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I don't always agree with Mr. Sungenis on certain issues, but on this one, he is spot on:
Catholic Encyclopedia Fails to Appreciate the Patristic Witness for a Universal Flood [Image: robert2.jpg]By Robert A. Sungenis, M.A., Ph.D.

Dear Robert,
May I ask you to reply to this question I have? The 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia + other sources tend to believe that the biblical deluge was only local, not universal, that both biblical and scientific research point to this conclusion. Are there any MAGISTERIAL pronouncements on the scope of deluge? What can be said in defense of the universality of the flood?
Thank you very much for your help!

R. Sungenis: Michael, the article on Noah’s flood in the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia is one of the most biased and inept scholarly treatises I have seen in quite a while. The author, A. J. Maas, tries his best to convince the reader that the flood was local not universal, but he utterly fails in this task. The fact that Maas uses the hermeneutic of the Protestant scholar Julius Wellhausen and his infamous JEPD theory shows his liberal bent, since JEPD is an unproven biblical hypothesis, and one that has strong evidence against it (besides the fact that it denies biblical inerrancy).
Maas makes the claim that:

Quote: “Neither Sacred Scripture nor universal ecclesiastical tradition, nor again scientific considerations render it advisable to adhere to the opinion that the Flood covered the whole surface of the earth.”
Well, this is quite an assertion but none of it is provable, or even likely.
Regarding Sacred Scripture, the account in Genesis 7-9 reads like a newspaper, telling us painstaking details of the Flood, which Maas himself admits was “written by an eye-witness.” In fact, except for genealogical records, I don’t know of anything in Scripture that is more detailed than the Flood account. Accordingly, nothing in the Genesis account says it was a local flood, and we have distinct indications that it had to be universal, since the text specifies that the highest mountain was covered by 23 feet of water (Genesis 7:19).
I haven’t come across any local-flood advocate who has been able to explain how all the mountains of a given region can be covered by water. Water always seeks the lowest point, and thus in a local region the water could never reach higher than the mountains. The only way that kind of pervasive deluge could be accomplished is if there was enough water to cover the whole spherical surface of the Earth.
The argument that the clouds would not be able to hold enough water to cover the Earth is lame. Science has discovered huge water clouds in space, some 80 billion miles long, with enough water to fill the Earth’s oceans billions of times over. Any one of them could have been brought to bear on the Earth.
Regarding the ecclesiastical tradition, I don’t know of one Father, except perhaps Hippolytus, who even suggested that the Flood of Noah’s day was local. So I don’t know what “ecclesiastical tradition” Maas is referring to. Thus, I don’t find it surprising that the Maas doesn’t cite one Father who said that the Flood was local.
But there were many Fathers who said the Flood was universal. Here is a partial list of Fathers that talk about the Flood. All of them either specify it was universal or intimate that it was so:
Augustine: The Apostle Peter saith this openly: "By the word of God the heavens were of old," etc. He hath said then that the heavens have already perished by the flood: and we know that the heavens perished as far as the extent of this atmosphere of ours. For the water increased, and filled the whole of that space in which birds fly; thus perished the heavens that are near the earth; those heavens which are meant when we speak of the birds of heaven. (Homilies on the Psalms, Psalm 77, 30).
“then shall the figure of this world pass away in a conflagration of universal fire, as once before the world was flooded with a deluge of universal water (City of God, 20, 16)
“Let us now see what the Apostle Peter predicted concerning this judgment. "There shall come," he says, "in the last days scoffers.... Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness." There is nothing said here about the resurrection of the dead, but enough certainly regarding the destruction of this world. And by his reference to the deluge he seems as it were to suggest to us how far we should believe the ruin of the world will extend in the end of the world. For he says that the world which then was perished, and not only the earth itself, but also the heavens, by which we understand the air, the place and room of which was occupied by the water. Therefore the whole, or almost the whole, of the gusty atmosphere (which he calls heaven, or rather the heavens, meaning the earth's atmosphere, and not the upper air in which sun, moon, and stars are set) was turned into moisture, and in this way perished together with the earth, whose former appearance had been destroyed by the deluge. (City of God, 20, 18).
