In order to understand what is truly natural for man, it is important to discern what Adam was like before the Fall. After the Fall, this is easy enough to discern. This because we are all sinful and find ourselves like Saint Paul saying, “I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.” (Rom 7:15) In layman’s terms, we have a conscience that desires what is correct but we have this opposing desire to defy the conscience. This propensity is so strong, it is often a struggle to even discern what is right or wrong.
Was man like this before the Fall? How did Adam make the wrong choice if he had no desire towards evil? To answer these questions, its important to review the relevant Scriptures and their interpretations from the Fathers. In this article, I review what Saint Gregory of Nyssa and John Chrysostom wrote.
This is not comprehensive review of the fourth century and I am aware of some diversity on the issue (several later Latin fathers accuse Adam of “gluttony,” which if taken literally contradicts the idea that no passions preceded the Fall). Nevertheless, I attempt to identify what I believe to be the earliest and most consistent thread among the saints.
Saint Gregory of Nyssa. In On the Making of Man, Gregory presents his anthropology. It is apparent that he reiterated the universal teaching that man was created with complete “freedom from passion” and “alienation from all evil.” (Chap 5) Life before sin was described as “angelic” and that the will of man was directed towards good, but only indirectly (Chap 17; c.f. Chap 20). This gave Satan the opportunity to decieve Adam and Eve as to what is in fact good and then they willingly chose evil. In Gregory’s words, “man [Adam] would not have been deceived by manifest evil” (Chap 20) as the will of man was not subject to “flux and change” (i.e. no gnomic willing, Chap 27). Since the fall, sexual relations then pass on the passions to each subsequent generation. (Chap 18)
I would have you understand that our Maker also, painting the portrait to resemble His own beauty, by the addition of virtues, as it were with colours, shows in us His own sovereignty:…purity, freedom from passion, blessedness, alienation from all evil, and all those attributes of the like kind which help to form in men the likeness of God: with such hues as these did the Maker of His own image mark our nature. (On the Making of Man, Chap 5, Par 1)
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. (On the Making of Man, Chap 17, Par 2)
He saw beforehand by His all-seeing power the failure of their will to keep a direct course to what is good, and its consequent declension from the angelic life. (On the Making of Man, Chap 17, Par 4)
For I think that from this beginning all our passions issue as from a spring, and pour their flood over man’s life…it is not allowable to ascribe the first beginnings of our constitutional liability to passion to that human nature which was fashioned in the Divine likeness; but as brute life first entered into the world, and man, for the reason already mentioned, took something of their nature (I mean the mode of generation), he accordingly took at the same time a share of the other attributes contemplated in that nature; for the likeness of man to God is not found in anger, nor is pleasure a mark of the superior nature; cowardice also, and boldness, and the desire of gain, and the dislike of loss, and all the like, are far removed from that stamp which indicates Divinity. (On the Making of Man, Chap 18, Par 1)
[S]ins keep their destruction hidden, and seem at first sight acceptable, and some deceit makes them earnestly sought after by unwary men instead of what is good. (On the Making of Man, Chap 20, Par 2)
[D]esire which arises towards what is evil, as though towards good, is called by Scripture
It was because he saw this that the serpent points out the evil fruit of sin, not showing the evil manifestly in its own nature (for man would not have been deceived by manifest evil), but giving to what the woman beheld the glamour of a certain beauty, and conjuring into its taste the spell of a sensual pleasure, he appeared to her to speak convincingly:
and the woman saw, it says,
that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes to behold, and fair to see; and she took of the fruit thereof and did eat, and that eating became the mother of death to men. (On the Making of Man, Chap 20, Par 4)
Now to the element of our soul which is in the likeness of God it is not that which is subject to flux and change. (On the Making of Man, Chap 27, Par 5)
Saint John Chrysostom. Chrysostom in his Homilies on Genesis describes the condition of man before the fall as that of angels, without passions (Homily 15, Chap 4) nor sorrow (Homily 16, Chap 1). It is also stated that “remorse and confusion” is the result of the Fall (Homily 17, Chap 1), consistent with the idea that gnomic willing entered after that point. Like previous fathers, he affirms that man was deceived with the promise he would become like God. (Homily 12, Chap 4; c.f. Homily 16 Chaps 3-4) It was necessary that Adam be deceived because Adam had a free will which was not inclined towards evil–as he was completely ignorant of evil yet somewhat knowledgable of what was good. (Homily 14, Chap 5) Adam was knowledgable enough so that he was more than aware of what was right and could be accountable for what is wrong. (Homily 16, Chap 5) In an interesting exchange between Adam and God, it is stated that Eve would have been exempt from punishment if Adam had not consented and that Adam, by being deceived by Satan, was suspecting God of being deceitful. (Homily 17, Chap 5)
[T]he first man was deceived by the serpent, and he imagined that he, who had been formed of the mud of the earth, could become like God. (Homily 12 on Genesis, Chap 4)
