A Post on Original Sin

I was putting together a tretise on Original Sin and St. Augustine’s often misconstrued and slandered thoughts on the matter when I came upon this post by Razilaženje. His post is much more sucinct and to the point than mine and I would like to re-post it here for all to read. Your thoughts and comments are welcome!

In the current debate over the Orthodox view of Original Sin, one popular entry is Ancestral Versus Original Sin: An Overview with Implications for Psychotherapy by the Very Rev. Fr. Antony Hughes, rector of St. Mary’s Antiochian Orthodox Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The essay was written in early 2005 at the request of one of the editors of The Journal of Psychology and Christianity, a publication of the Christian Association for Psychological Studies, in order to provide an explanation of the alleged differences in the Eastern and Western doctrines of Original Sin and their bearing on pastoral practice. My purpose in this response is to take on several of what I consider to be the defects of Fr. Antony’s presentation, and to demonstrate the falsity of his artificial dichotomy between Ancestral and Original Sin. I do so not to defend Western Christianity, though I often feel compelled to since that tradition is so deeply misrepresented. Rather, what I find to be of great concern is the jettisoning of concepts that have, for the entirety of Church history, been part and parcel of Orthodox teaching, in favour of the innovations of a few recent thinkers who have been deeply influenced in significant (though certainly not in all) ways by postmodernism and Protestant Liberalism. The straightforward purpose of Ancestral Versus Original Sin (hereafter AvOS) is succinctly laid out in the Abstract of the paper:

The differences between the doctrine of Ancestral Sin—as understood in the church of the first two centuries and the present-day Orthodox Church—and the doctrine of Original Sin—developed by Augustine and his heirs in the Western Christian traditions—is explored. The impact of these two formulations on pastoral practice is investigated. It is suggested that the doctrine of ancestral sin naturally leads to a focus on human death and Divine compassion as the inheritance from Adam, while the doctrine of original sin shifts the center of attention to human guilt and Divine wrath. It is further posited that the approach of the ancient church points to a more therapeutic than juridical approach to pastoral care and counseling.

After a brief introductory anecdote, the relevance of which is to establish the point that “Love, in fact, is the heart and soul of the theology of the early Church Fathers and of the Orthodox Church”, Fr. Antony continues:

The Fathers of the Church—East and West—in the early centuries shared the same perspective: humanity longs for liberation from the tyranny of death, sin, corruption and the devil which is only possible through the Life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Only the compassionate advent of God in the flesh could accomplish our salvation, because only He could conquer these enemies of humanity. It is impossible for Orthodoxy to imagine life outside the all-encompassing love and grace of the God who came Himself to rescue His fallen creation. Theology is, for the Fathers of the Orthodox Church, all about love.

Certainly, no Christian, Eastern or Western, can disagree with this. It is the central truth of the Christian faith. But then the subtle attack on the West, and the not-so-subtle attack on St. Augustine of Hippo begins:

As pervasive as the term original sin has become, it may come as a surprise to some that it was unknown in both the Eastern and Western Church until Augustine (c. 354-430). The concept may have arisen in the writings of Tertullian, but the expression seems to have appeared first in Augustine’s works. Prior to this the theologians of the early church used different terminology indicating a contrasting way of thinking about the fall, its effects and God’s response to it. The phrase the Greek Fathers used to describe the tragedy in the Garden was ancestral sin.

This is demonstrably untrue. In fact, when consulting the standard English-language Patristic anthology, the term original sin is used in Lactantius, Victorinius, Cyril of Jerusalem, and the pseudepigraphal Gospel of Nicodemus, as well as the Canons of Carthage, all before Augustine, while the term ancestral sin occurs not once in the entire series of books, which covers the first eight centuries of Church History. Now, to be fair, it must be said the the Greek terms equivalent to the Latin peccato originaliprogoniki amartia and to propatorikon amartima, terms which are useful, indeed, in showing that there is a difference between the personal act of the First Man, and the condition engendered thereby, are better translated as Ancestral Sin. The problem, however, lies in this: the sharp distinction between Original and Ancestral is not a historical distincitive of Orthodox teaching. The difference in having two Greek terms simply resolves the possible ambiguity of there being only one term in Latin (and English, for that matter). It is, at the same time, noteworthy that Fr. George Mastrantonis uses the terms Ancestral Sin and Original Sin interchangeably. The difficulty involved with Fr. Anthony’s (or, I should say, Fr. John Romanides’, on whom he relies) reassignment of meaning in the two English terms is that it is misleading, and turns into an untrue criticism of Western Christian thought by making use of that very ambiguity. AvOS continues:

