This week my focus will fall on the Triduum, with related posts on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. The Monday Morality stream will pick up again the day after Easter.
2093 Faith in God's love encompasses the call and the obligation to respond with sincere love to divine charity. The first commandment enjoins us to love God above everything and all creatures for him and because of him.12
2094 One can sin against God's love in various ways:
- indifference neglects or refuses to reflect on divine charity; it fails to consider its prevenient goodness and denies its power.
- ingratitude fails or refuses to acknowledge divine charity and to return him love for love.
- lukewarmness is hesitation or negligence in responding to divine love; it can imply refusal to give oneself over to the prompting of charity.
- acedia or spiritual sloth goes so far as to refuse the joy that comes from God and to be repelled by divine goodness.
- hatred of God comes from pride. It is contrary to love of God, whose goodness it denies, and whom it presumes to curse as the one who forbids sins and inflicts punishments.
The Catechism continues its treatment of the First Commandment with a focus on the virtue of Charity, in this case the charity and love owed to God. What is owed to one’s neighbor is the focus of the fourth through the tenth commandments. The language of para. 2094 is quite dated; I could not find the original sources for these categorizations, but I would guess they are a post-Reformational summary from a confessor’s manual. The term acedia, for example, and its accompanying description, shows nothing of the complexity of the term that dates at least to the early monks of the fourth century. As recently as 2008 Kathleen Norris’ Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life brought the complexity of the term into contemporary American consciousness. (See the Kirkus Review here)
[For the record, there are several clinical symptoms of depression or dysthymia that mimic monastic or spiritual sloth: too much sleeping, fatigue, inability to follow through on tasks, loss of ability to experience pleasure. Whether the cure is penance or Prozac is a very subtle judgment call, to be made only by those qualified to make it . Often it is a matter of both conditions overlapping.]
Its antiquated language aside, there is enough material in para. 2094 for significant moral reflection. The overarching moral sensitivity is the degree to which one is grateful to be alive. Were I a preacher today, I would focus upon that question from time to time, because no one passes through a human life without inner and outer pain. The response to this pain and the obvious inequality of the distribution of hard times from person to person and age to age gives every person reason to ponder whether being is better than non-being. Given the experiences of my life, am I grateful for having been born, and grateful that a Creator took the time to create (and Christian theology holds that creation was not a necessity on God’s “to do list.”)
Those of us who subscribe to the Judeo-Christian picture of the cosmos hold that not only did God create freely but also lovingly. In view of para. 2094, the moral challenge involves attributing love to our creation. The term “hatred of God” and its explanation is clumsy, but at its heart the authors correctly identify a refusal to recognize a perpetual goodness in the intent of God, attributing restraints and suffering to the Creator instead. To be grateful for our lives involves an element of humility in that we accept the pain of life in a context we admittedly do not fully understand but accept.
Retirement and the blog have given me more opportunities to study the Gospels, and to be honest, I find myself wrestling with the question of why God did make things so challenging. Intellectually I get the idea that the most loving teachers I had in school were the ones who held my nose to the grindstone. Unfortunately, Christianity does not offer “cake course electives” in the college of life [equivalent to my senior year slice of “urban planning” where we argued the merits of a proposed D.C. subway for three credits.] The realization that life is hard, challenging, and unfair is never easy to swallow.
The term “indifference” in para. 2094 describes something of a dodge, a denial of a Creator who does have answers, or more likely, a compartmentalizing of life between an abstract intellectual belief in a distant God and one’s “personal reality” of thoughts and behaviors. It can be very troublesome and burdening to acknowledge a God with personal interest and plans for you, for you can no longer claim 100% autonomy. Some people may hate an impersonal God, but I think more people hate a personal one, one who loves them. The love of God can be a burden, seen in a certain light. I think back to the 1960’s film “Cool Hand Luke” where Paul Newman said to his prison warden, “I wish you’d stop being so good to me.”
The Catechism’s definition of ingratitude is the refusal to “return him love for love.” In his efforts to bring people to his Father, Jesus performed gratuitous miracles of healing, “sacramental acts” or indications of a very personal love of the divine for the lost sheep of Israel. His frequent sojourns to quiet places to pray during his mission are reflective of his relationship to the Father, returning “love for love,” even with the full awareness of the cost of this relationship. An intellectual belief or relationship with the Creator is not enough to carry the day, for we all enjoy the rewards and the pains of our affective selves, too, and our inner philosopher must cede time to our inner lover.
If you are following the Reformation Café page on Thursday (God help you!) you may have come upon the struggle of medieval Christian philosophers to explain God. But equally important at the time were the intense affective longings for God expressed by mystical groups, religious orders such as the Franciscans, organized lay women such as the Beguines, and countless unknowns whose experiences of God defied logic—whether in visions, trances, art. Mystical writings speak of experiences of God with passion, even hints of Eros. This is appropriate: love is the investment of the total person. The worst sin against the First Commandment is the abandonment of any hope in finding the love of a personal God or a withholding of any desire to embrace the God of my personal destiny. I have a Franciscan theologian friend whose blog is entitled “Dating God.” We men know how hard it was to make the first phone call to our first girl, and how much harder to say to the object of our desire, “I love you.” The agony and the ecstasy.
2090 When God reveals Himself and calls him, man cannot fully respond to the divine love by his own powers. He must hope that God will give him the capacity to love Him in return and to act in conformity with the commandments of charity. Hope is the confident expectation of divine blessing and the beatific vision of God; it is also the fear of offending God's love and of incurring punishment.
2091 The first commandment is also concerned with sins against hope, namely, despair and presumption:
By despair, man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins. Despair is contrary to God's goodness, to his justice - for the Lord is faithful to his promises - and to his mercy.
2092 There are two kinds of presumption. Either man presumes upon his own capacities, (hoping to be able to save himself without help from on high), or he presumes upon God's almighty power or his mercy (hoping to obtain his forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit).
