Boundary Between Original Innocence and Redemption

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II


Despite the bad weather and a slight drizzle of rain more than 20,000 people attended the General Audience in St Peter's Square on 26 September. The following is the text of the Pope's address.

1. Answering the question on the unity and indissolubility of marriage, Christ referred to what was written about marriage in Genesis. In our two preceding reflections we analyzed both the so-called Elohist text (Gn 1) and the Yahwist one (Gn 2). Today we wish to draw some conclusions from these analyses.

When Christ referred to the "beginning," he asked his questioners to go beyond, in a certain sense, the boundary which in Genesis passes between the state of original innocence and that of sinfulness, which started with the original fall.

Symbolically this boundary can be linked with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which in the Yahwist text delimits two diametrically opposed situations: the situation of original innocence and that of original sin. These situations have a specific dimension in man, in his inner self, in his knowledge, conscience, choice and decision. All this is in relation to God the Creator who, in the Yahwist text (Gn 2 and 3), is at the same time the God of the covenant, of the most ancient covenant of the Creator with his creature—man.

As an expression and symbol of the covenant with God broken in man's heart, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil delimits and contrasts two diametrically opposed situations and states: that of original innocence and that of original sin, and at the same time man's hereditary sinfulness which derives from it. However, Christ's words, which refer to the "beginning," enable us to find in man an essential continuity and a link between these two different states or dimensions of the human being.

The state of sin is part of "historical man," both the one whom we read about in Matthew 19, that is, Christ's questioner at that time, and also of any other potential or actual questioner of all times of history, and therefore, naturally, also of modern man. That state, however—the "historical" state—plunges its roots, in every man without exception, in his own theological "prehistory," which is the state of original innocence.

Fundamental innocence

2. It is not a question here of mere dialectic. The laws of knowing correspond to those of being. It is impossible to understand the state of historical sinfulness without referring or appealing (and Christ appealed to it) to the state of original (in a certain sense, "prehistoric") and fundamental innocence. Therefore, right from the beginning, the arising of sinfulness as a state, a dimension of human existence, is in relation to this real innocence of man as his original and fundamental state, as a dimension of his being created in the image of God.

It happens in this way not only for the first man, male and female, as dramatis personae and leading characters of the events described in the Yahwist text of chapters 2 and 3 of Genesis, but also for the whole historical course of human existence. Historical man is therefore, so to speak, rooted in his revealed theological prehistory: and so every point of his historical sinfulness is explained (both for the soul and for the body) with reference to original innocence. It can be said that this reference is a "co-inheritance" of sin, and precisely of original sin. If this sin signifies, in every historical man, a state of lost grace, then it also contains a reference to that grace, which was precisely the grace of original innocence.

St Paul's reference

3. When Christ, according to chapter 19 of Matthew, makes reference to the "beginning," by this expression he did not indicate merely the state of original innocence as the lost horizon of human existence in history. To the words which he uttered with his own lips, we have the right to attribute at the same time the whole eloquence of the mystery of redemption. Already in the Yahwist texts of Genesis 2 and 3, we are witnesses of when man, male and female, after breaking the original covenant with the Creator, received the first promise of redemption in the words of the so-called Proto-gospel in Genesis 3:15(1) and began to live in the theological perspective of the redemption.

In the same way, therefore, historical man—both Christ's questioner at that time, of whom Matthew 19 speaks, and modern man—participates in this perspective. He participates not only in the history of human sinfulness, as a hereditary and at the same time personal and unique subject of this history; he also participates in the history of salvation, here, too, as its subject and co-creator. He is, therefore, not only closed, because of his sinfulness, with regard to original innocence—but is at the same time open to the mystery of redemption, which was accomplished in Christ and through Christ.

Theological perspective

Paul, the author of the Letter to the Romans, expresses this perspective of redemption in which historical man lives, when he writes: "We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for...the redemption of our bodies" (Rom 8:23). We cannot lose sight of this perspective as we follow the words of Christ who, in his talk on the indissolubility of marriage, appealed to the "beginning."

