“In the beginning,” St. John tells us, “was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (1 Jn 1:1). All things began with God, who Himself has no beginning for He always is. our life is limited in its extent and still more limited in its possession, for it comes to us bit by bit, in succession and not all at once. We have to let go of one moment to take hold of the next; it is like beads passing through devout hands. God’s life is unlimited in any way; He possesses the whole of it all at once. He is the supreme and self-existent being, infinite in every respect, infinitely happy and completely sufficient for Himself.
We may not even think of Him as lonely, for in God there is a Trinity of Persons. In human knowledge one can distinguish a mind knowing, an object known, and an idea that represents in the mind the object known. There is, of course, a great difference between the idea and the object to which it corresponds. In divine knowledge we have the perfection of knowledge. God knows Himself, and His knowledge is so perfect that it corresponds exactly to the object known. The Idea, or the “Word” as St.John says, which God has of Himself is so perfect that it is God Himself, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. “And the Word was God.” There are not two Gods, but there are two Persons, the Knower and the Knowledge—the Father and the Son. And these two are one God. But in God there is Will as well as Intellect, and God loves according to His Knowledge. And the mutual Love of the Father and the Son is so perfect, that that Love is also a Person—the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, whom we call the Holy Ghost. And these three are one God.
Ordinary language fails us when we come to speak of the life and happiness of the divine Trinity, who share everything without dividing it. Each of the three is God, yet there is but one God. Their loving union is so intimate that They have but one nature, one existence, one life; everything except what pertains to their distinct personalities is common to each. In short, the life of God is an ecstatic union of knowledge and love—complete and infinite happiness. God has no need of anything more; His joy and happiness are such that nothing could increase them. Yet, in His infinite goodness, He decided to share them with somebody else. And so, out of the nothingness that was not God, He created us. It is true, that God could not without contradiction act for a motive less than Himself; being infinite Truth, He cannot deny His own supremacy. But, in planning all creation for His own glory, He decided to glorify Himself by making His creatures happy. And when His creatures revolted against His plan, He went further in beneficence and arranged to find His glory in His mercy. And that is a fundamental principle that must never be forgotten: God made the world for His own glory; but He glorifies Himself in this life by His mercy.
Of His creation of the angelic spirits and of the material universe, there is no need to treat at the moment. The angels were pure spirits, independent of matter, having the essential powers of knowing and loving, for these belong to all rational beings. The material universe was first created without life of any sort; then, came the lowest form of life which we call plant life, consisting of beings with the power of growth and of reproduction. The next addition was the animal creation, made up of beings which had the power of sensation and what is called sense-appetite, in addition to the powers found in plants. Finally God created man, as a single individual who was to be the head of the human race, and in him, God manifested His goodness in a special way.
The essence of human nature consists in two points, animality and rationality. Man thus is in a unique position in the universe, for he shares in some way the natures of all creatures. His body is material like the rest of the universe; he feeds and grows as an individual, and multiplies as a race like the plants; he perceives with his senses and experiences sense desires like the brute animals; and he even has a share in the angels’ nature, for he is a rational being, endowed with intellect and will. In a word, he can know and he can love; in this, he even resembles God. But this very complexity of his nature can lead to difficulty, for the animal nature in man has its own knowledge and desires, which may be opposed to, and even anticipate, the decisions of the higher intellectual nature which should rule his actions. And further, this complexity could mean that man’s corporal life should come to an end; he is not by nature immortal.
It was in regard to these two points that God showed His goodness, for in the creation of Adam and his helpmate Eve to be the first parents of the human race, God was not satisfied merely with endowing them with the perfection of all that human nature called for, but He further added two gifts that were in no way due to it. The first was the privilege of immunity from death; the other was what is called the gift of integrity. To understand this latter gift, one must realize that, as an animal, man has the power of sense knowledge and can experience a desire of what is pleasing to his senses. He can desire food or pleasure; he can be moved to anger, in fact he is subject to all the animal passions. Now this sense life in man pursues its own good, which is by no means always identical with the real good indicated by man’s rational faculties. And thus there can arise a conflict in man’s own being; as St. Paul puts it: “the flesh lusteth against the spirit” (Gal 5:17); and a difficult and painful effort may be necessary to assert the due supremacy of reason. Adam and Eve were given a special privilege called “integrity,” by which their reason had complete control over their animal nature; they could not be carried away by sense desire to irrational action, nor could their judgment be blinded by passion. They had complete self-control, and their nature worked with complete harmony in due subordination to their higher faculties.
