The famous story of the Temptation of Adam and Eve touches on several themes. This includes the nature of temptation, the power of free will and what later became known as the teaching of ‘Original Sin’. While describing a real event, the story contains a number of symbols.
While living in the Garden of Eden, there was one tree from which Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This was a test of their faith. God warned them that if they ate fruit from this tree, they would die.
One day, however, the Devil spoke to Eve in the form of a snake. He encouraged her to eat some of the forbidden fruit and cast doubt on God’s warning about the consequences. Thinking that she was gaining an advantage, Eve ate some of the fruit and also gave some to Adam, who was with her.
Immediately, the two realised their mistake, but it was too late. They had failed the test. In Christian teaching, their sin had consequences not just for them, but for the whole human race. Forced to leave Eden, they then passed sin and death on to all of their descendants (cf Romans 5:12-19).
Adam and Eve’s wrongdoing is popularly referred to as ‘the Fall’, while the consequences for human nature of their actions became known as ‘Original Sin’. Interestingly, Genesis does not actually name the forbidden fruit. The apple only appeared in later tradition and art.
Underlying the episode is the concept of free will, the ability to choose between good and evil. As Scripture later described God’s design: “It was he who created humankind in the beginning, and he left them in the power of their own free choice.” (Sirach 15:14)
As Pope Benedict XVI said: “Deceived by the Evil One, Adam and Eve, our first parents, failed to live up to the relationship of trust with their Lord, succumbing to the temptation of the Evil One who instilled in them the suspicion that the Lord was a rival and wanted to limit their freedom.”
He added: “So it was that they preferred themselves to divine love freely given, convinced that in this way they were asserting their own free will. They consequently ended by losing their original happiness and they tasted the bitter sorrow of sin and death.”
This stained glass window telling the story of Adam and Eve’s Temptation and Fall is found within Our Lady and St Hubert’s church in Great Harwood, Lancashire. Designed by Edward Welby Pugin (1857-9), it includes four aspects of the story – the creation of both Adam and Eve, their Fall and then the ban from Eden.
On either side of the fruit tree are two sets of characters – the good on the left (including King David and St Joseph) and the wicked on the right (including a suicidal Judas and the rich man from Christ’s parable). The Devil features as a snake with the head of a dragon, as described in Revelation 12:9. In the centre are the Virgin and her Son, who will later arrive to undo the damage caused by the Fall.
See the full image:
Detail of Adam’s Creation:
Detail of Eve’s Creation:
Detail of the Fall:
Detail of the Ban from Eden:
Detail of the Virgin and Child:
Detail of the Devil as the snake:
Where to find this work of art
Our Lady and St Hubert, Great Harwood
Read the relevant passage