In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, but in the beginning already was the Word of God, the Son of God, true God from true God. This Word is the wisdom of the Father. This Word is the Art in the Mind of the Father. Thus, through him, the Father made all things. Indeed, God “spoke” a word and things were made.
In a most special way, man and woman are made in the “image and likeness” of God. Thus, they reflect the Art that is the Eternal Word of the Father. The dignity of man and the dignity of woman in a sense, that is, as understood by the divine mind, pre-exist in the Word, without any defects or limitations, in a higher and loftier way. Man and woman therefore participate in the beauty of God.
Now, in growing after the likeness of this Divine Beauty, they grow in splendor. True human splendor is not in competition with God. True human glory takes nothing away from the glory of God. Rather, it is a reflection and participation in that glory. So, the glory of God is the human person fully alive!
Given that the human person is made to know the truth and to pursue the good in a beautiful way, the human person hungers for something ultimate, final, transcendent. God alone sufficiently fulfills this desire, for, as a saint once said, “Our hearts are restless, until they rest in they, oh Lord.”
So far, I have pictured paradise. Yet, Genesis hints that God made another creature, a pure spirit, but a creature no less. Christians understand this pure spirit to be Lucifer, an angel made good but who chose darkness, gaining the names Satan, Devil, Serpent, Dragon Evil One. Totally dependent on God for his being and his goodness, this creature yet rebelled against his Maker, choosing his own private splendor as the ultimate good. Thus focused on himself, he lost his love for beauty itself. Having lost that love, he saw God as ugly, opposed to his own goodness. He thus lost fellowship with God forever. Since then, he waits for any way to strike back at his maker. Nor is he stupid. He cannot strike the maker. Only the creatures he makes. So, the malevolent spirit waits until the maker makes another creature! “Did God say you shall not eat from any tree in this wonderful garden? Is he such a tyrant, that he would forbid you the good?” We observe how he begins with a great conspiracy, making God seem a strict taskmaster. God demands a rigor to which one can scarcely measure up. God demands absolute perfection and blind obedience, even if it be against the very desires he instills in our nature. Such is the God this Devil portrays. (No wonder Nietzsche, perhaps thinking thus of God, rejected the Christian way.)
Christian faith confesses that the first human pair succumbed to the temptation of the Devil. Having disobeyed their all wise, all good, and all powerful maker, they lost that splendor in which they were created. They turned their hearts away from him and towards a lesser good as towards their ultimate end. Thus twisted away from the True Light for which they were made, they became darkened in intellect, hardened in heart, and disordered in body. Alienated from the communion of Father and Son and Holy Spirit, they became alienated from one another. They feared God and feared one another. Obscurity, alienation, lies, blaming, power struggles, murderous thoughts, lust, vengeance, drunkenness, masturbation, unnatural sex, strife, war, greed, trafficking, infidelity—these are the full flowered heritage of that fateful fall.
I would sum up paradise lost as follows: Man offended the infinite God, and so in justice owed God an infinite restitution. Man darkened his own intellect, and so needed a new infusion of wisdom. Man’s heart became hard and stony, and so needed to be softened by dew from above. Man’s body rebelled against his own darkened reason, and so his body too needed healing. Man fell into slavery to this Devil whom he obeyed, and so he needed to be ransomed from his captor. Man lost the splendor that made him shine, although he retained his intellect and his free will; in order to regain the splendor, he needed to be infused with light.
God the Father loved his creation and in this great love, could not allow his creation to fall to complete ruin. He wished to bring man and woman back to himself. Therefore, he determined to send his only-begotten Son in the power of the Holy Spirit, who is the fire of Divine Love, to redeem man from the grave, to ransom him from the captor, to infuse the splendor into him, to heal his wayward flesh, to illuminate his faltering reason, to soften his hardened heart, and to pay the debt that mortal man could not pay.
God sent his Son to become truly human. As Word and Wisdom of the Father, the Son could illuminate the minds of the darkened. As the very Son of the Father, he could restore humans to a splendid sonship towards God. As one perfectly obedient in his full humanity, the Son submitted to the weight of the cross and blasphemy and ridicule and torture and sadness, bearing all things with his charity and grace—of which he was full, even as man. He bore our very curse. So that by his great love and faithful obedience, he might restore the balance and pay the debt man owed due to sin. Thus, the curse embraced brings peace and salvation.
In this kind way, God combined condescension to man with the most remarkable tact: For his Son took upon himself our very nature. Nor did he take this nature from heaven. He took this nature from earth, from a woman, from one lowly woman in his own country. Having been graced by God with a measure of fullness, she herself conceived and bore the very Son of God. Thus, one of the human race is Mother of God and Mother of the Redeemer, herself opposed to that Devil which deceived Eve. Another of the human race is the Son of God, true God from true God, yet fully human.
This one God-man trampled upon the Devil, not succumbing to his temptations in the beginning of his mission and not succumbing even unto the end. He thus undertook to die for us, paying our penalty. Together with him, his loyal Mother, without any stain of sin herself, perfectly obedient to his word, offered him up on the Cross for the redemption of the whole world. Thus, this new pair, Christ and his Mother, reversed the disobedience of the first pair. Jesus Christ, and participating in his mission his own Mother, opened the way to eternal salvation for the entire human race.
But what is “salvation”? It is chiefly a living relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is not chiefly freedom from punishment. It is freedom for the truth, for hope, for beauty, and for love. Thus, Jesus Christ won for the human race the threefold gift of faith, hope, and love, and it is by these very gifts that our minds are illuminated, our likeness restored, and our hearts set afire with divine love. By these gifts, humans are no longer aliens; no longer mortal sinners; but children and friends of God, participating in the divine beauty.
Humans made new by grace are thus set on a trajectory of salvation. Through faith and through love, humans can cooperate with God and grow towards their final end, so as to be immersed in divine love and beauty without end. Thus, God binds up what fell apart and accomplishes our salvation and his glory. Amen.