Cookie Permissions

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Trouble in the Garden

The story of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden which is rehearsed in the Orthodox Church on Cheesefare Sunday just before the beginning of Great Lent raises the issue again of how we make sense in Christian terms of the Fall in the light of what we know now about hominid evolution. I believe that the Fathers can shed some useful light on these issues which may be an unusual insight for some since these teachers lived in an age that knew nothing of Darwin and microbiology!

Eden is about immortality and its loss or rather we should say that the Fathers of the Church held that the potentiality for immortality could have been fulfilled in Eden through obedience, (which in this context means loving fellowship with God, not craven submission but the responsibility of intimacy), but in fact this potential was tragically not realised. That's the post-fall point about the skins to cover the couples' nakedness and their need to hide from from God.

So the Orthodox insist, contrary to much Christian teaching elsewhere, that there WOULD have been a time when humanity matured through intimacy with God to the point when the fruit of both trees could be eaten .... which in Orthodox terms is deification. Satanic temptation always works with a TRUTH (you will be like God) upon which the lie (from the Liar - the Devil) is parasitic ... "take a short cut instead ... cut Him (that is God) out." The expulsion from Eden was actually for human protection, not imposed as a punishment, so that the curse of this alienation and loss from God would not have become embedded for all eternity in death. Christ, undoes that curse through his death and resurrection and so now, through repentance, we may obtain the blessing .... that is to EAT of both fruits .... which of course is the Eucharist. There is ample patristic evidence for all of this.

Listen to St. Irenaeus:-

"Man was a little one, and his discretion still undeveloped, wherefore also he was easily misled by the deceiver."

Listen to St. John Chrysostom:-

"Partaking of the tree, the man and woman became liable to death and subject to the future needs of the body. Adam was no longer permitted to remain in the Garden, and was bidden to leave, a move by which God showed His love for him … he had become mortal, and lest he presume to eat further from the tree which promised an endless life of continuous sinning, he was expelled from the Garden as a mark of divine solicitude, not of necessity."

[Hom. in Gen XVIII, 3 PG 53 151]

Listen to St. Cyril of Alexandria :-

"Adam had heard: ‘Earth thou art and to the earth shalt thou return,’ and from being incorruptible he became corruptible and was made subject to the bonds of death. But since he produced children after falling into this state, we his descendents are corruptible coming from a corruptible source. Thus it is that we are heirs of Adam’s curse."

[Doctrinal Questions and Answers, IX, 6 in Cyril of Alexandria, Selected Letters]

St. Irenaeus again ...

"God the Son became Man in order to regather in Himself the ancient creation, so that He might slay sin and destroy the power of death, and give life to all men."

[Against the Heresies, III, xix 6 ANF]

and finally the fruit of redemption in St. Macarius ...

"the inner being of believers who through perfect faith are born of the Spirit shall reflect as in a mirror the Glory of the Lord, and are transfigured into the same image from Glory to Glory."

The patristic witness to the truth of the Incarnation and its attestation in Scripture is clear. We were created neither to be dumb, nor infantile, not repressed by guilt, nor fearing punishment, nor oppressed by the devil or anything dark. We were created to achieve the fullness of Christ, the maturity of the Lord of Glory .... yes, knowing both good and evil and partaking in eternal life .... BUT NOT WITHOUT GOD. THAT's Hell.

Finally, how is this all compatible with what we know about the evolution of life and the human species in particular?

Let us consider how myth works:-

(1) Myth is not falsehood. It is a way of telling a truth.
(2) The myth may reference a key event or events from which this truth is itself extracted.
(3) The mythological overlay is the imaginative "wrapping" ... it has no necessary permanence as a vehicle for telling that truth.

So, in the myth of the Minotaur we probably have an historical place, (Knossos Palace, Crete) and geopolitical historicity, (the breaking of Athenian-Minoan tributary relations) ... but the mythic story itself is not historical, albeit that it references a historical events and truths.

Applying the same genre logic to Genesis in the light of hominid evolution we may legitimately and gainfully speculate that at some point in the development of our species conscious moral agency became a critical aspect of human social and spiritual relations. THAT is when the realisation dawned in the human psyche that things were not as they should have been.

This is often characterised in human mythology as the loss of a Golden Age (approximating to Augustinian Christian theodicy) or the inability of humans to ascend to the gods (approximating to the Irenaean Christian theodicy). The persistence of this sense of loss and restoration (fall and redemption) in many different religions (perhaps persisting in the Jungian collective subconscious) underscores the universal importance of the truth(s).

The difference the Incarnation makes is that God does something about it! He comes and unites the human to the divine and offers the possibility again of immortality .... but we still have to repent and we still have to grow in Him. Now, however, the curse of death is removed and by the Cross we have access to eternal life (the Resurrection).

Popular Posts