Monday, April 3, 2017

Felix Culpa

O Happy Fault, O Happy Fault
That gained for us, so great a Redeemer
Fortunate Fall, Fortunate Fall
That gained for us, so great a Redeemer

This past weekend we sang the Audrey Assad song "Fortunate Fall". We have sung it previously, so it wasn't new, but this time it generated a number of discussions. Do we really want to sing that the Fall was fortunate, that somehow sin coming into the world is counted as a blessing? I had two conversations about this on Sunday morning and then my Sunday evening community group spent a fair amount of time talking through this - it was a great conversation. I have appreciated our church in that when something like this comes up, rather than just rejecting it and criticizing, we use it as an opportunity to think deeply so that even if we come to different conclusions, we have all moved closer to God. Speaking about the value of theological discussion, J.I Packer says, "It helps me appreciate the greatness, goodness, and glory of God - lifting up the sheer wonder and size and majesty of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The truth I try to grasp and share is truth that enlarges the soul because it tunes into the greatness of God. It generates awe and adoration."  So, to that end I would like to share a few insights to the song we sang this weekend. Again, you can agree or disagree on this one but hopefully in thinking more deeply, our souls will all be enlarged!  


Although the music is new, the words are not. The phrase used in the song is taken from a Latin phrase most often attributed to Augustine from the 4th century.

Felix Culpa, meaning blessed fall or blessed fault. As sung in the the Easter Vigil of some traditions it is rendered: O felix culpa quae talem et meruit habere redemptorem -  meaning "O blessed fault that earned for us so great, so glorious a Redeemer." Concerning the phrase Augustine took this view: "For God judged it better to bring good out of evil than not permit any evil to exist." Thomas Aquinas stated "But there is no reason why human nature should not have been raised to something greater after sin. For God allows evil to happen in order to bring a greater good therefrom." Saint Ambrose reflected "We who have sinned more have gained more, because Your grace makes us more blessed than our absence of fault does." 

In a nut shell what they each imply is that there was something gained for us that would have never occurred had not Adam sinned. Paul states a similar idea: "...where sin abounds, grace abounds more."  That could mean that grace is just greater or it could mean that there is an enlarged manifestation of grace in the world because of sin's presence. Of course that doesn't mean we should sin - Paul says, "may it never be" nor does it make God the author of sin nor does it mitigate that gravity of sin. What is being said is that something is manifested, made known about God that would not have been seen or experienced if there had not been the Fall. Jesus says that those who are forgiven much, love much. We know grace, and redemption, and what it means to be united in His death, burial, resurrection and ascension because of the cross and the cross came because we were wrecked in our sin. Ephesians 1 tells us that He had planned to redeem us before the foundation of the world.

A friend from my community group wrote this out of our discussion:


I love this liturgy because it captures the magnitude of the cross.  The fall was not merely an accident of a weak creation—it was not a mistake that the Father did not account for.  The Father did not cause us to fall but through His perfection He redeemed it completely to manifest glory through Christ and to bless humanity.  The cross of Christ did not merely restore us to the condition we were in before the fall; but to something greater.  Through it we can begin to grasp a little more of the depth of his love for us and the greatness of His mercy.

I like what C.S. Lewis has to say about it: “For God is not merely mending, not simply restoring a status quo.  Redeemed humanity is to be something more glorious than unfallen humanity would have been, more glorious than any unfallen race is (if at this moment the night sky conceals any such).  The greater the sin, the greater the mercy: the deeper the death the brighter the rebirth.  And this super-added glory will, with true vicariousness, exalt all creatures and those who have never fallen will thus bless Adam’s fall.” — C.S. Lewis, Miracles

God’s plans are perfect and I love this liturgy because it hits on this.  The world we live in is not plan B.  It’s not the result of an experiment gone horribly awry.  It was the plan all along because it is the way that brings the greatest glory to the Father, Son and Holy Ghost AND it’s the way that we find the greatest blessing.  This does not mean that God caused us to sin or that He is culpable in any way.  Our failings our purely our own.  However, it speaks to the greatness of our God that even in sin, the ultimate of all failure, there is no failure to be found because His cross covers it all.

So, is it possible to say that because there is nothing of greater value than the manifestation of the glory, nature and character of God, that even the fall into sin, can be seen as a blessing because through it we know God as our Savior and Redeemer, that we can know Him and glorify Him in a way that would not have otherwise been possible?

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