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|Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky|
Orthodox dogmatic theology
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God's providence over man before the fall.
Having created man, the Creator did not leave the first-created ones without His Providence.
The grace of God dwelt constantly in our first ancestors and, in the expression of the Holy Fathers,
served as a kind of heavenly clothing for them. They had a perfect feeling of closeness to
God, God Himself was their first Instructor and Teacher and vouchsafed His immediate revelations
to them. Appearing to them, He conversed with them and revealed His will to them.
Chapters two and three of the book of Genesis depict for us the life of the first people. God
placed Adam and Eve in Paradise, the Garden of Eden, the “Paradise of delight,” where there
grew every tree that was pleasant to the sight and good for food, commanding them to dress and
keep it. The Garden of Eden was such a splendid place that the first people must have been involuntarily
aroused to a feeling of joy and their minds raised to the most perfect Artist of the
world. Labor itself must have facilitated the development both of their physical and spiritual
As the writer of Genesis informs us, God brought all living creatures to man so that he
might name them. It is clear that on the one hand this gave man the opportunity to become acquainted
with the wealth and variety of the animal kingdom, and, on the other, facilitated the development
of his mental capabilities, giving him a more complete knowledge of himself by comparison
with the world which lay before his eyes, and an awareness of his royal superiority over
all the other creatures of earth.
Understandably, the original condition of the first people was one of spiritual childhood and
simplicity joined to moral purity. But this condition contained the opportunity for a speedy and
harmonious development and growth of all man's powers, directed towards a moral likeness to
God and the most intimate union with Him.
Man's mind was pure, bright, and sound. But at the same time it was a mind limited and
untested by the experience of life, as was revealed at the time of the fall into sin. Man's mind had
yet to develop and be perfected.
Morally, the first-created man was pure and innocent. The words, “They were both naked,
the man and his wife, and were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25), is interpreted by St. John Damascene
as “the pinnacle of dispassion.” However, one should not understand this purity of the first people
as meaning that from the very beginning they already possessed all virtues and were not in
need of perfection. No, Adam and Eve, although they came from the hands of the Creator pure
and innocent, had yet to be confirmed in the good and grow spiritually, with the help of God, by
means of their own actions. “Man,” as St. Irenaeus expresses it, “having received existence, was
to grow and mature, then become strong, and, reaching full maturity should be glorified and, being
glorified, should be vouchsafed to see God.”
Man came from the hands of the Creator faultless also in body. His body, so remarkable in
its organization, without any doubt received no inward or outward defects from the Creator. It
possessed faculties which were fresh and uncorrupted. It had in itself not the least disorder and
was able to be free of diseases and sufferings. Indeed, diseases and sufferings are presented in
the book of Genesis as the consequences of our first ancestors' fall and as chastisements for sin.
Additionally, the Book of Genesis gives a mystical indication of the Tree of Life, the tasting ofwhich was accessible to the first ancestors before the fall into sin and preserved them from physical
death. Death was not a necessity for man: “God created man neither completely mortal nor
immortal, but capable of both the one and the other” (Theophilus of Antioch; see in Bishop Sylvester,
An Essay in Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, vol. 3, p. 379).
But no matter how perfect the natural powers of man were, as a limited creature he required
even then constant strengthening from the Source of all life, from God, just as do all created beings.
Appropriate means for man's strengthening on the path of good were needed. Such an
elementary means was the commandment not to taste of the tree of the knowledge of good and
evil. This was a commandment of obedience. Free obedience is the path to moral advancement.
Where there is voluntary obedience there is (a) the cutting off of the way to self-esteem, (b) respect
and trust for that which is above us, and (c) continence. Obedience acts beneficially upon
the mind, humbling its pride; upon the feelings, limiting self-love; and upon the will, directing
the freedom of man towards the good. The grace of God cooperates and strengthens one on this
path. This was the path which lay before the first people, our first ancestors.
“God made man sinless and endowed with freedom of will. By being sinless I do not mean
being incapable of sinning, for only the Divinity is incapable of sinning, but having the tendency
to sin not in his nature but, rather, in his power of choice — that is to say, having the power to
persevere and progress in good with the help of Divine grace, as well as having the power to turn
from virtue and fall into vice” (St. John Damascene, Exact Exposition, II, 12; Engl. tr., p. 235).
In general, it is difficult if not impossible for contemporary man to imagine man's true condition
in Paradise, a condition that joined together moral purity, clarity of mind, the perfection of
first-created nature, and nearness to God, with a general spiritual childlikeness. But in any case it
must be noticed that the traditions of all peoples speak of precisely such a condition, which the
poets call the “golden age” of mankind (the traditions of the Chinese, the Indians, the Persians,
the Greeks, and others). The great minds of pagan antiquity expressed the certainty that the ancients
were more pure and moral than later men (Socrates); that the most ancient religious traditions
and conceptions were more perfect than the later pagan conceptions, because the first men
were nearer to God and knew Him as their Creator and Father (Plato and Cicero).