Not for nothing was the collection of pope John Paul’s first series of Angelus reflections entitled ‘Original Unity’ - a counterfoil to Original Sin. His corpus of addresses launched a developed theology of the body and later Evangelium Vitae - to commemorate the watershed encyclical of Paul VI: Humanae Vitae, now 50 years old. Going to the opening of scripture, the target of malice was the togetherness of our first human parents: a togetherness that, if left unimpeded, the devil would see producing other human beings able in flesh and bone, spirit and truth, to love God with a love that he, a being ‘of elevated order’, had rejected. The angel ‘of light’ (lucifer is light- bearer) had to attack what would have been a shaming. God, for his wise reasons, didn’t warn Adam or Eve that some created beings were bound and bent to contradict Him. Probably our parents would not have had the guile even to understand anything like a mendacious contradiction of their maker. Although God warned them of death, they really couldn’t have understood that either, any more than a baby in the womb understands birth.
As St. Augustine concluded after long rumination, answers to problems like: why God who is all good would allow powerful beings who turned from Him to tempt much less powerful innocent beings, are not for the human mind to gain, unaided. But the what was an efficient way to exercise our free moral will, for involuntary love would have been too meagre for God. Many doctors have explained this much of free will. Some of our betters have asked why God might even make creatures that He could foresee would become radically evil in turning from Him. If evil is the radical opposition of good as I’ve been saying, the problem remains how a creature created as well as any other could or would find or create and seize a moral vacuum. But where the fallen intellect is not up to it, the innocence of Adam and Eve was in a sense ‘above it’.
It puzzles why Eve did not put to the serpent a question: “how is it that you, a creature, know something contrary to what our Maker has said to us, also creatures?”. But it must not have even entered her mind that a creature of the all good God could in any way deceive. If Augustine dressed-up could appear and warn her from the future, like Scrooge she’d say “this is so beyond our ken that we have to dismiss it as indigestion”.
We cannot fail to see that in satan’s cross-hairs was human progeny, man fulfilling God’s mandate to fruitfully multiply. The dreaded multiplying he halved right away, provoking Cain to kill Abel in jealous rage. Then he’d whip tribes into such debauchery that only the family of Noah could survive the purging (starting maybe in Turkey’s Valley of the Eight). Through the ages this insatiable enemy would not be satisfied to snare any number of souls in his netherworld: he had to repeatedly foment mass genocides. The fact that God visited death on Adam without eradicating his progeny was a sign - resented by satan - that through marriage the human race should endure until the woman’s anointed seed would crush the serpent’s head. We may picture an insidious viper, but Apocalypse sees this whom God rebuked as a dragon able to pull a third of the luminaries (even other angels) from the firmament. It was no little asp with darting tongue.
The plurality man and woman, the community of love as the image of God in His own triune Love, satan clearly hated. He teased us apart, tempting Eve aside, and then prodding Adam (who’d no trouble taking her lead) to shun his wife, ‘that woman’. If Eve had been first taken in the snare of curiosity, that was because there were two of them and she got the draw. Adam could as easily have gone to seek a closer look at the forbidden fruit. Likely (to speak figuratively) it was shiny enough to reflect a face, turning attention of self to self, setting up a Narcissistic vulnerably and suggestibility. The word ‘repent’ has ever since meant, ‘turn back to God’. One of the punishments of our forebears was to have to struggle - and at that not prevailingly, as the ground would yield few harvests without thorn and weed. Morally neutral entropy (destructive if locally unchecked) had ascendancy over life. The remaining fact of work was real promise of survival, but not of any one individual. We read of a cosmic ‘groaning’ till revelation of the sons of man .. also called the new Jerusalem. Mankind could not afford leisure - not with wives and children - unless some obtained the power of control over others. The love of power or control lies very near the appeal of science, which to remain innocent requires an acuity of conscience much finer than we’ve become accustomed to in a technological can- do age. Holy monks and sisters might be safer in the pursuit of science, of which they were often fathers and mothers; but we seem to be long past that.
Another punishment was that, Eve and Adam in love before, now would also feel tension of (largely unrequited) desire: “your desire for your husband” on one hand, and childbearing pain on another. No-one fully knows the etiology of such pain or its extent; random stabs as recent as the 1960s included fetus-risking epidurals, and thalidomide - a sport drug for back-pain - which induced deformations and even death of offspring.
