English 233:  Introduction to Western Humanities - Baroque & Enlightenment

Note on "nature and effects of the Fall."

In clarifying the implications of the Christian doctrine concerning Original Sin, you should be able to give an account of the "essence" of sin, and of the "logic" of the punishment(s) that attend it. (Note, too, that one of the eventual doctrinal divisions among the various Christian confessions will concern the extent of the effects of Original Sin:  just how deep and extensive is mankind's postlapsarian Depravity?)

(1) Can you point out the sources in the details of the Biblical Fall Story of the centrality, in the traditional Christian notion of sin, of the concept of "faith" understood as trust-in-the-trustworthiness of one's superior + trustworthiness (loyalty) on one's own behalf?

To review the conceptual framework -- the complex of ideas -- connected with this particular idea of "faith," you can consult our the Study Guide on Synthesizing the results of our explication of Genesis 1-3.

But the question just posed has to do with the "evidentiary basis" for this in the actual text of the Biblical narrative of the Fall.  Can you point them out in Genesis 1-3 itself?

(2) Can you explain how the punishments (the curses + the expulsion), if understood as "fitting the crime" (i.e., as expressions of God's justice), affect our understanding of both the meaning of the punishments and the nature of the crime?

(a) What is the effect on the rest of creation (i.e., on the natural world) of man's sin?

(b) What role in this is played by the concepts of ordained dominion and of insubordination?

(3) Also important to explore are the further long-term effects of the Fall upon posterity (the progeny of the First Parents): the depravity of the species. Thenceforth all human individuals inherit a "denatured nature"; that is, the human nature they inherit by birth is not the human nature with which mankind was originally created by God but rather that nature as perverted and corrupted by Original Sin.  Some important expressions of this condition:

(a) Fundamental unreliability of unaided human powers.

(A) The intellect (discursive reason plus conscience), originally created to inform man of the highest realities (God's existence, general nature, and specific will), has now become a "crazed mirror" that reflects these in a distorted, deceptive way, because it has become enslaved to the corrupted will.

(B) The will, originally created as the faculty of free submission to God's will, has now become  weak and corrupt.  It is not merely incapable of ruling the passions and appetites but sensually enslaved to them.  It can also be described as "selfish" -- pridefully bent on its own way rather than on submission to God's will.

(C) The appetites, originally created as spontaneously responsive to the direction of the will, have become unruly, excessive, and often directed to illegitimate ends.

(D) The senses, originally created to inform the soul about the conditions of the world through which the self is to negotiate its way in following the divine will, have become the channels through which the appetites enslave themselves and (in turn) the will, and serve instead to seduce the self towards attachment to created things, when its true vocation is rather to love and serve the Creator.

The psychological dimension of the condition of fallenness, then, is a human nature consisting of a hierarchy of functions perversely inverted from their original function.  The technical term for this topsy-turvey condition if internal mutiny, of "rebellion of the soul within itself," is termed concupiscence

Note that one of the eventual doctrinal divisions among the various Christian confessions will concern the extent of the effects of Original Sin in respect of the human will:  just how deep and extensive is mankind's postlapsarian Depravity? Is it even possible for any of his works (insofar as they are merely his) to be meritorious? Can he on his own achieve faith in Christ's promise of redemption?

And one of the lines of fracture that will open up within the Eruopean educated elite in the wake of the religious wars unleashed by the Reformation in the wake of the Copernican Revolution will concern the question of whether human beings are by nature depraved at all.  The Enlightenment project of improving the conditions of human life -- physical and moral -- by an application of native human powers presupposes that the human faculties of intellect, will, appetites, and senses are not so impaired at birth as to be incapable of human cultivation sufficient to overcome an immense amount of natural and moral evil.  This vision of gradual human progress through human effort will come to strike many as inconsistent with at least the Augustinian versions of the doctrine of Original Sin.  This will lead some to reject the vision of Progress as a dangerous fantasy, and others to reject Original Sin (and with it the necessity of the Atonement and other interventions of Divine Grace) as retrograde superstitions holding humanity hostage to physical misery, ethical degradation, and unprincipled exploitation by parasitical institutions -- the clergy, the aristocracy, royal dynasties.  This latter view will strike traditional believers as itself an expression of the depravity of those who hold it.  And, conversely, those who hold it will be inclined to divide those who persist in professing traditional belief into the cynically deceiving, the ignorantly misled, and the lazily or willfully deluded.

(b) Redoubled stress on the obligation of Obedience to Authorities (including secular authorities, and especially those who profess to uphold orthodox Christianity).

(A) This implicitly raises the problem of accreditation of authorities: how does one know to whom one owes obedience?

(B) It also carries a strong potential for legitimating a highly "disciplinarian" culture, both on the individual and the societal level:

asceticism:  The idea that the body is in enmity with the "self" (identified as the spirit) authorizes the spirit to declare an enmity towards the body, and to adopt a project of punishing and subduing it, through various practices designed to "mortify the flesh":  fasting, vigils, self-flagellation, wearing the hair shirt, subjecting oneself to severe cold, isolation from society, etc.

authoritarian politics:   If the only thing the ignoble and fallen are moved by is concupiscence -- disorderly appetites -- then one must "speak to their bodies" in order to get their attention.  If it is immoral for the governors to encourage them in the indulgence of their appetites, then use of the "carrot" to bring them into line is limited.  There remains, then, to an important extent, only the "stick" -- which, when wielded by the secular arm, the nobler elements, is known as "the sword."  The lower orders in particular seem disinclined to reconcile themselves to accepting their lot in life.  Ant their rebelliousness, when it emerges, is an expression not of justified resentment to exploitation by the privileged, but of their corrupt spirits -- their fallenness.  Since he lower orders of society are, in general, "inherently unreliable" and incapable of responding to anything but the threat of naked force, their rulers are authorized to adopt a terroristic approach towards them: 

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      This page last updated 01 February 1999.