Saints Adam and Eve?

Anthony Zimmerman
Dec. 31, 1999
2926 words
Unpublished manuscript
Reproduced with Permission

Before Vatican II, so I thought until recently, Adam and Eve were celebrated as saints in the Church. St. Michael's Calendar listed their names on December 24th, when Eves and Adams also celebrated name days. Naively, I asked Rome to "restore" the feast.

Rome's answer: One cannot "restore" what didn't exist before. No liturgical commemoration of Saints Adam and Eve has existed as such in the Roman Liturgy, and their names are not found in the Martyrology.

But the letter didn't end there. On the contrary, the letter indicated interest in the subject. It mentioned the possibility of an eventual study and discussion that a commemoration of all the Saints who lived before Christ might be included in a future Martyrology. There was even mention of a Byzantine Liturgy, fixed on the Sunday before Christmas.

What reasons can we can come up with to promote the canonization of our Adam and Eve? Plenty, I believe.


First of all, the new Catechism highlights the crucial teaching of the Church that God revealed Himself to our first parents and adopted them into the Divine Family. Furthermore, their subsequent sin did not undo the primeval revelation nor render it less relevant:

54:"God...wishing to open up the way to heavenly salvation...manifested himself to our first parents from the very beginning. He invited them to intimate communion with himself and clothed them with resplendent grace and justice." 55: This revelation was not broken off by our first parents' sin..."

God's gift of the primeval revelation made to Adam and Eve is a tremendous boon for all of humanity. Through it we can believe that God loves us, and that He invites us to heaven. All the earth has knowledge of God. No respectable son or daughter of our ancient forefathers ought to harbor ideas of atheism. That breaks a sacred family tradition.

No king, no president, no village mayor is entitled to ignore the primeval revelation, even if one does not know Christ. The "Ten Commandments of Eden" are an inheritance of our entire human family, separation of State from established religions notwithstanding. Adam and Eve model for us two essential duties: 1) obedience to God and 2) organization of civic life.

Genesis tells us that the first family was established for life. Christ re-confirmed monogamy as suitable for all times and places:

Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one?" So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder (Mt 19:4-6; RSV version used throughout this writing).

Adam and Eve knew one religion only, and it was not pluralistic. They prayed some form of the "our Father." They looked for Christ over the horizon. Today we are Catholics, we are Protestants, Buddhists, Shintoists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Mormans, Jehovah's Witnesses. What remains true for all of us, however, is the fact that we are children of Adam and Eve to whom God revealed Himself as Lord and Creator.

It would be helpful for our race to put aside differences for one day of the year to celebrate our common origin and belief. A few speakers might inspire us with advice from Paul: "Finally, brethren, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Phil 4:8). We should organize a picnic, check our arms at the entrance, and gather around the table at which Adam and Eve preside.


But, you say, some evolutionists are not so sure that there ever was one original couple of humans. Maybe a herd of animals drifted genetically into an assembly of bipedal humans. We have no guarantee that a historical Adam and Eve ever existed.

To which we answer: If our first ancestors emerged from an animal herd - we use the word if advisedly - they became people because God re-made them. He creates each person individually with an immortal soul. When Adam and Eve first opened their eyes as humans, they knew who they were. They could laugh at the funny things animals did. They could speak with each other, inventing language as they did so. Soon God approached them and spoke with them, revealing to them their destination of heaven.

To be a human means primarily to be an immortal soul animating a body. As the Catechism teaches:

366 The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God - is not "produced" by the parents - and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.

The soul refers to human life, to the entire human person, to the innermost aspect of man. The soul is what is of greatest value to us, that by which we are most especially an image of God (cf. Catechism, 363).

God allows us humans to use animals: to hitch horses to our wagon, to send the dog after the sheep, to eat a good steak. No, we are quite different from animals because God made us special, in His image. Whether God used dust to create Adam, or whether He used improved organic products, He created us human. Animals didn't just become human by self-propelled evolution.

Likely our first ancestors were hunter-gatherers who didn't read and write, who ploughed no fields and kept no herds. But Christ declared that they were a monogamous couple. That itself implies that they were faithful to each other, that they educated their children, that there was love in the first family. Somewhere, sometime, somehow there were first ancestors who began our race of Homo Sapiens. Let the names continue to be Adam and Eve. We are not going to improve on Genesis.


