By happy coincidence, both of our adult religious education classes—the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Bible Study programs—have recently focused upon the “original” state of mankind as described in the first chapters of Genesis. The sacred describes an idyllic scene: a physical paradise requiring no toil to satisfy our first parents’ needs and desires, equality between man and woman, their mutual dominion over other creatures, and friendship with God. Reading between the lines of Scripture, St. Augustine understands the human person having a “foot” in both worlds: the material world (through the body) and the spiritual world (through the soul). With its three spiritual powers—memory (self-consciousness), understanding, and will—united in one person, the human soul is the very reflection of God in the world. To call a human being the “image of God” (imago dei) is to recognize the unique dignity of a human being, for only such a being is capable of sharing the life of God. What’s more, in that condition of “original justice” there existed a perfect balance between the powers of the soul. The will, for example, was content to possess only what was in accord with reason, and desire an ever more profound love for God and neighbor.
Wonderful as the material universe may be, perhaps even more amazing is the interior life of human beings, whose dominion over creation (Genesis 1:28) is both a God-given prerogative—and power. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out (CCC 337), “Man’s ‘mastery’ was also mastery of self: free from concupiscence, which subjugates him to pleasures of senses, covetousness, and self-assertion contrary to reason.” Concupiscence indicates, among other things, a disruption of the harmony that should exist between the aforementioned powers of the soul: memory, understanding, and will. The tragedy of the Fall of Man (Genesis 3) is that the original harmony gave way to an internal war, whereby people work against their own best interests and divine calling. By a strange paradox (CC398; 400), “Man preferred himself to God and scorned the One who was to ‘divinize’ him…The control of the soul’s spiritual faculties over the body is shattered.” If we were ever to doubt the existence of original sin (that “deprivation of original justice”) we need only consider the tragic events—wars, crime, cruelty—that currently grip the world, and the condition into which each new generation is born.
In all this, God’s love prevails. Catholicism holds that the grace of Baptism “erases original sin and turns a man back to God” (CCC405). Human nature, while admittedly wounded, is never destroyed; indeed, it is healed in Christ. Our very desire for happiness and truth becomes itself the occasion of wonder; God ineluctably draws us near to him in the bonds of knowledge and love. The Blessed Mother’s fiat to the divine will is the moment in which the Savior enters human history to effect that healing. Let us likewise be open all the blessings the Lord has in store for us.