Adam Knew His Wife: Fathers and Mothers

If you’ve been following the last few posts, you might have noticed something missing from our discussion of sex/gender, sexuality and marriage. Where are the babies? The Catholic Church only lets you have sex because they need all those little Catholic babies to accurately propagate their outdated world view, give the Church all their money, and make rosaries, right? Well…no.

The order of discussion has not been accidental. We’ve gone from the most fundamental, important, overarching truths of human existence to the secondary, more nuanced, specific ones. So we started with the fact that humans are people, thinking and deciding. That’s most important. Then, they are male and female, a community, not solitary and independent. They communicate through their bodies, which reveal them to each other and to themselves, and each gives herself/himself freely to the other as a gift. Each is seen as good for his own sake, and the mutual giving makes both of them happy and images God. Finally, their reciprocal gift bears fruit in a new little human, a gift for both of them and for himself. This is the subject of this post. John Paul sees the fruitfulness of sex and marriage as flowing naturally and consequentially from the unitive, self-giving aspect. How does this fruitfulness appear in Scripture?

“Knowledge” in the Conjugal Act

Adam knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, saying, “I have begotten a man with the help of the Lord.”     ~Genesis 4:1

Adam “knew” his wife. Well, that’s just a euphemism. In one sense, yes – the biblical authors had limited words to choose from. But the fact that “knowledge” of a woman could mean sexual intimacy with her reveals that the conjugal act is not simply physical, basically animal, satisfying the lower aspects of a man and leaving the higher, better, intellectual part untouched. Sex between two people is personal. That should be obvious, but it’s worth saying. It involves the intellect, the will, the passions and the body, all in one human action.

This new dimension of married life opens to Adam and Eve a new dimension of their self-understanding, and a new way of seeing and understanding their own bodies and each other. In particular, “they become one single subject, as it were, of that act and that experience, although they remain two really distinct subjects in this unity.” (TOB 20.4) Their bodies, because they are masculine and feminine, allow them to share in a mutual experience and to act together when they become “one flesh.” In this way, they “know” each other.

Because they are sharing so closely in one experience, you might hypothesize that the gender of each becomes almost insignificant – they both experience masculinity and femininity together, and so they are, perhaps, male-female together, and the specific gender of each is insignificant. But this is wrong. A man is not male only physically. He is a concrete, unique, particular masculine person. If the details of who he is – say, that he is male, not female – were taken away, he would lose his concreteness, become some vague human idea, and lost his unique, unrepeatable, dignified human character. (Of course, the same can be said for a woman.) And it is specifically because his wife is female that he is able to “know” her, in her concrete, unrepeatable, physically human identity. You can’t know something vague and general, or make love to an idea. Just as Adam looked at the animals, knew that he was not one of them, and saw more clearly who he was, he looks at Eve, knows that he is not a woman, and sees more clearly who he is as a man, and she sees herself clearly as a woman. All of this added meaning is again possible because Adam and Eve are conscious of the meaning of their bodies.

Femininity and Motherhood

In the last post, we talked about woman as the gift, and the man as the one who receives the gift. With this added perspective of knowledge, we see the man primarily as the one who knows, and the woman as the one who is known. Physically, the mystery of the female body is hidden.

The ultimate depth of this feminine mystery is only revealed later, when Eve becomes a mother. Imagine how differently Eve saw and understood her own body, first as she felt this first baby move within her, and then through the experience of childbirth, of nursing him, of holding and mothering him. Now, everything makes sense. The woman understands her own makeup, constitution, mode of being, not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually, when she realizes that she is made to conceive new people with the help of God, and to nurture life. God’s design for motherhood did not limit itself to biological organs, but extends to the whole nature of the female person. Every mother will be able to relate to this original experience – you never see yourself the same way again. Of course, fatherhood also reveals masculinity more fully, but the male person is not structured primarily around conceiving and nurturing life as the female is.

