground, I give all the green plants for food’. And so it happened. God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed – the sixth day”. (Gen 1:28–31)
- The Jerusalem Bible notes: “This is the image of a golden age when men and animals used to live in peace, eating nothing but plants” (Translator’s note: This is just my translation of Fr. Angelo’s quotation. I was unable to find an official English version of the Jerusalem Bible notes to Genesis, nor did I manage to find the commentary to the Book of Isaiah mentioned infra, §7. I apologize with the readers).
- It is only after the Flood that God will allow man to eat meat. Here is the text:
God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them: “Be fertile and multiply and fill the earth. Dread fear of you shall come upon all the animals of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon all the creatures that move about on the ground and all the fishes of the sea; into your power they are delivered. Every creature that is alive shall be yours to eat; I give them all to you as I did the green plants. (Gen 9:1–3).
And here is what the Jerusalem Bible notes about it: “Man is blessed again and consecrated king of creation, as in the beginning, but his kingdom is not peaceful anymore. The new age will see the fight of animals against men and of men among themselves. The heavenly peace will flourish again only in the last times” (T.N: see note at §4).
- Nevertheless, we should not forget that the prophecy of Isaiah’s that you mentioned refers exactly to the last times:
Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair. (Is 11:6–8)
- Again, the Jerusalem Bible notes:
Man’s revolt against God broke the harmony between man and nature (Gen 3: 17–19) and the harmony among men (Gen 4) […] In contrast, the Messianic Age, bringing forth the forgiveness of sins, the reconciliation with God and the kingdom of justice, establishes peace, which is a consequence of the latter: fertility of soil, general disarmament, everlasting peace.
The new covenant is a covenant of peace. The messianic kingdom is a kingdom of peace. Such peace is extended to the animal kingdom, up to the snake, who is responsible for the first fault: here the messianic age is described symbolically as a return to heavenly peace [T.N.: see note at §4]
- Having said all this, we must remember that the book of Genesis does not aim at providing scientific notions.
It is worth the effort to mention what the Secretary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission wrote in 1948 to Cardinal Suhard, Archbishop of Paris:
The first eleven chapters of Genesis […] relate in simple and figurative language, adapted to the intelligence of less educated men, the fundamental truths underlying the divine plan of salvation. And they are a popular description of the origins of the human race and of the chosen people. (Cfr. The Church teaches. Documents of the Church in English translation, e-book edited by Jesuits Fathers of St. Mary’s College, St. Marys, Kansas, USA, 2015, §140 ).
This is in line with the Catechism of the Catholic Church that, talking about the creation of man, says:
The biblical account expresses this reality in symbolic language when it affirms that “then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” (Catechism of the Catholc Church, art. 362).
- With the coming of Christ the world will end.
We do not know if for a few moments, in reality and not just symbolically, the peace of the Garden of Heaven will be back. Some, among whom Saint Irenaeus and Lactantius, thought so, as reported by G. Girotti in a note to Is 11:6. But Saint Jerome, Girotti adds, “defines this interpretation as snoring in a very deep sleep”.
Thank you for your question. I remember you to the Lord in prayer and I bless you.
Translated by Alessandra N.
Verified by Debora C.