Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The Fathers on the Historicity of Adam and Eve II : Various Excerpts from Early Fathers

A reminder to readers that I am examining the claim of a Roman Catholic correspondent who wrote in defence of Cardinal Pell's allegorical interpretation of the account of Adam and Eve (see my last post). This correspondent claimed that the Fathers of the Church provided a precedent for such allegorising. We've already seen that the great Augustine laid it down as a rule of interpretation that whatever figurative meanings might be attached to elements of the narrative concerning the creation of the first man and woman and their fall into sin, as narrated in Genesis 2-3, the historicity of Adam and Eve was a fundamental belief. I'll now present some evidence that the Fathers followed Augustine's rule. What follows is not an exhaustive compilation of the Father's writings on the subject, but is a fair survey of the literature.

First we look at the history of patristic interpretation leading up to Augustine. Proceeding more or less in chronological order, we begin - appropriately enough - with Clement of Rome, whom tradition names as the first Pope of Rome, and whom Tertullian describes as having been consecrated to that position by the Holy Apostle Peter himself; he may also be the Clement mentioned in Phil.4:3:

"Let us then draw near to Him with holiness of spirit, lifting up pure and undefiled hands unto Him, loving our gracious and merciful Father, who has made us partakers in the blessings of His elect. For thus it is written, “When the Most High divided the nations, when He scattered the sons of Adam, He fixed the bounds of the nations according to the number of the angels of God." Clement of Rome, 1st Epistle, chapter 29 [c.AD96]
 "Ye see, beloved, how great and wonderful a thing is love, and that there is no declaring its perfection. Who is fit to be found in it, except such as God has vouchsafed to render so? Let us pray, therefore, and implore of His mercy, that we may live blameless in love, free from all human partialities for one above another. All the generations from Adam even unto this day have passed away; but those who, through the grace of God, have been made perfect in love, now possess a place among the godly, and shall be made manifest at the revelation of the kingdom of Christ." Clement of Rome, 1st Epistle, ch 50 [c. AD96].

"For they maintain that the Saviour assumed an animal body, formed in accordance with a special dispensation by an unspeakable providence, so as to become visible and palpable. But flesh is that which was of old formed for Adam by God out of the dust, and it is this that John has declared the Word of God became. Thus is their primary and first-begotten Ogdoad brought to nought." Ireneaus of Lyons, Against Heresies, Book I, ch 9 [c. AD180]
 "Because he was still an infant in age, Adam was not yet able to receive knowledge worthily. For even nowadays when a child is born he is not at once able to eat bread...it would have been the same with Adam. The reason God commanded him not to eat of knowledge was not because Gid begrudged him, as some suppose. Rather, He wished to test Adam, to see whether he would obey His commandment." Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch, Ad Autolychum, [c AD180]; (incidentally, Theophilus was the first to use the term Triad in reference to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit).

"But—as is congruous with the goodness of God, and with His equity, as the Fashioner of mankind—He gave to all nations the selfsame law, which at definite and stated times He enjoined should be observed, when He willed, and through whom He willed, and as He willed. For in the beginning of the world He gave to Adam himself and Eve a law, that they were not to eat of the fruit of the tree planted in the midst of paradise; but that, if they did contrariwise, by death they were to die. Which law had continued enough for them, had it been kept. For in this law given to Adam we recognise in embryo all the precepts which afterwards sprouted forth when given through Moses; that is, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God from thy whole heart and out of thy whole soul; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; Thou shalt not kill; Thou shalt not commit adultery; Thou shalt not steal; False witness thou shalt not utter; Honour thy father and mother; and, That which is another’s, shalt thou not covet. For the primordial law was given to Adam and Eve in paradise, as the womb of all the precepts of God. In short, if they had loved the Lord their God, they would not have contravened His precept; if they had habitually loved their neighbour—that is, themselves—they would not have believed the persuasion of the serpent, and thus would not have committed murder upon themselves, by falling from immortality, by contravening God’s precept; from theft also they would have abstained, if they had not stealthily tasted of the fruit of the tree, nor had been anxious to skulk beneath a tree to escape the view of the Lord their God; nor would they have been made partners with the falsehood-asseverating devil, by believing him that they would be “like God;” and thus they would not have offended God either, as their Father, who had fashioned them from clay of the earth, as out of the womb of a mother; if they had not coveted another’s, they would not have tasted of the unlawful fruit." Tertullian, A Reply to the Jews, Chapter 2 [A pre-Montanist writing, c. AD200]
 "Before the Law, Adam spoke prophetically concerning the woman and the naming of the creatures." Clement of Alexandria [cAD195] Clement was founder of the famous catechetical school in Alexandria where the "allegorical method" of interpreting the scriptures began.
 "Jesus delivered from the lowest Hades the first man of the earth when that man was lost and bound by the chains of death." Hippolytus, Refutation of all Heresies (attributed.) [c AD205] .

As can be seen from these quotes, the early Fathers, the earliest of whom probably had direct contact with the Apostles, are likely to embarrass the sophisticated modern (or post-modern) theologian with their frank acceptance of the historicity of the Biblical narrative concerning Adam and Eve and the Fall into sin. Some might aver that the early Fathers were naive in their historical and epistemological presuppositions, and that the later, more philosophically sophisticated Fathers, corrected their views. Such is not the case, at least as far as I can see; the historicity of Adam and Eve is the consistent teaching of the early church, as I hope to show in the next post.         


Adam said...

nice one, thanks!

Matthias said...

Thank you for this pASTOR. I was shocked and disappointed at cardinal pells failure-not allegory- to uphold the historicity of Adam and Eve .If after all the Church Fathers believed in it ,who are we to make any other interpretation than that they were real historical people. methinks Cardinal George may have shot himself in the casock over this

Lvka said...

Amen, Father!