The Thomistic basis for STA’s claim that Adam knew of Christ before the fall.

St. Thomas argues that Adam knew about Christ before his fall (see arg. and ad 5; and this response) because the sacrament of marriage is the union of Christ and his Church (Ephesians 5:32). Obviously, there are some background assumptions between the middle term and the conclusion. Some such assumptions are less controversial (marriage existed before the fall) but others are more problematic, like:

1.) Adam knew about marriage before the fall (objection: the act of marriage happens after the fall. Another more fundamental objection: Ephesians 5:32 makes no reference at all to Adam’s knowledge, which is exactly what is at issue.)

2.) To understand marriage means to understand it as the union of Christ and the Church (objection: this belongs to the sacrament so far as it is instituted by Christ, or so far as Christ builds upon a natural thing to make it a sign of himself.)

(1) requires that we supplement things with St. Thomas’s teaching of Adam’s knowledge, specifically with a text like  ST. 1.94.3 co. The relevant argument is this:

[I]n order to direct his own life and that of others, man needs to know not only those things which can be naturally known, but also things surpassing natural knowledge; because the life of man is directed to a supernatural end: just as it is necessary for us to know the truths of faith in order to direct our own lives. Wherefore the first man was endowed with such a knowledge of these supernatural truths as was necessary for the direction of human life in that state.

But Adam was created with the ability “to direct his own life and that of others” therefore he knew supernatural truths necessary to that state. This requires knowing the relevant supernatural truths about marriage, which is, as the liturgy puts it, the one supernatural gift not lost by the fall. But (and here we speak to 2. above) the supernatural character of marriage just is its sacramental character, and this sacramental character consists in its being a union of Christ and the Church. So Adam knew of Christ before the fall, Q.E.D.

The Q.E.D. comes with a wink.  The argument is certainly suggestive, and even very good, but not ironclad (I take the argument as true, but it is exactly the sort of argument I would go for even if STA hadn’t given it.) At the very least the argumenet touches on some very fundamental principles of Thomistic anthropology.


  1. APC said,

    September 10, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    St. Thomas: Summa II-II, Q.2, art.7 – “I answer that..”; and Summa III, Q.1, art.3 – Objection 5

    The tradition of Adam’s foreknowledge of the Incarnation before he fell into original sin is found in the Church Fathers, and specifically in St. Jerome and Tertullian.

    St. Jerome: The first prophet Adam prophesied this about Christ and the Church: that Our Lord and Savior would have left His God and His mother, the heavenly Jerusalem; that He would come to earth for the sake of His Body, the Church; that the Church would have been taken from His side and for her the Word would have been made flesh. (Commentary on Eph. 5:31-32)

    Tertullian mentions it in passing here: What had he [Adam] that was spiritual? Is it because he prophetically declared the great mystery of Christ and the church? Ephesians 5:32 This is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman. Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and he shall cleave unto his wife; and they two shall be one flesh. Genesis 2:23-24 But this (gift of prophecy) only came on him afterwards, when God infused into him the ecstasy, or spiritual quality, in which prophecy consists. (Treatise on the soul, Ch.21)

    If anyone else has found any other references to this, I would love to know of them.

  2. Gil Sanders said,

    September 10, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    I may not be understanding this properly, but to what degree is Adam said to “know” this? I do not necessarily see a direct connection to Christ and the Church here, as it is possible that Adam only understood the supernatural truth about marriage insofar as it reflects the Echad of the Trinity. Even there, I think it’s difficult to know that He had/needed to see God as “Three in One”. Everyone who experiences marriage in its truly unitative state can attest to there being a sort of “oneness” but then fail to make a correlation with the divine nature. All I see from the premises is that knowing this supernatural truth is to fulfill our supernatural end, but then the same applies to any supernatural truth – do we then know all supernatural truths that have relevance to us? That doesn’t seem to be the case. But, like you said, it is simply a suggestive argument. It’s just that it doesn’t even seem to suggest that Adam knew such things because it is possible he knew something else (the Echad) or perhaps more likely, that he understood their union to simply be a participation of Agape.

