Genesis: Head & Heel

SOUL: And all my care itself employs;

That to preserve which me destroys.

BODY: What but a soul could have the wit

To build me up for sin so fit?


Creation, in the Genesis account, comprises speech, evaluation, and distinction: “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.” All three elements are present in the creative faculty’s analogue, “the tree of knowledge of good and evil,” the fruit of which was peddled by a snake “more subtil than any beast of the field.”

Opposite stand the tree of life and Adam, “formed of the dust of the ground,” yet “in the image of God created,” and having “dominion over all the earth.” Adam enjoyed life’s fruit naked and unashamed, suggesting again both integrity of mind and body, and intimacy with God and Eden.

If speech, evaluation, and distinction are for God the means of creation, in the mouth of man they are mere abstraction, a subdividing of reality. The serpent perhaps represents this lesser power of man, over which Adam, and by association embodied life, are meant to exercise dominion. Adam, in tasting the strange fruit of “a tree to be desired to make one wise,” gave abstraction preeminence over the embodied whole.

The result was the antagonism of snake and man, abstraction and life: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” Fittingly, life strikes at abstraction’s head, and abstraction at the body’s support and connection with the sustaining earth.

The rest of the curse serves to recall abstraction to the body: the subtle snake would eat dirt, man’s creative labors—reproduction and agriculture—would be attended by sorrow and sweat, and, driven from Eden and God’s presence, body and mind would die together. 

Such is the Bible’s statement of the derangement of man. The Church’s solution is stated in similar terms. In Christ, the “Word”—identified with God’s creative speech—“was made flesh, and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth.” This reintegration of mind and body was symbolized in the vertical and horizontal arms of the cross.

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