But God’s benignity was not satisfied even then. The whole of His work is replete with His mercy, and even in the formation of Adam and Eve, His generous goodness and magnificent mercy manifested themselves. Not content with making man share in all created nature, God deigned to raise him even to a participation in His own divine nature. It is true that this sharing in God’s nature does not make man God; man does not share the divine nature as he shares, say, the animal nature; the change in him produced by this participation is accidental rather than substantial. But man was raised to a supernatural order, and given a life altogether above his natural end or natural powers; he was raised to the state of sanctifying grace.
One could write pages and still leave the meaning of grace a mystery; here we are merely summarizing. Let it be said, then, that love either finds equality or makes equality. For the proper love of friendship between two beings, some equality of nature is necessary. In order that man could be His friend and lover, God deigned to give him such a participation in the divine nature so that in some mysterious way, man has something corresponding to God’s own power of knowing and loving God. In some extraordinary way man was destined to share—in a finite way, of course—in the life of the Blessed Trinity, and this sharing began even here on earth.
This was essentially a supernatural privilege—a privilege to which man’s nature was in no way entitled—nor was there any reason in human nature which would call for it in any way. Adam and Eve were given a supernatural life; and all their faculties were endowed with new powers and qualities which would enable them to live this new life so much above their own nature as to be utterly impossible for their unaided natural powers. It was literally a superhuman state, calling for superhuman powers; it represented an elevation of man to an entirely new and superhuman order; and it meant that an entirely new and superhuman end or final happiness was set before him, which may be said to be a sharing in God’s own happiness. Henceforth, natural happiness, even of the highest sort, could never suffice for him; he must eventually either be united to God and share His joy, or else remain forever in the hell of eternal loss.
The very nature of things laid certain obligations of worship and obedience upon man before God on whom he was so dependent. But God imposed a special precept on Adam and Eve, to remind them of their subjection to Him, and to enable them to honor Him; and He added the sanction of dire penalties if the precept were disobeyed. He had placed Adam and Eve in a garden of delights, where they had everything that made for complete happiness; but He had singled out one tree, and had commanded that they should not eat of its fruit: “For in what day soever thou shalt eat of it, thou shalt die the death” (Gen 2:17). The story of the transgression of that order by Adam and Eve and their consequent expulsion from the garden are well known, but the tremendous issues that depended upon these events, the enormity of the offence, its motives and its consequences for us, are not so well understood. The first person who moved in the event was the devil, who, in the form of a serpent, spoke to Eve and urged her to defy God’s command. Who was the devil?
To answer that question, one must recall that God had already created a number of rational beings called angels. They are pure spirits, existing in complete independence of matter, and persons of immense mental powers. They are far superior to man, belonging to a much higher order of being. Even the manner of their mental processes is quite different; for while we human beings proceed step by step in the gradual process of reasoning, they see truth immediately—at a glance, as it were. The intellectual powers of even the lowest of the angels are far superior to the greatest human intelligence as such. It seems, that after their creation, the angels were given a choice of freely serving God and submitting to Him. One of the very greatest of them, Lucifer by name, with a host of followers, refused to submit. His attitude can be summed up in the classic phrase: “I will not serve” (Jer 2:20). The result of this rebellion was that the rebel angels were condemned to hell, while those who obeyed God were confirmed in His friendship and entered into the permanent possession of the joy of heaven. It is not certain on what particular point the fallen angels rebelled. Some say that God showed them His plan of raising them to a participation in His own nature, which would involve the end of their primacy in their own order and a new dependence upon God. Others say that God’s plans for the human race were shown to them, and that they rebelled against the proposal that they should be subject to the human natures of Christ and His Mother. Whatever the details were, their sin was one of pride and disobedience.