“For our opponents will not condescend to defend the Hebrew piety, which has won the approbation of their gods, by the words of the Apostle Peter, whom they vehemently detest; nor will they argue that, as the apostle in his epistle understands a part when he speaks of the whole world perishing in the flood, though only the lowest part of it, and the corresponding heavens were destroyed, so in the psalm the whole is used for a part, and it is said "They shall perish," though only the lowest heavens are to perish. But since, as I said, they will not condescend to reason thus, lest they should seem to approve of Peter's meaning, or ascribe as much importance to the final conflagration as we ascribe to the deluge, whereas they contend that no waters or flames could destroy the whole human race, it only remains to them to maintain that their gods lauded the wisdom of the Hebrews because they had not read this psalm.” (City of God 20, 24)
“For with respect also to the fact that He destroyed all men in the flood, with the exception of one righteous man together with his house, whom He willed to be saved in the ark, He knew indeed that they would not amend themselves; yet, nevertheless, as the building of the ark went on for the space of a hundred years… (Catechising the Uninstructed, Ch 19, 32).
“And thus, as the single family of Noah was preserved through the deluge of water to renew the human race, so, in the deluge of superstition that flooded the whole world, there remained but the one family of Terah in which the seed of God's city was preserved.” (City of God, 16, 12).
…for it is computed that he lived for fourteen years after the deluge, though Scripture relates that of all who were then upon the earth only the eight souls in the ark escaped destruction by the flood, and of these Methuselah was not one. (City of God, 5, 11)
“And the waters decreased continually until the eleventh month: on the first day of the month were the tops of the mountains seen."(2) But if the months were such as we have, then so were the years. And certainly months of three days each could not have a twenty-seventh day. (City of God, 15, 14).
Ambrose: How wise also was Noah, who built the whole of the ark! How just again! For he alone, preserved of all to be the father of the human race, was made a survivor of past generations, and the author of one to come; he was born, too, rather for the world and the universe than for himself. (Duties of the Clergy, Book 1, Chapter 25).
Apostolic Constitutions: for Thou art the Creator of men, and the giver of life, and the supplier of want, and the giver of laws, and the rewarder of those that observe them, and the avenger of those that transgress them; who didst bring the great flood upon the world by reason of the multitude of the ungodly, and didst deliver righteous Noah from that flood by an ark, with eight souls, the end of the foregoing generations. (Book 8, Section 2).
Arnobius: When was the human race destroyed by a flood? was it not before us? When was the world set on fire, and reduced to coals and ashes? was it not before us? (Against the Heathen, Book 1, 4).
Basil: “He separated them from their wives in order that with purity they might escape the flood and that shipwreck of the whole world. (The Orthodox Faith, Book 4, Ch 24).
John Cassian: …and their wickedness increased to such a pitch that the world could only be purified by the flood and deluge. (Conferences, Ch 21).
Clement of Rome: In the ninth generation are born the giants, so called from of old, not dragon-footed, as the fables of the Greeks relate, but men of immense bodies, whose bones, of enormous size, are still shown in some places for confirmation. But against these the righteous providence of God brought a flood upon the world, that the earth might be purified from their pollution, and every place might be turned into a sea by the destruction of the wicked. (Ps-Clem: Book 1, Chapter 29).
Cyril of Jerusalem: For consider what happened in the days of Noe. The giants sinned, and much wickedness was then spread over the earth, and because of this the flood was to come upon them: and in the five hundredth year God utters His threatening; but in the six hundredth He brought the flood upon the earth. (Catechetical Lectures, 2, 8).
Cyprian: Therefore that deluge which happened under Noah showed forth the figure of the persecution which now lately was poured forth over the whole world. (Against Novatian, 5).
Ephraim: And moreover, God made a flood, and washed the earth, and purged her crimes; fire and brimstone again He sent on her, that He might make white her stains. By fire He gave me the Sodomites, and by flood the Giants. (Nisibene Hymns, 35).
Gregory the Great: In keeping with the truth of history, what means the fact that at the time of the flood the human race outside the ark dies, but within the ark is preserved unto life. (Epistles, Book 11, Epistle 1)
Gregory Nanzianzus: And Noah's glory was that he was pleasing to God; he who was entrusted with the saving of the whole world from the waters, or rather of the Seeds of the world, escaped the Deluge in a small Ark. (Oration, 28, 18).
