I think that it is well for us to begin the subject by studying the fall of man and his resurrection which took place in Christ. This is very important, because in this way we shall be able to look more broadly at our subject, the catholic [universal] way of life. It is important also because the subject of the fall and resurrection is the basis of soteriology. If we do not examine it scientifically, we shall never be able to understand and live the life which the Church has. I ought to mention that the question of what is the fall of man has been analysed in other books of mine, and I do not want to repeat it. I shall merely emphasise a few points. The reader can find an extensive analysis in my book “Orthodox Psychotherapy“, and in “Time to act”, in the chapter “Traditional Catechism”.
We usually think of the fall in juridical terms, in meaning which have been taken from the law courts. We consider that Adam’s sin was simply a transgression of a law, an external one, and that this transgression created great guilt in man, with the result that this guilt has been inherited in Adam’s descendants.
But this view of sin is not orthodox. In Orthodoxy we regard sin as an illness of man. Man fell ill and this illness had an effect on the whole human race. St. Kyril of Alexandria uses the image of the plant. When the root of the plant has become ill, then the branches also fall ill. We can interpret Adam’s sin in this way as well.
St. Maximos, speaking of the fall of man and his restoration, puts them on a theological basis. He says that at the creation of the world and of man there were five divisions. The division between uncreated and created, noetic and tangible, Heaven and earth, Paradise and world, male and female. Adam, by the grace of God, but also by his personal struggle, an expression of his freedom, would have to overcome these divisions and reach communion and unity with the uncreated. To be sure, this last division, that between created and uncreated, could not be abolished, but the created would attain unity with the uncreated. Moreover, in the Church we say that there is no division between physical and metaphysical things, as philosophy claimed, but between created and uncreated. And further, we accept that the uncreated enters into the created, and thus man himself, as St. Maximos the Confessor says, also becomes uncreated by grace. Adam failed to transcend these divisions. And not only did he fail to transcend the division which we mentioned, but he also lost the purity which existed between the two sexes, with the result that decay and mortality entered into nature, that he wore the coats of skin of decay and mortality. Therefore now man’s way of conception, gestation, birth, etc. , is a result of the fall, it is what the Fathers called coats of skin, which he wore after the fall.
The transcending of the five divisions took place in Christ. By His incarnation, by His birth from a Virgin, by the union of divine and human nature, he united the uncreated with the created, the heavenly with the earth, the noetic with the sensible, Paradise with the world, and he even transcended the division between male and female. Thus man’s restoration was successful and every person was given the possibility that in Christ he too could transcend all the divisions and achieve his salvation.
If we want to look more concretely at the matter of the fall we will say that, as St. John of Damaskos teaches, the fall in reality is darkness of the image, loss of the divine life and putting on the coats of skin. The darkness of the image is nothing else but the darkening of the nous. The nous was darkened and could not have communion and unity with God. Of course it must be said that according to the anthropology of the Fathers, man’s soul is rational and noetic. This means that man has two centres of functioning. One is the reasoning mind, which is connected with his nervous system, and the other his nous, which is connected with his heart. Adam’s fall, then, is the darkening of his nous, the loss of its noetic function, confusion of the nous with the functions of reason and its enslavement to the passions and to the environment. Instead of moving according to nature and above nature, instead of moving towards God and being mindful of God, man’s nous is turned towards the created things and the passions. That is why in the Church we speak of repentance, which is not simply a change in the head, as some theologians say, but a change of the nous. The nous must break away from the created and the passions and turn towards God.
A result of the darkening of his noetic energy is that man’s relationship with God and his fellow man is upset. Because of his darkened nous, man does not find meaning in life, he turns his attention to the external things, with the result that he comes to blows with men, he has no inner peace. This is analysed in a wonderful way by St. Gregory Palamas. Fallen man uses God to safeguard his individual security and regards his neighbour as an object for predatory exploitation. He cannot have selfless love, because all his expressions and all his love contain the element of self-seeking, which is to say that man is characterised by self-seeking love. So the darkening of the nous has drastic social consequences. Sociology cannot be regarded as independent of theology.
In this sense we can speak of inheritance of sin and of the ancestral sin, which man inherits at birth. In this sense too we can speak of the catholicity of the fall of man.
What Adam failed to do, Christ, who is called the new Adam, succeeded in doing. By His incarnation Christ glorified [“deified”] human nature and became the strongest medicine for men, in the sense that He gave every man the possibility of achieving his theosis. In this light we can interpret the phrase from the troparion that Christ raised up “Adam with the whole human race”.
At this point I would like to look at two passages in St. John of Damaskos which will help us to understand in some way the mystery of the incarnation of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. It must of course be emphasised that this too is a subject not of rational understanding but of spiritual experience, yet we can say something about the doctrine of the incarnation of the Son and Word of God.
St. John of Damaskos, repeating a passage from St. Gregory the Theologian whom he calls his spiritual father, says that Christ took on the whole human nature, because what is not assumed is not cured. St. John of Damaskos goes on to say that the ruling centre of the soul and the flesh is the nous, which is the purest part of the soul, but also that the ruling centre of the nous is God Himself. When God acts, then the nous manifests its own authority, and then “it is under the control of the stronger and follows it, doing those things which the divine will desires”. The Son and Word of God has united with the flesh “by means of the nous”, which is midway between the purity of God and the grossness of the flesh. So the nous became the place of its personal union with divinity. The saint writes characteristically: “The nous becomes the seat of the Divinity which has been hypostatically united to it”. This has great importance, because it shows that man’s salvation begins and works in the nous and then extends to the whole body. Thus we understand the great importance of the neptic tradition of our Church.
The other point from the teaching of St. John of Damaskos which is useful to us here is that by His incarnation the Word of God did not assume the human nature “that is understood in pure theory”, that is to say, he did not assume a simple nature, that which is seen externally, because then it would not have been incarnation, but an illusion and fiction of incarnation. Also He did not assume this nature “regarded as a species”, but that which is seen in the individual, which at the same time belongs also to the species, because Christ assumed the whole mixture of what was our own from the beginning. This is important because, as St. John of Damaskos again says, human nature rose from the dead and sat at the right hand of the Father “not implying that all human persons arose and sat at the right hand of the Father, but that our entire nature did so in the Person of Christ”. That is to say that human nature has been glorified in the person of the Logos. So human nature has attained theosis in the hypostasis of the Logos, but our own human hypostases must be glorified as well.
Therefore the catholicity of Adam’s fall has the meaning of the illness of human nature and the catholicity of the resurrection through the New Adam, Christ, it again has the meaning of the cure. Christ cured human nature, He Himself became the strongest medicine towards the cure, and he gives every man the possibility of being cured. Thus we can maintain that Christ is both the physician and the medicine, man’s cure and his health.
—Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
The Mind of the Orthodox Church