It was God’s original plan that the new nature of grace given to Adam and Eve should have been transmitted to their offspring together with their human nature. Just as God creates each human soul and infuses it into the body formed by natural processes, so also He intended to give each soul the gifts of His grace. But the sin of Adam rejected that plan; and each child now comes into existence with nothing more than the human nature of his parents—a human nature lacking even those gifts of integrity and immunity from death, that were the privilege of Adam and Eve. But the lack of supernatural grace means that each child lacks the power to be God’s friend; he cannot fulfill the function for which God intended him; he cannot rise above himself to love God in that supernatural way which God desires; he is, in fact, defective in God’s sight. This state of deficiency is called original sin. It does not involve the notion of a personal fault—the only personal fault was that of Adam and Eve—but it does involve that want of due turning to God, which is essential in all sin. Personal sins involve a personal act of aversion from God; original sin arises from the act of Adam and Eve and leaves the human being in a state of aversion from God.
Man therefore became incapable of loving God and of reaching eternal happiness, which, in fact, was to have been the flowering and fulfillment of that love and friendship of God, that we call habitual grace. Man also became subject to concupiscence. His lower nature is no longer subject to reason. Desires spring up unbidden, and almost carry him away before he averts to their presence; passions draw him to evil and resist all control; the mind itself is clouded and blinded, and readily falls into error; the ordinary toil of life that had been man’s pleasure is now his penance; even the agents of disease are no longer held in check, and pain is added to his miseries. To all that opposition which he meets from the powers of nature endangering his happiness, there is joined the still more dangerous subjection to the devil.
When one remembers the tremendous powers of mind and action that lie at the devil’s disposal to wreak his immeasurable malice against the human race, one can see how pitiful was the plight of man. He had lost all power to achieve the supernatural happiness for which he had been destined. To escape eternal damnation he had to keep the law which was written in his heart. Considering his own weakness and his proneness to evil, as well as the enmity of the devil and his unrelenting efforts to drag men down to the same torments as he himself was suffering, one can see how well-nigh impossible it was for man to avoid adding his own personal sins to the sin of his first parents. Whatever chance may have been offered to the child who died before the use of reason, there was no hope for the man who reached adult age, unless God took pity upon him.
And God did take pity on him. For God, we repeat, made the world for His own glory, and His plan is to glorify Himself by His mercy. And mercy is the attitude of goodness confronted with misery. And indeed man’s condition was truly miserable. It is idle to discuss here what God could have done to repair the situation. The human beings He had created and raised to a sharing of His own nature had rebelled against Him. The infinity of the Being offended gave a certain infinity to the offence. If God chose to exact condign, or strict, satisfaction, no work of man could satisfy Him, for God alone could render to God such due and full reparation. It is true that God might have condoned the offence; He could have restored to the children the privileges of grace lost by their parents without insisting on full satisfaction. But in fact, He did not do so. He decided to insist on full and adequate satisfaction being offered to His justice; but at the same time, He exercised His mercy by giving men a divine Redeemer who could save them from their sins.
Even before passing the sentence of exile and punishment on Adam and Eve, He promised salvation for them, in those mysterious words which He addressed to the devil: “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel” (Gen 3:5). To what extent Adam understood the full meaning of the promise it is not easy to state; our understanding of it is helped by tradition and confirmed by the event, and we can see in it a foreshadowing of the way in which God had decided to restore the happiness of His creatures.
By their sin of pride and disobedience, Adam and Eve had deprived their children of that supernatural life that was to be the seed of their eternal happiness. God, in His infinite mercy, decided to give men a new Adam and a new Eve who by their humility and obedience would repair the spiritual ruin caused by the first man and woman, and who would thus become a new source of spiritual life for the human race. The new Adam was to be the Son of God Himself—made Man for us; the new Eve was to be the Virgin Mary. It was by Adam’s sin that death had entered into the world, and it would be by merit of Christ that life should be restored to it. And just as Eve had played a real, though subordinate, part in the ruin of the human race (for if Adam had not sinned, original sin would not have been transmitted to his progeny), so also Mary was to play a real, though subordinate, part in its restoration; for although Mary is the Mediatrix of grace, which is our supernatural life, yet her part would avail nothing without the merits of her Son, upon whom all the restoration depended. In brief, all things had been ruined in Adam; it was God’s plan to re-establish all things in Christ.
