The Primeval Revelation and Its Relevance Today

Anthony Zimmerman
Unpublished except on the Internet
February 10, 2000
Reproduced with Permission

The intention of this article is to advocate that the Primeval Revelation in which God "manifested himself to our first parents from the very beginning" and "open(ed) up the way to heavenly salvation" (Catechism of the Catholic Church 54) is alive and well in the human race today. Because God invited our first ancestors "to intimate communion with himself and clothed them with resplendent grace and justice" we find in the Primeval Revelation common ground to share our escatological hopes with peoples of all religions.

I will 1) indicate the fact and importance of the Primeval Revelation, 2) provide examples of belief in the Supreme Being among hunter-gatherers, 3) show widespread belief in the Supreme Being in Traditional Religions as Cardinal Arinze pointed out, as well as in modern cultures, 4) discuss the supernatural origin of widespread belief in the Supreme Being, 5) point to Christ as the one and only operating religious bridge between God and man, 6) discuss whether widespread belief in the Supreme Being is somehow connected with the Primeval Revelation, and finally 7) argue for fuller use of the Primeval Revelation for modern evangelization.

1. The fact and importance of the Primeval Revelation

Two paragraphs, among the 2865 numbers in the CCC, teach that there was indeed a Primeval Revelation, and that it was not broken off by Original Sin

54 "God, who creates and conserves all things by his Word, provides men with constant evidence of himself in created realities. And furthermore, wishing to open up the way to heavenly salvation, he 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 parent's sin. "After the fall, (God) buoyed them up with the hope of salvation by promising redemption; and he has never ceased to show his solicitude for the human race. For he wishes to give eternal life to all those who seek salvation by patience in well-doing."

Because the Primeval Revelation is a heritage common to our race, it overarches Church and State and binds the human race to observe the "Ten Commandments of Eden." Before Christ revealed God to us in Jerusalem, before Jahweh spoke to Moses on Sinai, before God called Abraham out of Ur of Chaldea, many generations before Noah sacrificed to God after the Deluge, and before the human race scattered around the globe after the mythical fiasco of Babel, when our race was young and blessed, God spoke to our Adam and Eve and invited them to walk in His ways and so gain eternal life in heaven.

The CCC clearly mentions the supernatural aspects of that revelation, namely the call to intimacy with God and to heavenly salvation. The recipients of this Revelation are therefore not only children of nature who know God through His works, but who know naught about an open gate to heaven. The God who invited Adam and Eve to heaven, did not cease to call them and their descendants to the same eternal life after Original Sin (see CCC 55 above). He continued this call first of all to Adam and Eve, as Irenaeus the second century theologian points out with passion and devotion

"Therefore, when the enemy was conquered in turn, Adam received life again. `For the last enemy to be destroyed is death' (1 Cor 1526). That could not be written truthfully unless the man who was first overcome by death would be freed from it. His salvation, then, is the emptying of death" (Adv. Haer. III 23,7). "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).

Scripture and Tradition bear ample witness to Adam's salvation. Genesis 320 suggests this by the fact that God made clothing for them and helped them into the clothes. Eve rejoices that God favored her with children (41; 424). Adam lived a long life, which is a biblical index of God's favor"Thus all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years, and he died" (Gen 55). Sirach crowns him as the greatest of humans"But beyond that of any living being was the splendor of Adam" (4916). Christ mentioned with evident approval the first marriage as model for the race (Mt 19, Mark 10). Our Office of Readings of Holy Saturday dramatizes Christ's descent into Limbo to save Adam and Eve. An 8th century painting in the lower church of San Clemente in Rome pictures Christ reaching out to Adam and Eve after His descent to Limbo. Many people invoke Adam and Eve as their patron saints and celebrate on December 24th.

Pope John Paul II does not hesitate today to call the original gift which God gave to Adam and Eve by the name of sanctifying grace

When the Council of Trent teaches that the first Adam lost the holiness and righteousness in which he had been established ... this means that before sin, man possessed sanctifying grace with all the supernatural gifts that make man "righteous" before God. We may sum all this up by saying that, at the beginning, man was in friendship with God (Catechesis, 3 September 1986).

