THE FALL OF MAN

Written by Vladimir Moss

THE FALL OF MAN

God placed Adam and Eve in Paradise together with the animals, and there they would have lived forever in joy and harmony without any pain or sorrow. However, although they were sinless and living in a wholly sinless and incorrupt world, the Paradise of delight, their holiness was as it were immature and untested. God decided to test their free will by giving them a small, easily-fulfilled commandment (especially for an unfallen nature), and seeing whether they would obey it. He also allowed the devil (a fallen angel who had rebelled against God before the creation of the material world) to approach them and tempt them to break the commandment. If they resisted the temptation and obeyed, they would become more mature and grounded in their holiness, and therefore still closer to God and each other. But if they disobeyed, they would lose that holiness, and the sinless nature both inside and outside them would be corrupted.

The Lord’s commandment was: “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat. But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat, you shall surely die” (Genesis 2.16-17). The devil (in the form of a serpent) tempted the woman, first, by suggesting that God was a liar, and that they would not die. Then he suggested that God was in fact envious of the apotheosis they would achieve if they ate of the tree. “For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3.5). Eve liked the look of the fruit, ate of it and then gave it to her husband to eat.

Eve’s sin consisted in sensuality and disobedience to her husband. Adam’s sin consisted in the desire to please his wife more than God. Both sinned in their pride and unbelief. As St. Symeon the New Theologian writes: «Adam sinned with a great sin because he did not believe the words of God, but believed the word of the serpent. Compare God and the serpent, and you will see how great was the sin of most-wise Adam. In his great wisdom he had given names to all the animals (Genesis 2.19-20). But when with his whole soul he believed the serpent and not God, then the Divine grace which had rested on him slipped away from him, so that he became the enemy of God by reason of the unbelief which he had shown to His words.»

Having believed in these lies and slander against the all-good God, and eaten of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise, lost the Grace of the Holy Spirit, and suffered a catastrophic change in their physical and psychological nature. This change is signified in the Biblical text by their being endowed with “garments of skins” (Genesis 3.21). It is necessary to examine the meaning of this term with care insofar as it constitutes the first and only major change in human nature in history.

Now skin is dead, for garments of skin can only be obtained by the killing of an animal. Therefore “by a garment of this kind,” writes the Venerable Bede, “the Lord signifies that they had now been made mortal – the skins contain a figure of death because they cannot be drawn off without the death of the animal”. [1] And why, asks St. Ephraim, “would animals have been killed in their presence? Perhaps this happened so that by the animal’s flesh Adam and Eve might nourish their own bodies and that with the skins they might cover their nakedness, but also that by the death of the animals Adam and Eve might see the death of their own bodies.”[2]

Thus the spiritual death of man through sin led to the killing of an animal, the first physical death in creation (contrary to the theory of evolution, which posits billions of completely senseless animal deaths before the appearance of man on the scene). This dead animality, in the form of animal skins, was then placed on man like an outer garment. But not simply placed on him: it entered into him, corrupting and coarsening his whole psycho-physical nature. It took hold of his natural faculties and turned them into something different, what we call the passions. Thus St. Gregory Palamas writes: “Through this [the original] sin we have put on the garments of skin… and changed our abode to this transient and perishable world, and we have condemned ourselves to live a life full of passions and many misfortunes”.[3]

There are three kinds of death: (i) spiritual death, the separation of the Holy Spirit from the soul (and hence, as we have seen, the loss of the likeness of God), (ii) physical death, the separation of the soul from the body, which comes later than spiritual death, but is an ineluctable consequence of it, and (iii) eternal death, the fixed and unchangeable abiding of a man in alienation from God.[4]

St. Gregory of Nyssa compares this fallen life, or spiritual death, to “animals turning the mill”: “With our eyes blindfolded we walk round the mill of life, always treading the same circular path and returning to the same things. Let me spell out this circular path: appetite, satiety, sleep, waking up, emptiness, fullness. From the former of each pair we constantly pass to the latter, and back again to the former, and then back again to the latter, and we never cease to go round in a circle…. Solomon well describes this life as a leaking pitcher and an alien house (Ecclesiastes 12.6)… Do you see how men draw up for themselves honors, power, fame and all such things? But what is put in flows out again below and does not remain in the container. We are always consumed with anxious concern for fame and power and honor, but the pitcher of desire remains unfilled.”[5]

Sexual desire, like hunger, sleepiness and all the other passions are fallen because they all belong to “the pitcher of desire” that “remains forever unfilled”. For fallen man, like the prodigal son, is forced to try and satisfy his hunger from the husks of the constantly changing and delusive world of fallen nature – a diet that only seems to nourish, but ends by making him hungrier than ever. It was not like that in Paradise, where man’s unfallen nature did not need corruptible food, but was constantly feasting on the incorruptible food provided by God Himself.

