“Just as in living bodies a cell, at first similar to the other cells, can gradually come to be preponderant in the organism, so the particular humanity of Christ was able (at least at the Resurrection) to take on, to acquire, a universal morphological function. . . [T]he universality of action possessed by a personal Christ is both understandable and eminently satisfying.” — Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Christianity and Evolution, Kindle Edition (Loc. 486-490).
This weekend is the First Sunday of Lent. The readings can be found here. They involve the classical stories of the Fall and the temptation of Christ in the desert. The Irish Jesuits describe the readings as follows:
There is a striking contrast between Jesus in the Gospel and our First Parents in the Garden of Eden (First Reading), while the Second Reading connects the two events: it was the sin of our First Parents which brought about the coming of Jesus to restore our relationship with God. “Oh happy fault!” (O felix culpa!)* as the liturgy of the Easter Vigil says of that first sin. The weakness of our First Parents brought about the coming of Jesus and all that he means to us for our lives. It is an example of how even behind unpleasant and, in fact, evil happenings God’s love can be found at work.
It is not necessary for us to understand either the Garden of Eden story or Jesus’s experience with Satan as being strictly historical. These stories are primarily vehicles to communicate important truths to us. (emphasis added)
During my early adulthood, I had trouble with the second creation story and the description of the fall in Genesis. When I was a child I took these stories literally and they made sense in the context of simple rules and punishment and reward. As I entered my teenage years, I rebelled against all forms of authority, including my parents and the Church. My image of the Fall story identified with Adam and Eve striking out on their own in pursuit of knowledge without connection to God or God’s creation. Adam and Eve were not punished by an angry God. Adam and Eve ignored God’s grace in the search of their individual truth. As a result, they were self-exiled from the Unity that God had intended for all creation.
This story has echoed by own life in that in recent years I realized how much pain and suffering that my selfish pursuit of my individualized truth and meaning has caused. During my time of existential reflection, I came to realize the deeper meaning of the Fall story. As part of this process, I realized that I was treading the same path that Adam and Eve had done. I experienced my own felix culpa that brought be back to the healing power Christ and the forgiveness of the Father of the Prodigal Son.
This week’s reflection comes from Roger Barker of St. Barnabas Anglican Church in Warrington, New Zealand. The reflection focuses on St. Paul’s description of the Christ’s redemption of the Fall interpreted by Teilhard de Chardin. The full reflection can be found here but set forth below is an excerpt:
“We enter the Lenten period with two great stories and one turgid theological tract. It’s fashionable to scoff at the whole Adam and Eve thing, but for me this is one of the greatest stories ever told, and I never tire of coming back to it and pondering it all over again. It so perfectly describes the human dilemma arising from our dual nature of thinking creature endowed with free will. And it reminds us that our whole forensic concept of sin, as an instance of a breach of a particular provision of some detailed heavenly code of conduct for which a penalty will be imposed from on high, is wrong. “Sin” is an attitude, a fundamental choice we make to lead our life our way instead of God’s way. We see that perfectly illustrated today in Matthew’s account of the temptation of Christ is the desert. In between St Paul spells out in laborious detail his answer to a very important question. How can one man’s death have such universal implications as we claim for it?
* * *
Not one of St Paul’s easier passages to grasp, but it’s worth a bit of effort. He is addressing a very important question, one that I have been asked occasionally over the years. It goes like this: even if everything you claim about Jesus is true, how can it be that his death, alone of all the billions of human deaths throughout history, can have any relevance to my own life today? Isn’t that just too much of a stretch? Well, says St Paul, we can understand it by looking at the converse situation. We believe that one act of disobedience by one person has infected all human nature, so why should it not be the case that one perfectly healthy human being can heal all human nature? This is one of the theological strands that had such an important place in the thinking of Teilhard de Chardin. There is, he says, only one human being which is manifested in billions of individual ways, just as one body comprises billions of individual cells. What is true of one cell is true of the whole body. What is true of one human person is true of the whole body of humanity. God, by entering into the body of humanity brings healing and wholeness to the entire body. The difficulty lies not just in understanding this, but in believing it.”
* For an outstanding modern-story story on felix culpa from a Christian perspective with a strong Teilhardian influence, please see interrelated series The Galactic Milieu and The Saga of Pliocene Exile by Julian May. On my to-do-list is a review of these series.