O happy fault? O necessary sin of Adam?

The Ascension of the Lord

Thou hast raised our human nature
on the clouds to God's right hand;
there we sit in heavenly places,
there with Thee in glory stand:
Jesus reigns, adored by angels;
man with God is on the throne;
mighty Lord, in thine ascension
we by grace behold our own.

This is something that I wrote in response to a question about Christ as mediator:

Sin or no sin, the Incarnation (God becoming human) and some form of subsequent Ascension (God's taking humanity unto God) would have happened. The Incarnation was a complete act of love on God's part and not a quick-fix because we sinned.

What we did in the Fall was to alter the human nature that God was going to adopt. We introduced death into the equation, and so the humanity that God was to become one with now included this added dimension, which itself had to be overcome and conquered. Therefore, if God were to take our human nature upon himself in order to take it into the divine nature, then death was included in this, and so he shared in it in his Crucifixion and conquered it in his glorious Resurrection, and only then did he ascend, opening the way for us to follow.


My question is how does, (if at all it does), this fit in with that line from the Exultet, which reads, "O happy fault! O necessary sin of Adam, which has won for us so great a redeemer"? If the redemption of man and creation through the Christ-event was part of God's plan for our deiication from the start (which, I believe, is a perfectly acceptable belief within orthodoxy and one with which I have much sympathy), then it was not necessitated by man's sin. If so, then does the line from the Exultet hold true? Do we use this in the text of the Vigil in the Western Rite of Orthodoxy?

I'm just a little confuddled and would be appreciative of any light that anybody might be able to shed on this. Many thanks.

14 responses:

Anonymous said...

The line of the Exultet reflects the Orthodox mainstream position that man was created perfect, but chose to disobey God, so the perfection was ruined, both in the natural world and in man. The opinion you hold is not, historically speaking, mainstream.

Michael said...

Thank for that, anonymous. Always glad to have a new poster and to have help gaining an understandiong of things. ;-)

I'm a little confused now, though. As I was taught, and have read, man was created, not perfect, but in a state of immaturity. He was to grow in God's love and mature spiritually into full communion with God, (theosis/deification), and that, while we cannot speak with any certainty of what would have happened had the Fall not happened (because, indeed, the reality is that it has happened), it is highliy likely that the Incarnation & Ascension (or some form thereof) would have played a part in that.

This is, as I have understood it, the reason that we Orthodox do not accept the Roman Catholic understanding of the Fall as a fall from perfection, but rather a fall from the path towards the fullness of our theosis. In this understanding, the Fall is indeed our disobedience and turning away from God by placing our wants and desires over growing in his love, but it is not a ruining of our perfect state. Rather, it is a departure from the path towards the fullness of life in God's presence. As I have come to understand it, the temptation of the serpent in the Genesis account of the Fall, is that man would "be like God, knowing good and evil", which was not intrinsically evil, (as it is the natural result of completed deification, and so ultimately, God's will for us), but was at the wrong time on man's journey of deification, when he was not sufficiently spiritually mature for this sort of knowledge. In yielding to this temptation, man put the fulfilment of his own desires over obedience to the loving, nurturing will of God.

Bishop KALLISTOS tells us that St Isaac the Syrian, among others, draws a distinction between the image of God in man (which, he identifies as the potential for full theosis, is something which we all bear) and the likeness of God in man (which is the full realisation of that union with God).

I have ground great confort (and good sense) in this understanding, which I have thought to be thoroughly Orthodox.

Is this not so?

Many thanks.

M x

Anonymous said...

Dear Michael

I have read some converts to Orthodoxy saying these things, primarily based on Saint Isaac and Saint Ireneaus.

However, the truth is that these voices were rather marginalised. All the mainstream Saints have spoken of a Fall from perfection. This is why for example during baptism we are said to be restored to the ancient beauty.

While Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism differ on some things, the Fall is not one of them. After all, Saint Isaac and Saint Ireneaus, both are Saints of the Roman Church as well.

If you are interested, I could point you to relevant patristic teachings and liturgical texts.

Michael said...

Yes, please do. I should be grateful to see what others of the Fathers had to say. Also, as a person with a love for liturgy and the old adage lex orandi, legem credendi constituit, I'd love to explore the litirgical texts as well, to better inform me at where I'm up to at the moment.


Anonymous said...

I don't want to ruin a beautiful blog by making a list, so I will only point you to one book on the issue.

Before I do that, allow me to make clear a distinction, between the perfection of Adam and the perfection of God. Both the Roman and the Orthodox Church view God as the only one that is perfect. This means, that although Adam was not imperfect, he was not perfect either. So, even though Adam was in communion with God, there was room for improvement. However, this "improvement" and this "imperfection" did not have a specific, from a technical sense, content.

