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Talk notes: Creation and fall of man and angels

This past week I had to give a presentation to our RCIA participants on the Creation and fall of man and angels.  Like before I’m making my talk notes available in case anyone finds anything within to be of use.  This presentation was timed to take roughly an hour – I think in the end with skipping some points and expanding on others I finished my talk just five minutes over schedule which, for me, is nearly unheard of.  One great resource I happened to trip across just days before my presentation was a lecture given by Dr. Peter Kreeft entitled “Aquinas and the Angels” – he was, as usual, both witty and overflowing with information.

  • So far we have talked about: Divine Revelation – God’s revelation of Himself; The Bible – our written record of the path of humanity toward and away from God and His message and call to us; the very existence of God and His Triune nature. Today we start, if you will, with “the great so what?”
  • The story of Creation is where the proverbial rubber of God’s existence hits the road where it is acted out in our universe, in our time, in our world, in our lives.
  • God is pure beatitude – He would be completely happy all by Himself, but yet He chose to create all that is. Why? We’ll get there, but not yet.


  • The story of Creation starts “In the beginning” at Genesis 1:1. Before this nothing that was created existed – no heavens, no earth, no stars, no primordial matter: creation was truly, as defined by the Fourth Lateran Council, ex nihilo – from nothing – only God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit existed.
  • 2 Macc 7:28 “I beg you, child, to look at the heavens and the earth and see all that is in them; then you will know that God did not make them out of existing things; and in the same way the human race came into existence.”
  • After this things get complicated. We have the account in Genesis 1, with its six days of creation and seventh day of rest. Even here we’re not entirely sure how this all works:
  • Is it six literal days, six “ages”, a metaphor where “day” just means “a long time” or maybe something else entirely? As Catholics we are free to believe any one of these, so long as we admit the consistent participation of God in and throughout Creation – no “watchmaker” God (Deism), no random coincidence (Neo-Darwinism).
  • We see in the six days of creation a succession from less complex to more complex, in the words of medieval scholars and CCC #342, “from the less perfect to the more perfect”.
  • On day one we have the creation of light, as opposed to the darkness that had existed before. God calls it “good”.
  • On day two we have the creation of the “dome” separating the heavens from the earth. God calls it “good”.
  • On day three there is the creation of land, separating what up to now had been one giant sea. There is also the creation of all different kinds of plants, trees, flowers. God calls it “good”.
  • Day four sees the creation of heavenly bodies – the sun and moon and the stars. You’ll note this is the first time we could have a literal “day” as in Semitic cultures a day starts at sunset – for which you’d need the existence of a sun. God calls it “good”.
  • Day five gives the world the creatures of the air and the sea – birds and fish. You might note here God blesses the animals saying, “Be fertile and multiply”. God calls it “good”.
  • Day six offers the creation of all the creatures on the land, and then the capstone of creation, man and woman (Read Gn 1:26-31) God calls it “very good”. Note Gn 1:27 – we’re going to come back to that.
  • On Day seven God rests, not because He is tired but to set the example of how we are to keep the Sabbath day.
  • We see in the design of creation that it follows a very logical order, almost a scientific movement from step to step. God intelligently ordered the universe – nothing is random, everything has a place and a meaning.
  • Creation is also a hierarchical continuum – one species lining up right next to another and in a very definite and defined order. We don’t like to think of one thing as superior to another, but that’s because society has taught us to be overly-egalitarian – in God in whom there is no greed, malice or spite what we’re taught is “bad” about hierarchy doesn’t exist.
  • In Genesis 2 we have a “second” story of creation. At first it may seem to contradict Genesis 1 but in reality it supplements and augments it. In Genesis 1 we have the “big picture” overview of creation – the 10,000 foot view as we call it. In Genesis 2 we zoom way in to see the story of man up close and personal.
  • Genesis 1 seeks to answer the question, “what kind of world do we live in?” Genesis 2 looks at “why are we the way we are?”
  • READ: Gn 2:7
  • Notice God “blew into his nostrils the breath of life” – this should remind you of the wind blowing over the waters in Gn 1:2. Whenever we see wind or breath it’s likely an indication of the work of the Holy Spirit, whom we will cover in two weeks
  • God creates a garden for man, Eden, and settles him there. This is where he receives the command in Gn 2:16-17.
  • God then “decides” Man should not be alone and creates the various wild animals and birds. The animals are presented to him to name – in ancient cultures naming something was akin to having power over it.
  • In none of these animals did man find a suitable partner. Ancient man was picky.
  • God puts man in a deep sleep and creates a partner for man out of his rib. Why the rib?
  • If it were something lower on his body it would suggest she was “lower” than him, his servant.
  • If it were something higher on his body it would suggest she had power over him and he was her servant.
  • Creation from the man’s rib suggests man and woman are co-equal, each truly a partner for the other.
  • The Church Fathers also found a critical tie-in with the Crucifixion of Christ – just as Adam’s bride was taken from his side, so Christ’s bride, the Church, is formed from his side when it is pierced by the lance. But we’ll get into that in another class.
  • Now we find ourselves at Genesis 3, with the story of the serpent, the tree, the apple and the fall. But first we have to back up and talk about something that’s almost taken for granted in the Bible – Angels – because they’re about to start to play a significant part in the rest of the story of the world.


