This is the 31st blog in this series which began with Adam & Sin, Paradise and Fasting. The previous blog is Adam’s Expulsion in the Writings of St. John Chrysostom.
The story of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise inspired the Patristic theologians to apply the story to a wide diversity of topics from theology, to ethics, to explaining the world as it is. They also sometimes saw the story of the Fall as having practical moral applications. For example from the desert fathers we have this wisdom attributed to Hyperechius (d. ca 420AD):
“He also said, ‘It was through whispering that the serpent drove Eve out of Paradise, so he who speaks against his neighbor will be like the serpent, for he corrupts the soul of him who listens to him and he does not save his own soul.’” (in THE SAYINGS OF THE DESERT FATHERS, p 238)
Hyperechius finds in the story of the Fall a lesson against gossiping, spreading rumors and speaking against one’s neighbor. Every community has felt the destructive power of those who whisper secrets against one another.
The Fall was also, according to the Fathers, the explanation for all manners of evil in the world including slavery and other forms of inequality.
“At the fall came hatred and strife and the deceits of the serpent. . . I would have you look back to our primary equality of rights … not to the later division . . . Reverence the ancient freedom … Reverence yourself.” (St. Gregory Nazianzen (d. 391AD), THE HUNGRY ARE DYING, p 150)
St. Gregory Nazianzen blames the Fall for unleashing on the world hatred and strife as well as the inequalities one can observe everywhere – between the rich and poor, between men and women, between races and nationalities. He believed all humans had an innate, ancient freedom which had been lost as a result of the Fall. The divisions between humankind which limit the freedoms of some and increase the powers of others are all a result of the Fall, not part of how God intended the world to be.
Interesting, for me at least, is did St. Gregory apply his thinking to all social hierarchy? For example did it cause him to see the imperial form of government not as natural for humans but purely the result of the Fall – a necessary evil? I also wonder how he would have applied his thinking to the emerging and becoming rigid notions of hierarchy in the church, especially in the light of Christ’s own condemnation of Christians trying to lord it over one another (Matthew 20:25-28; Matthew 23:8-12; Luke 22:25-27). It is note worthy that despite the emphasis in more recent times that the Church is hierarchical, in the 4th Century when adopting the Creedal formula regarding the Church, our Fathers in the faith did not include the world hierarchical, but expressed a faith in a one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, excluding hierarchical as the canon for the church.
“Thus in Adam’s case, too, since he had not used his dwelling in paradise to his advantage, he brought him to his senses by expulsion; and his wife, who had enjoyed equal status but proved the worse for it, he made better by slavery and subjection.” (St. John Chrysostom, COMMENTARY ON THE PSALMS Vol 2, p 155)
Chrysostom sees the subjection of women to men as a direct result of the Fall, not part of God’s original plan for humanity. However, he seems to accept this subjection as not only normal to this Fallen world, but perhaps even a corrective for women as a whole since apparently all women share collectively in the sin of Eve. He apparently doesn’t think that Christians living in the light of Christ who overcomes the effects of the Fall should try to undo the inequalities of this world regarding gender. Was he simply the product of his own time and patriarchal society? Several Fathers mention slavery and inequality as resulting from the Fall, but almost none advocated abolishing such inequalities.