Originally a term paper for Catholic Distance University
God has existed forever in complete perfection, totally sufficient in Himself, and yet in a free act of love chose to create the spiritual and material universe. Out of nothing, He freely created in order “to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in heaven” (BC 3). The pagans believed their gods created the universe and mankind through wars and violence, but the True God created out of love. “God doesn’t subdue some rival or express his will through violence. Rather, through a sheerly generous and peaceful act of speech, he gives rise to the whole of the universe”1. Showing His great power, the entire universe comes into being just through His word. All things were created by God and He saw that all He created was good. God created the heavens and the earth and in the beginning the earth was dark, void, and without form (Gen. 1:2). Through the Word of God He created, willing all things into existence: “Let there be light”, and there was light (Gen. 1:3). On the first day of Creation, the Lord separated the light from the darkness, calling the light ‘Day’ and the dark ‘Night’ (Gen. 1:4-5). On the second day, God created the sea and the sky (Gen. 1:6-8). On the third day of Creation, God created the dry land and, upon seeing that it was good, called for the earth to bring forth vegetation, plants, trees, and fruit (Gen. 1:9-13). On the fourth day, God created the sun, the moon, and the stars to rule over the day and night (Gen. 14-19). On the fifth day of Creation, God filled the earth with creatures: birds, fish, beasts, cattle and every living creature, telling them to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:24-25). On the sixth day, God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” to fill and subdue all of the earth. In the image and likeness of God, male and female, He created them, blessed them, and told them to be fruitful and multiply. Man and woman, created on the sixth day, are the pinnacle of God’s Creation.
The Creation account tells the ancient world that all the objects of their worship – the sun, moon, stars, and animals – are not gods but are creations of the one, true God. In creating the universe in stages, God is also showing us that there is a hierarchy to creation with mankind as God’s crowning achievement.2 Man is the fusion of material and spirit; on the sixth day man was made from the dust of the earth with a soul breathed into him by God (Gen. 2:7). Placed in the Garden, man was living in a natural paradise filled with beautiful trees pleasant to the sight and good for food (Gen. 2:8-9). Man – Adam – was placed as steward of the Garden, to cultivate and care for it (Gen. 2:15). Not wanting Adam to be alone, God sought to provide for him a helper, first by bringing him every beast of the field and bird of the air so that Adam could name them (Gen. 2:18-19). “In the ancient world, to name something was to exercise authority over it”.3 Through these acts, Adam is the first scientist and philosopher, cataloguing the world he sees. This shows that from the beginning of our creation, “God accords to his rational creatures the privilege of participating, through their own acts of intelligence, in God’s intelligent ordering of the world”.4 Even still, this was insufficient because Adam could not find a suitable helper that could provide for him what he desired. And so God caused man to enter into a deep sleep and from man He brought forth woman (Gen. 2:20-22). “The fact that woman comes last is not the result of trial and error, but is God’s way of teaching man that he is different from the animals…Lower life forms cannot supply the love, help, and companionship man needs to be whole”.5 Upon seeing the woman – Eve – Adam exclaimed that she was bone of his bone, flesh of his flesh; he named her ‘woman’ for she was taken out of man (Gen. 2:23). “In this way the man manifests for the first time joy and even exaltation, for which he had no reason before, owing to the lack of a being like himself”.6 They were unashamed at their nakedness because, since no sin yet existed, their bodies and wills expressed perfect charity towards one another, not allowing unruly passions and lust to exist. Whereas on each day of Creation God saw that it was good, upon the creation of man and woman – and therefore, the completion of the Creation narrative – He saw that it was very good (Gen. 1:31).
