Yes, that’s so,’ said Sam. ‘And we shouldn’t be here at all, if we’d known more about it before we started. But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs…
We hear about those as just went on – and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. You know, coming home, and finding things all right, though not quite the same – like old Mr. Bilbo. But those aren’t always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in! I wonder what sort of a tale we’ve fallen into?’
‘I wonder,’ said Frodo. ‘But I don’t know…
(J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers, Bk. IV, Chpt. IX).
What “tale” are we in? In this post, we look inside the true tale, which is ours; and, it starts off with a Bang.
G. (God Exists)
Where did everything out here come from, anyway? The man you bump into on the sidewalk says “The Big Bang.” Catholic priests have also said the same, or, at least one has—the one who first theorized it.
In 1927, Fr. Georges Lemaitre (a Catholic priest from Belgium) formulated what is called “The Law of the Expansion of the Universe,” also known as the “Big Bang.” The New York Times, in its Feb. 19, 1933 cover (with a picture of Lemaitre and Albert Einstein at its center) wrote:
It was characteristic of Einstein that, after hearing Lemaitre expound his theory…(here follows the description of the theory)…he rose before a gathering of mathematicians and physicists at Pasadena to say: “This is the most beautiful and satisfactory explanation of creation to which I have ever listened (New York Times Online, “Timesmachine,” Feb. 19th, 1933).
Although, no one needs to accept the theory, let us take it for granted (since many people do) and use it as a point of departure as we look into our true “tale.”
The theory of “The Big Bang” (as commonly described) asserts that: all time, space, and matter came into existence at a moment. Now, whatever can cause all time, space and matter cannot itself be bound by them or included within them. This cause must exist “outside” them.
Now, what do we call that which is not bound by time? Timeless. What do we call that which is not material? Immaterial.
And immateriality can denote one of two things: either something abstract like mathematics; for example, two plus two would still equal four even before the universe existed—even if it had never existed—or, it can denote something spiritual like the soul. However, this “cause” cannot be of the abstract kind because numbers don’t create things, people do.
Additionally, this cause is the most powerful thing imaginable because it created something out of nothing. Men can take furniture (for example) and turn it into postmodern art, but that’s only because the furniture already exists. But, whatever can make something out of nothing is the most powerful thing imaginable.
Therefore, this “cause” of all time, space, and matter, is something timeless, spiritual, and omnipotent: in brief, God.1 Thus, God exists.
O. (Our Creation)
So, God created the universe as well as all that is in it, which includes us. Now, to tell that story, we will espouse another scientific theory: evolution. Not because one has to believe it, but because many do (rightly or wrongly), and the Church has allowed the possibility of it. Here is the relevant text:
Wherefore, the magisterium of the Church does not forbid that the teaching of “evolution” be treated in accord with the present status of human disciplines…insofar, of course, as the inquiry is concerned with the origin of the human body arising from already existing and living matter…(Humani Generis, Aug. 1950, p.26, Dz.2327).
So, over billions of years, the Earth brought forth vegetation and animals, and from animals, God formed a body for man. But it was not man until God “breathed” a rational soul into the matter of our first parents.
He made them not because he needed them—God needs nothing—but out of love; since love is “willing the good of the other,” and they were willed into existence. God did this, for their own sake, that they might enjoy Him and love Him in return. But to be capable of love requires the ability to choose not to. So God gave them a choice, and the choice came in the form of a tree and a prohibition, “do not eat from the tree for the day of which you eat of it you will surely die” (Cf. Gen. 2:17) (taking the plainest sense of Genesis).
At that time, man did not know death, since death would be the consequence of eating from the tree. He could live forever. Yet, such was a supernatural gift. For, considered merely as man, Adam could have (for example) tripped and hit his head on a stone and died just as easily as any of us. But he could not die, and that was on account of a Divine gift. This gift, he would keep, provided he could abstain from the tree.
It’s like if someone gives you a pen and says, “you can keep this pen, provided you don’t take the cap off.” If you take the cap off, what happens to the pen? It is lost, as justice demands. Now, God who is all-good must also be all-just.
Therefore, when Adam ate from the tree, he lost the gift of unending life; and because Adam no longer had it, he could not give it to his children nor his children’s children all the way down to us today. That’s why each one of us eventually dies.
In addition to death, man incurred a debt of infinite punishment. Which, at first glance, might seem wildly disproportionate to the crime. But that’s only if we consider the act in the abstract. However, if we consider the act as it actually occurred, with all its relevant facets; including not only what was done, but who it was done to, then things make a lot more sense.
Think of it like this: if you punch your sibling on the shoulder, what civil penalty will you have? Likely, none. But, if you hit your spouse, you’re going to jail; if you hit a police officer, you’re going to jail for a long time; and if you hit the President, then you may be killed in the process.
In each scenario, the act done is exactly the same, but the dignity of the person to whom it is done to differs and therefore the degree of punishment.
Thus, when man disobeyed God who is Infinite Majesty Itself, he justly incurred an infinite degree of punishment; which, since it could not be infinite in its intensity (man’s nature being unable to receive it) it must be infinite in time. That’s hell.
What does mankind need? Since man’s fault came from a man, we need a man to make up for it; moreover, since it was an act of infinite punishment, we need an act of infinite goodness or merit to make up for it.
So, what does God do? In the fullness of time, He sends his Son into the world, born of the Virgin to redeem those born under Adam. As man, whatever he does could count for men, and as God, it would be infinitely good and meritorious.
St. Alphonsus Liguori says:
…to redeem us it would have been sufficient for him (Jesus) to shed a single drop of blood, or a single tear, or to offer a single prayer. For the prayer of a divine person would have been of infinite merit and therefore sufficient for the salvation of the whole world of an infinite number of worlds (Preparation for Death, Cons. XXXIII, Pt. II).
