By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM
After having discussed original sin and its consequences for mankind, it is evident that lots of people will raise objections to the Catholic teaching on this subject. Sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes out of curiosity, sometimes out of bad will, the fact remains that there are objections against every other aspect of Catholic teaching. Even the Founder of the Church Himself, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in spite of His divine way of preaching, still had objections raised against Him. And He answered them.
The Christian is another Christ, or at least is called to be. As Catholics, we are called to be apologists, to defend the faith once delivered unto the saints (Jude 1:3), albeit of course in different ways, according to our state in life. Priests are the ones on the front line of apologetics, or at least they ought to be. We lay folks are called to follow them in the defense, but sometimes we do the work on our own.
St. Peter, in his first epistle (or encyclical letter, if you wish — 1 Peter 3:15) also exhorts us: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” So let us read the account of the fall of Adam and Eve, and list the objections, with their corresponding answers.
“Now the serpent was subtler than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman: Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?’ Eve replies saying that they are free to eat of all trees except for one that God had commanded them not to touch, lest they die. ‘You will not die,’ answers the serpent, ‘For God knows that when you eat of it you shall be like God, knowing good and evil.’ Eve eats the fruit, and gives to Adam, who also eats. God speaks to them. He condemns the serpent, saying: ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you above all cattle, and above all wild animals; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life’.”
First objection: Animals do not speak except in fables and folklore.
Reply: Everybody knows that the talking animals of folklore are merely a literary device that gives pleasure by its quaintness but deceives no one. Even the primitive peoples are aware that animals have not, and cannot have, a gift of rational speech. Everyone knows that a parrot can repeat words, but they also know that it does not understand what it says, and cannot carry on a conversation.
Conclusion: When the inspired word of God represents an animal as speaking, we at once perceive that the literal interpretation must be excluded. The Devil spoke through a serpent, or a dragon, according to some interpreters. This is confirmed by the last book in the Bible, the Apocalypse (12:9), in which St. John refers to the Devil in these terms:
“And that great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, who seduces the whole world; and he was cast unto the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.”
Here we see the Devil, Satan, the dragon, as different names for the old serpent, who seduced Mother Eve and Father Adam.
Having said all that, it is also true that once in the Bible an animal spoke, loud and clear: Balaam’s donkey (Numb. 22:30). But according to the best Catholic interpreters it was an angel, or Balaam’s own guardian angel, who spoke through the donkey. Today there are people who speak like donkeys in modernist and liberal circles, but this is beside the point here.
To sum it up: It was not a creepy serpent speaking, but it was the evil spirit speaking through it, as he continues to speak to this day through heretics and dissenters.
Second objection: The serpent is not the subtlest of the animals.
Reply: The word “subtlest” simply means “craftiest.” In popular speech, the serpent is justly described as “the subtlest of all animals.” His cunning is proverbial. Our Lord Himself spoke about the simplicity of the dove and the craft of the serpent. It is commonly known about the craftiness of the serpent to defend itself, having no limbs, and to disguise itself in its clever manners to strike the victim.
St. Paul (2 Cor. 11:3) used the same terminology, when he wrote: “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” So the adjective is appropriate to describe the craftiness of the Devil.
Third objection: The serpent, as the very name (serpere, Latin — to creep) indicates, was a creeping animal before the fall, quite as much as after; so the condemnation of creeping makes no sense.
Reply: It is evident that the animal serpent was a creeping animal before the fall quite as much as after. Everyone knows it. But what the inspired writer of Genesis, whom Tradition tells us was Moses himself, says is that on the fifth day, i.e., before the creation of man, “God made…everything that creeps upon the ground” (Gen. 1:25).
On that day, therefore, God made the reptiles from which all those in the world at the time of Moses (when the account was recorded) were descended. Consequently, it follows that the serpent which was condemned to crawl cannot have been a common garden snake, a creature of the animal kind. The word must refer to a being of a different order, an angel, and the “crawling” to a spiritual, not a physical, humiliation.
And that creeping humiliation was also prophesied when God said: “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: She shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel” (Gen. 3:15).
To have its head crushed by the Woman’s heel, the serpent must have been at heel level, creeping on its belly. This beautiful figure of speech prophesies the future victory of the Blessed Virgin Mary over the Devil, Satan, the dragon, the old serpent, and also the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. But we have already dealt with this point in previous articles.
Next article: More objections and replies.
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(Raymond de Souza is an EWTN program host; regional coordinator for Portuguese-speaking countries for Human Life International [HLI]; president of the Sacred Heart Institute, and a member of the Sovereign, Military, and Hospitaller Order of the Knights of Malta. His website is: www.RaymonddeSouza.com.)