“Genesis points out that man and woman were created for marriage”.7 Man and woman, willed into existence by God, share in an equal and inalienable dignity in being created in the image and likeness of God; together, “they reflect the Creator's wisdom and goodness” (CCC 369). In our creation as man and woman, it is shown that man is made for communion – even paradise wasn’t paradise as long as man was alone. “God created man and woman together and willed each for the other” (CCC 371). Created from man, woman already shares a unity and equal dignity with him; in being created by God, she is seen as a gift; not property of her husband, but a helper graciously given by the Creator. In being taken from the flesh of man, the two shall become one flesh again through holy matrimony (Gen. 2:24). Male and female, oriented towards one another, find genuine communion with one another through this union of one-flesh, recreating the original unity of Adam. Through the sexual biology of male and female, they are naturally ordered towards one another in their sexual complementarity. Man and woman, existing as helpmates for one another, unite in marriage that by uniting as one flesh, they may transmit human life. “By transmitting human life to their descendants, man and woman as spouses and parents co-operate in a unique way in the Creator's work” (CCC 372). When man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife in marriage, becoming one flesh, they are engaging in what God has willed for man and his ‘helper’: through this complete giving of oneself to another, man and woman bear the responsibility for one another’s spiritual growth in order to help the other to live a holy life so as to hopefully die in a state of grace. In the words of Austrian Emperor Charles I to his bride, “Now, we must help each other to get to Heaven”8
Although the “days” of Creation are meant to be taken allegorically, they express a theological truth that six days of work are to be followed by one day of rest, underscoring “the obligation of man to lay aside his labor and honor the Creator every seventh day”.9 Our lives are supposed to be lived in imitation of God, and although God needs no rest we are taught that His ‘rest’ on the Sabbath is to teach mankind that we must find our rest in Him. The Sabbath is “a day of protest against the servitude of work and the worship of money” (CCC 2172). A day of rest is a gift from God, the last day of His creative work, in order to point us towards our eternal rest in Him. As Christ told the Pharisees, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27). On the seventh day we are to rest; on the seventh year, Israel was told to let their land rest (Lev. 25:1-7), to free their servants (Ex. 21:1-6), to allow the poor to freely eat from the land (Ex. 23:10-12), and to forgive all debts (Deut. 15:1-18). All of these commandments for rest are to remind mankind that although we must work, our destiny is to rest in the Lord and the Sabbath is a weekly reminder of that goal. “In the account of human origin, the dignity of human labor is honored, and our right to and need for times of contemplative quiet are recalled”.10
Although Adam and Eve lived in paradise and in a perfect relationship with their Creator, sin entered the world through temptation by the devil. God had set mankind in the Garden, but with limitations; do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:16-17). Knowing what’s best for His people, God’s commandment is out of love, but the serpent convinces Eve it was out of jealousy and control. The serpent questions God’s commandment, sowing doubt in Eve’s mind (Gen. 3:1). Not fully understanding what God asked of them, Eve misquotes Him; God said to not eat of the tree “for on that day you will surely die”, but Eve shows her doubts of the serious consequences by saying that “perhaps” they’ll die (Gen. 2-3). The devil reinforces this doubt by insisting, “You will not die” (Gen. 3:4). Satan’s promise that eating of the tree will give them knowledge of good and evil does not mean that they had no discernment of good and evil; rather, it means that they will possess the ability to declare what is good and evil. As the serpent promised them, they will no longer be forced to endure such supposed restrictions on their freedom and will finally be like God, deciding for themselves what is good or evil (Gen. 3:5). Upon their eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “their eyes were opened” and mankind’s relationship to Creator and creation was severed. Through their sin shame, strife, suffering, and separation from the Lord entered the world. The entire human family, descended from these proto-parents, had now entered into the state of original sin, enduring death and a disordered propensity towards evil.11 Man and woman’s relationship was harmed, as they now saw each other with lustful desire in their eyes and quickly sewed fig leaves together in order to hide their shame (Gen. 3:7). God gave mankind several attempts to be reconciled by confessing our sins, but instead the man blamed the woman and the woman blamed the serpent (Gen. 3:8-13). In this action, we can see that sin had caused division and discord between husband and wife, also ruining their relationship with God.12 Through their sin and lack of contrition, mankind and creation were cursed; Eve and her descendants will