Saturday, 3 April 2010
Easter Vigil, “O Happy Fault”, Shaftesbury
I’ve mentioned a different unusual, if not odd, thing in each of the last two days’ Triduum liturgies. Tonight I want to refer to a 3rd unusual thing: the phrase, “O Happy Fault”, the “Felix culpa” I sang of the Exultet.
The Exultet then went on to describe this “happy fault” as the “necessary sin of Adam”. And this might seem even more confusing: In what sense could any sin possibly have been ‘necessary’?
Before saying any more I should note that this is the language of poetry and exclamation rather than the language of strict precise theology –but nonetheless it conveys a deep truth.
In what sense was that sin of Adam ‘necessary’?
It wasn’t logically necessary, it did not NEED to happen, and Adam and Eve did not need to do it: Our First Parents, named amidst the symbolism of Genesis as ‘Adam’ and ‘Eve’, were free not to commit that first sin, that Original Sin. If they were not free to not commit this sin then there would have been no need for the Devil to tempt them, and there would have been no meaningful way to speak of it as a ‘sin’.
It was necessary in another sense: It was needed IF we were to have “so great a Redeemer”. It could well have not happened, they could well have not sinned. But if Adam had not sinned, there would have been no need for the great event of the Redemption.
If there had been no sin, there would have been no need for the death and resurrection of Christ, there would have been no glorious CELEBRATION of His victory, the victory we recall at Easter.
I follow the school of theology that argues that Christ would have come anyway: He would have come as one of us even if there had been no sin to efface –He would have come to COMPLETE our human nature, our human nature that longed to be fulfilled by union with the Divine, the union that occurred in Christ’s own person when He as a Divine person added a human nature to the Divine nature He already possessed.
But if there had been no sin then this union with God would not be wrapped up in the glory of victory.
To take a somewhat loose comparison: consider a captain who has glory simply in being captain of a great company of soldiers, and consider the glory his soldiers have simply from being part of such a great company with such a great captain. Now, compare him with that same captain if he has the additional glory of victory in a battle. Such a victory only comes at a cost, and it only comes because there was some enemy that arose that needed to be conquered. Both of these (the cost and the enemy) are not desirable things –but the greater glory achieved is because of the “happy fault”. And his company share in that glory, in the benefit that was accrued from that “happy fault”.
The “happy fault” of that Original Sin of Adam was indeed a fault, was indeed an evil. It was an offense against the all-good God who had showered such blessings on our First Parents. It was an act of disorder and disharmony that skewered the order of the whole of material creation causing the disorder that we see all around us, a disorder such that “all creation groans in eager longing” (Rom 8:19) to be set free from its bondage to decay. It brought suffering to a world that had not known suffering. It was an offence that cast our First parents out of the harmony of Eden and exiled them to a land where they and their descendents merited damnation.
It was truly a “fault”.
But it is a “happy” fault because God drew out of that evil an even greater good. As St Thomas Aquinas teaches, this stands as the definitive example of how “God allows evils to happen in order to bring a greater good therefrom”(ST III q1 a3 ad3). That “fault” is “happy” because the act of Redemption has given us an even more beautiful and inspiring sign of His LOVE for us: His death on the Cross. It is a “happy” fault because it has displayed an even greater degree of the Lord’s GLORY by His victory over sin and death in the resurrection. And it is a “happy” fault because we SHARE in that victory by our union with Christ. By being incorporated, by grace, into the Mystical Body of Christ we share in the glory of the Head –we gain more from this than He did!
And thus we can sing, “O Happy Fault!”