Original and Ancestral Sin: A Brief Comparison

The Council of Trent
The Council of Trent

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 Heav’nly Muse.

John Milton, “Paradise Lost,” Book I

Although Milton wrote it much more eloquently than I could, the song of humanity is creation, fall, and redemption—a beautiful symphony replete with rich polyphony, sudden modulations, and dramatic dissonance. At some point, a tragic melody weaves itself into the score but eventually resolves and the music concludes with a triumphant fanfare. While most Christians agree with this musical shaping, some compose the score with a different prelude. Where exactly did the tragic melody come from, who wrote it into the score, and how does it affect the rest of the sound? The answer to these questions influence the attributes of individual parts as well as the direction of the entire musical narrative.

Here is our working narrative at the bedrock of Christianity: Adam and Eve were created in communion with God, lost communion with God, and the rest of humanity followed them. Two competing anthropologies, however, have arisen from this narrative. While all Christians use the term original sin to refer to the state of humanity after the Fall (Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:22), many Eastern Orthodox Christians prefer the term ancestral sin. Thus, for convenience I will use the term original sin to refer exclusively to Roman Catholic, Calvinist, or Lutheran articulations of the consequences of the Fall, teaching that humanity inherited both the effects and the guilt of Adam’s sin. In contrast, I will use the term ancestral sin to denote the Eastern Orthodox teaching that humanity inherited only the consequences of Adam’s sin, and not his guilt. One view is ontological; the other is existential.

The Roman Catholic Church was the first to articulate the doctrine of original sin as a state of inherited guilt (for the sake of brevity, I will implicate Protestant doctrines of the Fall in my discussion of original sin). Inspired first by the reactionary theology of St. Augustine of Hippo and solidified by later councils and theologians, Roman Catholics took a distinctly different theological path from Orthodox Christians. In 1546, the Council of Trent issued the first major dogmatic statement on original sin:

If any one asserts, that the prevarication of Adam injured himself alone, and not his posterity; and that the holiness and justice, received of God, which he lost, he lost for himself alone, and not for us also; or that he, being defiled by the sin of disobedience, has only transfused death, and pains of the body, into the whole human race, but not sin also, which is the death of the soul; let him be anathema: whereas he contradicts the apostle who says; “By one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death, and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned” (Session V).

Almost four centuries later, the Baltimore Catechism continues to define it as sin that “comes down to us from our first parents, and we are brought into the world with its guilt on our soul” (Q. 266). With the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the doctrine of original sin is still present, albeit improved by new language such as loss of “original holiness,” “human nature wounded by [Adam’s] first sin,” “weakened” by ignorance, suffering, and death, and “inclined to sin” (416)—nothing to which an Eastern Orthodox theologian would strongly object. The emphasis shifted from the rigid transference of guilt to a gentler loss of holiness and consequently an evolution in doctrine. Although the Roman Catholic doctrine of original sin seems to have been re-articulated over the last hundred years and many Roman Catholics today no longer seem to believe the teaching that infants are born guilty of sin, it is clear from the history of Roman Catholic theology that original sin included imputation of the guilt of Adam and Eve’s sin upon all of humanity.

There are notable implications for the doctrine of original sin. If original sin is true, then human nature is bad—not only positionally, but fundamentally bad. Not only do we bear the guilt of our first parents upon our souls, we inherited a corrupted ontology and therefore an inability to do anything good. Adam’s guilt changed human nature itself into something dirty, pitting nature against grace. If human nature is inherently depraved, what does this mean for the Incarnation? How could God take on human flesh? Did Christ inherit Adam’s guilt and corrupted nature? Of course not, and therefore bad theology begets bad theology.

Heterodox theology #1: The doctrine of the immaculate conception of Mary put forth by Roman Catholicism conveniently sidesteps the problem of God taking on a corrupted human nature by guaranteeing the nature of His mother to be free from the stain of original sin transmitted through the corrupted seed of an earthly father. This is a logical outworking of the doctrine of original sin. While the Orthodox Church believes that Mary was full of grace from her childhood, we do not need to “fix” her humanity prior to the Annunciation to explain our Christology, because the early Church never taught this doctrine of original sin in the first place.

Heterodox theology #2: The doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement stems from the same legal categories created by the doctrine of original sin in western theology. Original sin belongs to a legal paradigm in which the wrath of God against humanity for Adam’s sin must be satisfied so that we can be saved from eternal hellfire. God’s justice and love, however, cannot be separated from each other because our relationship with God is based on freedom, not necessity. While the atonement of Christ is certainly an Orthodox concept, the salvation of humanity cannot happen through a simple act of forgiveness or juridical payment plan. Salvation can only happen through gradual destruction of the devil and our passions by working out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12).

Heterodox theology #3: The doctrine of limbo also sidesteps the problem of original sin for the unbaptized in Roman Catholic theology. A rather nuanced concept, humanity’s “loss of original justice” still results in separation from God and eligibility for punishment according to Roman Catholic theology. Thus, even though they may not technically inherit Adam’s guilt, unbaptized infants who die are relegated to an eternity in limbo, functionally implicating the traditional Roman Catholic understanding of original sin—a doctrine which ultimately dies the death of a thousand qualifications. What differentiates that gulf between heaven and hell for each person, however, is the accumulation of guilt due to a personal, not inherited, loss of justification. At any rate, the more we choose to speculate about the intricacies of salvation and damnation, the more doctrines we must use to support our speculation. God’s grace cannot be measured with scales.

The Orthodox picture of fallen humanity is far less somber than that of Roman Catholicism. Although the Orthodox Church does teach that humanity is damaged by sin, our depravity is not total, consummate, or inherent to human nature—we retain our reason and free will (Imago Dei). The personal consequences for moral deviation are spiritual death and physical death, but the universal consequences for humanity are physical death, disease, and difficult labor. Death is the consequence of breaking communion with God, not a judgment, because created beings cannot continue to exist without God. Since Adam and Eve are linked to humanity, and humanity is linked to creation, all of nature is subjected to the same death and corruption. We inherited a cosmos where sickness and death reign. As Metropolitan Kallistos Ware put it, “Even though we are not guilty of the sins of others, yet we are somehow always involved.”

The Fall of Adam and Eve also created an inclination for humanity to move away from God. While Adam and Eve did not possess a mature holiness, they did possess innocence and potential for holiness, which were lost after the Fall. The theologians of the Church speak of a corruption of human nature which is the result of a loss of the indwelling grace of God—and humans sin because we are willingly yoked to the power of death and its consequences rather than to God’s nurturing grace.

According to St. Maximos the Confessor, the problem is that our natural will has become a gnomic will, meaning that we can now waver between choices. The gnomic mode is what inclines us to sin against nature. Even after heaping guilt upon his own soul, a person’s nature is not mutilated beyond recognition. The corruption of human nature from sin is a sickness or illness. A woman with cancer is ill, but she herself is not fundamentally bad. A boy with paralyzed legs cannot walk, but he himself is no less of a human than anyone with functioning legs. In the same way, sin is not the tainting of a nature but corruption within an individual.

