The Original Revelation Made To Adam and Eve

Anthony Zimmerman
Published in Fidelity Magazine
December 1995
Reproduced with Permission

Pope John Paul II appealed to Christians, in Ut Unum Sint, to strive for a great unification by the year 2000. The same Pope has been making an even wider appeal to all members of the human race to celebrate a home-coming in the Catholic Church. The Pope notes that God gave to our first parents that "most ancient word of revelation" which "has not lost its force" for us today (cf. General Audience 19 September 1979).

That original revelation given to our race at its beginning can be used as a placard to invite the peoples of Village Earth to a Catholic open-house celebration in the year 2000.

The Fathers of Vatican II describe this primeval revelation as the gift by which God opens for all peoples the way to heaven:

God...wishing to open up the way to heavenly salvation, manifested himself to our first parents from the very beginning. After the fall, he buoyed them up with the hope of salvation, by promising redemption (cf. Gen 3:15); and he has never ceased to take care of the human race. For he wishes to give eternal life to all those who seek salvation by patience and well-doing (cf. Rom 2:6-7). In his own time God called Abraham and made him into a great nation" (Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, No.3).

The fact that God made heaven possible for our first parents induced St. Augustine to observe that Christianity "already existed at the beginning of the human race" (Retract, I,13,3). This somewhat startling declaration of the great Augustine is quoted with approval in a recent magisterial document, "Dialogue and Proclamation" (19 May 1991, No. 26). The document underlines the tradition that the mystery of Christ was active in Eden:

Irenaeus distinguishes four "covenants" given by God to the human race: in Adam, in Noah, in Moses, and in Jesus Christ (Adv. Haer., 3,11,8). This same patristic current, whose importance is not to be underestimated, may be said to culminate in Augustine who in his later works stressed the universal presence and influence of the mystery of Christ even before the incarnation. In fulfillment of His plan of salvation, God, in His Son, has reached out to the whole of humankind. Thus, in a certain sense, Christianity already existed "at the beginning of the human race" (DP 26).

Can we know more about the specifics of that first revelation made to our common ancestors? Although they lost their original gift of sanctifying grace by sinning, they did not thereby lose their faith nor forget the primeval revelation which they dutifully passed on to posterity.

We know, first of all, that our first parents were not polytheists. The words which God spoke later to Moses were basically those which He must have revealed to our first parents: "I, the Lord, am your God" (Ex 20:2). That basic revelation is construed to be a necessary part of the package of the original endowment of holiness and justice. For God would not give them this supernatural gift and destination without instructing them about its meaning for them.

Secondly, we know that their marriage was monogamous. Christ declared apodictically to the Pharisees: "Have you not read that at the beginning God made them male and female and declared ... `and the two shall become as one'?" (Mt 19:4,5).

The dogma on original sin defined by the Council of Trent in 1546 enables us to conclude many other wonderful things about our first parents. The dogma is a rich mine from which various truths about the original revelation can be extracted. The fact that God endowed our first parents with holiness and justice - that is with sanctifying grace - implies that they were not wild and lawless savages. Rather, they had an initial knowledge of God which was brilliant and crystal clear, surpassing in excellence the highest philosophical speculations of Greece and Rome.

And when God invited them to live as His children, he presumably gave them "ten commandments" of Eden, mapping out for them the road to heaven. In short, the "Eden catechism" revealed by God must have been comprehensive to cover the basics of the way of human life as preparation for eternal glory. There was no written 688 page Catechism of the Catholic Church to be sure, but God revealed Himself to them personally, and told them about expectations concerning faith, morals, rituals, and prayer.

Museum caricatures of a male dragging a female into a cave miss the truth about the beginnings of our race. Pope John Paul's characterization of their initial ideal family life (Wednesday Audiences, September 1979 - April 1980) indicate the truth more accurately. It was they who began orderly family and civic life on earth in their initial community of love.


A submerged but commonly felt "folk religion" which is basically monotheistic surfaces easily in Japan, especially during rituals accompanying the major life passages. A subtle monotheism is apparently shared by all, unaffected by overlays of other religions; of Buddhism, Shintoism, Taoism, Confucianism, Animism, and the new religions. Might this be a persistent echo of a monotheism once proclaimed in Eden, now submerged by thick layers of cultural accretions?