The angst of rearing children and the often earth-scraping labour of sustaining them began to act as anaphrodisiac, giving scope to a temptation to separate the more immediate pleasures from the great promise of procreation. Sex took on the trappings of a ‘sport’ - a padded one at that. It is wrong of course to see God as author of desolate pain and difficult tension. Rather, the outcome - less disastrous than the immediate destruction of the human race desired by satan - was what is unpacked by radical disobedience and woeful choices not fully to love God both as individuals and as a couple. It had not happened without warning. In the baggage were death rattles as sudden as murder, or slow disease and mouldering corruption starting even in this sojourn, as is dementia. If evil were simply the absence of good, or just a lie against truth (albeit that these are key elements or methods of the evil one) then God could hardly draw ‘good’ (think of the barren fig tree), whereas He very often does so, signifying His infinite superiority to the author of evil. The lie is a terrible thing, well described as absence of truth, but it doesn’t exist on its own: it has an author, who seeks receptive listeners. While God is all-powerful it is true that there is a key sense, because of total goodness, that he cannot do what is evil. Another way of saying that is, whatever God does defines ‘good’. What we often call ills and ‘evils’ God acknowledges that yes, He visits upon souls as punishments, to steer them aside from what is worse: a final death that would conform in all respects to physical death. That is good. Dylan Thomas chimed ‘after the first death there is no other’. But that secular belief echoes Nicodemus in failing to see that after the first birth there needs to be another. What satan wanted out of physical death was final captivity in the spiritual death that he accuses any saint of having deserved; and but few are not guilty. This is what we call second death, even though its condition or begetting fault occurs before the other, after which there’s no more chance to reform. Think of a soul who sets his house afire and flees to the upper floor: when that floor falls through (first peril), if there remained nothing sound beneath - or a rescuing net - then all is lost (the second).
The implicit hope which God gave our race by allowing its continuance, work, progeny and consolations - especially the promise that the lying head of satan would be crushed - gave Adam and Eve reason to hope for redemption, though they die. Even when one son murdered the other (and thus burnt his lower floor), their hope did not refrain from love, and Seth too was received from the Lord. Birth and then, fie, second birth has ever been, the target of satan’s wrath. Given the family as the very cell of the mystical body of Christ on earth: that fulness of help [paraphrasing Vatican II] to the second birth we call salvation, the family must be the singular target. For satan, marriage has to fall everywhere, and it’s not enough that some cosy Christian countries will hold to the sanctity of marriage while the rest of the world runs to the bonfire of the vanities. Infernal dupes must attack bastions of conscience wherever they are. Normative love relations between men and women have to be undermined and treated as anything but ‘normal’, but as sport or as phobic aberrations conceived in bigotry. Marriage and family are bedrock to moral education, which the adversarial state must replace with dictated ‘conscientiousness’. Male and femaleness are put in dialectic tension, making the distinction antithetical. Starting from lustful objectification, what John saw as great whoring, pornography nails it with a flourish. Contraceptive mentality follows, with every means, including abortifacient drugs to destroy the living reminder that sex is something infinitely greater than a conscience-concussive contact sport. Where seniors are ousted from the ring, ageist disdain takes hold: have sex appeal or fade. The birth dearth diminishes the young cohort, to bear medical costs increasingly burdensome. Care of elders takes a beating, as sophisticates call for euthanasia behind the wedge, the falsely presumed ‘right’, of assisted suicide. A supreme court of nine ruled that to keep a Guillaume-Barre patient alive till she’d lose the ability to commit suicide unassisted, amounts to infringing on her right to life. Such ‘enlightenment’ makes true light dark, calls darkness light, and dulls minds that might have known ‘hard cases make bad law’ so that they slip on the slime of adders.
Summation, or consummation of all things When God said that the proud head of satan would be crushed, He didn’t say that the world will rejoice. Before the definitive saving work of the cross, Jesus posed the question “when the Son of man returns, will he find justice in the earth?” Will anyone care or heed that He spoke to their conscience? In Apocalypse, at the start of woes, two just souls will seem to the world as oppressors, and will be put to death .. when all the nations party in unbridled gayness. Jesus cites the prophecy He, being the Word, had inspired in Daniel: the abomination of desolation will be set up in the Holy of Holies, the place where it ought not to be. While historians think this was fulfilled within seventy years at the profanation of Jerusalem by Rome, it is doubtful that Jesus was satisfied to peak on the subject of the end-of- ages by reference to a soon impending invasion. As always He also spoke spiritually, for the abomination of desolation is that which makes desolate - infecund and barren, physically and spiritually. A contraceptive mentality within marriage, sanctioned in ‘the place it ought not to be’, will be seen to be accepted even by some who serve the Holy of Holies: the Mass itself. A prophetic Oblate of Mary priest, the late John Mole would say, Motherhood and the Mass are inseparable. By the love act of the blessed sacrament, God converts and sustains all his children who are destined to a second birth. The radical adversaries of God and his other creatures are pure spirit, less detectable than the wind, yet more powerful than gales. Like Judas (“one of you a devil”) they were present with God, rejoicing at his creation of the cosmic firmament. John Cassian gives evidence, “when the stars were made all together, all my angels praised Me with a loud voice” [Job 38:7] suggesting that satan’s fall followed after the making of man’s habitat on earth - “I beheld lucifer cast down like lightning, into the earth”. Some have said that man or God’s plan for him occasioned satan’s fall, as his angels could not countenance God’s love for mere flesh, even His hypostatic union with it. The malaise yet afflicts many followers of a certain ‘prophet’.
