Felix Culpa, the problem of evil and the Incarnation

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Whenever one talks about or considers the fall of man as described in Genesis 3, the connotation is almost always negative.  This was the deciding point in history when Adam, as our federal head, sinned and – in so doing – brought sin into the world and all his posterity after him (cf. Romans 5:12).

The understanding of the fall presents a problem of sorts for the theist however, and particularly for the Christian theist who has a high view of God’s sovereignty in all things but also believes in the omnibenevolence (supreme goodness) of God.  For if we say, “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass” as the Westminster confession of faith states (WCF 3.1), then we must necessarily say that God – in some manner at least – ordained the fall of mankind.  One of the clearest places we see this implied is in Romans 8:20-21 which states,

“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (ESV)”

The Initiator of the “subjection to futility” is clearly God.  The intended purpose of said subjection is clearly stated as a hopeful expectation that it will be liberated from it.

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The understanding of how this all works together – reconciling the sovereignty of God with the goodness of God in the fall of man – has traditionally been referred to as the “problem of evil.”  Various reasonings and explanations have been offered up over the years to explain this; some more consistent with their own belief systems than others.

But one in particular that intrigues me, and seems to scratch where i’m itching, is that which is suggested by St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D).

Screen Shot 2013-12-11 at 10.52.24 AMIn his consideration of the fall of man and the problem of evil, he introduced the phrase Felix Culpa from the Latin “Felix” (meaning happy, lucky or blessed) and “Culpa” (meaning fault or fall).  In the Catholic tradition this has been translated as “Fortunate fall” and the concept, at my present understanding of it, seems to reconcile both God’s ordaining of the fall and a purpose worthy of God behind it.

Augustine wrote,

Melius enim iudicavit de malis benefacere, quam mala nulla esse permittere.”                    (For God judged it better to bring good out of evil than not to permit any evil to exist.)

In the Eater vigil hymn “Exsultet” it is sung,

O felix culpa quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem.”                                                    (O happy fault that merited such and so great a Redeemer.)

Other notable voices in history such as Aquinas, Anselm and Gottfried Leibniz have also adopted this thinking in their understanding of the problem of evil; Leibniz particularly in his ” Théodicée  (or Theodicy: meaning “God’s justice”) refers to “felix culpa” as his answer to the objection that he who does not choose what we see as the best course of action must necessarily lack either power, knowledge or goodness.

To be sure, this does not summarily “answer” the problem of evil, nor does it remove mystery or more questions.  It also is surely a sole prerogative of a perfectly holy, righteous God and not for mankind; to seek to bring about evil so that the glory of Christ may shine all the brighter in the darkness (cf. Rom. 6:1-2, 12:17,19, James 1:19-20).

 But i believe it does give us a greater insight into understanding both the sovereignty and goodness of God in the history of the world, culminating at the Incarnation (which we are currently in the season of celebration). For as Gal. 4:4-5, Rom. 3:23-36, 1 Peter 1:20 tell us plainly, God not only ordained the problem, but also the glorious Solution to it.

And so, as it has been said: just as a light in plain daylight does not shine as brightly as a light in the darkness, so the love of God in Christ shines all the more brightly in the darkness permitted by God than it would have, had no darkness ever existed.

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“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”   Isaiah 9:2

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”   John 1:4-5

2 thoughts on “Felix Culpa, the problem of evil and the Incarnation

    • Yes, definitely still room for mystery. I think, for me, understanding some of this at least removes any power to the argument that i have to choose between God being in control or being good. Oh yeah, i saw that Audrey had done a record with this very title. Some great tracks on there and she has such a great vocal.

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