Characteristically Japanese do not begin a meal without first saying: "Itadakimasu," which literally means "I humbly receive this from above." Ideally, no one touches the meal until all have said this, with a bow of the head and with hands folded. It may be only a polite gesture to the host, it may be a ritualized cultural formula, but if taken literally and interpreted in the light of the accompanying gestures, it may also be an unabashed expression of thanks to God for the gift of food. Typically, mothers and fathers do it before meals and teach the children to make the reverence with them.

Tragedies and major events in Japan typically become occasions of common prayer. Survivors of the Great Hanshin Earthquake gathered recently to commemorate the departure of their relatives and to pray for their eternal rest. If a student in school dies, teachers and pupils assemble to pray. At the sound of a bell or other signal, all become silent and take a reverential attitude - bowing heads and folding hands or immobilizing hands at the side. After a minute, another signal is given to end the prayer. Eulogizers and mourners routinely pray that the soul of the departed may find peace. To omit praying for the deceased would be a crude transgression of Japanese culture.

Tens of millions begin the New Year at a Shinto shrine. Perhaps 80 million eventually clap their hands to pray at a shrine during the first week of the year, parents bringing their children with them. Shinto shrines typically perform the "baptisms" and blessings for children, whereas Buddhist temples do the funeral ceremonies and prayers for the deceased.

Shinto formerly monopolized weddings, but during the last several decades Catholic churches acquired a cultural niche. Many non-Christians come to our churches for marriage instructions and ceremonies. More recently, hotels have a chapel room with a Christian setting; couples marry there in a ceremony which has many of the trappings of marriage in a Catholic church.

The novel cultural innovation sometimes hits a snag. A Japanese bride traditionally departs from her home and family and Buddhist temple, to enter fully into that of her husband. Or vice versa if the man marries into the bride's family and accepts her family name and inheritance, as is sometimes done when a family has no male descendent. Does a Christian style marriage complicate assumed family affairs in the next world? Will the family ancestors accept them into their company when they arrive into the next world? This appears to be no problem in general; but if one of the party is Christian, and the other Buddhist, a certain unease may arise, and this can become an obstacle for marriage. It is one reason why Catholic sisters sometimes advise Catholic girls in school to postpone Baptism until after marriage. Which then becomes, in most cases, a terminal postponement.

The most popular choral singing in Japan is Beethoven's composition of the "Lied zu Freude" in Symphony No. Nine. Seven hundred choirs and more practice it and then break into full melody with the song, typically around New Year time. "We are brothers and sisters under one God" they sing with shining faces and exalted spirits. Handel's Halleluia chorus, expressing the triumphant joys of heaven, is perhaps next in choral popularity.

In Nagoya two of the temples have special services on alternate Tuesdays, which elderly people attend in vast numbers. The subways are packed on those days with senior citizens who alight at the nearest stations. For what do they pray? For a "Pokkuri" departure. For a death as quick as clapping of the hands while pronouncing "Pokkuri." They pray that when they die, it should not be a long, painful, drawn out, expensive affair, but a swift and happy take off into the next world. To whom do they pray? Perhaps they don't address God as directly as Catholics do. More diffusely, they may pray to "Whoever up there is in charge of life and death." Perhaps they pray to God; or perhaps to an intermediary. The ancient Ainu culture, for example, taught that it would be impolite to bother the Supreme Being with minor specific requests, because He has established channels: people should first pray to the established intermediaries in charge, and to the Supreme Being only as a last resort (see the Venerable Dr. John Bachelor, The Ainu and Their Folklore, pp. 577-578).

I hasten to add that Japanese who live this folklore religion appear to picture the Supreme Being as distant and separate from the daily events of human life. The typical concept makes of Him a "Deus Otiosus" who is detached and distant, not greatly concerned with human events. Regrettably, there is too little evidence in Japan of praying directly to the Creator; and still less evidence of keeping the ten commandments out of conscious fear of the Lord. Business and social conventions, rather than conscious fear of the Lord God, tend to emulsify good behavior of the citizens and to keep it confined within the container of Japanese culture.

One convert confided to me that it would have been easier for him to endure the death of his son if he had not become Catholic. Now the distraught father had to deal with the pain of asking how a good God can allow this. What had he done wrong to deserve this? Had he not become Catholic, he said, he would have expected no answer, but would have simply called it fate. Christianity raises human expectations, deepens profundities of human character, and enlivens the drama of living. By sharpening within us the image of God, we add new dimensions to our ability to love, to grieve, to demand justice and peace. Non-Christian cultures tend to be more subdued, diffuse, and superficial in comparison.

