You have, most likely, heard of Original Sin or the Fall, which we read about in Genesis, Chapter 3. After creating Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, God allowed them to enjoy all of creation to their hearts’ desires. He provided only one instruction: Do not eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Retrospectively, for us, that seems like a relatively easy thing to do.
However, thanks to Satan’s antics, man stumbled in his trust, forgot the goodness of God’s plan, and “abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command” (CCC #397). The result was catastrophic for mankind; Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden and sin entered humanity, causing suffering for all future generations. Let’s reflect a little on what God had intended for man at creation, how sin affects us as a whole, and the hope we have for the future.
God created Adam and Eve in a state of perfect holiness and they lived with Him in perfect harmony. It was actually quite a lovely arrangement in the beginning. God bestowed on them three preternatural gifts: infused knowledge, absence of concupiscence, and bodily immortality. The word “preternatural” comes from the Latin, praeter, which means, “beyond,” and natural. So, by God’s own power, He created man to have gifts that were beyond his natural capacity and only available by divine grace. In other words, they were infused into man by God as gifts of love, in order to enhance the relationship between God and man. Before the Fall, mankind was created to always possess these gifts. Even those of us here today, were intended to possess these gifts from the beginning, but due to Adam and Eve’s disobedience and their abuse of their freedom, we suffer the natural consequences – the loss of these gifts. Let’s take a look at each gift more closely and how the loss of them translates to us in the here and now.
The first gift was infused knowledge. We were meant to have an intimate understanding and knowledge of God. In the garden, Adam and Eve lived in the physical presence of God and conversed with Him freely. God Himself taught them how to care for the garden and allowed Adam to name all of the creatures. He was not a mysterious God or someone to be sought. His plan was always crystal clear, because He told them directly, such as when He told them to not eat of the one tree. Now, as a result of the loss of that gift, God is mysterious and hidden. We must seek Him in signs and circumstances and hope that we are paying close enough attention to notice Him there. To talk to Him, we must pray in our hearts and we must listen intently. Our own emotions, ill-formed consciences, and misguided thoughts and beliefs can cause us to distort what we think He is saying to us, thus potentially distorting His actual will for us. It is not always so clear.
The second preternatural gift was the absence of concupiscence, also referred to as, “the integrity of human appetites.” This means, we were intended to have a perfect balance in our passions, senses, emotions, intellect, and will, which would have prevented us from having a tendency or attraction to sin. Adam and Eve enjoyed a perfect state of self-control in all aspects of themselves. They did not get overly angry with one another, they did not overindulge in food or drink, they did not act on their every desire as animals, and they were well-reasoned and self-controlled in all things. Can you imagine the peace?! This is part of what makes their first sin so shocking. They possessed all that they needed to not commit it, yet they proceeded with abject defiance due to the musings of the devil. Today, we suffer a tragic imbalance of all of these aspects of our human person, which is called concupiscence. Concupiscence is that which causes us to lean toward sin by catering to our basest appetites. Our emotions get the better of us, causing us to sin. Our passions take over and we lose self-control over our bodies. Our intellect and will become clouded, and the more we persist in our sin, the more clouded they become. Then, when we live in families, communities, and a world where every human being suffers from concupiscence, our imbalanced natures collide with one another, causing fractures and suffering in relationships.
The third and final gift was bodily immortality. This means that our bodies were not meant to become ill or die. It was God’s will that Adam and Eve remain with Him in the Garden of Eden, living in perfect union with Him, and in perfect peace and harmony for all time without the suffering of sickness and death. However, since they placed their will above God’s, they lost this gift as well and were banished from the garden to toil and suffer. At this point, illness and bodily corruption entered into humanity. God’s lecture to Adam and Eve upon their sin ended with “…for you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” (Gen 3:19). We hear these stark words on Ash Wednesday as we are reminded that our bodies were formed by God from the earth, and that upon our death, our bodies will deteriorate back into the earth. The bodily perfection we were meant to enjoy was lost with the Fall.
This all sounds pretty bleak, and it is, but I always like to end on a note of encouragement. Immediately following Adam and Eve’s first sin, God shows up, as a loving Father does, to deliver consequences to all involved. However, as a merciful Father, He also immediately provides the solution. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3:15). This scripture verse is known as the protoevangelium, or the “first gospel.” It is here, in the very beginning of time, that God promises to send Jesus to redeem mankind from the mess they had just created. So great is His mercy, He did not waste any time in making this promise, waiting to decide what to do with His wayward children. The protoevangelium is a message of hope for the future at a time that may have seemed hopeless. The hope in the promise of the Savior, Jesus Christ, is so great, that the Church actually proclaims Original Sin as a wonderful occurrence because the remedy for it is greater than had it never happened. At the Easter Vigil Mass, the Church prays the felix culpa: “O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer! Most blessed of all nights chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead!” Thus, the Church celebrates the Fall, insofar as it resulted in bringing about the most beautiful gift of mercy and love in the person of Jesus, to whom we owe our salvation. Furthermore, to add another message of hope, the salvation we are led to in heaven will bring about a restoration of our preternatural gifts. We will again enjoy an infused knowledge of God, a lack of concupiscence, and bodily immortality at our final resurrection. Everything will return to how it should have been from the beginning, but with Jesus!
This week, reflect on how the loss of our preternatural gifts has made things more difficult for us in the here and now. Notice the lack of clarity in your own life that pulls you toward your particular sins. Understand the origins of the murkiness. Think of someone in your life that could use some compassion as they suffer from the same lack of clarity due to Original Sin. Thank God for the gift of Jesus, who has come to be our light in the darkness, and look forward to the restoration of perfection in heaven.