Eve: The Perfect Gift

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The following was a college essay written by Lizzie Self. It has been edited and approved by Ariel Hobbs. If you have a Theology essay that you would like published that received a grade of an A- or higher, please be sure to contact us.

Written by Lizzie Self, University of Notre Dame

Raphael and Adam’s discussion of Creation reveals the natural inclination of human beings toward relationship. The crux of their conversation, Eve, is understood differently by the two of them because of their different natures. While Raphael recognizes her beauty, he cannot see as Adam does that she is necessary for Adam’s progression in holiness and life with the Father. Although Raphael seems to predict accurately that Eve will cause the fall of man, such a reduction of her role in human history undermines an appreciation of the God-given gift that she is. It is just that God gives Eve to Adam because of how He designed Adam’s nature, and she is a necessary gift in that she complements him in his humanity and makes their breed more honorable and beautiful, and she challenges him to be more virtuous. Understanding her prelapsarian goodness is part of a theodicy; God neither creates Eve so Adam will fall nor does he give a faulty gift, but He bestows on Adam the only thing that could make him a better man.

Eve fits in naturally to Raphael and Adam’s conversation of God’s cosmic design. In Book VIII, Raphael continues his recounting of the Creation of the world and Adam, eager to keep his company, picks up when Raphael leaves off with what he has seen of Creation since his first awakening. Raphael had been absent on God’s errand for this episode and listens with interest. Adam speaks of his first encounters with the Father and the creation of woman. Adam says that these are lower things than Raphael’s Creation account, but Adam feels that they have more to teach him about how he ought to live—specifically, in relation to the Father and Eve—and he is eager to discuss them:

let us descend
A lower flight, and speak of things at hand
now hear me relate
My story. (Paradise Lost 8.198-200, 204-205)

This turn from celestial things is an important sign of the character of man. Adam had sought to understand why the world seems less ordered and perfect than it could be, hence Raphael’s lessons (8.8-38). Their conversation inevitably turns to the creation of human relationship, the most interesting thing in the world to Adam. This turn is not a dismissal of Adam’s earlier purpose but is a result of Adam intuiting that Eve has something to do with his experience of God’s justice. Eve is lovingly given by God to Adam, because he and Eve can become wiser and holier together.

The pleasure with which God reacts to Adam’s request for a partner suggests that this—his experience of lack—is a test God has devised for Adam, to see if he is sensible of the fact that he could honor God more perfectly. Adam asks for a partner who would be a religious concelebrant:

how may I
Adore thee, Author of this universe,
And all this good to man, for whose well-being
So amply, and with hands so liberal
Thou hast provided all things: but with me
I see not who partakes. (8.359-364)

This sort of fellowship is below God, who is complete and needs no equal (8.405-407), but it characterizes all created things, from heavenly bodies to animals such as lions (8.392-393). Raphael tells Adam he can observe in the suns and moons “male and female light, / Which two great sexes animate the world” (8.150-151). Thus Adam “emboldened spake,” justly demanding a reciprocate, and he even seems to understand woman’s purpose (8.434). He notes that existing singularly is a deficiency in himself, that he needs another to make him happy whereas God does not, and Adam is aware that more awaits him than pleasure. Adam knows God “Canst raise thy creature to what height thou wilt / Of union or communion, deified” (8.429-431). Even before the good of the Garden of Eden is lost, Adam has some notion of holiness and Eve’s role in achieving it. Man is below God because of his dependence on relationship, but with the gift of Eve God proves His providential care for Creation.

While they might agree that like all animals Adam needs a partner for procreation, Adam and Raphael disagree about whether or not Eve is a unique gift who deserves more of Adam’s attention. When God first leads Eve before Adam in a rather sacramental fashion, Adam recognizes the fulfillment of his natural desire, and he is overcome by their first experience of passionate love (8.510-533). Raphael’s interruption at this point in Adam’s recounting reveals that angels might not appreciate the gift of the human conjugal act and cannot differentiate between it and bestial intercourse, and Eve’s beauty quickly raises the question of whether or not she has a larger role to play in Adam’s life (8.620-629). Eve’s entrance presents something that is unprecedented and mysterious even for the angels.

Even though Raphael acknowledges Eve’s beauty—“Fair no doubt, and worthy well / Thy cherishing, thy honoring, and thy love”—he still asks Adam, “For what admir’st thou, what transports thee so, / An outside?” (8.567-569) Because he is not a human being, Raphael cannot appreciate her as Adam can; whereas Eve can help Adam in holiness, Raphael’s relationship with the Father is of another kind. Adam in his innocence defends his attraction to Eve earnestly, and he replies to Raphael’s warnings, “To love thou blam’st me not, for love thou say’st / Leads up to Heav’n, is both the way and the guide” (7.612-613). Adam trusts his natural desire for Eve, because he knows that God Himself wills it and satisfies it. If God put Adam to a test by allowing him to experience life without her, then he must bring her in for a greater role than mere reproduction; if Adam belongs among the other animals and his relationship with Eve is likewise bestial, as Raphael suggests, perhaps they would have also been made as a set. Man has dominion over earth and beasts, but God did not quit His great act of Creation after Adam. As if God had saved the best for last, Eve’s beauty is so great that when Adam first sees her, he thinks “That what seemed fair in all the world, seemed now / Mean, or in her summed up” (8.472-473). Adam’s natural and immediate judgments hold true. When he first awakes, he intuits that he ought to seek his Maker (8.278-282). His first reaction to Eve is just as true, and from then on he considers his relationship with her above all other things.

