Abbot Anderson, Paradise Lost, pt 1

Abbot Anderson, Paradise Lost, pt 1
PARADISE LOST
A Lenten Meditation
Abbot Philip Anderson, OSB
Our Lady of the Annunciation Monastery of Clear Creek (OK)
March 12 2011
Houston, Tx
The Paradise We Lost
The fact is inescapable: if there is something right with human existence, if God’s creation is filled with wonders, both natural and supernatural, if Christ’s victory over sin and death stands quite complete and definitive, there is also something awry in the universe, something terribly wrong in the world.  Saint Benedict takes it for granted and never loses this realism from sight.  From the outset of his Rule for monks he makes it clear in what kind of place we live in:

Hearken, O my son, to the precept of your master, and incline the ear of your heart:  willingly receive and faithfully fulfill the admonition of your loving father, that you may return by the labor of obedience to Him from whom you had departed through the sloth of disobedience. (Prologue)

It is sad but true that we are all somehow involved in the rebellion that started among the Angels and spilled over into the History of mankind.  This is why Saint Benedict makes so bold as to point to the sorry fact of our sloth of disobedience.
On the other end of the historical spectrum, the Magisterium of the Church, both in the late twentieth century and in our own, brave new millennium, frequently refers to the alarming perspective of a general secularization and of a de-Christianization of almost all the more developed societies—especially Europe and the United States of America.  There is no small threat here.  Soon-to-be-Blessed Pope said this repeatedly with as much eloquence and forcefulness as any man could muster.   

The attempt to set freedom in opposition to truth, he writes, and indeed to separate them radically, is the consequence, manifestation and consummation of another more serious and destructive dichotomy, that which separates faith from morality. This separation represents one of the most acute pastoral concerns of the Church amid today’s growing secularism, wherein many, indeed too many, people think and live “as if God did not exist”. We are speaking of a mentality which affects, often in a profound, extensive and all-embracing way, even the attitudes and behavior of Christians, whose faith is weakened and loses its character as a new and original criterion for thinking and acting in personal, family and social life. In a widely de-christianized culture, the criteria employed by believers themselves in making judgments and decisions often appear extraneous or even contrary to those of the Gospel (Veritatis Splendor, n. 88).

As the same Pope further explains, this type of decadence goes back to the original fault itself.
[O]bedience is not always easy. As a result of that mysterious original sin, committed at the prompting of Satan, the one who is “a liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44), man is constantly tempted to turn his gaze away from the living and true God in order to direct it towards idols (cf. 1 Thes 1:9), exchanging “the truth about God for a lie” (Rom 1:25). Man’s capacity to know the truth is also darkened, and his will to submit to it is weakened. Thus, giving himself over to relativism and skepticism (cf. Jn 18:38), he goes off in search of an illusory freedom apart from truth itself.  (Veritatis Splendor n. 1)
 There is a painting, I think belonging to the 19th century French School, that depicts Adam and Eve after their expulsion from the Garden of Eden.  It is an impressive canvas, artfully anachronistic.  In the foreground we contemplate the Garden itself, where the lion lies with the lamb, where all is harmony and peace.  A little further back, at the gate of the Garden, perched atop the two pillars that flank the gateway, of course, stand the Cherubim with flaming sword that keep watch, guarding the entrance lest fallen Man attempt prematurely to reenter the Paradise he lost. 

What is rather interesting about this particular painting is the fact that the two sad figures of Adam and Eve, seen in perspective, going off the road into the outside world in the background, instead of being clothed in animal skins (as the Bible indicates) are dressed as a man and a woman of modern times, Adam with his bowler hat and overcoat, Eve in her respectable bourgeoise attire.  The artist’s idea is clear enough: even in our modern circumstances, we are still Adam and Eve, banished from Paradise, living in exile on the highways and the byways of the modern—or now postmodern–world. After the many centuries and millennia that separate us from the fatal day of , we are still taking stock of all we lost, as we set out in life.

