‘Irish Catholic Catechism for Adults’ and ‘the Fall’

Soon after reading Brendan Hoban’s recent piece on the ACP site, ‘The priest: from oracle to ignoramus’,  I took delivery of the recently published  ‘Irish Catholic Catechism For Adults’.  Costing me €25 from Veritas it tells me that its doctrinal content relies on a similar production by the US Catholic Bishops Conference.
I have merely sampled it so far, but am already totally baffled by its apparent interpretation of some of the ‘Fall’ passages in Genesis as literal history.  There were indeed, it seems, historically, two original human parents called Adam and Eve, and they did indeed disrupt all creation by their original sin.  It was the following sentence, however, that really threw me: “And death became part of the human experience.” (p. 78)
Knowing as they must that the cycle of life and death has been an unremitting characteristic  of all species on earth for over three billion years – and that the earth itself has always been a geologically violent planet – why are Irish bishops in 2013 telling us as hard fact that but for original sin we humans (also given reproductive organs) were intended by God to be a complete exception, gifted with physical eternal life?  Why are they expecting anyone to believe that the dangers of our environment began with a single human violation of God’s intent?  Why do they think any aspect of Genesis must now be taken by anyone as historically and literally authoritative?
Do they really think the future of the church depends upon us believing all that?
Surely the time has come for the magisterium to realise that the authority of the church depends ultimately upon the integrity of its ministers, not on any claim that the Bible is, in part, a hard factual account of human prehistoric origins, and of the origin of evil?
I find Brendan Hoban’s short article a far more likely trigger for a renewal of eager learning in the Irish church than this book.  He is wrong, however, to say that priests have lost all authority.  To admit ignorance is surely a far wiser policy than to make claims that science will inevitably challenge with far greater authority.    I would regard as truly wise any priest or bishop who answered ‘I don’t know! What do you think,’ to any question about the mystery of the causality of human evil.  Surely we can only now discuss Genesis as a parable, an ancient and still fascinating theological  hypothesis – fertile still as an affirmation of the goodness of all creation?
An episcopal dogmatism that goes wildly beyond that, and also way beyond what a loving Christian faith requires, will merely provoke incredulity and alienation.   With some passages in this book our bishops have merely proven once more that  there is absolutely no connection between religious dogmatism and wisdom.    Far from appearing authoritative their 2013 ‘Adult Catechism’ comes across,  in some crucial passages,  as a baffling Christmas present for Father Dougal on Craggy Island.
Sean O’Conaill

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  1. Peter Shore says:

    If we believe the fundamental truths of the Christian faith, then we believe that God created us in his own image, endowed us with immortal souls, specially creates each human soul at conception, and gives us free will to accept or reject his gifts. There’s no indication that Jesus intended as a parable his admonition to “not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell”.
    One question, then, is how this is compatible with the scientific facts of descent with modification and evolution by natural selection. Assuming that God didn’t endow primordial life with immortal souls, then there was some first human — human in the sense of possessing a human soul, rather than merely by anatomy. The moral choices available to such a one created the possibility of sin and death, as Romans says: “through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned”.
    This is how I would understand the Catholic teaching. I’m not familiar with the book mentioned, so can’t comment specifically on it, but I assume it’s based on the original Catechism which in no way suggests that we must reject a genuinely scientific (N.B. as opposed to a dogmatic materialist) world view. On the other hand, rejecting Christian revelation about our immortal souls would makes a complete nonsense of the entire faith. Fortunately, such an awkward dichotomy between science and revelation doesn’t need to trouble Catholics since it doesn’t exist.

  2. I’m a professionally qualified scientist, and I can confirm that the theory of evolution is just that – a theory. There are problems with it and nobody can deny that. There are missing bits in the fossil record amongst other things. The smart money is on there being a supreme creator, not just random chance. In any case, I found this bit of the article interesting:
    ”Surely the time has come for the magisterium to realise that the authority of the church depends ultimately upon the integrity of its ministers, not on any claim that the Bible is, in part, a hard factual account of human prehistoric origins, and of the origin of evil?”
    Hardly. The authority of the Church rests on Christ the Rock and the authority of His bishops and the prime earthly rock, the successor of Peter. St. Augustine addressed the problem of sacraments administered by unworthy ministers and he confirmed that it was Jesus Who acted in the sacraments and even a sinful man, His priest, couldn’t block the sacramental action of the Holy Spirit. If the authority of the Church really depends on its ministers…. then…. we really are finished! Anyone been taking notes for the last 2000 years, but especially in our own time and place, the last 50 years?

  3. Joe O'Leary says:

    Are we still playing the game of oracles lecturing ignoramuses?

  4. The iron in our blood was formed in the stars, billions of years ago, trillions of miles away. At what stage did God make us in God’s own likeness? Was it as suggested by Charles Darwin?
    ‘Organic life beneath the shoreless waves,
    Was born and nurs’d in oceans pearly caves;
    First forms minute, unseen by spheric glass,
    Move on the mud, or pierce the watery mass,
    Then as successive generations bloom,
    New powers acquire and larger limbs assume.
    What is there to fear in allowing scientific discoveries inform religious beliefs. As one scientist said ‘the scientific method does not claim that events can only have natural causes but that the only causes that we can understand scientifically are natural ones. As powerful as the scientific method may be,it must be mute about things beyond its scope. Supernatural forces are, by definition, above the laws of nature, and thus beyond the scope of science’.
    Knowledge and education are gifts to be used, not to be buried.

