The Necessary Sin of Adam?


While listening to Audrey Assad, I came across a Latin phrase that has arrested my thoughts of late: Felix Culpa. Felix Culpa means “O Happy Fault” or “O Blessed Fall” and is a part of the liturgical phrase “O felix culpa quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem” which translates “O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam. Which gained for us so great a Redeemer.”

My initial reaction to the phrase was simultaneously horror and beauty. Horror that the fall is proposed to be “necessary” and beauty that its “fault” could be and was made beautiful. Regarding its necessity,  St. Ambrose and St. Augustine used Felix Culpa as a way to talk about theodicy. Evil was permitted into existence because it brought about a much greater good- chiefly the introduction of Jesus Christ. Were it not for evil, then Christ would not have been necessary. I struggle with that. Was the incarnation and the passion utilitarian? Or was it something in the heart of God before creation? I tend to believe that the Incarnation was in the heart of God before the fall and it was the intent of the Triune God to unite Himself with humanity with or without the fall. Accomplishing this through the incarnation.

Yet, the beauty of this phrase still stands in stark contrast to my objection- “O happy fault…. Which gained for us so great a Redeemer.” Without the fall, humanity would not have been able to be rescued to the point of unity with the Godhead: Theosis. Through the Incarnation and passion of Christ, humanity has been recapitulated to a glory that surpasses that of Adam and Eve before the fall. Dom Bruno Webb asserts that “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.” Through this “necessary sin,” humanity is able to participate in the divine dance of the Triune God. Wow. “And can it be that I should gain, an interest in the Savior’s blood!”

I am not sure I will come to any consensus on Felix Culpa in the near future, so until then “O felix culpa quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem.” Whether the fall was necessary or not, the beauty remains that God takes broken situations and makes them beautiful. “In my deepest wound I saw your glory. And it dazzled me.”

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5 thoughts on “The Necessary Sin of Adam?

  1. Duns Scotus, contemporary of Aquinas, had a much broader view of the scope of the incarnation. His answer to the dilemma of the necessity of the fall was that God always intended to dwell with & identify with his creation—fall or no fall. Scotus argued this through “the Doctrine of the Absolute Primacy of Christ in the Universe.” This brief article is helpful:

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/january/20.72.html?start=1

    Do you think this moves us in a helpful direction?

    • Andrew, that is helpful. Bob Mullholland proposed the same thing while exegetting Philippians 2. I havent studied it enough, but i have a feeling it where Ambrose was going with it as well. That the Incarnation was in the heart of God before the fall is a very Eastern idea and it resonates with me tremendously. My struggle is still the phrases use of the necessity of Adam’s sin. So with the framework of the Incarnation happening with or without the fall, then Adam’s sin was not necessary.

  2. There is tension here. I can see how in a post-resurrection environment we can say “O Happy Fall”, but I can’t really agree with some of the father’s views of the necessity of evil. This denies the incarnating presence of Christ from the beginning of time…making it an after thought.

    But it is a beautiful phrase and thought. One that should be drawing us into the beauty of Christ.
    Good words.

    • Yep. thats what im thinking. I was actually surprised to see Ambrose talk about it. Augustine- of course. Im not sure Irenaeus or the Apostolic Fathers would go for this. But, again, it doesnt take away from the sheer beauty and awe-inspiring work of it.

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