Thus St. Gregory writes: “When we have put off that dead and ugly garment which was made for us from irrational skins (when I hear ‘skins’ I interpret it as the form of the irrational nature that we have put on from our association with passion), we throw off every part of our irrational skin along with the removal of the garment. These are the things which we have received from the irrational skin: sexual intercourse, conception, childbearing, dirt, lactation, nourishment, evacuation, gradual growth to maturity, the prime of life, old age, disease and death.”[6]

According to St. Gregory, the garments of skin, though the consequence of sin, are intended to turn us away from sin in two ways. The first way was delineated originally by Origen. Jean Daniélou writes: “In his work On the Dead [St. Gregory] explains that ‘the garment of skin’ allows man to turn back again freely to God: since man had despised the life of the spirit for carnal pleasure, God did not wish man ‘to withdraw from sin unwillingly and be forced by necessity towards the good’, for this would have destroyed man’s freedom and the image of God within him. Hence He made use of man’s very tendency by giving him the ‘garment of skin’. This would cause man to experience a disgust with the things of the world, and thus ‘he would willingly desire to return to his former blessedness’.

“In the Great Catechetical Discourse Gregory puts forward the second reason for the ‘garment of skin’, which derives not from Origen but from St. Athanasius. The idea is that the ‘garment of skin’, our present state of mortality, permits the bodily part of man to be destroyed; but since evil is so closely bound up with the body, evil too is destroyed, and thus man can be restored to his original innocence. Man’s body returns to earth like a vase of baked clay; thus the evil that was mingled with his body is now released, and the divine Potter can raise him up once more to his original beauty. Thus the ‘garment of skin’, though really foreign to human nature, was only given to man by a solicitous providence, as by a doctor giving us a medicine to cure our inclination to evil without its being intended to last forever.

“In answer to the question whether man was created without the ‘garment of skin’ (that is, without mortality and all the things that sex implies), Gregory gives one answer in his work On the Creation of Man: ‘The grace of the resurrection is the restoration of fallen man to his primitive state’. But in another passage in On the Creation of Man he puts forward another hypothesis, ‘as a kind of exercise’. Here he suggests that God in His foreknowledge knew that man would abuse his freedom and would fall; and hence ‘seeing that man by his sin had fallen from his blessed angelic state, God established a way by which the human race could be propagated in accordance with our nature; thus the total number of human souls would not be deficient, even though man had now lost the method of propagation by which the angelic hosts had multiplied.’ On this view (which is the one most important to us), God would have created man from the beginning with a mortal body through His foreknowledge of man’s sin.

“It is against the background of this doctrine that Gregory explains the two accounts in Genesis of the creation of man. Philo had already detected in Genesis two stages in man’s creation: in the first account, man, the first-born, is created in God’s image as the pre-existent archetype of the intelligible world; in the second, man, created as man and female, is man as he actually appears on earth… In man created in God’s image he sees the pre-existence of human nature in the perfection of the divine foreknowledge – such as it will be only at the end of time. Thus for Gregory, man created as male and female though first in the order of time is only second in the order of intention…”[7]

St. Maximus the Confessor writes: “When God created human nature, he did not create sensible pleasure and pain along with it; rather, he furnished it with a certain spiritual capacity for pleasure, a pleasure whereby human beings would be able to enjoy God ineffably.[8] But at the instant he was created, the first man, by the use of his senses, squandered this spiritual capacity – the natural desire of the mind for God – on sensible things. In this, his very first movement, he activated an unnatural pleasure through the medium of the senses. Being, in His providence, concerned for our salvation, God therefore affixed pain (οδυνη) alongside this sensible pleasure (ηδονη) as a kind of punitive faculty, whereby the law of death was wisely planted in our corporeal nature to curb the foolish mind in its desire to incline unnaturally toward sensible things.[9]

