Felix Culpa

ImageThe concept of felix culpa is said to originally stem from the writings of St. Augustine (thought St. Ambrose is also a contender), and can be seen within the Easter Vigil of Exsultet:

O certe necessárium Adæ peccátum,

quod Christi morte delétum est!

O felix culpa,

quæ talem ac tantum méruit habére Redemptórem!

O truly necessary sin of Adam,

destroyed completely by the death of Christ!

O happy fault,

that merited so great a redeemer!

Within this context, the ‘fortunate fall’ as it is often referred to, is used to explain why God allows evils to occur—so that a greater good may arise from them. Man’s fall to temptation within the Garden of Eden is thus a ‘necessary’ sin, one which allowed for Christ’s martyrdom to happen in the first place, and through that humanity was witness to the grace and mercy of God. 

It could also be said that mankind’s fall not only allowed for Christ to fulfill his role as savior, but also allowed for humanity to redeem themselves. Within the Garden of Eden, the first of men were created sinless, entitled to all that God had to offer without any knowledge that it could just as easily be taken away. They were granted the joys of paradise for simply being and existing. Upon their exile from the Garden, it is said that the righteous were still not allowed admittance back into Heaven after death—not until Christ’s sacrifice. This gave humanity a second chance, a chance to earn their own entry into heaven once more. But notice, despite being redeemed through Christ, paradise is not something we are ‘entitled’ to any longer—it is something to work towards, something that must be earned. And through that effort, the rewards are thus much more appreciated than if we, as Adam and Eve, were simply given them without having to lift a finger. It also introduced a choice, where man could either choose to accept Christ’s gift and work towards eternal life, or reject the second chance given and accept an afterlife of being separated from God.

But for me, felix culpa is not limited to this interpretation alone.It could be applied to either of the two ‘falls’—mankind’s and Lucifer’s. And if we believe the theory that Lucifer was the serpent that led Eve to temptation, the two falls become entwined—after all, without the Lightbearer’s own fall from grace, would the latter have even happened?

Luciferian interpretation of man’s fall often sees humanity as being given the chance to grow and learn through their own mistakes, rather than being caught in the child-like state of naivete that Eden provided. Eve was offered knowledge, the chance to become more and know more than what was offered through Eden, but at a price. Lucifer’s own fall, whether spurred by the hope for change or the love of his God, also came at a terrible price.And even if we look at it through the lens of Christianity, in which Lucifer is said to be evil incarnate, without his fall could God’s goodness be fully appreciated without having something to compare it to?

Ultimately, felix culpa to me is based on two important ideals—the first being that of choice. Lucifer had the choice to rebel, Eve had the choice to bite the fruit, Jesus had the choice to sacrifice himself for humanity, and through Christ humanity regained the choice of their afterlife. While no doubt the original context of felix culpa necessitates the omniscience of God, of a concept of fate and a grand design, I’m rather partial to the ‘fortunate fall’ interpretation, of having to do with ‘luck’ and chance and risk. Why should the ‘rewards’ (knowledge, redemption, etc.) be offered so cheaply, that we should not have to risk anything of value? Our choices are made so much more significant if they are difficult decisions to make, and it is said that God wanted humanity to choose to follow him; for what value would it hold if we should be forced to obey? 

The second part of felix culpa would be knowing and understanding the worth of something through its loss. Both humanity and Lucifer were separated from God upon their respective falls, but where one has the ability to win back that union, the other does not. Through Iblis, we see that eternal separation only serves to make his love burn all the brighter. Through Original Sin, humanity lost not only paradise, but the security and comfort that paradise provided. Their fall, as brought on by the serpent’s temptation and the choices they made, introduced death and suffering which offered a comparison through which life could be more fully appreciated. Had they remained in the Garden, would they have understood and appreciated life without also knowing death? Joy without grief? The knowledge of our own mortality, that our lives on this earth are limited and brief, is what allows us to understand the value of living. 

“From this descent

Celestial Virtues rising, will appear

More glorious … than from no fall.” (Paradise Lost, Book II. verses 14-16)

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