Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, ‘Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?’ then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you will, you can become all flame.’
In the communion of persons, first evidenced in the persons of Adam and Eve, we are presented with a sign[i] and symbol of the communion the trinity has with itself. This helps us to understand what the scriptures mean when they speak of Adam and Even being naked, and not ashamed (Ge 2:25). (John Paul II 2006, 163) By nature the man and the woman were in full communion with each other, and full communion with God (Ge 2:8). The fathers of the church believed Adam and Eve were thereby clothed with the glory of God.
The obvious question is whether the idea of the original and prototypical humanity being clothed with the glory of God has any scriptural foundation. In the introduction to Robert Alter’s translation of Psalms, he notes the way the language of Psalms presents the idea of light’s being a mythological property of deity, of God wearing light as a garment, and of God stretching out the heavens as a garment.
God, as we noted in a verse quoted from Psalm 27[ii], is associated with light — in that instance, because light, archetypically, means safety and rescue to those plunged in fearful darkness, but also because radiance is a mythological property of deities and monarchs. Psalm 104 is a magnificent celebration of God as king of the vast panorama of creation. It begins by imagining God in the act of putting on royal raiment: “Grandeur and glory you don” (hod wehadar lavashta). The psalmist then goes on: “Wrapped in light like a cloak, / stretching out the heavens like a tentcloth” (verse 2). What makes the familiar figure of light for the divinity so effective is its fusion with the metaphor of clothing. The poet, having represented God donning regalia, envisages Him wrapping Himself in a garment of pure light (the Hebrew verb used here is actually in the active mode, “wrapping”). Then, associatively continuing the metaphor of fabrics, he has God “stretching out the heavens like a tent-cloth,” the bright sky above becoming an extension of the radiance that envelopes God. (Alter 2007, xxviii)
The association of God with light is the source for the phrase describing Jesus Christ as “light from light” in the Nicene Creed. Since Sacred Scripture speaks of God being clothed in light, and of spreading out the heavens like a tentcloth, it is only natural to extend that idea to original and prototypical humanity. Ephrem the Syrian writes: “God clothed Adam in glory”; and again: “It was because of the glory with which they were clothed that they were not ashamed. It was when this glory was stripped from them after they had transgressed the commandment that they were ashamed because they were naked” (St Ephrem the Syrian n.d., 99, 106) In like manner, Chrysostom writes: “[W]hile sin and disobedience had not yet come on the scene, they were clad in that glory from above which caused them no shame. But after the breaking of the law, then entered the scene both shame and awareness of their nakedness.” (Louth, Conti and Oden, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament I, Genesis 1-11 2001, 72)
The 17th century mystic Jacom Böhme remarks:
Man should have walked naked upon the earth, for the heavenly [part] penetrated the outward, and was his clothing. He stood in great beauty, glory, joy and delight, in a childlike mind; he should have eaten and drunk in a magical manner; not into the body, as now, but in the mouth there was the separation; for so likewise was the fruit of Paradise. (Böhme 2009)
Such was the state of humanity in Paradise. Yet once Adam had sinned and the glory of God had departed from him, it was immediately clear to him that he no longer belonged in Paradise. St. Ephrem the Syrian, explains this in the seventh verse of his second Hymn on Paradise,:
At its boundary I saw
figs, growing in a sheltered place,
from which crowns were made that adorned
the brows of the guilty pair,
while there leaves blushed, as it were,
for him who was stripped naked:
there leaves were required for those two
who had lost their garments;
although they covered Adam,
still they made him blush with shame and repent,
because, in a place of such splendor,
a man who is naked is filled with shame. (St Ephrem the Syrian 1989, 87)
There are striking parallels between this hymn and the account of the Philistines capturing the ark — how the pregnant wife of Phineas, upon hearing this, gave birth. “And she named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel” (I Sam 4:21). It is only after the fall, after the glory has departed, and after full communion of persons has been lost, that the man and the woman objectified each other as individuals rather than persons partaking of the same nature; in their fallen state they saw themselves as naked before each other and before God. (Lossky, The Creation 1989, 77)
The reader will no doubt be reminded of how the ark of the covenant was shrouded in the “thick darkness” of the Holy of Holies (I Kings 8:12); and of how in Ezekiel chapters 8-10, the prophet is given a vision of the glory of God, the defilement of the temple, and how the glory of God departed from the temple as a consequence for Israel’s sin. In this manner we come to the understanding that the glory with which Adam and Eve were clothed, or overshadowed, is natural to mankind in the state of original righteousness, a state of communion with God. We also understand that the glory of God, with which they were clothed, would quite rightly depart as a consequence of Adam’s sin. In this context, we note that after the Babylonian captivity and the rebuilding of the temple, Ezra makes no mention of the glory of God returning, filling the temple, and overshadowing the ark. Instead, the return of the Shekinah glory came at the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel informed the blessed virgin that the Holy Ghost would come upon her and the power of the highest would overshadow her. What we see at the annunciation (and in Revelation 12), is the blessed virgin clothed with the glory of God, as was Eve in the garden — which points to the incarnation as the inauguration of God’s plan for reconciliation and recreation, for the reestablishment of that perfect communion between God and man, and between each human person.
Alter, Robert. The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2007.
Böhme, Jacom. “Mysterium Magnum (part one).” Gnosis research. October 9, 2009. http://meuser.awardspace.com/Boehme/Jacob-Boehme-Mysterium-Magnum-part-one-free-electronic-text.pdf (accessed November 15, 2010).
John Paul II. Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body. Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2006.
Lossky, Vladimir. “The Creation.” In Orthodox Theology: An Introduction, by Vladimir Lossky, edited by Ian Kesarcodi-Watson, & Ihita Kesarcodi-Watson, 51-78. Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1989.
Louth, Andrew, Marco Conti, and Thomas C. Oden. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament I, Genesis 1-11. Vol. 1. 28 vols. Westmont: InterVarsity Press, 2001.
St Ephrem the Syrian. “Commentary on Genesis.” Scribd.com. n.d. http://www.scribd.com/doc/56174298/St-Ephraim-the-Syrian-Commentary-on-Genesis (accessed June 9, 2013).
—. Hymns on Paradise. Translated by Sebastion Brock. Crestwood: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1989.
[i] On the nature of the sign and the thing signified, Karl Barth notes: “Sign and thing signified, the outward and the inward, are, as a rule, strictly distinguished in the Bible, and certainly in other connexions we cannot lay sufficient stress upon the distinction. But they are never separated in such a (“liberal”) way that according to preference the one may be easily retained without the other.” (Barth 1956, 179) In other words, the sign always points to the thing signified. However, if we believe in the thing signified, we have to accept the sign as well—as, for example, with the virgin birth being the sign of the incarnation (Isa 7:14).
[ii] The Lord is my light and my rescue.
Whom should I fear?
The Lord is my life’s stronghold.
Of whom should I be afraid?
Ps 27:1, Robert Alter’s translation (Alter 2007, xxv-xxvi; 91)