O truly necessary sin of Adam,
destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!
O happy fault
that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!
Ever since the first time I attended an Easter Vigil Mass (a few years before the one at which I was fully received into the Church), I have been captivated by the Exultet, and in particular, the mysterious paradox in the middle quoted above. The strange phrase, “happy fault”, causes one to take notice. What can it mean? How can a fault, a sin, be something “happy”? As we meditate on this beautiful paradox at the heart of our faith, let us, as the Exultet itself exhorts us to do at the beginning, “Lift up your hearts” to the Lord, and, thinking with the mind of the Church, explore the depths of the Paschal Mystery.
O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!
Many people have a misunderstanding of Christ’s redemption of our sins. That misunderstanding lies in the fact that they think that the incarnation, passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus constituted God’s “Plan B” for creation. In other words, people often assume that the original, perfect state of Adam and Eve before the Fall was “Plan A” and then when Adam and Eve sinned and were booted from Eden, God had to come up with a “Plan B” to undo the damage. When the Exultet calls Adam’s sin “necessary”, it intends to completely undercut this mistaken notion.
There’s a huge mystery here: that ponderous mystery of God’s predestination and how it ties in to our free will. While God never actively wills sin and disobedience, He made the option possible in order that we could freely choose to love Him instead. Yet Adam and Eve’s decision was never unknown to God, nor was the outcome. From all eternity God knew that His rational creatures would choose to rebel against Him, and His divine plan incorporated Adam’s sin from the very foundations of the world, as we see in Revelation 13:8, where we are told that Christ, the Lamb, was slain “from before the foundation of the world.” The Incarnation was not Plan B. God becoming Man so that we could participate in the divine life of God through His superabundant Grace was the idea all along! In this way, Adam’s sin is understood as “necessary”. If Adam and Eve never fell, Christ would never have needed to come. And so God allowed the loss of perfect human bliss through the original sin of Adam and Eve in order to bring about a greater, divine bliss for humanity (cf. 2 Peter 1:4)! Because there was a Fall, all of us recognise a lack in our lives. Because God only allows evil to occur in order to bring about a greater good (as St. Augustine reminds us), the fulfilment of the lack we feel because of the Fall goes far beyond even restoring us to that Edenic state! God never goes backwards. He’s not taking us back to Eden. He is doing a new thing; the same New Thing He has been unfolding from all eternity; the same New Thing that unfolded at the Cross and was confirmed in the Resurrection, and which is consummated in us through His Graces to us, especially our rebirth in Baptism and our sustaining in holiness through the gift of Himself in the Eucharist!
O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!
Because, in this light, we see that Adam’s sin was in some mysterious way “necessary”, we can understand how his fault was a “happy” one. Philosophically speaking, “Happiness” is not simply some emotional state of contentment with life. Rather, it is the result of something or someone being rightly ordered to its true purpose. As St. Augustine writes in his Confessions, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” It is that rest that constitutes “happiness”, in the sense in which Adam’s fault is here called “happy”. And, of course, the reason for that happiness is expressed in the next line, because it “earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!” In and of itself, sin, even Adam’s sin, is not happy, nor does sin lead to happiness. In fact, sin is the cause of the restlessness that St. Augustine describes. Yet Adam’s sin is “happy” in one and only one regard—because it was necessary to bring about the Incarnation of Jesus, and His glorious gift of Salvation through it—a Salvation that will ultimately take us far beyond what Adam and Eve lost for us in the Fall!
God bless you all during this Easter Season!
Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia!!