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Clarifications on the Biblical Flood Narrative

February 14, 2017 33 Comments

As we read the flood story in Tuesday’s daily Mass, I feel that a few clarifications are in order.

While we are not required as Catholics to interpret every detail of the flood story literally, there does seem to be some evidence (preserved in many ancient cultures) of a flood or “mega event” that drastically reduced the size of the human race. In addition, genetic, geological, and anthropological information point to a period some 70,000 years ago during which humans almost vanished from the planet [*].

How much of the flood narrative is a story and how much is history may be debatable, but something surely happened. In Genesis, God is recounting for us that He intervened at a critical moment to prune and purify the human family of the more egregious effects of sin in the aftermath of original sin.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the ground, man and beast and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord (Gen 6:5-8).

This leads to another necessary clarification. God is said to regret that He made us and is described as being deeply grieved. Descriptions such as these are largely held to be anthropomorphisms, which ascribe human traits to God as a way of indicating the thoughts of God by analogy. In whatever manner God is “grieved” or “regretful,” it is not in the same way that we are. We are being told in this text that God has a resolve to set things right and to put an end to extreme wickedness. The artful use of anthropomorphic language to advance the story should not be considered as overriding other Scriptures that remind us that God is not subject to change and passions as we are. For example,

  • God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should repent. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? (Numbers 23:19)
  • [The Children of men] will perish, but You endure; And all of them will wear out like a garment; Like clothing You will change them and they will be changed. But You are the same, And Your years will not come to an end (Psalm 102:26-27).
  • I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed (Mal 3:6).
  • Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change (James 1:17).

A third clarification is needed in order to “rescue” God from charges of injustice in this “mass killing” of the human race. God, of course, is the giver of life. As the one who gives it, He also sets the length of our life and the manner of our death. This is His right. Indeed, one might even say that this is His “job.”

By way of analogy, I tend to many rose bushes in front of my rectory. At times, I feed them, water them, and foster their growth. At other times, I prune them. In certain cases, I remove diseased plants from the rose bed. Last year, I removed three diseased rose bushes. Who would dispute my right to do this? Who would accuse me of injustice? This is my work and my proper role.

While it is true that human beings are certainly more precious than roses, it is still God’s role to attend to the life and death of human beings, to the planting and harvesting of individuals, cultures, and civilizations. In His providence, God will at times prune away large segments in order to stave off disease or foster growth in individuals and in humanity as a whole.

Thus in the flood narrative, God sees the widespread evil and chooses to save what little good remains by cutting away the rest. In so doing, He creates a new beginning of goodness for the world. It is not free of sin, but is less beset by grave wickedness.

Yet even here, God does not necessarily forsake the wicked whose earthly lives He ends. They are confined in Sheol and await a day of visitation from the Lord. Scripture speaks to the fulfillment of this merciful outreach:

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water (1 Peter 3:18-20).

The Lord calls to them once more in His descent to the dead after Good Friday. He awakens them, preaches to them, and summons them. Did only some or all repent in the flood waters? We do not know, but the point remains that in ending their earthly lives, God did not completely forsake them in sending the waters. The worst thing is not dying (which we all will do); it is refusing God’s merciful love though an impenitent heart. God works for our eternal salvation, not merely our earthly comfort.

Here’s one scientific theory; take it or leave it as you wish.

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Comments (33)

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  1. Nick says:

    The Flood wasn’t global but local.

    “The deluge in the time of Noah was by no means the only flood with which this earth was visited. The first flood did its work of destruction as far as Jaffé, and the one of Noah’s days extended to Barbary.”

    Source: http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/mhl/mhl05.htm

    And some things to ponder, since it is good to meditate on God’s Word:
    – Why does God say He will blot out man, then list “man and beast and creeping things and birds” – in the reverse order of creation, no less?
    – Why does God say He is sorry for making these things, when only man sinned?
    – Why does God say He will blot out sinful man, when Noah was righteous?
    – Why would God favor Noah, when he wasn’t the only righteous person?

    • aja says:

      “The flood continued forty days on the earth. The waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the face of the waters. And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits4 deep. And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. Everything on the dry land bin whose nostrils was the breath of life died.” (Ge 7:17–22)

      Hmmm, doesn’t sound local to me. “all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered.” Nope.

  2. Nick says:

    “The Lord calls to them once more in His descent to the dead after Good Friday. He awakens them, preaches to them, and summons them. Did only some or all repent in the flood?”