Our first parents, then, lived in a monogamous marriage which is typically associated with a division of labor, lifetime fidelity, and love for each other and for the children. Scripture and Tradition point to love of God as well and faithfulness to His commandments after they had recovered from the Fall. It follows logically that they taught their children diligently about what they had heard from God concerning the duties of life and the hope of eternal life with Him in heaven.

Their lifestyle was likely hunting and gathering, the global style until many peoples turned to herding and agriculture about 10,000 years ago, (anachronisms in Genesis notwithstanding). The hunter and gathering lifestyle typically authenticated monogamous marriage as well as respect for the Creator from whose hand they received their livelihood.

2. Belief in the Supreme Being among hunter-gatherers

The statement made by Roch Kereszty that hunter-gatherers invoked the heavenly father god "only in the most extreme need, when all sacrifices and petitions to ancestral spirits and lesser gods had failed" (Communio, Summer 1999, p. 259) is not verified by the testimony of anthropologists, including first of all Wilhelm Schmidt of the Society of the Divine Word. Indeed, the Supreme Being Himself was for many of them their first love and concern from morning until night. They looked forward keenly to re-union with Him after death, and remained ever aware of this during the daily events of life.

Information on hunter-gatherer myths is massively available in the twelve tomes of anthropologist Father Wilhelm Schmidt, SVD (1868-1954) titled Der Ursprung der Gottes Idee, (Origin of the Idea of God), and in numerous sources which he indicates. Ernest Brandewie, Ph.D., professor of anthropology at Indiana University, translated considerable parts of it from German to English in Wilhelm Schmidt and the Origin of the Idea of God, University Press of America, 1983. I have also translated materials from the Schmidt publications, some of which is reproduced in my book The Primeval Revelation (TPR) published by the same University Press of America (1999).

In Volume VI of Ursprung we find this summary passage describing the longing of typical hunter-gatherers for a re-union with the Supreme Being in the afterlife

The time that the great Supreme Being spent on earth living intimately with man shortly after He, the Boundless Good, had filled His creation with goodness until it overflowed (cf. p. 404) was considered to be the best of all times on this earth, according to the beliefs common to this oldest era. People looked back to this time as to a lost island of bliss with painful longing, a longing they now believe will be satisfied when the souls of the good will live in heaven; life in heaven, not on this earth, will reestablish that golden age. We find glowing descriptions of this coming heavenly paradise among the Maidu, the Lenape-Delaware, the Salis, the Wiradyuri and the Kamilaroi...They give us an idea about the rapture under which the earliest men viewed the heavenly sojourn which the blessed deserve and spend with their Creator and Judge (Ursprung 472, trans. by Ernest Brandewie in Wilhelm Schmidt and the Origin of the Idea of God, p. 272).

We begin our sampling of hunter-gatherer beliefs with tribals of the land of Tierra del Fuego on the tip of South America. How they arrived there after having left the habitat of our first parents we know not - whether from Africa and Asia via the Bering Land Corridor during ice ages and then down, or whether by island hopping across the Pacific, or whether navigating by sea along the edges of ice sheets. At any rate, they had come from afar at some time in the past, and probably very long ago.

"Our Father" Known to the Indians of Tierra del Fuego

Father Martin Gusinde, S.V.D., made four expeditions to the Indians living on the southernmost tip of South America during 1919-1923. At that time he was director of the anthropological section of the State Museum of Santiago. I was privileged to hear experiences directly from him when he taught anthropology at the Catholic University of America while I studied theology during 1956-1960. He tells about the beliefs of the Ona Indians in Schmidt, Der Ursprung Der Gottes Idee, Vol. 2, 892-897. That is, they call themselves Selknam, whereas outsiders call them the Ona tribe. In what follows I draw on one of my earlier works now out of print The Religion of Adam and Eve. The translations from the German are mine. Translations are set off, summaries are not.