I would also like to say that there has been a polyphony, especially as far as the details of the mainstream teaching are concerned. Now, let's see what Saint Gregory from Nyssa wrote:

"Whatever the future restoration will be, the initial state of the creation was." (On the making of man http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2914.htm)

From the same work: "Now the resurrection promises us nothing else than the restoration of the fallen to their ancient state; for the grace we look for is a certain return to the first life, bringing back again to Paradise him who was cast out from it. If then the life of those restored is closely related to that of the angels, it is clear that the life before the transgression was a kind of angelic life, and hence also our return to the ancient condition of our life is compared to the angels." (by the way, this is why virginity is seen as the original intent of God for mankind)

So, to sum up my opinion on the matter, both the Roman and the Orthodox Church share in the teachings of the ancient Saints. Within the undivided Church, a certain opinion concerning the Fall has been formed. In the West, people like Augustine (who's opinions as described in the councils of Carthage and Orange have been ratified by an ecumenical council, and are therefore expressing the spirit of the whole church), and in the East, people like Basil and Gregory, spoke of Christ coming to restore man in the ancient state. They attributed to the first man a certain perfection, which explains why the entire nature has been subjected to evil after man sinned.

Father Gregory said...

I think that there is a genuine difference of emphasis here which is characterised by the Augustinian and Irenaean approach. Augustine and the west generally do take the position that man falls from perfection to be restored to that angelic state. Irenaeus sees the Fall more as a grievous failure to rise. The "Felix Culpa" issue though is somewhat distinct from this being a secondary derivative and concerns the perspective we should have of the Fall engendered by Christian theodicy. To claim that all things work to God's good purpose is Orthodox / Catholic and could be way in which "Felix Culpa" should be received. If, however, that is taken a little further to infer that somehow the Fall was part of God's active will rather than a post-operative accommodation of sin within redemption, then, in my opinion, that would not be Orthodox. The Fall was not inevitable and in that sense, "happy."

BJA said...

Michael -

Congrats on your becoming Orthodox!

In the Antiochian Western Rite, we don't censor the ancient text of the Exultet. We include the line: "O truly necessary sin of Adam, which by the death of Christ was done away! O happy fault, which was counted worthy to have such and so great a Redeemer!"

Yes, Adam is actually thanked for his "felix culpa" because by his primal blunder he has provided the necessary precondition for the second Adam, Christ, to come into the world!

There's something intentionally humorous and ironic about the line. And I think the line deserves a little bit of poetic license. The Exultet is a joyous proclamation, not a scholastic treatise.

There's nothing really new here. The Old Testament, as you know, is chock full of stories of people seriously misbehaving, intending evil, while God moves forward his plan of salvation and makes good out of their sins (e.g. Jacob deceiving his father and stealing the blessing from his brother).

Michael said...

Thanks, all.

Father Gregory, that does help a lot. Thank you.

Father Deacon Benjamin, I hadn't realised you had returned to the blogosphere, but I'm glad. I missed your blog while you were taking a breather. Thanks for your congratulations. ;-)

Thanks, too, for answering my question about the Paschal Vigil. I think that the only thing that would unsettle me a little would be this:

Yes, Adam is actually thanked for his "felix culpa" because by his primal blunder he has provided the necessary precondition for the second Adam, Christ, to come into the world!

After reading Fr Gregory's explanation and your reminder about examples of God's use of negative events for the bringing about of his will, I don't think I have much of a problem with the liturgical text at all now. I would only say that I'm not sure that it was a necessary precondition for the coming of Christ. A necessary precondition for his death and Resurrection, certainly, but for his coming? I'm not so sure.

That said, as I said above, it's likely that the Incarnation would have happened with or without the sin of our first parents, but the reality is that we can only speak with certainty in the context of what has actually happened, and that is that the Fall is real. Therefore, I suppose I can live with 'O felix culpa'. :-)

Besides, without it, we wouldn't nhave one of my favourite Christmass carols:

Adam lay ybounden,
bounden in a bond.
Four thousand winter
thought he not too long.
And all was for an apple;
an apple that he took,
as clerkes finden
written in their book.
Ne had the apple taken been,
the apple taken been,
ne had never Our Ladye
e been heavene queen.
Blessed be the time
that apple taken was!
Therefore we moun singen:
'Deo Gracias!'

Michael said...


I forgot to say that I've just ordered the CDs by the Mediaeval Baebes, including the one with Adam lay ybounden. I can't wait till they arrive.

Ille said...

"O, certe necessarium Adae peccatum, quod morte Christi deletum est. O, felix culpa, quae talem ac tantum meruit habere Redemptorem."

Michael said...

Thank you, Ille.

Of course, if you're going to sing it in Latin, it has to be Latin with an English accent, which is, of course, what God sings when he isn't singing Slavonic with an English accent. :-D

Ille said...

I've always loved Western hymnography, especially the "Exultet", even though not many Eastern Orthodox (Romanians, at least) seem to be aware of the riches the Western Church owned.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering, who taught that Adam was not created perfect but in a spiritually immature state?

Irenaeus was mentioned above, but he didn't say that. He just said that Adam and Eve were childlike as far as sexuality is concerned, and, therefore, their kisses were innocent.

One last question: Michael, you say there is a difference between the image and the likeness, but I thought that this difference is only supposed to exist in the fallen man. After all, Adam was created in the image and likeness of God.

Michael said...

Andreas, I'm not an expert on patristics. This is what I have been taught by my parish priest and is what I have come across in discussions with other Orthodox in my exploring. The same is said in The Orthodox Way by Bishop KALLISTOS.

I don't doubt that there is patristic variance on this, but from what little I know, this approach does seem to be consistent with Orthodoxy.

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