The Fall Together

Sin belongs to groups, also to humanity as an entire group.  Here is a sketch of how that might work.

The seed of my idea comes from Paradise Lost, book 9.  Eve, alone and vulnerable in the Garden, is beguiled by Satan into eating forbidden fruit.  When she comes to her husband and asks him to do the same, Adam responds first in thought, revealing his own inevitable succumbing:

O fairest of Creation, last and best
Of all God’s works, Creature in whom excelled
Whatever can to sight or thought be formed,
Holy, divine, good, amiable, or sweet! 
How art thou lost! how on a sudden lost,
Defaced, deflowered, and now to death devote! 
Rather, how hast thou yielded to transgress
The strict forbiddance, how to violate
The sacred fruit forbidden!  Some cursed fraud
Of enemy hath beguiled thee, yet unknown,
And me with thee hath ruined; for with thee
Certain my resolution is to die: 
How can I live without thee! how forego
Thy sweet converse, and love so dearly joined,
To live again in these wild woods forlorn! 
Should God create another Eve, and I
Another rib afford, yet loss of thee
Would never from my heart:  no, no!  I feel
The link of Nature draw me:  flesh of flesh,
Bone of my bone thou art, and from thy state
Mine never shall be parted, bliss or woe. 

No Satanic temptation moves Adam–he suspects instantly “some cursed fraud of enemy.”  But neither is Adam tied by the joys of Paradise or devotion to God.  Instead he is drawn by “the link of Nature” to follow his wife, even into misery and death.  Thus his answer aloud to Eve:

           …I with thee have fixed my lot,
Certain to undergo like doom:  If death
Consort with thee, death is to me as life;
So forcible within my heart I feel
The bond of Nature draw me to my own;
My own in thee, for what thou art is mine;
Our state cannot be severed; we are one,
One flesh; to lose thee were to lose myself. 

It is Eve who draws Adam to destruction.

[There is no misogyny in this, for Adam is not excused by Milton for giving into “the bond of Nature” which draws him to his own.  What about the bond to God in whose image he is made?  Adam is God’s just as Eve is Adam’s, and both prove traitors.  Had Adam but known that by righteousness Eve could have been saved!  Jesus in Paradise Regained comes under temptation as well, and by resisting He redeems His lost people and undoes Adam and Eve’s failures.  Adam by his choice fails to be redeemer to Eve, and instead joins her in perdition, which also breaks their designed harmony.]

This state of affairs speaks to the way in which sin enters human life and how it spreads.  I think that if Eve had not been created, Adam could never have sinned.  Again, I am not talking about women in particular.  If Eve had been made without an Adam, she too would have been impervious to sin.  It all comes down to how desires are manipulated.  Human beings alone among creatures have a very dim understanding of how to live on earth, and therefore our desires are subject above all to words and personal influence.  Animals are governed by instinct, or by the brute strength of others.  Certainly humans have instinct and a hierarchy based on strength, but more deeply we are able to be led, taught, manipulated, deluded by other persons.  Our trust or mistrust, love or hatred of those around us is the academy in which we learn to decide.  Take for instance the ridiculous importance of parenting to the proper development of human children.  Parents are not mere physical protectors for weak children, but catalysts for necessary emotional reactions in children as they grow.  The absence or neglectfulness of parents often opens young people up to instability, obsession, imbalance, suicide.  What parents say to us or think of us in our youth has an ineffable power over how we live when we get older.  Love interests have a similar power.  So do the words of charismatic businesspeople, politicians, philosophers, artists, preachers…

A man in the Garden of Eden with only God and animals has no scope for disobedience.  The God who made Him and gives Him all things speaks to Him in words of blessing and of command.  There is no other personal influence.  He may gain knowledge on his own by exploring the garden or thinking abstractly about his condition, but without any chatter disrupting the clear signal from God, Adam’s understanding cannot be colored with doubt or discontent.  Even the devil cannot disrupt Adam’s state of happy trust.  This is key, because it also means that Eve’s temptation by the serpent would not have ended in her fall if she had been only one, rather than one of two.  Satan actually has no personal influence of his own.  He speaks through an animal’s mouth; there is no basis for trust in him.  The human being who knows God as Adam did will laugh at the serpent’s assaults and get on with his gardening.  God gives all things, including life.  Why even consider ideas that run contrary to his Word?