Saint Irenaeus, who lived in the early days of the Church (125-207), gave a positive spin to the story of Adam and Eve. It is positive from beginning to end. The good cheer of Irenaeus must have rubbed off on the new Christians at Lyons, France. He did not deny the sin of our first parents, but he excused them for lack of experience (cf. Adversus Haereses III,22). Then, once converted, they turned 180 degrees and plodded on methodically toward sainthood. Irenaeus pictures Adam doing penance immediately afer his sin. He feared God and made for himself and for Eve a girdle of prickly fig leaves to do penance. Irenaeus draws a halo around Adam by putting these words into his mouth:

I have by disobedience lost that robe of sanctity which I had from the Spirit. I do now also acknowledge that I am deserving of a covering of this nature, which affords no gratification, but which gnaws the flesh.

Adam would have retained this penitential garb during all his life in sorrow for his sin, continues Irenaeus, "if God, who is merciful, had not clothed them with tunics of skins instead of fig leaves" (III, 23,5; trans. Edinburgh Edition). Irenaeus thus taught us that if we sin like Adam and Eve, we should also convert quickly like they did and get on with life.

More: Adam and Eve teach us, continues Irenaeus, to be patient with ourselves and to grow in virtue step by step. The Bishop of Lyons had little respect for virtue that just falls into our laps without any effort on our part. He scolds people for wanting "instant perfection" without working for it. We can't create perfection instantly because we are not God. We have to grow into holiness patiently. The same Irenaeus might scold cultists today to keep their feet on the ground, not to dream of flying off to asteroids or comets. He upheld Adam and Eve for mankind as models, because they learned by experience and took advantage of it:

He learns from experience that disobeying God, which robs him of life, is evil... But how would he have discerned the good without knowing its opposite? For first-hand experience is more certain and reliable than conjecture... The mind acquires the knowledge of the good through the experience of both, and becomes more firmly committed to preserving it by obeying God. First, by penance, he rejects disobedience, because it is bitter and evil. Then he realizes what it really is - the opposite of goodness and sweetness, and so he is never tempted to taste disobedience to God. But if you repudiate this knowledge of both, this twofold faculty of discernment, unwittingly you destroy your humanity (IV, 39,1; trans. Saward).

God permitted these things to happen for our instruction, so that we learn to be prudent in all things, continues Irenaeus. God planned everything ahead of time for our perfection, so that we might one day grow to understand His ways:

How could man ever have known that he was weak and mortal by nature, whereas God was immortal and mighty if he had not had experience of both? To discover his weakness through suffering is not in any sense evil; on the contrary, it is good not to have an erroneous view of one's own nature... The experience of both [good and evil] has produced in man the true knowledge of God and of man, and increased his love for God (V, 3,1; trans. Saward).

Irenaeus is grateful that Adam and Eve pioneered for us the way out of sin and back to God. The Bishop of Lyons, who is also called the Father of Catholic theology, tells us that God most certainly saved Adam from his sin and gave him salvation. That is basic, because the first one to fall must be the first one to live again. That was God's way of undoing the work of the serpent. The pastor of Lyons distances himself decidedly from "heretics" who don't believe that God saved Adam: "But those who deny salvation to Adam gain nothing by this except that they make themselves to be heretics and apostates from the truth, and show that they are advocates of the serpent and of death" (III, 23, 8).


Holy Scripture testifies consistently that Adam (shorthand for Adam and Eve) converted from his sin and became holy. Sirach extols him as the greatest among all people: "Adam above every living being in creation" (Sir 49:16). The Book of Wisdom states that God helped him to convert: "Wisdom protected the first-formed father of the world, when he alone had been created; she delivered him from his transgression, and gave him strength to rule all things" (Wis 10:1-2).

Genesis 3:20 implies that after Adam and Eve had made their confession and received their penance, they were reconciled with each other and resumed marital intercourse: "The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living." God treats them with great consideration after their conversion: "And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them" (Gen 3:20). God didn't just deliver a packet of clothing like the paper boy throws a newspaper on your lawn. God personally sewed the clothes for them in His tailor shop, then hand-delivered them, and finally held them open so that they could put them on.

Eve glowed with satisfaction when she sensed the kindness of God via the experience of motherhood: "I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord" (Gen 4:1) she rejoiced. Again: "God has appointed for me another child instead of Abel, for Cain slew him" (4:25).

