Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

Genesis. Lecture 11 (5)

18 April 1966
Theme: The Old Testament, Creation of the world, The fall   Place: London Parish   Period: 1966-1970   Genre: Talk

The question of evil appears quite different in two contexts. If you look at the Bible and the fall of man when evil is already presupposed, when its existence and its presence are already there, the problem seems to be complex, but understandable. What is much more difficult to account for is the appearance of evil in a context in which all things are good. And this is where we begin with Genesis. You remember that every day of creation was valued by God and defined as good. So that at the outset we do not find ourselves face to face with any duality, any pre-existing evil, and it is not surprising that for centuries, still now, thousands of years, probably, people have asked themselves how it could be that things could become evil, without evil having appeared in the picture from the outside. Theories have been built to explain the fall of the angels, after which evil would exist. And therefore the problem of the fall of man appears on a quite different level of complexity. All the explana­tions, or almost all the explanations given, are difficult to receive, because they all seem to presuppose a possibility of evil, which again we do not see described nor stated in the beginning or creation. The first explanation offered, which is based partly on a passage of Isaiah, understood symbolically, is the explanation of evil through pride. The second explanation is the ex­planation of evil through envy, and then come explanations which are more complex, on which I will dwell a little bit longer in a minute.

The problem of pride and envy is difficult because at first one would find it almost insufferably difficult to recognise the possibility of pride where there is no pre-existing pride. Evil is difficult to invent in a context of perfection, and the same is true about envy. Yet when we look at things more attentively and when we try to understand what ancient writers meant when they spoke of pride particularly, we see that things are not quite so simple. We think of pride in terms of self-assertion, haughtiness. Pride in ascetical literature indeed expresses itself in a variety of ways – arrogance, haughtiness and so on – but the root of pride is a self-assertion, a completely wrong vision of things and of the world, a vision of the world in which the person who is proud puts himself at the centre of things, while both God and other beings become peripheral, eccentric.

To be proud does not primarily consist in manifesting one’s pride in one way or another but in having lost the sense of values and the sense of the greatness of what is greater than we are, that allows to take our legitimate place on the periphery, at times close to the absolute centre of Truth and of life and of beauty, at times farther, but always in conjunction with this centre. The problem of the Fall, the appearance of evil through envy, presupposes of course an object of envy, and in the theories which were offered to explain the way in which evil came into the world through envy, one had to place the fall of the angels after the creation of man. And a certain number of spiritual writers of the first six or seven centuries try to explain it by imagining the bewilderment and eventually the bitterness of the perfect spirits that had lived before in the glory of their perfection, when they discovered that man, that creature born of the earth, fashioned from the dust, was called to a vocation that appears even greater than theirs. And this vision can be supported also by certain passages of Scripture.

In con­nection with this vision of things and the resulting envy, there is another way of seeing the problem which we discover in the 16th century in Spanish theology with great acuteness, the fall of the angels being the result of a vision given to them of the future, or an insight given to them into the mystery of the sacrifice within the Holy Trinity, when they saw God become man and the God-man crucified and dying. Here another nuance is brought, another vision of things is brought into the picture. The angels faced with what is going to happen are overwhelmed and incapable of accepting unreservedly the depth and the impossibility of what God has meant to happen in history.

A fourth vision of things was offered, if I am not mistaken, by Tertullian, which suggests that the fall of perfect beings cannot occur for any outer reason; it is a sort of falsification of the good that is at the outset, a corruption of the good into evil. His suggestion, if it is Tertullian,- and I do not want to charge him with views which are not his, I cannot remember at the moment – his conception runs as follows: Perfection cannot be a static state; to stop on the way is to die. Perfection consists in growing eternally into an even greater fullness of the knowledge of God, of the sharing with God of His own life. Yet at every step, every creature who lives in God is ful­filled and more than fulfilled in this communion. In order to grow one must always at every moment be prepared to let go of a bliss already possessed, of a fullness already possessed, in order to move out of the blessedness already known into the unknown, that contains blessedness but also – like everything unknown – the possibility of a loss.

