The Paradox Of The Fortunate Fall In Contemporary Theology -- By: Jerome L. Ficek

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 02:3 (Summer 1959)
Article: The Paradox Of The Fortunate Fall In Contemporary Theology
Author: Jerome L. Ficek

The Paradox Of The Fortunate
Fall In Contemporary Theology

Jerome L. Ficek

Trinity Theological Seminary

Benjamin Britten in his Ceremony of Carols has put to music the lyrics of a fifteenth century song which runs as follows:

‘No hadde the appil take ben,
the appil take ben, ‘No hadde never our lady
a ben Hevene queene. Blyssid be the tyme
that appil take was Therefore we mown syngyn
Deo Gracias

The sin of Adam is understood as fortunate by virtue of occasioning a great blessing. Milton in Paradise Lost bears witness to the same paradox when, just after Adam has been told by the Archangel Michael what awaits him in the Second Coming when Christ shall reward the faithful and receive them into bliss, he has Adam burst forth:

O Goodness Infinite, Goodness immense,
That all this good of evil shall produce,
And evil turn to a good; more wonderful
That that which by creation first brought forth
Light out of Darkness! Full of doubt I stand,
Whether I should repent me now of sin
By me done or occasion’d, or rejoice
Much more that much more good thereof shall spring—
To God more glory, more good will to men
From God, and over wrath space shall abound.

Book XII 1,469-478

This view of the Fall is paradoxical because while the fall is away from something exalted, noble, good and is therefore a disgraceful and shameful act, yet without it Incarnation, redemption and glorification would not be possible. Thus the grandeur and misery of man was by calling him both “judge of all the earth” and “feeble worm of the earth.” The paradox of this paradoxical situation lies in the fact that the very event which is responsible for man’s degradation and shame is at the same time necessary for his deliverance and ultimate exaltation. Professor Arthur O. Lovejoy in a paper entitled “Milton and the Paradox of the Fortunate Fall,” demonstrates the ancient character and orthodoxy of this view by citing statements by Ambrose, Leo the Great, Francis de Sales, DuBartas, Augustine, Wyclif, etc., and by noting its presence in many missals for at least ten centuries. It is his belief that the idea derived its classic expression and name from the Easter Even Hymn.

O certe necessarium Adamae peccatum, quod Christi morte deletum est. O felix culpa, quae talem ac tantun meruit habere redemptorem

The sin of Adam was not only a happy fault but is necessary to the possibility of redemption. Lovejoy places the expression O felix culpa in the early Roman liturgy which antedates St. Gregary who is usually considered to be the first one to use it (Lovejoy, p. 285). Professor We...

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