Finally, Genesis attributes to Adam a long life. In scriptural parlance, a long life is a sign of God's favor. Adam's life was specially long: "Thus all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years; then he died" (5:5). Scripture credits Adam with high marks after the Fall.

The Evangelist Luke honors Adam by naming him as Christ's first ancestor: "When Jesus began his work he was about thirty years of age, being - so it was supposed - the son of Joseph, son of Heli......son of Seth, son of Adam, son of God" (Luke 3:23...38).

The Liturgy of the Hours dramatizes how Christ, after His death on the cross, lost no time before going down to Limbo to greet Adam and Eve and lead them out of the "waiting room." Excerpts from the Liturgical Office of Reading on Holy Saturday are dramatic:

He has gone to search for our first parent...he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve...The Lord approaches them bearing his cross...At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast...Christ...took him by the hand and raised him up, saying, "Awake, O Sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light."

An eighth century painting on the wall of the lower church of San Clemente in Rome illustrates a sight dear to Christians: Christ reaches out His hand to draw Adam and Eve out of Limbo.


"But Adam and Eve sinned," you say. "How can the Church honor notorious sinners?" The Church does this all the time; think of Peter, of Thomas, of Mary Magdalene. "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her" (Jn 8:7)." The Blessed Virgin Mary is the only saint who was not a sinner.

Maybe we are biased against Adam and Eve because all we think of is their sin. We forget that they are our revered ancestors. That isn't fair! Perhaps we hold a grudge against them because they bounced us out of paradise. But if they had not bounced us, someone else may have done so later. Or we might do so ourselves today. To imagine that we would still be in Paradise if Adam and Eve had not sinned is naive, I believe.

Let us look into the matter more honestly. If we sin in our own lives, despite Baptism, even after hearing the Gospel, after witnessing the holy lives of Christ, of Mary, of so many saints, despite the grace of the Sacraments, the Liturgy, the Church, can we sincerely believe that if Adam and Eve had not sinned, no one after them would have sinned either? If they had not violated the virginal seal of innocence at their time, would another not have done so?

Had Adam and Eve not sinned, neither their children nor we ourselves would have been born confirmed in grace. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), arguably the world's greatest theologian, assures us that there would be no paved road into heaven and no escalator if Adam had not sinned. "Wherefore neither would the parents have transmitted to their descendants the necessity of not sinning, which is only in the blessed" (Summa Theologica, I,100,2). Only the blessed in heaven are confirmed in grace. Even in the absence of original sin, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would tempt us, and the serpent would whisper lies. Adam and Eve sinned, their children sinned, we sin: "If we say we have never sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us" (1 Jn 1:10). We cannot say with certainty that life would be easier for us if Adam and Eve had not sinned.

To our smiling and compassionate first ancestors, who were married, who loved each other, who nurtured and educated their children, we owe our own precious lives. They are like grandparents to every generation. Each child can sit on their knees to learn about the Faith, to hear from them why we are on earth. Through them we are relatives with Christ; with the Christ who gives us a ticket to heaven at Baptism. If we hold on to that ticket, Peter the Gatekeeper will punch it for us at the Golden Gate; with it we can pass through to celebrate an eternal jubilee. Shall we be ungrateful?

A Liturgical Commemoration of Adam and Eve would be an occasion for Catholics and for all the world to celebrate each year our family tree. We could cultivate it as a very special event to shake hands around orbit of our globe. We could become a choir to sing a family song of gratitude to our Creator. Beethoven's "Song to Joy" might be a prime candidate for the global theme song.

If you like the idea, promote it. Send a letter to the Holy Father. Ask him to establish a liturgical commemoration of Adam and Eve. The address is simple: His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, Vatican City, 00120. He is never happier than when he can canonize saints.

Adapted from Chapter 13 of the author's book THE PRIMEVAL REVELATION IN MYTHS AND IN GENESIS, 250 pages, $31.50, University Press of America, 1999, 4720 Boston Way, Lanham, Maryland, 20706. His previous book, published also by UPA, is titled EVOLUTION AND THE SIN IN EDEN. Fr. Zimmerman, born in Westphalia, Iowa, is a retired professor of Moral Theology, Nanzan University, Nagoya, Japan.