Vol II No. 5
From the Quarterly

Falling into Nothingness

by William J. Martin


When St. Augustine describes the Fall of Man, he reminds us that the eating of the forbidden fruit is an outward and visible effect of an inward and spiritual cause that preceded it. Nothing in creation compels a man to sin necessarily. The sin germinates and grows in the mind and then the heart before manifesting itself externally and visibly. So the first sin is committed inwardly and invisibly. The sin is pride. Augustine tells us that our first parents fell into disobedience because already they were secretly corrupted; for the evil act would never have been done had not an evil will preceded it. And what is the origin of our evil will but pride? For ‘pride is the beginning of sin’ [Ecclus. x. 13) And what is pride but the craving for undue exaltation? And this is undue exaltation, when the soul abandons Him to whom it ought to cleave as its end, and becomes a kind of end to itself. This happens when it becomes it own satisfaction…This falling away is spontaneous; for if the will had remained steadfast in the love of that higher and changeless good by which it was illumined to intelligence and kindled into love, it would not have turned away to find satisfaction in itself…The wicked deed…the transgression of eating the forbidden fruit was committed by persons who were already wicked. (DCD, xiv. 13) And let us not be mistaken; Augustine is not saying that man is created evil or predisposed to it by reason of his nature. Man, like all other creatures, is made good to serve the Good. But he turns away from it inwardly and spiritually by an act of will. And so Augustine wants to know what caused Adam to turn away from the Good?(Idem)  

     Augustine suggests that man’s turning away from God might have something to do with the fact that he was made out of nothing. The problem is that when man turns toward himself and away from God he turns towards the nothingness. Man’s being has meaning and definition only in relation to God’s creative goodness. So when he turns from God, he becomes less real. His being is now seen apart from God’s munificence. Of course, man does not lose his being entirely in turning away from God. But he does come closer to nothingness. He still exists and so has being. But his being is now divorced from its root and source. The Divine creative intentionality for his being is challenged. Its meaning and purpose are now explored and discovered in the absence of God’s goodness -i.e. without the Divine wisdom, love, and power that made him to be something. And thus man has disobediently forsaken his origin and end through pride, and instead of rising has fallen because he has imagined his potentiality apart from God. Humility exalts the mind, and self-exaltation abases it. (Idem)

So it would seem that Adam or Man was bent on making something out of nothing without recourse to the Divine illumination and wisdom. Perhaps it would be better to say that Man intended to make something new out of nothing. Now, of course, everything that man could discover from creation would indeed be new to him if he had remained faithful and obedient to God. His innate desire to discover the truth of the universe and God from the creation is not evil at all. The problem was that he wanted to go at it on his own and without God’s guidance. He wanted to be original, when, as we all know, He couldn’t! You can’t be original unless you are the Origin. Everything that man is made to learn and understand is already existing as perfectly present to the mind of God. To be sure, that it is waiting to be discovered and given articulation and usefulness is excitingly attractive. But man was made to see both the ability to discover and what is discovered as gifts of God’s Grace to be embraced and cherished as part of nature that could share in God’s knowledge of and desire for them.

As we all know, man has been busy making something new out of nothing for centuries. He has judged himself to be the final arbiter and judge of what is good and what is evil, what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is not, and so on…ad nauseam. And so where does that leave him? Well, as we can all see rather clearly, in Hell. Hell is alive and well to the minds and hearts of those who no longer feel after God to find Him. Hell is the attempt to live without God. What defines the lives of most men in this post-modern age? Another word for Hell? Nothingness. Man is moved and defined by nothing. Nothing bothers or irritates, or even excites and inspires him. Nothing is the matter, because Nothing matters. And despite the protestations of those who try to make something matter, there is clearly nothing that binds men together these days except for an absence of Goodness, an absence of Truth, and an absence of Beauty. Should anyone try to assert the primacy of absolute truth, beauty, or goodness in the post-modern jungle that man indwells, he is judged to be bigoted, prejudiced, and closed. But what is so funny about it all, at the end of the day, is that it is only through the Judaeo-Christian understanding of reality that the freedom to choose nothing is thinkable. Nevertheless, Jews and Christians alike have been busy denying the God who has given them the freedom to reject Him for quite some time….opting for nothing. 

It will interesting to see in the coming years to see just how much of this nothingness will last. Nothing comes from nothing. The logical effect of it all might be mass-suicide, though even post-modern lobotomized lunatics still draw the line at selfish self-preservation. So what then? Anarchy. And what after that? Well, temporally perhaps, and eternally for certain, Something that the worshipers of nothingness will experience as far, far worse than obedience to the God who alone can make something true, beautiful, and good out of nothing.