  5. Sean O'Conaill says:

    Peter Shore #1
    The issue is not whether moral error can impact upon the body and even kill it over time, but whether the obedience of ‘Adam and Eve’ could have prevented EVERYONE from physical dying EVER. In that event would our living bodies have experienced: volcanic fire; flood (e.g. tsunamis); avalanche; gravitational or vehicle impact; venomous snakebite; arsenical poisoning; cell degradation through ageing; etc., etc. – and survived ETERNALLY? Is that what we are being asked to believe?
    Shaun #2
    It is not the theory of evolution (that species emerge by natural selection) that is in question, but whether ‘death entered the world on account of man’s sin’ as the CCC and the ICCA insist (CCC 1008). Is this pious hyperbole, or is it to be taken as meaning that no earthly life form perished before the fall, and that no fatal disaster could ever have overtaken another human being, in any circumstances, if ‘Adam and Eve’ had been obedient?
    You are also confusing the efficacy of a sacrament with the authority of the person administering it. I would have no difficulty receiving the Eucharist from a bishop who had failed to honour a promise or who talked nonsense, but I still wouldn’t be able to believe a word he said. He would have lost his personal authority without losing the sacramental power attached to his office.
    Similarly, I cannot give authority to a set of words that seems to me to defy all common sense, and the evidence I have personally seen in shattered limestone. If the words ‘death entered the world on account of man’s sin’ are pious hyperbole someone needs to make that clear. And if hyperbole occurs as a matter of course in catechisms, what are we supposed to believe as the sober truth?

  6. It seems to me Sean is right. Death was about long before we humans were around the mess things up for the universe with our original sin and general goings on. I mean just ask a dinosaur if you can find one.
    I’m not an academic but neither am I still in primary school and books with the answers at the back no longer satisfy.
    I’ve had to do my own thinking about this one (as I am sure we all should) and for me, the Adam and Eve story is about the dawn of consciousness. Or the dawn of a level of consciousness where creation (with us humans in a leading role) could look back at itself; be aware of itself; and ask for the first time, ‘what is life?’ and ‘why are we here?’ etc.
    Allegorically, Genesis tells us we evolved from a state where “the man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame” (Gen 2:25) to one where, “the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked (Gen3:7). Henceforth a free and chosen two way relationship between creation and creator was now possible. I read in a reflection today that ‘love is restless until it gets a response’. Adam and Eve’s (our) response to the restless love of God was to “sew fig leaves together and make loincloths for themselves” and to “hide themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” Not the best of starts to a relationship but a start none the less.
    As for the Catechism? It has its place as a discussion starter. And sometimes its better to just stick to the questions.

  7. Joe O'Leary says:

    Lots of theologians pointed out that the Catechism had slipped into biblical fundamentalism here, and that means something mendacious and poisonous.

  8. Con Devree says:

    Re #5
    Sean, is it useful to consider CCC 1008 along with its side references, CCC 376 and CCC 397 to 409, together with the scriptural references?
    Is it possible to entertain the following idea?
    Could it be that after “The Fall” our capacity for knowledge and understanding on foot of the ensuing range of experiences open to us is diluted, and so our capacity to visualise the outcomes that would have obtained had “The Fall” not occurred is diluted? Is it a case similar to “eye hath not seen…”

  9. Joe O'Leary says:

    talking of the fall as a particular temporal event is still fundamentalistic; Teilhard got us out of that long ago; we know very well that the first state of humanity was not one of paradisal innocent but a violent evolutionary emergence, of which we still bear the traces

  10. Sean O'Conaill says:

    Con Devree #8
    I see neither the need nor the possibility of going that route, Con. Extreme physical vulnerability seems to me to be something essential to the human earthly condition, and even pain is a defensive learning mechanism. I tend to go with Joe and MM on this.
    Yet I still find Genesis fascinating and endlessly provocative. For example, it’s clear that, in the allegory, Eve and Adam were created with a spiritual vulnerability – fragile self-esteem. Otherwise Eve would not have responded to Satan’s initial ‘pitch’, even before she ate the forbidden fruit. That same vulnerability still lies at the root of mimetic desire – the tendency to lose all interest in what we already have out of fascination with something supposedly far better.
    That’s the only way I can make any sense of original ‘sin’ – we were and are always prone to doubt about our own value, and a host of self-inflicted evils flow from that. Think of all the imperial self-proving that went on in 1914, for example, and then the national shame that led Germany to Nazism and WW2. The incarnation and the crucifixion help us to deal with that issue of ‘status anxiety’ in a hugely significant and unique way, assuring us of our aboriginal and eternal value – even in the ‘valley of the shadow of death’.
    In every moment the ‘being’ of all of us lies somewhere along a continuum that runs between honour and shame. And that, it seems to me, is what Heaven and Hell are also – the poles of that continuum. The Resurrection signifies that integrity cannot be shamed, no matter what shaming process ‘the world’ subjects it to.

  11. Joe O'Leary says:

    I’ve just taught a course on Genesis for the fourth time, and what is so amazing about this book of books is its deep awareness of the frailty of human nature and the endless forbearance and protectiveness of God over against this reality – the God who asks us such penetrating questions “Where are you?” “Where is your brother?”, who protects the guilt-ridden sinner, making garments for the first parents and giving a protective mark to Cain, the God who sets his bow in the clouds as a sign of protection, who puts up with all the trickeries of Jacob and never abandons Joseph. What do the characters most learn in their adventures? That God is just but kind, and that reconciliation with one’s estranged brother is the way we most experience this kindness (Jacob says to Esau, “your face to me is as the face of God” and the whole book ends with the elaborately staged reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers). The Fall is just another name for the fragile stuff of which we are made, but even in these stories of life before Moses and before the Law, Redemption is also already at work.