A cultural overlay which obscures the fact that God expects humans to keep His commandments is one reason why even the Catholic clergy in Japan are apparently not much concerned with abortion and contraception. Japanese culture tends to obfuscate the fact that God takes offense when we break the commandments. The Deus Otiosus is far away, detached from interest in our daily lives. (But the silence of Catholic clergy about abortion and contraception is a weakness, a "blushing for the Eden Covenant," which is a disservice to the nation. Catholics can do better.)


We can pause to select only a few samples of Creation Myths and related subjects from around the world. We begin with the Maidu Indians, who inhabited an area north of Sacramento City, California, who account for the origin of evil in this way:

After this Kodoyampeh sent on the earth the man whom he had created to gather food from the face of it. Now, before this all the game and all the fish, the grasshoppers, the birds of the air, and the insects of the earth had been tame, so that a man had only to reach forth his hand among them and take whatever he wished for his food... One injunction only he laid upon him, and that was that he should bring home to his house whatever he wished to cook, and not kindle a fire in the woods. So the man went out to catch game, but the devil saw him and told him to cook in the woods whatever he wished. And he did so. Therefore all the game and all the fish, all the grasshoppers, the birds and the insects, when they saw the smoke in the woods became wild... (Stephen Powers, "Tribes of California," 293-294).

The animals were tame before the sin, but wild after it; the fertile earth became relatively sterile; the constant ideal climate which had until them been "always the same year round," became capricious: "but now there was frost, and rain, and fog, and wind, and heat, and drought, together with pleasant days" (ibid.). In this Maidu tradition, humans were initially in paradise, but brought upon themselves the various hardships by reason of their disobedience.

The Maidu, as many other Indian tribes, told how the soul, after death, travels to the sky, either along the path of the sun, or on the Milky Way. At the fork of the stream of stars in the Milky Way, the good continue along the main stream to reach the abode of the Creator; whereas the evil shift to the branch which ends soon. They never reach the place of happiness (see A.L.Kroeber, 439-440; see the writer's The Religion of Adam and Eve, for additional myths of North American Indians).


Australian Aborigines who once inhabited the area where Melbourne tell how Punjil first fashioned from clay the bodies of two men and breathed life into them; he did likewise for two women; then brought partners to each other for marriage. The epic story then tells how the Creator and His assistant instructed these first families about things they must know.

For three blissful days thereafter the Creator and His assistant spent time on earth with these first couples. Punjil and His assistant spoke with them, introducing them to the world He had created, and instructing them about all they should know about life; he taught men about skills of hunting and women about the art of gathering with pointed sticks.

The creation story now rises to a majestic and stirring climax: a storm breaks; the storm grows in intensity, once, twice, three times; at the height of the storm's power Punjil and His assistant rise into the winds and pass far, far away into the air (Cf. Brough-Smythe, The Aborigines of Victoria, I,423-424).

Now the couples are alone; they are sad; the song resonates the painful longing with which they gaze upward to where their Punjil has gone, who had placed them into this world and taught them how to live and labor there (see Wilhelm Schmidt, Ursprung der Gottes Idee, III, 680; cf. Zimmerman The Religion of Adam and Eve, 70 ff.).

The place of the good in the next world is everywhere said, among these hunter-gatherers of South East Australia, to be heaven where the Supreme Being Himself dwells (see Schmidt, Ursprung III, 1098-1100).


"Basically, in African traditional religions, there is a belief in God, one God; then Spirits, good and bad; and ancestors. And there is a cult of all three: God, spirits and ancestors, but never put at the same level." So spoke Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze (Interview, Inside the Vatican, April, 1994). This eminent native African, who is also President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious dialogue, thus attests to the overall worship of the Supreme Being by Africans which is traditional and contemporary.

"The traditional religion [practiced in Africa] is rich in values, very close to the Christian Faith. Detailed examination of all that unites us encourages adherence to Christianity." So spoke Bishop Settimo Arturo Ferrazzetta, O.F.M. of Guinea Bissau, to the assembled bishops of the African Synod, 22 April, 1994. His sanguine appraisal about the line of continuity from the traditional African religions to Christianity is verified by the multitudes of conversions of Africans to Christianity in recent decades. They are finding Christianity as the fulfillment of their inherited religious traditions and practices.