So why the cross? St. John Chrysostom responds:
…even though a single prayer would have been sufficient for man it would not have been enough for God, who by loving us so fiercely willed to show us the depths of his love, and so inspire us to love him in return (Ibid., 256).
It was to show you and me that He is willing to do whatever it takes, and to suffer the most miserable death to save us; so, that we might say to ourselves, when we look at the cross, “if God is willing to die for me, the least I can do is live for him.”
Further, every additional drop of blood purchased for us an additional degree of glory. For, He who loved us as sons and daughters willed that we would become as similar to Him as possible, as St. Paul proclaims:
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord…(1 Cor. 3:18).
Pope Clement VI combines both these considerations of Christ’s crucifixion, in these words:
The only begotten Son of God…who innocent, immolated on the altar of the Cross is known to have poured out not a little drop of blood, which however on account of union with the Word would have been sufficient for the redemption of the whole human race, but copiously as a kind of flowing stream, so that “from the soles of His feet even to the top of His Head no soundness was found in Him” [Is. 1:6].
Therefore, how great a treasure did the good Father acquire from this for the Church militant, so that the mercy of so great an effusion was not rendered useless, vain or superfluous, wishing to lay up treasures for His sons, so that thus the Church is an infinite treasure to men, so that they who use it, become the friends of God [ Wis. 7:14] (Unigenitus Filius, Jan. 1343, Dz. 550).
Thus, Jesus came as a man full of sorrows, without a place to lay his head; betrayed by one whom he trusted, and abandoned by the rest; rejected by the people whom he came to save, and murdered between criminals; until finally dying, hanging naked by the spikes in his hands.
E. (Ecclesia, The Church)
However, Jesus’ act on the cross was not done by you or me; so, how can it count for us, who as individuals bear the curse of Adam? Adam passed on his loss of life (temporal and eternal) by inheritance. It came to us along with his human nature.
For, all of humanity (though, at the time, consisting only of two people) rebelled against God, and so it is just that all of humanity share the consequences. The Venerable Fulton Sheen describes it this way:
When a ruler declares war, the citizens declare war also, although they do not make an explicit declaration themselves. When Adam declared war against God, man declared war too (Life of Christ, Chpt. III).
In this way, we were all one in Adam’s act of disobedience. Now, if only there was a way to be one in Jesus’ act of obedience and so cancel out the debt of death and punishment.
And we can, as it is written:
For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13) (emphasis added).
To get St. Paul’s point, think of it like this: If someone robs a bank, carrying out the bags of money in his hands, even though it was (strictly speaking) his hands that took the money, we don’t throw just his hands in jail; we throw his whole body in jail. In other words, we impute the crime to the whole person.
In a similar way, since Christ is the “head of the body, the church” (Col. 1:18), once baptized, becoming part of Jesus’ body, His merits are also imputed to us, his members. St. Paul puts it this way:
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Gal. 3:27).
…he (The Father) has put all things under his (Christ’s) feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (Eph. 1:22-23).
In this way, we can also understand the Lord’s urgency regarding the sacrament of Baptism. Here are his words:
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God (Jn. 3:5).
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…(Mt. 28:20).
However, even after one has been baptized, the true “tale” has not yet concluded. For, one must also persevere in that grace.
As we have said above, the Lord does not force his love upon us. So, as long as we are alive, we have the ability to continue to choose Him or to separate ourselves from Him. The only thing that can separate us from Christ is our own free will, specifically, by committing “deadly sin.” Here is the relevant text:
If anyone sees his brother committing a sin that is not deadly, let him pray to God and God will give him life for a sin that is not deadly, but there is such a thing as deadly sin and I do not ask you to pray for that (1 Jn. 5:16).
What exactly constitutes deadly sin? Jesus tells us in his conversation with the “young rich ruler.” This man comes to Jesus and says, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life” (Mt. 19:16). Answering him, Jesus says, “if you wish to enter into life, follow the commandments” (Mt. 19:17). Hence, deadly sin is that which is, of grievous matter (such as breaking one of the ten commandments) that one truly knows is wrong and deliberately chooses.
Now, if someone commits a deadly sin, his death is not the death of his physical body; instead, what dies is his membership in the body of Christ, as Jesus says:
I am the vine and you are the branches…If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned (Jn 15:6).
St. Paul reiterates the point, saying:
Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off (Rm. 11:22).
However, for those who (post-baptism) have missed Mass (the 3rd Commandment), dishonored their parents (the 4th Commandment), lied, coveted, or broken any of the other Commandments, God has given another Sacrament: the Sacrament of Reconciliation. John records the Sacrament’s inception in his Gospel:
And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained (Jn. 20:23).
Yet, this grace was given only to those apostles standing before him; and so, in order that such a Sacrament would continue on earth, these same men passed it on to their successors (through ordination); and they also passed it on to others, all the way to the Catholic Church’s bishops and priests today.
Our true “tale” is a grave one, “for after death comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27). But it is also a hopeful one, for God says:
I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back…(Ez. 33:11).
And if we have the humility to “turn back” to God and persevere in Him, we will no longer know Him only through a veil but face to face. We will finally see Him whom we have desired in every scenic vista, every simple delight, and every moment with those whom we love; we will finally come to the place where we have come and know it for the first time (Cf. T.S. Eliot).
1. The Kalam Cosmological Argument, William Lane Craig. For another proof of God, which is not dependent on science, see God as Existence. For other popular proofs, see Ed Feser’s book, Five Proofs of God.