Before I launch into sins against hope, I need to clarify that under the heading of the First Commandment, the Catechism includes sins against the “theological virtues,” that is, faith, hope, and charity. A “virtue” is a disposition or habit of thinking and acting; in our context here, “theological virtues” are dispositions toward God. Para. 2090 as a whole confuses as much as it clarifies; for catechetical purposes I would simply draw out the definition of hope as “the confident expectation of divine and the beatific vision of God.” Last week we addressed sins against the virtue of faith, the habit of believing that God is and God reveals in human space and time. Last week’s post also treated of the claim of the Roman Catholic Church to speak and act in the name of God and the kinds of responses expected of the believer.
Catechetics involving the virtue of hope are considerably more complicated. Sin against hope, essentially giving up on God, is often entwined with a mental health condition in which one gives up on everything in various degrees. Hope, in general language, is a measure of psychological health. The DSM-V, the official mental health diagnostic criteria in use today, lists nine symptoms of the absence of hope, a condition known by its official name, Depression. It may be wise to review these symptoms before we continue:
Specific symptoms, at least 5 of these 9, present nearly every day:
Depressed mood or irritable most of the day, nearly every day, as indicated by either subjective report (e.g., feels sad or empty) or observation made by others (e.g., appears tearful).
Decreased interest or pleasure in most activities, most of each day.
Significant [unintended] weight change [5%] or change in appetite.
Change in sleep: Insomnia or hypersomnia.
Change in activity: Psychomotor agitation or retardation.
Fatigue or loss of energy.
Guilt/worthlessness: Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt.
Concentration: diminished ability to think or concentrate, or more indecisiveness.
Suicidality: Thoughts of death or suicide or has suicide plan.
Para. 2091’s definition of despair as a sin is painfully unnuanced, without mention of the human conditions that might form a predilection toward despair and despondency. This is a consistent flaw throughout the Catechism, its inadequately developed anthropology and the absence of interdisciplinary discussion of human behavior. Despair has captured nearly all the arts and sciences as a subject of interest and concern: I have treated depression for many years in mental health practice and have attempted to make connections for my clients with many facets of life: from psychopharmacology to drama to poetry, in an effort to help them understand themselves. The Catechism, alas, does not give much to work with.
Despair and depression create difficulties for Catholic moral discussion because (1) very few Catholic moralists—and hardly any catechists—bring neuroscience into their discussions of moral acts, and (2) depressed individuals are prone to engage at times in dangerous or self-defeating acts, from sexual promiscuity to suicide, to ease their pain or break out of the prison of anhedonia (the absence of the ability to feel pleasure or enthusiasm over anything.) Such behaviors are, objectively speaking, sinful by the book and pastoral tendency runs toward the sin rather than the cause or the symptom rather than the condition.
We do not understand the precise causes of depression. For a long time, the psychiatric community did not (and would not) recognize grief as a form of depression; the DSM-V has corrected this and prescribes the same treatment modalities for depressive grief and clinical depression. For much of my adult life the prevailing theories on the causes of depression have centered on deficiencies and poor interactions of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine, though better brain photography may offer new leads. The best research seems to favor a combination of medication and psychotherapy for the best treatment outcomes, a recognition of the physical and relational (even spiritual) roots of the disorder, though a medical intervention is probably a prerequisite in time sequence to successful depression counseling; interpersonal engagement in therapy is handicapped until the most intrusive symptoms are eased up somewhat.
Even with organic causes, depression does not rob the intellect or free will, nor do any of the conditions we call mood disorders, such as anxiety, panic, or bipolarity. [Personality Disorders are diseases of thought, a different species altogether.] Counseling mood disordered individuals is possible precisely because logical and emotional engagement are not blocked. The impairment of hope is a matter that can be explored and acted upon as well as medicated where necessary, although with the important proviso that some depressed individuals will logically conclude that suicide is the valid option for them. I will address suicide in future posts but be aware in pastoral work of potential indicators; I would hope that the subject is a standard element of pastoral training.
This brings us to the overlap of mood and virtue. It is hard to read para. 2091 without sensing more than a simple declaration that God can do nothing for me. There is greater sensitivity to the reality that hopelessness is different from malingering. At last check, about 90% of Americans report a belief in God, presumably with the idea that God can do some good for them down the road. Para. 2092 seems closer to reality and personal observation; we presume that in our relationship with God we can “tank” as they say in the NBA, that little or no effort is required for the goodies of afterlife. In my own teaching experience, I find even among veteran church ministers a reluctance to acknowledge that life can have bad outcomes—i.e., that God would send someone to hell, as opposed to current popular thinking that afterlife determinations are mainly a question of how good your suite will be on the eternal ocean cruise of heaven.
Five centuries ago Catholics worried a great deal about afterlife, alternating between hopelessness and frantic activities to ward off damnation. Kevin Madigan concludes his medieval masterpiece with the observation that “when one Christian, emerging from the confessional, could feel serene relief and another near immediate doubt, the Christian Middle Ages can be said to have come to an end. In that era despair of salvation held place; in today’s post confession age, presumption holds sway.
Note: in today's research I came across an excellent blogsite on moral theology with a bibliography of useful readings from the University of Dayton, which you might want to bookmark.
2089 Incredulity is the neglect of revealed truth or the willful refusal to assent to it. "Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him."
Paragraph 2089 is in my opinion one of the most controversial articles of the Catechism, for it pushes the envelope of language to the limits. This segment continues the itemization of sins against the First Commandment we began last week, the sins of the believer or non-believer vis-à-vis God. Para. 2089 equates belief in God with obedience to the Roman Catholic Church, and it reflects none of the intense study and debate that surrounded this claim at Vatican II.
The issue of the nature of the Church and its right to command obedience was the subject of at least two Conciliar documents, Lumen Gentium (1964) on the nature of the Church, and for our purposes section 8; and Unitatis Redintegratio (1964), The Decree on Ecumenism. For some context here, theologians since the division of Eastern and Western Christendom have wrestled with the claim that the “Kingdom of God” proclaimed in the New Testament and the Roman Catholic Church are the same. For westerners, the question became more complex with the Protestant Reformation and the multiplication of churches claiming to be Christian while denying the validity of the petrine or papal ministry, i.e., the successors of St. Peter.