Indeed, not only did Man–that is to say both Adam and Eve taken collectively here—not only did Man lose his friendship with God and a certain original harmony within his own being, but he introduced a kind of disorder in creation itself.  (Before going any further, I would just mention in parentheses that I refer to Adam and Eve here, accepting the narrative of Genesis as it was meant to be understood, not as a modern journalistic account as one would find in the media today. The inspired text, just tells us what we need to know, not all scientific data. The Catholic Church is neither rationalistic, nor naïve in these matter.) 

First of all through his break with God Man lost that proper submission his lower appetite, i.e. his emotions and animal instincts, should have with respect to the higher one, the will; he further lost the submission of both this lower appetite and the will to reason; finally and worst of all he lost the right submission of his reason to God.  Before the fault Man had been as it were the priest of creation.  That is to say that after the created universe had come forth from the hands of the Creator, Man made it return to God in a certain way.  But he lost that priesthood. This needs some explanation.

Man, being composed of both body and soul (material creation and spiritual creation) is a kind of microcosm, a summary of the world.  He is part mineral (inert matter), part vegetable (living matter), part animal (sensorial matter) and part Angel (without matter).  Although material creation in and by itself cannot possible return to God, nevertheless by the intermediary of Man’s spiritual nature it can.  When a human being takes into his heart all the voices of creation and, uniting them to himself, gives praise to God, those creatures return in some way to God.  When we see the stars, for example, these mute beings that do not have voices of their own in the usual sense, fill our souls with wonder and prompt us to praise their Creator, then their glory returns somehow to the one Who made them. “The Heavens proclaim the glory of God”, as the psalmist says. But this is only true if man is there to contemplate them and to refer them back to their origin.  They return thus glory to God.  The same goes for all the creatures we call upon, when in the Divine Office we sing the last three Psalms or the Canticle of the Three Children in the Book of Daniel.  Passing through Creation the praises go in order from top to bottom. 

All ye works of the Lord, bless the Lord, praise and glorify Him forever!  Angels of the Lord, bless the Lord, O ye heavens, bless the Lord.  Waters and all that is above the clouds, bless the Lord…[all the way down to] Whales and all that moves in the waters, bless the Lord, all birds of the air, bless the Lord.  All beasts and cattle, bless the Lord.

Do you see how in this way Creation goes back to the Creator in praise and thanksgiving?
But this kind of natural priesthood of Man was broken, when our first parents rebelled.  The was broken; the harmony was ruptured.  There was no longer on earth any creature truly worthy to collect the voices of nature and send them up with praise to the great Creator of Heaven and Earth.  One of the monk’s favorite authors, Abbot Paul Delatte, who was abbot of the Solesmes Abbey in France, explains this well in his Commentary on the Rule of Saint Benedict (Chapter 8).
Man himself, he says, is taken out of creation, raised above it, and made its priest, so that he may offer to God, in his own name and in the name of the whole world, an intelligent homage.  By his very nature an abridgement of the universe—a “microcosm,” as the ancients put it—his function is to collect the manifold voices of creation, as if all found their echo in his heart, as if he were the world’s consciousness; and his mission is to give life to all with his thought and love, and to make offering of all, whether in his use of the world or in explicit praise.  The religious system of the world is completed and made perfect in him; he is the between the world and God; and when the is broken, then the whole creation is affected and falls
         No doubt, more sinister and foreboding than all of these philosophical and theological considerations about the consequences of Paradise Lost are the simple words by which God Himself described the disaster of the Fall: 

Because thou hast hearkened to the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat, cursed is the earth in thy work; with labor and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life.  Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herbs of the earth.  In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken: for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return. (Gen. 3:17-19)

To the woman, God addressed these words that are no less ominous:

I will multiply thy sorrows, and thy conceptions: in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thou shalt be under thy husband’s power, and he shall have dominion over thee.  (Gen. 3:16) 

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