“Henceforth, because irrational pleasure entered human nature, pain entered our nature opposite this pleasure in accordance with reason, and, through the many sufferings (παθηματα) in which and from which death occurs, pain uproots unnatural pleasure, but does not completely destroy it, whereby, then, the grace of the divine pleasure of the mind is naturally exalted. For every suffering (πονος), effectively having pleasure as its primary cause, is quite naturally, in view of its cause, a penalty exacted from all who share in human nature. Indeed, such suffering invariably accompanies unnatural pleasure in everyone for whom the law of pleasure, itself having no prior cause, has preconditioned their birth. By that I mean that the pleasure stemming from the original transgression was ‘uncaused’ insofar as it quite obviously did not follow upon an antecedent suffering.

“After the transgression pleasure naturally preconditioned the births of all human beings, and no one at all was by nature free from birth subject to the passion associated with this pleasure; rather, everyone was requited with sufferings, and subsequent death, as the natural punishment. The way to freedom is hard for all who were tyrannized by unrighteous pleasure and naturally subject to just sufferings and to the thoroughly just death accompanying them.”[10]

In spite of this, some of the passions – what are called the innocent passions – are necessary for survival in life after the fall. For, as St. John Chrysostom says, after the fall God “refashioned” the human body, which was “originally superior to what it is not”, so that it would be useful to us in our new situation.[11] This is most obvious with hunger and sleep. If man did not feel hunger or weariness, he would not eat or rest and would waste away; for death, the first result of the fall, constantly erodes the strength of man from within, necessitating his restoration through food and sleep. It is also obvious in the case of sexual desire, which, while not necessary for the life of the individual, is necessary for the survival of the species as a whole. As St. Symeon of Thessalonica writes, marriage “is permitted because of the death that follows the disobedience, in order that, until the life [ζωη] and immortality that is through Christ should come, this present corrupt life [βιος] should remain.”[12] Moreover, sexual desire not only stimulates the act that propagates the species. It is also an important factor in cementing the bond between the father and mother far beyond the duration of the sexual act (in human beings desire lasts longer, and fluctuates less, than in animals). The family unit in turn is the building block of the State (and the Church), which provides other essential survival functions.

It is not only these “crude” passions that have this dual character, both positive and negative, in the fall. Several more “subtle” passions have a similarly dual character and purpose.

Thus Nellas writes, interpreting Saints Gregory the Theologian and Maximus the Confessor: “Learning and work, in particular, constitute a coarsening, so to speak, of the original natural properties of wisdom and lordship over nature which man possessed as an image of God. They constitute an expression and function of these properties in material dress. Their aim when properly used was to lead man, and with him the world, towards God. But with sin they became imprisoned in the corrupt biological cycle, and they were coarsened and transformed into ‘garments of skin’.

“The same is true, to mention one more example, with regard to the deep and natural communion between persons which existed before the fall. (We have seen that a fundamental dimension of man’s being ‘in the image’ is that he constitutes at the same time both person and nature.) With the decline of man into individuality this communion was corrupted and shattered, and consequently in order to survive socially human beings needed some external organization, that is to say, they needed the city and, by extension, political life.

“The laborious cultivation of the soil, then, the professions, the sciences, the arts, politics, all the operations and functions by which man lives in this world, make up the content of the ‘garments of skin’ and bear the two-fold character which we have discussed above. On the one hand they are a consequence of sin and constitute a misuse of various aspects of our creation ‘in the image’. On the other they are a result of the wise and compassionate intervention of God and constitute the new clothing thanks to which human beings are able to live under the new conditions created by the fall.”[13]

Thus, as St. Isaac the Syrian writes: “All existing passions are given for the support of each of the natures to which they belong naturally and for whose growth they were given by God. The bodily passions are placed in the body by God for its support and growth; the passions of the soul, that is, the soul’s powers, [are placed there] for the growth and support of the soul.”