In the 1800’s the idea of reunification of Christian churches, or at least a reconciliation, became strong, in part because of Pope Pius IX’s movement toward a declaration of papal infallibility, which eventually did occur at the Council Vatican I in 1870. For an interesting treatment of this era I highly recommend The Pope and the Professor: Pius IX, Ignaz von Dollinger, and the Quandary of the Modern Age (2017). Dollinger was the voice of Catholic academics who feared that claims of infallibility would discourage any movement toward reunion. Dollinger was excommunicated and became the symbolic leader of a budding ecumenical movement that included Episcopalians and some Orthodox.
Pius IX and his immediate successors never directly stated that “outside the Roman Catholic Church there is no salvation;” his own preaching and writing are clear on the point that innocent ignorance of the Catholic Church did not condemn a person to hell. Pius would have agreed with the thrust of para. 2089 that the teachings of the Church and the Revelation of God are the same thing, or that the Kingdom of God is the Roman Catholic Church. In 1900 Catholic scholars—particularly historians and Biblical academics—who questioned this proposition were silenced and, in some cases, excommunicated for engaging in “modernism.” Seminarians were required to take an anti-modernist oath, a requirement that was lifted only a few classes ahead of mine.
By 1962 the theological landscape was considerably different. Scholars had deepened understanding of the biblical Kingdom of God, enlarging its meaning and significance. To put it another way, Catholic scholars were less comfortable domesticating the being and intentions of God and recommended more humility in claiming to speak for God. The debate over the wording of Lumen Gentium struggled to find the wording to describe the relationship of God’s Kingdom to the Roman Catholic Church. The Council agreed to this (para. 8): This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic…This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity.”
The key word here is “subsists”. Opponents in the debate argued for “is.” The word “subsists” insures the Roman Catholic identity as the teacher custodian of all beliefs necessary for salvation while acknowledging that “many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure.” The Council uses the term “Church of Christ” with greater breadth than Pius IX and Vatican I, while still looking forward to a day of catholic [i.e., universal] unity. The Council recognizes aspects of Protestant worship, for example, as effecting sanctification.
In terms of morality, what are we to make of para. 2089? The most serious struggle with the text results from its lack of nuance. As stated here, every married Catholic who uses the pill is a schismatic or a heretic, for “Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same.” Paul VI, in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, reaffirmed the Church’s earlier teaching that artificial contraception is a grave [mortal] sin against God’s natural law, and Pope John Paul II reinforced this teaching on multiple occasions during his papacy. And yet, adherence to this teaching is not noteworthy. Entire bishops’ conferences questioned the wisdom of Humanae Vitae when it was released. While passions over this teaching have cooled over time, the reason may be a general disregard of reproductive moral teachings in general among Catholics. By the same token, are all of the private and public critics of Pope Francis in a state of schism or separation?
The words of Lumen Gentium to describe Christian non-Catholic believers can just as easily apply to members of the Catholic Church itself who find themselves in similar circumstances, i.e., wrestling with matters of proclaimed faith and morals. I draw a distinction between those who take their faith and conscience seriously and those who are casual about religion in general. This latter group resembles the Catechism’s definition of incredulity, “the neglect of revealed truth or the willful refusal to assent to it.” I fear that of all the sins listed in para. 2089, incredulity is probably the most common. The other sins, strange as this may sound, at least require a commitment from the “sinner.” Heresy, apostasy, and schism are often the fruits of anguish; Dollinger was judged fit for excommunication, but his academic and spiritual energies were devoted to matters of faith throughout his life, however history judges his actions. Technically speaking, apostasy is often a change of denominations—from Catholicism to another worshipping community—in an effort to find God in better preaching and strong community support.
The issues of para. 2089 require much better and more nuanced articulation. We don’t have a moral category for the questioning soul, and we should. Lumen Gentium uses the phrase “Pilgrim People” to describe the Church: we are not static but rather organic. Like Israel in the desert, we are a traveling people, learning from hard experience as we make our way to the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. In defining the authority of the Church, this provisionally historical dimension must find its voice in the expression of Apostolic tradition.
Para. 2089’s point about “incredulity” may be the most valuable takeaway from this paragraph. The “neglect of revealed truth or the willful refusal to assent to it” suggests a degree of human pride with little acknowledgement of the need of any sort of higher power or helpful social interaction. Incredulity is a condition that reaches beyond the bounds of denominational religion. In the Catechism context, para. 2089 is also an invitation to examine the precise nature of the degree we allow Scripture and Tradition to penetrate our psychological center.
2087 Our moral life has its source in faith in God who reveals his love to us. St. Paul speaks of the "obedience of faith"9 as our first obligation. He shows that "ignorance of God" is the principle and explanation of all moral deviations.10 Our duty toward God is to believe in him and to bear witness to him.
2088 The first commandment requires us to nourish and protect our faith with prudence and vigilance, and to reject everything that is opposed to it. There are various ways of sinning against faith:
Voluntary doubt about the faith disregards or refuses to hold as true what God has revealed and the Church proposes for belief. Involuntary doubt refers to hesitation in believing, difficulty in overcoming objections connected with the faith, or also anxiety aroused by its obscurity. If deliberately cultivated doubt can lead to spiritual blindness.
The morality portion of the Catechism uses a specific format: after a Commandment is posted, there follows a breakdown of its meaning and the various sins and virtues that have come to be associated with that commandment over three millennia. Last Monday I posted the First Commandment; there are at least 60 sequential paragraphs running into the 2140’s. What I am doing is doubling statements where appropriate, and skipping some with are repetitive, vague, or overly time conditioned.
Throughout this section there is one notable skew: there is not a single academic theological source after St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) cited in the treatment of the First Commandment. Why is this important? The Catechism makes no reference to the enormous volume of philosophical thought and writing since the Renaissance, what we often call “the modern era.” Thinkers from the Enlightenment down to the present day have wrestled with the integration of God and the human experience. You may have had Hegel, Kant, or Kierkegaard in Philosophy 101, and whatever you remember of those days, you would be hard pressed to name a philosopher who identified himself as an atheist. Perhaps the Existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) comes closest, although one wonders what he had in mind when he wrote “Existentialism is nothing else than an attempt to draw all the consequences of a coherent atheistic position." (As Archie Bunker once observed, “You know, a guy could take that two ways.”)
