“The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents.“(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 390)
The revolt against an Infinite Love – God’s love – first gathered momentum in that beautiful garden described in Genesis (a place which at first did not know sin). What happened to our first parents there that might help us understand what is going on in our culture at the present time? It is imperative for us to understand what happened there, so we can fix that inherited defect in ourselves (or at least battle against it).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us what prompted our first parents to disobey God and sin:
“God created man in his image and established him in his friendship. A spiritual creature, man can live this friendship only in free submission to God. The prohibition against eating “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” spells this out: “for in the day that you eat of it, you shall die.” The “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” symbolically evokes the insurmountable limits that man, being a creature, must freely recognize and respect with trust. Man is dependent on his Creator, and subject to the laws of creation and to the moral norms that govern the use of freedom” (no. 396).
“Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness” (no. 397).
“In that sin man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good. Constituted in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully “divinized” by God in glory. Seduced by the devil, he wanted to “be like God”, but “without God, before God, and not in accordance with God” (no. 398).
The great theologian, Saint Thomas Aquinas, tells us that man first sinned by the desire to define for himself what is good and what is evil. Saint Thomas says that “man sinned primarily in aiming at a resemblance of God in virtue of which he should be capable of fixing for himself moral good and moral evil” (Summa Theologica, II-II, q.163, a. 2.).
Ralph Martin, in one of his talks, mentions that the devil seduced Adam and Eve into “contradicting God,” into believing that what God had said to them was not for their ultimate benefit. “Scripture portrays the tragic consequences of this first disobedience. Adam and Eve immediately lose the grace of original holiness. They become afraid of the God of whom they have conceived a distorted image – that of a God jealous of his prerogatives” (CCC, 399).
“The analysis of sin in its original dimension,” says Saint Pope John Paul II, indicates that, through the influence of the ‘father of lies,’ throughout the history of humanity there will be a constant pressure on man to reject God, even to the point of hating him” (DOMINUM ET VIVIFICANTEM no. 38). Here, then, is the situation we presently face: man is wholly intent on defining good and evil for himself without reference to God (“as if God wasn’t his ultimate happiness”). Vatican II stated, “For without the Creator the creature would disappear…when God is forgotten the creature itself grows unintelligible.” Man has become unintelligible…he no longer has any sense of who he is. G.K. Chesterton sensed this horrible predicament when he said that if you “take away the supernatural (God) what remains is the unnatural.” And what are we seeing right now, with the reemergence of our pagan line of descendants, but a rejection of God making man easy prey to “the malevolent force of sin which…lies in wait in the door of his heart” (Pope John Paul II, The Gospel of Life, no. 8).
Tom Mulcahy, M.A.
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