However, the fall has made each set of passions, though natural in themselves and harmoniously created in relation to each other, opposed to each other. And so “when the body is constrained to go out from its passibility by abstaining from the passions in favour of the soul it is injured. Likewise, when the soul leaves what is its own and cleaves to that which is of the body it is injured.”[14]

So even in the fall, even in the act of clothing us with the garment of the fallen passions, God in His Providence mixed mercy with punishment, life with death. Just as He mixed the pain of childbirth for Eve with the promise that she would give birth to the Redeemer Who would crush the head of the serpent…

Moreover, even death for the individual is a good, in that it cuts off sin, and by dissolving the body into its constituent elements gives the hope of their eventual reassembling, free of any admixture of evil, at the general resurrection. Thus St. Theophilus of Antioch writes: “God showed great beneficence to man because He did not leave him in sin unto the ages… For just as a vessel that has been made with a flaw is melted down or remolded to become new and whole, the same thing happens to man by death. For he is broken into pieces that he may rise whole in the resurrection; I mean spotless and righteous and immortal.”[15] In other words, physical death gives us a chance to be remade, and avoid eternal death.

Thus in the longer term physical death is a good; but in the shorter term, during the course of our earthly life, it is both evil in itself and one of the causes of our committing further evil, both because it impairs the good working of the brain and its ability to resist the machinations of the demons, and because it engenders the fear of death and the love of pleasure, the supposed antidote to death, in the soul.

St. Methodius of Olympus raises the question whether the “garments of skin” are bodies as such. He replies in the negative, referring to the verses in which Adam calls Eve “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”. For here, “before the preparation of these coats of skin, the first man himself acknowledges that he has both bones and flesh”.[16] The “garments of skin”, therefore, are not the body as such, but “the body of this death”, to use St. Paul’s phrase (Romans 7.24). “By which he does not mean,’ writes St. Photius the Great, interpreting St. Methodius’ thought, “that the body is death, but the law of sin which is in his members, lying hidden in his members, lying hidden in us through the transgression, and ever deluding the soul to the death of unrighteousness…. [The apostle] says not that this body was death, but the sin which dwells in the body through lust…”[17]

But while the garments of skin do not signify the body as such, they do signify a new state of the body, its mortality and its grossness.

“Man,” writes St. John of Damascus, “was ensnared by the assault of the arch-fiend, and broke his Creator’s command, and was stripped of grace and put off his confidence with God, and covered himself with the asperities of a toilsome life (for this is the meaning of the fig-leaves), and was clothed about with death, that is, mortality and the grossness of the flesh (for that is what the garment of skins signifies).”[18] Again, St. Ignaty Brianchaninov writes, “the garments of skin signify our coarse flesh, which changed after the Fall, losing its subtlety and spirituality and receiving its present grossness.”[19]

*

With the change in human nature, the whole of the rest of nature also changed; death and corruption entered the whole universe, while Paradise itself was withdrawn from the earth. For the next five-and-a-half thousand years, until the Coming of Christ (prophesied as the “Seed of the woman”, who would crush the head of the serpent, that is, the devil (Genesis 3.15)), there was absolutely no remedy for this, and all men lived in suffering, alleviated only by the hope of the Coming Saviour, Christ, Who just before raising Lazarus from the dead, and eight days before raising Himself from the dead, declared: “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11.25-26)…

This does not mean that man can escape physical death at the end of his earthly life; for man has sinned, and must suffer “the wages of sin”, which is death (Romans 5). It means that if he believes in Christ, thereby receiving the remission of his sins (both original and personal), he will escape eternal death, and at the end of the world will receive the resurrection of his body also in a glorified, incorruptible form (John 5).

However, for those who do not believe in Christ, death remains the main problem of life, and eating of the tree of knowledge its only possible “solution”, the only path to immortality.

Yuval Noah Harari calls this search for immortality “the Gilgamesh Project” after the mythical creature of the Sumerian story. But it should more justly be called Adam and Eve’s project, for it was to them that Satan first presented the hope of escaping death in spite of disobeying God’s commandment. “Of all mankind’s ostensibly insoluble problems, one has remained the most vexing, interesting and important: the problem of death itself. Before the late medieval era, most religions and ideologies took it for granted that death was our inevitable fate. Moreover, most faiths turned death into the main source of meaning in life.”

