As Iron Sharpens Iron

An ongoing and online discussion between: an Orthodox informed Ecumaniac without a denominational home, an ordained Baptist youth pastor with an open mind, a Calvinist worship leader/seminarian with a staggering vocabulary and ability to make a point, and a cradle Catholic with a love/hate relationship to Rome.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Felix Peccatum Adae

I have been rereading Perelandra by C.S. Lewis. It is definitely my favorite of his Space Trilogy and, in my estimation, one of his more theologically rich works of fiction. An earthling by the name of Ransom is taken by the eldil (a kind of cross between an angel and an alien) Malacandra, the Oyarsa of Mars, to Venus or Perelandra. On Perelandra their first man and woman are about to be tested, specifically the woman. Ransom has been sent as the emissary of Maleldil, or Jesus, while Ransom's nemesis, Weston, has been sent as a kind of possessed vessel of the Bent One or Satan, the Oyarsa of Earth (or Thulcandra) to tempt the woman.

One of the most profound parts for me came early in the debates between Ransom and Weston. Weston is attempting to persuade the Lady to sleep on the fixed land (all other land are floating islands), which is prohibited by Maleldil. Ransom briefly tells the story of Adam and Eve and all the evil that befell. Weston (or the Bent One using Weston's body) replies:
He has not told you that it was this breaking of the commandment which brought Maleldil to our world and because of which He was made man. He dare not deny it.
Ransom is hard put to find an adequate response to this. He thinks:
How if the enemy were right after all? Felix peccatum Adae. Even the Church would tell him that good came of disobedience in the end.
That phrase, which translates "Happy sin of Adam," refers to an Easter hymn, the Exultet, from the Roman Catholic liturgy. Somewhere in the middle the hymn makes this interesting statement:

Latin lyrics English translation

O certe necessarium Adae peccatum,
quod Christi morte deletum est!
O felix culpa,
quae talem ac tantum
meruit habere Redemptorem!

O truly needful sin of Adam,
which was blotted out by the death of Christ!
O happy fault,
that merited
so great a Redeemer!

I have to admit that I find that phrasing somewhat disturbing. Needful? Necessary? Happy? I get the sentiment, but I am otherwise quite put off. After reading this hymn, I was immediately reminded of a Christmas carol I first heard on the Medieval Baebes album, Salve Nos. The 14th c. carol, Adam Lay Ybounden, says, in modern English, "If the apple had not been taken, then our Lady would not have been Queen of Heaven." It ends:

Blessed be the time
That apple taken was.
Therefore we may singen
Deo gratias!

It praises God for the Original Sin. It is expressing gratitude for the advent of rebellion and death. It seems to me that both this carol and the Exultet agree with the argument of Satan/Weston. I was speaking about this with my brother-in-law and he mentioned a theological concept called Supralapsarianism. It states that God planned the Fall (lapsare) in order to facilitate the coming Redemption. It falls in line with Predestination.

Fortunately, for a world that has the Exultet, Adam Lay Ybounden and John Calvin; there are also some sane voices. I can't find a citation at the moment, but I believe St. Gregory of Nyssa, one of the most influential Church Fathers, believed the Incarnation had been planned regardless of the Fall. It took on a new meaning and purpose, but the goal of uniting the Divine to Dust was always in the mind of God. And, of course, there is Mr. Lewis himself who says, through the character of Ransom replying to the Lady:
Of course good came of it. Is Maleldil a beast that we can stop His path, or a leaf that we can twist His shape? Whaever you do, He will made good of it. But not that good He had prepared for you if you had obeyed Him. That is lost forever. The first King and first Mother of our world did the forbidden thing; and He brought good of it in the end. But what they did was not good; and what they lost we have not seen.
Amen. God allows us to follow Him of our own God-given will, but His plan will not be thwarted! This idea is further reinforced later in the book as the King, the Lady, the eldil Perelandra, the eldil Malacandra and Ransom speak together of the Great Dance. In one section, they say:
All which is not itself the great Dance was made in order that He might come down into it. In the Fallen World He prepared for Himself a body and was united with the Dust and made it glorious forever. This is the end and final cause of all creating, and the sin whereby it came is called Fortunate and the world where this was enacted is the centre of worlds. Blessed be He!

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Blogger John said...

Lewis himself agreed with you about the value of Perelandra. He said, in effect, that it was worth ten 'Screwtapes.'

2:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am currently reading Perelandra for the first time. I came across the Latin phrase Felix peccatum adae, wanted to know the translation and found this site. What a blessing. I have always had a deep love for C.S.Lewis and Tolkein, read most of their works and this is so far one of my favorite. Lewis paints a wonderful picture of what temptation is like and how we sometimes feel helpless to combat it. Cant wait to get to the end and find out what happens to Ransom!

1:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"FĂ©lix peccatum adae" means "happy sin of Adam"

11:34 AM  

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