Sermon Notes on Eve, by Father Basil William Maturin

detail of a stained glass window of Adam and Eve, date and artist unknown; Church of Saint Godard, Rouen, France; photographed on 25 July 2015 by Yoke; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsWe will consider during Lent some of the women of the Old Testament, and begin today with the first – woman in her innocence and purity fresh from the hands of her Maker, ere yet sin had laid its stamp upon her soul and deformed her. As we look back out of the defilement and mistakes and false positions of our present state to that garden of peace and protection, we can see at once what we ought to be and how far we have fallen short of it. We see men and women living motiveless and aimless lives, the great powers that God has given them abused or not used at all, and we may look back to the beginning before the disease had spread and see ourselves as we ought to have been by God’s original decree, and how we fell from our high place.

There are now the three great foes: the world, that mass of men who don t look before nor after but live in the present; the flesh, which demands the immediate gratification of the senses; and the great personal deceiver and enemy of our race.

Now in Eden the world did not tempt nor the flesh; there was but one tempter, Satan; there was but one source of temptation, the one forbidden thing, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. There were but two human beings, Adam and Eve, therefore the sphere of temptation was narrowed, but for that reason only the more intense; to her all temptation had but one source – the forbidden fruit, but one end – her husband.

1. Notice first of all she was created for a special purpose, and she utterly frustrated that purpose through disobedience to the restrictions of the limits within which she was to work. There may be spheres of usefulness that lie open before us which we can’t enter because we are forbidden. If I were to do such and such a thing it would largely increase my power of influence with the world; remember, influence flows out spontaneously, it is not premeditated, it is the natural and necessary effect upon others of a life which is fulfilling its own end.

2. Two great instincts in women:

(a) the power of influencing others; she can’t but feel it for it was what she was put on earth to do.

(b) The readiness to sacrifice herself for those she loves.

As Eve stood beneath the Tree of Knowledge to my mind she was enduring a trial not for herself only, but for the one being on earth she loved most. What if she gain and give to him something most worth having in the world; what if she, who was put here to be his helper, could help him in one moment to rise to a height of knowledge only equalled by God. Supposing even she did die, what then; would it not be a great thing to die for her husband’s good? Yet as the event showed it was all and only for her husband’s harm, yea ruin. How little we know when we pass the line laid down by God for our sphere of action what evil may result from the very best intentions.

3. Then, too, she was in a state of innocence. She didn’t know what evil was the book of evil was still unopened. Like one going out into the world knowing nothing about it, with a high ideal and a great devotion, and no conception of how one might be deceived by the appearance of things the one only guide, the guide of God’s commands.

The steps by which she fell:

1. Parleying with a distinct command.

2. Doubting.

3. Accusing God of unworthy motives.

Satan exaggerates the prohibition. Can it be that the Deity hath forbidden you to eat of any tree of the garden? Has the Deity forbidden all progress? Does He forbid the enjoyment of the appetites He has created?

Satan never begins by suggesting some overt act of gross disobedience. He would familiarize the mind with the thought God could be hard. Eve says: we may not eat or touch – exaggerates – lest we die, not lest we disobey.

Satan seizes the chance: ye shall not surely die. How long and often we dally with those words: hath God indeed said?

Then she saw – she took – she ate – she gave to eat. The most dangerous sins those against the leading purpose of one’s life.

Woman made to be man’s helpmeet. It’s her vocation and her instinct to do this, through this her greatest blessing and her greatest danger and most frequent falls.

As a result of this deep desire in women to sacrifice self for another, she falls or rises. This act of Eve touched her whole position. Her whole life-work.

1. Desire to sacrifice.

2. Desire to keep hold and influence.

3. It was using all her power and place in disobedience.

In more than one parable, and under more than one image, Our Lord warns us of the danger of superficial changes in character. The house built on shifty and unstable soil – the seed on rock – wolf in sheep’s clothing – the pressing forward in the spiritual life without beginning at the bottom. There may be many superficial changes while the character remains fundamentally unchanged. This has specially to be borne in mind in a religion like that of Our Lord s, which has to deal with two spheres, the natural and the super natural. These are not distinct in the sense that we can keep them apart. They are meant for one another as are the seed and the soil. The seed is perfect in itself in a sense, and the soil may be of the best, but the soil can produce no fruit without the seed, and vice versa. In the soul these two blend and commingle. The consequence of this is that we cannot neglect nature and develop at the same time grace. Any defect in the soil, anything rocky and hard at once declares itself in the young seed. It is in a sense easier to strive after the supernatural than the natural.

