In the following three chapters we will reflect upon the “original experiences” of three different states, in order to pave the way for a deeper understanding of the God-designed contours of human existence. Again, we use the word “original” in order to indicate not only that they are, in a sense, our first experiences, but above all because they are foundational for the rest of our life and our growth to full blossoming as persons. In other words, they unveil the truth of our identity and our destiny. In these chapters, a great deal will be contained in a few words, but we will then spend the rest of the book trying to unpack what we have seen. These three different states which we will reflect upon are: 1. the state of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, both before and after the fall (this is the “state of innocence” and then, through sin, the birth of the state of fallenness in which we find ourselves now); 2. the ordinary human person of today, from early childhood to maturity (this is the state of “historical man” as John Paul II calls it); 3. the state of Jesus Christ in his humanity, who is the perfect Man in whom our fallen nature is restored to purity and united to God himself in the most intimate way.
This threefold schema of human existence—innocent, fallen, and redeemed—is necessary for understanding in its entirety the plan of God in our regard. Such a division is very explicit in the thought of John Paul II:
The laws of knowing correspond to those of being. It is impossible to understand the state of “historical” sinfulness without referring or appealing to the state of original (in some sense “prehistoric”) and fundamental innocence… The emergence of sinfulness as a state, as a dimension of human existence, has thus from the beginning been linked with man’s real innocence as an original and fundamental state, as a dimension of being created “in the image of God.” … Thus historical man is rooted, so to speak, in his revealed theological prehistory; and for this reason, every point of his historical sinfulness must be explained (both in the case of the soul and of the body) with reference to original innocence. One can say that this reference is a “co-inheritance” of sin, and precisely of original sin. While in every historical man this sin signifies a state of lost grace, it also carries with itself a reference to that grace, which was precisely the grace of original innocence.i
In other words, our current experience of life is rooted deeply in God’s original intention in creating man and woman in his image and likeness—in the grace of original innocence in which humanity stood before God in the perfect purity of love and self-surrender. We can only understand our lives (in both their brokenness and their beauty) by referring back to this grace, to this living relationship toward which our hearts are still oriented and for which they inherently thirst. While we have lost the grace of original innocence, we still bear the imprint of the Creator’s hand, and the experience of our first parents lives on in each one of us, fractured but still present and calling out for healing and transformation.
Let us see now how John Paul II speaks about the state of “redemption,” brought about by Jesus Christ:
When Christ, according to Matthew 19, appeals to the “beginning,” he does not point only to the state of original innocence as a lost horizon of human existence in history. To the words that he speaks with his own lips, we have the right to attribute at the same time the whole eloquence of the mystery of redemption. In fact, already in the context of the same Yahwist text of Genesis 2 and 3, we witness the moment in which man, male and female, after having broken the original covenant with his Creator, receives the first promise of redemption in the words of the so-called Protoevangelium [i.e. “first-Gospel”] in Genesis 3:15 and begins to live in the theological perspective of redemption.ii
The Protoevangelium that John Paul II refers to is: “Then God said to the serpent: ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed; you shall strike at his heel, but he shall crush your head.’” The very first moment after the infidelity of Adam and Eve, God throws a bride across the whole of history—from original innocence to its restoration in the grace of redemption. He does this through his promise (and prophecy) of the coming of One who will conquer Satan who through his deceit once conquered man and woman. This man, Jesus Christ, in conquering the devil, inaugurates a definitive newness in the midst of historical time, and brings about the possibility of renewed innocence, a renewed love, in our world. But this newness will be brought to its fullness, to its consummation, only when he returns again at the end of time and brings about the new creation, where what was lost in the beginning will be fully, and more than, restored. Human existence in “historical time” is situated between these two graces of God: original innocence and final redemption.