Ancestral sin has a specific meaning. The Greek word for sin in this case, amartema, refers to an individual act indicating that the Eastern Fathers assigned full responsibility for the sin in the Garden to Adam and Eve alone. The word amartia, the more familiar term for sin which literally means “missing the mark”, is used to refer to the condition common to all humanity (Romanides, 2002). The Eastern Church, unlike its Western counterpart, never speaks of guilt being passed from Adam and Eve to their progeny, as did Augustine. Instead, it is posited that each person bears the guilt of his or her own sin. The question becomes, “What then is the inheritance of humanity from Adam and Eve if it is not guilt?” The Orthodox Fathers answer as one: death. (I Corinthians 15:21) “Man is born with the parasitic power of death within him,” writes Fr. Romanides (2002, p. 161). Our nature, teaches Cyril of Alexandria, became “diseased…through the sin of one” (Migne, 1857-1866a). It is not guilt that is passed on, for the Orthodox fathers; it is a condition, a disease.

The most common slander of the West made by Orthodox is that Western Christianity is committed to the notion that all mankind is condemned on the basis that the personal guilt of Adam for his personal act of transgression is transmitted to his progeny, rather than the condition of alienation from God, a corrupt heart, a propensity to act sinfully, and mortality. Once again, this is demonstrably untrue. The Roman Catholic Baltimore Catechism says:

56. What happened to Adam and Eve on account of their sin? On account of their sin Adam and Eve lost sanctifying grace, the right to heaven, and their special gifts; they became subject to death, to suffering, and to a strong inclination to evil, and they were driven from the Garden of Paradise. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken; for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return. (Genesis 3:19) 57. What has happened to us on account of the sin of Adam? On account of the sin of Adam, we, his descendants, come into the world deprived of sanctifying grace and inherit his punishment, as we would have inherited his gifts had he been obedient to God. But, by the envy of the devil, death came into the world. (Wisdom 2:24) 58. What is this sin in us called? This sin in us is called original. 59. Why is this sin called original? This sin is called original because it comes down to us through our origin, or descent, from Adam. Therefore as through one man sin entered into the world and through sin death, and thus death has passed unto all men because all have sinned. (Romans 5:12) 60. What are the chief punishments of Adam which we inherit through original sin? The chief punishments of Adam which we inherit through original sin are: death, suffering, ignorance, and a strong inclination to sin. 61. Is God unjust in punishing us on account of the sin of Adam? God is not unjust in punishing us on account of the sin of Adam, because original sin does not take away from us anything to which we have a strict right as human beings, but only the free gifts which God in His goodness would have bestowed on us if Adam had not sinned.

