The Great Divorce(s)
Catholics believe that mankind was established in a state of holiness and original justice in the beginning. The first chapters in Genesis describe this state as being without any shame. It appears as though God spoke directly with the first man and woman as a parent would with a child. The relationship was full of trust. (See Genesis Chapter 1 and 2.)
However, in Genesis chapter 3, we read of the disobedience of Adam and Eve against God’s command not to eat of the Tree in the middle of the Garden. The result of this disobedience is known as the fall of mankind from this original state of holiness and justice. Notice also that this disobedience was instigated by the serpent, the devil who wished to bring mankind into a state of opposition against God just like him.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says in paragraph 391:
“Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice, opposed to God, which makes them fall into death out of envy. Scripture and the Church’s Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called “Satan” or the “devil”. The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing.”
The Fall of the first human couple is described as follows in the Book of Genesis in Chapter 3:
“Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the animals that the LORD God had made. The serpent asked the woman, “Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?” The woman answered the serpent: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, lest you die.'”But the serpent said to the woman: “You certainly will not die! No, God knows well that the moment you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad.” The woman saw that the tree was good for food, pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”-Genesis 3:1-6
The reaction of the man and the woman after the fall is very interesting. Notice the following in Genesis chapter 3:
“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. When they heard the sound of the LORD God moving about in the garden at the breezy time of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. The LORD God then called to the man and asked him, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid myself.” Then he asked, “Who told you that you were naked? You have eaten, then, from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat!” The man replied, “The woman whom you put here with me – she gave me fruit from the tree, so I ate it.” The LORD God then asked the woman, “Why did you do such a thing?” The woman answered, “The serpent tricked me into it, so I ate it.” –Genesis 3:7-13
Notice that the man and woman recognized their nakedness after eating of the forbidden fruit. In addition, the man and the woman hid from God which appears to be something that they had never done prior to this event. The trustful relationship that they had with each other and with God was now over. They now had to cover themselves from each other and hide from God. Why?
The consequences of their act of disobedience are explained to them by God Himself in the following verses:
“To the woman he said: “I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing; in pain shall you bring forth children. Yet your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall be your master.” To the man he said: “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat, “Cursed be the ground because of you! In toil shall you eat its yield all the days of your life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to you, as you eat of the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat, Until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; For you are dirt, and to dirt you shall return.”-Genesis 3: 16-19
If you notice, there are a number of formerly harmonious relationships that have been destroyed by this act of disobedience of the first human couple. I like to call them the Great Divorce(s). Let’s list them:
1) The relationship between God and mankind had been separated from one of trust to one of distrust. (Notice how they cover themselves and even hide from God.)
2) The relationship between man and woman has been separated from one of trust to distrust. (Notice how they must cover themselves from each other and even God says that the husband will be the master, and not in a good way, over the woman.)
3) The relationship between mankind and nature is now one of discord where mankind will have to fight with nature to survive. This is very different from the way in which the Garden of Eden was mankind’s home that provided for everything that they needed.
4) The union between mankind’s spiritual nature and our desire to do good now turns into a war within due to our attraction to being disobedient to God.
5) And, the ultimate divorce is the coming separation of the soul with the body resulting in death where mankind returns to the dust from which he was taken.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the first sin of man as follows in paragraphs 397 to 400:
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. 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. Created 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”. 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. The harmony in which they had found themselves, thanks to original justice, is now destroyed: the control of the soul’s spiritual faculties over the body is shattered; the union of man and woman becomes subject to tensions, their relations henceforth marked by lust and domination. Harmony with creation is broken: visible creation has become alien and hostile to man. Because of man, creation is now subject “to its bondage to decay”. Finally, the consequence explicitly foretold for this disobedience will come true: man will “return to the ground”, for out of it he was taken. Death makes its entrance into human history.”
The Catholic Church understands the consequences of this original sin of the first human couple to have been transmitted to all of Adam and Eve’s descendants in the sense that now all humans are in this state of original sin where we, the descendants of Adam and Eve, are deprived of the original justice and holiness that Adam and Eve received from God prior to their fall. The results of this are that we, the descendants of Adam and Eve, must live in a world that is separated from God and must deal with all of the consequences of the great divorces listed above. While we are still basically good due to being created by the all good God, we are wounded and have this inclination to do evil known as concupiscence. Our giving into our concupiscence results in us committing personal sins, which, of course, separates us from God on a personal level.
While it may seem that we are without hope due to the situation we were placed in by our first parents, God gives us the first prophecy and promise of salvation in the same chapter of Genesis where the fall of mankind is described. Here is the scripture:
“Then the LORD God said to the serpent: “Because you have done this, you shall be banned from all the animals and from all the wild creatures; On your belly shall you crawl, and dirt shall you eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.”-Genesis 3:14, 15
Here God speaks of a war between this woman and her offspring and the serpent (who represents the Devil) and his offspring. Notice the offspring of the woman will wound the serpent in the head—a death blow and the offspring of the serpent will merely strike the offspring of the woman in the heal—a blow that is not fatal. This scripture is known in Christian tradition as the protoevangelium (The First Gospel or Goodnews). The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains how Christians have understood this prophecy in paragraphs 410-412:
“After his fall, man was not abandoned by God. On the contrary, God calls him and in a mysterious way heralds the coming victory over evil and his restoration from his fall. This passage in Genesis is called the Protoevangelium (“first gospel”): the first announcement of the Messiah and Redeemer, of a battle between the serpent and the Woman, and of the final victory of a descendant of hers. The Christian tradition sees in this passage an announcement of the “New Adam” who, because he “became obedient unto death, even death on a cross”, makes amends superabundantly for the disobedience, of Adam. Furthermore many Fathers and Doctors of the Church have seen the woman announced in the “Proto-evangelium” as Mary, the mother of Christ, the “new Eve”. Mary benefited first of all and uniquely from Christ’s victory over sin: she was preserved from all stain of original sin and by a special grace of God committed no sin of any kind during her whole earthly life. But why did God not prevent the first man from sinning? St. Leo the Great responds, “Christ’s inexpressible grace gave us blessings better than those the demon’s envy had taken away.” and St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “There is nothing to prevent human nature’s being raised up to something greater, even after sin; God permits evil in order to draw forth some greater good. Thus St. Paul says, ‘Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more’; and the Exsultet sings, ‘O happy fault,. . . which gained for us so great a Redeemer!’”
In our next lesson we will look at how God continuously reaches out to mankind to reconcile with us throughout history and how this leads to the coming of the Messiah.