The crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ is the proper beginning point for all Christian theology. Christ’s Pascha should be the source for all Christian reflection. It is clear that the disciples themselves did not understand the Scriptures nor Christ Himself until after the resurrection (Luke 24:45). We cannot approach Pascha as a midpoint in a historical narrative. It is the beginning. That which came before is only understood by reading backwards from Pascha (even though Pascha was before all things – Rev. 13:8). Everything subsequent to Christ’s resurrection is also understood only in the light of Pascha. Pascha is the meaning of all things. I offer this brief reminder of the true nature of theology as I continue my reflections on evolution and creation.
As I noted in the previous article, the age of the universe presses the question about the nature of the Biblical creation narrative in Genesis. Advocates for a 6,000 year-old earth based in a strict literalism find themselves having to resort to notions of a universe created in a manner to only “appear” old. A single, flawed reading of Scripture is preferred to the reliability of simple observation. With such caprice as dogma, Christianity would be embracing a literalist tyranny. Nothing in the world is reliable, only a narrow reading of the text. This narrow reading is a product of a false use of the notion of history
How did history come to triumph over all things? The answer is not far removed from Genesis and Adam.
The early chapters of Genesis were treated in a variety of ways by the early fathers. They by no means held universally to a literal interpretation. The Old Testament mentions Adam but once (other than a geneology) outside the book of Genesis. Adam as the progenitor of sin is nowhere an idea of importance (or even an idea) within the Old Testament. St. Paul raises Adam to a new level of consideration, recognizing in him a type of Christ, “the Second Adam.” But St. Paul’s Adam is arguably much like St. Paul’s Abraham (in Galatians), a story whose primary usefulness is the making of a theological point.
Nevertheless, St. Paul’s lead eventually becomes the pathway for history’s ascendancy. For while it is true that man’s breaking communion with God is the source of death, this is reduced to mere historical fact in the doctrine of Original Sin. For here Adam, as the first historical man, becomes infinitely guilty and deserving of punishment, and pays his juridical debt forward to all generations. This historical understanding of the fall, with inherited guilt, locks the Fall within historical necessity. It is among numerous reasons that Original Sin, as classically stated in the West, has not found a lasting place within Orthodox tradition.
Written into a diminished doctrine of the atonement, Adam as the historical source of the fall becomes a theological necessity. He also becomes an easy target for the enemies of the Christian faith. For even if the resurrection is beyond the reach of unbelief, a 6,000 year-old Adam is child’s play for those who would reduce the need for Christ’s redemption to the ridicule of a few ancient bones and Carbon-14 dating.
Some would reduce this historical danger by pushing Adam back in time. How long? And in what way? C.S. Lewis, wonderful Christian thinker, but still a man of his Western heritage, offers an account of an older Adam, merged with an evolutionary tale:
For long centuries, God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself. He gave it hands whose thumb could be applied to each of the fingers, and jaws and teeth and throat capable of articulation, and a brain sufficiently complex to execute all of the material motions whereby rational thought is incarnated. The creature may have existed in this state for ages before it became man: it may even have been clever enough to make things which a modern archaeologist would accept as proof of its humanity. But it was only an animal because all its physical and psychical processes were directed to purely material and natural ends. Then, in the fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness which could say “I” and “me,” which could look upon itself as an object, which knew God, which could make judgments of truth, beauty and goodness, and which was so far above time that it could perceive time flowing past…. We do not know how many of these creatures God made, nor how long they continued in the Paradisal state. But sooner or later they fell. Someone or something whispered that they could become as gods…. They wanted some corner in this universe of which they could say to God, “This is our business, not yours.” But there is no such corner. They wanted to be nouns, but they were, and eternally must be, mere adjectives. We have no idea in what particular act, or series of acts, the self-contradictory, impossible wish found expression. For all I can see, it might have concerned the literal eating of a fruit, the question is of no consequence. (C.S. Lewis, Problem of Pain, 68-71)
This requirement to salvage some literal Adam somewhere, somehow, is not shared by the universal opinion of the fathers. Indeed, the treatment of the early chapters of Genesis is “all over the map,” sometimes even within the writings of a single father. The primary fathers of the East (if I may use such a term), Basil, the two Gregories, etc., are quite free with both historical and ahistorical treatments of Adam. Bouteneff, citing both Behr and Balthasar, notes that Gregory does not envisage a historic pre-fallen immortal state.
