Para. 2104 is yet another segment under the heading of the First Commandment, and it takes us into the subject of Christian anthropology, i.e., what makes up a human being. Way back in para. 33, which treats of anthropology at considerable length, the Catechism quotes St. Thomas Aquinas, “…man can come to know that there exists a reality which is the first cause and final end of all things, a reality ‘that everyone calls God.’” Put another way, it is the nature of humankind to enjoy the God-given inclination toward high purpose by creation itself, before the intervention of Revelation and religious formation.
Para. 2104 does not make sense unless recognition of God and the Church [broadly understood] lies within the capacity of human nature as we are, i.e., we are born with some basic capacity to strive for the truth about God and to both increase the search for that truth and to embrace it for personal conduct. In the current state of public affairs, here in our own country and elsewhere, one would be justified to conclude that either large segments of the population turn their backs on this innate drive to seek the things of God, or that some powerful force is presently blocking inner consciousness of man’s inherent sense of the drive for the divine.
As a catechist and a psychotherapist, I find this question compelling. It is a form of the question of the nature of evil, and trust me, we won’t have a clear-cut answer to the nature of evil within the lifetime of the Café postings. But as a counselor I recognize in practice and read in the professional literature that some individuals suffer impairments that make clear thought and ethical management next to impossible. Catholic moral theology, in my opinion, has not addressed the question of those with impaired judgment or underdeveloped capacity. I am thinking specifically of addictions—the opioid crisis, for example—and another cohort that is rarely understood or discussed in pastoral context, those with personality disorders [antisocial, borderline, narcissistic, etc.]
With the personality disorders, the origins are generally unknown but believed to be genetic. A common trait of all personality disorders is the absence of any clinically proven cure or treatment regimen, particularly troubling given that the prevalence of PD of all types is about 9% of the population. I learned the hard way that insurance companies do not reimburse PD because no talking therapy style has been proved effective. In terms of the moral status of afflicted individuals, I recommend a stretching of para. 2104’s final admonition “"to treat with love, prudence and patience those who are in error or ignorance with regard to the faith." Throughout my career as a pastor I always provided full Catholic funeral rites for those who had committed suicide.
Neurological factors impede an embrace of God and his truth; are there other, outside forces in play? I was taught as a boy that God was in a titanic struggle with Satan for my 8-year-old soul, and I needn’t prolong any discussion about belief in Satan, devils, or demonic spirits introducing evil and sin into the world. Discussions along these lines, though, take us to the mythic world of creation, and for our purposes, the story of Adam and Eve [though in fairness some cultural creation myths predate the Garden narrative by at least 1500 years.]
While on retreat last week I would sit up in the absolute silence and darkness of the monastery setting reading and reflecting upon Stephen Greenblatt’s The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve (2017). Greenblatt’s work has significant implications for thoughtful adherents to the Bible in its treatment of how three religious traditions [Hebrew, Islamic, and in primary detail, Christianity] understood the “fall of man” narrative, the wounding that universally impairs the ability to seek God. The author makes the point that simply because the historical and literary evidence precludes the possibility of the Garden narrative as literal history, the bigger questions involve the creation of the story as we have it, and how the predominant Christian interpretation—involving Original Sin—stands up to the actual text and its uses through Church history.
The early Genesis texts of creation and fall seem ancient because of their placement in the Bible, i.e., at the beginning. However, the Adam and Eve narrative was written quite late in the revelation process, perhaps around the end of the Babylonian Captivity (597-539 B.C.) and inserted earlier into the Hebrew Canon. The multiple authors may have been attempting to unseat the predominant creation myth in that portion of the world, the venerable tale of Gilgamesh, probably the oldest writing on earth. The Genesis texts are a combination of philosophy and theology: an attempt to explain sin, suffering, and errant human desire while at the same time providing a template for the relationship of God with his people. For our purposes here, it is worth noting that nowhere in creation is there mention of outside evil influences; the serpent is “the most cunning of all the creatures God had made.” The early narratives of Noah and the Tower of Babel simply reinforce man’s sinful, rebellious nature.
Jewish interpretation of Adam and Eve’s disobedience emphasized the natural state of man as sinful and imperfect. [Noah’s son sinned right off the boat, so to speak.] Islamic interpretation is more benign; “…Islamic tradition characterized the wrongdoing that led to this expulsion as an error rather than as a heinous crime transmitted to all posterity.” [p. 7] In the Christian era St. Paul identifies Adam’s sin vis-à-vis the cross of Christ as a universal sin, and it is important to recall the origin of the name of Adam, i.e., “from clay.” One can read Paul’s Letter to the Romans as saying that God could have picked anyone out of a crowd, put him in Adam’s place, and the results would have been the same.
The idea of Adam’s sin as a literal event resulting in a cosmic moral disfigurement of the human species—a theology that many Church documents still put forth today under the title of Original Sin—can be traced to St. Augustine (354-430 A.D.). I have a link here to Augustine’s biography if you are unfamiliar with his place in Christian history. To understand Augustine’s interpretation of the Garden narrative, the basis of Original Sin, the moral anthropology of humankind, and the catechetical model of redemption we use almost unthinkingly today, it is important to look at Augustine’s own tortuous journey to Christianity and his baptism by St. Ambrose of Milan. I will continue this thread next Monday.