    • September 10, 2012 at 6:29 pm

      The argument I’m giving is not about the truth of the matter but an explanation of what STA thought. As far as he’s concerned, if Adam told you everything he knew it would include a lengthy discourse on Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Second Person of the Trinity, founder of the Church, source of the glorified body etc.. Again, the argument is that Adam had to know this given that he understood the sacramentum of marriage. This note of sacrament is missing from your comment, but it is critical to the argument given here, and if one wanted to address the larger question of whether what STA says is true he could not lose sight of marriage as a sacramentum – which brings it into immediate relation to Ephesians 5.

    • APC said,

      September 11, 2012 at 5:18 am

      Hi Gil. What James is defending is the logic behind STA’s statements that Adam, de facto, was given the revelation of the mystery/sacrament of Christ and His Bride the Church. Here are the two explicit texts (and perhaps there are more):

      1. St. Thomas writes that “man does seem, however, to have had foreknowledge of the Incarnation of Christ from the fact that he said (Genesis 2:24): ‘Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife,’ of which the Apostle says (Ephesians 5:32) that ‘this is a great sacrament . . . in Christ and the Church,’ and it is incredible [literally “not-believable”] that the first man was ignorant about this sacrament.”
      ( Summa II-II, Q.2, art.7 – “I answer that..”).

      2. Elsewhere he acknowledges this tradition as one which could pose a problem to his thesis on the Incarnation being caused by sin, and he describes the tradition thus: “The mystery of Incarnation was revealed to the first man, as is plain from Genesis 2:23. ‘This now is bone of my bones,’ etc. which the Apostle says is ‘a great sacrament . . . in Christ and in the Church,’ as is plain from Ephesians 5:32.”
      (Summa III, Q.1, art.3 – Objection 5)

      For STA Adam’s foreknowledge of the Incarnation and the Church was clearly shown from these texts and from the fact (logic) that it was not credible to think that Adam “was ignorant” about this great mystery-sacrament. So a union as Agape seems to be more generic whereas STA is claiming a specific understanding of marriage based on an infused knowledge of the great mystery of Christ and the Church.

  3. APC said,

    September 11, 2012 at 5:02 am

    Regardless of the logic, it would seem that what we have here is a Patristic interpretation of (see my comment above), and perhaps an Apostolic Tradition regarding, Eph 5:32 and Gen 2:23-24. In essence St. Paul provides the hermeneutic or interpretive key to understanding Gen 2:21-24. First, Genesis:

    “Then the Lord God cast a deep sleep upon Adam: and when he was fast asleep, He took one of his ribs, and filled up flesh for it. And the Lord God built the rib which He took from Adam into a woman: and brought her to Adam. And Adam said: This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man. Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they shall be two in one flesh.” Gen 2:21-24

    And the interpretive key:

    “ ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery – I mean in reference to Christ and to the Church.” Eph 5:31-32

    The tradition is specifically this, that when Adam was put into that deep, mystic sleep, the Lord YHWH revealed to him the mystery/sacrament of Christ and the Church and for this reason a man and woman espouse and form one flesh. So God had first willed Christ and the Church, then Adam and Eve (and all marriages thereafter) as a reflection of this sacramentum-mystery (that’s what Eph 5:21-33 is all about).

    In this context, when Adam awoke from that mystic sleep and Eve was presented to him, he had already been shown the great mystery: Christ, the Divine Bridegroom who would be his descendant, and the Church, the Bride, who would be taken from the side of Christ. And he exclaimed prophetically: 1) of Christ that He would leave His heavenly Father and His mother, the heavenly Jerusalem, to become one with His Bride the Church (St. Jerome cited above), and 2) of the Church taken from the side of Christ, “This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.” As such Adam saw in himself a prefigurement of the New Adam – as St. Paul points out, “Adam, a figure of him who was to come” (Rm 5:14) – and was stunned at the beauty and grace of Eve, a prefigurement of the Bride of Christ, the Church, the true Mother of all the living (Gn 3:20), taken from His side.

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