    Christ preached to the righteous, not to the wicked, for the resurrection does not change one’s fate: the righteous rise to life, the wicked to second death. To claim the dead can repent contradicts Particular Judgment at one’s death.

    CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

    393 “There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death.”

    633 Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him.

    1022 Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven-through a purification594 or immediately, — or immediate and everlasting damnation.

    • Msgr. Charles Pope says:

      your argument is based on them being damned. Though I agree the damned cannot later be saved, there is a suggestion that all might not have been damned from that group. Otherwise why go among them and preach, as the text says. Or do you suppose that the Lord simply went among them to chide them? So I’m thinking that some of them must have repented in the flood waters. Christ did not preached to the damned. No point in that.

      • Nick says:

        You said the Lord visited the wicked, preached to them, awakened them, and summoned them to repentance.

        By this I assumed you meant the Lord descended to the damned, preached to them, resurrected them, and summoned them to repentance; but I was wrong.

        My apologies.

  3. JMC says:

    I find it interesting that, particularly in the last ten or so years, archaeologists have been finding more and more hard evidence that the Biblical narrative is true history. This is just the latest one in a whole string of them…but that doesn’t take away it’s fascination.
    .
    What he has to say about the extent of the Flood is actually something that Sister discussed in our catechism class back in the very early days of Vatican II (I think the Council may actually have still been in progress, but I don’t remember for sure). It was frankly stated that we don’t really know how extensive the Flood actually was, but it certainly affected the entire Mediterranean region, which, to the people of that time, *was* the whole world. Personally, I suspect that it was the only inhabited region of the entire planet at that time, and thus was the only region that would have needed to be “pruned,” so to speak.
    .
    Once again, truly riveting stuff.

  4. Howard says:

    “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” — Genesis 6:5

    That part of the story strikes me as coldly accurate.

    In fact, it is important not to dismiss this “story” as though it were mostly fluff and filler, so that the details don’t matter.

    Look at some aspects regarding the receding of the waters. During the 40 days and 40 nights, it was presumably impossible to tell day from night. But in Genesis 8:1, “God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided”; this closely mirrors Genesis 1:2, “and the Spirit* of God was moving over the face of the waters.” As the storm abated and the clouds thinned, there would be light during the day and darkness at night, paralleling the First Day. Then the rain stops and mist lifts, giving clouds above the waters; the Second Day. The same order is plausibly followed: dry land and vegetation are sighted (the Third Day), then the clouds part, revealing the sun, moon, and stars (the Fourth Day), then they see birds and marine life (the Fifth Day), then man and terrestrial animals leave the Ark (the Sixth Day), then there is the sacrifice and God’s promise to Noah (the Seventh Day, the day of rest). I don’t know what exactly that means, but I am convinced it is no accident and no mere filler. Noah and Adam are both presented as fathers of every human alive today, and there is a serious parallel in their stories; there is something being emphasized here.

  5. Bender says:

    In their freely chosen sin, in freely opposing God who is life itself, those people outside the ark were already dead men walking. Like Hell, they were the cause of their own deaths.

    God simply washed those already-dead bones away, while saving those who “chose life” in choosing to be faithful to Him.

    The story of the Flood is a story of a God of mercy, not an angry and petulant God.

    • Msgr. Charles Pope says:

      Yes, but I also wonder if some did not repent in the flood since the 1 Peter text seems to include at least some of them among those to whom Christ preached. And this points to some mercy. God punishes, to summon us to repentance and mercy

  6. AnderDrakes says:

    I’ve read many articles here but this one made me cringe. There is certainly a lot to say here, but one of the most obvious flaws is that of spirits. Humans have a spirit but they are not ‘spirits’. The ones that Christ witnessed to are those spirits locked up in the time of Noah. These are not people but demons. Think about it, why would Jesus only witness to the dead from Noah’s time and not from all of BC? No, these are the demons God locked away…

    • Msgr. Charles Pope says:

      I guess you’re aware that I am quoting scripture there? Perhaps you should ask the Holy Spirit rather than cringe. Perhaps too you could be less fussy about terminology. Very often “souls” or spirits can be used to refer to the human spirit. e.g. a pilot may answer the control tower that he has 125 souls on board.

      • AnderDrakes says:

        Not so, in fact it is because I am Christian that I cringed. These that are locked up are those that are referred to in Genesis 6. Jude 1:6 for instance says “And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day”. There is also 1 Peter 3:19 and 2 Peter 2:4 which refers to the chained angels of Noah’s time. It states in 1 Peter that he “proclaimed” to them, probably of His victor over them. It doesn’t indicate that He witnessed to them for their salvation.