suffer through spousal domination and painful childbirth, while Adam and his descendants will suffer as family providers through toilsome labor for food.13 Instead of having an abundance of food at his disposal, man would now have to endure wearisome toil and the earth would bring forth weeds and thorns to make this difficult (Gen. 3:17-19). Mankind, because we had severed our relationship with God, was expelled from paradise, a rupture that could only be healed by God through the sacrifice on the Cross. The Lord alludes to this in the protoevangelium: “I will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heal” (Gen. 3:15). In this point in history, out of loving mercy God has already promised His fallen creation salvation. Before our expulsion He fashions for us garments of animal skins, the first sacrifice where something gave up its life on account of our sins, for the cost of sinning is high. God, in his divine mercy, expels mankind from the Garden before we can eat of the tree of life, wherefore man would have otherwise lived forever in separation from Him.14
The Creation narrative allows man to discover the great love his Creator has for him. Although God is perfect in every way, completely content and in want of nothing, He freely chose to create the universe and all that is in it, visible and invisible. In the Book of Genesis, God reveals Himself as Creator over His creatures. He chose as the pinnacle of His creation a creature made in His own image and likeness, one sharing in both the corporeal and spiritual aspects of the created universe. God wills all things into existence and calls mankind to be in communion with Him and with one another. Every soul created by God at the moment of conception is willed into existence for the purpose of being with Him forever. He created a paradise on earth so that we would dwell with Him, but the sin of Adam severed that relationship. Still, from the very moment of mankind’s sin, the Lord put the plan for our salvation into action. His desire to share eternity with us is so great that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life (Jn 3:16). God is love (1 Jn 4:8) and as Saint Augustine of Hippo said, “God loves each one of us as if there were only one of us to love.” Through understanding the Creation narrative, mankind is able to learn that the entire universe owes its existence to God, that every part of creation is good in the eyes of the Lord, that God is all-powerful, all-wise, and all-merciful, and that mankind is the very pinnacle of His creation. The age-old question, “Why are we here?” is answered in the Book of Genesis, for as St. Ignatius reminds us, “Man was created for this end: to praise, reverence, and serve the Lord his God, and by this means to arrive at eternal salvation. All other beings or objects placed around man on earth have been created for him, to serve as means to assist him in the pursuit of the end for which he was created.”
1. Fr. Robert Barron, “The Genesis Problem”, (26 February 2011, accessed 19 November 2012), 3; available from http://www.integratedcatholiclife.org/2011/02/fr-barronthe-genesis-problem/
2. Ignatius Catholic Study Bible – Genesis. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010), 17.
3. Ibid., 21.
4. Barron, The Genesis Problem, 5.
5. Ignatius Study Bible – Genesis, 21.
6. Blessed John Paul II, “Man Enters the World as a Subject of Truth and Love”, (20 February 1980, accessed 19 November 2012), 4; available from http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/document.php?n=830
7. Blessed John Paul II, “Original Unity of Man and Woman”, (7 November 1979, accessed 19 November 2012), 1; available from http://www.ewtn.com/library/papaldoc/jp2tb8.htm
8. Joanna & James Bogle, A Heart for Europe: The Lives of Emperor Charles and Empress Zita of Austria-Hungary (Leominster, Herefordshire, U.K.: Gracewing, 2000), 35.
9. Ignatius Study Bible – Genesis, 17.
10. Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Fr. Ronald Lawler, Thomas Lawler, & Kris Stubna, The Teaching of Christ, (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, 2005), 47.
11. Ignatius Study Bible – Genesis, 21.
12. Ibid., 22.
13. Ibid., 23.
14. Ibid., 23.
Baltimore Catechism. (1941). Retrieved from http://www.catholicity.com/baltimore-catechism/lesson01.html
Barron, R. (2011). The Genesis Problem. Retrieved from http://www.integratedcatholiclife.org/2011/02/fr-barronthe-genesis-problem/
Bogle, J. & J. (2000). A Heart for Europe: The Lives of Emperor Charles and Empress Zita of Austria-Hungary (Leominster, Herefordshire, U.K.: Gracewing, 2000).
Catechism of the Catholic Church. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/ccc_toc.htm
Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version - Catholic Edition. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1966). Ignatius Catholic Study Bible – Genesis. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010).
Wojtyla, K. (1980). Man Enters the World as a Subject of Truth and Love. Retrieved from http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/document.php?n=830
Wojtyla, K. (1979). Original unity of man and woman: General audience of November 7, 1979. Retrieved from http://www.ewtn.com/library/papaldoc/jp2tb8.htm
Wuerl, D., Lawler, R., Lawler, T., & Stubna, K. The Teaching of Christ. (Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, 2005).