by Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon
From the first page of Holy Writ, the reader is left with no doubt about the nature of the world and humanity’s place within it. These themes are made very plain.
Perhaps it is less obvious that a certain polemical concern is active in the mind of the Hebrew author (let’s call him Moses); he is at some pains to declare that God is the Creator of all things, even those things which many non-Hebrews commonly regarded as gods.
Although, for instance, the Babylonians set their sun god, Shamash, high in the pantheon, Moses treated Shemesh (“sun”) as simply a big light God placed above the earth on Creation’s fourth day. And although most of their neighbors regarded the earth as a divine mother, the Hebrews treated it as simply a creature on which other creatures walked about. In short, the Bible treats no part of Creation as divine. Only God, ultimately, is the king.
I write “ultimately,” however, because there is a qualification to be considered. Under God, and only by God’s command, Adam also functions on the earth in a royal capacity, having dominion over the other creatures. God assigned him this task when He created man in His own image, after His own likeness. According to the Bible, man is not simply one within a multitude of creatures. He is God’s vice-regent over Creation.
The Bible-reader must be clear about man’s vice-regency in Creation: It is entirely one of stewardship. At no point can it challenge or diminish the proclamation, “the earth is the Lord’s.” Adam’s is a delegated royalty, a custodial responsibility. Whatever authority he has in the world, he has only for the sake of his duties.
According to Genesis, Adam’s regal state is expressed in tending and caring for Creation. He is to treat it as a garden, a place of nourishment and beauty. Much of his time, in act, is spent in the pursuit of agriculture, the indispensable basis of all culture.
Adam’s stewardship in the world, however, was not merely physical. It was also-and preeminently-intellectual and moral. When, on the first day, God established the order of Creation on the principle of “light,” He had in mind to form the single creature, Man, who would be able to discern that created light within its sundry expressions-its “kinds”-among the other creatures.
This is why we observe Adam functioning in Creation, not only as a king, but as a philosopher/king. He ruled the world by understanding it and taking its proper measure. When God formed each creature different “according to its kind,” He intended for Adam’s mind to discern those differences. And Adam clearly did this, when he assembled the animals and gave a specific name to each kind.
The names Adam gave to the creatures were not arbitrary. On the contrary, as God’s vice-regent over Creation, he recognized in each creature its specific logos, and he named every one of them kata logon, “according to its logos.” Adam thus became mankind’s first cataloguist, the father of scientific and analytical study, the very founder of philosophy.
Adam received these God-given abilities for the sake of his God-given responsibilities. Enabled to discern the differences between light and darkness, day and night, firmament and earth, sea and dry land, swimming fish and flying bird, male and female-Adam’s mind (nous) was instructed how to discern the differences separating true and false, good and evil, beauty and ugliness, right and wrong. Adam’s conscience, thus, was educated for moral discernment and choice.
Adam knew this. Unlike every other creature in the cosmos, he was gifted-burdened!-with the ability to decide. The Creator gave no other creature the capacity to reflect critically on what it knows and how it knows what it knows. Adam’s mind was the only place in Creation where epistemology was possible.
The proper prayer of this philosopher/king was,
“Bless the Lord, o my soul, and let all that is within me bless His holy name.”
This kol qerabai, this reflective inner life of thought, freedom, and resolve was the basis of Adam’s unique place as ruler of the world. If, at any point, however, this
“all that is within me”
were to cease blessing the Lord, not only would Adam fail as the head of Creation, but Creation itself would fall with him.
A terrible cosmic darkness would ensue.