Building upon classic Orthodox theology of God, Patriarch Meletios Pegas (1549-1601) put it this way: although the “energies” of a person’s soul are spoiled by sin, the person’s “essence” is not. Just as the distinction between essence and energies is of vital importance to an Orthodox understanding of God, it can also assist in explaining humanity’s inclination to sin without inheriting the guilt of our first parents. Sin is not who we are, but what we do.

Even though the Orthodox Church rejects the western articulation of original sin, we still need to be born again. After a person sins, the gulf between him and God begins to grow. Every time he heaps guilt upon his soul, he pushes himself further away from union with God and wounds himself in the process. Baptism is the beginning of the lifelong journey of repentance in the Church in which we die to the law of death in order to live according to the law of life; our past, present, and future sins are washed away, we are no longer a slave to the effects of sin, and we are re-instilled with God’s grace and the potential for immortality in Christ. Even though infants themselves are not guilty of original sin, they receive all of these benefits at baptism because they inherited mortality and a weak will. The cross is not an atoning satisfaction or penal substitutionary act, but rather it is Christus Victor—the victorious Christ who trampled sin and death through his voluntary, atoning sacrifice. God took on the flesh of his creatures and allowed us to participate in the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4), thus restoring creation to become what it was meant to be.

The doctrine of original sin as originally articulated by the Roman Catholic Church and later by Protestants is not simply a case of semantics, but an erroneous anthropology resulting from theological reactions and misunderstandings. This doctrine has wide implications for anthropology—sin, grace, free will, baptism, and theosis. How we understand the effects of the Fall directly bears on our soteriology. The Orthodox position on original sin (“ancestral sin”) is that humanity inherited only the consequences of sin from Adam and Eve, rather than their guilt. Baptism restores God’s grace to humans so that we have the ability to overcome sin and death and finish the song of humanity.

81 comments:

  1. Thank you for this nuanced, thoughtful, and wonderfully clear articulation of the differences between the eastern and western views. I particularly appreciated your ecumenical sensitivity. I am a protestant, but one with deep affinity for the eastern tradition and in certain ways I am more eastern in my thought than Western. But beyond such divisions, I am thankful for articles like this one interested in thoughtful engagement of differences so we can discuss with one another and understand each other better.

      1. More Heresies taught from the so called Eastern “Orthodox” sect. To say that possessing a fractured human nature and therefore having the tendency to sin which brought death into the world is the mother of all of your heresies. Since when is possessing a fractured human nature and therefore a tendency to sin; sinful?

        The guilt of Adam’s sin brought death into the world immediately, otherwise, according to your erroneous theology, sin only entered into the world as man began to personally sin.

        Your Ancestral Sin heresy is a direct result from the heretical teachings of Palamas, putting eastern “Orthodox” Christians on the same playing field as the Dualist heretics of the 13th century.

        Augustine wasn’t the only Church Father who taught Original Sin, there were many other Fathers who taught the same doctrine.

        Repent from your schism, You still have time.

        1. Seems to me that the death you are referring to is physical death, while the Biblical accounts are referring to a spiritual death (separation from God), physical death is introduced as a removal of the tree of life by God himself so that humanity would not permanently be separated from him. So physical death is a consistent reminder that points to a greater consequence.

  2. Not being Orthodox, I have not heard much of your position on this subject beforehand. Would someone explain further the ideas behind “essence” and “energy” within the context of Orthodox belief?

    1. Byron,

      I’m not Orthodox either, and the essence/energies distinction was new to me as well. Here is how I understand it:

      We can never know God in His “Essence” that is, His true nature or His “God-ness” if you will. That is utterly beyond human comprehension and will remain so even in the life in the ages to come.

      What we can know about God comes from His “Energies” what He does and how He interacts with the created world.

    2. This distinction is most fully articulated in the works of St. Gregory Palamas as occasioned in response to the teachings of the heretic Barlaam in the 14th century. Essentially, God can not be known in his essence, which is infinitely beyond finite creatures, but he can be truly known in His ‘energies’. And His energies are not other than Himself, or a created ‘effect’, or a diminution of Himself, but *are* Himself in His Uncreated glory, and can be partaken of by humans through grace. To give a very brief introduction.

  3. An excerpt from Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes, by Fr. John Meyendorff:

    The scriptural text, which played a decisive role in the polemics between Augustine and the Pelagians, is found in Romans 5:12 where Paul speaking of Adam writes, “As sin came into the world through one man and through sin and death, so death spreads to all men because all men have sinned [eph ho pantes hemarton]” In this passage there is a major issue of translation. The last four Greek words were translated in Latin as in quo omnes peccaverunt (“in whom [i.e., in Adam] all men have sinned”), and this translation was used in the West to justify the doctrine of guilt inherited from Adam and spread to his descendants. But such a meaning cannot be drawn from the original Greek — the text read, of course, by the Byzantines. The form eph ho — a contraction of epi with the relative pronoun ho — can be translated as “because,” a meaning accepted by most modern scholars of all confessional backgrounds.22 Such a translation renders Paul’s thought to mean that death, which is “the wages of sin” (Rm 6:23) for Adam, is also the punishment applied to those who like him sin. It presupposed a cosmic significance of the sin of Adam, but did not say that his descendants are “guilty” as he was unless they also sinned as he did.

    A number of Byzantine authors, including Photius, understood the eph ho to mean “because” and saw nothing in the Pauline text beyond a moral similarity between Adam and other sinners in death being the normal retribution for sin. But there is also the consensus of the majority of Eastern Fathers, who interpret Romans 5:12 in close connection with 1 Corinthians 15:22 — between Adam and his descendants there is a solidarity in death just as there is a solidarity in life between the risen Lord and the baptized. This interpretation comes obviously from the literal, grammatical meaning of Romans 5:12. Eph ho, if it means “because,” is a neuter pronoun; but it can also be masculine referring to the immediately preceding substantive thanatos (“death”). The sentence then may have a meaning, which seems improbable to a reader trained in Augustine, but which is indeed the meaning which most Greek Fathers accepted: “As sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, so death spread to all men; and because of death, all men have sinned…”

    More here: http://www.holytrinitymission.org/books/english/byzantine_theology_j_meyendorf.htm#_Toc26430266

    1. That is an excellent point which I thought about using in this article. Ultimately I decided not to address it because there was only so much I could fit into one essay addressing such a broad topic, but thank you for sharing that quote.

  4. “the Orthodox Church rejects the western articulation of original sin”

    “Rejects” or is less dogmatic? This strikes me as a similar case as the recent post on transubstantiation ( https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/orthodoxyandheterodoxy/2013/08/14/the-doctrine-of-transubstantiation-in-the-orthodox-church/ ).