[Gregory] alludes twice in the Catechetical Oration to the fact that Moses is speaking through a story, or an allegory. The implication of this is that God’s addition of mortality is a part of his creation of humanity from the beginning, in foreknowledge of the ongoing fall. However, Gregory does not care to make this plain here. Nor does he ever develop a portraiture of an idealized pre-fallen Adam or Eve who would not have been subject to death and all that it entails for human life (Bouteneff, 164).
There is even an on-again-off-again treatment of paradise as a non-material existence. St. Basil uses the very interesting phrase: “In your righteous judgment, you, O God, sent him [man] forth from paradise into this world…”
St. Basil is far removed from the later Western account of Adam as the progenitor of sin. He wrote: “Evil has no other origin than our voluntary falls. . . . Each of us is the first author of his own vice; . . . you are the master of your actions” (In Hex. 2.5).
So strong was his sense of human free choice that Basil did not even consider an action sinful unless it was done consciously and voluntarily. He thus has no interest in blaming Adam for our sin, because freedom—a part of the divine image itself—trumps all determinism (138).
This does not deny humanity’s complicity in death. Rather, it is similar to Dostoevsky’s words: “Each man is guilty of the sins of the whole world.”
But does this mean that God created a world that has held death from the beginning? It would not be strange to say so, since Pascha was before the beginning. St. Paul states that creation was made “subject to futility” in view of man (but not with man as the cause). Creation is clearly “subject to futility” by God’s action.
What is damaged in such an account is the apparent integrity of a time line. But it has never been part of the Christian gospel that history is a closed system. That the faith redeems history is one thing, but it is not subject to it. Pascha triumphs over all things.
Adam’s breaking of communion with God brings death. Death as the “last enemy,” however, is not revealed until Christ’s resurrection. For though human beings have always died, death was by no means seen as the central point of the Old Testament faith. Indeed, death and life-after-death were handled in a variety of manners before Christ.
Just as Christ’s resurrection reveals life to the world, so His life also reveals death as the enemy. It is only in light of Christ’s death and resurrection that the story of Adam becomes interesting and universal in its meaning. Christ’s resurrection liberates the early chapters of Genesis from possible obscurity as Jewish creation myth into the most profound account of the crisis of human existence.
Death is a fact of our existence, thus the Fall is a fact of that existence. But the significance of our death is only made known to us in Christ. I personally remain skeptical of the efforts to describe the historical character of the Fall, even as I remain utterly aware of its reality in my life. Biological death, well known throughout our existence, is not yet the “fullness” of death revealed in Christ/Adam. We do not know death until Christ.
There is a conflict between Christian believing and certain versions of evolutionary theory. Biology itself holds no contradictions for the Christian faith. However, meta-theories of biology are often grounded in ideologies that have no place within science. As theories of meaning, they are more “religious” than scientific in nature.
Biology can describe change, but the meaning of change, the purpose of change remains beyond its scope. Creation as the unfolding of “random chance” is the best that can be offered without reference to God (even if some chances are more likely than others). But this brings us to the same question that is confronted daily by believers (and others). God’s work remains opaque, we cannot see behind its results and watch the process of divine action. But the results are often so startling that randomness would seem absurd. And this applies profoundly to the unfolding of our universe.
Believers need not argue about the absurdity of a universe that some think to be random. For the resurrection is that one moment that shatters the silence of God and the opacity of His work. It is the voice of God explaining Himself (John 1:18).
We rightly hear in the language of “survival of the fittest” nothing more than the 19th century Christian heresy of Progress. Progress is a mere ideology, a secularized version of Christian eschatology. The 20th century endured the catastrophe of various brave new worlds. Progress, as an idea, belongs in the dustbin of hi