The situation changes, though, when another person enters.  Persons weigh down our choices.  They draw us from one good to another like magnets.  The peril of “male and female” is that Adam is introduced to another trustworthy, loveworthy, person.  “Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.”  Unlike the serpent, the woman is alike to him, able to reason and relate and suggest and react–just as God is.  The result?  A test of free will.  There is now a good apart from God, something to weigh against His commands.  This works the same for Eve, except that she never lived without Adam’s influence, as he did without hers.  What was Eve thinking when she listened to the serpent?  She was thinking of her husband, wondering whether he would side with the serpent or with God.  Doubtless Adam had never contradicted God’s Word, but the very existence and personality of her husband made it hard for her to be sure.  Perhaps the words of temptation resonated with something Adam had said once.  Adam would have spoken to her about God’s command before, giving her a framework for the act of interpretation, hearing words and using thought to apply them to practice.  She was now interpreting for herself, holding the words of God in memory, trying to apply them to obedience, as well as to what seemed best in light of her relation to Adam.  When we know only God, our interpretation of His words is clear–obedience is the only “bond of Nature,” since our nature is akin to God’s.  But when our nature is also drawn to another, we have to work out and harmonize the separate influences in our minds.  The draw of Adam helped Eve to sin, and certainly her draw made him fall with her (as Milton relates).  Relationship among human persons was Satan’s occasion to “mix wickedness into human nature” (cf. Gregory of Nyssa The Great Catechism).

Indeed, the more people who influence us, the more we are tempted to wickedness, since we seek the goods we seek mostly based on such influence.  The draw of people, frankly, draws us away from God.  Of course, in order for disobedience to result, a wicked influence must impose.  There had to be suggestion from the serpent–otherwise the Garden and the first marriage were too happy to forsake.  But after that first imposition, wickedness mixes like yeast into the influence-network of humankind.  It was a confused version of love that made Adam and Eve fall together, but as early as the next generation, murderous hatred appeared.  Cain was drawn to Abel in envy and rage (becoming a kind of human devil), committing a converse sin to that of his parents.  So sin stays with human nature, not only because of each individual heart, but because of the lines drawn from one heart to another.  We arouse confusion and disobedience in one another simply by existing and acting and speaking.  My humanity, spoiled by bad influence, in turn spoils the humanity of my neighbor.

Yet, “it was not good for man to be alone.”  It is no new doctrine that bad company corrupts good character.  Orders of hermitage and orders of celibacy were set up to combat the social power of sin.  The ideal of being shut up in the Garden, alone with God, has persisted through history.  Yet, “it was not good for man to be alone.”  The decree of God that placed a tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden also placed another temptation–a human relationship.  Both tree and woman, however, were too good not to create.  God was too loving to leave Adam alone, even knowing that man would leave his Father in heaven and cleave to his wife.

What, then?  Human community is a great and necessary good.  It is also a conduit of evil.  Often, isolation seems to help with holiness.  Distance from others cools the fiery drama of living–reduces fear, jealousy, envy, anger, discontent, greed, lust…  In every society, among both the religious and the irreligious, there are those who withdraw from mankind for the purpose of purity.  Yet it is part of God’s decree that humans shall be together in marriages, families, nations, churches, etc.  We must come to grips with our social nature before God.  I do not know how.  Maybe the life of Jesus redeems human influence and sociality because of His perfect love.  In that case, thinking in the vein of John’s epistles, the renewal of human personal influence by God Himself allows for the genesis of a human community of interpersonal love that is also reconciled to the personal influence of God.  In the church, humans can be united both to God and to one another by uniting themselves to the sinless human-God Jesus.  “We love because He first loved us.”

Still, we cannot too heavily idealize this community.  Like all human influence, the interactions of church people carry the potential for great harm.  History tells us this.  Church community goes wrong, not just because it is made up of individual “sinful people,” but actually because it is a community knit tightly together.  Every such community is full of heartbreak and disappointment; its members are each other’s stumbling blocks.  St. John’s exhortation to “love one another” is so repetitive in his letters because it never expires.  The church is the paragon of loving human interaction insofar as it is connected to Jesus, but it also must constantly be reminded to act the part.  The church grows into its identity in this sense.