Poor Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) was almost psychologically tormented by the Christianity of his upbringing, a dour Danish Lutheranism. The Stanford University Philosophy on-line site observes “Kierkegaard’s central problematic was how to become a Christian in Christendom.” Like most philosophers of the modern era, Kierkegaard was troubled by the claims of churches vis-à-vis the performance of churches. It is interesting that surveys of today’s millennials seem to indicate non-denominationalism, or a belief in God separate from a specific creedal community. Catholic writing terms this attitude “relativism,” and a non-denominationalist position does demand logical consistency on matters including suffering and death that I have not seen addressed to date.
One of the defects in contemporary Church statements, on the other hand, is a near total absence of psychology, and nowhere is this more glaring than in para. 2088’s description of sinning against the First Commandment. As I wrote last week, the First Commandment is qualitatively different from the rest, because it addresses one’s personal sense of reality in this life and the possibility of existence beyond the grave. To reduce the question of reality to the format of geometric theorems falls short of the wonder of God and the intense struggle of humans to dare put their trust in the promises of the divine or fathom “the ways of the Lord.” Moreover, the category of “involuntary doubt’ [a division that already cuts the apple pretty thin] takes the position that “hesitation in believing, difficulty in overcoming objections connected with the faith, or also anxiety aroused by its obscurity” are sinful, adding the proviso of “deliberately cultivated.”
The human spirit can be lifted above itself by the magnificence of nature [I for one will never forget viewing last summer’s total eclipse in South Carolina]. The human spirit can be driven to the point of physical sickness at the thought of the wholesale sexual trafficking of young children that we continue to learn of daily. How can the two stand side by side? A logical profession that God exists is one thing; coming to issue with the idea that God is personally present to a world of unspeakable beauty and unmentionable perversion is entirely another. My Catholic upbringing taught that to ask questions along these lines was “impertinent” and I guess that one could make the case that modern man is sometimes too arrogant for his own good.
On the other hand, when God is not a key factor in our personal deliberations, he has ceased to exist. If individuals have “reservation” or “doubt” about the Revelation of God and his “doings” in the present time, it would seem to follow that at the very least one can tease out of these dilemmas an acknowledgement of the reality of God. It does not have the polish of the Nicene Creed, but is “sin” a just description of a psychological need to create a gestalt of God that one can live with profitably?
The unpredictability of the emotions has led the Church to define its doctrines, even its language about God, in an unchanging logical system for the simple reason that it believed logic was static and always dependable for the reasoning mind or the intellect. We think of this philosophical/theological system by the two men who formulated it, Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) and St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 A.D.). But even in Thomas’s era, post 1250 A.D., there were Catholic philosophers who questioned the thought system, notably the Franciscan William of Ockham, who wrote in the fourteenth century “the ways of God are not open to reason, for God has freely chosen to create a world and establish a way of salvation within it apart from any necessary laws that human logic or rationality can uncover." In the post-Reformation era, the Catholic philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) would write “The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of... We know the truth not only by the reason, but by the heart."
In fairness, I need to add that the present Catechism takes much of its form and content from the earlier Roman Catechism of the Council of Trent, published in 1566. Given that traditional Catholic scholastic thinking was under severe attack by both Protestant reformers and Catholic Renaissance academics and mystics, the Roman Catechism was a strong defense of medieval thinking and a rallying point in the Catholic Counter-Reformation. The style of the Roman Catechism in many places is terse and logical, as in its treatment of the First Commandment: “The (mandatory part of the commandment) contains a precept of faith, hope and charity. For, acknowledging God to be immovable, immutable, always the same, we rightly confess that He is faithful and entirely just. Hence in assenting to His oracles, we necessarily yield to Him all belief and obedience. Again, who can contemplate His omnipotence, His clemency, His willing beneficence, and not repose in Him all his hopes? Finally, who can behold the riches of His goodness and love, which He lavishes on us, and not love Him? Hence the exordium and the conclusion used by God in Scripture when giving His commands: I, the Lord.”
While it is true that God is beyond all change, his children throughout history have labored in countless ways to know Him—His will and his promises. During the Civil War one of Lincoln’s aides prayed that God was “on our side.” Lincoln corrected the man to pray that “we are on God’s side.” We depend upon organized thinking, to be sure, but we need to give equal weight to the affective experience of God. The two Catechism paragraphs cited today skew to the technical and logical aspects of the quest for God and need to be read with this in mind. If para. 2088 is taken too literally, our confessionals would be eternally full and our spiritual directors out of business.
THE FIRST COMMANDMENT
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them.
It is written: "You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve."
"YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD AND HIM ONLY SHALL YOU SERVE"
2084 God makes himself known by recalling his all-powerful loving, and liberating action in the history of the one he addresses: "I brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." The first word contains the first commandment of the Law: "You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve him... . . You shall not go after other gods."5 God's first call and just demand is that man accept him and worship him.
In its treatment of the First Commandment the Catechism merges the two pronouncements from the Law, the earlier text from Exodus and the later text from Deuteronomy. The texts over time have been condensed into the formula we all learned in school, “I am the Lord, thy God; thou shalt not have strange gods before me.” The First Commandment is enigmatic in the sense that its language is heavily time-oriented while still pregnant with meaning for any succeeding generation.
Scholars are quick to point out that the commandments, as laid out in the Bible, take the form of a “suzerainty contract” or “vassal treaty,” a template of an agreement between a superior and a subject. Such contracts have five parts: (1) a solemn statement of the name of the lord or ruler; (2) the name of the party or parties with whom the ruler is dealing; (3) a summary history of previous dealings; (4) the quid pro quo of the contract, i.e., its stipulations; and (5) the blessings and curses for compliance or betrayal. Father Boadt notes that this formula is easier to see in the Book of Deuteronomy, written later when governmental affairs were better formulated (pp. 147-151).