Jerome: If at the deluge Noah was delivered, and the whole world perished, all men were flesh, and therefore were destroyed. (Against Jovinianus, 2, 25).
Julian Africanus: God decreed to destroy the whole race of the living by a flood, having threatened that men should not survive beyond 120 years. (Fragment IV).
John Damascene: He separated them from their wives in order that with purity they might escape the flood and that shipwreck of the whole world. After the cessation of the flood, however, He said, Go forth of the ark, thou and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons' wives (Orthodox Faith, 4, 24)
Tertullian: But where--I do not say were Christians, those despisers of your gods--but where were your gods themselves in those days, when the flood poured its destroying waters over all the world (Apology, 40)
Theodoret: "I will destroy man from the face of the earth," and this he spake of countless multitudes, and when more than two thousand and two hundred years had gone by after Adam, he brought universal destruction on men through the flood (Polymorphus, Dialogue 1).
Theophilus: All the eight persons, therefore, who were found in the ark were preserved. And Moses showed that the flood lasted forty days and forty nights, torrents pouring from heaven, and from the fountains of the deep breaking up, so that the water overtopped every mountain 15 cubits. And thus the race of all the men that then were was destroyed, and those only who were protected in the ark were saved; and these, we have already said, were eight. And of the ark, the remains are to this day to be seen in the Arabian mountains. This, then, is in sum the history of the deluge. (Autolycos, 3, 19).
When it comes to explaining the patristics, the Maas skirts through this evidence like a Protestant would do who is trying to avoid the obvious. Maas states:
Quote: “As to the cogency of the proof from tradition for the geographical universality of the Flood, it must be remembered that very few of the Fathers touched upon this question ex professo.”
As we can see from the above patristic quotes I have amassed, this assertion from Maas is simply not true, and mine is only a cursory survey of the Fathers. In fact, we have more patristic evidence for a universal flood than we do the Immaculate Conception and Assumption of Mary.
Maas then says: “Among those who do so there are some who restrict the Deluge to certain parts of the earth surface without incurring the blame of offending against tradition.”
But not only does this remark show us that Maas is aware that the “tradition” held to a universal flood, he fails to give any examples of Fathers who “restricted the Deluge to certain parts of the earth surface.” This is an egregious assault against the patristic evidence, and I’m sorry to say that it comes from a Catholic writing in 1913. Obviously, Maas did his best to promote the liberal JEPD theory and to debunk the tradition of a universal flood, but he simply has no evidence for his case. This just shows us, once again, that already late in the reign of Pius X the very modernists he was railing against were making their mark in Catholic biblical studies. These men simply do not trust the Bible or their own tradition to give us truth.
Maas then makes this lame remark: “If the Fathers had considered the universality of the Flood as part of the body of ecclesiastical tradition, or of the deposit of faith, they would have defended it more vigorously.”
The reality is, they didn’t have to defend it any more “vigorously” simply because NO ONE was contesting it! Yet Maas makes his assertion in the face of not providing to us one Father who specifically denies a universal flood and promotes a local flood. His only defense is to say that the Fathers who spoke about a universal flood didn’t do so loud enough for his ears.
Maas then tries to make an argument based on the ambiguity of the Hebrew word “erets,” claiming that because it can sometimes be translated “land” instead of “earth” that this gives license to interpret the flood as local. This is a flimsy argument, since the context of Genesis 7-9 doesn’t give any credence toward translating “erets” as land.
When Maas comes to explaining how the mountains were covered with water, he simply makes a casual but unconvincing remark: “‘all the high mountains under the whole heaven (corresponding to the land) were covered.” But not only does Maas insert an unwarranted parenthetical translation into the text, he does nothing to explain the huge geohydrodynamical problem regarding how “all the mountains under heaven” in a specific local region are going to be covered with water without that water also enveloping the rest of the world. He just skips over this problem as if it doesn’t exist, and bases his whole argument on the ambiguity of a Hebrew word.
We can readily see Maas’ liberal bent as he writes in defense of a Protestant who holds to the local flood theory:
Quote: “It is true that the Congregation of the Index condemned Vossius’s treatise De Septuaginta Interpretibus in which he defended, among other doctrines, the view that the Flood covered only the inhabited part of the earth; but theologians of great weight maintained that the work was condemned on account of its Protestant author, and not on account of its doctrine.”
