Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

The Father William Most Collection

Original Sin

[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]

The Decree on Ecumenism of Vatican II, in ยง7 says: "...if any things -- whether in morals or in ecclesiastical discipline, or even in the way of expressing doctrine-- to be carefully distinguished from the deposit of faith- have been kept less accurately, at the suitable time they should be restored in the right order and form." Paul VII followed up with Mysterium Fidei, of Sept 3,1965:"The rule of speaking which the Church in the course of long ages, not without the protection of the Holy Spirit, has introduced...must be kept sacred, and no one at his own whim or pretext of new knowledge may presume to change them.

In brief: Let us improve the language and presentation where needed, without saying the content was erroneous.

This is especially the case with original sin. The older way of speaking, especially under Augustinian influence, have spoken of a stain of sin - though a spirit cannot take on any stain - have said our nature was wounded, our mind darkened, and our will weakened. And it was said it was transmitted by inheritance.

Pope John Paul II has done remarkably in improving that language. In a General Audience of Oct 1,1986:"In context, it is evident that original sin in Adam's descendants has not the character of personal guilt. It is the privation of sanctifying grace.... It is a 'sin of nature' only analogically comparable to 'personal sin.'" Then in Audience of Oct 8:"...according to Church's teaching, it is a case of a relative and not an absolute deterioration, not intrinsic to the human faculties.... not of a loss of their essential capacities even in relation to the knowledge and love of God."

Adam and Eve had three kinds of gifts: 1) basic humanity, which included many drives in both body and spirit, none of them evil in itself, but able to get out of line since each operated independently of the others, without regard for needs of other drives. So without mortification to tame them, they could get out of order. 2) God gave them a gift to make it easy to keep them in order, a coordinating gift, sometimes called the gift of integrity. We see this after the fall, when God called: Adam where are you?--I hid myself, for I was naked-- How did you find that out if you did not eat the forbidden fruit?" That is, before the fall he wore nothing, and the same after. But before it did not bother him, for he had the coordinating gift. After losing it, he saw his lower nature becoming rambunctious, getting out of line, so he hid himself. 3) the gift of grace.

By sin, Adam and Eve threw away the 2nd and 3rd kinds. So we could not inherit what they no longer had. But those extras were not owed to us, nor needed for final salvation; so it is like a parent who might lose a million on horse racing. He could not transmit it. But the children could not say: We are robbed. No, just that father was foolish.

So since original sin in us is just a privation, not anything positive, it would be more accurate to say about heredity that there is a non-transmission of grace and coordinating gift.

Is our nature wounded etc.? Not at all said John Paul II. It is only a relative loss, not an absolute loss. An absolute loss would mean as it were a piece taken out of our powers. But there is no piece taken out. It is only relative, relative to what we might have had.

Without that coordinating gift, the lower drives can get out of order, and will, if we do not use mortification. If they are out of order, the emotions tend to cloud our minds - and so it is "darkened"- and that tends to pull on our will, from the mental lack of perception.

Could God have sent the whole race to hell for just original sin? By no means, that would be blasphemy to say it. Pius IX in Quanto conficiamur moerore of August 10,1863: "God in His supreme goodness and clemency, by no means allows anyone to be punished with eternal punishments who does not have the guilt of voluntary fault." But original sin in us is not voluntary - so no hell for original sin alone. What of the text of the Council of Florence which said (DS 1306,DB 693): "The souls of those who depart in actual mortal sin, or in original sin only, descend into the realm of the dead (infernum) however they are to be punished with different penalties."

Latin poena need not mean infliction of pain: can mean lack of something. If an unbaptized infant dies in original sin -- good question: does it happen? More on this later -- then it has a penalty in not getting the vision of God. But it has no suffering. Cf. the words of Pius IX above, and St. Thomas, De malo, q.5 a 3 ad 4: "The infants are separated from God perpetually, in regard to the loss of glory, which they do not know about, but not in regard to participation in natural goods, which they do know.... That which they have through nature, they possess without pain."

So there is poena in a loss, but one that causes no suffering nor do they even know they have lost it. After the resurrection they could be with the risen bodies of their parents who would have the vision of God in their souls, but not in their bodies. The infants would not have to know what is in the souls of the parents.

But do they actually die in original sin? We raise this question. The new catechism says we should have good hope. In 1261 it quotes Jesus: "let the little children come to me, and do not prevent them" and adds: "[this] permits us to have hope that there is away to salvation for infants who die without Baptism."

Many theological attempts have been made in our time to find such a way. Let us offer something a bit new here: First, as St. Thomas said (III. 68. 2. c): "His [God's] hands are not tied by [or: to] the Sacraments".

Theologians commonly hold that God provided for the salvation of those who died before Christ in some way. Girls of course were not circumcised,cf.III.70.4.c): "By circumcision there was given to boys the power to come to glory." It was enough to belong to the people of God. In a similar way, St. Paul says (1 Cor 7:14) that the unbelieving mate in a marriage of a Christian and a pagan is consecrated or made holy through union with the Christian who does come under the Covenant: "Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy" So they are holy precisely by belonging to a family with even one party Christian. Paul does not at this point mention Baptism as the reason for their status - he speaks of the mere fact that they belong to a family with one Christian parent. (The word holy seems to reflect Hebrew qadosh which does not mean high moral perfection, but coming under the covenant). Similarly the Jews believed that merely belonging to the People of God insured their salvation, unless they positively ruled themselves out by the gravest sins: cf. Genesis Rabbah 48.7: "In the world to come, Abraham will sit on the doormat of Gehinnom and will not allow a circumcised Jew to enter." and Sanhedrin 10.1:"All Israel has a share in the age to come." The latter text adds that there are three groups who do not have a share: those who deny the resurrection, those who deny the Law is from heaven, and Epicureans (Cf. E. P. Sanders Paul and Palestinian Judaism pp. 147-82).

St. Paul insists in Romans 3:28-20 that if God had not provided for those who did not know the Law, He would not be their God. So He must have provided, and He did it through the means of faith. Could we argue that if God makes no provision for unbaptized infants, He would not act as their God? It seems yes.

Further, St. Paul insists many times over (Romans 5:15-17) that the redemption is superabundant, more so than the fall. But since God did provide for infants before Christ, if He did not do so after Christ, the redemption would not be superabundant, it would be a hellish liability for infants and millions of others. Really, Feeney and those of his followers who insist that God sends unbaptized babies to hell - along with countless millions of others who never had a chance to hear of the Church - they make God incredibly harsh, even a monster. God is not a monster, a God of that description could not exist as a God at all. So logically Feenyism calls for atheism. And in the parable of the talents (Lk 19:22) when the one servant told his master he hid the talent since he knew the master was harsh, the Master replied that he would judge the servant according to his own evidence. Since he thought the master was harsh, He would be harsh.

Also, God shows great concern for the objective moral order (cf. the appendix on sedaqah in my commentary on St. Paul). There is some reason to think He has also great concern for the objective physical order. Thus in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Abraham explains (Lk 16:24): "Remember that you in your lifetime received good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish." There was no mention of sins on the part of the rich man or virtue in the poor man, just the reversal of the objective physical order. Similarly in the series of four woes in the Great Discourse (Luke 6:24-16), there is a reversal for those who were rich, for those who were full, for those who could laugh, for those who were well spoken of. There is, again, no mention of moral virtue, just of reversal of the objective physical order. Also, in the account of the Last Judgement (Mt 25:31-46) the excuse of those on the left that they did not know they did not help the Judge is not accepted.

So could it be then that God decides: These infants according to my plan should have had many goods things in life. They were deprived of all - and in the case of abortion, were cut to pieces savagely - so now there should be a reversal.



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