Hereafter scripture warns of the ‘Spirit of the World’ which comes to hold sway over the minds of persons in power and influence - unseen powers and principalities named by St. Paul. The failure to turn in spirit and truth to God can only mean subtle enslavement, for we must have a master, which cannot be “both God and Mammon”. The problem of evil: ‘why would a good God make unwilling beings or allow evil to be visited on unwitting creatures’, may seem to surpass the mind. However, it cannot be totally past us, if God who is ever so much greater than any ‘problem’ can yet be “touched by our mind” to use St. Anselm (or even Leonard Cohen, in reverse). We can glimpse the higher plan, the outcome of salvation that God has worked for all the world lost in condemnation. Condemned it stood, yet He saw to making a sure means for willing souls to be saved from the ‘second death’, even as we do lament the first.
“The death of the just looked like a disaster”, but yet the going of the upright was life eternal. To God, one’s death - timely or untimely - but meets in itself the necessity of the broken primordial law: by the disobedience which brings death, ‘it is appointed to all to die’. Yet woe to any who, like Cain, participate with the vengeful devil in perpetrating it. This accuser of saints comes up against the parental role that only God can have; for vengeance does not belonging to the vengeful: it belongs to God. His slowness of anger only unchains the power of the ‘venging spirit on the obdurate and unrepentant. If the punishment for breaking the first law was death, the final law of Christ “love one another as I have loved you” is all mercy and life. Each eternal soul - that principle of life which no biotechnical lab can create - that has not consigned itself to everlasting death will escape it, as the burning bush escaped consumption. Our knowing is in a bit of limbo over the destiny of any whose life ends before loss of natural innocence. We may be sure the ‘holy innocents’ killed in Herod’s pogrom were led free, come Easter some 33 years after. God as Lord of time can apply saving power backwards: the
Ninevites repented and the unchanging God seemed to have changed His mind. Agnostics rebut belief in the divine on the grounds that an all-powerful, all-good God wouldn’t allow bad things to happen to decent people. Since existence, taken as nature, is cruel and disinterested in life, there is no such provident being or ground of existence. Their fallacy is to require of an all-knowing God our agenda in willful ignorance of His greater plan. Existence goes beyond nature, and tragedies like the Titanic striking an iceberg are not final for any who die hoping and leaning on God’s hand.
For the sake of a bereft mother, perhaps teetering on moral despair, Jesus revived a young man. There’s no reason to think he’d been unjust or without conscience, or not among captivity to be set free. The collapse of the tower of Shiloh did not signify the victims’ perdition. Good Lazarus, far from the devil’s clutch, was raised because it could do the mourners no good to remain in the unbelief over which Jesus wept (Lazarus - doubtless without fear - would suffer that death all over again). As Jesus stressed, some consumed in Sodom and Gomorrah would face a better judgment than unbelievers in Nazareth and neighbouring Capernaum or Chorazin. Even Lot’s imperfect wife, empathic to cries of death, was not ‘consumed’ as they, but turned to preservative (salus) against the day of resurrection. Father Bedard concluded his memoirs warmly recommending: “do not waste pain”. Pain there will be, just as ‘the poor you will ever have with you’. Since pain and empathy can be shared with the Lord, to squander the opportunity - sorely tempting as it is to complain - is such a shame, especially knowing what outcome it promises. Taking that to mind, Job exclaimed “though He slay me, yet I will love and serve the Lord”: a bold prophetic claim on what shall be. His wisdom already grasped salvation: “my own eyes shall see Him, in my body I shall look on God, my saviour” [Job 19:25-27].
Many suppose that the Church, ever ancient, ever new, was overly preoccupied with death and afterlife beyond the grave, while now complaining she is preoccupied with vital promise (or not) of the generation of life this side of the grave. ‘We mourned and you would not mourn; now we dance and you will not dance’. It has been said of Christ, his Cross and the Church that it is a sign of contradiction. It is ! Contradictions like that are pregnant with life. A climax in union is a ‘little death’ meant to signify the birth it may bring forth. A still more beautiful signifier is the little deaths that religious make to God every day, in accepting, even embracing, the preferment of others. As St. Augustine showed, virginity is the higher call which harkens to Paradaisal innocence and the beyond-sexual union of the elect with God, their bridegroom. What the chaste married and the virginal together show is a full reality: that each soul yearns for second birth, birth ‘from above’ even if drawing to the end of its first birthing. To all this God has made a sure pledge, that the ‘problem’ of evil will be swallowed up in joy: “On that day, you will have no question to ask me at all”. This age’s is not a question of voids, though hell must be unimaginably empty of good; nor even is it the problem of satan’s existence. It is the problem of souls, destined for God, who fail to heed conscience and be saved. Why we do that is beyond the mind to know, but is answered by trust. As pope Benedict put it, Spe Salvi. If I may be allowed a final quote-bend, Our hope is in the name of the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.