I was tempted to answer this question about freewill and Adam and Eve but I chose not to because all I've got it conjecture and I'm not even sure if it's not borderline heresy on the matter. What I'd like to know is if what I would have answered lines up with Catholic thought.

I would have said:

Adam and Eve could sin because they chose to follow their intellect and made a rational decision that being like God was in fact a good idea. They could give in to temptation, without following their passions (as they had complete self-mastery in this regard) for the same reason that Lucifer could want to be like God.

Then I might have gone on with:

In this way God shows us the difference between following divine law (i.e. not eating an apple because God commanded it) and not following natural law (i.e. not intentionally eating (or giving someone) a poisoned apple because it will cause death) and divine law is a kind of law that can be violated without giving into your passions. That is to say, an act of pure intellect can violate divine law, but violating natural law requires giving in to the passions (intentionally diverting your will from your intellect).

If someone could run that through their Catholic fluff and heresy parser and give me a readout I'd sure appreciate it before I go and tell it to my Religious Ed. kids, should the matter arise.

  • 2
    Sorry if this is the Christianity equivalent of "plez send me teh codez"
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Dec 21, 2011 at 16:32
  • I think the distinction between divine law and natural law might need more work, to begin with. IIRC, St. Thomas Aquinas identifies natural law as a species of the divine law. I think the commandment to Adam & Eve would be a different species, "divine positive law". Another example of this might be the commandment to keep holy the Sabbath. And I can certainly imagine breaking that commandment because of passion, so I'm not sure the distinction between the ways of breaking the law will hold water.
    – Ben Dunlap
    Commented Dec 21, 2011 at 18:02
  • Thanks, that's the kind of answer I was going for. I know that's one way of subdividing Natural and Divine law, I saw it in one of the old CCD textbooks and it's probably more correct. For whatever reason (and I think I ought to ask a question about this too, but I don't know who would answer it) I subdivide ((Eternal Law, Divine Law), (Natural Law, Human Law)) because that was my first introduction to the subject in 50 Questions on the Natural Law
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Dec 21, 2011 at 18:12
  • I think a multi-dimensional way of mapping the divisions is necessary. ;-) The division between divine and human law pertains to the author of the law. The division between positive and natural law pertains to the content of the law, or more specifically, the source from which the content is derived, and can be applied to either human or divine law. A human law can be more-or-less purely positive as to its content (specific traffic regulations might be an example) or in some sense "natural" (statutes against murder and theft).
    – Ben Dunlap
    Commented Dec 21, 2011 at 18:22
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    ... which is to say that "natural law is a species of the divine law" is not precisely accurate, or at least not hugely helpful. It might be better to say that some parts of the divine law (e.g., "thou shalt not kill") coincide obviously with natural law, and some parts of it are "supernatural", if you will, inasmuch as they direct man toward an end that exceeds his natural good. I'm looking in particular at question 91 of the Prima Secundae of the Summa: newadvent.org/summa/2091.htm
    – Ben Dunlap
    Commented Dec 21, 2011 at 18:28

2 Answers 2


The short answer to your question is to review the Haydock Commentary of the 3rd Chapter of Genesis.

I feel like I should add more, but I'm not smart enough to top the incomparable Haydock commentary. Here are a couple short, relevant snippets:

Ver. 1. Why hath God? Hebrew, "Indeed hath God, &c." as if the serpent had overheard Eve arguing with herself, about God's prohibition, with a sort of displeasure and presumption. St. Augustine thinks, she had given some entrance to these passions, and the love of her own power, and hence gave credit to the words of the serpent, de Gen. ad lit. xi. 30. She might not know or reflect that the serpent could not reason thus, naturally; and she had as yet, no idea or dread of the devil. (Lombard, 2 Dist. 21.) This old serpent entered into the most subtle of creatures, and either by very expressive signs, or by the motion of the serpent's tongue, held this delusive dialogue with Eve. Moses relates what happened exteriorily; but from many expressions, and from the curse, ver. 15, he sufficiently indicates, that an evil spirit was the latent actor. (Haydock) --- Of every tree. Satan perverts the word of God, giving it an ambiguous turn: in doing which, he has set heretics a pattern, which they follow. (Menochius)