When looking at the place of the First Commandment in relation to the entire series, it is evident that the first holds a logical priority, for it assumes both the existence of God and the power of God, at least in the minds of the Israelites who first received the revelation, and then later to the rest of the world. The choice of the vassal treaty is in its own way a statement of faith, an acknowledgement of a lord with a history of faithful dealings who has a rightful and specific claim to loyalty and devotion. The other nine commandments—not to mention the expansion of the Judeo-Christian tradition—would be meaningless if there is no God in the first place around whom life and conduct are arranged.
About a year ago on this stream I discussed the revolution in contemporary moral theology, with the introduction of Bernard Haring’s The Law of Christ (1954) and a renewed emphasis upon union with Christ. Haring and his generation of moralists understood that the starting point of their discipline was personal orientation to Christ. This was a challenge to the pre-Vatican II era of moral theology called “the manualist tradition” in which the study of morals was act-oriented and logically self-contained, at least in its least desirable presentations.
I mention Haring in this post to address a common misconception about the Old Testament Law, specifically the Commandments. A gross simplification of catechetics—a misreading of St. Paul, I suspect—has led generations of Christians to a hasty judgment that Old Testament life was preoccupied with law, in stark contrast to the Christian era’s emphasis upon love. In fact, the First Commandment, in its form and content, makes clear that the first loyalty and the first love of an Israelite was to a very personal God. The term “jealous God” appears from time to time in the Bible—and those of us who have loved and lost over the years in the romance department understand the meaning of jealousy and the passion of Eros. There are numerous metaphors throughout the Hebrew Scripture--notably the Song of Songs—in which the relationship of God to his people is described as anything but black leather law.
It is a fact that that when Jesus was asked to name the greatest of the Jewish laws, he cited the First Commandment with considerable detail, but he saved some of his harshest words for those whose god had become the black leather law in and of itself. Here he was continuing what Israel’s prophets had preached energetically over many centuries, that law of itself without passion for its author was misbegotten theology. Next Wednesday’s Ash Wednesday Mass proclaims the Prophet Joel’s cry, “Rend your hearts, not your garments!” The heart, source of the emotions for the ancients, is the focus of Christian observance of Lent just as it was for Joel and faithful Israelites. The early medieval philosopher St. Anselm (1033-1109 A.D.) is famous for his definition of God: “God is that, than which nothing greater can be conceived.… And [God] assuredly exists so truly, that it cannot be conceived not to exist.” If this rendering does not stir your blood, even the Catechism cites Anselm only once (para. 158), but not this particular quote. Rather, the Catechism cites a description of divine and human interaction in Anselm’s definition of theology, “faith seeking understanding.”
The Christian medievalists—both the academics and the mystics—knew that human life could never behold the full beatific vision of God nor apprehend his being, but both cohorts of believers were equally convinced that “the chase” was the most noble and self-consuming enterprise of the baptized. The Catechism, centuries later, would assert that everyone is inherently created with the capacity of desire for full union with the divine being.
Christians and Jews approach the First Commandment with a shared understanding that a love of God rests at the heart of what we call morality. The first “sin” one can commit against the First Commandment is its abandonment: a deliberate closure to “the chase.” Jesus identifies the only unforgiveable sin is “blaspheming the Holy Spirit,” cessation of any interest in or movement toward the outpouring of God’s life.
It is true, too, that a man or woman’s relationship with God is unique, shaped by a kaleidoscope of learning, experience, culture, and even neurobiology. The Catechism posts many such circumstances in subsequent listings and the appropriate moral responses to the same. I will choose the most pertinent for our examination here over the next few weeks, including questions of atheism and the nature of evil.
I don’t often get writer’s block; as you know from experience, I just post a day late or, in extreme cases, skip a week. But in prepping for this week’s Monday Morality post, I felt a recurring dissatisfaction with the material, or at least my ability to work with it, specifically the moral quadrant of the Catechism. My frustration was probably on display last week, too. The Catechism states “The Beatitudes are at the heart of Jesus' preaching.” I had a college professor who walked into a class one day with our corrected exams. He stated, “I have in my hands an assortment of the good, the true, and the beautiful, and a total absence of concrete answers.” I think this summarizes my problem with the way the Catechism addresses the Beatitudes; in the language of the good, the true, and the beautiful, but without the specifics of human behavior.
Having completed a somewhat ethereal treatment of the Beatitudes, the Catechism text moves into its comfort zone, the Ten Commandments and the natural law, with the precision of laser surgery and an attitudinal language of certainty that is easily open to misinterpretation and even arrogance. The religious man of letters G.K. Chesterton is famous for his quote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” Chesterton, a convert to Catholicism who brought his best pre-conversion life with him, understood that lived Christianity is hard, in large part because the sweeping challenge of the Beatitudes and the cost of living them; the contemporary theologian Richard Rohr uses the term revolutionary. Dogmatic certainty cannot forestall the uncertainties of God’s future.
[I have a good Chesterton story to insert here. He and a friend were walking in England when a man accosted them “down on his luck,” as they say. Chesterton reached into his pocket and gave the man money. His friend became irritated. “You shouldn’t have given him that. He’s just going to spend it on drink.” To which Chesterton replied, “That’s what I was planning to do with it.”]
The Catechism, in its quarter century of use, has proven to be a less than optimum tool in defining moral awareness, assigning as it does an almost “creeping infallibility” to certain moral matters that the Church has found wanting for its own consciences and the Church’s engagement with what is now accepted as a secular age. In discussing homosexuality, for example, the Catechism in paragraph 2357 states that “its psychosocial genesis remains largely unexplained,” but then continues “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” It is my contention that given how little we know about sexual orientation, (or, for that matter, how much we need to know), it is at the very least premature to make such pronouncements. In truth, I find discussion about homosexual life unsettling to me personally; we are, in the final analysis, talking about people with souls, created by God, in my own case close relatives, priests, fellow parishioners, and friends. Catechetical instruction that segregates and objectifies populations worthy of dignity is itself a breakdown of the unity Christ longs to see in his people.