    For example, see the Orthodox Catechism of Met. Peter Mogila of Kiev (1633-1647) ( http://esoptron.umd.edu/ugc/ocf1b.html ):

    Q. 24. Are all men subject to the same sin of Adam?

    R. Just as all men were in the state of innocence with Adam, so when he sinned, all men sinned in him and have remained in that state of sin. They are subject, therefore, not only to sin but also the punishment for sin, which is expressed in God’s decree: “On whatever day you shall eat of it, you will die the death.”[64] Repeating the same, the holy Apostle says: “Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world, and by sin – death, so death passed upon all men in whom all have sinned.”[65] For this reason we are conceived in the maternal womb and born even today in this sin, as the Psalmist says: “For behold I was conceived in iniquities; and in sins did my mother conceive me.”[66] This sin is called original for these reasons: first, because before this time man was stained by no sin, although the devil sinned, through whose initiative the sin known as original arose in man. Adam, the perpetrator of the sin, is subject to it as also are we, his posterity. Secondly, it is called original because no man is conceived without it.

    1. That’s an interesting point I’d be open to exploring, but I do think that Fr. John Meyendorff’s distinction between the Latin and Greek translations of Romans 5:12 is worth checking out (“Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes”) and might contextualize Met. Peter’s explanation.

      1. The translation difference is certainly important, and I should look into Meyendorff in greater depth on this point. There’s no doubt that it contributed to St. Augustine’s particular articulation of the doctrine as well, but can his stance so simply be boiled down to one mistranslation? Perhaps, but St. Augustine, whatever anyone thinks of his conclusions, is an excellent thinker, and an exhaustive one at that. More likely he was driven not only by this one passage, but by many (he was) and not only by mere speculation but surely in response to a particular, heretical challenge to the faith (Pelagianism in particular, but also perhaps Donatism, Manicheism, Arianism, or something else). Furthermore, much of St. Augustine’s thought may be colored by the mindset and worldview of late-fourth, early fifth-century North Africa. With regards to the context of time, we will cannot turn back the clock. With regards to the region, there are sadly few left who still claim the name Christian.

        All that is to say that the issue is very complex. Indeed, one can find St. Justinian affirming St. Augustine on this point. No doubt many medieval, Eastern writers also sided with St. Augustine’s specific articulation of original sin. Most of his works were untranslated before that time, which explains the general silence among Greek and other writers (St. Justinian, of course, knew Latin as Roman Emperor). And importantly, we must remember that arguments from silence are logically fallacious.

        As for me, I happen to be a convert (from Evangelicalism). Personally, I like that the Orthodox tradition is more flexible in many such instances (especially this one) as well as clearer and (generally) more consistent in many others (the doctrine of the Holy Trinity being the most important). But one thing I am sure of: when I converted I became Orthodox, not Eastern. Germany, Scotland, and Ireland are in my blood and my earthly citizenship belongs to the United States. Orthodoxy does not do away with all of that but fulfills it. Moreover, St. Augustine and many other Western, Augustinian saints (pre-schism, I mean, to be clear) are just as much part of the Orthodox Church as any one who lived in a more Easterly geographic region. We must first listen carefully to their voices, take them on their own terms, embrace them as essential to our tradition (as the eye may not say to the hand, “I do not need you”) and only then, with great caution, can we on some points criticize their teaching. And only dogmatically so when a father’s opinion directly contradicts an established dogma. This would be true even if there was no trace of any Eastern father affirm St. Augustine’s articulation of original sin. As much as I tend away from emphatically and explicitly employing it myself, it was not a major point of contention in ages past, and we would do well, I think, not to needlessly multiply our reasons for division when Christ himself prays, even now, that we may be one.

  5. Though I agree that this is a fine article differentiating the Western and Eastern concept of the ancestral curse, I must, again, lament the treatment of St. Augustine of Hippo Regius. by the author. Augustine has become the bogeyman in Eastern Orthodoxy, maliciously maligned by people like the late Fr. Romanides and the Rev. Dr. Azkoul, who, I don’t think, really read Augustine. Was Augustine wrong? Sure. Name one saint who was right about everything.

    I think Augustine would do a major facepalm when he saw how the Roman Catholics and Lutherans, but especially the Calvinists have used and abused his writings to propagate their respective anthropologies and what Christ’s Death and Resurrection accomplished. Even in Augustine’s Retractations, he does major rewrites and clarification of his Anti-Pelagian writings that are more in line with the consensus patrum, though some things are still wrong which can be rehabilitated by a reading of St. John Cassian.

    1. I completely agree with you! I have a special devotion to St. Augustine and also lament the fact that he has become a scapegoat for some contemporary EO Christians. St. Augustine did teach that “such infants as quit the body without being baptized will be involved in the mildest condemnation of all. That person, therefore, greatly deceives both himself and others, who teaches that they will not be involved in condemnation,” but the abuse of his writings are what helped foster unorthodox anthropologies. Hence, I chose the words “inspired by” his reactionary theology since bashing him is certainly not the point of this article.

    2. It is you who have not read Augustine — English or Latin. He did not make a few mistakes, Augustine developed a new mind-set (phronema). He erected a theology with presuppostions contrary to those assumed by the Fathers. Hence, predestination, filioque, a new christology, ecclesiology, etc.,,

  6. The more I read this kind of Orthodox apologetical exposition of the difference between Roman Catholic and Orthodox theology on a particular issue, the more it seems to me that we Orthodox are getting a little carried away in our attempts to make greater distinctions.

    I read this article sympathetically, and I’m not disputing any of the facts in it, but I’m not sure that the conclusion that the Roman Catholic church is in grave error about original is warranted. Surely Orthodox theologians have sometimes taken positions similar, if not indistinguishable, from the teachings of the Catholic church (see for instance the excerpt from the Orthodox Catechism posted in a comment above). Some examples of this other than the original sin issue would be the question of transubstantiation (as a recent article this website handily pointed out) and the question of soteriology (surely there is ample Biblical and patristic support for an Orthodox doctrine of vicarious atonement).

    As the article mentioned, Roman Catholic teachings seems to be relaxing from the rigid, dogmatic stances it used to take on such fine points of doctrine — but do we find that we Orthodox are heading the opposite direction? In reaction to Catholic extremes of recent centuries are we (who pride ourselves in our mystical and apophatic approach to theology) now barricading ourselves into a theological corner?

    I do not believe that the Orthodox Church of old was so narrow in what they were willing to entertain as acceptable theology as many vocal members of it are today. Due to the revolutions, persecutions, and upheavals that Orthodox Christians have endured in the centuries since the fall of Constantinople, our people have often lived in fear, our seminaries have often been forcibly closed, and our scholarship has dwindled from what it once was. Entire cities and lands have been emptied of their Orthodox Christian inhabitants. As a consequence, it has been more and more difficult to maintain a range of nuanced perspectives on various theological topics. In time I expect we will God’s grace once again see a flourishing of Orthodox scholarship, and that will necessarily entail a robust and un-rigid theological culture that is not afraid of ambiguity.