There is more to be said.  The question of sin in the isolated person has to be addressed further.  There are more Milton connections; there are particularly interesting questions to ask about the implications for marriage and celibacy; there are links to the “Social Trinity” conversation, to free will, to alternative interpretations of the original sin narrative, etc.  Or this could all be fallacious. We’ll see.

 

De Quincey and the Christian Cultus

From Thomas De Quincey’s essay, “On Christianity as an Organ of Political Movement” (A full paragraph well-worth quoting for its rhetorical drama):

Forces, which are illimitable in their compass of effect, are often, for the same reason, obscure and untraceable in the steps of their movement.  Growth, for instance, animal or vegetable, what eye can arrest its eternal increments?  The hour-hand of a watch, who can detect the separate fluxions of its advance?  Judging by the past, and the change which is registered between that and the present, we know that it must be awake; judging by the immediate appearances, we should say that it was always asleep.  Gravitation, again, that works without holiday forever, and searches every corner of the universe, what intellect can follow it to its fountains?  And yet, shier than gravitation, less to be counted than the fluxions of sun-dials, stealthier than the growth of a forest, are the footsteps of Christianity among the political workings of man.  Nothing, that the heart of man values, is so secret; nothing is so potent (1).

De Quincey has helped me put into perspective the nature of Christian worship.  His thesis in this essay is that Christianity (connected to Judaism, but as a blossom to a root) is unique among religions in its ability to effect political change; specifically because it is a “religion of the book,” a doctrinal religion, a religion with a complete system of moral and sociological teachings.

The difference of Christianity from paganism is that it was instituted with a specific end in mind–ushering in the righteous kingdom of God on earth.  Paganism, De Quincey explains,

had no object; if by this you mean ulterior object.  Pagan religion arose in no motive, but in an impulse.  Pagan religion aimed at no distant prize ahead: it fled from a danger immediately behind.  The gods of the Pagans were wicked natures; but they were natures to be feared, and to be propitiated; for they were fierce, and they were moody, and (as regarded man who had no wings) they were powerful (9).

He goes on to say that, “Had the religions of Paganism arisen teleologically, that is, with a view to certain purposes… there probably would have arisen, concurrently, a section in all such religions, dedicated to positive instruction” (9-10).  To interpret for evangelicals, Christianity is a “missional” faith.  It has a definite goal in the world, and therefore it has doctrine.  It hopes to establish worship of the one God self-identified as Yahweh, to convince individuals and nations of the true bodily resurrection of Jesus, to transform the entire earthly population into a body politic marked by honesty, humility, and gentleness.  Paganism, on the other hand, is manifestly stagnant and tolerant, because its only religious goal is to pacify any and all possible supernatural beings so that human life may go on as normal.  There are no pagan missionaries.*  A pagan does not mind what names or forms your gods take, so long as you don’t start speaking out against worship in general (as Socrates did), which is a public hazard.  As De Quincey puts it, “The gods were mere odious facts, like scorpions or rattlesnakes” (10).

The essay is excellent, and should be read, and I will refrain from summarizing it all.  What interests me particularly here is De Quincey’s statement that cultus, or ceremonial worship, encompasses the entirety of pagan religion, whereas in Christianity, cultus is not even the primary component.  That is, paganism demanded the performance of certain rites, regardless of what you thought or how much you knew about the gods whom you worshiped.  In Christianity, “The worship flowed as a direct consequence from the new idea exposed of the divine nature, and from the new idea of man’s relations to this nature” (22).  The message is the main thing, and all worship rites are a response.  This, De Quincey says, is why Christian worship contains elements of special thanksgiving and penitential confession, which are nowhere in paganism (14).  General praise and prayer are common to Christian and pagan, but these more specific spiritual acts can only proceed from a doctrinal revelation regarding the nature and acts of God.  We repent because we know his nature, we give thanks because we know of his acts.

The nature of Christian worship-practice is infuriatingly simple.  It has driven me crazy for some time.  In church, my constant question has been, what are we doing by being here?  My church when I was growing up had a slogan: “The life-changing reality of Jesus Christ.”  It was always preached about, but I wondered what that ambiguous “reality” actually was.  There had to be a thing involved.  What added to this sense was the fact that church sermons focused heavily on evangelizing and bringing neighbors into the church.  Bring them into the church for what purpose?  So they can learn to invite their neighbors in turn?  There was a lot of talk, a lot of preaching, but from my perspective, the antecedent was unclear.  When were we going to draw the curtain on this life-changing reality of Jesus?

