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Catholic Culture Solidarity

The Divine Romance: Love's Overflow

by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen


In this address delivered on March 23, 1930 Rev. Fulton J. Sheen explains how God's love overflowed and why He created the world.

Larger Work

The Divine Romance


23 - 33

Publisher & Date

Our Sunday Visitor, 1943

Away back in the agelessness of eternity, in that day that had neither beginning nor end, God was enjoying infinite communion with Truth and Love in the amiable society of the three persons of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Wanting nothing for His perfection, desiring nothing for His happiness, needing nothing for the replenishing of His life, there was no need for God ever to go outside Himself. If, therefore, He ever chose to create a world, it must have been not on account of need, or duty, or constraint, but only on account of love.

Why then did God create a world? God created the world for something like the same reason that we find it hard to keep a secret! Good things are hard to keep. The rose is good and tells its secret in perfume. The sun is good and tells its secret in light and heat. Man is good and tells the secret of his goodness in the language of thought. But God is Infinitely Good and therefore Infinitely Loving. Why therefore could not He, by a free impulsion of His Love, let love overflow and bring new worlds into being? God could not keep, as it were, the secret of His Love — and the telling of it was Creation.

Love overflowed. Eternity moved and said to time: "Begin." Omnipotence moved and said to nothingness: "Be." Light moved and said to darkness: "Be light." Out from the fingertips of God there tumbled planets and worlds. Stars were thrown into their orbits and the spheres into space. Orbs and brotherhoods of orbs began to fill the heavens. The great march of the world began, in which planet passes by planet and sphere by sphere, without ever a hitch or a halt. In that long procession of the unfolding of the Creative Power of God, there came first, matter; then palpitating life, and the Paradise of Creation with its fourfold rivers flowing through all lands rich with gold and onyx; and finally those creatures made not by a Fiat but by a Council of the Trinity — the first man and woman.

Quite naturally the mind of that Great Architect might have conceived ten thousand possible worlds other than this. This is not absolutely the best world that God could have made. But it is the best world for the purpose that He had in mind in making it. Almighty God chose to make a universe in which not all the creatures would be like sticks and stones, trees and beasts, each of which is impelled by a law of nature or a law of instinct to a determined rigorous end, without the slightest enjoyment of freedom. He willed to place in Paradise a creature made to His own image and likeness, but a, creature different from all others, because endowed with that glorious gift of freedom, which is the power of saying "yes" or "no," of choosing to sacrifice oneself to duty or duty to oneself, and forever remaining master and captain of one's own fate and destiny. In other words, God willed to make a moral universe, and the only condition upon which morality is possible is freedom.

In the very nature of things, ethics and morality can exist only upon the condition of a veto. Bravery, for example, is possible only in a world in which a man may be a coward. Virtue is possible only in a world where a man may be vicious. Sacrifice is possible only in that order in which a man may be selfish. Love is possible only when it is possible not to love.

It is the possibility of saying "No" which gives so much charm to the heart when it says "Yes." A victory may be celebrated only on those fields in which a battle may be lost. Hence, in the divine order of things, God made a world in which man and woman would rise to moral heights, not by that blind driving power which makes the sun rise each morning, but rather by the exercise of that freedom in which one may fight the good fight and enjoy the reward of victory — for no one shall be crowned unless he has struggled.

God in His Goodness did not choose simply to make a man moral and then give him merely the moral rewards to which a man is naturally entitled. He willed to do more than this. When a man becomes a father, is he content merely to give his child only that which is necessary? Does he not rather, as a loving father, give to his son even more than that which is his due? So, in like manner God willed to give man certain gifts of body and soul, which far exceeded the nature or the capacity of man. Imagine a wealthy banker who would form a, trust fund for a foundling baby, in which a vast sum of money was to be paid to the child when he reached the age of twenty-one, provided that during that time he led a good moral life. Now God established some such trust fund. He willed to give to the first man and woman certain gifts, which would be theirs permanently, and for their posterity, providing that they proved faithful in their love. Among these gifts were immunity from disease and death, freedom from the rebellion of flesh over reason, a gift of knowledge, which far surpassed reason and enabled man to grasp divine truths in a far greater way than a telescope reveals to the eye the distant stars and planets, and a gift of power or grace which made the first man and woman not mere creatures of the handiwork of God, but God's own children, and coheirs with Him in the Kingdom of Heaven. These gifts, be it understood, were even less due to the nature of man than the power of blooming belongs to marble, or the song of a poet belongs to a beast.