  12. “God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good” (Gen 1:31).
    I think the key word here is ‘good’. Note it doesn’t say ‘perfect’. The problem with ‘perfect’ is that it is static. With ‘perfect’ there is nowhere to go and nothing more to be done. Nothing to evolve into. ‘Good’ however is dynamic, in that it makes room for movement, transformation, evolution, towards better. Maybe this is the journey into the Godhead to which we are invited. An open-ended journey with no predetermined outcome. A share in God’s creation adventure if you like. I like the thought of that – life, in whatever form, that just gets better, forever. With ‘perfect’ however we and God are out of a job. We can’t change anything, because if we do it won’t be perfect anymore. No wonder so many of our images of heaven look decidedly boring.
    Regarding original sin – we have tended to interpret this as meaning at our core we are not good. Even bad or evil. Calvinists go as far as to suggest we are in a state of ‘total depravity’. Maybe a better understanding of original sin is ‘good but not perfect’. Frail and vulnerable as Joe and Sean suggest, but ultimately good in the eyes of God, with somewhere to go and something to become. Death no longer to be seen as the end but only the next step in an eternal becoming.
    Who knows. Maybe I should have quit when I was ahead. But I think our theologians have some work to do, if they are to keep pace with scientific discovery and new cosmology. Its out there, but will new theological exploration be allowed and encouraged within the Church, or is the Adult Catechism the final word? We have to be hopeful. For example we are no longer required to believe the Earth is flat or at the centre of the universe. But it won’t be easy. The state of theological perfection attained by the Magisterium and maintained by the DCF means we have nowhere to go and nothing more to learn. No wonder many find church and religion boring.
    “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected when received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4).

  13. Con Devree says:

    #10 and 11
    The notion of God as a God of “endless forbearance and protectiveness” is obviously true.
    As we experience ourselves and others today the “continuum that runs between honour and shame” exists without any doubt.
    Do both contributions (#10 and 11) imply that God never intended human beings to be anything other than “fragile stuff,” characterised by “mimetic desire,” determinately sinful?

  14. Joe O'Leary says:

    Teilhard sees human evolution in the wider context of cosmic evolution, full of mishaps and dead ends and waste and violence, yet “good” because drawn into existence by the divine goal toward which it constantly evolves. The development of human freedom does not seem conceivable without errance and evil (o truly necessary sin of Adam!) yet these are a falling away from the divine purpose, the goal toward which all creation groans. The Genesis myths give food for thought on all this, and reassuringly suggest that God is not fazed by even our worst failures, but that his drawing-power constantly brings good out of evil.

  15. Kevin Walters says:

    Our Father has life in Himself and He is Timeless.
    Jesus tells us he came (was sent) “To save that which was lost” this statement implies a former state. My understanding of lost is that we are lost in time and place; we all carry a divine timeless spark within us, we are more than a physical being.
    Some who read this post will have experienced one or more “Timeless moments” during their lifetime of different intensity, these Timeless moments vary in context as they pertain to each individual, but their essence is the same for all of us, often commencing with a glimpse of beauty (including insights pertaining to the beauty of Truth) that catch our senses (Consciousness), we lose the perception of our physical self, as if instantaneously we are drawn into the harmony (Singularity) of our Fathers creation. Our senses are now liberated and appear to no longer be tied to our earthly (bodily) needs , the beauty of our Fathers creation intensifies as our senses (Consciousness) perceive reality on a different level, we feel that we are no longer separate but in harmony within our Fathers (Consciousness, Spirit). I believe that this harmony (Oneness/ Timelessness) was lost at the Fall (Commencement of time within mans Psyche), been symbolised by breaking trust with our Father, in eating the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge. Adam in self-awareness (Separation from the divine, The Tree of Life) now sees the full reality of his wretchedness the apex of which is death. Now barred from the (Wondrous) Tree of Life which previously he had not been, the residue of this understanding remains within all of mankind, he has a yearning for eternal life (To eat once more from the Tree of Life).
    The fruit of tree of life is Now no longer barred from mankind, for he can now see that the dead wood of the cross has been transformed into the Tree of Life, its fruit Jesus Christ (Who has been given Life within himself by our Father) hangs there and cries out “Take and eat”.
    I wondered out from no not where
    My spirit as the clear morn air
    With glint of morning light I was your delight
    I danced with the morning breeze, played the leaves upon the trees
    The grass was my pleasured bed the flowers feathered for my head
    The clouds were but my cloak, my face shone with the sun
    I was you lover I was you son
    I was Adam before the deed
    I was the tree the sky the breeze
    I was the garden I was Eve you the sower and I the seed
    The black bird entered the wondrous tree in dry branch entwined he
    With yellow eye and crack of wing all was lost nothing still
    I had become as separate thing
    Your seed polluted by that black squawking, squealing, squeaky thing
    I heard you weeping for you son O loving Father what I done
    On broken branch I entered time in downward spin
    Tumbling bush fly and weed, polluted seed and sprouting horn into spike
    and thorn I was born
    “Father”, You the Breeze followed with the morning dew, promising to make all anew
    Before the day was done you would again embrace your son
    You nailed your own heart to a dry piece of wood
    Bleeding profusely droplets of precious love
    Tenderly watering your seeds of love
    Blessing the heart that willingly receives that heart to shall surely bleed, scattering fly and weed
    Father I am the new watered seed, lifting me gently with you breeze
    The husk shall fall and I shall run with squint of light gleam of morning delight
    Tossing feathered flowers from my head
    Lifting my cloak from my dewy pleasured bed
    Skipping and dancing with the breeze
    Frolicking the leaves, hovering above the trees
    Again I am Adam also Eve
    In the garden with the breeze
    With the bright glance of the morning sun
    “Father” your song is sung.
    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  16. Thank you for that article Martin (15). For a start it helped me with the vexed question of why nature can be so cruel ( just watch any wildlife programme). Admittedly a lot of the article was beyond me, but I was able to take enough from it to realise that there are always deeper levels of understanding, usually to be found at the fringes and initially rejected by the church e.g. in this case, the work of Teilhard de Chardin. It does show that our theologies cannot be written in stone.
    An important question arises. How can new theological insights not just become accepted by the Church but also make their way to the people via its liturgies, prayers music and homilies. As things stand, for example in this instance, our inadequate understandings of ‘original sin’ and ‘the fall’ form the bedrock of the basic Christian narrative that influences everything we do and say in our gatherings.
    At very least a balance needs struck. People coming to church with the heavy burdens of life on their shoulders, for the most part don’t need to be reminded about their shortcomings. They need to be reminded of the primal, inherent, God given, goodness at the core of their being and to listen for its echoes in their lives. The dirt is on the outside*. That’s the ‘good news’ that brings hope, motivation and transformation. That’s something to sing about.
    *For a good illustration of ‘goodness at the core see http://www.ojccc.org/2010/03/the-reverse-graffiti-project/ . Its a short YouTube video that could be used in church to illustrate this point.

