Tuesday, April 09, 2013

The Protoevangelium

John Martin 1789–1854
Adam Listening to the Voice of God the Almighty 
Oil on canvas
47.5 x 68.5 cm 
Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Martin  caught the public imagination with spectacular paintings. In 1821 Lawrence referred to him as ‘the most popular painter of the day’.

This is one of his famous oil sketch illustrations to John Milton's Paradise Lost (1825–7) of  Genesis 3 ("The Protoevangelium")

This is the passage in Book 10, beginning with line 108 on which the painting is based: 
Come forth
He came, and with him Eve, more loath, though first 
To offend discount'nanc'd both, and discompos'd; 
Love was not in their looks, either to God 
Or to each other, but apparent guilt, 
And shame, and perturbation, and despair, 
Anger, and obstinacy, and hate, and guile. 
Whence Adam faltring long, thus answer'd brief. 
I heard thee in the gard'n, and of thy voice 
Afraid, being naked, hid myself. 

Of this scene, the Catechism simply says:
410 After his fall, man was not abandoned by God. On the contrary, God calls him and in a mysterious way heralds the coming victory over evil and his restoration from his fall. (Cf. Gen 3:9,15)

This passage in Genesis is called the Protoevangelium ("first gospel"): the first announcement of the Messiah and Redeemer, of a battle between the serpent and the Woman, and of the final victory of a descendant of hers.

Recently at the installation at St John Lateran, Pope Francis had this to say of this scene:
Adam, after his sin, experiences shame, he feels naked, he senses the weight of what he has done; and yet God does not abandon him: if that moment of sin marks the beginning of his exile from God, there is already a promise of return, a possibility of return. 
God immediately asks: "Adam, where are you?" He seeks him out. 
Jesus took on our nakedness, he took upon himself the shame of Adam, the nakedness of his sin, in order to wash away our sin: by his wounds we have been healed. 
Remember what Saint Paul says: "What shall I boast of, if not my weakness, my poverty? Precisely in feeling my sinfulness, in looking at my sins, I can see and encounter God’s mercy, his love, and go to him to receive forgiveness. ... 
[L]et us be enveloped by the mercy of God; let us trust in his patience, which always gives us more time. Let us find the courage to return to his house, to dwell in his loving wounds, allowing ourselves be loved by him and to encounter his mercy in the sacraments.  
We will feel his wonderful tenderness, we will feel his embrace, and we too will become more capable of mercy, patience, forgiveness and love.