But these gifts were conditioned, for the universe is moral. They could be kept on one condition, namely, by loving God, and loving God means loving what is best for ourselves. But how try Love? The only way to try love is in a trial which forces one to declare it. The only way for Adam and Eve as free moral beings to prove their love and gratitude to God was by choosing Him in preference to all else, and admitting that their added knowledge and their added power or grace were gifts. A double condition was laid upon them to test their love. The first was an obscure point, in order that they would admit the added knowledge was a gift of God. The second was a reserved point, in order that they would admit that the added power of the will was a gift of God. Thus they would show that they loved God with their whole mind and their whole will and preferred Him to all things else. In concrete terms, the trial was that they might enjoy all the riches of the garden of Paradise, but the fruit of one tree — the tree of the knowledge of good and evil — they were not to touch. God did not say why they should not — and that was the obscure point on which their intelligence was tried. Man should believe God on this point as on all others. God did say they must abstain from the fruits of that tree. That was the reserved point, which was the trial of their will. God was imposing a limit to the sovereignty of man, reminding him that if he did the one thing forbidden he would imperil all the things provided, and that, like Pandora, later on, if he should open the forbidden box, he would lose his treasures and let loose confusion worse confounded on the world.

The story of the Fall as recorded in Genesis is known to all. Satan, appearing in the form of a serpent, tempted Eve with the question that destroyed confidence, which is the root of all love; "Why hath God commanded you, that you should not eat of every tree of paradise?" Eve looks at the forbidden fruit; it is beautiful to behold. More and more she turns herself from the voice and thought of God to the fragrancy and imagined sweetness of the forbidden fruit. The lingering thought passes into a vivid imagination, the vivid imagination into a burning wish, the burning wish into a half-formed purpose, the half-formed purpose into a hasty act. Swiftly the crisis is upon her, as all such crises are, and the deed is done irrevocably until time shall be no more. She gives the forbidden fruit to Adam, and Pride and Self-Will entered into his heart. He wanted to show he did know what was good for him, and that his mind need not be kept obscured on any one point, nor his will reserved by any one condition. He wanted to be independent and show that he could do what he liked. And so he ate the fruit, which he was forbidden to eat because it was fair, and still more to show his own independence. Surely this is understandable. Have we not done the same thing in our own lives over and over again? When we were children, were we not forbidden to do something, which we wished to do? Did we not long for it and determine to have it all the more because it was forbidden? Adam did it for the very same reason, and that act of disobedience by which Adam failed the test of love is the first sin of this created universe, the sin, which infected humanity in its origin and the sin, which, for that reason, has been called original sin.

The whole trial was perfectly reasonable. Imagine a wealthy man who owns a beautiful estate on Long Island. He tells his chauffeur and his chauffeur's wife that he will permit them to live in his mansion, ride in his motor cars, use his servants, enjoy his yacht, play about his spacious gardens, eat at his expense. In a word, they are to enjoy everything, provided they would not touch a certain oil painting that hung in one of his drawing rooms. Now, if the lady persuaded the gentleman to touch that painting, she would not be a lady; and, if the gentleman touched the painting at the suggestion of the lady, he would not be a gentleman. By doing the one thing forbidden they would lose all the things provided; and who would accuse the master of the house of injustice if he no longer permitted them to enjoy his gifts?

The doctrine, then, of the Fall of Man is far from the travesty made upon it by frivolous minds who make the ordinance of God repose solely on an apple, for to do this is to miss the point of the whole story. To say the Fall does not mean merely a garden and a serpent; to say that it is much more than any garden or any snake — is not the same as saying there was no garden and there was no snake. It is simply saying what is of primary and what is of secondary importance. What is primary is the respect due to God, the fruit of the tree being the symbol of that respect. To make light of the fruit of a tree under such circumstances is just as rash as to make light of the flag of our country as a symbol of our country's sovereignty. A flag stands for a nation, and the hand that carries it would retain it at the cost of a thousand deaths rather than let it be seized and desecrated by the enemy. It may be a small thing to violate a cloth that is red and white and blue, but it is no small thing to desecrate that for which it stands. So, likewise, in the terrestrial Paradise, the famous tree in which God reposed all the knowledge of good and evil, was a symbol, a moral limit which God imposed on the sovereignty of man to prove his obedience and his love. To say it was only a fable is to miss the great truth that things may not only be, but may also signify, like a handshake or a smile.

There are three points that I would make in conclusion concerning the fall of man. The first is that by this act of disobedience, which is called his Original Sin, man lost nothing, which was due to him or to his nature. He lost only gifts, and became, as St. Augustine has said, "Just mere man." On Christmas Day when you distribute gifts to your friends, a person with whom you are unacquainted would not dare come to you and argue because you had failed to give him gifts such as you had given your friends. Your answer would be: "Sir, I have done you no injustice. I have deprived you of nothing, which is your due. I have even given to my friends that which was not theirs." And so it is with Original Sin. In losing the gifts of God, man lost nothing, which was due to his nature. He was reduced to a state in which God might possibly have created him, with the difference that the loss of the gifts weakened his intellect and will, but did not make his nature intrinsically corrupt. Imagine a line of soldiers. Notice one of them in particular. He resembles all the others in dress, appearance, and action, but yesterday he was an officer, thanks to a political preferment rather than to meritorious advancement. Because of some misdemeanor he was degraded and the badge of his office was taken from him. He was reduced to the state in which you see him now. Original sin, then, is not simply to be in the state we are in, but to have fallen into that state.

