The Desert Fathers: Monks and Monasteries of the Egyptian Desert

The Desert Fathers: Monks and Monasteries of the Egyptian Desert
The Monastery of St. Paul of Thebes, Red Sea Desert, Egypt (1990)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

ABBA SERAPION - Jesus as the New Adam

In this issue, we will continue our study of St. John Cassian's "Conferences" in which we are looking at the teachings of Abba Serapion on "The Eight Principal Vices." In the original text, these teachings are quite long (and incredibly rich in wisdom!), but we will only look at some excerpts here. Last week we had an overview of the eight vices; today, we will study how Adam and Jesus were tempted by Satan and, in the process, why the Church calls Jesus "the New Adam". The parallels St. John Cassian draws in this reading are fascinating in their theology and in Abba Serapion's understanding of Holy Scripture.


BEGIN: "The one who possessed the incorruptible image and likeness of God had to be tempted himself by the same passions by which Adam also was tempted when he still enjoyed the inviolate image of God -- that is, by gluttony, vainglory, and pride -- and not by those in which he entangled himself after having broken the commandment, when the image and likeness of God was violated and he had already fallen through his own fault. For it was by gluttony that he took the food from the forbidden tree; by vainglory that it was said: 'Your eyes shall be opened'; and by pride that it was said: 'You shall be as gods, knowing good and evil' (Genesis 3:5).

-- "By these three vices, then, we read that the Lord, the Savior, was also tempted: by gluttony when the devil said to him: 'Tell these stones to become loaves of bread'; by vainglory when he said: 'If you are the Son of God, cast yourself down'; and by pride when he showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory, and he said: 'All these things I will give you if you fall down and adore me' (Matthew 4:6 - 9). Thus, having been attacked by these very same temptations, he taught us also by his own example how we should conquer the tempter.

"Therefore both the one and the other are called Adam, the former having been the first to go to ruin and death and the latter having been the first to go to resurrection and life.


-- "Through the former the whole human race is condemned, but through the latter the whole human race is freed. The former was fashioned of untilled and untouched earth, the latter was born of the Virgin Mary. It behooved him, then, to suffer temptations, but it was not necessary that they be excessive. For one who had conquered gluttony could not be tempted by fornication, which proceeds from the former's repletion and from its root. Even the first Adam would not have been struck by this if he had not been deceived by the enticements of the devil and contracted the passion which generates it.

-- "For this reason the Son of God is not said to have come, without qualification, in sinful flesh but rather "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (Romans 8:3). Although he had real flesh, which is to say that he ate and drank and slept and was also really fastened by nails, he did not have real sin contracted through wrongdoing but only what seemed to be such.

-- "For he did not experience the burning pricks of carnal desire that even arise when we do not want them, due to nature's action, but he experienced a certain similarity through participating in our nature. When he was truly accomplishing all the things that pertain to our condition and was bearing every human weakness, he was consequently thought to be subject to this passion as well, so that in these weaknesses he even seemed to carry about in his flesh the stuff of this vice and sin.


-- "The devil tempted him, then, only with the vices by which he had also deceived that first man, conjecturing that, as a man, he could be mocked in other ways too if he saw that he was seduced by the things with which he had overthrown the first man. But he was unable to inflict him with a second disease, sprouting from the root of the principal vice that served as a source, since he was defeated in the first battle. He saw that he had not been touched at all by the first stages of this sickness and that it was too much to expect the fruit of sin from him, since he discerned that he had never possessed its seeds and roots.

-- "Although Luke gives the last temptation as: 'If you are the Son of God, cast yourself down' (Luke 4:9), this can be understood as the passion of pride. The one mentioned previously, which Matthew places as third and in which, according to the aforesaid evangelist Luke, the devil promised him all the kingdoms of the world, showing them to him in an instant, can then be taken to be the passion of avarice. For once gluttony was conquered he was unable to prevail over him with fornication, and so he passed on to avarice, which he knew was the root of all evils' (I Timothy 6:10). Here again he was overcome, and he did not dare to afflict him with any of the vices that followed and that he knew sprouted from its root and stock. So he passed on to the last passion, that of pride, by which he knew that even the perfect and those who have conquered all the vices could be struck. He remembered that on its account he himself had been thrown down from the heavenly places when he was Lucifer, along with many others, without having been incited by any preceding passion.

-- "According to the order that we have spoken of, then, which is described by the evangelist Luke, the seductions and forms of temptations with which the clever enemy attacked the first and the second Adam concur very neatly. For to the former he says: 'Your eyes shall be opened,' and to the latter: 'He showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory' (Matthew 4:8). In one place he says: 'You shall be as gods,' and in the other: 'If you are the Son of God.'

-- "Let us say something in the same order that we had proposed about the effects of the other passions too, the explanation of which we were obliged to interrupt because of our exposition on gluttony and on the Lord's temptations. Vainglory and pride are also consummated without any action on the body's part. For why do these things, which cause the ruin of the captive soul for the exclusive purpose of winning praise and pursuing human glory, need bodily action?

-- "Or what bodily activity was there in the aforesaid Lucifer's ancient pride, which he conceived solely in mind and thought? As the prophet mentions: 'You who said in your heart: I will go up to heaven, I will set my throne above the stars of God, I will ascend above the height of the clouds, I will be like the Most High" (Isaiah 14:13-14). He had no one to provoke him to this pride. It was in thought alone that his crime and his eternal ruin were perfectly achieved, especially inasmuch as there followed no works of the tyranny that he was striving for." END

from St. John Cassian, "The Conferences," (New York: Newman Press, 1997), pp. 185 - 187