“You Shall Die the Death,” a Reflection on Grace and the Mother of Grace
“And the Lord God took man, and put him into the paradise of pleasure, to dress it, and to keep it. And he commanded him, saying: Of every tree of paradise you shall eat: But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat. For in what day soever you shall eat of it, you shall die the death.” Genesis 2:15-17, D-R
The priest said something startling at the beginning of our infant Baptism class. “How many lives does a person need in order to get to Heaven?” Everyone looked around the room, baffled at this bizarre question. Father is an older gentleman. He is blind in one eye, has difficulty walking, and he is hard of hearing out of his right ear. When he says Mass, he becomes rather stern and serious. He doesn’t have the best singing voice and he tries very hard to follow the rubrics. From a distance, you would think him a curmudgeon. I love him to death. I had some one-on-one encounters with him well before the class, so I knew this is what he looks like from a distance and not the actual reality of the man who was asking this question at the start of class. I knew there was something more and that appearances were always deceiving when it came to this particular priest of God, so I waited for his wisdom patiently, and smiled. “Two! You need two lives to get to Heaven!” My patience faded. What in heaven’s name was this priest talking about?
When God commanded Adam to not eat of the one tree, He affixed a reprisal for disobedience: death. And Adam did die…nine hundred and thirty years later. Wait a minute. God said to Adam, “for in what day soever you shall eat of it, you shall die the death.” This means that on that day, in that instance of time, Adam would die. But he didn’t die right away, and almost lived a millennia after the fact. What in heaven’s name was this God talking about?
“Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world and by sin death: and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned.” Romans 5:12
It’s obvious from scriptures like this that we lost our gift of immortality after Adam sinned. Humanity was created to be incorruptible, Adam sinned, and as the chief of our race he forfeited immortal life for all of us. But that’s one life-lost, not two, and he didn’t die right away. The priest’s question and God’s chastisement are linked and here’s how:
“Know you not that all we who are baptized in Christ Jesus are baptized in his death? For we are buried together with him by baptism into death: that, as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life.” Romans 6:3-5
“By whom he has given us most great and precious promises: that by these you may be made partakers of the divine nature: flying the corruption of that concupiscence which is in the world.”
2 Peter 1:4
What was lost to Adam on the day he ate of the tree was the divine nature—God’s life. We call that life Sanctifying Grace, and it is restored to us at our Baptism. Adam had two lives before he rebelled: his own human nature and a created share in the very nature of God. On the very day of his sin, that gift of God’s life, that Grace, was revoked. He died the death—the loss of participation in the divine nature. His natural death which came much later was an indirect effect of this supernatural death.
After Father had explained it this way, I looked around the room and everyone looked relieved and satisfied. I felt the same. Father went on to explain that if Adam hadn’t sinned he would have passed both lives to his children. Adam and Eve didn’t have children until after the fall. Outside of Eden, while the divine nature wasn’t passed on naturally, human nature was—we can see clear results of this in their son Abel’s murder by his brother Cain. If they had children before the Fall, Grace would have been transmitted with the generation of the human souls of Adam’s children as it was for Adam. And this was the case for thousands of years afterward…until…
“…the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin.” Pope Pius IX, Definition of the Immaculate Conception
Mary was conceived with two lives. What was lost in the garden was interrupted in her Immaculate Conception and preserved so that in her womb she could generate the Son of God in the flesh—that second Adam. In Him, the Son of God and Son of Mary, our second life is restored to us. It is lived in union with Him and restores us to be partakers of the divine nature—God’s life (aka Sanctifying Grace) which is given at Baptism where we are “born again of water and the spirit” (John 3:3-5). Because of this, Mary is our Mother too. In her womb Grace Himself was transmitted to this fallen world and ultimately to our fallen nature. We share the same womb as this Divine Son in our Baptism, and so, Mary becomes our Mother too.
Hail, full of Grace, the Lord is with Thee!