19 March 2010

The Visible and Invisible, Death and Immortality

General Audience of October 31, 1979

Adam continuously distinguished himself from all of the other living beings in the world by cultivating the garden and by naming everything and finding nothing the same as himself. The first is a bodily action, and the second is metaphysical. Once again, we see the body and the spirit at play. In his original solitude, man is both a bodily actor and a metaphiscal thinker. He is the complete picture of human-ness only when his body and his spirit are both present. The visible and the invisible determine man.

With this understanding of his humanity, Adam must contemplate the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and God's words about it. As a backdrop to this contemplation, Adam is also aware of himself as the subject of the first covenant with the Creator. That's a lot to take in all at once!

At this point in time, could Adam even understand the enormity of what was before him? Could he understand death? Death is the antithesis of all he had experienced thus far. He lived in the primeval garden, suffused with knowledge of God and surrounded by life. What could death mean?

John Paul II answers this question for us. He says that Adam could not fail to associate death with the life he had experienced. We see in this first covenant that man is a limited being, susceptible to nonexistance. Adam had to find an understanding of God's words within his original solitude. He had to understand that the tree contained within itself more solitude - just a solitude that was as yet unknown to him. Death.

Adam had the free choice to accept into his solitude this new solitude, to appropriate the experience of dying and death. He could choose between death and immortality. This alternative picks up the escatological meaning of both the body and humanity itself, distinct from all other bodies. It also enters from the very beginning into the definition of man, and belongs to the meaning of his solitude before God. Original solitude is permeated by the alternative between death and immortality (156).

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