However, the grace of redemption, as we indicated, is not only future but also radically present. With the coming of Christ, the fullness of our divine destiny has truly been inaugurated in time. The wounds and disorder of our sin—and the results of sin in suffering and death—have been overcome through the Passion and Resurrection of Christ. In giving himself completely in love as man—a man who is, in truth, the Son of God and God himself—Jesus has reconciled God and humanity who, since original sin, have been estranged from one another. In his Resurrection he has truly brought into being the new, consummate humanity in himself, this “redeemed man” toward which history is journeying.
We can say that the new life is like a seed that is buried in the heart of our creation and is germinating and sprouting in the lives of those who surrender to its power. Indeed, it is at work in every single human heart without exception, for Christ has united himself to everyone, and all of us now belong to him completely as his own. But this process of healing and transformation in Christ seeks to awaken our response and our cooperation; it seeks to reopen us to the expansiveness of divine Love and to a conscious and joy-filled communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This, precisely, is the very essence of this new life: that the narrow and enclosed heart is reopened to the immensity of God’s Love, and yields itself up confidently into the all-enveloping embrace of this Love that cradles the world within itself. Within the tender embrace of this Love—within the intimate communion of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—we are also intimately united to one another in a universal fraternity, in a new and profound friendship that shares in the life and love of the Trinity itself.
Our definitive destiny, our future hope has become literally and fully present in our imperfect journey of time—though the perfect intimacy that it seeks has not yet been realized. What has been brought about in Jesus Christ is gradually at work touching, healing, and transforming each one of us, so that we too may share in the fullness of his intimacy with the Father and with every person. This process will reach its consummation at the end of time, when God will restore fully and visibly what was lost in the Garden of Eden, and indeed will surpass it through fashioning the new heavens and the new earth which, already, we glimpse in the risen body of Jesus Christ. The dynamic of our historical existence, therefore, is a movement from lost innocence to restored innocence—from the childhood of the beginning to the childhood of consummation. Even when we have forsaken God and turned away to go our own way, he has not forsaken us, but patiently and perseveringly sought us out—throughout the whole Old Covenant in the patriarchs, kings, and prophets, and ultimately in sending his own Son to become one of us so as to draw us back into relationship with himself. This is how our existence, bearing still the marks of the “fallen man,” also bears in itself the reality of the “new man, created in the image of God in justice and holiness of truth” (+Eph 4:24).
Bearing both of these forces within ourselves, we are invited to yield ourselves up to the grace of redemption at work within our hearts and our lives, so as to pass from the old life to the new—from the life of sinful isolation, and the sadness that this bears, into the purity of love and relationship. And this mysterious movement from the old to the new is a sharing in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ, a journey, in him, from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday: from the loneliness of passion, through com-passion and love, into the passionate joy of unbreakable intimacy. This is a movement, as we will see, from slavery to sin (and a sense of slavery before God, who is understood not as Father but as Master) to the joyful freedom of a child of God. It is a return to the truth of our belovedness before the heavenly Father, and our willing surrender into the arms of Jesus, who wants to take us up in himself into the embrace of our loving God.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. (Rom 6:3-10)
Saint Paul understood this movement of transformation very well, when he wrote:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. … For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Rom 8:1-4, 14-17)
Indeed, Saint Paul saw opening out before him the majestic panorama of a creation already bearing in itself the seeds of redemption and transformation, and therefore crying out in “labor pains” to pass from the old order to the new. He glimpsed and yearned for the consummation that awaits all of us at the end of time. Here our bodies will be raised again from the tomb, glorious and radiant with the light of God, and we will be joined to God in the fullness of adoption, in the perfect joy of being his beloved children. And, bathed in this radiant light of his eternal Love, we will encounter and be united to every other person, in an intimacy that is so profound and true that it surpasses all our hope and imagination.
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom 8:18-23)
i John Paul II, Man and Woman He Created them: A Theology of the Body, translated by Michael Waldstein (Boston, MA: Pauline Books and Media, 2006), 143; 4:3 (i.e. Audience 4, part 3).
ii Ibid., 143-144; 4:3.