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There’s a variety of opinions knocking about at Critical Pages, even when we’re reduced to a solitary person at the computer keyboard. The post about what fruit grew on the tree of knowledge in the garden of Eden led to thoughts about the Fall (not the fall season, dummy, the Fall theologians speak of, the Fall of humankind when Adam and Eve ate that amazingly educational fruit, giving rise to Original Sin and other cool concepts.) One of our colleagues said, I’m dying to know how that Tree of Knowledge turns out. I just can’t see anything good coming of it. And that’s a widely shared view.
But another friend had this to say. In my opinion, the story of Adam and Eve does turn out well. I think it’s about the coming of human consciousness, coming of the ability to parse good and evil, the coming of shame and guilt and mortality, all that, philosophy. The Garden, paradise, is the animal kingdom where birth is painless, and life is not all that stressful, and you don’t have to wear any clothes. To be thrown out of Paradise is to start to have to deal with all the human problems, deal with human questions like why are we here, and why don’t my kids call… And once you are thrown out of paradise, you can’t go back. The ratchet has clicked. Anyway, there’s an angel with a big sword blocking the way to the tree of life.
Interestingly, this is also a widely shared view — well, I mean, shared by St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas and others of similar character. The Fall was an immediate disaster, but ultimately it brought about the redemption embodied in Christ. O felix culpa quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem. Or, as we say in English: O happy fault (or sin) that merited such and so great a redeemer. And theologians today, even those writing in English, still refer to this idea as felix culpa, the fortunate fall, the happy sin.
In Adam’s Fall / We sinned all says the Puritan rhyme. Indeed, the Puritan concept of predestination asserts that, due to Adam’s sin of disobedience, each and every one of us should be destined to hell. But God, foreseeing this, created his son Jesus to be crucified, his punishment on the cross being a sacrifice to redeem a portion of those destined to hell. And, says the Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards, if God chooses you to go to heaven, you get there, no matter what you do on earth. Unfortunately, the same doctrine means that if you’re slated for hell, you’ll go there no matter how well you behave.
OK, we’ve gone far enough with this! Let’s get on to something simple, like national unemployment or how to balance the budget.