R.C. Mitchell, in African Primal Religions pp. 23-24 summarizes the basic monotheism of African Traditional Religions as follows:

Every African people has a belief in a Supreme Being which is central to its religion... Although this Supreme Being is known by many names, the qualities attributed to him by the various peoples are quite similar... (They call Him) the All-powerful, the Creator, the Giver of Rain and Sunshine, the Owner of All Things, The God of the World... This sense of God as transcendent, the all-powerful creator deity is very important in African thought. It is expressed most fully in the creation myths of the various African peoples who have such myths.


Hunter-gatherers of Tierra del Fuego address the Supreme Being as "Our Father." So do the Lenape Indians, who likewise maintain that departed souls of those who lead a good life can follow the "white thread" made by these virtues to find the way to the happy hunting ground. The Blackfoot Indians told about the Ancient of Days "who came from the south, traveling north. As he moved along he made the mountains, plains, timber and brush, putting rivers here and there, fixing up the world as we see it today" (Dee Brown's Folktales of the Native American, p. 59.) If ancient native peoples knew the Supreme Being so well, we can look hopefully for signs in all human cultures, perhaps buried now under layers of other pressing concerns, of knowledge about the Supreme Being and respect for Him.

Whether the core message of the creation traditions of hunter-gatherers date back to the original revelation which God made to our first parents, or whether God revealed Himself to various hunter-gatherers time and again during the course of thousands of generations, is open to our reflection. Genesis relates how Abraham took it for granted that the people he dealt with knew God (Gen 12-23: King Abimelech of Egypt, King Melchisedek of Salem, Phicol the commander of the Egyptian army, and Ephron the Hittite. Whatever minor gods some of them may have worshiped, all recognized the God whom Abraham worshiped as the Supreme Lord. We should lay to rest the myth that the human race was polytheistic before it graduated to monotheism.

We ask, then, whether the hunter-gatherers of North America, South America, Australia, Asia, and Africa all received separate revelations about the Supreme Being; or might they all have kept, to a certain extent, belief in the original revelation which was made to the ancestors of Homo Sapiens, the people we call our Adam and Eve?


A revelation about God's existence, and about the meaning of human life, fill a great need felt by peoples everywhere. For man passionately seeks to know what purpose his life has, how he began, and what will happen to him after death. And he desires enduringly to act in accordance with his deepest yearnings and insights. As the towering anthropologist Wilhelm Schmidt observes compellingly, knowledge about the Supreme Being, once grasped by humans, has an in-built tendency to perpetuate itself; for man continuously searches for those very items of truth which revelation teaches with certainty, with limpid lucidity, and with convincing finality (cf. Schmidt, Handbuch Der Vergleichende Religionsgeschchte, 282-283).

We have good reason to believe, then, that once God revealed Himself to our first parents - which He certainly did - thereafter self-perpetuating mechanisms inherent in the revelation went into operation. Of course, this implies continuous support from God to keep the revelation alive in man, and to assist him to live in accord with his primeval calling.


Although our Homo Sapiens race launched itself in the one single geographic locality - whether in Africa or Asia - in which God granted them the primeval revelation, subsequent generations fanned out eventually into all the continents, even to the edges of the habitable world. We may well believe that they carried with them everywhere the good news of the primeval revelation. This very important fact is too much neglected in our seminary courses and on the pulpit. Greater awareness of our ancestral faith can give us more courage to speak about God to people who do not go to any church, and to expose the nonsense of Darwinism.

What can we Catholics do today, to invite all children of Adam and Eve to an open-house festival in the year 2000? In Veritatis Splendor the Pope rejects relativism and stands on the rock of unchanging truth. In Evangelium Vitae he celebrates life and rebuffs the culture of death. In Ut Unum Sint he invites Christians to practice mutual forgiveness and to pray and take effective action to achieve Christian religious unity.

To prepare a Catholic open-house festival in the year 2000 to which we can welcome the entire human race, we ought first of all make the contents of these three outstanding Encyclicals our own. And to help in a practical manner, I think we ought to do all we can to rid the world of abortion and contraception, for these spiritual epidemics make the mind of the world dull and insensitive to finer human potentialities. In addition to the other preparations for the year 2000 which the Pope has initiated, these Encyclicals invite us to: 1) reject what is intrinsically evil, especially abortion and contraception; 2) promote a culture of life by welcoming motherhood and babies; 3) rally to God's insistent call that we Christians get our act together, and extend a hand of welcome to all who believe in the original revelation given in the Garden of Eden.