There are many such questions in Catholic morality, and how we address them among ourselves and to the world at large will determine the credibility and integrity of Catholic life as it lives in a world significantly different from 1300. In A Church with Open Doors: Catholic Ecclesiology for the Third Millennium (2015) Paul Lakeland introduces the idea of a “kenotic ecclesiology.” The word kenosis refers to an “emptying out” or a total self-giving. You may recall the hymn from Paul’s letter to the Philippians: “Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at; rather, he emptied himself and took the form of a slave….” Lakeland and many other Catholic theologians hold that the only way for the Church to be taken seriously in the new landscape of global meaning is to pour itself out in service to the world, in the fashion of peacemaking, hungering for justice, and the other moral priorities of the New Kingdom of Jesus expressed so well in the Beatitudes.
The same author cited in the previous paragraph illustrates an essay on the new evangelization on the USCCB website. The essay cites Pope Benedict XVI’s concern that while the Church wishes to “transmit the gift of truth,” it wants to assure “people and their Governments that she does not wish to destroy their identity and culture by doing so.” Rather, the Church “wants to give them a response which, in their innermost depths, they are waiting for.” Other authors in a variety of texts put the situation more bluntly: the Church comes to every meeting, whether with another Christian body, world religion, or civil institution, with all the answers. The Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes is shunted to the side; GS teaches that the Church “is not unaware how much it has profited from the opposition of its enemies and persecutors.”
This morning I was also impacted by a Facebook exchange between my two sisters: a lengthy, thoughtful, and inspiring exchange so rare on social media. Philosophically and theologically speaking, they come from different points on the compass. One is an active Catholic health provider; the other a post-Enlightenment humanist with decades of work in Buffalo’s demanding inner-city schools. The discussion began with my Catholic sister’s profound concern about the multiple ills of present-day American life and the idea of prayer in school. My humanist sister, while sympathetic, expressed concern about the cacophony of denominational confusion and the belief/practices of some religious groups that many might find invasive to the common good.
As their debate unfolded, I could see that both were seeking a common good—the enrichment of culture with commonly held values—a stasis where children are not routinely massacred in schools, for example. Discussions such as these are far too rare in American life, where a lust for certainty and superiority trumps the honest search for a sacred way of life. The times demand a kenosis, a pouring out of my individual and corporate certainties, a realization that there is no monopolization of truth. Catholic morality in this context involves corporate engagement in listening to the good will of other seekers. Catholicism’s position of arriving with all the answers and waiting for others to see the light—a position not restricted to Catholicism, incidentally—is counterproductive to secular and religious unity.
Consequently, I am going to jump ahead to the specific moral teachings of the Catechism, the “nuts and bolts,” beginning at para. 2084 with an eye toward translating how these teachings may be understood in the third millennium and, frankly, commenting on certain texts lacking sufficient basis in Scripture and Tradition, or actual Catholic practice, or interdisciplinary support; in a few cases, calling out formulations more hurtful than helpful in the living of the Beatitudes.
1716 The Beatitudes are at the heart of Jesus' preaching. They take up the promises made to the chosen people since Abraham. The Beatitudes fulfill the promises by ordering them no longer merely to the possession of a territory, but to the Kingdom of heaven:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward is great in heaven.
1717 The Beatitudes depict the countenance of Jesus Christ and portray his charity. They express the vocation of the faithful associated with the glory of his Passion and Resurrection; they shed light on the actions and attitudes characteristic of the Christian life; they are the paradoxical promises that sustain hope in the midst of tribulations; they proclaim the blessings and rewards already secured, however dimly, for Christ's disciples; they have begun in the lives of the Virgin Mary and all the saints.
The Beatitudes as detailed in the Gospel present the biggest obstacle to those who would prefer their moral directives in cold, precise logic. As Paragraph 1716 puts it, “The Beatitudes are the heart of Jesus’ teaching.” When paired with the judgment statements of Jesus in such places as Matthew 25, especially verses 31-46, we get the best picture of the moral dimension of the Kingdom of God. One would think that the Beatitudes would find place at the center of catechizing and preaching, instead of some of the agenda-driven oddities that you do see in “approved texts.” I receive dozens of mailings from religious education publishers, including one on the USCCB approved list whose text states, in so many words, that youthful candidates for Confirmation must have entered the United States legally. [This is bad sacramental theology for starters; and its agenda seems to be DACA. The publisher may not know that one DACA boy is now an ordained priest working in the Atlanta Archdiocese!]
While much lip service is paid to the Beatitudes, even in the Catechism, institutional Catholicism has never embraced Christ’s words as a moral Magna Carta. In the first instance, the text itself is not fully understood. It takes time to unpack the precise Biblical meaning of terms such as “poor in spirit,” “mourn,” “meek,” “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” “merciful,” “pure in heart,” “peacemakers,” and “persecuted” have long history in biblical usage, but in contemporary culture words like mercy, meek, mourning, etc. are seen as code words for “snowflake” or an absence of power.
To better appreciate the power of Jesus’ words, we need to see them in their Old and New Testament context. I am bringing out several “big guns” to help us, notably Father John P. Meier, whose epic A Marginal Jew remains the best study of the historical roots of the historical Jesus. In Volume II (p. 317ff) Meier observes that “if isolated from any larger context, the beatitudes are open to a number of different interpretations.” (Use the search page on Amazon Books: there are over one-thousand entries of books unpacking the meaning the beatitudes.) Meier and other Catholic scholars continue to labor to this day to provide the most precise understandings of the terms of the beatitudes, given their definitive impact upon moral theology.
The full treatment of the Beatitudes in the Catechism, in the realm of morality, is frankly poor. Given that the Beatitudes open the three-chapter section on the new Law of Christ as put forward in St. Matthew’s Gospel, it is remarkable that there are barely a dozen references throughout the nearly three thousand points that make up the Catechism. The Catechism quickly lapses back into the legalism of the pre-Council manuals of sins where it seems to be most comfortable and devotes what little text it does to man’s comprehension. It reverts to the question of man’s ability to make free choices in opting for God’s will.
