The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents. (CCC #390)
In addressing the topic of “Original Sin,” Pope Benedict XVI states that we all carry within us a drop of the poison of that way of thinking illustrated by the images of the Book of “Genesis”…The human being does not trust God. Tempted by the Serpent, [each human] harbors the suspicion…that God is a rival who curtails our freedom and that we will be fully human only when we have cast him aside…Man does not want to receive his existence and the fullness of life from God…And in doing so, he trusts in deceit rather than in truth and thereby sinks with his life into emptiness, into death.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Dec. 8, 2005)
But all is not lost. To keep this in perspective, it must be said that after the Fall, Moral Natural Law continued to be present in humans.
The Catechism teaches that: [Each and every human] participates in the wisdom and goodness of the Creator who gives him mastery over his acts and the ability to govern himself with a view to the true and the good. The natural law expresses the original moral sense which enables man to discern by reason the good and the evil, the truth and the lie.
The natural law is written and engraved in the soul of each and every [human being] because it is human reason ordaining him to do good and forbidding him to sin. . . But this command of human reason would not have the force of law if it were not the voice and interpreter of a higher reason to which our spirit and our freedom must be submitted. (CCC #1954)
The Church’s teaching about “The Fall” is that it was not a complete fall. In other words, the Church does not have the understanding of Protestant Calvinism, or that of the Catholic heresy known as “Jansenism” (a term coined by Jesuits who were the primary combatants against this heresy based on the thought of the Dutch theologian Cornelius Jansen.)
There was a particularly onerous scrupulosity about Jansenism which mistrusted the human conscience and humanity’s innate ability to rationally choose to do good as well as evil. The Jansenists had great difficulty with “Natural Moral Law” which affirms that all people have an inborn capacity to discern and then implement that which is good, that which God would have us do. Finally under the pontificate of Clement XI in 1715, the Catholic Church renounced Jansenism as a heresy.
In refining his thoughts about the “Theology of the Body,” St. John Paul readily referred to the story of the Fall from Genesis 3:
Now the snake was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the LORD God had made. He asked the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat from any of the trees in the garden’?” 2The woman answered the snake: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3 it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, or else you will die.’”
The woman embellished God’s directive to Adam. This is what God actually said back in Chapter 2:16-17:
16The LORD God gave the man this order: You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden 17except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die.
Note that the woman inflated the command from God when she is conversing with Satan in the guise of the snake. Perhaps the man may have embroidered God’s instructions when he shared them with the woman. We don’t know. However, God mentioned nothing about touching the tree. Many scholars think that by adding to the command, the woman had been obsessing about the tree and thereby leaving herself open to temptation.
4But the snake said to the woman: “You certainly will not die! 5God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil.” 6The woman saw that the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eyes, and the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
St. John Paul taught that there are many aspects of “The Fall,” but there are three distinct yet intertwined manifestations which greatly impede relationships between men and women and with God and are central to his teachings about the “Theology of the Body:”
St. John Paul writes that shame is a …fracture in the human person’s interior, a breakup, as it were, of man’s original spiritual and somatic [physical body]. He realizes for the first time that his body has ceased drawing on the power of the spirit, which raised him to the level of the image of God. Its shame bears within itself the signs of a specific humiliation mediated by the body. (TOB 28:2)
Shame is one of the more devastating results of the Fall. In the state of “original innocence” Adam and Eve had no knowledge of Good and Evil and therefore no sense of being ashamed. Then at the prompting of the “evil one,” (who came in the guise of a snake) they disobeyed God and ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. They suddenly became aware of the attraction of sin and its consequences and yet they chose to succumb and the result was that they felt ashamed.
Symbolic of this shame was the need to cover their nakedness. Nakedness here goes beyond literal, physical nakedness. It also symbolizes shame and the desire to hide when we realize that we have offended God. God’s original intent for humans was that their bodies were a clear sign of God’s image. Its masculinity and femininity together were a single sign of mutual, self-giving love. Adam’s words I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid (vs 10) marks the dramatic change in human relations with God.
Adam lost the innate understanding that the image of God is expressed in his body. He has lost the peace and joy that come from God’s original intent. He has lost the purpose of God’s meaning of creation when God saw his creation and proclaimed that it was “very good.” (Gen. 1:21) Fear arose. There came a deep need to hide, or at least to “cover up.” For Adam and Eve clothing became a sign of the Fall. It was a manifestation of their alienation—a rejection of God’s love.
St. John Paul writes: “By casting doubt on his heart on the deepest meaning of the gift, that is, on love as the specific motive of creation and the original covenant (see Gen. 3:5), man turns his back on God-love, on the “Father.” He in some sense casts him from his heart. (TOB 26:4)
In addition to his estrangement from God, Adam also became estranged from Eve; for both the man and the woman, motivated by shame, strove to hide their nakedness from each other. For the first time man and woman became aware of their bodies. They viewed them as almost foreign things. What was once an expression of holiness, something aglow with the love of God, became the symbol of self-preoccupation, shame and estrangement.
In order for us to understand his argument, St. John Paul refers to a passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans:
18For I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh. The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not. 19For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want. 20Now if [I] do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. 21So, then, I discover the principle that when I want to do right, evil is at hand. 22For I take delight in the law of God, in my inner self, 23 but I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind, taking me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body? (Rom.7:14-21)
In the state of original innocence, the body was fully illumined by and integrated with the Spirit. Now, something within the body is at war with the spirit. The unity of the person is fractured.
This is specifically demonstrated by lust. When lust comes to the forefront, the human doesn’t control the body with ease. Rational self-control is essential to the moral integrity of human beings. Lust attacks the person at the core by throwing body and spirit out of balance.