    I think we Orthodox converts in the West are especially prone to seek a single unanimous answer to every question. This is because many of us are fleeing from the rotten theological modernism and innumerable factions of the western churches. But we needn’t be so insecure that we imagine uncrossable lines where none exist.

    I am certainly not trying to silence discussion about the truth or falsity of the Roman Catholic doctrine of original sin (and indeed this article is a valuable contribution), but I think that we should admit that there may be a plurality of acceptable (i.e. Traditional) views. In fact we know that we often must hold two seemingly contrary views in tension in order to avoid error.

  7. Boooo! Grave disservice to the Catholic position!

    CCC 404 “…How did the sin of Adam become the sin of all his descendants? The whole human race is in Adam “as one body of one man”.293 By this “unity of the human race” all men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as all are implicated in Christ’s justice. Still, the transmission of original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand. But we do know by Revelation that Adam had received original holiness and justice not for himself alone, but for all human nature. By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state.294 It is a sin which will be transmitted by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice. And that is why original sin is called “sin” only in an analogical sense: it is a sin “contracted” and not “committed” – a state and not an act. ”

    That’s not actual real guilt that Trent is talking about, but only guilt in an analogical sense preciously because it’s not the transmission of actual tangible sin, but only sin in an analogical sense.

        1. Yes, a novel doctrine. A few quotes have been put together and are no read out of context. Evenmore, the author of the article is in fact Fr. Lev Gillet, may his memory be eternal! He was a convert to the Holy Orthodox Church from Roman Catholicisim.

      1. Thanks for the link to the Eirenikon blog. I’m interested in this question given the actual range of Orthodox thought on original sin. The late great Elder Paisios the Athonite seems to have taught it too, in relation to the union of Ss Joachim and Anna, based on a mystical experience he had when a young monk on Mt. Sinai — this is detailed in the authoritative biography by the late Hieromonk Isaac Atallah.

        And if it turns out that the immaculate conception or at least the in utro sanctification of the Theotokos is the patristic consensus, it can be squared with an understanding of original/ancestral sin that leaves out transmitted guilt.

        1. I’m sorry, but you’re incorrect.

          “The Roman Catholics fall into error and believe, supposedly from piety, that Panagia was born without original sin. While Panagia was not free from original sin, she gave birth however as God wished to be born to men after creation. She was all-pure(1), because Her conception occurred without pleasure. The Holy Ancestors of God, after fervent prayer to God to grant them a child, conceived not by sexual lust, but by obedience to God. This fact I had experienced on Sinai. (2)”

          source http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2009/12/elder-paisios-on-sts-joachim-and-anna.html

    1. The sin may be analogical, but the guilt certainly isn’t. The Council of Trent explicitly uses the word “reatus” which is a legal term commonly translated as a guilt or liability. Some Catholic apologists claim that “reatus” does not refer to guilt but merely the state of a condemned person. I don’t think this distinction worth much a difference, and in this case the Calvinist position, that there is no liability (reatus) without fault (another legal term: “culpa”) is more logical in my opinion, albeit harsher.

      The Western doctrine of the original sin is couched in legal terminology. Such terminology, was, of course, borrowed by some Orthodox hierarchs like Peter Mogila in order to do battle with Protestant heretics. But Orthodoxy does not see the rift between God and Man from a forensic but a therapeutic standpoint. Adam did not lose his communion with God because of an external punishment resulting in the loss of superadded grace. Rather, Adam himself withdrew from God (quite literally, as seen in the biblical narrative) and focused his heart on earthly things, resulting with all the terrible consequences. In a sense, human nature caught a deadly illness.

      Another difference between Orthodoxy and Catholicism that might affect the discussion is the nature of grace. Orthodoxy, of course, sees divine grace as the uncreated energies of God. In Catholicism it is a created effect in the soul. In Catholic anthropology, grace, since it was created, was simply taken away from Adam, who returned to a “natural” state. However, in Orthodox anthropology, Adam was already in the natural state in the Garden, and after the Fall became sub-natural. God’s energies sustain all creation, and we already dwell in God’s uncreated glory without knowing it. So it would be nonsensical from an Orthodox point of view to see original sin as merely the privation of grace, because grace is everywhere just as God is everywhere. Rather, the human instrument which is capable of perceiving this grace—the heart—started to malfunction.

      The Incarnation of Christ renewed human nature and opened the pathway for each individual to heal his inner brokenness within the Church.

      1. Excellent point about the distinction between the EO and RC views of grace. I wanted to address that in the article but there was only so much I could say in what was meant to be an essay not a dissertation.

  8. How about that resurrectional troparion in which we say the myrrh bearing women cast from them their ancestral curse? I’ve always wondered what that meant!

    1. It can vary with the Orthodox. Some believe there is no salvation outside of Orthodoxy. I think most do not feel that and that some heterodox may be saved. While other churches are not The Church (visible), that may not mean in the end they are not reunited with The Church. I believe it was Fr. Florovsky who stated something along the lines of: we can see where the Church is, but we cannot see where it is not.

      Yet ultimately all that are saved will be united with the Orthodox Church, whether here or in the age to come. There is no salvation outside of the Church BUT not every member is visible.

      So can a virtuous pagan be saved? God can do all things, but He also has given us a Will and will not do anything to thwart that. He has ordained a choice to us in His sovereignty.

      In the end, it’s more about if the virtuous pagan wants to know God as He is and commune with Him or if the pagan rejects God as He is because the pagan wants to be god himself (and the little “g” is intentional).

      As CS Lewis said – there are only two types of people in the world. Those who say to God, Thy will be done and those to whom God says (with sadness) thy will be done. We reject God, He does not reject us.

      Infants do not have that choice and do not bear Adam and Eve’s guilt. I see no reason to believe a child, baptized or not, could not and would not be saved. Orthodox baptize and have infants partake in the Eucharist as soon as is possible for good reason – to feed on the very blood and body of Christ, yet lack of baptism does not mean one is damned.

      1. There is evidence for the rudiments of the idea of “Limbo” in some eastern Fathers, but only in conjectural or legendary terms, as far as I can tell. St. Anastasius of Sinai, when asked about unbaptized infants, conjectures that they might escape Hell but not obtain Heaven, but does not lay down a definitive teaching. The idea there is not so much that such infants are guilty, as that they haven’t struggled for virtue and so should not receive a crown. A roughly contemporary “edifying tale” from Cypriot circles (found either in the collection of edifying tales by the same Anastasius, or in the Life of St. John the Almsgiver by Leontios of Neapolis, all Cypriots by origin) presents a discussion among the clergy of one of the cities of Cyprus about the lot of a rich man who was very generous in almsgiving but also given to fornication. One of the clergy had a vision in which he saw the man in an inbetween place, spared the pangs of Hell but deprived of the light of Paradise. But St Symeon the New Theologian explicitly rejects this idea, in his Hymns and probably elsewhere.

