A.morphous, the Orthosphere’s cantankerous (and useful) Chief Antagonist, and a stout atheist, recently argued that if man had not Fallen, corrupting our nature, Christ would never have redeemed us, and there would be no such thing as Christianity.
It’s absolutely true, and there is no Christian who would deny it. If we had not Fallen, we would not need redemption, nor for that matter would we need religion.
But then, a.morphous also said that, “… it is the serpent that made us fully human.” This is not quite right. True, the lure Lucifer proffered made us the sort of human we are today; but that sort is less than fully human. It is Christ who makes us again fully human, and more.
It is in that “more” that we find the justification for our gratitude for the Fall.
Gratitude? Yes, indeed; for, as Orthospherean Dr. Bill then pointed out to a.morphous, his point is standard Christian doctrine: at the Easter Vigil in Roman, Lutheran and Anglican churches, a deacon sings in the ancient Exsultet:
O certe necessárium Adæ peccatum … O felix culpa …
O truly necessary sin of Adam … O happy fault …
Standard doctrine this may be, but it is somewhat shocking nonetheless. How could the tragedy of the Fall be an occasion of happiness, rather than grief? What is much more, how could it have been necessary?
Some unpacking is called for.
Note first in passing that the Exsultet is sung in benediction of the Paschal Candle – the Candle of the Passover – which stands before the altar in the sanctuary throughout Eastertide. The Candle is a type of Christ himself, being inscribed with a cross and pierced by five nails, one for each of his wounds. Five grains of incense are placed at the wick when it is lit, also symbolizing the wounds, and indicating that the body of Jesus is a sacrifice that will rise to the heavens as a fragrant cloud of incense from his holocaust.
The Candle is also a type of Jesus’ appearance to the Israelites in the Sinai as a Pillar of Flame leading them by night, and the incense at the wick is a type of his appearance as a Pillar of Cloud by day. It is a type also, therefore, of the Burning Bush, which is both the Christmas Tree and the Menorah, the Tree of Life. In the symbolism of the Menorah, the central lamp of the seven spirits is the lamp of the Angel of the LORD, YHWH himself in his angelic hypostasis. At Easter, the trophy of the LORD’s sacrifice that stands always in the midst of the six spirits on the altar descends also to stand near the threshold of the sanctuary, where the New Israel come to partake of him at the communion rail. The Paschal Candle, then, is just a crucifix, rendered in beeswax.
Because the Body of Christ is the Tree of Life, when we eat of it, we are translated to life everlasting. So the Paschal Candle is also a type of the Bread of Angels consumed in the Sinai by the Israelites and reserved in the Ark of the Covenant, of the Bread of the Presence ever displayed in the Temple, and regularly eaten by the priests – the shewbread, so called because it was marked with the Face and shown to the men of Israel once each year, that they might see and adore YHWH – and thus of the Eucharistic host.
So much then for the symbolism of the Candle. It should suffice to indicate the great significance of the mystical theology expressed in the Exsultet.
Why then was the sin of Adam happy?
By the Fall was godhood opened to us. With the Fall, we knew good and evil as the angels do – but only as disobedient gods, trapped like the demons who likewise Fell within the mortal bounds of an involute universe wholly doomed to eventual death of her wounds at our hands, and at those of her erstwhile angel, Lucifer. With the redemption thereof, we could by our obedience – by our fealty, our faith – become actual gods, immortal and immensely powerful beings, denizens of the highest heavens. Creation made men rational animals, formed in the imago dei; the Redemption made them capable of becoming angelic rational animals.
The Fall was necessary, not in the sense that it could not possibly have failed to come to pass, but in the sense that it was a forecondition of man’s redemption and theosis. Had man never Fallen, he would never have been redeemed, and would therefore have remained forever at innocent peace in the Garden. Not a disaster, to be sure; but nowhere near as noble as the divine future opened to us by the Paschal Mystery, in which all the beauties of animal manhood are preserved, and indeed more perfectly expressed, in the lives of angelic beings.
The sin of Adam introduced a fatal logical bug into the human code; it depraved human nature, so that it didn’t work properly anymore, and indeed eventually halted altogether. The redemption of Christ turned the bug into a true feature.