This is really amazing to watch. Maas makes three outlandish accusations: (1) he virtually denies the authority of the Sacred Congregation to make this binding decision against a local flood; (2) he enlists the expertise of a Protestant in the face of all the Catholics in his day who were following the tradition of a universal flood; (3) he then impugns the motives of the Sacred Congregation and implies that they judged the issue based on prejudice rather than scholarship. This, of course, is the kind of argumentation we would expect from someone who has no solid evidence to support his beliefs. We can thank Maas, however, for alerting us to the fact that one of the highest authorities in the Catholic Church, the Sacred Congregation of the Index, went on record as denying the local flood theory. That is not something that will ever be erased from the ecclesiastical record.
Maas then tries to support the local flood theory by bringing up objections that modern science has against a universal flood. Maas argues: “First, no such geological traces can be found as ought to have been left by a universal Deluge.”
We wonder what “traces” Maas thinks “ought” to exist thousands of years after a universal Flood, but he doesn’t enlighten us to the requirements, thus he is arguing from silence.
If Maas had lived in our day, however, he would have been made privy to a lot of evidence concerning a universal flood, one being the geologic column over the whole earth. It has now been proven by laboratory experiments that sediment adrift in water will settle to the ground in a matter of days or weeks just as we see it amass in the geologic column all over the Earth. In addition, we see whole trees running through the layers of the geologic column, which means that the layers had to be formed instantaneously. We see jagged, curved and slanted layers in the geologic column, which means they also had to be made instantaneously, and the water pressure had to be great enough to provide the force needed to move these huge layers of rock, which is something that cannot be done under the aegis of a local flood.
Maas then tries to argue that fitting all the animals into the ark is simply not feasible. So here again, Maas simply does not want to believe the literal account of the Flood in Genesis 7-9 which, unlike many other biblical narratives, goes through painstaking detail to convince us that this event actually did happen as it is recorded. Yet Maas has the audacity to then say: “but no Catholic has a right to admit Biblical miracles which are not well attested either by Scripture or tradition.” In other words, Maas is trying to make the argument that, even if we wanted to believe that all the animals went into the ark, we cannot do so by inserting a miraculous intrusion of God into the story. Obviously, Maas is trying to cover all the bases in order to head off his opponents. Yet, here is a man who cannot cite one patristic witness in favor of a local flood, yet he has the audacity to tell us that we can’t appeal to the miraculous unless it is specifically stated in the “tradition”!
As for Scripture and the miraculous, I wonder what Maas would do with a passage such as Genesis 7:16 “…and the Lord closed the door behind him,” showing us that, when necessary, God intruded as He saw fit to do, even to the closing of the door of the ark.
Robert Sungenis, Ph.D.
Catholic Apologetics International
Though not sure if I will come to agree with ALL his conclusions about things(especially probably a most important one) Sungenis is definitely my favorite contemporary(ie alive) theologian, at least of the non-ordained ones hehe.  This is a great answer, something I've never even really thought about before now.
Looks like Maas got the spanking he deserved for that horrendous article.  But it makes me wonder: Has anyone else encountered other obvious heterodoxy in browsing through the Catholic Encyclopedia (found on
I think we have to face that facts that at the beginning of the 20th century science was not advanced enough to approve of disprove many points, e.g. Evolution, Universal Flood, and as the Catholic Encyclopedia isn't an infallible document should not be criticized. It is a wonderful work, and though it may struggle over scientific principles of the period can we not see that it was not published in 2001 when science had advanced significantly. At that time, the idea of evolution or a local flood at the time was being considered, even in ecclesiastical positions and was being studied to see if conflicted with the faith, now we know the answer, but in 1913 they did not. I think it is futile to attempt to find modernist tendencies in every document.
That may be true, but this person writing about the Flood is dishonest when he doesn't cite patristic support for the universal flood. Also, evolution, at least of man, was already condemned implcitly in the First Vatican Council, when it asserted that all living things were created from nothing.
Agreed! [Image: laff.gif]
I read through more carefully his article.