O Felix Culpa! Oh Happy Fault!

Fr. Ray Ryland
April 3, 2012 6 Comments

At the beginning of the Easter Vigil twice we heard this strange outburst:

“O happy fault,
O necessary sin of Adam

which gained for us
so great a Redeemer!”

The joy of these words is surprising, since we’re accustomed to think of Adam and Eve’s sin as a great tragedy. God created man in His own image and loved him with infinite love. God gave man free will, with the capacity to respond freely to God. Man misused that free will to rebel against God, and thereby infected the human race with Original Sin. Before man’s Fall, some of God’s angels had also rebelled against their Creator, and in their hatred had infected nature itself with evil. So we must say that all evil, physical as well as moral, is ultimately the result of sin, either angelic sin or human sin.

sin of adam Why, then, does the Church through her liturgy dare to speak of the Fall as a “happy fault” or a “necessary sin?”

You see, had our first parents not fallen by sin, they would have remained in a state of supernatural grace. Eventually they would have been taken into heaven, and would have shared in the vision of God. For unfallen persons, that would be the deepest possible union between God and human beings.

Now again, why does the Church lead us to rejoice in the Fall of the human race? The reason is that through the redemption of Jesus Christ we have been restored to the supernatural state in a way far surpassing in glory what we could have known had there been no Fall.

By our Baptism, the Son of God has made us integral members of His Mystical Body. Sacred Scripture describes our union with Christ in the strongest possible terms. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ….Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor 12:12, 27). The human soul is the principle of unity whereby all members of the body are held together in one organism. In like manner, and even more deeply, the Holy Spirit brings us who are members of Christ’s Mystical Body into organic unity with Christ, our Head.

St. Thomas tells us that in the unity of the Mystical Body we are “one mystical Person” with the Incarnate Word. Or, as St. Augustine says, with Christ in His Mystical Body we constitute “the whole Christ.” The letter to the Ephesians tells us that the “the church, which is his body,” is “ the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

adamJust before going to the Garden of Gethsemane, what was our Lord’s prayer for His people? “That they may all be one, even as thou, Father, are in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us” (John 17:21). Remember now, we who are members of Christ’s Mystical Body together with Him constitute “the whole Christ.”

Think of it! As members of Christ’s Mystical Body, we will be drawn with Him into the Blessed Trinity itself! Then will be fulfilled that astonishing promise of sacred Scripture: we will “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4). This is what God in His mercy, through His Incarnate Son, will do for members of Christ’s Mystical Body! This vastly exceeds what God would have done for unfallen man.

Dom Bruno Webb, an English Benedictine, sums up what God in His unimaginable mercy has done and will do for us: “Instead of restoring man to what he had been, God has bent down from His eternity, taking him into His arms and pressing him to His heart in an embrace so close that the gulf between Creator and creature has been bridged, God and man henceforth forming in the order of grace a single being, ‘the whole Christ.’”  (Webb, Why Does God Permit Evil?, 70f.)

“O happy fault,
O necessary sin of Adam

which gained for us
so great a Redeemer!”

  • Emil Posavac

    Aren’t you concerned about collateral damage to human beings?
    Please give me one reason why being fallen is better than not being fallen. The curse seems real. The billions of unbelievers are said to be in enternal hell. How can this be a benefit. “Happy fault” seems utter nonsense.

    • Joe from KC

      Concerned yes but there is nothing I can do about it so I don’t worry about it. My Father in heaven has a plan and part of that plan was free will. He gave me free will and he gave Adam free will. Adam, like me, abused his free will and moved away from God.
      As St Peter said we need to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (paraphrased) and as part of my free will (and Adams and yours) we need to daily move towards God but without free will it wouldn’t matter. We would be like slaves and we wouldn’t be motivated by love.
      Oh happy fault of Adam.

  • Notinthewild

    I think this article is not so much about collateral damage as collateral grace.  There is nothing obviously good about the fall or “fault” of Adam–that is why it is so shocking that the Church can call it “happy.”  It is speaking of a collateral grace to the whole human tragedy.  If God is indeed Love, then his love extends perfectly and irrespectively to all he has made.  He cannot “not” love a single person.  If God is indeed Love and knows fully everything he has made, he loves us exceedingly more than we can love one another.  A billion people could not merit more of his love and attention than a single one.  So the foremost question is whether God is Love.  If he is, then we can rest in that.  It is not our world to save.  It is not even ourselves to save.  If he is not, then I suppose human life is the tragedy it often appears to be.

  • Nancy allen

    This is a twist in the Christian theology of the Holy Sriptures if I ever heard it or saw it; I am a doctorate theology student!! I suppose this refutes our Lord’s benediction after He created the heavens, the earth the sea and everything that is in it, and said that was very GOOD!! Then He rested on the next day from all of His GOOD WORKS ( the 7th day Sabbath; NOT the the 1st day of the week), and communed with the HOLY PAIR THAT WAS MADE IN HIS IMAGE!!!!! Where in the world is Satan in this unfortunate interpretation of the HOLY SCRIPTURES? Wake up people!!!! Our Creator God made us perfect in Him from the very beginning and it was INDEED AN UNFORTUNATE FALL!!!! Because He lOVED us so much that He gave His only begotten son to SUFFER TREMENDOUSLY AND DIE TERRIBLY FOR US!!!! This claim is from the pit of HELL, as SATAN would have you to believe; he is the father of lies!!!!! Do you care about the horrible pain we caused our HOLY FATHER IN HEAVEN, or your own selfish lusts………Shame on us!!

    • Bill of SOF

      All that is being said by this theology (which has been around for a long time) is that God is able to make ‘good’ come from what was a very bad situation – by becoming man, suffering on the cross, and overcoming death. Isn’t that a happy thing for us? And what if God decided to do more than just restore Adam, who are we to say? Paul says, “And where sin abounded, grace did more abound.”

      Adam was made good indeed, and perfect to the extent that a creature can be perfect, but he was not perfect in the sense that he was part of the body of Christ, and not in the sense that he was adopted son of God, priest or king either – like we are now in Christ.

      In my reading, Scripture is silent in regard to Adam’s ‘end’ if Adam had not sinned. But I see nothing wrong with speculating that Adam would have eventually gone to be with God in heaven. However his experience in heaven would be a far cry different without having Christ actually become man thus making Adam his brother in the deepest way (as Christ “became like his brothers and sisters, in every respect” Heb. 2:17). Now, under this new covenant of redemption, where God is now become the Son of Man,the Christ, the Word in the flesh, we are adopted and thereby made apart of his church, which is the very body of Christ and the revelation of that cosmic ‘mystery hidden for ages in God … in accordance with the eternal purpose’ (Eph. 3:9-11). Is this new state of Christian man not more than Adam’s original state of being ‘good’? And isn’t this obvious from scripture?

  • OnlyOne001

    Commenters so far seem not to have understood what they read. The author states his thesis in two different ways. The second way is succinct and clear:

    “Now again, why does the Church lead us to rejoice in the Fall of the human race? The reason is that through the redemption of Jesus Christ we have been restored to the supernatural state in a way far surpassing in glory what we could have known had there been no Fall.”

    Yes, without the fall, and provided we maintained our innocence, heaven would have been our reward. But with the fall came also a plenteous redemption. The grace Christ merited for us, being infinite, allows us to achieve a far higher place in heaven than we would have received relying on Adam’s innocence. This is why Jesus says, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2).