Evolution and the Sin in Eden
A New Christian Synthesis

Chapter 9: Naked Without Shame

Trent rejected the crass pessimism which claimed helplessness of the free will against irresistible onslaughts of concupiscence. Our free wills were not destroyed by the sin, Trent defined, and we remain responsible for our moral actions. Furthermore the Council omitted from its definitions exoteric versions of Adam's paradise as a kind of dreamland. Fortunately so. Such imaginary paintings of a heavenly paradise before the Fall followed by our alleged prosaic conditions after it, though pious in appearance, do not really help us in the struggle for spiritual goodness. Nostalgic imaginings of a "paradise lost" do not stir us to admire our present wonderful universe, and to sing its praises to God in thanksgiving. It can also seduce us into blaming Adam for our condition and so yielding to an attitude of fatalism which dulls determination for self-improvement and for striving to better the social life of mankind on earth.

The Fathers of Trent addressed no message of sympathy to mankind because of concupiscence. Instead they urged all to resist evil inclinations resolutely "by the grace of Jesus Christ" for "one who strives lawfully will be crowned" (canon 5). The formula of Trent, however, does not go all the way to state unambiguously that original sin did not damage our natural human endowments. St. Augustine had planted a dark view about the effect of original sin on human nature into theology, and to this day it is not completely dislodged. Folklore theology still inclines to describe concupiscence as a disorderly and evil tendency, an unfortunate distortion which troubles our natural drives and renders them unruly. The view that our sexual instinct is filthy, for example, is embedded vaguely into our perceptions. We say that we suffer this indignity because of Adam's sin.

Outstanding theologians today do not accept this archaic view. Our natures - intellect, will, body, all our natural endowments - are not disturbed due to original sin, they reason. Though original sin deprived us of bonus supernatural gifts, our natures survived the stripping of the gifts without suffering internal injury. The difference of our human nature before the sin and after is described as no more than the difference between a nudus and a spoliatus - a nude body and a stripped body (see e.g. Canon J.M. Herve Manuale Theologiae Dogmaticae II, (1943), No. 447). The body remains the same in either case. We have every reason to agree with these theologians that our natures did not change when original sin stripped us of the very precious endowment of supernatural gifts, that ennoblement of the soul which capacitates us to strive for the reward of life with God in heaven after our testing on earth has been completed. St. Augustine's contrary theory reigned supreme in the field of theology for many centuries, but the time has come to purge this mistake from our midst.

St. Augustine latched on to the theory of damaged faculties in the heat of battle against the Pelagians who held overly optimistic views about the ability of humans to practice virtue without the help of grace. The saint may also have been influenced by his early tryst with the dualist Manichaeans, who believed in evil as an absolute force pervading creation. Finally, the converted sinner had experienced sexual intercourse only in an illegitimate union with a concubine, never in the state of holy Matrimony, and this may have contributed to his jaundiced view of the sexual drive. If he were alive today he might very well wish to write a "retractation," as he wrote retractions in his later years to modify some of his earlier works. We approach our task with humility, mindful that Augustine is an intellectual giant among men, and that he articulates truth with amazing insight.

Explanation of St. Augustine

What the great St. Augustine once wrote in Chapter 13 of Book 13 of the City of God needs to be read with caution today:

For, as soon as our first parents had transgressed the commandment, divine grace forsook them, and they were confounded at their own wickedness, and therefore they took fig leaves (which were possibly the first that came to hand in their troubled state of mind) and covered their shame; for though their members remained the same, they had shame now where they had none before. They experienced a new motion of their flesh, which had become disobedient to them, in strict retribution of their own disobedience to God. For the soul, reveling in its own liberty, and scorning to serve God, was itself deprived of the command it had formerly maintained over the body. And because it had willfully deserted its superior Lord, it no longer held its own inferior servant; neither could it hold the flesh subject, as it would always have been able to do had it remained itself subject to God. Then began the flesh to lust against the Spirit (Gal 5,17), in which strife we are born, deriving from the first transgression a seed of death, and bearing in our members, and in our vitiated nature, the contest or even victory of the flesh.

The passage indicates that Augustine attributed to Adam and Eve the kind of motor control over their sexual and other drives which we exercise over our movements of hand and foot. They could start them and stop them at will. The saint speculates in this manner consistently in related chapters in The City of God. If that was Adam's condition before the sin, then he became quite a different type of human being after the sin; and we are all constituted quite differently than would have been our lot if Adam had not sinned. But is it true?

