Modernist theologian attacks the whole basis of Catholicism

Veronika Bachmann: The term sin does not appear in the "Fall of Man" narrative.

The paradise narrative is about becoming human and being human. The Bible provides an incentive to find the best possible way of dealing "with the not always easy task of being human and dealing with other people," says theologian Veronika Bachmann.

In the book "Bible Misunderstood" you write an article about the story of paradise. To what extent was the fall of man misunderstood?

Veronika Bachmann: Strictly speaking, I write in the book only about the serpent in the Garden of Eden, which Christianity began to equate with the devil. But in fact, it's the very term "Fall of Man narrative" that doesn't fit the text, if you read exactly what the Bible says.

"The term 'sin' or 'Fall' does not appear."

In what way?

Bachmann: With the story of the creation of man in the Garden of Eden, we have before us a theologically profound but at the same time entertaining narrative about being human and, in particular, about the difference between humans and God.

The story of paradise is always associated with the fall of man. Does the term "sin" appear in this narrative?

Bachmann: No, the term "sin" or "Fall" does not appear. The story tells how people came to distinguish between good and evil in the first place, so that they could then - as a consequence - consciously act badly or well. The biblical texts presuppose that humans are capable of this distinction. The paradise narrative explains how this came about. And it presupposes that we humans are somewhat godlike via this capacity for discernment. At the end of the story, God wants to prevent people from eating the fruit of the tree of life. This would make them immortal and actually godlike. God therefore banishes them from the Garden of Eden.

The Book of Genesis writes neither of the devil nor of sin. Of what then?

Bachmann: The paradise narrative tries above all to explain why people are the way they were known to be: As beings who fall short, but who in principle can also hold on to a good way of life. The story of Cain and Abel, which directly follows the story of paradise, then deals with the fact that it can be tempting, especially in difficult moments, not to stay on good paths.

Cain killed Abel...

Bachmann: Cain could not cope with the fact that God only accepted the sacrifice of his brother, but not his sacrifice as well. Killing Abel because of this is portrayed in the text as a sin to which Cain should not have succumbed despite being offended.

"Neither biblical narrative seeks to explain the origin of evil at all."

In the narrative of Cain and Abel, the concept of sin obviously emerges.

Bachmann: Exactly. So if you want to find a narrative of the Fall in the Bible, that narrative would be more appropriate than the Paradise narrative. But both Biblical narratives don't actually want to explain the origin of evil.


Bachmann: They rather want to hold up a mirror to people and show them what they are like. I find it very exciting that the ability to distinguish between good and evil is interpreted as a divine trait. For me, this makes it tangible that even in biblical times people knew very well how great the responsibility of human beings is for the well-being of the world - and that with the failure of human beings there is also much at stake.

Church tradition sees the expulsion from paradise in a consistently negative light. How does the Book of Genesis look at it?

Bachmann: To me it seems to be about becoming human in a positive sense, which is described in the paradise narrative. The alternative to our thoroughly exhausting lives, which can be very painful because of our own and others' misconduct, would be to live blindly, so to speak, in the Garden of Eden. The Bible gives us an incentive to deal as well as possible with the not always easy task of being human and having to deal with other people. That God may well despair of humanity when it fails to do so and slips into spirals of violence and evil is what the biblical Flood narrative is about a few chapters later. That would be a next exciting narrative for a conversation.

*Veronika Bachmann is Catholic and Old Testament scholar. She heads the Department of "Theology and Religion" at the Paulus Academy in Zurich. She is also a private lecturer at the University of Tübingen.

To consider the world in its length and breadth, its various history, the many races of man, their starts, their fortunes, their mutual alienation, their conflicts ; and then their ways, habits, governments, forms of worship ; their enterprises, their aimless courses, their random achievements and acquirements, the impotent conclusion of longstanding facts, the tokens so faint and broken[,] of a superintending design, the blind evolution of what turn so out to be great powers or truths, the progress of things, as if from .unreasoning elements, not towards final causes, the greatness and littleness of man, his far-reaching aims, his short duration, the curtain hung over his futurity, the disappointments of life, the defeat of good, the success of evil, physical pain, mental anguish, the prevalence and intensity of sin, the pervading idolatries, the corruptions, the dreary hopeless irreligion, that condition of the whole race, so fearfully yet exactly described in the Apostle's words, " having no hope and without God in the world,"

— all this is a vision to dizzy and appal ; and inflicts upon the mind the sense of a profound mystery, which is absolutely beyond human solution.

What shall be said to this heart-piercing, reason-bewildering fact ? I can only answer, that either there is no Creator, or this living society of men is in a true sense discarded from His presence. Did I see a boy of good make and mind, with the tokens on him of a refined nature, cast upon the world without provision, unable to say whence he came, his birth-place or his family connexions, I should conclude that there was some mystery connected with his history, and that he was one, of whom, from one cause or other, his parents were ashamed. Thus only should I be able to account for the contrast between the promise and (the) condition of his being. And so I argue about the world ; — if there be a God, since there is a God, the human race is implicated in some terrible aboriginal calamity. . It is out of joint with the purposes of its Creator. This is a fact, a fact as true as the fact of its existence ; and thus the doctrine of what is theologically called original sin becomes to me almost as certain as that the world exists, and as the existence of God.

In contrast, Cardinal Newman in the Apologia


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