Secondly, this sin of Adam was not merely the sin of an individual; it was the sin of all humanity, for Adam was the head of all humanity. If he had been faithful, we would have enjoyed all of his gifts — for he acted in our name. Since he was unfaithful, we suffer his loss — for he acted in our name. This is not an injustice. All humanity is bound up one with another. In 1917, for example, President Wilson proclaimed war without any personal declaration on our part. He was our political head and he acted in our name. Adam is our head and he acted in our name. When he declared war against God we declared war in like manner, without any personal declaration on our part, because of our oneness with him. And just as in the physical order the infected blood of a father may pass on to a son, so too the stain of the first man has passed on to the whole human race and stained everyone except our "tainted nature's solitary boast" — the Blessed Mother of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Finally, Original Sin alone can explain the almost contradictory character of human nature, which makes a man aspire to higher things and at the same time succumb to the baser. The only reason we ever seek the nobler things of God is that we once possessed them; we seek because once we found.

All religion is full of a sense of uneasiness and a need of deliverance; every great student of human nature has echoed as true the words of the great Latin poet Ovid who testified that we all approve the better things but often follow the worse; all peoples and nations have put their golden age in the past when the chosen ones of their race once walked with God. What is this universal testimony of humanity but the witness of the fact of Original Sin? Our lives are like the great, unfinished Gothic cathedrals of Europe, ever testifying that our ideals are never completely realized here below. The conjectures of anthropologists about primitive man are nothing compared to the solid fact of the sense of human sin. By its nature the evidence of Eden is something we could not discover by ourselves. By its nature the evidence of sin is something one could not help discovering. As a matter of personal experience something has happened — we are not what we ought to be.

There are ultimately only two possible theories to account for the nature and the origin of man. One is that the life of man is a push from below; the other, that the life of man is a gift from above. The one is that man is wholly of the earth, earthly; the other, that he is partly of the heaven, heavenly. The second is the Christian conception: Man is not a risen beast; he is rather a kind of fallen angel. His origin is hidden not in the slime and dust of primeval jungles but in the clear daylight of Paradise where he communed with God; his origin looks back not to cosmic forces but to divine grace. For this reason man is supposed to act not like a beast because he came from one, but like God because he is made to His own image and likeness.

The assertion is often made today that man became, by evolution, the beauty of the world and the paragon of animals either because he lost the hand of a beast or the foot of an animal or the visage of an orangutan. No, man is what he is because of the immortal soul breathed into him by God. Let a man keep the paw of a, beast but give him an immortal soul and it will not be long until he will be moving that paw over the keys of a piano and drawing out of it the melodies of a Mozart; let a man keep the lips of a gibbon but give him an immortal soul and it will not be long until those lips will not be muttering vague cries in the dark, but calling to honest men like Demosthenes as he walked the streets of Athens; let him even keep the tail of a beast, but give him an immortal soul and it will not be long until that tail will be picking up a pen and writing dramas like those of Sophocles and poetry like that of Dante. It is not the physical that makes man what he is, but the Divine; it is not the loss of something animal-like that will make something Godlike out of man. The greatness of man is not so much his emergence from animality as his ascent into deity; and the power that wrought such greatness is not so much an ascent from below as a descent from above, in which the infinite heart of a God calls out in the heart of a babe.

Which of these two views of man is nobler? The one which regards him as a little bio-chemical entity of flesh and blood, not more than six feet tall, apt to be killed by a microbe, standing self-poised and self-centered in such a universe as this, acknowledging in self-conceit no God, no purpose, no future, and still hoping that the blind cosmic forces of space and time will sweep him on until he becomes lost in the bursting of the great cosmic bubble. Or that same being, awakened to his own actual ignorance, his possible wisdom, his own actual sinfulness, his possible saintliness, his own actual humanity, his possible sharing in the life of Christ — and then by an act of self-distrust which is the highest kind of self-assertion, enrolling himself under no less a person than the Son of God made Man and crying out directly to the Lord of the universe: "I am thine, O God. O, help me whom Thou hast made."

When a man answers this question aright he will understand something of the true nature of man and the love of God who came to restore the gifts which man had lost; and in gratitude his heart will cry out: "My God! My God! What is a heart, that Thou shouldst it so eye, and woo, pouring upon it all Thy art, as if Thou hadst nothing else to do?"

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