When St. Augustine describes Adam’s Fall he reminds us that Adam surrendered his desire to obey God’s Word exclusively. Nevertheless, Adam did not lose all being, but when he had turned towards himself his being was less real than when he adhered to Him who exists in a supreme degree. (D.C.D. xiv. 13) Turning away from God, then, does not mean losing all life or existence, but means choosing existence in and through the self, which is closer to nothingness –the ex nihilo or out of nothing, than to God’s pure being. God alone made man a something, and the something that remains after the Fall is the effect of a choice to refuse the life that God alone gives. The result is, as we all know, death, for perpetual life for man was contingent upon obedience to God.
Augustine tells us also that man is tempted by the serpent or Satan to sin only after man had already started to please himself. (D.C.D. xiv. 13) Man had turned away from God and was beginning to enjoy his independence. That independence, according to Augustine, establishes a character that is then susceptible to Satan’s suggestions. For man the absence of goodness as pure potency was meant to be actualized as something good, new to him as meaningful being only in reference and service to the Creator. All created substances are made to be returned to God through the articulation that man’s mind gives to them. Man is a viator or traveler; through his mind knowledge and understanding are generated to travel back to God. What he learns and knows inwardly and spiritually and then appropriates and uses externally and visibly are derived in complete dependence upon God’s being and knowing.
When the good is circumscribed to serve the selfish interests of man, what rules and governs him is a limited form of the good whose perfection never transcends time and space because the vision or understanding of its meaning is distorted and incomplete. The serpent proclaims: Ye shall be as gods. Man is flattered and puffed up with the thought of an enhanced independence. And yet he forgets that to be created gods will be of inferior quality to what he has forsaken –participation in the Uncreated Goodness of God. Augustine tells us that by aiming at more, man is diminished, when he elects to be self-sufficient and defects from the one who is really sufficient for him. (Idem) Adam wants more than life with and through his Maker. Adam chooses to go at it on his own. So he has fallen into a world of goodness and its absence, or of good and evil. This means that his body, soul, and spirit are now subject to a reality that can be seen, known, and experienced both within God and without God. And because he has isolated his self-interest from God’s will, man has discovered a potentiality for his individuality apart from its vocation and calling within Creation. So too has he discovered the potential idolatry of all other things. Now all things can be known and experienced as isolated gods apart from their respective roles in a perfectly functioning well-ordered whole.
Then the eyes of both were opened and they perceived that they were naked. (Gen. iii. 7) To be naked was nothing of any substance prior to the Fall. To be naked after the Fall is a feeling and sensation of self-conscious isolation from all else and all others. The sin is internal and invisible but elicits a sudden shame as the self-consciously isolated self senses that the whole of the outward and visible world must be staring at it! Man desired to see what was forbidden, and as a result he could not withstand the vision and experience of a multiplicity of lesser gods now only too willing to accentuate and possess his new-found individuality. The inner self was deprived of that clothing of holiness and righteousness and so was deserted by the Grace which it had offended by pride and arrogant love of its own independence. Casting their eyes upon their bodies, man –the male and the female, they felt a movement of concupiscence which they had not known.(D.G.A.L. xi. 31)
For human independence man pays a high price. Death is a logical consequence of life without God’s sole rule and governance. Death is embraced in the moment of disobedience. Thereafter human life becomes a journey into death. But man’s shame reveals a residual attachment to the forsaken good. God never ceases to be God and so will respond to man’s acknowledgment of his own sin. The way of reconciliation and return will be arduous and demanding. But God’s plan and purpose for man remain the same. The difference lies in the human appropriation of it. That will take a redemption and sanctification of human nature that is beyond man’s power. But God will respond in due time with a recipe of reconciliation that reveals a love that far surpasses all sin and will bring good out of evil.