  9. I am also a bit leery of too strong a distinction between eastern and western theology on this matter, at least in their best representatives (not the extremes of TULIP and so on). St. Maximus seems to have held a position that is closer to St. Augustine than other eastern Fathers. Some useful articles have been written about this, e.g. by John Boojamra in SVTQ (1976) and Jean-Claude Larchet in Sobornost (1998). Maximus distinguishes between sin committed and contracted, and identifies the latter as essentially the state of corruption and death into which we are born. It is this state which Christ assumed when he “was made sin” for us, as St. Paul teaches.

    St. Maximus also seems to have related the transmission of sin to sexual procreation, as the linchpin of the vicious circle of pleasure and pain in which humans are trapped. According to him, this is why Christ had a virgin birth — by not having a birth stemming from pleasure, he did not owe the corresponding penalty of pain i.e. death; so by taking on this death voluntarily, he broke its power because it had been applied unjustly in his case. There’s a whole lot of forensic metaphor going on there, and the logic seems amenable to the reasoning behind the RC dogma of immaculate conception, with pleasure (hedone) in his system corresponding to concupiscence in Augustine’s — even if Maximus nowhere takes it that far (it is Christ’s birth which breaks the cycle of sin and death, not the Virgin’s; an important difference!). Of course we need to understand his language in its Greek patristic context, as well as understand if St. Maximus is really expressing the patristic consensus here or is an erratic outlier on this particular question.

    Regarding the relation of atonement to original sin, hopefully the upcoming publication of the proceedings of the first annual Florovsky Symposium at Princeton will help shed some patristic light.

    1. Thank you for your feedback. Sometimes it can feel like a battle between semantics. There are EO Christians who argue that St. Maximos and St. Augustine are saying the same thing, but this is something I have not really studied yet.

      1. But semantics are important — at least etymologically — “semantikon” means “significant” in Greek 🙂

        I recommend the articles by Boojamra and Larchet. They do not exhaust the question, and Larchet’s is not very polished (often a problem in Sobornost) but are a good place to start. I can email them to you if you’d like, using the contact info on your blog.

  10. Amazing how you do not quote a single Church Father!

    As St. Cyril of Alexandria said, “Since [Adam] produced children after falling into this state, we, his descendants, are corruptible as the issue of a corruptible source. It is in this sense that we are heirs of Adam’s curse. Not that we are punished for having disobeyed God’s commandment along with him, but that he became mortal and the curse of mortality was transmitted to his seed after him, offspring born of a mortal source . . . So corruption and death are the universal inheritance of Adam’s transgression…Human nature became sick with sin. Because of the disobedience of one (that is, of Adam), the many became sinners; not because they transgressed together with Adam (for they were not there) but because they are of his nature, which entered under the dominion of sin . . . Human nature became ill and subject to corruption through the transgression of Adam, thus penetrating man’s very passions.”

    St. Gennadius Scholarius, Patriarch of Constantinople, writes: “Everyone
    in the following of Adam has died, because they have all inherited their nature from
    him. But some have died because they themselves have sinned, while others have
    died only because of Adam’s condemnation – for example, children”.

    “Human nature is sinful from its very conception. God did not create man sinful, but pure and holy. But since the first-created Adam lost this garment of sanctity, not from any other sin than pride alone, and became corruptible and mortal, all people also who came from the seed of Adam are participants of the ancestral sin from their very conception and birth. He who has been born in this way, even though he has not yet performed any sin, is already sinful through this ancestral sin.”
    – St.Symeon the New-Theologian

    “All men from the first to the last are made from the same piece of clay, therefore they all, from the first to the last, form one body and one life. Each is responsible for all, and each is influencing all. If one link of this body sins, the whole body must suffer. If Adam sinned, you and I must suffer for it…”
    – St Nikolai Velimirovich

    “If the conception of God had been from seed, He would not have been a new man, nor the Author of new life which will never grow old. If He were from the old stock and HAD INHERITED ITS SIN, He would not have been able to bear within Himself the fullness of the incorruptible Godhead or to make His Flesh an inexhaustible Source of sanctification, able to wash away even the defilement of our First Parents by its abundant power, and sufficient to sanctify all who came after them” -St Gregory Palamas

    “If anyone asserts that Adam’s transgression injured him alone and not his descendants, or declares that certainly death of the body only, which is the punishment of sin, but not sin also, which is the death of the soul, passed through one man into the whole human race, he will do an injustice to God, contradicting the Apostle who says: ‘As through one man sin entered into the world, and through sin death, so also death passed into all men, in whom all have sinned’”- Council of Orange (529)

    Justin Martyr: “Mankind by Adam fell under death, and the deception of the serpent; we are born sinners…NO GOOD THINGS DWELL IN US.”

    Eusebius: “The liberty of our will in choosing things that are good is destroyed.”

    Cyprian of Carthage: “If, in the case of the worst sinners and of those who formerly sinned much against God, when afterwards they believe, the REMISSION OF THEIR SINS is granted and no one is held back from Baptism and grace, how much more, then, should an INFANT not be held back, who, having but recently been BORN, has done no sin [committed no personal sin], EXCEPT THAT, BORN OF THE FLESH ACCORDING TO ADAM, HE HAS CONTRACTED THE CONTAGION OF THAT OLD DEATH FROM HIS FIRST BEING BORN. For this very reason does he approach more easily to receive the REMISSION OF SINS: because the SINS FORGIVEN HIM are NOT his OWN but THOSE OF ANOTHER [i.e. inherited from Adam]”
    Athanasius:”Adam, the first man, altered his course, and through sin death came into the world….When Adam transgressed, SIN reached out TO ALL MEN.”

    Ambrose of Milan: “NO CONCEPTION IS WITHOUT INIQUITY, since there are NO PARENTS WHO HAVE NOT FALLEN. And if there is NO INFANT WHO IS EVEN ONE DAY WITHOUT SIN, much less can the CONCEPTIONS of a mother’s womb be WITHOUT SIN.”

    The ORTHODOX Catachisms of the previous centuries ALL state we inherit Original/Ancestral sin AND its guilt! I can provide that if you wish as well.