  17. Sean O'Conaill says:

    # 13 – Con
    There is also the human capability for ‘rethinking’ – repentance – and this draws us always back to the source of our being. And there seems to be growth also through this process. (I am always diligently denying that I ‘need’ the latest iteration of MS Windows and breakneck hardware!)
    I passionately believe that life is a ‘course’ of some kind, a training in love and humility – and this is never wasted. I have little tolerance for the ‘RIP’ notion of the finale: there must be more to come – some use for what we learn in this life.
    Prepare for de-briefing, all ye diligent students – that’s my advice, for what it’s worth!

  18. Con Devree says:

    The reasoning here is clear and I note the inverted commas on the word “good.”
    But does it not rely on an assumption articulated by Nathan O’Halloran SJ (reference in #15) to whit:
    “The problem of original sin and evil is not that it is a small event that occurred way back then, but that it is so large an event. It can no longer be a particular “act” restricted to a man or even a first population of human beings. It must be a “state” of all of creation.”
    And from Teilhard himself (same reference) “Original sin is the essential reaction of the finite to the creative act.” It must follow that this “essential” reaction is also designed and created by God. If such is the case how could He be offended by sin? As God he cannot ever be fazed by any human failures. I apologize for the flippancy, but God hardly created a human version of ducks in a barrel to be shot at by Satan but eventually redeemed in love to wholeness linked with cosmic evolution?
    Is there another scenario in what is essentially a mystery, a different thought recipe from Genesis?
    Irrespective of the “mishaps and dead ends and waste and violence” that happened prior to it, the first “hominization” (Ratzinger) entailed a step from mere life to mind and understanding; to a human being taken out of and separated from the clay, but, by nature, in full harmony with it; the first living entity who not just over and above being there and fulfilling his needs was capable of awareness of the whole; created by God “for incorruption, and made … in the image of his own eternity. (Wisdom 2:23.) The figurative Adam and Eve had their freedom, in an original state of holiness and justice. There was henceforth no necessary link with the wider “cosmic evolution.”
    Evil existed but “errance and evil” became freedom’s destruction rather than its basis. (There are of course other aspects of freedom) “… through the devil’s envy death entered the world” (Wisdom 2;24), a “bodily death from which man would have been immune had he not sinned” (Gaudium et Spes 18) Humankind had to “return” to the clay from which it came (Gen 3 :19) and lose harmony with it. “… God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living.” Wisdom (1:13)

  19. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Authority in the Church should not exist. There is one single authority and maybe this is the explanation for the original sin; when people started letting earthly authorities influence their behavior and not God himself.

  20. Con Devree says:

    #18 Sean
    Thank you.
    My apology for a possible confusion. My comment #19 was in response to #14, not #18. Sorry.
    Your article surely draws “us back to the source of our being.”

  21. Joe O'Leary says:

    Yes, the emergence of the first humans was a jolly good thing, freedom and intelligence and capacity to seek and know God began there. The capacity for error and sin began as well, of course. “It must follow that this “essential” reaction is also designed and created by God.” No, because God is the supreme creative good who drawing-power summons the universe into existence and allowing the universe to create itself as it were. The power of God is uniquely a power for good. But in our responses to that power we do not rise to the full majesty of what we are called to be. The “anger of God” is just a mythic expression for the moral ideal that summons us again and again to respond to the supreme divine goal. Corresponding to that goal we are empowered and uplifted (grace) and impelled on the route to the full Christic plenitude (incarnation and redemption). Mythologies often posit a golden age of humanity but this has of course nothing to do with what science can discern of human origins. It speaks rather of the human ideal, as does Genesis 2.

  22. #15 Thanks to Martin Harran for that article on science and original sin – and the Teilhardian ‘take’ on all that – in which I tend to get a bit lost. I have the overall impression that science still fails to fully explain human consciousness, and that the latter is critical in the key human vulnerability: the fragility of our own self-valuing. It is because we are conscious of our own being – and of the possibility of being observed by others – that we are so fragile, so susceptible to shame. There is an ‘insideness’ to being human that I find missing in the notion that ‘original sin’ is part of all creation. The relative unselfconsciousness of animals, even the higher primates, is very striking. So we are conscious to a very high degree of our ‘mistakes’. Does ‘ensoulment’ have to do with this far higher level of consciousness and self-consciousness? I suspect so.

  23. Con Devree says:

    At the moment of the “emergence of the first human beings … [with their] freedom and intelligence and capacity to seek and know God, the same God according to Dei Verbum 3 planned “to make known the way of heavenly salvation. He went further and from the start manifested Himself to our first parents.” At this stage the human being was “in a state of holiness” – rectitude. (Gaudium et Spes 13) They were intended “to share in His own divine life.” (LG2) This must have involved an invitation to intimate communion with Him.
    It seems unlikely that they were expected to discover all this for themselves. If this were the case then there was no Fall. But what would such a situation reveal about nature of Divine justice?
    The capacity for error was there as well. But there must have been at least a moment of human existence before “man abused his liberty, at the urging of the Evil One.” (ibid) Or as #22 puts it did “not rise to the full majesty of what … [they were] called to be.”
    Divine justice hardly warranted that in that one moment as least, the first human beings lacked the capacity to be at ease with the physical environment, self-developing as distinct from self-creating as it may have been.
    It’s difficult to see how there wasn’t a first act of man preferring himself to God, and acting against the requirement of his creaturely status. (CCC 398). This was the moment of one man’s disobedience by which many were made sinners. (Rom 5:19).
    God of course as “the supreme creative good” did not give up on humanity as was emphasized in # 11.