This notion of needing a thing or an antecedent is pushing many of my peers toward “high church” worship.  Of course, it is a mistake to equate “high church” with liturgical or “traditional” worship styles.  High and low church are not styles.  The distinction is found in Luther’s notes on his own German mass: “Do not make of it a rigid law to bind or entangle anyone’s conscience, but use it in Christian liberty as long, when, where, and how you find it to be practical and useful.”  That is low church.  Any system of worship practice (so long as it contains some certain basic elements) is optional and useful insofar as it edifies people.  High church prescribes certain worship practice by magisterial authority.

My friends, therefore, do not necessarily choose high church worship, and when they do they may not know it.  The real draw is the specificity of liturgy.  When we perform things in church–rather than sitting down to hear what seems to amount to an evangelism seminar–we get in touch with the cultus of Christianity.  We feel connected to the sacrificial system of the Hebrews, to the mystical community of saints.  In more liturgical traditions, the Eucharist tends to take a more central position, and this in particular feels like a true religious act when there is some pomp to it.  In contrast, I have attended an evangelical service where the Eucharist was preceded by a short sermon listing the ways in which the Eucharist does nothing.  This is more like cultophobia, an eagerness to make the low-church distinction.  It can leave the communicant wondering, “If it doesn’t do all that, what does it do?  Why take it?”  A so-called high view of sacraments is more reassuring.  It makes us feel that we are taking part in something unique when we go to church, rather than just attending an informational session.

My Christian peers, like myself, are afraid that church is “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  That is the real root of the move to Rome/Canterbury/Constantinople among Christian young people.  Religion must have a cultus of some kind if it is to be religion.  Modern Christendom has attempted to scrape out the objective elements from Christianity (real resurrection, fall, eschaton, etc.) while retaining its moral and social developments.  This is a detriment to the doctrinal aspect of Christianity, but it is even more destructive to cultus.  No act of worship has meaning if the congregation has no sense that something is actually happening.  Then, unless there is a social or aesthetic draw, people simply stop showing up.  My own generation, born among mega-churches and established denominations trying to keep up with changing times, is alienated from the cultus of Christianity.  High church traditions, where that cultus is prescribed, provide a way back in.

The problem?  Too much cultus leans toward paganism.  The Apostle Paul fought great battles against pagan worship tendencies, as well as old Jewish ones that did not respond properly to the new revelation of God in Christ.  Paul’s most complicated work was giving instructions to new Christians about religious festivals, prescribed rituals, ascetic practices, food sacrificed to idols.  He had to be careful to avoid religious irreverence while shifting the primary focus onto doctrine and religious ethics–which is to say, onto the gospel.  Should Christians eat meals with pagans, whose feasts are wrapped up in satanic cultic rituals?  The real question, says Paul, is whether you are eating in thankfulness and faith; whether you are considering your neighbor’s interest and living peacefully; whether you are doing things in the name of Jesus.  If Jesus is risen, every moment of our mundane lives is transformed.  We must walk accordingly and urge one another to faith and love.  We must give thanks at all times and pray even for our enemies.  The gospel message is a foundation for an entire lifestyle and social system.  Cultus is still present, but it is not just one cultus among many.  Christianity is always message-centered (the very thing making me and my peers uncomfortable!)  Cultic practices are subordinate to “the word of truth.”

Therefore?  I think true high church clouds the true nature of Christian worship.  We worship in response to revealed doctrine, not as a prescribed practice to mollify God.  Our obsession with finding the thing in worship to see or experience can result in idolatry, which is itself an obsession with tangible things.  As for evangelical churches that alienate us from Christian cultus?  They simply aren’t making the most edifying choice for worshipers, which is worse than violating some worship norm.  The “dumbed-down” approach to the worship service is based on an unhappy fallacy–that what best urges people to faith is a good message packaged in secular pop-culture.  So we have sermons modeled on trendy TED Talks, praise songs in the style of Top 40 radio, a Eucharist that modestly purports to be “nothing weird.”  Worship is always weird.  David dancing in the linen ephod is our model.  Awed and inspired by the works of God, he was unashamed of the strangeness his praise took on.  Furthermore, he did this in the context of a liturgical ceremony.  Top 40/TED Talk cultus is out of line with the radical message of Christianity.  We cannot teach a heavenly message without seeming at least a little strange and scandalous to the world.  And in a post-religious society, worship itself is a foreign act.  Our rites of worship must be a proper, enthusiastic, and measured response to the heavenly revelation we have received.

