This is one in a series from Jaques-Benigne Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries, and specifically the Fifth Day. There is more here on the Bossuet Project.
As God was walking in paradise (for, for the reasons that have been said, we saw that he appeared to them under visible figures), they heard the noise. Adam and Eve hid in front of the face of the Lord, in the thickness of the wood of paradise. And the Lord God called Adam and said to him, Where are you? And Adam said unto him, I have heard the noise of your presence in paradise, and I feared it, because I was naked, and hid myself. And God said to him, But who showed you that you were naked, except that you ate the fruit that I had forbidden you?
It is said in Scripture that God was walking in the air at noon. These things, in themselves so appropriate to the majesty of God and to the idea of perfection which he has given us of himself, warn us to resort to the spiritual sense. The midday, which is the time of the great heat of the day, signifies the burning heat of the justice of God, when it comes to avenge sinners, and when it is said that God, in this heat, walks outdoors, that is to day he tempers by kindness the intolerable heat of his judgment; for it was already a beginning of kindness to be willing to take Adam back, instead that, without taking him back, he could throw him into the underworld, as he did to the rebellious angel. Adam had not yet learned to take advantage of these reproaches, to breathe in this softer air: full of the terrors of his conscience, he hides in the forest and dares not appear before God.
We have seen the sinful man who can not suffer himself; but his nakedness is never more frightful to him than in relation, not to himself, but to God, before whom everything is naked and uncovered, to the innermost crevices of his conscience. Against such penetrating eyes, leaves are not enough. Adam searches for the thick forests, and yet he can not find something that will cover. It must not be imagined that he thought he could escape the invisible eyes of God. At least he tried to save himself from his visible presence, which had too much of a hold on him, just as those who will shout at the last judgment will do: “Mountains, fall on us; hills, bury us.” But the voice of God pursues him. Adam, where are you? How far from God and from yourself, in what an abyss of evil, in what miseries, in what ignorance, in what deplorable distraction!
At this voice, astonished, and not knowing where to go: I hid myself, he said, because I was naked. But who told you that you were naked, the Lord said, except that you ate forbidden fruit? Adam said to him, “The woman whom you have given for a companion has given me fruit, and I have eaten it.” It is here that excuses begin: vain excuses that do not cover the crime and discover pride and rudeness. If Adam, if Eve had humbly confessed their fault, who knows how far God’s mercy would have been? But Adam casts the blame on the woman, and the woman on the serpent, instead of only accusing their free will. Such frivolous excuses were represented by the fig leaves, by the thickness of the forest, which they thought they would cover them. But God shows the vanity of their excuse. What is the use of the man to say: The woman you gave me for a companion? He seems to attack God himself. But had God given him that woman to be the companion of his disobedience? Should he not govern her, straighten her? It is therefore the height of the crime, far from confessing it, to want to blame it on his unhappy companion, and on God himself who had given her to him.
Let us not seek an excuse for our crimes; do not cast them aside on the weak part which is in us. Let us confess that reason should preside over and dominate his appetites. Let us not seek to cover ourselves: put ourselves before God; it may be then that his goodness will cover us with himself, and that we will be of those of whom it is written: Blessed are those whose iniquities have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered!