Original Innocence and the Fundamental Roles of Man and Woman

In the last post, we continued on our quest to understand the beginning of man and discussed the spousal meaning of the body. (In one word, it means “gift.”) This post will look at the last of the Original Experiences – original innocence, which encompasses everything discussed so far.

It turns out that St. John Paul II really liked to name Original Things. Original Innocence is also, more or less, Original Justice and Original Righteousness. Theologians have usually looked at original innocence objectively. It meant that man was free from any stain of guilt, that he was in a perfect relationship with God, and that he did not have the effects of concupiscence/temptation. In theology of the body, we look at it subjectively. What was the experience like?

We can never experience original innocence, even right after we’re baptized. In fact, our experience is so different from the experience of Adam and Eve before sin that John Paul says it’s a different body-soul relation. Their entire human spiritual makeup was different. They were much more sensitive to one another, and especially to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They were open to the other in a way we’ve never known. There was no rejection, no misunderstanding, no fear. They understood every nuance of conversation, and every impulse of the Holy Spirit was fully perceived and accepted. They were in constant interaction with God. That is not our experience, but we do share the same humanity and there is a lot that we still have in common, especially with the gift of the redemption to restore some of what they lost for us. If we can learn more about these original people, we can learn more about humanity itself, including ourselves.

When we talked about original nakedness, we learned that shame is a boundary that separates us from Adam and Eve. By looking at our experience of shame, we can imagine what it would be to not have shame, and so we can learn something about them that way. Shame is a protective response to the objectification of the person, and specifically, the body. Original Innocence is defined as the complete exclusion of all need for shame. Adam and Eve completely knew, accepted and loved one another as a creation of God for his/her own sake. (You can tell I’ve been reading TOB by my frequent use of italics.) This innocence is a gift of God, grace, but Adam and Eve experience it primarily as the state of their own hearts, or more philosophically, their will. Although they do not have knowledge of good and evil yet, this experience of innocence is the experience of a moral conscience. Try to imagine the feeling of being right, just, after you’ve done the right thing or made an apology. But you’ve never experienced guilt and don’t even know what evil is. Because they saw the other person and affirmed and agreed that he/she was “very good,” their wills were participating in the eternal and permanent will of God himself. You also participate in the eternal and permanent will of God (imperfectly) every time you affirm the goodness of creation, and it does bring happiness!

Original innocence, original nakedness, original unity, awareness of the body as a gift – all of these made up the experience of Original Happiness. Adam and Eve were truly, deeply happy, because they were living and experiencing everything that God made them for. They were especially happy in their communion.

At the moment that she arrives in existence, Eve is a gift from God to Adam. She doesn’t belong to him, as property – she belongs completely to herself, created for her own sake, not just for his. But from this first moment, she gives herself to Adam. The fundamental position of the woman is gift. When Adam accepts her and welcomes her into himself, his own inner life, when Adam recognizes her as a beautiful, wonderful creation of God, good for her own sake, Eve discovers who she is. When she sees the way that Adam receives her, as a unique human, in her femininity, she sees the whole depth of herself and possesses herself even more fully. The phrase “I see myself in your eyes” echoes this original, universal human experience. The woman finds herself through her gift of self. And now that she knows and possesses herself more fully, she can give herself more fully as a gift all over again.

What about Adam? What is his experience like? When Adam first sees Eve, he joyfully loves, accepts, embraces and affirms her as another person, as a female, as a unique image of God. The fundamental position of the man is receiver of the gift. God has entrusted Eve to him – to his eyes, his mind, his heart. It is his job to ensure that her gift is received and reciprocated and that the communion of persons exists as God intended it. He, in turn, gives himself completely to Eve. The man finds himself through his gift of self. He finds himself much richer – not only does he have this wonderful bride, given to him as a gift, but he also has a deeper knowledge of who he is. Before he saw Eve, Adam didn’t realize that he was specifically masculine. He was simply human. He finds the essence of masculinity in accepting the woman and giving himself to her.

This original, fulfilling interaction of Adam and Eve did not stop with them. It is a call and a task given to all of humanity throughout history, even in the context of sin. Every man finds himself in giving himself. Every woman finds herself in giving herself. Mankind was created male and female, and we were created for marriage. It is only when we fail in this task, when we reject the other person as a creation of God for his/her own sake and decide that they are an object created for my pleasure, my purposes, that shame enters the picture.

Sadly, shame does enter the picture. Every one of us has experienced shame. The experience of this gift, giving and receiving, and the experience of marriage is not what it was originally meant to be. But discovering the meaning of our bodies, discovering ourselves as gifts, discovering communion, accepting and affirming one another – this is the task we are given. John Paul calls this task the “ethics of the gift.” Ethical – it is a moral requirement. Maybe here you can see ethics from a different perspective than you are used to. It is not a set of random rules imposed by someone else, but the eternal call to love and happiness echoing from our creation, the original task given to humanity.

There is one final thought for this section. In the last post we talked about the necessity of self-mastery; it is this quality that ensures that the man, created like God, is aware of and in control of his body. (See original solitude.) Of all the physical things in the universe, man is the highest expression of God and of his gift, because he is the only one conscious of the meaning of it all, grateful for it, enjoying it. His body, especially in its masculinity and femininity, in its nakedness, is a sign of the gift of God. In this way, John Paul describes a primordial sacrament, a visible sign of the invisible mystery of God’s Truth and Love. The human body, more than anything else, makes the divine visible in the universe. “Together with man, holiness has entered the world.” (TOB 19.5) Holiness is sharing the divine life – original innocence, understanding the meaning of the body, expressing oneself with it, giving oneself to another – this is holiness, and “the sacrament of the body.” He describes the first meeting and union of Adam and Eve as the first feast of humanity, and from this feast, and the original holiness, “we draw a first hope already…that the fruit of the divine economy of truth and love…is not Death, but Life.” (TOB 19.6)

I have decided not to write discussion posts anymore, at least for a while, because I don’t think anyone reads them and I don’t particularly enjoy writing them. I might write one if the text seems particularly to call for it.

In the next post, we will discuss the fruit of the union of the man and the woman – procreation. There is an analysis of knowledge and the phrase “Adam knew Eve.”

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