Recently, I posted “The Fortunate Fall: change the future in a blink” and that led me to think about the fortunate fall in general.
“Felix culpa”is the Latin for “happy fault” or fortunate fall has its origin in Roman Catholic theology. The fall of Adam and Eve and their expulsion from the garden of Eden was interpreted theologically as the source of original sin, but good came out of this loss of innocence. Without it, humanity would not have the hope of redemption. In particular, according to the church, we would not have the salvation of Jesus Christ.
In Paradise Lost, the 17th century poem by John Milton, explores this idea beginning:
Of Mans First Disobedience and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast
Brought Death into the world, and all our woe,
With Loss of Eden, til one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing heavenly Muse…
He and his Muse continue singing for 12 “books” and 200 pages in my barely worn, but 50 year-old, university text. First, of course, Satan has to revolt and refuse to submit to the will of God, falling with his host of rebel angels to land at last in the burning lake of hell. He consoles himself that
The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.
He gets his revenge by seducing Eve, convincing her to eat of the forbidden tree and she, of course, gives the apple to Adam.
In Book 12, Adam has a long conversation with the Archangel Michael before he is cast out to the east of Eden and learns more or less the whole history of humanity at least as the church sees it. Finally, Adam declares himself to be at peace, for something of great good will come out of his grievous error. He is about to be driven out of paradise by an angel bearing a flaming sword, but he seems quite convinced that, as Michael has told him, “thou shalt possess a Paradise within Thee, happier far”.
Juggling free will with the will of God proves to be an on-going theme in English literature. Theologians like St Augustine tell us that “God judged it better to bring good out of evil than not to permit evil to exist.”
That is one model for understanding the nature of life, but one which many of us may not find comes easily to us these days. Certainly, there is much evil in the world, much hardship and heartbreak. We struggle to come to terms with it. We cannot accept it as just random. We want to give our struggle with it meaning and significance.
Some of us conclude that we are paying karmic debt collected from deeds we have committed in this life or previous ones. This belief suggests that there is a natural law like gravity that makes it necessary to re-balance our moral selves by suffering what we have caused others to suffer, not as punishment, but as loving and necessary correction – a riff on the idea of “forgive them for they now not what they do”. Ah yes, now they do!
Another way to look at it is one that I prefer – at least at present. That is the idea that we are on a path of evolution here and what we are changing is our mind, our soul, our spirit. The hardship that we encounter is the instrument by which we progress. It is true that we can regress as well, but in general, our direction is a positive one. We are becoming more aware of oneness, for example, and connectedness. We are understanding that what we do as individuals affects others. We are becoming more empathetic. We are even beginning to see that God is not an autocratic, ancient of days who makes outrageous demands, but rather an indwelling loving essence. Which makes outrageous demands.
The poet Rumi uses the image of a tanner scouring the hide of an animal until it becomes a beautiful piece of leather to illustrate how the hardships of life render us more spiritual “Physically”, he says, “the world is grief, but within there are many kinds of laughing.”