The more recent Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

III. ORIGINAL SIN Freedom put to the test 396 God created man in his image and established him in his friendship. A spiritual creature, man can live this friendship only in free submission to God. The prohibition against eating “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” spells this out: “for in the day that you eat of it, you shall die.” The “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” symbolically evokes the insurmountable limits that man, being a creature, must freely recognize and respect with trust. Man is dependent on his Creator, and subject to the laws of creation and to the moral norms that govern the use of freedom. Man’s first sin 397 Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness. 398 In that sin man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good. Constituted in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully “divinized” by God in glory. Seduced by the devil, he wanted to “be like God”, but “without God, before God, and not in accordance with God”. 399 Scripture portrays the tragic consequences of this first disobedience. Adam and Eve immediately lose the grace of original holiness. They become afraid of the God of whom they have conceived a distorted image – that of a God jealous of his prerogatives. 400 The harmony in which they had found themselves, thanks to original justice, is now destroyed: the control of the soul’s spiritual faculties over the body is shattered; the union of man and woman becomes subject to tensions, their relations henceforth marked by lust and domination. Harmony with creation is broken: visible creation has become alien and hostile to man. Because of man, creation is now subject “to its bondage to decay”. Finally, the consequence explicitly foretold for this disobedience will come true: man will “return to the ground”, for out of it he was taken. Death makes its entrance into human history. 401 After that first sin, the world is virtually inundated by sin There is Cain’s murder of his brother Abel and the universal corruption which follows in the wake of sin. Likewise, sin frequently manifests itself in the history of Israel, especially as infidelity to the God of the Covenant and as transgression of the Law of Moses. And even after Christ’s atonement, sin raises its head in countless ways among Christians. Scripture and the Church’s Tradition continually recall the presence and universality of sin in man’s history: What Revelation makes known to us is confirmed by our own experience. For when man looks into his own heart he finds that he is drawn towards what is wrong and sunk in many evils which cannot come from his good creator. Often refusing to acknowledge God as his source, man has also upset the relationship which should link him to his last end, and at the same time he has broken the right order that should reign within himself as well as between himself and other men and all creatures. The consequences of Adam’s sin for humanity 402 All men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as St. Paul affirms: “By one man’s disobedience many (that is, all men) were made sinners”: “sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned.” The Apostle contrasts the universality of sin and death with the universality of salvation in Christ. “Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.” 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. 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”. 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. 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. 405 Although it is proper to each individual, 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: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin – an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence”. Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle. 406 The Church’s teaching on the transmission of original sin was articulated more precisely in the fifth century, especially under the impulse of St. Augustine’s reflections against Pelagianism, and in the sixteenth century, in opposition to the Protestant Reformation. Pelagius held that man could, by the natural power of free will and without the necessary help of God’s grace, lead a morally good life; he thus reduced the influence of Adam’s fault to bad example. The first Protestant reformers, on the contrary, taught that original sin has radically perverted man and destroyed his freedom; they identified the sin inherited by each man with the tendency to evil (concupiscentia), which would be insurmountable. The Church pronounced on the meaning of the data of Revelation on original sin especially at the second Council of Orange (529)296 and at the Council of Trent (1546). A hard battle. . . 407 The doctrine of original sin, closely connected with that of redemption by Christ, provides lucid discernment of man’s situation and activity in the world. By our first parents’ sin, the devil has acquired a certain domination over man, even though man remains free. Original sin entails “captivity under the power of him who thenceforth had the power of death, that is, the devil”. Ignorance of the fact that man has a wounded nature inclined to evil gives rise to serious errors in the areas of education, politics, social action and morals. 408 The consequences of original sin and of all men’s personal sins put the world as a whole in the sinful condition aptly described in St. John’s expression, “the sin of the world”. This expression can also refer to the negative influence exerted on people by communal situations and social structures that are the fruit of men’s sins. 409 This dramatic situation of “the whole world [which] is in the power of the evil one” makes man’s life a battle: The whole of man’s history has been the story of dour combat with the powers of evil, stretching, so our Lord tells us, from the very dawn of history until the last day. Finding himself in the midst of the battlefield man has to struggle to do what is right, and it is at great cost to himself, and aided by God’s grace, that he succeeds in achieving his own inner integrity.

The Lutheran Augsburg Confession

says:

Article II: Of Original Sin. Also they [the Lutheran Churches] teach that since the fall of Adam all men begotten in the natural way are born with sin, that is, without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with concupiscence; and that this disease, or vice of origin, is truly sin, even now condemning and bringing eternal death upon those not born again through Baptism and the Holy Ghost. They condemn the Pelagians and others who deny that original depravity is sin, and who, to obscure the glory of Christ’s merit and benefits, argue that man can be justified before God by his own strength and reason.