The passage about nakedness without shame in Genesis was the pivotal Scriptural text on which Augustine based his explanation. The Church today acknowledges the use of symbolism in Genesis (cf. Humani Generis, 1950; Catechism of the Catholic Church, No.375, 390, 396). St. Augustine's great mind labored much under the constraints of a literal interpretation. He admitted what is called a unipluralism of the literal sense (cf. Bertrand de Margerie, S.J., p.71), but did not allow himself to depart from interpreting Genesis as a historical chronology in a literal sense. He wrote: "We believe the strict truth of the history, confirmed by its circumstantial narrative of facts" (City of God, 13,21). The great Augustine wrote this before the Church recognized that Genesis 1-11 is a special form of history. The sacred author of Genesis very likely attached just the opposite meaning to his words "naked without shame" than Augustine read into them; he did not read the Hebrew language in which the passage was first written.

Nakedness Without Shame is Sin

A quite unflattering interpretation of the nakedness of Adam and Eve is as follows: although they are obviously dependent upon God (naked), they refuse to acknowledge this dependency (they lack shame). Like the serpent, they are devious.

Nakedness elsewhere in the Bible typically indicates utter dependence, helplessness, weakness, lack of self-help, derision by on-lookers, disgrace, inability to defend oneself, need of rescue and assistance, punishment for sin. Never elsewhere in the Bible does nakedness appear in a good light. Outside of this Genesis context, the word naked appears 43 times in the Old and New Testament. The companion word nakedness appears 54 times (cf. John Strong Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, p.704). Nowhere in all these passages does nakedness ever designate virtue or self control. Naked and nakedness always describe quite the opposite, namely sin, punishment for sin, defeat, slavery, prostitution, betrayal of the covenant, sometimes a situation displeasing to God and arousing His wrath.

Job was born naked from his mother's womb (1:21), dependent upon her for everything, for food, warmth, affection. The Israelites danced naked around the golden calf (Ex 32:25) in a sex orgy, rebelling against the God who was giving the Ten Commandments to Moses at that very time on top of Mount Horeb. Isaiah walked around stark naked before the Israelites to dramatize that captives would be taken away "naked and barefoot with buttocks uncovered" (Is 20:4).

Ezekiel dramatized how the Lord will punish Israel for whoring with false gods, for her unfaithfulness to the covenant, by exposing her genitals: "I will gather them against you from all sides and expose you naked for them to see" (Ez 16:37).

Christ promised a reward to those who found Him "naked" and gave Him clothes (Mt 25:36). Nowhere in the Old and New Testament is nakedness ever associated with virtue. The interpretation given by St. Augustine that nakedness without shame in Genesis 2:25 is a sign of virtue has no support from the rest of the Bible. "The Old Testament supplies no trace of the existence, among the sacred writers of any interpretation of the Fall-story comparable to the later doctrine of the Fall" [given by St. Augustine and others] writes F.R. Tennant (The Sources of the doctrines of the Fall and Original Sin, p.93).

If Genesis 2:25 presents our Adam and Eve as sinners-about-to-be, then their nakedness without shame fits the context smoothly. Being "naked without shame" would indicate sheer insensitivity to their absolute dependence upon God, whether from lack of experience, or from incipient pride.

Exegete John S. Kselman therefore asserts that the Hebrew text uses nakedness without shame as a symbol of the beginning of the sin of Adam and Eve. The pun in the text associates their "naked" condition (arummim) with the "cunning" (arum) of the serpent. Verse 25 of Chapter 2 ought to be verse 1 of Chapter 3, he writes, because it begins the story of the sin.

Adam and Eve should have shown their awareness of this "dependence on God who provides in the garden for their needs" (Kselman, "Genesis" in Harper's Bible Commentary, p.88). When the sacred author indicates that the man and woman were naked but not ashamed, he indicates thereby that they were at fault; not unlike some "gays" today, Adam and Eve "outed" their nakedness in defiance of God.

By not acknowledging their creaturehood and dependency, they were now poised to take the next step, which was explicit disobedience to God's commandment. Their pride was a prelude to the Fall. It is as Jeremiah will accuse Israel: "You have the brazen look of a prostitute. You refuse to blush with shame" (3:3; NIV).