But then came SCIENCE, the modern tree of knowledge; and only today, according to Harari, is death not an inevitable destiny for men of science, “but only a technical problem” that could in principle be solved. “Until recently, you would not have heard scientists, or anyone speak so bluntly. ‘Defeat death?! What nonsense! We are only trying to cure cancer, tuberculosis and Alzheimer’s disease,’ they insisted. People avoided the issue of death because the goal seemed too elusive. Why create unreasonable expectations? We’re now at a point, however, where we can be frank about it. The leading project of the Scientific Revolution is to give humankind eternal life.”[20]

Thus does Satan continue to speak into the ears of deluded and faithless men, still whispering that they can be immortal gods through partaking of the fruit of that same tree, just as he did in the Garden of Eden…

 

March 6/19, 2018.

 

[1] The Venerable Bede, On Genesis, I, 3.22.

[2] St. Ephraim the Syrian, Commentary on Genesis, 2.33.1.

[3] St. Gregory Palamas, Homily 31, P.G. 151:388C; quoted in P. Nellas, Deification in Christ, Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1987, p. 85.

[4] For this distinction, see Chrestos Androutsos, Dogmatiki tis orthodoxou anatolikis Ekklisias (The Dogmatics of the Orthodox Eastern Church), Athens, 1907, p. 164.

[5] St. Gregory of Nyssa, Funeral Oration on Placilla, P.G. 46:888D-889A; quoted in Nellas, op. cit., p. 87.

[6] St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Soul and Resurrection, chapter 10; translated by Catherine Roth, Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, p. 114. It may be surprising to think of “gradual growth” as a consequence of the fall. But St. Ephraim the Syrian writes that in Paradise “just as the trees, the vegetation, the animals, the birds and even humankind were old, so also were they young. They were old according to the appearance of their limbs and their substances, yet they were young because of the hour and moment of their creation. Likewise, the moon was both old and young. It was young, for it was but a moment old, but was also old, for it was full as it is on the fifteenth day” (Commentary on Genesis, 1.24.1). Thus while there might be moral development in Paradise, there was no physical development or ageing. That came only as a result of the fall.

[7] Daniélou, From Glory to Glory: Texts from Gregory of Nyssa, London: John Murry, 1962, pp. 12-14.

[8] Since, according to St. Maximus, pleasure is defined as “that for which we naturally strive”

(Ambigua 7, P.G. 91: 1088D), some kind of pleasure was present in us even before the fall. But this was a spiritual pleasure, a pleasure in God rather than in sensible things. (V.M.)

[9] There is a pun here on the words “pain” and “pleasure”, οδυνηand ηδονη, which sound similar in Greek. (V.M.)

[10] St. Maximus the Confessor, Questions to Thalassius, 61; translated by Paul M. Blowers and Robert Louis Wilken in On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ: St. Maximus the Confessor, Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003, pp. 131-133.

[11] St. John Chrysostom, On the Statues, 11, 4; P.G. 49:125; in Nellas, op. cit., p. 74.

[12] St. Symeon of Thessalonica, Περι του τιμου νομιμου γαμου (On Honourable and Lawful Marriage), P.G. 155:504C.

[13] Nellas, op. cit., p. 89.

[14] St. Isaac the Syrian, On the Ascetical Life, III, 8.

[15] St. Theophilus, To Autolycus, 2, 26. And St. Irenaeus writes: “He set a boundary to the sin of man, interposing death, and thus causing the end of sin, putting an end to it by the dissolution of the flesh in the earth so that man, ceasing to live unto sin and dying to it, might begin to live unto God” (Refutation, 3, XXVII, 6). Quoted in Romanides, The Ancestral Sin, 1957, pp. 99-100. See also St. Ambrose’s discourse, On the Good of Death.

[16] St. Methodius of Olympus, Discourse on the Resurrection, 2.

[17] St. Photius the Great, A Synopsis of some Apostolic Words from the same Discourse [on the Resurrection by St. Methodius of Olympus], 3.

[18] St. John of Damascus, Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, III, 1.

[19] St. Ignaty, “Slovo o chuvstvennom i o dukhovnom videnii dukhov” (“A Word on the Sensual and Spiritual Vision of Spirits”), Sochinenia Episkopa Ignatia Brianchaninova (The Works of Bishop Ignaty Brianchaninov), St. Petersburg, 1905, vol. 3, pp. 10-11

[20] Harari, Sapiens. A Brief History of Humankind, London: Vintage, 2014, pp. 197, 198.