Students at Campion College learn in their first year about the basics of Scripture, and the Catholic understanding of the place of Scripture in the life of the Christian. A trope used to unify the various books of Scripture covered in the course is the centrality of the Jewish Covenant and the renewals of that Covenant by God when Israel time and again descend into anything less than the exclusive loyalty to the one true God. The New Testament thus could not be understood without reference to the Jewish Covenant, and must be understood as the final renewal of that Covenant.
The renewal of the Covenant is central because it highlights the scandalous substance of salvation in the Judeo-Christian narrative: the return to the Garden of Eden, or what the medieval doctor of the Church St. Bonaventure called the restoration of “original innocence”. The theme of the return to Eden is often lost in much of contemporary Christianity, particularly as Christianity becomes recast either as a set of juridical precepts or a formula for the feelgood generation. St. Bonaventure thus acts as a corrective to this tendency, for he more than any other Doctor of the Church emphasised the return to Eden as the crux of salvation, and also more controversially, a practicable historical probability.
The link between the Covenant and the Garden of Eden has been re-emphasised more recently in A Father Who Keeps His Promises, written by the American biblicist Scott Hahn. Hahn, whose specialisations include Covenantal theology, spoke of the first creation account (Genesis 1:1-2:4) as prefiguring much of the Covenant that we shall see in later books of Scripture. This can be gleaned from the parallels that he draws between the structure of the first chapter of Genesis and the structure of the Jewish Temple. Because the Covenant is implicit in the structure of creation in Genesis, one cannot avoid construing the process of its constant renewal as a process of retrying Eden time and time again, a process that comes to its culmination in Christ. Christ is thus the New Adam who tends to the newly restored Garden of Eden, first by being the gateway towards its revival.
The notion of Christ as being the New Adam in a restored Eden was gleaned in class this week with reference to the Baptism of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark (1:9-11), aspects of which bear eerie resemblances to the first creation account in Genesis. In Mark, Jesus the Word plunges himself into the waters, thereby uniting himself with the Word that was transmitted to the world in the process of creation (a theme covered by Bonaventure). The restoration of Eden comes when Jesus “was coming out of the water” (Mark 1:10), when the Spirit comes down on Him (Mark 1:10) and seems to hovers over the waters (as in Genesis 1:2).
This seemingly isolated parallel is coupled with another parallel, when God speaks from heaven to say to the Word “You are My Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). When the Word unites with world, God looks at this new fusion between the Word and world, and affirms it, saying in a new way “indeed, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). The incompleteness of the parallel in this one account is indicative of the way Jesus restores Eden in an economy of actions, and economy that culminates in his Passion, Death and Resurrection, and continues on in his Body, the Church.