Legends of the Fall, Part 1
Yeah, so I used the title of an old Brad Pitt movie (back when he was dating Gweneth Paltrow–how the years go by….) as a lead-in to a series of posts about the Fall–the theological one. Hopefully the series will be interesting (though I doubt Brad Pitt will be involved).
Last year in my off time–usually when students in my class were taking tests and I had nothing to do but sit there–I wrote (with an actual pen on paper–blogging heresy!) some reflections on difficulties with the traditional model of the Fall in light of modern knowledge of science, anthropology, and such. I never really brought it to a conclusions, but I’ve thought about it of late, and some discussions I’ve been having on other blogs have kept it in my mind, so I thought, since I’m starting back to blogging, that I’d try to develop some of the ideas here and see where they go.
I want to start by laying out three different paradigms or theological views, if you will, on the Fall itself: the orthodox, the Gnostic, and the paradigm of Evagrius Ponticus, which has affinities to that of Origen and some of the Alexandrian theologians. Then I want to compare and contrast these theories, and then see what looks likely, or unlikely, or just weird.
I want to start with the orthodox view of the Fall–little “o” orthodox, in that it’s not specific to the theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church, but in that it is the standard view adopted by most Christian churches throughout the ages, not only Orthodox, but Catholic and Protestant. It is true that the Orthodox have different views on Original Sin than does the West; but at this point that is not an aspect of the topic that I’m interested in looking at.
What I want to do is sketch a brief, bullet-pointed list of the traditional view of Creation and the Fall of Man. The main points will be numbered, with clarifications and expansions lettered.
1. God, existing for all eternity, at some point creates incorporeal intelligences–what we call “angels”.
A. At this point, the physical universe has not yet been created and there is no time or space as we know it. God and the angels exist beyond time and space. We can’t, as humans, avoid using temporal and locational words; but to give some of the flavor, I’m going to say “anterior” and “posterior” and “point” instead of “before”, “after”, and “time” when speaking of the Eternal Realm.
B. God creates the Heavenly Host ex nihilo, out of nothing. They are not extensions of His mind–they exist separately from Him (though following St. Thomas Aquinas, I’d agree that He constantly keeps them in existence by His active will).
C. At this point, all is peace, harmony, and love of God and each other, for the angels.
2. At some point posterior to the Creation, some of the angels fall away from the love and contemplation of God and are “separated” (remember, there’s no space yet) from Him.
A. Traditionally the instigator of this is referred to as “Lucifer” (“Light-Bearer”), a partial translation of the Hebrew hêlēl ben-šāḥar, Figuratively “bright one son of morning”–that is, Morning Star. This appears in the famous passage in Isaiah 14:12, part of a longer taunt of the king of Babylon in verses 14:3-21. This passage, clearly designating the king of Babylon (soon to fall to Persia), was later interpreted allegorically to refer to the leader of the rebellious angels. How that happened is a tangent for another time.
B. Lucifer is said to have sinned through pride, wanting to be above God; and he is said to have taken a large number of angels with him (a third of them, according to allegorical interpretations of Revelation 12:3-4. Once more, we won’t debate the applicability or interpretation, since we’re discussing the mythos).
C. “War in heaven” is said to have broken out, and in the language of the traditional story, the Archangel Michael leads the loyal angels and defeats Lucifer, casting him and his “out” of Heaven. The symbolism of the names is interesting–“Lucifer” means “light-bearer”. The light-bearer is cast into metaphorical darkness and comes to be known as Satan, translated as “adversary”. Meanwhile, Michael’s name means “Who is like God?” The rebel leader wants to be like God, and the leader of the unfallen angels, by his name, confesses that no one can be like God.
3. At some point posterior to all this, the material Universe is created (now we can say “before” and “after”!).
A. Traditionally, this is supposed to have been some four to five thousand years before the time of Christ, though of course this does not fit with modern astronomy or geology.
4. The cosmos is completed, man being the last being to be made.
A. It is highly important to note here that in the traditional understanding, all is in peace and harmony now. There is no disease, suffering, or sickness for Adam and Eve. Less clearly, but consistently, traditional theologians tend to see the Earth itself has having been perfect and free of extremes of weather, natural disasters, etc. Some (not all) even posit that all animals were herbivores at this point.
5. At some point, man sins (the story of Eve, the serpent, the apple, and Adam, traditionally) and is cast out of Eden.
A. Note well: according to traditional theologians, death, sickness, and all the ills that plague us (including, presumably, natural disasters) enter the picture only after the Fall. This concept cannot be over-emphasized.
6. And so the whole sorry story of sin and misery that is human history begins.
Up next: the Gnostic account.
Part of the series Legends of the Fall.