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A Symbolic Fresco?

by Christopher A. Ferrara
April 27, 2015

It seems that not a week passes without some explosively disturbing remark by Pope Francis. Last week, during the General Audience Address of April 15, in discussing the relationship between man and woman, Francis had this to say about the Genesis account of the Fall of Man and the consequent loss of Paradise by our first parents, Adam and Eve:  “In fact the biblical account, with the great symbolic fresco depicting the earthly paradise and original sin, tells us in fact that the communion with God is reflected in the communion of the human couple and the loss of trust in the celestial Father generates division and conflict between man and woman.”

Note the inclusion of original sin in the “symbolic fresco” to which Francis reduces the inspired and inerrant “biblical account.”  Does Francis view the commission of an actual personal sin by Adam, and presumably the prior temptation of Eve by the devil under the appearance of a serpent, as a merely symbolic description of how man fell from his original state of grace and perfect integrity?  That view would be impossible to square with the constant teaching of the Church.

Consider, for example, the decision of the Pontifical Biblical Commission in 1909, which was then an arm of the Magisterium under Pope Saint Pius X.  In that decision, which appears in Denzinger’s authoritative compendium of Catholic doctrine (at § 3514), the Commission — with the full authority of St. Pius X — answered NO to the question whether “It is possible… to call in question the literal and historical meaning [of the Genesis account] where there is question of facts narrated in these same chapters which pertain to the foundations of the Christian religion….” Among these facts, said the Commission, were the following:

  • “the special creation of man; the formation of the first woman from the first man”
  • “the original happiness of the first parents in a state of justice, integrity and immortality
  • “the command given by God to man to prove his obedience”
  • “the transgression of the divine command at the instigation of the devil under the form of a serpent
  • “the fall of the first parents from a primitive state of innocence”

Which of these facts from the biblical narration of the Fall of Man would Francis view as merely elements of a “symbolic fresco”?  Does he, for example, think the serpent is a mere symbol?  If so, then how did the devil tempt Eve? With whom did she have the fateful conversation that led her to transgress the divine command?  Was she talking to herself?  Moreover, in the absence of the serpent what becomes of the prophecy of the Blessed Virgin’s final triumph in Chapter 3 of Genesis? To recall the account: “And the Lord God said to the serpent: Because thou hast done this thing, thou art cursed among all cattle, and the beasts of the earth: upon thy breast shalt thou go, and earth shalt thou eat all the days of thy life. I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she hall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.”

Even the new Catechism of the Catholic Church states as a matter of historical fact that “Scripture portrays the tragic consequences of this first disobedience. Adam and Eve immediately lose the grace of original holiness…. Because of man, creation is now subject ‘to its bondage to decay.’ Finally, the consequence explicitly foretold for this disobedience will come true: man will ‘return to the ground,’ for out of it he was taken. Death makes its entrance into human history.”  There is nothing of the symbolic here; the Catechism, like the Pontifical Biblical Commission, refers to historical events that actually happened, producing the loss of immortality and bringing death into the world.

One must wonder whether Francis believes that because of the actual sin of an actual Adam our first parents lost their original innocence, happiness, integrity and immortality in Paradise and that they have passed on their wounded human nature to the entire human race as the consequence of this Original Sin. We know, of course, that liberal Jesuits routinely reduce the Genesis account to an allegory, while promoting evolution and the heresy of polygenism (that the human race descended from a group of first humans arising from evolution, which would negate the dogma of an Original Sin committed by two first parents as the progenitors of the whole human race).  Is Francis of the same mind as his fellow liberal Jesuits from the 1970s? If not, then what does he mean by the phrase “great symbolic fresco depicting the earthly paradise and original sin”?

When a Roman Pontiff refers to the biblical account of the Fall of Man as a “symbolic fresco” it would seem to me that an immediate explanation is necessary. But then the same is true for an ever-expanding catalog of astonishing pronouncements that one commentator has ironically termed “the Bergoglian Magisterium”.  Francis is a Pope like no other before him, whose strange words and deeds, accompanied by the world’s unprecedented adulation, seem to represent the final stage in an ecclesial crisis that the future Pope Pius XII saw coming in light of the Message of Fatima:

I am worried by the Blessed Virgin’s messages to Lucy of Fatima. This persistence of Mary about the dangers which menace the Church is a divine warning against the suicide of altering the faith, in her liturgy, her theology and her soul.  [Roche, Pie XII Devant l’histoire, p. 52]