        I mentioned the spirit part because it was the easy part to correct from the Bible. The part that really got me though was the fact that you said “How much of the flood narrative is a story and how much is history may be debatable”. I am sorry, but what? Is it that God is simply a story teller or embellisher when He wants to make a point? That line of thinking undermines God’s power and the validity of the Bible.

        And 70,000 years? No, the Bible only allows for roughly 7000 years. One can track from the time of the first man, Adam, through his descendants in Genesis. This gives a non-debatable timeline. The use of anything larger shows that a person is relying on man’s knowledge (Evolution and Modern Science) instead of what God states. The pitfall here is what is said in I Cor. 1:25 and Matt. 6:24.

        So my overall point here is this, we need to honor God and defend what He said in the Bible. I grew up being taught about evolution and watching Christians give in to things outside of the Bible. It is a weakness that needs to be removed because it is destroying the Church, destroying Christians. Our weakness with this is hampering others from turning to Christ.

  7. Sl says:

    I’m a geologist, and I believe there is ample evidence for a catastrophic global inundation, and for a young earth as well. However, the data are equivocal, and different people will have different interpretations, based upon their preconceptions.

    Regardless of one’s belief, though, there is no justification in Scripture per se for a local flood.

    According to Scripture, the waters filled “all on the face of the earth” (Gen 7:17-18), the water “was fifteen cubits higher than the mountains which it covered” (Gen 7:20, and “the creeping things and fowls of the air” were destroyed (Gen. 7:22-23).

    Any glance at a map of Asia Minor or the Near East will show that there is no way that any local flood could have come close to covering the surrounding mountains, whether the flood is claimed to have been in Mesopotamia or the Black Sea–mountains would easily have been visible from any boat floating near the shore.

    Second, there is no way that local floods could have killed birds or every living land animal.

    And there is no way that a local flood would have deposited the Ark on the top of a high mountain, since the waters would not have risen that high.

    If one wants to believe a local flood, then one has to discount every line in the Flood narrative, and interpret it as strictly symbolic. Perhaps that’s the case, but it’s a pretty drastic departure from the interpretation of the narrative in Tradition, and I’m always very skeptical when “Science” becomes the judge of Scriptural Interpretation. By that yardstick, both the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection would have to become symbolic as well.

  8. Xavier Abraham says:

    “While we are not required as Catholics to interpret every detail of the flood story literally …”

    Dear Father…. I beg to differ. I do know that Catholics are not required to literally interpret the six day creation narrative. But flood ? Do we have anything in the patristic or magisterial teachings that Catholics are not required to interpret the flood narrative literally ?

    Can I also point to one interesting fact, which makes me believe that the Genesis narrative of flood is literally true and probably happened 4000 or 4500 years ago.

    Do we have any historical document on earth that’s older than 4000 or 4500 years ? Most ancient civilizations we have history are not older than 4000 years. The secular historians want us to believe that man invented writing 4000 years ago. And so for thousands of years, human being had the same intellectual power but never developed writing skills until just 4000 years ago ???

    • Msgr. Charles Pope says:

      I am using principles in catechism for biblical interpretation. Since you have asked me for documentation you can look there. But as for you, can you find a doctrinal document requiring us to interpret every detail in a literalist way? I think the word requirement is important. You are free as a Catholic to think the world is 4 -5 K years old. But I am not required as a Catholic to give assent to your view.

  9. J. Easter says:

    Great post Msgr. Pope! Here’s an interesting article your readers might enjoy that challenges evolutionist interpretation of the
    earth’s fossil record.

    https://answersingenesis.org/geology/geologic-time-scale/unlocking-the-geologic-record/

  10. Jonathan Lee Ching says:

    I feel that the he pre-occupation with self importance and pride of life is the main thing that holds many back from accepting God’s divine role as the caretaker of creation.

    That which he creates or gives is a gift and completely his. These actions may later be recalled, augmented or diminished if he wishes, as we all do in daily life.

    “Science” driven secular society cannot (ironically) grasp that man is not the centre of the universe in a manner of speaking, and that our rights (though some are indeed inalienable), come from God and must necessarily return to him as our fist origin and last end.

    When we begin to see God as father and head, our neighbour as brother and an end in themselves (rather than a means to an end), and creation as a means to salvation, these problems begin to dissipate.

  11. Robertlifelongcatholic says:

    So in a way, the great flood was a result of man made climate change.