 

*This is why it is important to understand Islam as a post-Christian religion, bearing more resemblance to Christianity than to any pagan sect.

(Note: I am now far more respectful of the “life-changing reality of Jesus Christ.”  My youth pastor’s catch phrase in sermons was just, YOU NEED JESUS.  Understanding better now what he meant, I realize that was the best way to put it.)

 

Note on Boswell…

Boswell actually says, by my reading, that Johnson’s Rasselas will fail to convert anyone who does not already believe in fallen nature and the Christian afterlife, whereas it will proffer wisdom and enjoyment to those who do.  This seems to me a qualified praise of the book, since presumably one might produce a work so compelling that it could change the mind of a dissenter.  Or maybe this hypothetical work simply serves a different purpose, and Rasselas is intentionally a kind of sermon to the faithful, unconcerned with apologetics.

It could also be that Boswell’s comment is aimed at human nature rather than Johnson’s book.  Those who disagree with the assumptions of the book will likely be hardened against its message and will go on dreaming as they did, whereas Johnson will convert again those who are already convinced.

Psalm 91 (92) Translation (Vulgate)

It is good to testify to the Lord
and to play strings to your name, God Most High!
To announce in the morning your mercy
and your truth throughout the night,
on the lovely-hearted lyre,
with a tune on the lute,

Because you have delighted me, Lord,
in what you are about to do,
and in the works of your hands
I am going to rejoice!

How highly esteemed are your works, Lord!
Much too deep are your thoughts and actions!

An insipid man does not realize
nor a fool understand this:
That when evildoers have sprung up like hay
and all have appeared who work wickedness,
just so they perish and are gone forever.

But you, Lord, are eternally God Most High.
For behold your enemies, Lord,
for behold your enemies will be lost
and all will be dispersed who work wickedness.
And my horn will be exalted like the unicorn’s
and my old age fertile with mercy.

Indeed my eye has looked down on my enemies
and my ear will hear it when the malicious are rising against me.

A righteous man will as a palm tree flourish,
as the cedars of Lebanon will he be multiplied.
Planted in the house of the Lord,
in the very courts of our God, will such men flourish.

They will go on being multiplied in fertile old age
and well they will endure so that they may announce:
For the Lord our God is upright, and there is no iniquity in him!

 

 

 

 

Psalm 92 (93) Translation (Vulgate)

(Note: I had forgotten the Vulgate Psalms don’t number like most of our Bibles’ do.  This is 92 in the Vulgate but 93 in my English Bible.)

The Lord has taken the throne–he has clothed himself in beauty.
Clothed himself, has the Lord, in mightiness; he has girded up his loins!
In fact it is he who made of the earth a strong fort, which will not be dislodged.

Your seat, Lord, was prepared from that time to this–beyond all age are you.
Rivers, Lord, have lifted up, rivers have lifted up their voice!
Rivers will lift their flowing floods:
By the voices of the many waters,
the ecstasies of the sea are wonderful!
In heights and depths is the Lord wonderful!
Your testimonies and your deeds are unbearable in evidence!

Holiness, Lord, befits your house for length of days.

 

 

 

 

Psalm 99 Translation (Vulgate)

Mercy and judgment I will sing to you, Lord.
I will play the lyre and understand in the immaculate way.
When will you come to me?
I will traverse it in the innocence of my heart, into the middle of my house.
I will not place before my eyes an unjust thing.
I have hated those who make collusions. They have not stuck to me.
Having shunned evil, I never knew what it was to have a crooked heart.
The one who dragged down his neighbor in secret: him I hunted.
The one with the insatiable eye and heart: with him I did not eat.
My eyes were toward the faithful of the earth, that they might sit down with me.
The one walking in the immaculate way: he served me.
No one lived in the middle of my house who exuded arrogance.
Those who followed iniquities did not give orders under the watch of my eyes.
In the morning I would kill all the sinners of the earth, that I might put them to ruin from the city of the Lord.