So that at every moment a perfect creature has got in successive acts of faith to abandon all that is possessed, even God Himself, as He is known today, in order to move freely into the darkness which is ahead and which appears to be light and fullfilment only when, stripped of all riches already possessed before, one walks in nakedness and total, utter poverty, into this darkness. Only then does it become light and fulfilment greater than the one that was abandoned. This is the view which seems to me more convincing and more adequate, because it does not presuppose at any step that evil comes into the picture from some­where outside, even that there is a possibility of evil. There is something which happens even in the happiest moments of our lives. We are fulfilled, we are satisfied, what can we wish for? What more can we have! When it is a matter of things, indeed we have a right to reason that way, but when what we possess is an experience of relatedness, when what we possess is nothing but a oneness in love with God, then to accept to be fulfilled without being prepared to abandon what we already have in order to walk into the unknown simply means that our own capacity to love, which must be constantly sustained by a generous readiness to give all that is possessed, and ourselves, has faltered. It can be termed as preferring what is possessed to the One who is the Giver, and at that moment what is possessed ceases to be a relatedness of love, it becomes in itself a value and the term `it’ is introduced, where only a, relationship of `I’ and `thou’ is valid. Here are a certain number of points concerning this corruption of good into evil, which I wanted to throw into the discussion.

Now if we turn to the beginning of Genesis and the fall of man, I would like to remind you of a few things which we have already discussed, and underline a few things which we may have not spoken about. The first passage to which I want to draw your attention is at the end of chapter II in Genesis. When God brings Her to Him, when God brings the woman to the man, the man says, `This is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.’ This discovery is ambiguous. It is ambiguous in the sense that it may develop into quite different ways and direction. It may develop into a fulfilment in which both he and she become possessed of a transpersonal life, a life beyond both. It may also be a situation in which both he and she see in the other nothing but himself. And these two situations are profoundly different. One can see in the other an alter ego, another myself, and adore the self in the other. One can, on the contrary, perceive the sense or otherness, of alterity of the other one and enter with him into a dialogue, recognising that the other has got total independence and is a fulfilment of self only because it is not an idol of himself (?), that

this phrase pronounced by Adam when he meets face to face woman, the one whom he will later call Eve, is a moment when two opposite things are possible: a self-contemplation, an adoration of self, a vision of self in the other, a making of the other into an idol of one’s own self, or else a moment when, thanks to this objective vision of the alter ego, the one who sees can forget himself and outgrow himself in a relationship of love. There is this movement and directedness towards the other because the other is the other, not simply my other self.

This is shown very crisply and clearly in the beginning of the Gospel according to St John when we are told that the Word was with God. `With’ is a weak translation of a Greek word that means `towards’, but one can say it in Greek and not in English. One cannot say that the Word was Godwards, towards God, because the English does not allow that dynamic expression of a relationship in movement, in motion. and yet this is what it means. It is a way in which the one moves towards the other, and the relationship is absolutely dynamic. This is a moment which is decisive, the problem is stated, and now the problem must be resolved. The problem happens to be solved in a dramatic way; both eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, to which we will come in a moment, and both discover the alterity of the other, the otherness of the other, the estrangement there exists between the two because they do not perceive themselves in the other and nothing is left except the otherness. This is expressed very sharply and simply in the words of the Bible that tell us that they did eat and the eyes of both were opened and they knew that they were naked. One is not naked in one’s own presence. One is not naked either in the presence of total uniting love. One is naked only in the presence of one who looks at you, therefore in a situation when there are two face to face, that are not possessed of the transpersonal relationship, of a relationship that is greater than both and unites them to each other. Here the couple alter-ego is broken into egos which assert themselves and alter are rejected, distinguished sharply, recognised as alien and estranged.

