Sunday 9 February 2014

Question 97 – Man’s Physical State in Paradise

Why this Question Matters

After consideration of the intellect and will of the first humans in the Garden of Eden, it is now time to turn the questions concerning their bodily state. In particular, this question gives a treatment of the preternatural gifts of bodily immortality and impassibility.

The Thread of the Argument
A1: One of the so-called preternatural gifts given by God to human beings in the Garden of Eden was immortality. In this article Aquinas justifies seeing this as a special gift of grace consistent with, but not part of, human nature. To do so, he identifies three ways in which something may be incorruptible (as bodily corruption is the basis of mortality). In the first way a creature such as an angel does not have any matter at all and is therefore incorruptible by its very nature. Aquinas, being consistent with the cosmology of the time, puts the celestial bodies in this category by arguing that their matter is ordered only to a single form. With such an ordering it is impossible for the matter to take on any other form and therefore the form/matter combination of a celestial must be incorruptible. The second possibility is that something is incorruptible because of the nature of its form. The third possibility is that something is kept from corruption by an efficient cause maintaining it in its current state. It is this last possibility that applies to the immortality of humans in the Garden of Eden. By a special gift of grace the initial humans were kept from corruption so long as they remained subject to God.

A2: A second gift given to Adam and Eve was the gift of impassibility, which when applied to the first human beings refers to their ability to remain free from any suffering. The point of this article is that the notion of impassibility is subject to two different definitions and it is only one of them that applies here; the objections to this article are built on understanding impassibility by means of the other definition. The proper meaning as it is understood here is that of being acted on in such a way as to remove the object of the action from its natural disposition; some form of suffering, for example. The more general meaning refers to not being the subject of any action; it is in this sense that only God is impassible.

A3: Did Adam and Eve have to eat and drink to maintain themselves in the Garden of Eden? They were, after all, impassible and immortal and therefore not eating would have had not have caused suffering or death. However, the Genesis account of creation tells us that the first humans were ordered to eat of the trees of the garden. Therefore if they didn’t they would have sinned and would have lost their immortality and impassibility; so this argument fails.

Aquinas could have simply answered this question by observing that human beings are by their nature bodily animals and it is in the nature of such animals to preserve their being by the consumption of food and drink. But he want to go further in order to differentiate between human beings in their initial state of innocence in the Garden of Eden and human beings in their glorified bodily state after the general resurrection. To do so, he identifies the dual nature of the human soul: it is both something that gives life to a bodily animal as well as being a subsistent spiritual being with an immaterial intellective power. In the initial state of innocence the soul acts towards the body as the former, giving bodily life to an animal being, with all the things that go with that state. But after the general resurrection, the soul will give something of its other spiritual nature in order to glorify the body and to give immortality and impassibility; to give human beings spiritual bodies. In this state, human beings will not have to eat or drink.

A4: In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve were forbidden from eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and it was their failure to obey that injunction that is associated with the complex series of actions that is the fall of man. They were, however, enjoined to eat of all the other trees of the garden and one of those trees was the Tree of Life. They were driven from paradise lest they continue to eat of the Tree of Life in their enhanced state of knowledge. Was the Tree of Life the cause of their immortality whilst in the state of innocence?

Aquinas answers that the Tree of Life prevented the first humans from dying but that it was not a cause of immortality absolutely speaking. By this he means that the power that enables the body to stay in being is a power of the soul itself. What the fruit of the Tree of Life was able to do was to fortify the body in such a way that the power of the soul to conserve the body was not impeded. But each fruit from the Tree of Life was itself a material body and therefore its power to do this was finite and limited. It was not the case that a single bite from the fruit of the Tree of Life would confer immortality but rather that it had to be taken repeatedly as a food in order for the effect to continue.

Handy Concepts

  • Adam and Eve were given the preternatural gifts of immortality and impassibility in their initial state of innocence.
  • The bodily state of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was a state consistent with human nature. Therefore they ate and drank as we do.
  • The Tree of Life conferred immortality in the sense of removing impediments to the conserving power of the soul; it had to be eaten repeatedly as food in order for this effect to continue.


  • The connection between the fruit of the Tree of Life and the Eucharist should be clear in Aquinas’s treatment in the fourth article. They are both live-giving, in different but analogous senses.


  1. Are the preternatural gifts dogmatic or are we allowed to disagree that they ever existed?

    I have a hard time reconciling with them when they #1 seem like needless miracles and #2 aren't given back to us by virtue of what Jesus did, even though St. Paul and other insist there is an equivacable parallel between what Adam lost for us and what Christ gained for us.

  2. The preternatural gifts are not all of the same level of theological certainty. For the two mentioned in this question, the gift of immortality is de fide; the gift of impassibility is considered to be a so-called sententia communis (common teaching). So the former is of the faith, the latter is generally accepted by theologians but, strictly speaking, belongs to the field of free opinion.

    For the other preternatural gifts, the gift of the freedom from irregular desire is considered a sententia promima fidei (generally believed to be a truth of revelation, but not yet defined by the Church as such); and the gift of infused natural knowledge is considered a sententia communis.

    Yes, these do sometimes seem strange and they do seem to break the apparent symmetry between the old Adam and the new Adam; but that symmetry is limited by scripture itself. So, for example, the main justification for the dogmatic definition of the gift of immortality being a truth of the faith is scriptural: St. Paul is very clear that death entered the world through the first sin. One might, along similar lines of thought to your question ask why the sacrifice of Christ on the cross didn’t simply redeem us all there and then!

    It might be worth reinforcing one point: although the primordial gift to Adam and Eve of sanctifying grace is of the supernatural order, its effect in the preternatural gifts is a perfecting of the natural order. The gift of sanctifying grace that Christ makes available to us by his sacrifice is ordered to our supernatural end in heaven; and after the general resurrection our bodies will benefit from this supernatural perfection of the natural order. The symmetry returns.

    But rather than have me witter on about this, there’s a very good treatment by the late Fr. Hardon at: