The dogma of original sin is a radical case…

Illuminated parchment, Spain, circa AD 950-955...

Illuminated parchment, Spain, circa AD 950-955, depicting the Fall of Man, cause of original sin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

…of the Catholic religion bringing humanity together!

The marriage of Adam and Eve means “we’re all in this together, for better and worse.” As it turned out with the Fall, for the worse.

But then, as it turns out with the Incarnation, for the better. The scandalous peculiarity of the Incarnation is based on the unique enormity of human sin. God-in-Christ meets and saves us-in-Adam. Christianity is the religion of three trees: one in Eden, one at Calvary, another in the New Jerusalem.

May we pause to ponder the Trinity as three life-giving trees with one common, eternal rootbed?

We must be careful not to confuse original sin with “original guilt”. No infant is born personally guilty of Adam’s sin. Yet all humans are born having inherited a primal stain or spot (Lat. macula) on the soul which, to varying degrees, blocks perfect enjoyment of God‘s grace/light. Hence, original sin is a negative doctrine; it essentially concerns the lack of divine justice as it could be in human nature. In the same negative sense, original sin is a reduction, or contraction, of originally blessed human nature down to the confines of human nature apart from Adam’s original blessings in Eden.

Adam is the ontological principle in each one of us which draws is away from perfect communion with God. The GOOD NEWS is that, in taking on human nature in the most radical and extensive way, God-in-Christ has redeemed the very nature of mankind which blocks it from its own end, i.e. the enjoyment of divine justice.

Yis, bot vat iz zis “enjoying divine justice” you speak ov?

Justice means giving something that which is its due. Since human nature finds its perfection in giving its will and desire and understanding to the divine goodness as such, “enjoying divine justice”means having one’s entire nature––will and intellect, appetite and perception––given over to God in Himself. Hence, suffering from original sin means that, at the most radical level, something in our nature is ruptured, skewed, occluded, such that we lack a proper enjoyment of divine justice, and thus our nature can only advance in accord with its own, finite, internal principles, namely, corruption, confusion, entropy, and death––”the way of all flesh”. Indeed, I’m inclined to say that our postlapsarian state is, ironically, what most secularists desire: a state of purely natural human functioning devoid of divine “interference”, wherein all value is determined by human capacity (or willfully eating of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, about which I shall have more to say in, I hope, the near future). Thus the Gospel present all humans with a choice: to die in Adam and thus die within the limits of human nature, or to die in Christ and thus live to the fullness of divine participation. The blue pill or the red pill?

It’s a sad, sad story, this “way of all flesh”––but it is only the first act. The Gospel of Christ’s Incarnation is the second half, and the enjoyment of Heaven, the third.

Given the Incarnation of Love Itself, Catholics have every right to hope that the infants born into Adam’s shadow are somehow redeemed by Christ’s death which has flushed out that inveterate darkness with His light. Ask yourself why offspring should need any formal, willed inheritance at all. In a perfect world, all square quotes applied, we would enjoy a perfect abundance of goodness which would not require personalized wills and mercurial acts of mercy. The very need for legal wills is a kind of proof of original sin, since every will that wishes well on descendants is a personal act of staving off the otherwise complete moral and spiritual decrepit that befits Adam’s children. We will good on our heirs as a way of steering “the way of all flesh” back to its original course. Of course, though, such means are only half-measures. The only will which has restored our nature to its proper end was paid for in Christ’s blood and ratified with His Resurrection.

The penal effects of the Fall are not to be imagined as particular, arbitrary chastisements by God. Rather, given the very nature of Creation and the human family as a unity, the sins of some necessarily have effects on all. It’s like saying, “I try not to reduce entropy in my life at the expense of others.” Alas, dat just ain’t how da woild’s built! Adam’s fallenness is an ontological problem, not an ethical dispute. As such Adam’s fall should be understood to have a metaphysical, not temporal, primacy in human existence. As Fr. Donald Keefe, SJ, in typically lapidary style, puts it:

Clearly, the Fall is more than an accidental modification of the good creation which fell in Adam; the Fall is at the level of substance, from life to death, from pneuma to sarx; if the Christ does indeed redeem and renew the fallen good creation, he does so on the level of creation…, [hence] it is necessary to recognize at the outset that creatio and recreatio are both in Christ, a single consequence of the Mission of the Word. If the efficacy, the irrevocability, of the Father’s sending of the Son to give the Spirit is not achieved primordially in an unfallen creation antecedent to the Fall, then there is no alternative to supposing … that the full efficacy and significance of Christ’s sacrifice waits throughout history upon the historical response of the faithful[.]

Just as at every Mass Christ’s once-and-for-all redemption is renewed in all its mystical power, so at every conception the corruption typified in Adam is reinstantiated in all its mystical enormity. The Good News is that, by the Incarnation, God has grafted Himself so radically to human nature that it, as an entire metaphysical dimension of Creation, has been and is being and shall be redeemed and restored. Catholic doctrine is firm in teaching that, while we lack perfect justice (just as plants born in the shadow of their parents lack perfect nutriment), yet we retain the Adamic powers of reason and free will. On the whole, by contrast, Protestantism denies that. Only by freely and knowingly committing sins if one’s own does a human immerse or align himself with the punishment due Adam.

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About The Codgitator (a cadgertator)

Catholic convert. Quasi-Zorbatic. Freelance interpreter, translator, and web marketer. Former ESL teacher in Taiwan (2003-2012) and former public high school teacher (2012-2014). Married father of three. Multilingual, would-be scholar, and fairly consistent fitness monkey. My research interests include: the interface of religion and science, the history and philosophy of science and technology, ancient and medieval philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience. Please pray for me.
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