Milton’s famous phrase from Paradise Lost has been used in countless contexts, in print or in private. Meant to exclaim that it was because of man’s fall that Christ came, and implying, for those who wonder about such things, Would Christ not have come if we had not sinned and made his coming necessary for our salvation? Did our Father God plan all along that we would fall into temptation so that he could send his only-begotten to suffer and die for our sake? It is well to remember that Milton was a poet, not a theologian.
Yet, in our personal, individual, private lives, have we not had occasion to whisper or to shout, “Oh, happy fall!”, and perhaps more than once? Great sins—murder, adultery, and such—are so fraught with drama they take on a kind of Promethean grandeur. We become the star of our own play, brought down in thunder to thunderous applause, the stuff of which great tragedies are written and revered. The sin of hubris often seems to be for those greater than we are, persons of importance, like presidents, dictators, kings and such—people of power or authority, Shakespearean or Sophoclean, people whose lives are accompanied by Wagnerian music.
We are not those people. Purged of pity and terror, we sigh with relief that we, unimportant we, are not subject to such a fall. We close the book, leave the theater, and return to our blessedly unimportant lives, safe from Great Sin, Nietzschean cowards that we are–and glad to be. Perhaps we breathe a prayer of gratitude for our humility.
And it is there, exactly there, that our own Great Fall comes upon us. Blindsided by the great presumption. Our Lady told the children at Fatima that Hell was populated most by those who were guilty of sins of the flesh—not by kings, or despots. It’s our mundane nature, the very triviality of our sins, the banality of self-indulgence that costs us our souls.