Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
My correspondent continues:
- whatever the first man was, can we be confident that he had sufficient reason to comprehend god’s commands fully and thus be held responsible for a fully-informed decision about not doing X (X = figurative for eating of the tree of knowledge)?
It would appear, from Genesis 3, that the answer is “Yes.”
- where did the initial communication link we possessed (walking with god in the cool of the day) go as history progressed? For example, even though cast out, we still had 1:1 speaking sessions with Cain, the patriarchs, and prophets. We have no such thing today.
I think you are reading the Bible in a fundamentalist way here. I also think you are generalizing your experience to the whole human race. Certainly, the world abounds with testimony of prayers answered and claims of communication with God. You can dismiss it all as rubbish a priori. But you can’t simultaneously claim that “We have no such thing today.” All you really mean is “I refuse to believe we have any such thing today.” And that is more or less the point of the Tradition: sin has damaged our communion with God, but has not completely destroyed it. We suffer from a darkened intellect, disordered appetites, and weakened will. We do not, says St. Paul, know how to pray. The claim of the Catholic faith is not “Every man a mystic in direct communication with the Divine Thunderbolt of Inspiration!” It is that “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has obtained is more excellent than theirs. (Hebrews 1:1-4).
In short, the normative way we encounter God is through the Tradition Jesus has handed down to his Church: the source and summit of that Tradition being Jesus himself, fully present in the Eucharist. Seemingly boring stuff like Mass, and doing your duty, and living out the commandments and the beatitudes, and loving your neighbor—not electric pizzazz miracles—are where it’s at. Now and then, God will do something out of the ordinary, like an apparition of Mary, or a miracle. He will (mostly) give “spiritual gifts” that appear mundane to the members of his body—administration, hospitality, exhortation. But now and then he will pour out on certain saints rather extraordinary and inexplicable gifts, as in the case of Padre Pio. The idea is precisely that each are chosen, but also that all are.
- though we certainly did not have a “literal Adam”, Paul references this profusely in his theology. Can one discredit Paul at all for believing in the literalness of a book we now know to be figurative (the Church has explicitly stated that one only need to believe that god was at the beginning of it all in some form, not in a literal Genesis creation account)?
Paul is a Jew who thinks in terms of corporate personality. Somebody somewhere was the first man: ie. The first rational animal capable of relationship with God. There is no science—none—that can speak to that in the slightest, either to confirm or disprove it. When Paul is speaking of the sin of Adam, he has in mind the notion of this sort of corporate personality, just as when the prophets refer to “Israel” they shift back and forth from referring to the man Jacob to the nation that springs from him. Paul’s not attempting to write a natural history.