Thursday, August 13, 2015

Sergius Bulgakov on the Unattainable Eden

[178] One can say that the remembrance of an edenic state and of God's garden is nevertheless preserved in the secret recess of our self-consciousness, as an obscure anamnesis of another being, similar to the dreams of golden childhood and most accessible to childhood. These are distinct, palpable revelations of the world's sophianicity in our soul, although they are usually obscured in the soul by our failure to believe in their genuineness or even in their possibility. But it is important to understand the possibility and reality of the edenic state of the world and of man irrespective of the presence or absence of their traces in our present world. The Garden of Eden is conceived in the biblical story as expressly planted by God so that man would dwell in it (see Gen. 2:8).

Beyond the Garden stretches the whole natural world, which is born in the instinctive exertions of the world soul, of the "earth," which actualizes the creative seeds of its sophianicity. This is the future place of Adam's "expulsion" from the edenic (and as if supranatural [sic]) conditions of being into the natural world, full of the "struggle for existence." He is cast into this world by God's determination, which, of course, does not change human nature but only affirms the ontological inevitability of this path of life in the natural world after and as a consequence of the fall. This earth, which had contained the possibility of becoming God's garden through Adam's creative obedience in "keeping and dressing" it, now, because of his disobedience, has become a meager land, bringing forth "thorns and thistles." Only this natural world is known to fallen man. In it there is no Eden, which for a time is removed, as it were, from the world after Adam's expulsion from it: "Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken" (Gen. 3:23). From this earth are emitted the moans of "evolutionary" being, with the struggle for existence, "economic materialism," and death. The first attempt to inwardly overcome this evolutionism did not appear to succeed. Eden was taken from the world as an unactualized and unactualizable possibility. It was removed to the heavenly plane of the prototypes of the world that is known to fleshless spirits, its protectors and servants. And Eden, closed to man, is protected for a time by the flaming sword of the angel.

But what was this earthly and "historical" Eden? First of all, it was an edenic perception of creation: Sinless man could not see it except as God's garden. His knowledge might have been incomplete and limited, because [179] in Eden he lived separated from the rest of the world, as, in general, all in him was in a state of preliminary, not final harmony. But Eden, as the express dwelling of man, was possible on the earth only on the condition of this sinlessness, with man's openness to all of creation, which is proper to him as one called to become its king. (This openness finds its expression in his ability to name the animals; Gen. 2:19.) But, in conformity with this ability of man to perceive Eden, it could have appeared on the earth by a special and complementary creative act of God (see Gen. 2:8-9), which nature could have received thanks only to the presence of a perfect creature, sinless man.

Eden was a preparation for what was hidden in the recesses of all of natural being. It was a sort of eschatology of natural being: The image of the new Eden sketched out in Revelation 22:1-5, with the river and tree of life, includes what was in the original Garden of Eden. But the original Eden, which appeared on the earth only in connection with the sinless state of man, becomes inaccessible, transcendent to creation, and as if nonexistent after its fall. Eden's trees degenerate and turn wild, while its rivers become those of actual geography and history. Between them there is no longer a place for Eden, for the edenic vision has faded. If, prior to his fall, man could have a habitation only in Eden, in the preliminary revealed perfection of nature, then after the fall he could no longer contain this perfection, and only the earth of exile became accessible to him, that is, a state of the natural world that was proper to the world prior to and apart from man, outside of his lordly protection and cultivation. And man himself became only natural.

Therefore, in the natural world, one does not find and cannot find traces of Eden as the supranatural illumination of natural being. A rupture has formed in the inner life of nature, owing to which "the creature was made subject to vanity" (i.e., lost its edenic perfection) "not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same," and "groaneth and travaileth in pain...until now" (Rom. 8:20, 22). Two possibilities were marked out in the life of creation: (1) the "evolutionary"-instinctive development of creation before man, but one that later, under man's rule, was to acquire the light of reason and become liberated from the power of nonhypostatic elementalness; and (2) the development of creation with man, who was called to become the created god, the protector and cultivator of Eden. But instead of humanizing nature, man himself became the slave of nature and a prisoner to its necessity. And he will be a slave until the new Adam, the "Man from heaven," returns to humankind the kingship that it has lost, and the natural world becomes a new heaven and a [180] new earth, with a new city, the holy Jerusalem (see Rev. 21:1). At the same time that Eden was removed from the earth, or (what is the same thing) Adam was expelled from it, Adam was deprived of God's glory (see Rom. 2:23), and donned the "coats of skins" (Gen. 3:21) of history "to till the ground from whence he was taken" (3:23). That is, he was called to ascend, by a long historical path, to his original state, which he had lost.

Thus, in history, we know neither Eden nor the state of the sinlessness of our progenitors, in statu naturae purae. All this belongs to meta-history, and one should therefore not seek this in the historical world and time. It belongs to history only as its prologue. Prior to his fall, Adam is the only "progenitor." After the fall, he is one of many progenitors; he belongs to a specific generation and is empirically connected with the whole organic world. And Eve becomes "the mother of all who live," that is, she represents the unitary naturalness of humankind, which is actualized in a series of natural births. One can say that an ontological abyss lies between the meta-history of the first three chapters of Genesis and the history of Adam's race. Even if we accept that the Adam of the initial Genesis narrative is the same person as the Adam of the later chapters (which is not really necessary, since the "adam" of the first chapters is man in general, whereas in the later chapters he is a specific individual, with his own name), they are still separated by the threshold lying between meta-history and history. Beginning with the fourth chapter, Adam is a "patriarch," the progenitor of a specific generation, and this is clearly a generation that is by no means unique in history. From the text of chapter 4 it follows that other human tribes, besides the "adamites," are meant here.

We can draw the following general conclusion about the historical and meta-historical Genesis 1-3. On the pathways of the development of life on our planet, on the phylogenetic ladder of man, there appear both the animal species homo sapiens and, in this species, an individual capable and worthy of becoming the vessel for the human spirit, of serving for its incarnation. This corresponds to the passages where it is said that "God formed man of the dust of the ground" (Gen. 2:7), from that very same "earth" that brought forth all the species of organic life (so that in this sense even the identification "dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return" [Gen. 3:19] became possible). This splendid animal, by its form already prefiguring man, takes from God the human spirit and is illuminated by it. Through this act, which transcends the being of the organic world and therefore is not subject to any empirical observation and interpretation, a perfect man arises from this perfect animal. This man is perfect in the sense that he corresponds to the creative design, and he bears [181] within himself the task and potential of the world's humanization. This perfect man issues out of God's hands into the world, into the Garden of Eden that was expressly humanized for him. But, in his fall, man loses his perfect humanity, which remains beyond the limits of history as an unactualized ideal. Human history begins and proceeds in the same "evolutionary" way as the rest of creation, with the difference, of course, that, even in the natural process, man retains the supranatural principle of his spirit.


Source: Sergius Bulgakov, Bride of the Lamb, trans. Boris Jakim (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002), 178–181.

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