  • What is an angel? CCC #330 defines it this way. St. Augustine defines them in CCC #329. They are, in short, spiritual creatures whose role in life is to be servants and messengers of God.
  • We have no natural individual knowledge of angels except by special divine exception. Knowing about and seeing and understanding angels is not part of our human nature. There have, however, been many exceptions in history, both in the Bible and after biblical times.
  • Why should we care about angels? What difference do they make?
  • They are all over the place in the Bible. CCC #332.
  • They show that matter is good and the origin of evil is spiritual – we’ll see this when we talk about the fall. They also show that matter is not the greatest good.
  • Pascal said, “we must know both angels and animals in order to know ourselves.”
  • They show that sin is not necessary – that a fully graced life is possible.
  • They illustrate God’s principle of mediation.
  • God loves to exalt His subordinates by letting them do so much.
  • Many things God “could” do he allows the angels to do in his stead, allowing them to offer themselves and their skills in service.
  • Finally, the perfection of the universe demands it. As we saw above, the universe is completely ordered and directed by God, created in a hierarchy from “the less perfect to the more perfect”.
  • Etienne Gilson, a famous 20th century philosopher, put it this way: “The perfection of the universe demands the existence of beings possessing neither matter nor bodies for the general plan of creation would display a manifest gap if there were no angels. Lack of discontinuity is a profound law governing the emanation of beings from God.”
  • What do we know about angels?
  • Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite in the sixth century gave us the nine choirs in his work Celestial Hierarchy. They are divided into three orders of three, based on their proximity to God:
  • Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones
  • Dominations, Virtues and Powers
  • Principalities, Archangels and Angels
  • You’ll see some of these orders in St. Paul’s writings – Romans, Ephesians and Colossians all mention “principalities and powers”, where principalities is another title for the Virtues in the above list.
  • In the song Holy God, We Praise Thy Name which we’ll sing at Mass sometimes here there is also the line, “Cherubim and Seraphim in unceasing chorus praising.” At this highest level of the angel hierarchy they never leave the presence of God – bringing messages to humans is given to the Archangels and Angels.
  • We know angels are pure intellects – they don’t have to “learn” about things through the senses the way we do.
  • I found this interesting – not all angels know everything about everything – remember the angelic hierarchy. There is no egalitarianism or competition between the angels.
  • Each of us as humans has an angel guardian. St. Basil said, “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.”
  • They exist in what Dr. Peter Kreeft called “angel time”. Because they have no bodies they do not experience the passage of time in the same way we do.
  • We know at some point in the story of creation some of the angels, led by Satan, turned away from God and fell from heaven.
  • Because they do not experience the succession of time as we do, and because they are pure intellects it is impossible for these “fallen angels” to ever repent. Their decision to turn away from God was made with full knowledge of its impact and ramifications.
  • We are not told why the fallen angels turned from God. Scholars suggest the only possible reason would be pride – as Milton wrote in Paradise Lost, “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.”