    1. Jared, your first two quotations (Cyril and Gennadius) seem to contradict your argument, arguing instead that there is NOT inherited guilt. Most of the rest of them can probably be interpreted within the semantics I mentioned above re: St. Maximus, i.e. “sin” referring to the state of corruptibility and passion that we have inherited (which Christ assumed) vs. “sin” as a personal act (which Christ never did). This is an important distinction, especially when we keep in mind that the Greek word translated as “sin”, “hamartia,” has a wider range of meaning than “sin” in English, at least as it is currently used. The first sense of sin does not carry any guilt, even in Maximus who is perhaps closest to Augustine. One or two of the quotations from Latin Fathers might also be interpreted within this model, but rather are probably affected by the problematic idea of transmission of guilt which found its fullest late antique expression in Augustine. The Council of Orange was mitigating his predestinarian views, but as you can see, it perpetuated the erroneous translation of Romans 5:12, “in whom all have sinned.” Lastly, even if, as you state, ALL the post-Byzantine catechisms state inherited guilt, this may be due to the neo-scholastic influence prominent in all Orthodox theology during that period.

      In general, the use of florilegia such as yours is very problematic, especially when, as in this case, it deals with a very complex and multifaceted issue.

      By the way, Gennadius Scholarius has not been canonized (although maybe he should be). Not your error alone, as I think Matthew Baker has also referred to him as a saint elsewhere on this web site. I have been to the monastery in Greece where he is buried and the nuns there, of all people, would know if he were canonized.

      1. Christ doesn’t assume “corruptibility and passion” in St Maximus. For him, these are passed down through sexual reproduction. Saying that Christ assumed these is tantamount to saying that St Maximus denies the virgin birth.

        1. I wonder if anyone is still tracking this, but I’ve been looking for a way to ask you this: I’m wondering if the two positons, the Ancestral Sin and the traditional understanding of Original Sin are saying the same thing but that the missing factor is Satan? I guess I understand and have become very sympathetic to Ancestral Sin but I don’t think that we should be ashamed of Original Sin any more that we should be Ancestral sin – they both raise the same questions about God’s justice – whether you’re blamed for the guilt of one or subjected to their mess without anyone asking for your input . Instead of needing Baptism to wash away the guilt of original sin, would it not be sufficient to say that Baptism is needed to free you from bondage to Satan and to enter/transfer you into the Kingdom of the Son – to confer upon you the blessings of the Church – hence the exorcism in the baptismal liturgy? I find Satan missing in most of the conversations on Original Sin or in talk about Christian anthropology.

      2. Nathaniel, St Maximus teaches that Christ, precisely because of the virgin birth, was not under the _necessity_ of corruptibility and passion, but _freely assumed_ them in order to save mankind. I.e. he voluntarily accepted to be subject to the blameless passions (hunger, fatigue, fear, etc.) and to corruptibility to the point of death; but since he was “free among the dead”, none of these things ruled him, and instead he _used_ them to free us as well. This seems to me a straightforward presentation of Maximus (and indeed of patristic soteriology), but if I’m missing something I’d be happy to be corrected.

      3. Just to note, Gennadios Scholarios is listed as a saint on the calendar of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and other calendars, celebrated August 31. When he was canonized, or if this is just a mistake, I don’t know.

    2. Jared is correct. This is a blog influenced by contemporary liberal christian trends.
      It does not reflect historic genuine Orthodox beliefs. It is a blog for the “convertadox”. Trying to superimpose the liberalism from past protestantism and wannabe “world council of churches” professional ecumenist cradledox onto unsuspecting victims.

      Stick to Orthodox apologetics from before 1950 and you’ll be far safer than this frightening blog. And yes, the Church Fathers writings in good translation – that’s where the truth is at.

      1. “…the Church Fathers writings in good translation – that’s where the truth is at.”

        Might I suggest reading them in Greek?

      2. nivchek:

        It seems straightforward to me. It’s “zeal not according to knowledge”, in the language of St. Paul. Yes, please, by all means be ooposed to modernization in doctrine, to innovations in tradition etc. That’s part of what it means to be Orthodox. Just don’t incoherently accuse someone of being guilty of it when the exact opposite of true — which is all that is occuring here.

        Jared’s quoting of Saints to substantiate a point he’s trying to make by marshalling quotes that don’t at all substantiate his point (to the extent I can discern what it is) should tell you all you need to know.

    3. It seems you may misunderstand the argument. Literally, every father you quoted supports the position of the Orthodox Church with the exception of St Cyprian of Carthage.

  11. The endless heresy of “semantics” is used by those propagating the mono/miaphysite heresy and the Original/Ancestral Sin deniers. Both of which are unsurprisingly modern arguments against the teachings of the Holy Fathers. I see no possible way how the first two quotations deny inherited sin OR guilt as ALL sin has guilt! The ONLY ones who deny this teaching are the neo Pelagians that follow such “Orthodox teachers” as Romanides, Meyendorff, and Schmemann. These are mostly western “converts” and modernist “theologians” of today’s apostasy. Proof that Christ’s words are being fulfilled that even the elect will be deceived if that were possible.

    If Romans 5:12 is an “erroneous translation” which is either an ignorant statement or a blatant LIE then why did NONE of the Church Fathers have a problem with this? Why was it not until the modern 20th Century that this became a “problem”? This is cause by the humanistic approach to Ancestral/Original Sin. Why is the Church Slavonic translated by Saints Cyril and Methodius EXACTLY the same!? The statement against SAINTS catechisms like Saint Philaret and so many other OUTSTANDING Orthodox Theologians BEFORE the apostates of the 20th Century, and now 21st Century, is not only insulting but blasphemous against the Holy Councils guided by the Holy Spirit preserved by the Holy Fathers. These Catechisms are MUCH more intelligent and simple than ANY of us in our demonic times! We should be humbled and grateful for their preservation of Holy Orthodoxy and MORE people should read them so there were authentic converts rather than deniers of Truth!

    Pelagius AND his teachings have been condemned and ALL the Fathers agree which most modernists will also deny. Trying to “redefine” what the Holy Spirit has given the Orthodox Church! This issue is not that “complex”: as you state but has only become so in the modern era that reinterprets the teachings of the Church and denies the Holy Fathers AND the Holy Spirit.

    I know very well that Gennadius Scholarius is not canonized but I would take his words, which agree with the Saints, a million times over the words of ALL the modernist “scholars” of today who deny Original/Ancestral Sin as handed down by the Church!

      1. Wow. This has gotten very confusing. Where is the middle road, the right path? If we condemn everyone at birth for the sin of Adam, we are creating problems for incarnation all theology and for a loving anthropology. If we let people be guilty of only their own sins, are we Pelagians? This is suddenly confusing, on an issue I had thought was a closed case for the east. What is my error in thinking here? Fr. Andrew?

    1. I am more than likely misunderstanding the tone of your comment Jared, so could you clarify it for me please. What I am getting from what your comment says is that the Church has settled this before, so we should accept it on faith, shut up and follow what the patristic teachings of the Church has laid down for us without question.