Ver. 5. God. The old serpent's aim is, to make us think God envies our happiness. (Haydock) --- Or he would have Eve to suppose, she had not rightly understood her maker, who would surely never deprive her of a fruit which would give her such an increase of knowledge, as to make her conclude she was before comparatively blind. (Menochius) --- As gods, Hebrew Elohim, which means also princes, angels, or judges. It appears, that our first parents had flattered themselves with the hopes of attaining a divine knowledge of all things. (Calmet)


Based on the Catholic Encyclopedia's definition of passion, passions themselves are neither good nor bad - they are simply an appetite that propels man towards a given end. The desire to "be like God" is in and of itself, not a bad thing.


The problem is not that Adam and Eve had a perverted passion, but rather that their passions were manipulated to be out of the means which God had proscribed.

What you've really pointed out then, is that you can do the right thing in the wrong way, and run contrary to Divine Law.


James 1:14 is clear that temptation may begin with a passion, but it is a twisted passion. This temptation by itself is not sin - the same verse goes on to say that this desire conceives, and the child of desire is sin. Desire here is an evil desire, or an evil passion. Conception is what sounds like - it is the result of a passion being joined with something to form a new thing - sin.

The natural law states that when temptation is joined with the choice to act, then it will give birth to sin - hence the free will aspect. The natural law dictates that temptation unleashed gives birth to sin - our proclivity is to turn temptation into something tangible. What that is leads to death.

Divine Law

In the case of Adam and Eve, they fell into the temptation of taking the easy road to Godhood, rather than following the proscribed path.

The Divine Law (aka God's revealed plan) specifically said that this was the wrong road.

Their passion was right, but they followed a natural law that leads to death.

Another way of expressing this

Put another way, you and I (and by extension I mean orthodox Roman Catholic understandings and the effective position of many Protestants) hold abortion to be murder. Thus, we have a passion to stop it. One could achieve that end by murdering an abortion doctor. From a purely utilitarian viewpoint, one might possibly be able to even justify that action, suggesting that the murder of 1 makes up for the murder of hundreds. The "problem" is, Divine Law says, "Thou shalt not kill." The murder of an abortion doctor is thus wrong in any case (except for an actual "just war" which is always the case where killing is acceptable, in regards to theology.)

Thus, we can have a correctly guided passion set against a divine law.

Even a correct passion, incorrectly followed, is a transgression of divine law.

The point of all of this is simple - your passion isn't the problem, your action is. The natural law can compel you to do anything - it is the Divine law that must be followed. Adam and Eve chose to weigh their passion over Divine Law, and thus fell into the consequences of natural law.

If God says its Red, its Red, even if it looks green*.

*(You know, if you're travelling at 75% the speed of light, red can look green - true physics!)

  • Who says Protestants can't read the Catholic Encyclopedia! Bring it on! Woo Woo! Commented Jan 30, 2012 at 18:35
  • Very good answer and I'd say it's internally coherent. The problem is, from a Catholic standpoint, the 10 commandments are the Natural Law articulated by the Divine (even the first 3 (or 4)). So that might raise a good question about Protestant Theology. We'd say "God can neither deceive, nor be deceived" (see also; some document from Vatican I that is referenced in the Catechism - CCC 156). We'd say God just won't say it's red. But given your caveat He might :)
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Jan 30, 2012 at 18:48
  • D'Oh! I was understanding Natural Law to be purpose behind the Revealed (or Divine Law). That's where I messed up. Sorry! Commented Jan 30, 2012 at 18:53
  • So, tell me if I'm off here - Once Natural Law is spoken by God, isn't it now Divine Law? I guess I keep reading it as "Natural Law = what you can deduce about right and wrong simply by reason" and "Divine Law = what you know about right and wrong based on what God has revealed." Commented Jan 30, 2012 at 19:17
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    As I read the link, I'm beginning to think I'm right here - when it says "the sum of natural law is embodied in the 10 commandments," they're saying that everything you can deduce about right and wrong apart from God could be expressed in this. The fact that it has been made explicit also makes it Divine Law. The categories are really there to help you think about what it means for God to reveal something, moreso than to say this is natural and this divine... Commented Jan 30, 2012 at 22:10

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