The older members of the Ona Indians, who had practically no relations with the Catholic mission and kept themselves distant from the white people, spoke with profound earnestness and absolute conviction about their Supreme Being. The younger members, however, who had much contact with the whites had lost a certain amount of interest, and the Supreme Being appears to have been pushed far into the background of their lives.

The belief of the older natives is described as follows. Supreme Being, called Temaukl, has always been alone, and has no wife nor children. He is a Spirit, a Kaspi, like human beings after they die. He neither eats nor drinks; no one can explain how He keeps Himself alive. He never feels tired, does not sleep. He lives above the firmament beyond the stars. He never comes down to earth, but He sees and knows all that goes on here. No one can hide from Him, because He sees everyone and everything. He hears exactly what everyone says, knows even what one thinks and intends.

It is Temaukl who made the still undifferentiated earth and the empty firmament at the beginning; further arrangements He then delegated to the first human K'enos. Temaukl then withdrew. Others say, however, that Temaukl Himself did some of the detailed work, and then delegated further work to K'enos, the first human. Temaukl rules from above with a power that nobody can oppose, and all have reverence for Him.

Temaukl is the originator of all the prescriptions and regulations by which the lives of individuals are arranged, and by which relations with others are prescribed. He made all these commandments known first of all to K'enos, who was commissioned, in turn, to instruct all the people. Temaukl then oversees the loyal fulfillment of all the commandments, down to this day. The older men, for example, warn the younger against consorting with the wife of another man by telling them"The One Above is always very near; He hears everything that you whisper like that to a woman. He will punish you if you play with the woman and allow yourself to be touched by her. Pain will strike you in the loins. So don't become involved with the wife of another. The One Above is very near and sees you." There is hardly a phrase as frequently heard as this"Temaukl punishes with sickness and with death."

At the time of death the soul of a person, the Kaspi, is called by Temaukl, and goes up to heaven where Temaukl lives. But the Ona Indians know nothing about conditions in heaven, whether they associate with Temaukl, or with each other. They know only that the souls do not return to this earth, so they have no fear of them. It is only the souls of sorcerers who do not go to heaven; these stay on earth to roam about until they enter another sorcerer.

To live peacefully with Temaukl it is necessary to observe all His commandments exactly. Then Temaukl protects the person, who can be very confident.

People offer the first piece of meat to Temaukl as a kind of first fruits sacrifice. "This piece is for you," they say before they eat, casting a piece of meat outside the door.

Prayers are short and to the point"Temaukl, preserve us from grave sickness." "Temaukl, be gracious; do not allow my child to die, who is still so young," They say that prayer is "speaking with the One who lives in Heaven." Temaukl is for them what God is for the Christians, explained Hotex, one of the elders, to Fr. Gusinde.

The Yamana Call Him Watauinewa

The Yamana Indians, another tribe in Tierra del Fuego, are also known as the "Canoe Indians" because they ply canoes skillfully through the many channels of their watery abode. Their beliefs have much in common with those of the Ona tribe, but they call the Supreme Being by the name of Watauinewa. Fr. Gusinde tells how he and Fr. W. Koppers, SVD, finally learned more about their beliefs in Watauinewa, although their informers were reluctant to speak about Him. The passage below is from Ursprung 2, 924 ff.

As many times before, we [Gusinde and Koppers] were together in the laundry room on Monday, January 23, 1923, where three or four elderly Yagan [Yamana] women often told us stories and myths of their tribe. All of a sudden the name Watauinewa tumbled out ...

"And who is this Watauinewa?" The question occasioned no little embarrassment for the women present. No one answered; all cast eyes down or off to the side, as though perplexed. When we insisted, saying that it would be highly interesting for us to hear more about Watauinewa, the elderly Mary finally pulled herself together and said"Watauinewa like God, like Christian God."

The ladies also shared with the researchers some prayer formulas by which they address their Supreme Being; in the course of time the two researchers collected more prayers and grouped them into prayers of complaint, of petition, of thanksgiving, and expressions of reverence. The prayers are vivacious and spontaneous, revealing lively concourse with Watauinewa. Here are a few samples, translated from Ursprung 2, 929 ff. Note that the prayers are a far cry from an appeal to a distant God, a Deus Otiosus withdrawn from daily life of the people. Their God is with them day and night.