The man and woman aspire to "be like God," to assert a godliness which was not theirs. It is a challenge to spread out wings and fly. In vain! What they learn instead, is that they are naked: "weak, vulnerable, and helpless, having rejected their dependence upon God" (Kselman, ibid.). The sin-experience forced their eyes open. They now saw what they had been pretending not to see: "Then the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons." But their nakedness was not of a kind which clothing could hide. Adam, though covered, still felt naked before God: "I heard the sound of thee in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked." This was a nakedness of spirit, not of body.

That "naked without shame" points to a pretensive sham rather than to virtue fits in neatly with a separate insight of Saint Augustine that pride had preceded the Fall: "How could these words (of the serpent) persuade the woman that it was a good and useful thing that had been forbidden by God if there was not already in her heart a love of her own independence and a proud presumption on self ...?" (The Literal Meaning of Genesis,II,11:30, trans. John H. Taylor, The Newman Press, N.Y., 1982).

Their pride was a prelude to the Fall. That interpretation harmonizes with the rest of the Bible which never associates nakedness with virtue. If nakedness without shame is a symbol of insubordination, then Augustine's interpretation misses the point the author of Genesis makes here. His theory about motor control over the passions and emotions then vanishes into thin air, deprived of a biblical foundation.

The Fathers of Trent respected Augustine greatly - as is only proper - but did not incorporate this part of his theology into their definitions. They knew well enough what he had written. Earlier drafts of their propositions about the effects of original sin had reflected Augustinian leanings. Adam was allegedly nearly an angel. Spontaneous movements of the passions were far from his august nature. The Fathers of Trent expunged such preliminary wordings from their final definitions. They backed away from them.

St. Irenaeus, who read this same passage of Genesis, came to an entirely different conclusion than St. Augustine did. He saw in the passage an indication that Adam and Eve were children, too young to feel the stirring of the sex drive. They lacked age, maturity, and experience (Proof of the Apostolic Teaching 12; Ad. Haer. III,22,4; IV,38,1-4). If an explicit Apostolic Tradition had existed teaching that Adam and Eve were adults without a spontaneous sex drive, Irenaeus would not have missed it. This indicates that the Augustinian position is not drawn from an explicit Apostolic Tradition.

Romans: "Sin Lives in Me"

Paul's aphorism that sin lives within us as a kind of second life must be explained in a manner compatible with the rest of St. Paul's writings, and not contradictory to them. The explanation of the passage must also square with the rest of the Bible, which presents God as all holy, not one who seduces man into sin. It cannot be true that God Himself stirs up in us a seduction to commit sin. Yet the passage of Paul amazes us:

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me (Rom 15-17).

This sounds very much like St. Augustine's explanation that the passions within us are in a state of declared war against our reason, all because of original sin. Theologian Fr. Walter J. Burghardt, SJ once expressed the claim in the following dramatic manner:

There was a striking unity, a fascinating harmony, within man himself: within Adam, within Eve. That grim, unceasing struggle which we experience within ourselves, which Paul described - flesh warring against spirit, lust against love, passion against purpose, all the schizophrenia that cleaves me into two - such conflict was foreign to Eden. Adam, like Eve, could not be seduced by surprise, could not say, as Paul would, "The very thing I hate, that is what I do" (Rom 7:15). An inner poise, a sanity and serenity, a profound oneness, such was God's design; such was man to be (The Catholic Mirror, 26 September 1974).

Fr. William Most once illustrated the classic view in a similar manner as follows:

However, there could be a superadded gift that would make all these drives, including sex, subject to reason. With it, each drive would wait for the orders of reason, and only then would it move. Now, since Adam before the fall had felt no problem from sex, no need of clothing, it is evident that he had such a special superadded gift. The theological name for it is: gift of integrity. It is equally obvious after the fall, when his nudity troubled him, that Adam had lost that gift (National Catholic Register, 13 July 1975).

I am inclined to believe that we make life harder for ourselves to no good purpose if we so describe life before the Fall as blissful and entirely free of trouble, whereas we blame our present hardships on the Fall. Do we not feed on self-pity to no purpose by so blaming original sin and Adam for present difficulties? Trent, as we saw, steered away from describing a painless paradise before the Fall. We do well to follow that example. Likewise Paul describes life after the Fall as victorious when lived with the help of Christ, not as a perpetual schizophrenia.