What the Catechism leaves untreated is the event of Judgment upon which beatific living is based, and the specific moral demands of the eight revealed statements of life in the Kingdom of God. My thinking here is that the Church feels a necessity to lay out a concrete and detailed moral system, which the Catechism will do, to honor two agendas: (1) preservation of the “manual norms” which in very times have been granted “eternal status; in matters of sexual ethics, and (2) preservation of the Church’s authority. It is hard for any institution to manage open-ended norms. The Beatitudes do not carry a “measurable outcomes” component as the old manual morality did. Who can say, for example, that he or she has exercised enough mercy in a lifetime? Jesus, in his instruction to Peter that forgiveness should be offered 7 x 70 times [i.e., to infinity], an indication that one successful deed does not a virtue make.
The noted Franciscan writer and preacher Richard Rohr probably explains the Church’s fear of plowing into beatific soil to grow a morality for tomorrow: “When Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God, he was talking about an utterly different way of relating to human society as we know it. He was talking about a new world order, a term recently on the lips of politicians. What a false sense of the term they have used…. I doubt that any major political leader would align a new world order in terms of cooperation, trust, service, and redemptive suffering. For all the talk of a new world order, it's simply the old-world order. The 'New World Order,' or the 'Reign of God,' is the heart of the New Testament."
It is amazing that para. 1718 would state that the beatitudes “express the vocation of the faithful associated with the glory of his Passion and Resurrection; they shed light on the actions and attitudes characteristic of the Christian life.” The Catechism never addresses what those “actions and attitudes” of the Gospel might be, settling instead for the tired manual of cold deeds and ahistorical physical acts. At lunch today, a gentleman told me it was his impression that Catholic churches do more for the poor in his community than other Christian communities. All I could think was thank God, their moral personhood is drawn from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew, the Law of the New Testament, and blessed will they be on judgment day.
1708 By his Passion, Christ delivered us from Satan and from sin. He merited for us the new life in the Holy Spirit. His grace restores what sin had damaged in us.
Paragraph 1708 describes the work of Christ: He delivered us from Satan and from sin. He merited for us the new life in the Spirit. His grace restores what is damaged by sin. The term for all of this is “salvation.” I can recall when I moved to the deep south in the 1970’s the intense evangelicalism of my neighboring churches, and from time to time I was asked personally if I was “saved” or “born again.” The wrong answer, I quickly learned, was that I had been baptized and saved in the Roman Catholic Church as an infant. Nothing made a 1970’s evangelical blanche more painfully than this string of Catholic “heresies.” My heresies? First, the Catholic Church of Rome was “the professional lady from Babylon and thus the anti-Christ.” Second, Catholics don’t baptize correctly in that we rarely use full immersion. [Catholic law permits full immersion, but I digress.] Finally, infants are too young to profess Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.
I miss the Evangelicals of years ago. Having sold their souls in 2016 on the empty promise of a Pro-Life agenda from the current administration, they are torn by anger, division, and I believe shame, in the position they now find themselves. I pray for them now more than I used to. I surmise that in the last generation or so, Evangelicals have opted to “save society from itself” by closer entrenchment in real world politics, particularly in matters of family life and sexual mores. The general principle of bringing the good news to the market place is laudable, necessary in fact, though I think the communicative art of persuasion and example is preferable to state-imposed morality, as a rule, which smacks more of Gelasian “two-sword” governance.
The language of para. 1708 is time conditioned; Christ is depicted as delivering us from Satan, the personification of evil. In the early passages of Mark’s Gospel, the Sunday texts for 2018 [Year B], Christ demonstrates his mission of ushering in the kingdom of God by the expulsion of demons and multiple healings—both actions understood at the time [and today] as works against evil. Some caution is necessary here; it is easy to slip into an easy image of Christ engaging with another powerful force for the destiny of man, but as we discussed last week, later Jewish thought came to understand that evil is internal, within the psyche of man.
I am uncomfortable with terms like the Evil One, Lucifer, or personified devils, because such talk suggests of duel kingdoms, God’s and the evil beings, the latter attributed with powers to overcome the morals of good souls and steal them from God. This strikes me as a diminishment of God’s infinite power. The language of devils, not unique to Christianity, does serve a useful purpose in avoiding language that implies God create evil (as in Genesis 3, where the serpent in the garden is said to be “the most cunning of all the creatures God had made.”) The idea of devils and evil ones was suitable for the culture of Palestine and the early Church, but for the most part our language today does not address evil in those terms. What was once described as demonic possessions might find better explanation in mental illness or mass hysteria—the Salem, Massachusetts, witch trials of 1692 are an excellent example of histrionic attribution of evil to the devil at the cost of 20 lives.
The ugliness of evil and sin can be so invasive that we feel compelled to look outside of the human experience. Coming up in the Thursday Reformation page of the blog in a few weeks is a discussion of the impact of the Black Plague (1347+ A.D.), a catastrophe described quite graphically in The Great Mortality (2005), which killed 50% of the European population alone. (See my review.) The United States Atomic Energy Commission uses the plague as a model for post-nuclear war consequences. (TBP, p. 11) One would imagine that this ravenous terror—thought to be the end of the world from England to Italy—was borne by the full army of Lucifer and his minions. In fact, the cause of the disease was simple mutation of the virus Y-Pestis, a direct descendant of a virus that afflicted the Roman Empire a millennium earlier. Y-Pestis mutated on the backs of field rats in China, journeyed to Europe alongside Turkish traders on new medieval trade routes, and infected every European port with amazing alacrity.
That the world is filled with injustice, crime, natural catastrophe, and perhaps most of all, chronic failures of humans to connect in constructive ways is beyond dispute. Para. 1708 states Jesus’ salvific agenda, of delivering us and remaking us. We Catholics use the words “Jesus” and “saves” probably daily. But as one Catholic journal put it this week, how do you preach salvation to a population that believes it has no guilt to be rescued from, which is pretty much what I see and hear from my own little cabbage patch?
A major part of the answer is the absence of a sense of Jesus as a Cosmic Savior. As St. Paul writes eloquently, the impact of the cross extends throughout the cosmos, including entire human systems of enterprise. Catholic catechetics continues to focus on a highly personal and highly specific focus of morality, just about all of it sexual. I don’t deny that there are critical issues of personal morality, but more oriented to the concept of Christ’s kingship is a saved people, as in plural. The Church has a feast to emphasize universal salvation, Christ the King.