Shame between persons is connected with this imbalance. It is especially highlighted by sexuality. This is evident by Gen. 3: 7 where we read: Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
Shame centers on those parts of the body that, in the call to unity, allow two persons to become “one flesh.” Instead of a spiritual/physical unity revealing the image of God, the human body now seems to be a physical object. This is the origin and manifestation of lust.
St. John Paul argues that humans are ashamed of their nakedness because of lust. The body itself is not shameful, but the law of lust operating within the body is. By treating the body as an object, lust misuses the original gift of the body and sexuality.
Shame reveals the threat posed by the person in lust. By covering those parts of the body that reveal our sexuality, we express modesty, which is a defense mechanism against lust. Ever since sin entered the world, human beings have covered the body to preserve its value.
Although lust has ruptured the unity of the spirit and body, it hasn’t entirely won the day. Shame reveals that the memory of our innocence is still alive. Christ’s Incarnation appeals to this sense of the body’s worth, which remains in the heart of every person.
St. John Paul taught that because the man and woman together bear God’s image, and because God is a community of persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), man and woman were created to be in intimate communion—just as the Triune Godhead is intimate communion among the members of the Trinity. For the man and woman, this is expressed by their complementary bodies. God’s original intent was that the complementarity of man and woman was to express a unity that was along the lines of the Blessed Trinity. The Fall trashed this.
We read in Genesis chapter 3, beginning with verse eight: 8When they heard the sound of the LORD God walking about in the garden at the breezy time of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9The LORD God then called to the man and asked him: Where are you? 10He answered, “I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid.” 11Then God asked: Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat? 12The man replied, “The woman whom you put here with me—she gave me fruit from the tree, so I ate it.” 13The LORD God then asked the woman: What is this you have done? The woman answered, “The snake tricked me, so I ate it.”
Note the casting of blame. Man blamed the woman and the woman blamed the snake. Rather than being accountable and repentant for their actions, both the man and woman immediately sought to cast the guilt of their disobedience on another. This both caused and symbolized a permanent rift between each other and with God. It is manifested by avoiding responsibility for personal misconduct which puts up barriers and breaks down full communion with each other and with God.
At the Fall, this communion, which was akin to the community of the Blessed Trinity, was shattered. The primary result is that sexual shame gave cause to doubt whether the body is still capable of forming the true, self-giving communion that God originally intended. Of course Adam and Eve did not stop communicating. They continued to use language, gestures and facial expressions. But the simple, direct communication of mutual nakedness caused the man and woman to be focused on their differences rather than their compatibility, their communion.
As a consequence, God turns to the woman and says—I will intensify your toil in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. (Gen.3:16a) The original intent of procreation was to bring joy and peace and fulfillment to God and to the man and woman. Now it will necessitate much work and pain—not just in the child bearing, but in the child-rearing.
Then God describes how woman will relate to man in the state of sinfulness: Yet your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you. (Gen. 3:16b)
Of special importance for the Theology of the Body is the debasement of sexual functions and male-female relationships. In place of the “nuptial meaning of the body” by which man and wife were intended to become “two in one flesh,” lust, male domination and oppression of women resulted in an all too often mutual male-female hostility.
Because humans had rejected God’s offer of intimacy, which would have gratuitously spared them from the natural necessity of dying, adam would return to the adamah—that is Man would return to the dust from which he came. Meanwhile, fear of death would become a major hindrance to humans and an instrument for the devil’s purposes.
Today perhaps the most extreme rejection of God’s design comes in the form of polygamous marriages and male-male and female-female “marriages.”
These indicate a fundamental transformation of God’s original intent for man and woman. His plan was for one man and one woman to find happiness in giving and receiving each other fully. This joyful self-giving and receiving was to be fully expressed in both body and soul, in the holy union of the masculine and the feminine. And this happiness was to be enhanced by blessing of fertility and procreation.
The words from Gen. 3:16 indicate how God’s beautiful plan for sexual union has been distorted by shame and lust and broken communion. Sin broke the original communion between the man and woman and put them at odds. Their sexuality which was intended for union became a source of division.
St John Paul emphasizes, however, that despite all the residual effects of the Fall, man and woman are created for one another in the state of marriage. Every person is called from eternity to exist in communion. Sin did not destroy sexual union as was willed by the Creator from the beginning. (That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body. Gen. 2:24) But the Fall did bring about this particularly destructive element—lust.
In the 2nd Chapter of the Epistle of 1 John we learn of three forms of lust: 16For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world.
These three: (1) the lust of the flesh, (2) the lust of the eyes, and (3) inordinate pride, find their beginnings in the Fall. When God says to the woman that he shall rule over you. (Gen. 3:16b), this is a statement about a “pretentious life” or inordinate pride. The original intent was for complete harmony between man and woman. Instead there will be miscommunication and distorted desire on the part of both.
St. John Paul also teaches that through sin, humans have lost the fullness of the image of God. Lust, of the flesh, the eyes and the pride of life, are all foreign to being truly in the image of God. It is part of our fallen nature.
St. John Paul argued that lust arises from the heart. Lust is the result of sin. Lust is not food, but hunger, not fullness, but emptiness.
Lust is a barrier to unity. It keeps man and woman from experiencing a truly loving, unifying sexual union, something that is a pure, self-giving communion of persons. It is the root of shame and its fruit is broken communion.
Rift Between Man and the World
The Fall also brings about a rift between humanity and the earth. From this point on, when ever man will work the ground, he will face hostility and hardship:
Cursed is the ground because of you! In toil you shall eat its yield all the days of your life.18Thorns and thistles it shall bear for you, and you shall eat the grass of the field. 19By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, Until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.(Gen. 3:17b-19)