      1. Jrj–he is not saying that. Or if he is, we should understand it as his reading of the fathers is not to be questioned. The very same quotes he brings can also establish a contrary view. The fathers clearly understand the distinction between adam’s personal guilt and the loss of communion with God and the resultant inescapability of sin that we inherited from it.

        His vitriol is just misplaced.

  12. On the Council of Orange:
    CANON 1. If anyone denies that it is the whole man, that is, both body and soul, that was “changed for the worse” through the offense of Adam’s sin, but believes that the freedom of the soul remains unimpaired and that only the body is subject to corruption, he is deceived by the error of Pelagius and contradicts the scripture which says, “The soul that sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:20); and, “Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are the slaves of the one whom you obey?” (Rom. 6:16); and, “For whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved” (2 Pet. 2:19).

    CANON 2. If anyone asserts that Adam’s sin affected him alone and not his descendants also, or at least if he declares that it is only the death of the body which is the punishment for sin, and not also that sin, which is the death of the soul, passed through one man to the whole human race, he does injustice to God and contradicts the Apostle, who says, “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned” (Rom. 5:12).

    My comment: The Ancestral Sin caused not only mortality of the body but also of the soul. This state of spiritual death (of which the Lord Himself warned Adam, “If you eat… you shall surely die”) is the “sin” which is transmitted. We could call it concupiscence or sinfulness. It is not the same thing as a personal sin for which one is morally responsible but precedes any and all such sins, of which we are each personally most definitely guilty. I don’t see how Mrs. Bennet’s article, nor the teachings of Fr. Romanides, contradict any of this,.

    Interestingly, the Council of Orange also condemned double predestination, sensing the danger in Augustine’s thought that would later erupt in the Reformation. They would instead uphold the Orthodox teaching of synergy, the cooperation of the enlivened soul with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Here is the particular point from the conclusion:

    “According to the catholic faith we also believe that after grace has been received through baptism, all baptized persons have the ability and responsibility, if they desire to labor faithfully, to perform with the aid and cooperation of Christ what is of essential importance in regard to the salvation of their soul. We not only do not believe that any are foreordained to evil by the power of God, but even state with utter abhorrence that if there are those who want to believe so evil a thing, they are anathema.”

    source: http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/documents/canons_of_orange.html

    1. Correction: Mrs. Bennet cites a canon of Trent (session V. 1) which is essentially Orange’s canon 1 and suggests that it is innovative. She is wrong. The difference of translations of Roman 5:12 not withstanding. it would be of some use to actually compare Orthodox fathers to Trent V on the question of original sin.

  13. Thank you all for the post and discussion. I personally would be interested in some follow-up posts.

    One question of particular interest to me to unpack further would be the grace available to the unbaptized (seen by the Orthodox as a given to the “natural” created state?) vs. that given to the baptized. I have observed in other contexts that the Holy Spirit must be at work even in those outside the Body of Christ (as a result of the Incarnation?) who are empowered by grace also to work in synergy with His conviction of the truth (John 16:8) and without which they would be unable to come to a point of faith and baptism. I have heard that the Fathers have distinguished this by saying before baptism the Holy Spirit works from outside the will and afterwards from within it (and never, in either case, forcing Himself upon it). Bp. Kallistos (Ware) has written, I believe, that we can know where the Church is, but we cannot know where it isn’t–that the Church doesn’t have a monopoly on the Holy Spirit Who “blows where He wills.” He has also written that we are bound by the norms given to the Church, but the Holy Spirit is not.

    I would be interested to see more reflection on this in light of the teachings of the Fathers and how this teaching of the Church is to be distinguished from modern ecumenism (particularly that among conservative Protestants). It seems to me the “ecumenism” of Evangelicals, who propose an “invisible” (i.e., known definitively only to God) universal Church, is seeking to express an intuition of this lack of a monopoly on the Holy Spirit of any one Christian tradition, which ought on some level to be affirmed. The difference is such Evangelicals then also refuse to locate in time/space a single continuous tradition within Christendom where the doctrine and interpretive framework for Scripture are considered normative for all Christians. Where Orthodox Christians propose continuity within their own communion, Evangelicals see (or are taught there is) discontinuity in the historical development of doctrine through the early centuries to the present and use this to justify the disconnect between their own particular tradition(s) and what are considered by Orthodox the normative practices and teachings of orthodox Christians from the earliest centuries of the Church.

    1. Actually, that is only true of some Evangelicals, not all, and probably not most of the ones coming from traditions born directly from the Reformation.

      Presbyterians, for instance, certainly do not believe that way AFAIK. Neither Anglicans and various others AFAIK.

  14. This has been a very interesting discussion. It seems Orthodoxy does not teach that original/ancestral sin entails only death of the body but spiritual death as well. And I know that Catholicism does not teach that each of us is condemned to hell or otherwise held personally guilty for Adam’s sin (at least that’s what the famous Catholic writer Peter Kreeft told me in person). What I’m left thinking is that the main difference between RC and EOC on this topic is the issue of how human nature was effected as a result of the Fall. This last question is something I would like to have fleshed out some more.

  15. Indeed, there is a lot of confusion being expressed in this discussion thread. Jeremy, regardless of who told you what in person, if you check their catechism, it is clear that the RC church teaches that we inherit guilt from Adam and are condemned to hell unless we are availed of the sacraments of the (RC) church. As seems clear to me from reading the Church Fathers quoted by Jared, the Orthodox Church’s teaching is in stark contrast: when Adam sinned, all of creation fell and death (physical death) became the common end to everyone who would subsequently be born. As St. Paul puts it, this is the “wages of sin”. The concept of “spiritual death” (meaning “going to hell”), as a distinction from “physical death” so popular with Protestants is not present in my readings of the Church Fathers.

    Regarding the tone of this thread, I agree with Fr. Andrew in his plea to turn down the rhetoric. Typing in CAPITAL LETTERS to EMPHASIZE YOUR POINT seems to me a POOR SUBSTITUTE for eloquence, and is perhaps suited to other discussion fora, but not one devoted to Christ.

    Lastly, on the criticism that this blog promulgates an Orthodoxy influenced by liberalism and evangelicalism, I have to say that for several years I have listened to and read Fr. Andrew and believe that nothing is further from the truth. Granted, I must qualify my comment by saying that I am not a cradle Orthodox, but a convert, so I suppose I would be called by Jared a “convertadox”. I have never seen that word before, but rather than a pejorative, I take it on gladly and humbly, because it means that I actually studied, investigated, compared and then chose Orthodoxy rather than simply being born into it.

    Likewise, Fr. Andrew, if being liberal means being in the company of Schmemann and Meyendorff, I would happily take that as a complement! .

    1. Thank You Jim Orban, you cleared up some of the problems in understanding I was having with some of the comments in this thread, you are an answer to a prayer.

    2. Ok, now I am confused.

      Really? The concept of spiritual death isn’t present in the church fathers? Or do you mean that the concept of spiritual death being passed on to us from Adam isn’t present in the church fathers? What exactly do we even mean by “spiritual death”?