Eve in time shows herself to be a pillar of virtue necessary for Adam’s progression in holiness. He observes that:

Authority and reason on her wait,
As one intended first, not after made
Occasionally; and to consummate all,
Greatness of mind and nobleness their seat
Build in her loveliest, and create an awe
About her, as a guard angelic placed. (8.554-559)

She is a new creation, not just a female counterpart of Adam, and her greatness drives him to a higher way of life. Her natural tendencies affirm that their bond and work are unlike angels’ and she shows that for humans there is a different kind of existence and a different way to unity with the Father. She exhibits obedience and humility as she sits by as Raphael teaches Adam about the heavens. Eve, uninvolved and at ease, exhibits a holy mindfulness. She gets up from their place of conversation to enjoy the Garden:

Yet went she not, as not with such discourse
Delighted, or not capable her ear
Of what was high: such pleasures she reserved,
Adam relating, she sole auditress;
Her husband the relater she preferred
before the angel. (8.48-53)

Her intelligence equals Adam’s, and she likewise knows the world to be a marvelous reflection of their Maker, who deserves their love and obedience. But she prefers to receive communication of these things through her spouse. She opts into the humility of relationship, and despite himself Raphael acknowledges Eve’s goodness and hopes Adam might also be “lowly wise” (8.173). Raphael encourages Adam to esteem his wife and be conscious of his own conduct, saying “with honor thou may’st love / Thy mate, who sees when thou art seen least wise” (8.577-578). In this way, Eve’s presence humbles Adam and he can be grateful for her patience in some of his more foolish moments. Eve’s departure from Raphael and Adam’s conversation mirrors Adam’s interest in turning the conversation with Raphael from celestial to personal things. Adam and Eve are attracted to the same virtue, which is deepened and beautified by Eve’s femininity, the same kind of discourse, and Eve more than Adam embodies what is uniquely human and domestic.

Eve’s virtue proves active when she offers Adam the gift of discourse that can heighten his mind and ensure the proper expenditure of his time and energy. Adam, enamored, says that

so absolute she seems
And in herself complete, so well to know
Her own, that what she wills to do or say,
Seems wisest virtuousest, discreetest, best;
All higher knowledge in her presence falls
Degraded, wisdom in discourse with her
Looses discount’nanced and like folly shows. (8.546-553)

This admiration of virtue and thrill of relationship would be an unimaginable experience for Raphael, and Adam and Eve’s conversation is a joy all their own. Raphael knows that it is in Adam’s nature to learn about virtue by discursive reasoning, and he hopes that eventually the man might become more like himself and not need such  discourse: “time may come when men / With angels may participate, and find / No inconvenient diet, nor too light fare” (5.487-489,493-495). Raphael does not grasp that God did not make man imperfect by endowing him with discursive reason. Because Eve can more fully appreciate Adam’s nature than Raphael, their conversation means more to them than any they might have with Raphael or another creature.

God had promised Adam a helper for the Garden, and Eve proves to be a better wife than Adam could have imagined. For a while, they flourish. Eden is “her nursery,” their relationship is characterized by incomparable “love and mutual honor,” and her assessment of their place is practical and helpful (8.46,58). It is in good faith that she is concerned about tending to the Garden and not wasting the goods God has so generously lavished on them. She hopes Adam will defer to her judgment and asks, “Thou therefore now advise / Or hear what to my mind first thoughts present; / Let us divide our labors” (9.212-214). This is a thoughtful proposition, because she wisely notices that they distract each other from their work:

what wonder if so near
Looks intervene and smiles, or objects new
Casual discourse draw on, which intermits
Our day’s work brought to little. (8.221-224)

Of course she relishes his company and enjoys rest from their labor, but she wishes to reserve their discourse for when their attention is undivided and it can be most fruitful. Comically, Adam is more interested in the labor of procreation than weeding and tilling the land, and less comically he offends her when he rejects her solution. Her womanly sense of responsibility tests his inclination for passivity. As a gift, she ought to be honored and received by Adam. Although a revelation of God’s generosity and hopes for Adam, she is likewise a free and feeling creature and expects Adam’s reciprocate effort and virtue.

Eve is the best gift God could have given to Adam. The happiness they experience in their first embrace and labors in the Garden of Eden is the pure joy of living within God’s will and a revelation of divine design and justice. Eve completes Adam, magnifying his virtue and introducing to the world what is unique to woman. She amazes and challenges Adam, and Raphael underappreciated her not because he was divine and she was not, but because she was an entirely new creation. In each other’s company Adam and Eve draw closer to the Father, and the nuances of human relationship—particularly communication—are treasures as much as they are work. God is just for making Eve as He did, and every new challenge her presence raises in the Garden of Eden is repaid with love.

Edited By: Ariel Hobbs

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