The Third Person

As Adam and Eve look at baby Cain, as they watch him grow up, they have yet another view of humanity – this, again, is “bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh.” This is another unique, unrepeatable person, created in the image of God, capable of thought and decision of his own. Once again, Adam and Eve each realize more fully their own identity, and they “know” each other in a new way, as well, through this third person who who comes from both. We can add to our human knowledge, then, the generative meaning of the body.

When Adam looked at all of the animals and gave them names, he was, as John Paul says, taking possession of them. When we know something, we possess it in some way within ourselves as knowledge; when he named them properly, he was showing his understanding of the nature of each, and so his possession of it. When Adam and Eve saw their baby, they were able to name him, identify him by his nature as a man, taking possession of this new man in the mode of knowledge, as they did the animals. But they also know humanity itself in a new and more complete way in this aspect of generation, and so they take possession of humanity and of themselves at this moment of new life. At the same time, “the man and the woman are ‘carried off’ together, as it were, both taken into possession by the very humanity” they have drawn from themselves. (TOB 22.3)

Life and Death

The man gave his wife the name “Eve,” because she was the mother of all the living.     ~Genesis 3:20

This experience of new life comes only in the context of the prospect of death. Though Adam has heard the sentence of their punishment, he still calls his wife “the mother of all the living.” “The life given to man in the mystery of creation is not taken away, but restricted by the limit of conceptions, of births, and of death, and further worsened by the perspective of hereditary sinfulness; yet it is in some way given to him anew as a task in the same ever-recurring cycle.” (TOB 22.5)

New life is always linked on some level to the prospect of death. Our children will be the ones to continue life on Earth as we age and die, and their children after them. And yet, taken as a whole, the cycle is life for humanity. Sin and death do not remove humanity itself from the Earth; death continually changes humanity as one generation succeeds the next – through “knowledge,” life is perpetuated. Through knowledge, a man and a woman step outside of their solitude and affirm the humanity of another person – first of one another, then of their offspring. Through knowledge, love, and procreation, they are able to share in the vision of God himself, who saw everything that He had made, and it was very good. Despite all of the suffering, the sin, the brokenness, despite failing ourselves and failing each other, despite the inevitable prospect of death itself, humanity continues first of all through “knowledge” between a man and a woman. As the cycle of conception and life continues, man continues to participate in this vision of God, and to affirm that “he saw everything, and indeed, it was very good.”

At this point, Adam and Eve are at the threshold of all human experience, crossing from the situation of original happiness and innocence to the historical situation of sin and death. They stand there fully conscious of the generative meaning of their bodies –  that masculinity contains fatherhood and femininity contains motherhood. “In the name of this meaning, Christ was one day to give the categorical answer to the question the Pharisees addressed to him.” (TOB 22.6)

Do you still remember the question? “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason? … Because of the hardness of your hearts, Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but in the beginning it was not so.” We have finished the analysis of “the beginning” that sheds light on the question of divorce. In the next post I will summarize everything that I have written so far about the beginning, and discuss how it forms an answer to the question.


3 thoughts on “Adam Knew His Wife: Fathers and Mothers

  1. Thanks, Rachel. The best and most beautiful post yet. I don’t understand the quotation from TOB 22.5: “The life given to man in the mystery of creation is not taken away, but restricted by the limit of conceptions, of births, and of death…” What is the “limit” that is occurring? How does man’s rejecting the covenant limit conceptions, births and deaths?

    • Thank you, Sam. I think that what he is saying is that our lives are limited temporally from the time of our birth to the time of our death. Instead of Adam and Eve living forever on Earth, a human life cycle begins. Human life taken as a whole carries on, but it goes forward in the form of constant births and deaths, ending and beginning over and over. Sin could have meant death for humanity, but God chose a less severe form of death.

      I don’t think that he’s trying to say that original sin somehow limited conception and birth itself, although it is impossible to know what procreation would have been like without sin. You can’t have eternal people constantly begetting new eternal people forever in a limited space. But instead of speculating about what might have happened in that case, he wisely points out that Scripture introduces “the cycle of knowledge-generation” to us only within the perspective of sin, death and limits. So, it’s life that is limited, really, not birth. Does that answer your question?


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