      Surely physical death isn’t the only thing passed on to us from Adam. At the very least our propensity to sin (tantamount almost to certainty) must also be a result of the fall. Couldn’t that be what is meant by the council of Trent:

      “If any one asserts, that the prevarication of Adam injured himself alone, and not his posterity; and that the holiness and justice [*which I think could mean a state of active holiness and a just life, as opposed to a passive state of justification*], received of God, which he lost, he lost for himself alone, and not for us also; or that he, being defiled by the sin of disobedience, has only transfused death, and pains of the body, into the whole human race, but not sin also, which is the death of the soul; let him be anathema.”

      It doesn’t say (as far as I can see) that we inherit guilt and condemnation from Adam. It says that we inherit sin or “death of the soul”. Of course it was the RC catechism that you said makes it clear that guilt is inherited. I wonder what it says; could you provide a quote?

      Their catechism notwithstanding for the moment, if my interpretation of the Trent quote is correct (or supposing that it is) would that not put it in accordance with Orthodox teaching?

      I’m sorry being so argumentative, I ask these questions in hope of gaining more clarity on this issue.

    1. The article you linked to includes this quote from the Roman catechism which seems to confirm what I was saying “original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted”.

      1. Jeremy,
        The Catholic Catechism is not in and of itself authoritative and , but rather, the statements in it that are authoritative are doctrinally binding. That being said, please see:

        http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/cti_documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070419_un-baptised-infants_en.html

        It represents clearly the change (commonly referred to as doctrinal development) in Roman Catholic/Western teaching on regarding the “original sin” and salvation.

        One telling confusion bit is para. 16-17-18 where it is stated that original sin does not entail personal guilt, but

        “If little children are baptized, then, it is because they are sinners. Although they clearly are not guilty of personal sin, according to Romans 5:12 (in the Latin translation available to Augustine), they have sinned “in Adam”.[28] “Why did Christ die for them if they are not guilty?”[29] All need Christ as their Saviour.”

  16. You are pointing out a difficulty with nailing down Roman Catholic doctrine: because of their concept of “development of doctrine”, beliefs that have been taught for hundreds of years may suddenly be replaced by updated ones which can be subtly or profoundly different. Thus, their current teaching about original sin may sound very similar to the Orthodox teaching. I’m not a Catholic theologian so I can’t comment on what they actually now believe, and anyone who tries to is frankly at risk of being inaccurate because what they believe now can be different than what they believed before. They don’t explain it this way, though, they say that things are simply being clarified, as opposed to being changed. Another example of this is their teaching about Purgatory. Purgatory up to recently was described as a place where the faithful (i.e., Catholics) had to suffer punishment for their venial sins for an often lengthy period of time before being admitted into heaven. But now, Purgatory is explained as a holding place where people go through spiritual preparation before entering into heaven. (If you’d say it sounds very much like the Orthodox concept of “Aerial Toll Houses”, I would agree.) The idea of Purgatory being a place of punishment for sins has seemingly been phased out. On more than one occasion, I have been talking to a Catholic and have tried to point out differences in doctrine between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic church, and they say “Oh, we don’t believe that any more…” As frustrating and difficult as this may be to understand for an Orthodox, perhaps we should welcome these changes as a portend of the restoring of communion between the Eastern and Western Churches in the not-too-distant future.

  17. Sorry for the necro-comment, but I just stumbled upon this article (for the life of me I can’t remember where). My question is thus: how would you mesh this idea of ancestral sin with Romans 5:18?

    Lutheran here, for your reference.

  18. I am a Catholic looking into the Orthodox church. I understand that the Catholic church now teaches that we are not guilty for Adam’s sin. Some will say we were never taught that but as a Catholic with twelve years in Catholic school in the 50’s and 60’s, I was definitely taught that this was emphatically true.

    Can someone from the Orthodox and Catholic tradition please explain their understanding of what the Catholic Catechism 403 teaches. What sin is transmitted to us and what does it mean that this sin is the “death of the soul”. I am particularly interested in what the understanding of the “death of the soul” would be in both traditions. Is our soul dead when we are born?

    CCC 403 —Following St. Paul, the Church has always taught that the overwhelming misery which oppresses men and their inclination towards evil and death cannot be understood apart from their connection with Adam’s sin and the fact that he has transmitted to us a sin with which we are all born afflicted, a sin which is the “death of the soul”.Because of this certainty of faith, the Church baptizes for the remission of sins even tiny infants who have not committed personal sin.

  19. “There are notable implications for the doctrine of original sin. If original sin is true, then human nature is bad—not only positionally, but fundamentally bad.”

    This doesn’t seem to be an implication of a Catholic view. Here is why. Human nature could per se still be good, just defective in orientation and function. That leaves human nature per se intrinsically good, which was Augustine’s point. Sin is a privation, not a positively existing thing. Inherent and intrinsic are two different concepts.

    And the Augustinian tradition doesn’t deny that we can do anything good. Augustine is quite clear in the City of God for example that the pagans have genuine virtues. It is just that they are not properly oriented and so fail to please God. So the thesis is more refined and narrow. We can do nothing good of our own natural power such that it could please God.

    “According to St. Maximos the Confessor, the problem is that our natural will has become a gnomic will, meaning that we can now waver between choices. The gnomic mode is what inclines us to sin against nature.”

    This is a mistake. A natural will is just the power of choosing. The gnomic will is not another power of choosing. Rather it is a way of choosing, namely a peccable way of choosing. It is neutral and it is so because the person willing in this way is not yet impeccable. So Adam had a gnomic will because Adam had a beginning and becoming impeccable necessarily was the result of a process for him. Christ has no beginning qua person, which is why his use of his natural powers of choosing is impeccable. The gnomic will then is a peccable or morally unfixed way of willing, which is why Adam had it prior to the Fall.

  20. I’m pretty sure both the East and West believe that babies are born without sanctifying grace, without which one can’t get into heaven according to the RC Church. Now, the West says that we are born guilty. Not because we actually are guilty, but only because we have the effects of that sin, Adam’s sin. The actual guilt being his in his sin in the garden and the effects being the privation of sanctifying grace. Only in that sense are Adams descendants guilty, in that we lack that original grace. That is why the Immaculate Conception is believed. Mary never had a privation of sanctifying grace, like us. She was preserved in the sense that from the very moment of her existence she was full of grace. To the west, the original sin is just being born with the lack of sanctifying grace. Original sin is almost like a barrier, and baptism ‘removes’ that barrier and makes us capable of receiving sanctifying grace. Mary was without that so called barrier from her very beginning. From this understanding of original sin stems the theological opinion of limbo, where those without sanctifying grace( no heaven) and without personal sin (no fire) go. At least this is this Roman Catholic’s understanding. I might be wrong…

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