If that beginning indicated only the creation of man as male and female, if—as we have already mentioned—it brought the questioners only over the boundary of man's state of sin to original innocence, and did not open at the same time the perspective of a "redemption of the body," Christ's answer would not at all be adequately understood. Precisely this perspective of the redemption of the body guarantees the continuity and unity between the hereditary state of man's sin and his original innocence, although this innocence was, historically, lost by him irremediably. It is clear, too, that Christ had every right to answer the question posed by the doctors of the law and of the covenant (as we read in Matthew 19 and in Mark 10), in the perspective of the redemption on which the covenant itself rests.

Method of analyses

4. In the context of the theology of corporeal man, substantially outlined in this way, we can think of the method of further analyses about the revelation of the "beginning," in which it is essential to refer to the first chapters of Genesis. We must at once turn our attention to a factor which is especially important for theological interpretation, because it consists in the relationship between revelation and experience.

In the interpretation of the revelation about man, and especially about the body, we must, for understandable reasons, refer to experience, since corporeal man is perceived by us mainly by experience. In the light of the above mentioned fundamental considerations, we have every right to the conviction that this "historical" experience of ours must, in a certain way, stop at the threshold of man's original innocence, since it is inadequate in relation to it. However, in the light of the same introductory considerations, we must arrive at the conviction that our human experience is, in this case, to some extent a legitimate means for the theological interpretation. In a certain sense, it is an indispensable point of reference, which we must keep in mind for interpreting the beginning. A more detailed analysis of the text will enable us to have a clearer view of it.

Subsequent analyses

5. It seems that the words of Romans 8:23, just quoted, render in the best way the direction of our researches centered on the revelation of that "beginning" which Christ referred to in his talk on the indissolubility of marriage (cf. Mt 19 and Mk 10). All the subsequent analyses that will be made on the basis of the first chapters of Genesis will almost necessarily reflect the truth of Paul's words: "We who have the first fruit of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait for...the redemption of our bodies." If we put ourselves in this position—so deeply in agreement with experience(2)—the "beginning" must speak to us with the great richness of light that comes from revelation, to which above all theology wishes to be accountable. The continuation of the analyses will explain to us why and in what sense this must be a theology of the body.


1) Already the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, which goes back to about the 2nd century B.C., interprets Genesis 3:15 in the Messianic sense, applying the masculine pronoun autos in reference to the Greek neuter noun sperma (semen in the Vulgate). The Judaic tradition continues this interpretation.
Christian exegesis, beginning with St. Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. III, 23, 7), sees this text as "proto-gospel," which announces the victory won by Jesus Christ over Satan. In the last few centuries scripture scholars have interpreted this pericope differently, and some of them challenge the Messianic interpretation in recent times. However, there has been a return to it under a rather different aspect. The Yahwist author unites prehistory with the history of Israel, which reaches its peak in the Messianic dynasty of David, which will fulfill the promises of Genesis 3:15 (cf. 2 Sam 7:12).
The New Testament illustrated the fulfillment of the promise in the same Messianic perspective: Jesus is the Messiah, descendant of David (cf. Rom 1:3; 2 Tim 2:8), born of woman (cf. Gal 4:4), a new Adam-David (cf. 1 Cor 15), who must reign "until he has put all his enemies under his feet" (1 Cor 15:25). Finally Revelation 12:1-10 presents the final fulfillment of the prophecy of Genesis 3:15. While not being a clear and direct announcement of Jesus as Messiah of Israel, it leads to him, however, through the royal and Messianic tradition that unites the Old and the New Testament.

2) Speaking here of the relationship between "experience" and "revelation," indeed of a surprising convergence between them, we wish merely to say that man in his present state of existing in the body, experiences numerous limitations, sufferings, passions, weaknesses and finally death itself, which, at the same time, refer this existence of his in the body to another and different state or dimension. When St. Paul writes of the "redemption of the body," he speaks with the language of revelation; experience, in fact, is not able to grasp this content or rather this reality. At the same time, in this content as a whole, the author of Romans 8:23 includes everything that is offered both to him and, in a certain way, to every man (independently of his relationship with revelation) through the experience of human existence, which is an existence in the body.
Therefore, we have the right to speak of the relationship between experience and revelation. In fact, we have the right to raise the problem of their mutual relation, even if for many people there passes between them a line of demarcation which is a line of complete antithesis and radical antinomy. In their opinion, this line must certainly be drawn between faith and science, between theology and philosophy. In the formulation of this point of view, abstract considerations rather than man as a living subject are taken into consideration.


Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
1 October 1979, page 1

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