  • This now brings us back to Eve in the Garden in Genesis Chapter three. We need to set the scene just a little more for the story to make sense.
  • Adam had been given by God the charge to keep – which can also mean “guard” – the Garden.
  • Remember before Adam was also given the command not to eat from the fruit of the tree of good and evil. With his new opportunity to exercise power and dominion he was also given a responsibility of obedience to God – much like as our children grow, we add both opportunity and responsibility in hopefully equal measure.
  • Adam and Eve are in the garden, together. Equal, partners in all they do, perfect in their original innocence.
  • The serpent – Satan – is the most “cunning” in the garden. The Hebrew word Nahash can also be interpreted as shrewd, sly or intimidating.
  • The serpent approaches Eve and immediately sets about twisting the command received by Adam from God. He slowly whittles away at her understanding of the command. Notice he goes stealthily around Adam, the one charged with protecting the garden, and he stealthily makes his proposal to Eve in small seemingly innocuous steps.
  • This is a classical rhetorical trick to create confusion on the part of another – present a falsehood for them to deny, then move a little closer to the truth and repeat.
  • Satan’s strategy is to paint God as a tyrant and obedience to him as slavery, rather than the truth of God as a loving Father and obedience as freedom. He is “the father of lies” as Jesus calls him in John 8:44.
  • Satan then presents his real proposal to Eve – “You certainly will not die.” He knows this is false, but not entirely – it is a monstrous lie wrapped in a candy coating of truth. They do not die an immediate physical death – they continue to live on for another nine hundred years – but they do die a spiritual death. They lose their original innocence and all the various kinds of death enter the world.
  • What just happened here?
  • Adam, who is the protector of the garden – and of Eve – stands mutely by as the serpent twists the word of God in Eve’s mind to the point where she is willing to go against the one “thou shalt not” they had been given. Not only that but he then goes along and joins with her in going against God’s command.
  • Eve, who was created to be Adam’s partner – his helper in “keeping” the garden – instead draws him in to work against God. Instead of standing up for herself even if Adam wouldn’t she gives in to the temptation to “be like God”.
  • God curses Adam, Eve and the serpent:
  • Adam to have to toil in his work rather than a full cooperation between man and nature.
  • Eve will suffer great pains in childbirth
  • The serpent is cursed to crawl on his belly, and a prophecy is given: “I will put enmity between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” This is fulfilled in Christ who crushes Satan’s plans in his Crucifixion and Resurrection.
  • The curses for Adam and Eve are also redemptive – they serve to teach them to work and suffer for the good of the other, that which they were not willing to do in the garden.
  • Again, the Church does not require this story to be interpreted literally – Genesis is not a literal history book. The important points to remember:
  • All human sin can be traced back to some original act that has since marked us all, we call this “original sin”.
  • Because of this original sin we all suffer from what is called “concupiscence” – the disordered desire to do that which is forbidden.
  • This concupiscence will mark human history from the point of the fall on to the point of the Incarnation of Christ.

Why did God create at all?

  • In 1 John 4:8 John tells us “God is love”. Not “God loves” or “God has love” but “God IS love”. God, as Alison discussed, is a Trinity of beings, the Father who loves the Son, the Son who loves the Father, and that love is so strong, so pure it is another person, the Holy Spirit. In short, God created because God is love, and love creates. We see this imaged in the union of a husband and wife who, as we tell little kids, “love each other so much a baby is born”.
  • Some ask, “why did God create at all if He knew that both angels and man would turn against him?”
  • Again, because God is love. Love creates. Even if that which is created turns away from its creator.
  • CCC #310, 311
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