Christ’s Passion Corrects the Gifts We Lost at the Fall

Christ is the New Adam.  This important image of Jesus fills the New Testament, especially the letters of St. Paul (see, among others, Romans 5 and 1 Cor. 15).  Adam sinned, and in doing so brought sin into the world, closing off Paradise for himself and his descendants. However, Christ undid, in a real sense, the offense of Adam through the Cross. Even His life could be seen as a corrective to the errors of our first parents. We can enter Paradise through the sacraments; Original Sin can be washed away, and we can be made right with God.

Despite all of this, there is one set of attributes of Adam and Eve before the Fall that we did not regain in Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. These are the Preternatural Gifts of Knowledge, Integrity, Impassibility, and Immortality. These never returned, for they are not essential to our natural lives, nor are they needed for our spiritual lives. Christ Himself, it seems, did not have these gifts either with the possible exception of integrity which we will get to later.

However, in His miracles Christ corrected each lost gift, helping overcome our fall by showing us that He had control, even over the consequences of losing the preternatural gifts. Then in the hour of His Passion, He set aside this control over these consequences in order to sanctify our darkest moments so that we would find in Him our consolation.

We’ll look at two of those Preternatural Gifts (the immaterial) and how they relate to Christ’s passion.

 

Knowledge

The first gift is infused knowledge. Adam and Eve did not need to learn like we did. God gave them what they needed to know; knowing came to them without the struggle we face in schooling. Their knowledge was clear, not marred by selfishness nor damaged by sinful desires. Nor was there a tendency toward vain pursuits and wasted time. The knowledge was intellectual even of evil.

Yet eating from the forbidden tree gave them a new understanding of evil. In a sense, Satan sold them short when he promised they would be “like gods.” In fact, by eating from the tree, Adam and Eve gained a knowledge God could never know: experiential knowledge of evil. God cannot commit evil, and thus cannot know evil as we can, and as Adam and Eve eventually did.

Thus by seeking knowledge selfishly, rather than savoring what was revealed to them, Adam and Eve lost the gift of infused knowledge. We see in the curse God laid upon them that they would struggle to grow food, a symptom of this loss. What was once easy (gathering food and understanding the world) could now come about only “by the sweat of your brow.” Adam and Eve once knew the natural world, and as king and queen found nature a loyal subject. Now nature rebelled against the rebels.

Christ’s miracles over nature overturn this revolution. By walking on water, multiplying the loaves & fishes, and calming the storm, Christ demonstrates true Mastery over the forces of nature; they obey Him, for He knows them perfectly. “Who is this that even the wind and the waves obey him?” wonder the apostles (Mark 4:41). We also see in Christ not just knowledge of nature but supernatural knowledge as well; He reads hearts and knows the depths of everyone He meets.

At His passion, however, He divests Himself of this knowledge. As his persecutors mock and torture Him, they blindfold Him and slap him in the face. “Prophesy,” they shout. “Who hit you?” Did Christ, blinded in His physical sight, know who hit Him? Of course. Yet He did not say who struck Him. Why not? Would not His knowledge of which of his beloved children dared to abuse Him prove to the Sanhedrin that He was, after all, God?

Perhaps not. After all, did He not say, years before, that “a prophet is not welcome in His own town?” If His own hometown rejected Him, would not these torturers do likewise, even if someone prophesied before them?

Integrity

Another preternatural gift is that of integrity. This refers to Adam and Eve’s state of order in their bodies. Their appetites were properly ordered; their reason controlled their intellect and will, like a well-ordered moral machine. They did not have a tendency towards sin, what theologians call concupiscence.

How did they lose this gift, which should have kept them from sinning at all? The answer can be seen in the manner of the serpent’s temptation. He does not appeal to Eve’s physical desires. He does not try to convince her of some tasty aspect of the fruit. No, he tempts her by argument, debates her, appealing to her reason, which was in control. Note that she never verbally agrees with Satan that she should eat the fruit. She counters him first, so he goes against her intellect, correcting her about eating the fruit and dying. He appeals to her appetites only after he has bypassed her reason. Only then does she notice the physical attractiveness of the fruit and eat.

We see a similar phenomenon in our moral lives. Physical sins always have an intellectual, rational argument behind them. No one steals, for example, before first convincing himself that what is wrong is actually good. We rationalize our behavior; that is temptation.

Following the Fall, God removes Adam and Eve’s integrity. We see this in His statement concerning Eve that “your desire shall be for your husband and he shall lord it over you.” Where once the moral desires were rightly ordered, now disorder upsets the whole moral structure. Desire drives decisions. The result is the mess humanity is in today.

Christ was in Himself the perfect corrective to this loss. He was guided by God’s love, a reasonable force if there ever was one, and sought not physical glory. See, for example, how readily He rejects the temptations in the desert. He has this preternatural Integrity, it seems. Even Satan must do his bidding. We see this most clearly in His exorcisms. Christ commands the demons who plague mankind; in doing so He allows our reason to regain control. This is perhaps most clearly seen in the healing of the Gerasene demoniac (which I wrote about here).

On the Cross we see Him — who, with a word, sent away a legion of demons — submitted to the passion of others. He set aside his authority for a time to be tortured and hung on the cross. From that tree He utters one phrase of physical discomfort:

“I thirst.”

In the midst of His Passion, He allows for so brief a time for His physical desire to run the show. There is no real disorder in the phrase any more than there is disorder in His refusal to prophesy at the command of sinners. In Christ’s request for drink, our every pain in hunger and thirst are sanctified. We find in Him one who drinks in proper ratio, not living life led by His tongue or His gut, but one led by proper reason.

Even in setting aside His integrity, He shows us how to live.


image: GoneWithTheWind / Shutterstock.com

Matthew B. Rose

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Matthew B. Rose received his BA (History and English) and MA (Systematic Theology) from Christendom College. He is the chairman of the Religion department at Bishop Denis J. O'Connell High School in Arlington, VA. Matthew also runs Quidquid Est, Est!, a Catholic Q & A blog, and has contributed to various online publications. He and his family live in Northern Virginia.

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