Paul, in the above passage, wrote about indecision before conversion, while the mind is still vacillating between a previous life of sin and a new call to conversion. "To regard this experience as remaining after conversion is against the whole line of the argument ... and against all the moral exhortations in Paul's epistles" (A. Thiesen and P. Byrne, "Romans" in A New Commentary on Holy Scripture, p. 1122). After conversion, Paul recognizes no "cleavage" between one's passions and a relationship with Christ: "For I am certain that nothing can separate us from his love..." (Rom 8:38).

Pain and pleasure experienced in our sensitive bodies should not be interpreted as a "cleavage" in our personalities. Surely Christ had no such "cleavage" in Himself when His feelings convulsed against the prospects of the passion and death which obedience to the Father required: "Father, if thou are willing, remove this from me; nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done" (Lk 22:42). Christ never swerved from obedience. His revulsion against the pain was not some split personality within Him, and did not break His resolve to remain obedient. From this we can conclude that, when we feel reluctance to pay the cost of obedience, this is not necessarily an effect of original sin. When we believe that the state of grace enables us to remain masters of our moral life, we do not imply that grace automatically takes over the automatisms of natural tendencies. Natural tendencies are completely normal when they shrink from pain and when they reach out for pleasure. It is normal for them to function as they are constituted, even when their tendencies are not in harmony with the dictates of the moral life to which we are called by supernatural grace.

Pope John Paul II noted that a spiritual struggle does not necessarily destroy peace of mind. Quoting the above passage of Rom 7:19,22,23, he observes that "original sin and our personal sins" have occasioned a vigorous struggle within us. To this he adds: "But this conflict does not exclude the person's deep peace of mind: 'Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!...I myself serve the law of God with my mind'(Rom 2:25)" (To the Cardinal Major Penitentiary, 20 May, 1998).

We look in vain in Romans and in Paul's other writings for a teaching that concupiscence is an evil tendency implanted into us by God. What Paul says is that these instincts remain natural only, and so will lead us away from God if the will enslaves itself to them. It is our task, writes Paul, to make the spirit master over the proclivities of nature: "Do not present the parts of your bodies to sin as weapons for wickedness, but present yourselves to God as raised from the dead to life and the parts of your bodies to God as weapons for righteousness" (Rom 6:13).

A Non-Miraculous Explanation is Preferable

A non-miraculous explanation of the primal innocence of Adam and Eve is possible. Theology has a rule of thumb that "miracles are not to be multiplied." We know that God endowed Adam and Eve initially with sanctifying grace. Together with grace He gave them the attached package of infused theological, intellectual, and moral virtues. He may even have imprinted on their brains the neurological pathways of pre-formed habits beneficial to the initial founders of human culture. With the help of grace, the imprinted habits could become stable virtues. But we have no reasonable evidence, and no convincing arguments, to demonstrate that our Adam and Eve had motor control over their emotional life and their normal human drives. Such equipment would have made our Adam a miracle man. Better said, a theological construct.

The meaning which Pope John Paul II gives to the status of Adam and Eve before the Fall can also be interpreted in this manner. Their love was not disturbed by their sex drive, he teaches. On the contrary, the "nuptial gift of the body" enhanced their spiritual love by resonating also in the body. This is normative for married couples today as well, he teaches (see especially the weekly catechesis delivered during September 5, 1979 - April 2, 1980.) The Pope thus proposes that what was normative for Adam and Eve in this respect, is normative in married life today. It was so in paradise, it is so today.

The Pope employs use of a special gift of "integrity" to explain his points. The CCC also alludes to it (No. 400). It is plausible to describe this gift as a positive influence of grace which enabled Adam and Eve to deal calmly and adequately with their drives, passions, and emotions. An annealment or closer bonding of reason to the passions, we may call it, by which reason could inhibit with ease the impulsive nature of the lively emotions. God may also have imprinted in Adam's brain the neurological pathways of good habits, which saints acquire with much labor during the course of life. Good habits are, from the physiological aspect, a modification of cerebral pathways. When informed with grace, they become virtues. Thus Adam, according to this view, was serenely and stably equipped to inhibit wayward movements of nature. The notion of imprinted habits informed with grace is sufficient to account for the so-called gift of "integrity" which is commonly attributed to Adam and Eve as founders of human culture. The concept of cerebrally imprinted habits in our first parents might appeal less to Irenaeus than to Augustine. Irenaeus preferred a youthful and inexperienced Adam whom God expected to strive for perfection, to learn through experience, and so to achieve maturity by personal effort. He had little respect for human character if it was not forged in the furnace of personal endeavor, but was handed over on a platter as a gift.