Prayers of Remonstration

Prayers of Thanksgiving


Father Koppers explains that some of the words and phrases of the prayers are archaic, suggesting their great age. However, they also extemporize a prayerful expression of their feelings and needs at any time

The lively inner relationship of the Yamana to their Supreme Being expresses itself in these warm and frequent prayers; we see that they bring all of the experiences of their lives, the joyful and the sorrowful, into an interior communication with Him, or of cult towards Him (Ursprung 2, 931).

We askwhence did the Yamana's and the Ona hunter-gatherers of Tierra del Fuego learn to live in such intimate faith with the Supreme Being? Did God reveal Himself to them anew, or did they remember Him from the Primeval Revelation? We will return to these points later.

The Lenape Indians Communal Worship of God

The Lenape tribes who inhabited far-flung areas of the Delaware River Basin made a pact with William Penn, Governor of Pennsylvania in 1682. Their famous creation song called Walam Olum recalls a fleeting image of an idyllic paradise which was invaded to their sorrow by an enemy snake. The writer copied the words from archives in the Ethnology section of the library of the Smithsonian Museum.

Canto I begins with an account of the original formation of the cosmos by the Great Manito, whose name is Kitanitowit. All is peaceful and idyllic as the Great Manito does His initial work, much as in Genesis 1

The verse "At first...the great Manito was (Kitanitowit-essop)" reminds one of the revelation made by God to Moses that God is Jahweh, He who is. Note that Kitanitowit was alone at the beginning, that He formed the heaven and the earth, that He is supreme among all the manitos. Departing from a central point of Genesis, however, the Walam Olum says nothing about a sin of the first man, but speaks only about an evil invader. This suggests dualism.

Note the aspect of dualism The Great Manito makes (sohalawak) only good things, but an evil Manito makes (sohalawak) only evil things. Both "make" things which turn out to be products that reflect the good nature of the One, the evil nature of the other. (See more about the epic in my book The Primeval Revelation, University Press of America, Chapter 4.)

The Lenape celebration of twelve days of thanksgiving to God in autumn is well documented, for example in M.R. Harrington's Indian Notes and Monographs. A sample of the community prayer to the Creator is this passage as recited by Chief Elkhaar

Man has a spirit, and the body seems to be a coat for that spirit. That is why people should take care of their spirits, so as to reach Heaven and be admitted to the Creator's dwelling. We are given some length of time to live on earth, and then our spirits must go. When anyone's time comes to leave this earth, he should go to "Gicelemu'kaong feeling good on the way. We ought to pray to Him, to prepare ourselves for days to come so that we can be with Him after leaving the earth...

The prayer paints a beautiful picture of the Happy Hunting Ground and urges the people to live a worthy life in preparation for the eternal reward. We are probably not wrong if we attribute some of the contents to a Christian influence. Even if that is the case, the authenticity of the more ancient belief shines through

When we reach that place, we shall not have to do anything or worry about anything, only live a happy life. We know there are many of our fathers who have left this earth and are now in this happy place in the Land of the Spirits. When we arrive we shall see our fathers, mothers, children, and sisters there, and when we have prepared ourselves so that we can go to where our parents and children are, we feel happy.

Everything looks more beautiful there than here; everything looks new, and the waters and fruits and everything are lovely.

No sun shines there, but a light much brighter than the sun; the Creator makes it brighter by His power. All people who die here, young and old, will be of the same age there; and those who are injured, crippled, or made blind will look as good as the rest of them. It is nothing but the flesh that is injured; the spirit is as good as ever. That is the reason people are told to help always the cripples or the blind. Whatever you do for them will surely bring us reward. Whatever you do for anybody will bring you credit hereafter. Whenever we think the thoughts that Gicelemu'kaong has given us it will do us good.