  12. David Ulmer says:

    Msgr. Pope,
    We are also allowed to believe the literal account also referred to as though literal in the New Testament by our first Pope. Plenty of evidence exists to actually make this rather easy if one starts with accepting the scripture as God presents it to us. As far as I know having been attentive for 28 years to the various fields of study related to the evolution and creation arguments, I have never found any evidence against taking the flood account at face value. Typical anthropological research today is about the most godless, soulless, biased, mythological, unscientific, politically correct twaddle I’ve read. God bless, and thank you for being one of the most sincere, Truth (Christ)loving voices in the blog world.

    • Msgr. Charles Pope says:

      fair enough. For the record I DO believe that there was a flood, and that eight in all survived it. As for all the details about the animals etc., I don’t disbelieve it, but I am not concerned for the sake of my faith if some of those details are a gloss. The point is that Catholics are allowed to have a range of views on the historical interpretation of the first 15 chapters of Genesis. I personally have no problem with accepting all the details of the flood account. I making my observation I had hoped to side-step some of the usual debates that strike me as a foolish waste of time since the Church does not require either a literalist or allegorical view on the first place. I see by the comments that my hopes are dashed and the points of my article or the deeper meanings of the story are lost. The devil is in the diversions.

      • Sl says:

        Msgr Pope, please do not feel that your hopes are dashed–I especially like your analogy about the rose bushes. The problem of how God could wipe out His creation is a real one, and you make some very good points.

        But we are starving for guidance from our pastors on the question of the historicity of Genesis, as the number of comments on this site shows. It is not a diversion, or a side issue–there are many who use the non-historical view of Genesis to “prove” that the Gospels are non-historical as well. I honestly would like to know: where do you find in a Church document that the Church does not require either a literalist or allegorical view on Genesis, but does require a literalist view on the historicity of the Gospel?

        What I’ve found is the following:

        Providentissimus Deus (15), Pope Leo XIII: “But he must not on that account consider that it is forbidden, when just cause exists, to push inquiry and exposition beyond what the Fathers have done; provided that he carefully observes the rule so wisely laid down by St. Augustine–not to depart from the literal and obvious sense, except only where reason makes it untenable or necessity requires; a rule to which it is the more necessary to adhere strictly in these times, when the thirst for novelty and unrestrained freedom of thought make the danger or error most real and proximate.”

        Spiritus Paraclitus (21), Pope Benedict XV, speaking of Providentissimus Deus:
        “Moreover, Our Predecessor, sweeping aside all such distinctions between what these critics are pleased to call primary and secondary elements, says in no ambiguous fashion that “those who fancy that when it is a question of the truth of certain expressions we have not got to consider so much what God said as why He said it,” are very far indeed from the truth. He also teaches that Divine inspiration extends to every part of the Bible without the slightest exception, and that no error can occur in the inspired text: “It would be wholly impious to limit inspiration to certain portions only of Scripture or to concede that the sacred authors themselves could have erred.”

        I’m not a Scripture scholar, but the questions of historicity and interpretation are vital to evangelism. What are we proclaiming, if not that God is the God of history? Please, keep on with your wonderful dissertations, but don’t avoid questions about the proper interpretation of Genesis just because it’s controversial. We need your insights!

      • David Ulmer says:

        ‘literalist’? I don’t think you mean this in the way this term usually gets used, at least in my experience. I’ve never met one nor ever found a biblical school of thought that called themselves literalists, as I understand the term. I have heard that label thrown around and at me often when accepting the traditional interpretation and plain meaning of a passage refereeing to a miraculous historical event in salvation history. Perhaps it is simply that I have a different more pejorative definition of the term ‘literalist’. Please forgive me if again I have made another diversion. It seems very important to me to the overall discussion. One can have both a literal and allegorical understanding of a passage if I am not mistaken. So when it seems that the literal understanding is called a literalist view, and then juxtaposed as an either/or along side the allegorical, then I get a little concerned.

        • Msgr. Charles Pope says:

          For heaven’s sake, the point is that Catholics are FREE to hold varying views on the historical details especially in Gen 1-15. Please read the Catechism on this matter. Literalist is used because the Church documents use the word Literal in a different way than the modern world uses the term. Literal does not mean univocal in Church terminology. Rather, as the Catechism says,

          The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: “All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal.” (CCC 116)

          In other words, “literal” is rooted in the word literary rather than exacting or univocal. The literal sense asks, “what are these words saying?”

