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Terrestrial Paradise

The Catholic Encyclopedia

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(paradeisos, Paradisus).

The name popularly given in Christian tradition to the scriptural Garden of Eden, the home of our first parents (Genesis 2). The word paradise is probably of Persian origin and signified originally a royal park or pleasure ground. The term does not occur in the Latin of the Classic period nor in the Greek writers prior to the time of Xenophon. In the Old Testament it is found only in the later Hebrew writings in the form (Pardês), having been borrowed doubtless from the Persian. An instructive illustration of the origin and primary meaning of the term appears in II Esdras (ii, 8) where "Asaph the keeper of the king's forest" (happerdês) is the custodian of the royal park of the Persian ruler. The association of the term with the abode of our first parents does not occur in the Old-Testament Hebrew. It originated in the fact that the word paradeisos was adopted, though not exclusively, by the translators of the Septuagint to render the Hebrew for the Garden of Eden described in the second chapter of Genesis. It is likewise used in diverse other passages of the Septuagint where the Hebrew generally has "garden", especially if the idea of wondrous beauty is to be conveyed. Thus in Genesis 13:10, the "country about the Jordan" is described as a "paradise of the Lord" (rendering followed by the Vulgate). Cf. Numbers 24:6 (Greek) where the reference is to the beautiful array of the tents of Israel, also Isaiah 1:30; Ezekiel 31:8-9 etc. Those interested in speculation as to the probable location of the Scriptural Garden of Eden, the primeval home of mankind, are referred to the scholarly work of Friedrich Delitsch, "Wo lag das Paradies?" (Berlin, 1881). In the New Testament period the word paradise appears with a new and more exalted meaning. In the development of Jewish eschatology which marks the post-Exilic epoch the word paradise or "Garden of God", hitherto mainly associated with the original dwelling-place of our first parents, was transferred to signify the future abode of rest and enjoyment which was to be the reward of the righteous after death. The term occurs only three times in the New Testament, though the idea which it represents is frequently expressed in other terms, v.g. "Abraham's bosom" (Luke 16:22). The signification of the word in these remarkably few passages can be determined only from the context and by reference to the eschatological notions current among the Jews of that period. These views are gathered chiefly from the Rabbinical literature, the works of Josephus, and from the apocryphal writings, notably the Book of Enoch, the Book of Jubilees, the Apocalypse of Baruch, etc. An inspection of these sources reveals a great confusion of ideas and many contradictions regarding the future paradise as also concerning the original Garden of Eden and the condition of our first parents. The scanty references to Sheol which embody the vague eschatological beliefs of the Hebrews as expressed in the earlier Old Testament writings give place in these later treatises to elaborate theories worked out with detailed descriptions and speculations often of a most fanciful character. As a sample of these may be noted the one found in the Talmudic tract "Jalkut Schim., Bereschith, 20". According to this description the entrance to paradise is made through two gates of rubies beside which stand sixty myriads of holy angels with countenances radiant with heavenly splendor. When a righteous man enters, the vestures of death are removed from him; he is clad in eight robes of the clouds of glory; two crowns are placed upon his head, one of pearls and precious stones, the other of gold; eight myrtles are placed in his hands and he is welcomed with great applause, etc. Some of the Rabbinical authorities appear to identify the paradise of the future with the primeval Garden of Eden which is supposed to be still in existence and located somewhere in the far-distant East. According to some it was an earthly abode, sometimes said to have been created before the rest of the world (IV Esdras iii, 7, cf. viii, 52); others make it an adjunct of the subterranean Sheol, while still others place it in or near heaven. It was believed that there are in paradise different degrees of blessedness. Seven ranks or orders of the righteous were said to exist within it, and definitions were given both of those to whom these different positions belong and of the glories pertaining to each ("Baba bathra", 75 a, quoted by Salmond, Hastings, "Dict. of the Bible", s.v. "Paradise"). The uncertainty and confusion of the current Jewish ideas concerning paradise may explain the paucity of reference to it in the New Testament. The first mention of the word occurs in Luke 23:43, where Jesus on the cross says to the penitent thief: "Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with me in paradise". According to the prevailing interpretation of Catholic theologians and commentators, paradise in this instance is used as a synonym for the heaven of the blessed to which the thief would accompany the Saviour, together with the souls of the righteous of the Old Law who were awaiting the coming of the Redeemer. In II Corinthians (xii, 4) St. Paul describing one of his ecstasies tells his readers that he was "caught up into paradise". Here the term seems to indicate plainly the heavenly state or abode of the blessed implying possibly a glimpse of the beatific vision. The reference cannot be to any form of terrestrial paradise, especially when we consider the parallel expression in verse 2, where relating a similar experience he says he was "caught up to the third heaven". The third and last mention of paradise in the New Testament occurs in the Apocalypse (2:7), where St. John, receiving in vision a Divine message for the "angel of the church of Ephesus", hears these words: "To him that overcometh, I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of my God." In this passage the word is plainly used to designate the heavenly kingdom, though the imagery is borrowed from the description of the primeval Garden of Eden in the Book of Genesis. According to Catholic theology based on the Biblical account, the original condition of our first parents was one of perfect innocence and integrity. By the latter is meant that they were endowed with many prerogatives which, while pertaining to the natural order, were not due to human nature as such--hence they are sometimes termed preternatural. Principal among these were a high degree of infused knowledge, bodily immortality and freedom from pain, and immunity from evil impulses or inclinations. In other words, the lower or animal nature in man was perfectly subjected to the control of reason and the will. Besides this, our first parents were also endowed with sanctifying grace by which they were elevated to the supernatural order. But all these gratuitous endowments were forfeited through the disobedience of Adam "in whom all have sinned", and who was "a figure of Him who was to come" (Romans 5) and restore fallen man, not to an earthly, but to a heavenly paradise.

According to Josephus (Ant. Jud., I, i, 3), the Nile is one of the four great rivers of paradise (Genesis 2:10 ff.). This view, which has been adopted by many commentators, is based chiefly on the connection described between Gehon, one of the yet unidentified rivers, and the land of Cush, which, at least in later times, was identified with Ethiopia or modern Abyssinia (cf. Vulgate, Genesis 2:13). Modern scholars, however, are inclined to regard this African Cush as simply a colony settled by tribes migrating from an original Asiatic province of the same name, located by Fried. Delitsch (op. cit., 71) in Babylonia, and by Hommel ("Ancient Hebrew Tradition", 314 sqq.) in Central Arabia.


HURTER, Theologioe Dogmaticoe Compendium, II (Innsbruck, 1893), 264-83; VON HUMMELAUER, Comment. in Genesim (Paris, 1895): Comment. in Cap. ii; VIGOUROUX, Dict. de la Bible, s.v.; GIGOT, Special Introduction to the Study of the Old Testament, Pt. I, 168 sqq. (New York, 1901).

Bibliography Information
Obstat, Nihil. Lafort, Remy, Censor. Entry for 'Terrestrial Paradise'. The Catholic Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​t/terrestrial-paradise.html. Robert Appleton Company. New York. 1914.
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