That is all I can think of to say along this line. Now we will pass the Turtle around, and all that feel like worshiping may take it and perform their ceremonies ( Harrington, Indian Notes, 87-93).

The prayer is recited with variations during the twelve nights. Note that they frequently address the Creator as "Our Father." This Father has care for them and provides everything they need from the cosmos which is totally at His command.

He is also omniscient and just, noting the good deeds which become a "white path" after death by which the departed find their way to the Creator. This "Path of Accounting" leads eventually to a parting of the ways; while still at a great distance from their final destination, bad people are halted from going on and cannot approach nearer to the abode of the Great Spirit (cf. Frank G. Speck, A Study of the Delaware Indians, 174; see also Schmidt, Ursprung 5, p. 518). We can therefore understand why Witapanoxwe, who provided information to Professor Speck about the Lenape religion, could affirm with confidence and understandable family pride that "the prayer-creeds of the red people ... and all other prayer-creeds of the world" issue from the Creator who leans on the staff of the Big House (Speck, 87). No sign of dualism is present in the Thanksgiving prayers, but there indications of intermediary gods. More information about the Lenape and about the beliefs of many other hunter-gatherer tribes can be found in my book The Primeval Revelation from which the above is excerpted.

The two samples of belief in the Supreme Being by hunter-gatherers must suffice here for want of space, as we pass to the third point.

3. Widespread Belief in The Supreme Being

To an outsider it may appear that the Japanese culture knows naught about the Supreme Being, but to us who have lived here for a long time it is apparent that basic recognition of God supports the culture.

At the annual commemorations of the atom bombs which cremated inhabitants of Nagasaki and Hiroshima who lived within the radius of the epicenter, people gather solemnly to pray for the repose of the souls of those who died, and offer flowers and incense. At a funeral of a beloved teacher at Nanzan high school girls fell on the casket weeping"Don't forget me! I want to see you there! Wait for me!" Just before a ceremony began for a marriage of a Buddhist to a Catholic, the Buddhist party's mother stormed into the sacristy to call a halt. They cannot marry, she said breathlessly, because the Buddhist heaven and the Christian heaven are different, and they cannot live together and with us in the next world. The priest assured her that heaven is not compartmentalized, and with that she allowed the ceremony to proceed.

When a member of the opposition party grilled the Prime Minister why he had not made better provision for guarding against a natural disaster, he shot back"I'm not God. I can't know everything." The scene was featured on NHK national news for the enjoyment of the nation.

Doctors reveal that a sense of awe comes over them especially on two occasions at the birth of a child, and at the death of one of their patients.

When I suggested to the doctor to reduce intravenous nutrition from four liters to two for our suffering 86 year old priest, he responded that the entire staff wants him to live as long as possible, and that nurses look into his eyes and say he is a god, that is, one close to the Creator. Only recently has organ transplantation become legal under strict provisions about tests for brain death. A doctors' team to transplant organs from a supposedly brain dead patient aborted their operation when they could not carry out one of the tests to ascertain brain death. They could not pour water into the ears of the victim because they were lacerated by the accident. The doctors then desisted from proceeding.

The media do not belittle or ridicule religion or religious practices. Never would they dare to do so. Fear of and respect for what is considered sacred pervades the culture. Never, never, in present day Japan, would a museum exhibit a Madonna smeared over with elephant dung, or a picture of Christ in dishonor. Fear of tembatsu - punishment from heaven - is all pervasive.

Twice a month elderly citizens of my neighborhood in Nagoya flock to Koshoji temple to pray for a quick and easy death. With apt gesture and word they pray for a passage to the next life as short and quick as you can clap your hands and say "pokkuri."

Awareness of the Supreme Being, however, is buried under layers of practical concerns. It does not dominate morals and daily decisions. It comes to the surface only vaguely and on special occasions. A connection between moral behavior during everyday life, to be sanctioned by reward or punishment in the next life, is not well established in the culture.

When we recall that all people of the globe today have ancestors who lived as hunter-gatherers until 10,000 years ago, we should expect some continuity of beliefs and customs of former times.

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