  24. Joe O'Leary says:

    The “moment” to which Con refers can be interpreted as a metaphysical moment, an ideal projection. Efforts to locate such an evanescent moment in history or evolution rest on a category error, a fundamentalist misconception of the nature of the Bible’s language of myth in Genesis 3. Standard homiletic accounts of the history of salvation such as those recycled in the conciliar texts (or in Trent’s references to Adam and Eve, which some Catholic fundamentalists cite as infallible confirmation of their historicity) cannot supply for the needful work of theological interpretation.

  25. Con Devree says:

    Number 24 fact avoided all reference to Genesis and to science. The first because of the anticipated reaction in terms of myth. I greatly respect science but it has no answer to the considerations posed. Number 24 concerned whether or not, and how God revealed himself to human beings.
    “The moment” I had in mind was in the realm of real experience. I did not intend it to be interpreted as metaphysical, and considered it as somewhat longer than evanescent. It could have been a period of time long enough for the new rational entity, the human being, to make a decision on some action and act accordingly.
    Number 25 does not address the questions in 24. Instead it offers ideas on the status of conciliar statements, theological interpretation, the authenticity of the Bible, and by implication the relation between both of the latter.

  26. Joe O'Leary says:

    Con, your picture of early humans does not seem to fit with what the theory of evolution presents — it is based on Genesis as transmitted via the quotes from Vatican II — the deep meaning of the Genesis story is metaphysical or mythical, not a factual account of early human history.

  27. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #26 “the new rational entity, the human being”. Do we have here again the idea that a hypothetical mistaken decision of the ‘first individuals’ would somehow impact genetically on all their descendants? Wasn’t it out of this notion that sexuality itself came to be considered the source of ‘concupiscence’?
    I find that thinking both illogical and offensive to a theology that would see sexuality as the divine gift of participation in the divine creative purpose. I cannot see why we should not interpret the fall story as simply meaning that our creatureliness makes us also vulnerable and therefore liable to make choices that impact socially and historically on succeeding generations.
    The notion that all but two humans were ‘conceived with sin’ is surely the root of all that is unhealthy and shaming about Catholic teaching on sexuality. It is also totally daft, and nowhere present in the teaching of Jesus.

  28. Con Devree says:

    #27 and #28
    In #24 Vatican II documents were used to provide a means of expressing the matters raised for consideration. The only responses furnished to date on the said matters are theories regarding conciliar statements, theological interpretation, the authenticity of the Bible, and by implication the relation between both of the latter, and latterly the theory of evolution, which in relation to early humans is not clear or conclusive. Nor was the question of sexuality (#28) raised.
    On foot of the responses the two main considerations/questions have developed a bit.
    When, if ever did God start communicating with human beings, (made in his image and likeness?), and how.
    Second, did he intend human beings as free and intelligent (#22) to be “fragile stuff” (#11) whose essential earthly condition was characterized by “extreme physical vulnerability” and pain (#10) , and as expressed mythically/ metaphysically/or otherwise in Genesis 3 :19, eating bread In the sweat of their faces till they return to the ground out of which they “were taken.” (Evolved?)
    These questions pertain to the nature and characteristics of God. This is the central consideration.
    The notion of a hypothetical mistaken decision of the ‘first individuals’ impacting genetically on all their descendants (#28) was a kind of conclusion reached in #24. It is the teaching of the Church based partially at least,one assumes, on the teaching of St Paul.

  29. Joe O'Leary says:

    I agree with Sean — our sexuality and our mortality are natural, and indeed good — they belong firmly to the created order. Francis of Assisi speaks of Sister Death as part of God’s good creation: “Laudato si mi Signore, per sora nostra Morte corporale, da la quale nullu homo uiuente pò skappare.”
    G. K Chesterton famously saw Francis as ending the Manichean suspicion of Nature that had dogged Christianity; a pity that he did not succeed in ending also the Manichean attitude to sexuality.

  30. # 29
    I don’t see that St Paul’s references to the effect of ‘sin of Adam’ must be interpreted as anything more than an allusion to the often disastrous power of bad example, generation to generation. For Paul the exemplary life of Jesus had undone all that, through Jesus’ refusal to follow the archetypal mimetic life-pattern of all ancient ‘heroes’, including David – especially in relation to mimetic desire for worldly power, to vengeance and to violence.
    And if we are speaking of the necessity of believing in the genetic inheritance of an inclination to evil, then Jesus’ mere exemplary life could not have triumphed over that without ending that genetically acquired inclination also. Surely, if goodness can be defined in terms of the imitation of Christ, evil can equally be understood in terms of our vulnerability to worse example?
    Further, how can that teaching of a genetic impact be justified alongside the teaching that God is love itself? An inherited inclination to evil could only have happened through the will of God, so how could God will us to be inclined to evil by genetic inheritance?
    ‘The teaching of the church’: Increasingly the ‘genetic inheritance’ understanding of original sin is not being ‘taught’ in the crucial Aristotelian sense of making itself persuasive or reasonable – or compatible with a theology that removes all blame for our condition from God.
    ‘When did God first make himself known?’: I suppose that there must have been a very first historical awakening to the possibility of a creative, loving presence behind the often violent and visible world, then a reaching out, and then some kind of perceived response to affirm this intuition. It is quite remarkable that the truest theological intuitions seem to come in circumstances not of human triumph, but of human suffering. Yet the struggle between religious triumphalism and religious humility is still being waged. It takes time for the meaning of the crucifixion and resurrection (the latter arising only out of the former) to take hold.