The Reformed Belgic Confession says:

Article 15: Of Original Sin. We believe that, through the disobedience of Adam, original sin is extended to all mankind; which is a corruption of the whole nature, and an hereditary disease, wherewith infants themselves are infected even in their mother’s womb, and which produceth in man all sorts of sin, being in him as a root thereof; and therefore is so vile and abominable in the sight of God, that it is sufficient to condemn all mankind. Nor is it by any means abolished or done away by baptism; since sin always issues forth from this woeful source, as water from a fountain; notwithstanding it is not imputed to the children of God unto condemnation, but by his grace and mercy is forgiven them. Not that they should rest securely in sin, but that a sense of this corruption should make believers often to sigh, desiring to be delivered from this body of death. Wherefore we reject the error of the Pelagians, who assert that sin proceeds only from imitation.

The Reformed Heidelberg Catechism says:

Question 7. Whence then proceeds this depravity of human nature? Answer. From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise; hence our nature is become so corrupt, that we are all conceived and born in sin.

The Presbyterian Westminster Confession of Faith says:

CHAPTER VI. Of the Fall of Man, of Sin, and of the Punishment thereof. I. Our first parents, begin seduced by the subtilty and temptations of Satan, sinned in eating the forbidden fruit. This their sin God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory. II. By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body. III. They being the root of mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed, and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity, descending from them by original generation. IV. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions. V. This corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be through Christ pardoned and mortified, yet both itself, and all the motions thereof, are truly and properly sin. VI. Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, doth, in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal.

The Anglican Articles of Religion say:

IX. Of Original or Birth-Sin. Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam, (as the Pelagians do vainly talk;) but it is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the Spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation. And this infection of nature doth remain, yea in them that are regenerated; whereby the lust of the flesh, called in Greek, phronema sarkos, (which some do expound the wisdom, some sensuality, some the affection, some the desire, of the flesh), is not subject to the Law of God. And although there is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptized; yet the Apostle doth confess, that concupiscence and lust hath of itself the nature of sin.

The Methodist Confession of Faith says:

Article VII—Sin and Free Will We believe man is fallen from righteousness and, apart from the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, is destitute of holiness and inclined to evil. Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God. In his own strength, without divine grace, man cannot do good works pleasing and acceptable to God. We believe, however, man influenced and empowered by the Holy Spirit is responsible in freedom to exercise his will for good.

The purpose of this long recital of Western creeds is to establish that, despite the popular presentation by Orthodox of the aforementioned incorrect characterisation of Western teaching, the reality is that the Western confessions, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant, say nothing about inheriting the personal guilt of Adam’s personal act of sin, but rather concentrate on the effects of that sin, which are transmitted to the entire race of man, which forms an ontological unity with Adam – something we Orthodox also teach. The one document that discusses imputation of guilt, the Westminster Confession, does so in the context of the ontological corruption of mankind, not simply as an unconnected act of transgression by the federal head of the race. In other words, the basis of imputation is not an unjust transfer of guilt-by-association, but a reality rooted in the effect of one man’s sin on the whole race. At the same time, it should be pointed out that the language of the Orthodox in this regard has, historically, been much the same

[…]

In summary, both Eastern and Western Christianity can agree with Fr. Alexander Golubov, who writes

It can be said that while we have not inherited the guilt of Adam’s personal sin, because his sin is also of a generic nature, and because the entire human race is possessed of an essential, ontological unity, we participate in it by virtue of our participation in the human race. “The imparting of Original Sin by means of natural heredity should be understood in terms of the unity of the entire human nature, and of the homoousiotitos [i.e., coessentiality, consubstantiality] of all men, who, connected by nature, constitute one mystic whole. Inasmuch as human nature is indeed unique and unbreakable, the imparting of sin from the first-born to the entire human race descended from him is rendered explicable: ‘Explicitly, as from the root, the sickness proceeded to the rest of the tree, Adam being the root who had suffered corruption’” [St. Cyril of Alexandria].

I will include the rest of this talk in a post tomorrow. . .

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