I was bummed when our favorite Italian restaurant in Boulder, Via Perla, named after its location on Boulder’s west Pearl Street, closed, a victim, apparently, of Covid. Well, now the space is occupied by a new Mexican restaurant with the happy name of Felix, not to honor the iconic comic-book cat of yore, but doubtless for the uplift in spirits the owners believe you’ll experience after eating their cuisine. I can’t speak from experience, mainly because I’m not a big fan of la comida Mexicana. Of course, I may be all wrong. Maybe the establishment’s founder is someone named Felix. After all, I have a Colombian godson with that name. But this blog has absolutely nothing to do with food, Mexican, Italian, or otherwise. Rather, it concerns the Catholic theological doctrine—hence the Latin—known as the Felix Culpa, or Happy Fall. Even non-Catholics may be familiar with the pre-Vatican II liturgical phrase Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, “my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault” said during individual or congregational confession as one beats one’s breast. Culpa can thus mean “fall,” “fault,” or “sin.”...
The cognates in English are the legal terms “culpable” and “culpability” meaning “blame-worthy” and “blame-worthiness,” respectively. Felix Culpa refers to Adam and Eve’s fall into sin and out of Paradise followed by Jesus’s salvation of humankind from the consequences of that fall. The first few lines of John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost (1667) say it all:
Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world, and all our woe
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful seat,
Sing…. (Book I, ll. 1-5)
Had Jesus avoided an early death and lived on to teach and preach until a ripe, old age, he would likely have gone down as a Jewish prophet of some note. But without his early death at the hands of the Roman Empire, his Resurrection, and an early core of apostles and other believers who spread the word of who he really was, that is, God’s mortal son, there never would have been a new religion called Christianity, just as without the Apostle Paul, it never would have left the confines of Palestine and its Jewish converts to become the world’s largest religion. So, Jesus’ death, Resurrection, and subsequent global faith named for him is another example of a felix culpa.
We experience such things more modestly in our own lives. Prior to Covid, for example, people would have to travel long distances at considerable expense to attend workshops. Now, thanks to Zoom, individuals all over the world can go to these workshops electronically without the expense—and pollution—of travel. Even more impactful are the millions of employees who can work virtually from home while saving the time, cost, and wear-and-tear of a daily commute, with thousands of tons of auto exhaust no longer being pumped into the atmosphere. Or consider the scientific method, which depends on mistakes and false starts as the compost out of which new theories and discoveries grow. We can doubtless think about happy mistakes and wrong turns of our own which have led to something better. To quote the poet Shelley, “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”