  31. Joe O'Leary says:

    I don’t agree with Sean’s blanking out of the sacrificial death of Jesus which is the core of the Pauline Gospel — indeed he makes no reference to the exemplary life of Jesus.
    The Augustinian idea of original sin transmitted by generation is based on the mistranslation of a verse in Romans in the Latin Bible. “in whom all sinned” is not what Paul wrote, but rather “in that all sinned”.
    The mythic language of Genesis is a human effort to discern the nature of humanity in its dealings with God. There never was any evidence of a golden age hundreds of thousands of years before the Yahwist wrote. It is a common myth, nothing more, and if cross-questioned the myth-writers might have agreed that they were not intending to communicated any sort of historical, chronological information.

  32. Con Devree says:

    I think Paul (Rom 5: 12-21) is explicit in portraying the “tragic consequences of the first disobedience.” CCC 404 poses the question as to how “the sin of Adam became the sin of all his descendants.” CCC 405 speaks of a “depravation of original holiness and justice.” The CCC relies on conciliar statements, which I do based on Lumen Gentium .
    The Fall is more about the attitude of human beings to God than it is about human beings themselves .
    The Catechism reminds people in Article One that, “at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church.”
    Logically, if one considers the first humans, they in the short term would have regarded what they could see hear and touch as the totality of reality. God could not manifestly occur in their living space, no matter how much that area was extended geographically. But from a Catholic viewpoint we know that at the core of human existence there is a point where a truly human existence cannot be supported on the visible and tangible alone.
    The doubt of unbelief of the modern unbeliever, which arises on foot of being confronted constantly with the possibility of the existence of something unseen, would have kicked in. The delight of being just a chance occurrence fades rather quickly.
    How long would God have kept His newly formed, ensouled, rational, free objects of love, made in His own image and likeness, floundering in this state and not offered the opportunity of belief in Him in preference to belief in some god or some mysterious eternal invented by the human being? Genesis, inspired by the Holy Spirit, captures the true nature of God.
    The main key to all of this is to keep one’s attention on God. That’s where the figurative Adam and Eve failed. St Paul’s teaching poses the question: if human nature could be redeemed by one man’s obedience, why could the depravation of the same nature not have happened through the first man snubbing the creator?

  33. #33 There was no ‘blanking out of the sacrificial death of Jesus’ in my references to his exemplary life, Joe. That non-violent total offering of himself in Christian sacrifice (i.e. total self-giving) was the climax and epitome of his exemplary life, repeated by us insofar as we imitate it.
    Thanks for that translation of Paul – ‘in that all sinned’ instead of ‘in whom all sinned’. I see the ‘Adam’ of Paul and Genesis as a mythical archetype, describing a pervasive human mistake – not too far from Con’s Adam who couldn’t keep God in mind. Our ‘wound’ is indeed not to know, or to forget, that our value lies in the attentive gaze of God, and to believe it lies in the affirmation given (or withheld) by our enveloping visible context, especially our fellow humans.
    Where I part company with Con is in believing in a deed by one historical person that ended an original state of human holiness for all his descendants. That to me is also a misreading of Genesis, which clearly relates that Eve’s original weakness – the weakness from which we all suffer equally – *preceded* her disobedience.

  34. Joe O'Leary says:

    Genesis is a very sophisticated work, combining two major sources, the Yahwist, the oldest biblical theologian, and the Priestly writer, who has a very different image of God composed centuries later. Knowledge of God is a slow growth in human history, and it is also one that is still ongoing today. If you say that all people at all times have known God in the depths of their hearts or consciences, you must at least admit that this knowledge was very blurry, often with an admixture of very strange conceptions that today we could not reconcile with the idea of God. Indeed there are parts of the Bible itself of which this must be said — notably the “divinely approved” or “divinely commanded” wars of extermination against the Canaanite tribes. There is no resting-place in the quest to understand a living God — clinging to dead or bad texts such as those just mentioned is a recipe for ending up with a dead God — which as we know is a source of many great problems in our troubled world today.

  35. Con Devree says:

    I am not able to comment on the Yahwist and Priestly theologians. The relevance of the rest of it, with due reference to Dei Verbum 12 on biblical interpretation, is clear. The implications of the notion of the “dead God” are particularly relevant.
    As CCC 404 points out we are dealing with a mystery here and I’m in no way complacent about my views. Insofar as I have read them, scripture and Vatican II documents seem to say that “Adam’s sin is passed on through propagation to all men.” (Phrase used by Paul VI, Indulgentiarum Doctrina, 4).
    Is any of this important? We find Christ instituting the sacrament of Baptism, not to forgive personal sin, but to heal the depravation caused by the original sin. (John 3, 5. LG 14) Baptism of course is more than this.
    In terms of the truth God wished to confide, Genesis 2, 25 seems to suggest that He created the figurative Adam and Eve very much at one with themselves, with no deficits in their sense of personal integrity, dignity or status. Genesis 3, 8-10 suggests that while the figurative apple lay undisturbed, free to grow, they freely willed to be found by Him in any place he wished to find them. This is the action of grace. God revealed himself, and they were aware of Him as creator, sustainer, the only God, always near. Genesis 3, 2-3 reveals how they were absolutely clear on God’s desires. He had placed them in a state of significant justice and grace.
    Their combination of grandness of circumstances and of human condition have not been enjoyed by humanity since “The Fall.” Their succumbing to evil could never have been inevitable. Had it been, then they were designed or created or allowed to evolve as mere puppets, entities to be exploited, not gifted with free will. Does Genesis suggest that God engaged in such puppetry?

  36. #36 To cling to the idea of an original historical perfect idyll in Eden is to deprive humanity of an understanding of the far more likely source of our frailty – the real tenuousness of our existence in an often harsh and violent world, and the fragility of our self esteem always, surrounded as we are by a universe we know we did not create. The psychic origins of the Eden story surely lie in human dreams, and in the womb, rather than in history – the factual original past.
    “As God and creation are good, how did evil begin?” That was the puzzle the authors of Genesis set themselves. They could not have had access to what the modern mind calls historical truth because, if God was to reveal any part of it, why not all of it? So they had to use their imaginations – and came up with the Eden story – a brilliant and provocative guess. It simply doesn’t need to be read as Augustine read it – a deplorable scapegoating of sexuality as the source of evil. As it is a Jewish text and Jews have never read it that way, Augustine’s reading was obviously arbitrary and fallible.
    That there was an historical event that led to every human being born in ‘depravation’ is surely a mistake – humans who do not experience Christian baptism obviously have access to grace by other means, and Christians remain every bit as prone to error as everyone else – as recent revelations in Ireland have proven beyond question.
    (Indeed it is an open question whether our inherited understanding of ‘original sin’ as beginning with sexuality may have actually increased our moral frailty by gnawing so deeply at our self-esteem. If there was indeed a residue of Jansenism in the brutality of the Ryan institutions, what else could it have been?)

  37. Con Devree says:

    If Genesis were merely the outcome of writers using their imaginations in an effort at guesswork, then the inclusion of Genesis in the Bible seems unlikely.
    The original rational, ensouled human beings as human and not divine were incapable of understanding fully the nature of the Creator, so any effort at conveying such and understanding to them would have been improbable.
    As Pope Saint John Paul II sought to put across in his Theology of the Body, human sexuality is good. It is not and never was the source of evil, as distinct from an occasion of sin. We are not defined by our sexuality. It seems also that as per Revelation, Satan is not identified with a gender.
    As stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), par 1257, “The Lord Himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation.” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. (John 3:5). Arising out of Divine Mercy there are different forms of Baptism (CCC 1258-1261 and Lumen Gentium 16)
    Revelation and tradition seem to be at one regarding the propagation of depravation arising out of original sin, a depravation manifested in “the real tenuousness of our existence,” in death actually. It is not an issue bereft of individual theories. But God is hardly a Josef Mengele, an angel of death and suffering.
    The fact that “Christians remain every bit as prone to error as everyone else” is, gratefully, one of the reasons for the Sacrament of Penance.

  38. Joe O'Leary says:

    “If Genesis were merely the outcome of writers using their imaginations in an effort at guesswork, then the inclusion of Genesis in the Bible seems unlikely.”
    I wish people would study Genesis seriously — it has a religious outlook that majestically dwarfs almost everything else. It horrifies me that fundamentalists abuse it so recklessly.
    I have no trouble believing that it is a work inspired by the Holy Spirit — for again and again is touches on the depths of human existence, human relationships, and on the depths of divine greatness and providence.
    But the Holy Spirit does not dictate — he awakens the vision of truth in the depth of the heart — and enables us to read the signs of the times — that is what the Genesis authors did, over five centuries. They were not giving magical secrets about events in a far distant past whose existence even they had no reason to suspect.

  39. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #37 Why should the the use of human imagination necessarily exclude the possibility of divine participation in that process? I certainly did not say that it did, nor do I believe it either.
    It is surely true that most theologians and believing scriptural scholars no longer understand divine inspiration as the dictation to a human scribe of the thoughts of God. As Joe O’Leary says ‘the Holy Spirit does not dictate’ – in any sense of that word. Instead a mysterious process of free discernment awakens in a human heart alive to the possibility of better answers – like the young Samuel waking in the night.
    It was the experience of adult suffering that prepared the first Christians for their own ‘baptism in the spirit’ – so why should we believe that an eternal idyllic Eden was ever the destiny intended by God for all of us? To make that Eden an essential component of our understanding of human history is to make Christianity incompatible with everything we now know from the prehistoric and historic record about our actual past – and to make it therefore inherently implausible.
    Adversity has always been essential to our spiritual maturation and to our theological discernment also. There could not have been an Isaiah, first or second, had there not been first of all an exile in Babylon – and it is in Isaiah that the God of Israel becomes conclusively the God of all humanity.
    Please note, Con, that I am not saying that Genesis was not divinely inspired, merely that it is a mistake to believe that its authors, or God, intended it to be received as mere literal history in a modern sense. In affirming the goodness of all creation, and of God also, they were confuting other ancient myths to the contrary, and pointing to an aboriginal human weakness, inseparable from our creatureliness. We do not need any other explanation of our fallibility – especially an explanation that inevitably ascribes evil to human generation itself.

  40. Con Devree says:

    The first three paragraphs are helpful. Genesis from 1.1 onwards has to be taken seriously. Not alone does it deal with “Divine greatness and providence” but the whole question of Divine goodness and love is at stake in the question regarding the nature of original sin. Not alone that but current deliberations on marriage in part refer to Christ’s own interpretation of the phrase “male and female He created them.” The guidance of the Holy Spirit for both the composition and its interpretation is fundamental.
    How does the Holy Spirit awaken “the vision of truth in the depth of the heart”? The existence of 40,000 plus denominations among the separated brethren suggests the possibility of confusion in the transmission of the vision. Is such “confusion” not at the heart of the divisions in the Catholic Church today?
    While noting the reception of doctrine as distinct from Spirit-inspired moments of spiritual consolation, an external objective observer would detect on the one hand paragraph 81-81 of CCC claiming:
    Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together and communicate one with the other… “Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit.”
    “And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound, and spread it abroad by their preaching.”
    On the other hand s/he would notice many in the Church rejecting this claim to inherent bonding in itself, and as unnecessary for their reception of their individual version of the vision.

