The following is Part 2 in a continuing series which began as a write-up of a talk by a talk by Fr. Justin Nolan, FSSP, but instead took on a life of its own and has become some rather broad reflections on salvation history as it leads up to the founding of the Church by Christ, and the Church’s role in salvation. Soon we’ll go deeper and into more detail.* In this part we are still looking at how mankind got itself into a situation wherein it needed to be saved. Acknowledgments at the end of this post. (Part 1)
After the Fall
When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, they did not simply disobey God. And God did not simply mete out a punishment that seems all out of proportion to their crime, though this is exactly what most people think when they read the story. But the truth is much deeper and much more rational. Let’s look at what Scripture has to say.
And to Adam he said: Because thou hast hearkened to the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat, cursed is the earth in thy work; with labour and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life. —Genesis 3:17
Notice that God is not punishing Adam for disobeying Him but for choosing to listen to the voice of his human wife instead of His. If Adam had listened to God (and the word “obey” itself comes from a root that means “to listen”) he could have spared himself and his wife a whole lot of trouble. And the entire human race besides! This is but the first in a long line of hard-headed humans who will consistently ignore God’s word and do exactly the thing against which He will warn them.
Also, one could argue, God is not so much punishing the primordial pair as much as they have brought about their own downfall. Not only did they not heed the voice of God, not only did they choose to listen to and obey the voice of Satan, but they didn’t even repent after they God caught them. And this is really, I think, the source of their real trouble. They lost grace by sinning. But they could have repented and been forgiven, they could have made reparation. And they could have been re-instated. But the Bible makes no mention of any attempt on the part of either Adam or Eve making the effort. They apparently didn’t even tell God that they were sorry. No contrition. None. Only sorrow that they had been caught and that they lost Paradise.
But their sin has another consequence and this was only brought out to me by my friend when we were discussing the current situation in the world today, and specifically, in our own country considering legislation that allows and promotes abortion and euthanasia (as much by silence as by actual word). John Paul II’s Theology of the Body contains teaching that helped me understand the Biblical story of our parents’ sin in a deeper way than I ever had before. These lines had always troubled me:
And the eyes of them both were opened: and when they perceived themselves to be naked, they sewed together fig leaves, and made themselves aprons… And the Lord God called Adam, and said to him: Where art thou? And he said: I heard thy voice in paradise; and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself. And he said to him: And who hath told thee that thou wast naked, but that thou hast eaten of the tree whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat? —Genesis 3:7, 8-10
What, I thought, didn’t they know they were naked before? That doesn’t make sense! But this is where the teaching of JPII comes in. Adam and Eve did not know they were naked because they saw each other as human persons and as persons in whom there were no stains. They were pure. But once they listened to the voice of Satan, and once they succumbed to temptation, and once Adam refused to risk his life to protect and defend his wife or the Garden, and Eve refused to risk her life to protect her husband, they lost grace. They lost the ability to see each other the pure and undefiled way in which they had been able to before. In Fr. Nolan’s words, the Reditus, the flow of love which is man’s response to God’s inflowing love, was cut off. The relationship between God and man, and between men (and man and woman) was ruptured. With life-changing results for both Adam and Eve and their descendants down through the ages.
The story ends, however, on a note of hope. God’s love never ends and He doesn’t stop loving His children even when they seem determined to make it as difficult as possible for Him to love them or to help them. Fortunately for Adam and Eve (and for you and me) God’s love is stronger than man’s determination to sin. Even as He throws them out of the Garden of Eden, He utters these words, known as the Protoevangelion, the First Gospel:
And the Lord God said to the serpent: Because thou hast done this thing, thou art cursed among all cattle, and the beasts of the earth: upon thy breast shalt thou go, and earth shalt thou eat all the days of thy life. I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel. —Genesis 3:14-15
From the very beginning God created the heavens and earth, created beings to fill the earth, and created man to live on the earth, to tend it, to guard it and to enjoy it. And to live with Him and be loved by Him. And to respond to that love with love, freely given, free shared, free returned. Man has cut himself off from God. But God won’t leave it at that. He already has a plan.
A plan of salvation.
(To be continued in Part 3)
Thank you for reading. Comments, questions, discussion, what-have-you, are welcome. Please feel free to use the comment box below.
Acknowledgements: All Scripture quotes in this article are from the Douay-Rheims version available online at Biblos.com. I owe much of the following line of thought to many sources over the years, not the least of whom are Scott Hahn in his many and marvelous works; Pope John Paul II in his staggering work of genius, the Theology of the Body; and my dear friend NL who is a theologian and a fellow convert (and who also happens to be a former Lutheran minister). Our conversations over the years have always been both inspiring and informative. (Thanks, NL. You know who you are.)
Oh, and I almost forgot: the graphics I’m using for this series are by yours truly, your humble author, designer and writer wannabe, li’l ol’ me. You can find the full (revised) set, so far, here. It’s a work in progress, as is this entire site, a labor of love and an object of some obsession. And I mean that in a good way, a holy way, of course. :)