          And speaking of which, I would like to reiterate that these harsh debates and accusatory recitations are a devilish way to keep us from discussing what the texts are actually teaching. My article was about SO MUCH MORE that this matter about which Catholics ARE FREE to hold differing views. Enough now, if you want to hold that every detail of this story occurred exactly as written you are free to do so. I frankly think most of the details are pretty accurate. But others are free to regard the details are more general and story-like.

          • David says:

            I think you may have missed my point, but that is really ok. I think I get your point and I don’t want to be a thorn to you in any way. Keep pressing on and doing the good work that you are doing. You are truly one of the best voices in the blog world. I will offer my sacrifice on this Friday on your behalf.

            If you would allow me one point, don’t feel like you need to reply or post this but the term literalist (I believe) is only found in the PBC’s document on Biblical Interpretation. I think that document has done terrible harm to the Church and I know B16 signed off on it. He went out of his way to make it clear that it did not represent official magisterial teaching and it even had sections that included footnotes that showed that some in the PBC disagreed with parts of it. It came back to bite Ratzinger as he was labeled a ‘fundamentalist’ then by those he unleashed. It has been used just as “who am I to judge” has been used to dismiss truth and to shut down discussion about doctrine. God bless you Msgr Pope.

  13. Salonsar War says:

    There is no doubt that the flood was global.

    Simple logic & reasoning, scripture & scientific evidence leaves us no doubt that it was a global deluge. Here are just a few logical reasons :

    >If the Flood was local, why did Noah have to build an Ark? He could have walked to the other side of the mountains and missed it.

    >If the Flood was local, why did God send the animals to the Ark so they would escape death? There would have been other animals to reproduce that kind if these particular ones had died.

    >If the Flood was local, why was the Ark big enough to hold all kinds of land vertebrate animals that have ever existed? If only Mesopotamian animals were aboard, the Ark could have been much smaller.

    >If the Flood was local, why would birds have been sent on board? These could simply have winged across to a nearby mountain range.

    >If the Flood was local, how could the waters rise to 15 cubits (8 meters) above the mountains (Genesis 7:20)? Water seeks its own level. It couldn’t rise to cover the local mountains while leaving the rest of the world untouched.

    >If the Flood was local, people who did not happen to be living in the vicinity would not be affected by it. They would have escaped God’s judgment on sin. If this happened, what did Christ mean when He likened the coming judgment of all men to the judgment of ‘all’ men (Matthew 24:37–39) in the days of Noah? A partial judgment in Noah’s day means a partial judgment to come.

    >If the Flood was local, God would have repeatedly broken His promise never to send such a flood again. Read the news — Local floods happen every now & then across the globe.

  14. Rob Maloney says:

    Can you explain the various ‘genocides’ in the OT? For example, Saul was chastised for not wiping out the Amakelites, and when Jericho was conquered, the Israelites were told to kill all the people. Can we understand this as their understanding at the time of what they thought God wanted? Were we to do something similar today, it would be considered horrible.

  15. Father Ryan Erlenbush says:

    Msgr,

    Thanks for the article – quite insightful on numerous points. Particularly, I like how you point out that it is more difficult to reconcile the language of “God changed his mind” or “God decided he made a mistake in creating man” than to deal with questions of water level or unicorns missing the boat.

    However, I would recommend adding an slight modification on your point about the spirits/souls in the limbo of the Fathers to whom Christ preached on Holy Saturday. By faith, we hold that “a man dies once, and then the judgment” (cf Hebrews). These ones did not get a “second chance”, but rather had repented as the waters came down and before they were swept away.

    The Catholic Encyclopedia article on Limbo puts it well– “the just who had lived under the Old Dispensation, and who, either at death or after a course of purgatorial discipline, had attained the perfect holiness required for entrance into glory, were obliged to await the coming of the Incarnate Son of God and the full accomplishment of His visible earthly mission. Meanwhile they were “in prison,” as St. Peter says; but, as Christ’s own words to the penitent thief and in the parable of Lazarus clearly imply, their condition was one of happiness, notwithstanding the postponement of the higher bliss to which they looked forward.”

    This pssage of the Cath Encyclopedia quotes the same passage from Peter which you mentioned. I note that nothing from Peter indicates a “second chance” to repent.

    For more info, see q67 of Baltimore Catechism #3 — “There were in Limbo when Our Lord descended into it the souls of all those who died the friends of God, but could not enter heaven till the Ascension of Our Lord.”

    They died as “friends of God”, in the state of grace. They were notawaiting judgment, nor were they still indicisive awaiting a second chance to chose God. In fact, there is no doubt that it would be an heresy to claim otherwise.