  41. Joe O'Leary says:

    “current deliberations on marriage in part refer to Christ’s own interpretation of the phrase “male and female He created them.””
    Opponents of gay marriage have used this text in a totally flimsy way.
    Jesus presents the ideal of indissoluble marriage as it existed in the beginning. The teaching is not impugned by modern denial that Genesis is about some ancient historical paradise.
    Also he is distinguishing between the Law of Moses, which allows divorce, and a pre-Torah morality — a rather radical hermeneutical step.
    He stresses the positive reality of marriage — what God has joined together. Advocates of gay marriage could point to many same-sex couples whom God has joined togethter.
    Matthew twice introduces a loophole in Jesus’s anti-divorce statement, and the Church has followed suit with the Pauline and Petrine privileges, allowing valid but non-sacramental marriages to be dissolved.

  42. Con Devree says:

    There is agreement on some matters. I regard Divine inspiration as meaning that God inspired the human authors of the sacred books. Making full use of their own faculties and powers, he acted in them and by them, to convey whatever He wanted written. The Divine used human imagination and current modes of expression in this way.
    The ideas of precise dictation or literal history do not arise. Also the Bible is a totality, different parts have to be taken in conjunction with others. The point about adversity – suffering – is valid. (not of course because I think so)
    All contributors to this thread read the Bible with the gift of faith, with the assumption that God is love. These help get us over the bumps mentioned in #35.
    But the unbeliever often poses questions such as does God desire that children be sexually abused, that women be raped, that Hiroshima should occur, that human beings inflict atrocious tortures on each other, that so many people should die of hunger in a world of plenty. Did God create this depravity in humanity or allow it to evolve without correcting it? If not how did humanity acquire such depraved characteristics in its nature.
    In this context I have problems in seeing that recourse to the idea of “an aboriginal human weakness, inseparable from our creatureliness” is sufficient here as an “explanation of our fallibility.” If human weakness is “aboriginal” does it not follow that the depravity referred to above was present at the moment of “human generation?”
    The interrogation of the unbeliever is also in fact the on-going self-questioning we do ourselves. There is a mystery involved and human treatises are not sufficient if for no other reason they cannot be accepted and then filed as done. For me, the Church’s interpretation of Genesis 1-3 and its rationale is the optimum.

  43. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #41 It was in a society formed by Christian fragmentation – the USA – that the evil of Catholic clerical abuse of children was first brought into the light of day – not in any society where integralist Catholicism held sway. So why on earth should we believe that God favours a Catholic monopoly, or just any kind of ‘Christian Unity’.
    Where did the moral cowardice of 20th C. Catholic civil servants in Ireland come from – e.g. those in the Department of Education who always chose deference to the religious orders who ran the Ryan institutions above whistle-blowing integrity – if not from Catholic clerical authoritarianism, which misrepresented any opposition to clergy as the deepest of vices. The elevation of ‘Catholic unity’ and deference to clergy above courageous championing of the poor lay at the root of the disastrous failures of Catholic Christianity in Ireland in the last century.
    There is far more to Protestantism than fragmentation, and far less virtue and grace – or divine support – in Catholic clericalist integralism than its proponents like to imagine. Insofar as Irish Catholic victims of clerical abuse have been liberated and vindicated they must thank the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment: they owe nothing whatsoever to Catholic integralism but decades of indifference, cover-up and isolation.
    Some kinds of disunity are far healthier than some kinds of unity. To elevate unity per se as proof of divine support is palpable nonsense.

  44. #43 “If human weakness is “aboriginal” does it not follow that the depravity referred to above was present at the moment of “human generation?”
    A weakness creates only the potential for moral failure. A lifetime of experience and reading has convinced me that the fragility of our self-esteem is a sufficient cause of, for example, substance abuse – from which the very worst evils can follow. The gift and curse of our facility for imitation is another source of both good and evil, and sexuality too is both gift and scourge, given that fragility.
    But for theologians ever to argue that evil was generated primarily by sexuality, as a result of the primordial disobedience of a single couple, was surely an intellectual cul de sac from which the church is still suffering. An inevitable corollary of that belief, that celibacy is morally superior, has now also been totally exploded. Vain efforts to ‘keep the appearances’ of clerical celibacy have deeply corrupted and disgraced the Catholic church – and caused horrendous suffering also.
    How could a just God have willed ‘depravation’ as the genetic inheritance of all the descendants of an original couple? I simply do not understand why anyone would still want to believe that, and I refuse to believe it myself. Must human coupling until the end of time be contaminated by that notion, mirroring the predicament of people who tragically carry a genuinely terminal gene such as Huntingdon’s disease?
    However, we are in danger of going around in circles here, by simply repeating ourselves in only slightly different ways. I prefer to believe in a God who compassionately understands the weakness that originates in creatureliness, and who provides us with an exemplar to help us overcome it. I simply cannot, and don’t need or want to believe in an original state of human perfection. A close reading of Genesis suggests to me that its authors perfectly understood that the original source of our weakness was no different from what it is today – our inability to sustain a confident belief in our current value without some illusory addition. Eve too, even before the forbidden fruit episode, would have succumbed to ‘retail therapy’. End of Story.

  45. Con Devree says:

    As a matter of instruction, where does “Matthew twice introduce a loophole in Jesus’s anti-divorce statement?”
    “Flimsy” like “beauty” can be in the eye of the beholder.
    As Newman, St Bernard of Clairvaux and respectable others have often pointed out, personnel at all levels in the Church have not been free from “error” or malice in individual decisions.

  46. Joe O'Leary says:

    Mt 5:32 and 19:9 introduce an obscure exception to the ban on divorce. The Pauline and Petrine Privileges are not a matter of error in individual decisions; they are church teaching. An argument whose validity is “in the eye of the beholder” is ipso facto a flimsy one.

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