Rorate Caeli

Reality and the Fall of Man: Sermon for Pentecost X

Father Richard G. Cipolla

From the 7th chapter of St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans:  “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not what I want to do, but I do the very thing I hate…So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me…I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.”

Modern science for the most part still depends on experimentation to explain physical reality.  The scientific method:  observe, propose a theory to explain your observations, then perform experiments that will test the theory. If the results of the experiments match what the theory predicts, then the theory has a grounding in the truth of the nature of physical reality.  If the results are not congruent with the theory, then you propose a new theory, think up and perform experiments, and see if the results are predicted by the theory.

Many years ago Einstein proposed what is known as the General Theory of Relativity.  Observations based on that theory for nearly a century have indicated that Einstein’s theory has merit. One of his predictions was that there should be a faint echo of the beginning of the universe in background radiation.  After a difficult and long search, using instruments of the highest sensitivity the fluctuations in the background radiation were not that long ago observed, and most physicists believe that this confirmed not only Einstein’s theory but also confirmed that the universe most probably began with what is now known as the Big Bang, an explosion of inconceivable energy that formed and is still forming the universe in which we live.  And let us remember that the originator of the Big Bang theory was a Belgian Catholic priest, Monsignor Georges LeMaître.  Yes. One can be a great and imaginative scientist and at the same time be a Catholic priest who believes the creation account in the book of Genesis.

In St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, he speaks of the relationship between the Law, sin, and Christ. In the passage I began this sermon with, he states in a bold and clear way the human condition vis a vis sin: Man’s inability to do what is right even when he knows what is right.  In the First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul uses the history of the Jews in the Old Testament as experimental evidence, where the experiment is living a life, where the chosen people of God over and over again refuse to honor the sacred Covenant and to do what they know is right.  This experimental evidence that is observation of facts is not confined to Jewish history.  It includes all of human history, which is a history of man’s sinning in every possible sphere of existence.  St. Paul loves lists, and his various lists of individual sins leave little out.  His theology of the Cross of Jesus Christ is based on man who is in a fallen state and who is in terrible need of redemption.  Paul’s words:  “For since by man came death”.  This is a wonderful summary of the meaning of the Fall of man.  Without a need for redemption the Cross is unfathomable.

St. John Henry Newman, in a passage from the Apologia pro Vita Sua, presents the evidence for the theory of Original Sin.  I dare not summarize his words but will offer them to you as he wrote them:

To consider the world in its length and breadth, its various history, the many races of man, their starts, their fortunes, their mutual alienation, their conflicts…the greatness and littleness of man, his far-reaching aims, his short duration…the prevalence and intensity of sin, the pervading idolatries, the corruptions, the dreary hopeless irreligion—all this is a vision to dizzy and appall: and inflicts upon the mind a profound mystery, which is absolutely beyond human solution. What shall be said to this heart-piercing, reason-bewildering fact? I can only answer that either there is no creator, or this living society of man is in a true sense discarded from his presence…if there is a God, since there is a God, the human race is implicated in some terrible aboriginal calamity.  It is out of joint with the purpose of its creator. This is a fact, a fact as true as the fact of its existence: and thus theDoctrine of what is theologically called original sin becomes to me almost as certain as that the world exists, and as the existence of God.

“Some terrible original calamity”.  But the fact is that we live in a world, in a culture that not only denies the fallen state of man but also denies the very concept of sin.  Modern and now post-modern man look at the evidence of the reprehensible behavior of man, which behavior they would admit, and posit a theory of their own to explain this terrible behavior, whether it be war, or pillage of some nature, or terrorism, or mass murders, or whatever captures the public’s eye on any given day.  Their theory is that man is capable in overcoming this terrible behavior on his own, if only everyone were better educated, if everyone let go of any moral judgment on someone’s behavior, if only everyone would stop buying guns, if everyone came from the enlightened areas of the Northeast or the West Coast, if only everyone were dedicated to the value of organic kale, if only everyone underwent the moral lobotomy that characterizes the leaders of this world.  Then all the bad stuff would stop.  History would be changed into a series of glorious happenings that would explode into the apotheosis of the omega point of the self. 

All of this, mind you, in a culture that defends the reprehensibility of epidemic pornography that is destroying the deep meaning of human sexuality not only among young people but also in marriages, a culture that is also determined to cancel the fact and meaning of the objectivity of sex itself, doing so by canceling the word sex itself and inventing a completely new meaning for the word gender, allowing that word to be used in promoting an understanding of human sexuality that denies objectivity and revels in ever increasing modes of radical subjectivity. 

And so when our politicians are confronted with the atrocities that afflict our culture and the deep sadness that follows, especially those that seem contradictory such as the killing of unarmed black people and the killing of policeman doing their duty, they do not rend their expensive clothing and put on the symbolic clothing of sackcloth and ashes.  All they do is to posture and look serious in press interviews and say quasi pious things like that they hope for a time when hatred and killing and all social problems will end.  But there is not a shred of evidence that these words of vague hope have any foundation in human nature.

There is no experimental evidence that man will come of age on his own, that his deep tendency to do the wrong thing can be eliminated by education in the right school or by espousing cheerful liberal principles. Government is necessary and must be supported.  But government can never solve moral problems.  Especially a government that denies the evidence of original sin and the need for redemption.  Repent! Repent and believe the Gospel!  This assertion, this shout, must be heard, but not as if it is only part of a wild Flannery O’Connor evangelical laced story of the deep South, nor in some sort of super traditional Catholic way that denies the reality of the world in which we live by looking to a mythical past, but in that way that will look at the evidence, will look at the data of experience that is human history, and will examine all of this in the light of the two possibilities:  either that man is perfectible on his own as he matures, or that man is in the grip of sin and death that are the results of the Fall, and that the only antidote to this poison is the love and mercy of God seen and experienced in the person of Jesus Christ.  This process of thinking about the situation of mankind and making a decision about what needs to be done, should not happen in some sort of deep existential agony and angst, nor in a professional think tank, nor on social media, least of all in a prestigious university, but, perhaps shockingly to many, rather here, within the beauty of this Traditional Roman Mass, at whose heart is Sacrifice and therefore joy.   And perhaps, later on, a conversation,  over a glass of good wine.