Concupiscence vs Natural Human Drives

Eyes are obviously made for seeing whatever is to be seen, no matter if it be good or evil. If what they see excites the viewer to devious sexual appetites, or to greed and theft, the eyes care not at all. The eyes simply focus the incoming rays of light upon the retina's rods and cones, which in turn transmit the data into the brain for processing into vision. When this is done well, the eyes are doing their task perfectly. For this they are admirably designed and engineered. We do not expect the eyes to scramble the sight of tempting bodies, to censor for us what we ought not see. The eyes were not renovated by grace to transform tempting sights into holy pictures. Were that to happen, we would not be masters over our eyes, but they would master us.

Likewise the ears, the nose, the taste, and the touch organs are programmed to do their thing, and do it well. If they do not function as programmed, we suspect illness and consult a physician. When our drives operate in accordance with inbuilt structures and automatisms, as designed by God, we judge them to be healthy and normal.

To put it in another way: our drives are native and spontaneous atheists. Unless reason and will exercise control over them, they roam as they please. On their own, divorced from reason, they know absolutely nothing about God, about heaven, about the Ten Commandments. The sex drive is as ready to operate in a brothel as in a holy conjugal situation. All our senses, our instincts, our drives, if cut off from direction by our personhood, act like atheists. Only our minds and hearts can make them function as believers. Christ admonished us to master our interior household: "If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna" (Mt 5:29). Again: "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many" (Mt 7:13-14). We are obligated to seek the high moral ground with our reason, and to curb our senses when they tend to gravitate to matters unreasonable.

Living in the Ambiguity of Indecision

The vacillation which Paul describes is a situation in which the subject lacks determination: "Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me" (Rom 7:20). The drives appear to sense when the veto of the will is infirm. Their instinct is to persevere in order to gain their objective. Whereas when the drives are confronted by a wall of firm decision, fortified by grace, this renders their further action impotent, devoid of malice. A firm "NO!" may not stonewall the futile fire of passions, but it frees us from responsibility about their continued presence. If they operate against the consent of the will, there is no sin, no guilt.

St. Augustine, in his classic Confessions illustrates the "schizophrenic" mind-set typical of one who hesitates between good and evil. He feared that by requesting God's grace he might lose the sweet taste of sin:

Being enamored of a happy life, I yet feared it in its own abode, and, fleeing from it, sought after it. I conceived that I should be too unhappy were I deprived of the embracements of a woman; and of Thy merciful medicine to cure that infirmity I thought not, not having tried it. As regards continency, I imagined it to be under the control of my own strength (though I myself found it not), being so foolish as not to know what is written, that none can be continent unless Thou give it (Wis 8:2); and that Thou wouldst give it, if with heartfelt groaning I should knock at Thine ears, and should with firm faith cast my care upon Thee (6:11).

He did begin to pray for chastity later, but "schizophrenically." He prayed for chastity but "not yet." As of now, he chose pleasure. He tells how he found it "impossible" to be chaste only because he indulged in pleasures of unchastity willingly. He hesitated to shake himself free from "the unruly habit saying to me: 'Dost thou think thou canst live without them?'" (Confessions 8,11).

A much relieved Augustine could pray after his conversion: "Now was my soul free from the gnawing cares of seeking and getting, and of wallowing and exciting the itch of lust" (Confessions 9,1). He was no longer schizophrenic, but felt that he was in control. He learned by dramatic experience that he cannot do it alone, that he stands in need of grace. Torn in two while he left the drives to have their way, he had yearned indecisively for self control. This division ceased when he prayed and with God's grace took control of himself.


The phrase in Genesis 2:28 "they were both naked and were not ashamed," when interpreted symbolically rather than literally as here explained, collapses the theory of Augustine that Adam and Eve had motor control over the sex instinct and other natural drives before their sin. Our natural human drives - another term for "concupiscence" - can then be viewed as being intrinsically undisturbed by original sin. Humans today do not experience a notable change of body when they lose the state of grace by one mortal sin. It may not have been essentially different in Adam's case. The sin deprived Adam of the gift of grace, but this deprivation plausibly did not damage his nature directly. This allows us to accept our nature with gratitude from God, as healthy, as normal, and as admirably designed by the Creator to assist us in our daily living while on earth.

Next Page: Chapter 10: Biology of "Concupiscence"
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