It seems to me that there is a confirmation for this view of things at the end of the 3rd chapter of Genesis when God says, `Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil’, not as us. In the beginning God created man in his divine image and said, `Let us create man in our image and likeness’, but `one of us’ is something different. Possessed of something which is divine knowledge of good and evil and yet in a situation which, is no longer either divine or even fully human, there is brokenness.

To make perhaps either more clear or less clear, I would like to draw a parallel. All those who are familiar with the book of Common Prayer know the Creed of St Athanasius. It says something which was received, and cor­responds to the vision of the Church `The Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Ghost is God: yet not three Gods, One God.’ It seems to be so many super­fluous statements, and yet it say something essential. Each Person is God in the fullest sense of the word. Yet not three gods, One God, because if one could imagine one of them detaching himself from the Trinitarian Mystery, he would no longer be God at all. The same is true here, the human couple, the transpersonal life possessed by two in their oneness made them a total man, one man. But now each of them has become a man, but neither of them is possessed of true fulfilled humanity as they were called to possess it. It is only later that this oneness is restored.

If from the beginning of Genesis we turn to the end of the Gospel according to St John, to the 20th chapter, to the evening of Christ’s Resurrection, we see that, having appeared to the Disciples, the Lord breathed upon them and said `Receive the Holy Spirit.’ The gift of the Holy Spirit, the first Pentecost, is not identical with the gift of the Holy Spirit which the Apostles received on Whit Sunday. This gift was breathed on them all, none of them received it in an individual personal way. It was given to them together, to hold and possess in their togetherness and in their oneness. It was possessed by all and by each to the extent to which they belonged to this whole. Given to the whole, it became the possession of every­one else who joined the Apostolic circle, without renewal, because it was a common possession and a common gift. And if you wish to have evidence of it, remember the story of St Thomas. He was not there on this first evening, and yet when Christ appeared again, when Thomas recognised Him, he was not given the Spirit as though what the other Apostles had been given he had been deprived of. Because he was one of them, he was in possession of what belonged to all. This is the Koinonia, the Community, this is the common Kingdom of which St John Chrysostom speaks in his address read during the Easter Night Service.

Broken and yet man, no longer man in the full sense of the word, and yet not deprived utterly of one’s humanity. Evil is there already at work – cor­ruption and death.

I would like to dwell one minute on this question of the fruit of the tree of good and evil. Leaving aside all the symbolic explanations which one may use, what is evil in the desire of Adam and Eve to know good and evil? It seems to me that one could put it briefly like this: all knowledge was offered to them in their communion with God. This knowledge was to grow in proportion of their community of life with God. They were called to know from inside this protected relationship of all things as God sees them. The sin of man consisted in trying to discover things and to know them apart from God, passing by the divine knowledge. But it is only in God that there is safety for knowledge, when men are anchored in truth and light, in the fullness of reality, and can appraise the difference between fullness and unfulfilment.

But to acquire the knowledge of real and unreal, of life and death, of being and not being, apart from God, means to enter into the realms of death, of unreality, of non-being. And this is why this attempt of man at discovering reality and unreality, truth and untruth, what is and what is not, life and death, could result in nothing but the catastrophe which we call the Fall and which brought death upon them. There are many more problems connected with good and evil, there is the problem of Cain, there is the problem of Job, there is the problem of Christ, and many others.. But I will leave those problems for the discussion or perhaps for our next meeting.

Answer to Question on Gen 3,22-23:

Take the imagery, as it were. You have Adam & Eve, now somehow broken, severed from the created world. The oneness, the wholeness is broken on every step. Suppose that by continuing to feed on the tree of eternal life, this situation is made permanent for ever: there is no Redemption, because if a situation is fixed as eternity, there is no redemption of it. The only way in which redemption – I mean a change, a reversion of the situation – can occur is that things should be ephemeral and eternity is restored in the New Adam, in the new life.

Listen to audio: no Watch video: no