My argument with neo-Evangelicals is similar to my concern about a highly personalized Catholic morality. Next week many churches will conduct Pro Life awareness, obviously a major need in the present day. But I was moved to look up how children in our country fare once they survive the birthing experience. I came across a Washington Post piece from 2014 reporting on a study of infant mortality, i.e., in the first year. The United States, which leads the world in medical spending, ranks 26th in infant care. In twenty-five nations, newborns have a better chance of reaching their first birthdays, in some cases by a factor of three. The conclusion of the study cites a significant decline in the availability of infant health care after leaving the hospital, proportionate to income.
Jesus never used the words systematic or holistic in his teachings, and understandably so, given his time. But his call to a moral life and the reach of salvation goes out to individuals and communities. If we as individuals are judged for our individual conduct and rewarded our faith, how will God address our corporate conduct?
1707 "Man, enticed by the Evil One, abused his freedom at the very beginning of history."10 He succumbed to temptation and did what was evil. He still desires the good, but his nature bears the wound of original sin. He is now inclined to evil and subject to error:
Man is divided in himself. As a result, the whole life of men, both individual and social, shows itself to be a struggle, and a dramatic one, between good and evil, between light and darkness.11
I was hoping for an easy morning, as today is clinic day, but it appears that I will need to explain the nature of evil itself before I pack my lunch and IPad and head out to work. The Catechism itself chose the easy route of “blaming it on the snake,” so to speak, in its explanation of how sin and evil came into the world, with its use of the term “Evil One.” The footnotes for Paragraph 1707 take us back to the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes (joy and hope), “The Church in the Modern World.” While I don’t think I have it in me to explain the nature of evil, today’s post may set the parameters of the question, at any rate.
Footnote 10 comes from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Chapter 1, which makes for captivating reading. Paul states that from the beginning of time, “[God’s] invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made.” Put another way, man has always enjoyed the capacity to discern God by the very way he is created and composed. If this is so, why do all of us miss the mark of good living, sometimes quite dramatically? Paul is writing for a Gentile audience, and he asserts that although every man knows God, “they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks.” He goes on, “They became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened,” exchanging “the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes.”
Again, recalling the setting of this letter, Paul is calling out the Roman practices of worshipping a human being (emperor worship) or various forms of idolatry. The mention of a snake is almost certainly a reference to the fertility rites of many religions of the time where public ceremonies involving a living or depicted snake invoked divine intervention on behalf of the female population. This form of phallic idolatry afflicted Israel as well, and it may be the reason that the snake, of all creatures, introduces sin into the world in the telling of the Garden account from Genesis.
Paul does not explain why humankind turned its back on the evident glory of God, but he accepts this as the human condition. Because of the denial of the true God, “God handed them over to impurity through the lusts of their hearts for the mutual degradation of their bodies.” Paul becomes more specific: “females exchanged natural relations for unnatural…and males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another.” It is intriguing that Paul would use homosexuality as his prime witness for human degeneracy. He may be reflecting the prominence of same-sex activity in Roman society, or he may be falling back to his training in Jewish Law, which teaches that “If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltness is upon them." [Leviticus 20:13]. Catholic tradition is not nearly as extreme; the Catechism itself [para. 2357] admits that regarding homosexuality, “its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained.”
The theology of Paul on the origin of sin—in his explanation to Gentiles-- can be summarized here as inherent hubris, a pride with no impulse to bend the knee to a God visible in all his works. In the late Old Testament writings, Scripture addresses the origin of sin and evil in both philosophic and metaphoric language, the most famous attempt being Genesis 3. An unfortunate catechetical failure over the years has been the absence of any sustained effort to mine Genesis 3 for its moral richness with adult spirituality. To unpack Genesis 3, it is necessary to state, for the last time, that the text is revealed philosophy, not chronological history.
The authors of Genesis 3 begin with the assertion that “the serpent was the most cunning of all the creatures God had made.” The idea that God is the creator of “cunning” is still a puzzle to this day. The old literal interpretation of my childhood, that Satan appeared to Eve disguised as a snake, was rather comforting—until about the eighth grade, when I had the impertinence to ask the Christian Brothers, “Well, who made Satan?” [And if you don’t believe in Karma, I get unsolicited email today from people advising me that Satan is taking over the planet, or at least the Café.]
Genesis 3 lays it on the line that in some way evil is inherent in creation. Its implication is not that God made bad things, but rather, “free people,” beings who were and are made in such dignified fashion that they enjoy God’s creative freedom, the ultimate free choice being the acceptance of and obedience to the Creator. Man is made with enough power to damn himself, too. In remarkable prose, the authors of Genesis proceed to make their point that humans do not choose infallibly. “The woman saw that the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eyes, and the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.”
Genesis 3 shares with St. Paul the idea that the ultimate human sin is hubris. The serpent, or “best supporting actor,” puts forth the Achilles heel of human existence, “God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil.” We are a proud people, independent gods, who do not wish to acknowledge our vulnerabilities. Genesis goes on to enumerate the breakdown of the human condition caused by the human condition of sin: (1) Adam blames Eve for their collective sin, she who was bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh; the capacity to love is damaged; (2) Eve blames the snake, symbolizing the break between man and nature; not for nothing did Pope Francis write Laudato Si; (3) Adam and his descendants will be at war with nature in order to eat; “Thorns and thistles it shall bear for you….”
(4) The issue of childbirth is the most psychologically complex of the couple’s curses. “I will intensify your toil in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children. Yet your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” The very continuation of humanity will depend upon a life-threatening and intensely painful experience of childbirth. And for all of that, the urge for the husband in the sexual sense will remain intense, despite his domination over her. The text here should not be interpreted in any way as a critique of procreation, or even less as a commentary on the status of womanhood, but rather as a proof from experience that human experience—of man and women--is complex and not always trustworthy. As Paul observed, we are creatures of our passions; the spirit may be willing, but the flesh is weak. In any event, we are not independent “gods” nor can we blame our sins on the "Evil One."