how great was in Adam the liberty of the will, and the extent of science [“knowledge”]. Thus we can not say that he did not know the good and the bad. For he was not profoundly learned and learned who could give a proper and proper name to domestic animals, birds of the sky, and wild beasts, without confounding species, and without imposing upon domestic animals names which would have agreed upon wild beasts, or to these names which would have been agreed upon by the first? Conjecture from there the power of that breath of life that the Lord poured out into man, and what is the science of that spiritual soul he gave him. (Homily 14 on Genesis, Chap 5)
[T]hey lived in the earthly paradise of a life entirely angelic, and knew neither the fires of concupiscence, nor the revolt of the passions. They also ignored the diseases, and the various needs of the body, because they had been created incorruptible, and immortal. (Homily 15 on Genesis, Chap 4)
Holy Scripture enters into this detail, and teaches us that their life was exempt from sorrow and sadness, and that their condition was almost that of angels. (Homily 16 on Genesis, Chap 1)
It [the serpent] was the instrument he [Satan] used to deceive the woman, and to seduce her by an insidious familiarity, as being weaker and simpler than man. (Homily 16 on Genesis, Chap 1)
Thus Eve, already dreaming of equality with God, hastened to gather the forbidden fruit; her eyes, her mind and her heart stopped there, fixedly, and she thought only of exhausting the poisoned cup which the devil had prepared for her. Such were certainly her dispositions from the moment she listened to the pernicious counsels of the devil, and Scripture testifies to it. For the woman, she says, saw that the fruit was good to eat, and beautiful to see, and of a delectable aspect; and she took some and ate it…before the counsel of the devil the woman had not had such thoughts…because she respected the defense of the Lord, and feared the punishment of which he threatened his disobedience. But as soon as she had listened to this perverse and evil spirit, she believed and had nothing to fear from eating the forbidden fruit, and that even they would become equal to God…[Eve said,] “If this fruit seems good to eat, if it charms the eye and if it is of a delectable aspect, and if it must, moreover, raise us to the supreme honors and make us as great as the Creator, why should I hesitate to pick him [the fruit]?” (Homily 16 on Genesis, Chap 3)
Because, no doubt, you have known by your wife the promise of the tempting spirit; and suddenly, swelled with the same presumption, you ate forbidden fruit. (Homily 16 on Genesis, Chap 4)
For could he have given orders to man if he had invincibly ignored disobedience as an evil? But it was not so; and Adam knew perfectly well what he was doing, since from the beginning he possessed free will. In the contrary case, his disobedience would not have been more worthy of punishment than his submission of praise…Thus before their sin they were immortal, otherwise their prevarication could not have been punished by the punishment of death. (Homily 16 on Genesis, Chap 5)
It is not that they did not know beforehand the good and the bad, as the words of the woman to the serpent prove: God said to us: Do not eat this fruit, lest you die. They knew, therefore, that death would be the punishment for their disobedience; so it is after having eaten forbidden fruit that they were stripped of their garment of glory, and that they felt the shame of their nakedness. This tree is therefore called the tree of the science of good and evil, because it was destined to test their obedience. (Homily 16 on Genesis, Chap 6)
[T]he man who, with his wife, was seduced by the devil and believed in the pernicious advice of the serpent…As a result of their sin and disobedience, they had experienced remorse and confusion. (Homily 17 on Genesis, Chap 1)
[Adam said,] “I do not know what motive has led her to introduce me to the fruit I have eaten.”…[God said to Adam,] “Did not you have to be faithful to my command, repel the fatal present, and even represent to the woman the enormity of her fault. You are the head of the woman; and she was formed only for you. But you have reversed the order, and instead of holding it back, you let yourself be carried away by it. The members had to obey the head, and, by a guilty reversal, it was the members who commanded, so that ranks and order were overthrown…For if you had not consented to it, the woman would never have dragged herself into this immense disaster…So you thought that I had deceived you, and that I had forbidden you the use of this fruit only to deprive you, by jealousy, of a still more glorious state.” (Homily 17 on Genesis, Chap 4)
Let us listen to Adam, who says to God: The woman you gave me as a companion introduced me to the fruit, and I ate it. Thus he acknowledges that there has been no compulsion or violence against him, and that he has acted voluntarily and with complete freedom. Eve only presented the fruit to her, and she exercised no pressure or violence on him. And in the same way she does not say, to excuse herself, that the snake has been inclined to eat the forbidden fruit in spite of herself. It limits itself to saying: the snake deceived me. Now it depended on her to reject seduction as to succumb to it: the snake deceived me, she said. It is therefore true that the enemy of our salvation, speaking by the organ of this accursed animal, gave a fatal advice, and deceived the woman. But he did not violate it, nor compel it: he used only fraud to accomplish his pernicious designs, and if he preferred the woman, it was because he thought she was more likely to be seduced. (Homily 17 on Genesis, Chap 5)
God punishes the seducer so severely, it is a proof that Adam and Eve, victims of his deceits, were agreeable to him, and that he was still interested in their happiness. (Homily 17 on Genesis, Chap 9)
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