    But quoting Peter is a great proof that there is an historical reality to te flood story! These were real people, some of whom met Christ on Holy Saturday!

    • Msgr. Charles Pope says:

      Yes, all true, but I wonder if any of them repented as they died. People do that. The text of 1 Peter references those who died before the flood in reference to the descent and indicates Jesus preached to them. What is the purpose of preaching to the damned? So I think some of them may have made it to Sheol by repenting in the flood waters. Thus I connect what the text of 1 Peter connects and speculate that some of them may have made it. In this I speculate that among the souls that awaited Christ, may have been some of the dead from the flood. I do this because the text from 1 Peter links them here, albeit in an arcane or mysterious manner.

      But even more, I think you are arguing a point that I concede. I do not argue or think Christ went down among the damned. He went to Sheol as your quotes demonstrate. The only way the antediluvian folks could have gotten there is that they repented before they died. Thus the judgement of God upon them that they should die was not necessarily their final judgment, perhaps some of them repented as the waters enveloped them. Even now, consider that a sinner whom God permits to be justly slain for his wickedness, it does not follow he is in Hell. He may have repented as he lay dying. So we are certainly in the realm of speculative theology. Since we cannot know the details of every soul, but the speculation here is not wild, it is a speculation that tries to make sense of the 1 Peter text which mysteriously mentions them in Christ’s descent and at least implies they were among those to who he preached.

      At any rate I will adjust the text to make it clearer that my presumption is that they repented in the flood. Any presence of them in Sheol presumes repentance prior to their death, in the flood waters.

      • Father Ryan Erlenbush says:

        Msgr, Thank you for the reply! I knew that you weren’t saying he descended to the hell of the damned, and I am in complete agreement that some/many repented before being washed away. I only was asking for that simple clarification that all those to whom Christ preached actually had repented before death and therefore are saved after the Lord descended to them. Again, thanks for another insightful article — I used it as an inspiration for my own daily Mass sermon.

        I don’t comment as often any more, but I regularly benefit from your perspective as I prepare my own daily and Sunday sermons.

        Oremus pro invicem!

  16. Richard Connell says:

    This is only tangentially a comment on this article, but it is really a comment on a previous article about how man treats animals.

    Commenting on that article, I mentioned factory farms, especially how pigs are treated.

    Anyway, I read in the Summa Contra Gentiles something by St. Thomas Aquinas that touches on that topic:

    “[12] Through these considerations we refute the error of those who claim that it is a sin for man to kill brute animals. For animals are ordered to man’s use in the natural course of things, according to divine providence. Consequently, man uses them without any injustice, either by killing them or by employing them in any other way. For this reason, God said to Noah: “As the green herbs, I have delivered all flesh to you” (Gen. 9:3).

    “[13] Indeed, if any statements are found in Sacred Scripture prohibiting the commission of an act of cruelty against brute animals, for instance, that one should not kill a bird accompanied by her young (Deut. 22:6), this is said either to turn the mind of man away from cruelty which might be used on other men, lest a person through practicing cruelty on brutes might go on to do the same to men; or because an injurious act committed on animals may lead to a temporal loss for some man, either for the agent or for another man; or there may be another interpretation of the text, as the Apostle (1 Cor. 9:9) explains it, in terms of “not muzzling the ox that treads the corn” (Deut. 25:4).”
    –Summa Contra Gentiles, Book III, Article 112, Paragraphs 12 and 13.

    To my mind, in those paragraphs, St. Thomas permits things such as factory farms.

    In Genesis 9:3, after the ark has landed, we read: ” This creation that lives and moves is to provide food for you; I make it all over to you, by the same title as the herbs that have growth.”

    This tells us that from Adam to Noah, all men were vegetarians. I recall, but I have no idea where, that St. Thomas Aquinas says that all sensation is a kind of knowing and it is because brute animals share with us the act of knowing in this very limited way that their flesh was not eaten until after the flood. Animals were then given to us because of are sinful nature.

    I may be miss characterizing his words in the previous paragraph, if so: St. Thomas Aquinas pray for me!

    I enjoy my occasional bacon sandwhich and intend to continue doing so.

  17. Muzhik says:

    Just a quick comment: There is some evidence of a large celestial object striking the Earth in the Indian Ocean some 10,000 years ago. This would have thrown a great deal of water into the air, water that would have rained for a very long time covering Mesopotamia (along with the tsunamis). This would also have been a world-wide event, with multiple cultures keeping some legend of the rain and destruction. It would have taken a very long time for these floodwaters to recede, etc.

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