Original Shame: They Realized That They Were Naked

In the last post, we moved from the original man of creation to the historical man of concupiscence, meaning fallenness, brokenness, the tendency to sin. Here is a description of concupiscence from St. John the Evangelist:

All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world passes away along with its concupiscence, but the one who does the will of God remains eternally.
~2 John 2:16-17

Concupiscence, sin, comes not from the Father, but from the world. This does not mean that the world, as in, creation, is evil. It means that what comes from the world, rather than from the Father, is bad news. What came into existence in the world, not in the mind of God, without the Father? Sin. Sin is of the world, produced in the world, not of God, produced by God. If man had not sinned, there would not be a contrast between the things of the world and the things of God.

This suggests that we should take another look at theĀ entrance of sin into the world. John Paul returns once again to the threshold of human experience, the boundary between the original, sinless state of man and the world and the historical, actual, sinful state. This boundary is found in the beginning of Genesis. Reread the story here.

What can we learn about the motive and the thought behind original sin, and, by extension, behind all human sin? How does Satan convince Eve to disobey God? He sows distrust. He convinces her that the commands of God are not really in her best interest. He even exaggerates the limit of the command, suggesting that God keeps them from eating all fruit. Sound familiar? “In the heart of man, doubt is cast on the Gift.” (TOB 26:4) Man questions the goodness of creation, or the reasonability of the limits placed on creation and our enjoyment of it. Ultimately, Love itself, the origin of creation, is questioned. Man questions his own creation, his gift of the image of God, because it did not include the knowledge of good and evil. “Why did God make me this way? I could have done it better. I will improve it.” By doubting him, man turns his back on God his Father and on Love, casting from his heart what comes “from the father” and making room for that which comes “from the world.”

What does come from the world? Shame. And shame means fear. “I was afraid because I was naked, and so I hid myself.” Man’s nakedness and shame go beyond the physical and the sexual. Man is stripped, partly, of the image of God in which he was created. He is stripped of original innocence and happiness, original unity between man and woman, the original cooperation of all the physical and spiritual aspects of his person into a unified whole. The existence of shame indicates that all of these aspects of the human person are threatened by concupiscence, and that the human person still respects these values and wants to protect them in his heart.

Here are some of the particular dimensions of original shame:

  • Relative/interpersonal shame: Man feels shame in the presence of the woman, and woman toward the man, because they do not want to the other person to objectify them, lust after them, or fail to appreciate them.
  • Immanent/interior shame: Man feels shame about his own body, because it is no longer completely controlled by his spirit. It has rebellious passions. “I see in my body another law at war with the law of my mind.” (St. Paul, Romans 7:22)
  • Sexual shame: This has aspects of both of the previous types. It is in sexuality that we particularly experience the rebellion of the body against the spirit. We descend somewhat to the level of animals. The union that makes a husband and wife one flesh is broken, so we feel shame toward one another.
  • Cosmic shame: Man, put on earth to subdue the earth and rule over it, now finds himself subject to the forces of nature, in the work he must do to cultivate the earth, and especially in the inevitability of aging and death. This is a sort of humiliation which goes against man’s original nature. (Perhaps this explains why almost everyone is somewhat ashamed of aging.)

“He who looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Because concupiscence of the body and protective shame both have their place in the human heart, along with the original innocence not taken away by sin, the human heart is rightly named by Jesus as the battleground between sin and righteousness. In the next post we will take a deeper look at the aspect of original shame and sinfulness that harms the unitive meaning of the body.

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2 thoughts on “Original Shame: They Realized That They Were Naked

  1. Someone once surprised me by saying that remaining chaste is more difficult within marriage than outside of marriage. I wonder if that experience has to do with the brokenness of the unitive aspect of the body, which causes spouses the temptation to allow selfishness or lust to creep into their marital relations and to fight against their selfless love of the other. This would tie in well with what Fulton Sheen says in “Three to Get Married” about the tensions within marriage that result from our spiritual desire for unity and the fact that our flesh, while an instrument to unity in marriage, is also at the same time a barrier to the type of unity we desire which can only be accomplished in heaven with the beatific vision.

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