It would be wrong to imagine that the immediate condemnation of the rebellious angels, without any further time for reconsideration and repentance, is any reflection on God’s mercy. The very excellence of the powers of the angelic mind is such, that reconsideration, as we understand it, is meaningless for them. They were in full possession of the facts of the case, completely undisturbed in their judgment by any earthly passions or by lack of reflection, and they saw their obligations and the heinousness of their crime with a clarity that is far beyond anything we can imagine. No amount of time for reconsideration would lead to a reversal of their decision. By their sin they lost the happiness of heaven and became subject to the unspeakable torments of hell. This involved the fearful pain of the loss of God, of the loss of all power to love God or even to love anything else; and that was coupled with the clear knowledge that only in loving God could they find happiness, and that their own free act had made that love impossible forever. Their hatred for God and for all that belonged to Him, was then unspeakable; when they saw the beginning of His plan to create the human race and to raise its members to the exalted positions which they themselves had lost, their fury knew no bounds. From that moment, no effort would be spared by these mighty intelligences to destroy the human race.
And so their leader, whom we know as the devil, spoke to Eve under the form of a serpent, asking her why God had commanded that she and Adam should refrain from eating the fruit of one particular tree. To her explanation, he replied by denying that death would be the result of disobedience, and he stated that they would thereby become “as gods, knowing good and evil.” The exact meaning of this phrase is not easy to explain. It involves the idea of complete independence of God, and the power to determine what would be right and wrong for themselves. It was, in fact, an appeal to pride—that inordinate desire of one’s own excellence. And it was as such that it was received.
All such colored and touching accounts as are given of Eve’s weakness owing to the charm of the fruit, to her thirst on a sultry day, to her lack of consideration—are quite incorrect. Since Eve had the gift of integrity, there could be no question of any weakness caused by a rebellion of sense-appetite. On the contrary, she knew clearly—far more clearly than we can imagine—what such a transgression of God’s law would mean for herself, for her husband, and for the whole human race of whom she was to be the mother. And yet, “She took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave to her husband who did eat” (Gen 3:6).
Not until Adam had sinned were the awful consequences of the rebellion brought about, involving the ruin of the temporal and eternal happiness of the whole human race. At first sight there seems to be no proportion between the sin and its consequences. The eating of an apple, and the ruin of the whole human race! So much so, that some are tempted to see in this story an allegory which covers a much greater sin, perhaps some sin of the flesh. Such a theory is quite unnecessary, for Adam and Eve were not only man and wife, but they also had the gift of integrity and no passion could mislead them. To find the real malice of their sin, we have to look into their minds and try to realize the enormity of their pride and disobedience.
For that was the sin of our first parents—pride and pride’s offspring, disobedience. We must remember the perfection of Adam’s nature. His mind was endowed with powers and with knowledge that have never been surpassed by any of his fallen children. Unclouded by passion, he saw life clearly; he understood thoroughly his dependence on God and his duties towards God. He knew quite well that God had raised him quite gratuitously to a special share in His own divine nature and had made him His friend. He knew further that he was to be the father of the human race, and he was endowed with the wisdom and knowledge necessary for the instruction of his offspring. He knew, too, that his sharing in God’s life by grace was dependent on his obedience to God, and he clearly understood that if he lost that grace by the forbidden sin, it was lost not merely for himself, but for his children.
Knowing all that, he calmly and deliberately decided to rebel against God’s express command; and by his pride and rebellion he rejected God’s plan for the happiness of the whole human race. The first effects of that rebellion immediately became apparent, for the guilty pair immediately perceived the loss of their privilege of integrity. In the very moment when by rebellion they had asserted the independence of their human nature and rejected the subordination to God that was necessary for their sharing in the divine nature, their own animal nature was unleashed from its complete subjection to their reason, and there began that unending rebellion of the flesh against the spirit, which is called concupiscence. More than that, the very chemical forces of the constituents of their body were allowed to rebel, inasmuch as the removal of the gift of immortality ensured the ultimate disintegration of the human organism in the decay of death. They were expelled from the garden of pleasure, and condemned to eat their bread “in the sweat of their faces,” until, after a life of toil and labor, they should return by death to the earth from which they came.
The fact that Adam and Eve repented of their sin and were pardoned by God did not save their children. Their offspring were born in a state of deprivation of the grace known as original sin and were subject to all the miseries attendant on the loss of God’s friendship and subjection to the power of the devil. Their condition needs closer examination, for it is our own story we are considering.