Some devote themselves to the cultivation of all that is natural, others supernatural. But neither can reach their perfection without the other. For the soil of nature was not created sufficient to itself, as an engine is not made to work without steam. We know how easy it is for people to aim at prayer, a lofty purity, a spirit of asceticism, devotion to Our Lord, the Blessed Virgin, and not to be very particular about truth, justice, temperance, kindness. They divide their souls into water-tight compartments. The waters float but don t soak into the soil of nature; the two must mingle.

A fundamental fault may be left in the foundations of the spiritual life while all the effort is spent in building the superstructure.

1. There are, for instance, faults of temperament, the fault that shows itself first and perhaps last in life. Moses after eighty years – Peter denying our Lord – Philip – Thomas. So a person may find her life spoilt; the supernatural choked by such faults never plucked out.

2. But there are faults deeper, faults against your vocation. Your vocation as truly as Saint Peter’s to be an apostle, is to the married state – wife, mother. Faults against these are faults against your state. They are like faults against fidelity in a priest, neglect of souls, etc., or against the consecrated life in religion. Your prayers and communions may fail of full fruit because you do not do your best in your home duties.

3. But there are defects that go deeper still. An artist may have the gift of genius and a perfect subject, but a flaw in the material will destroy the most perfect work. The most skilled musician may play the most divine music, but if his instrument is out of tune the music will be far from perfection. So there may be faults in the material. And what is the material? The material out of which a priest is made is his manhood, but out of which a perfect Christian wife and mother is made is her womanhood. Any fault in this must mar everything else. The more perfectly womanly you are, in so far, promises well for the developments in any of the positions in life to which God may call you. A fault in the material mars the best work; and a fault against your position as a woman is the deepest of all, the poisoning of the springs, the using the position God has given you in life for another purpose than that which He intended. Such a person finds herself with all her powers, etc., only she uses them for another end.

Now we know the purpose for which God made man and woman. He made man in His own image to develop and perfect the Divine likeness. And He made woman to help man in this work, to help to raise man Godward. Therefore woman’s position is one involving fundamentally a relationship to others. She can t leave this out in the consideration of her life, for it was for this she was made.

In the opening page of human history we see the representative woman at once in contact with the typical temptation of her life. It is in Eden; she and Adam are alone in the world, as it is in all such temptations. She was alone with the one person whom she loved. There was no doubt the feeling of a destiny before them of possibilities and of ambitions, there opened visions of indefinite growth, and there was the Forbidden Tree that represented to her and to her husband possibilities closed only by the command of God, unknown possibilities. We might see how that tree touched on their whole nature, appealed to every side of it; but that door was closed by the Divine command. It created then a situation. It was a temptation, the greatest possible. Here then was the testing of Eve. Would she hold up her husband’s hands, help to keep him up or to drag him down? It lay in her hands. The tree could move him, but she could move him more. All that power of influence, all her attractions, the attractions of the first-formed woman, unstained by evil, she might throw it all on God’s side, to hold her husband up, and in so doing help him to rise.

We know what she did do (with it came a loss of power, not a gain).

No doubt she saw her husband disturbed and excited, she knew what was in his mind, and she said to herself: he hasn’t got the courage to do it himself, I’ll do it for him. Women have more moral courage than men. The temptation was to use that power of influence and attraction, the position which God had given her to raise man to his best, to minister on the contrary to what was not best and to strengthen her hold over him and increase his need for her. This is a constant temptation.

1. She used her position just for the one thing which she ought not, to do the one thing she might have helped him not to do. Isn’t this the constant temptation of women to use their powers of influence for other than the best? e.g. in the case of a daughter’s marriage or of sons positions.

Two dangerous times:

(a) Marriage.

(b) Starting children in life.

2. The desire to sacrifice self to one one loves. By sacrifice we rise or fall. We fall if the sacrifice involves an infringement of what is right.