The working out of that plan is a gradual process, involving the whole history of Christianity, and extending to every detail of the spiritual life of each individual soul. Before attempting to examine any of its parts, certain general principles, which are apparent even in its broadest outlines, should be noted, for they form a pattern which, crystal-like, is repeated in many of its details. There is first of all a very close parallel between the fall and the restoration, and it is for that reason that the last chapter was devoted to a discussion of the fall. There is an element in Adam’s sin that repeats itself in all our sins; and there is a pattern in Adam’s pardon that can be traced in our own. Particularly noteworthy is the way in which God deals with the results of sin, even when He pardons it. He does not take away all its consequences. On the contrary, He leaves them as they are; but He makes them a means of restoration and repair. He did not take away all the results of original sin. The loss of those great privileges, the unbridling of concupiscence, the reign of death and of disease, the weakness and ignorance of men and their liabilities to error and their tendencies to evil, the malice and machination of the devil against the human race—all which miseries Adam brought upon us—they still remain. It is true that a new spring of supernatural life has been given to us; a new means of making reparation for sin, a new source of light and strength, a redemption from the power of the devil, have been placed at our disposal. But the difficulties remain.
But these very difficulties are by God’s mercy to be the very instruments of a still higher happiness. His original proposal was that we should be happy here below and, after a term of probation, should enter into an eternity of happiness with Him in heaven. This proposal for our happiness here below was rejected, but He has deigned to make the very miseries of our fallen state a means by which we can earn still greater happiness in heaven. In a word, while God’s second proposal—if one may so speak—is more difficult for us, it can also be more profitable for us, for it contains more opportunities of exercising virtue, and it gives us a source of more ample strength for its exercise. “Where sin abounded, grace did more abound” (Rom 5:20). The point will recur in the discussion of the effects of our own personal sins, and it will be examined in more detail. For the moment it is sufficient to draw attention to the pattern thus laid down, and to observe that the infinite Wisdom of God is such that He would only permit His plan to be rejected if He foresaw that He would achieve a greater good by doing so.
Here one must remember the limitations of human thought and of human speech in the discussion of God and His actions. We can only speak of God in a human way, and represent Him as working after a human fashion. But it must be noted that there is no multiplicity in God’s mind. He is one and essentially simple. He conceived the world and its history in one glance; in fact, in that one glance He saw all the possible worlds and all their possible histories. With the same simplicity of action, He decreed and permitted the existence of the present scheme of things, foreseeing its whole history with every single detail of every individual life. He could have chosen otherwise; but for His own wise ends He chose this particular universe with its history. Not until it is all over can we expect to see the wisdom, infinite as it is, behind His design. But, if He permitted man’s power of free choice to lead to evil, He did so because He saw that He could turn man’s malice and mistakes to good purpose. One might say that He saw therein an opportunity for mercy.
Even though the infinite intelligence of God sums up everything in one idea, yet we have to represent the immensity of His mind by a multiplicity of thoughts, and His one decree as a long series of decrees. We speak of God’s first plan, and of His second plan, and so on; and if we remember the limitations of human speech and powers of description, we shall not be misled. In fact, to get a fair idea of God’s arrangements for the misdeeds that every man’s free will produces, we can think of God as having an unlimited number of plans, each one of which comes into operation to provide for each sin according as it occurs in the course of time. It is only a human way of saying that God has provided for everything—literally everything. And so, in fact, He has; we must never forget that. He has even provided for our sins. But it is His provision of a remedy for original sin that must be first examined.
Only an infinite Being could make full satisfaction in the exact rigor of justice for the offence given to God by the sins of men. And so God’s plan of mercy unfolded itself. God himself should come to save us. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, whom St. John called the Word, should assume a human nature as a first step to identifying Himself sufficiently with the human race to satisfy for its sins and to give its members a share of the divine life. The mystery of the Incarnation was to be the beginning of God’s redemption of His fallen creatures.
There was a special fitness in the fact that the redemption should be wrought by the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. The Second Person, as we have seen, is represented as the Word or Idea, by which God expresses His knowledge of Himself. Now all things that exist must first of all have existed in the mind of their Maker. In some way each creature reflects in a very limited way some aspect of the divine Being, or what, in ordinary speech, we should call some idea in the divine Mind. All these “ideas” are really only one Idea—the Word, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. And St. John says of this Second Person: “All things were made by Him; and without Him was made nothing that was made.” St. Thomas Aquinas says that just as the idea in a craftsman’s mind is the model of the thing he makes, so “The Word of God, which is His eternal concept, is the exemplar and model of every creature.” Now the Redemption is a new creation or one might say a recreation, and it is, therefore, fitting that the Person in whom is found the original design for creation, should be the Person by whom the restoration of all creation should be effected.
Many centuries were to elapse before the momentous announcement would come to a village maiden in Nazareth, telling her that she was to be the mother of the promised Redeemer who was to be the Messiah—or the Christus: i.e., the Anointed One—as He was known to the Jews by prophecy; but, even during those centuries, faith in Him who was to come was to be at the root of men’s hope and salvation. Of those intervening years it is unnecessary to treat here. We are concerned with the Christian era, for that is the beginning of our own spiritual re-birth, and it is in that light we must examine it.