In the present study, two questions will be posed. The first and more important asks what the faith is that Catholics profess relative to original justice. The second is not dogmatic in the strict sense. It is theological, and inquires how and in what way this truth—like other mysteries—can be understood by man after divine revelation.
Dogmatic. It may be of assistance to present in diagram form what is under consideration here (see accompanying table). If one were to attempt to plot out on a time line the various states that form the religious-moral history of humanity in relation to God, the first, for Catholicism, would be innocence, or original justice. The dividing line DBE is that of original sin. The period or duration signified by the segment AB is discussed subsequently. [Dogmatically it is possible that points B and A coincide with the first moment of humanity's conscious life.]
There is another way to consider the same phenomenon. In the life of the Christian on earth (falling into the segment BC above), there are two stages. The segment A'B' (see accompanying table) is his original religious-moral condition as he enters the world. This is designated as original sin and means the individual is debilitated with regard to leading a life that is worthy of a human being, let alone a son of God. Although this weakness affects his mind and will, he did not personally cause it. Baptism for the child (together with personal conversion in the adult) effects a transformation known as justification.
Christ's merits renew in fallen man the image of his Maker. That renewal, the result of divine initiative, involves at least a partial restoration of the individual to mankind's original condition or state. In a true sense, the
justified man today relives, or recapitulates, in himself the religious-moral history of the race—only in reverse order, as the diagrams indicate. All of this has further implications.
The first thing one must keep in mind is this. The justified man by God's grace through Christ is internally proportioned to living out a life as a son of God. He is not thus constituted when he first comes into the world. Even then, however, he is still absolutely called to do so despite his condition of personal inability to respond without Christ's assistance, which is from the first moment divinely assured him in view of his need and God's goodness. His state at birth or conception is that of Adam in ch. 3 of Genesis rather than that of Adam in ch. 1 or 2—fallen, but with divinely inspired hope of salvation already begun and already affecting him. The justified man, however, is in many, if by no means all, respects like humanity itself in its primordial religious-moral condition. Positive scientific method may not disclose a difference between the baptized and unbaptized, the justified and unjustified. This does not, however, exclude the fact that a difference is there, one perceptible only through divine revelation and its acceptance in faith. Similarly it may be that neither science nor secular history finds any traces of a change in humanity, now in a fallen state although once in a condition of original justice. That change, or difference, is no less real and impresses itself on man only as a result of God's interpretation of human religious history.
Even in divine revelation, however, the state of original justice is not in itself an object of direct, extended consideration. This does not imply that it is without foundation in the written word of God. It is there, but somewhat in the background. Even in the Old Testament, Genesis ch. 2 does not seem to have been written to spell out in detail what man was like before and without the sin and injustice only too evident to Israel beholding itself and other peoples. Together with the third chapter, it forms a divinely inspired account of the origin of evil— tracing it to man and not to God, whose works are just, who made all things good, and who walked in peace, harmony, and friendship with man. Still it is the fact that man caused the central disharmony and injustice in the world that makes him unlike what he was before or what he would have been had he acted otherwise.
A pivotal theme of the New Testament is that God has called sinful man to sonship through Jesus Christ in Baptism. Through the latter, man is restored, renewed, and reformed in the image of his Maker (Eph 4.23–24; Col 3.10; Ti 3 4–5). The life that was once in the world before sin and death gained entrance is restored to men through Jesus Christ, the second Adam (Rom 5.10–21; 1 Cor 15.21–22). The precondition for this is man's existence in a similar state at one point of his religious-moral history.
The same phenomenon manifests itself in the teaching of the Church. It is not as if the Church were directly concerned with Adam's original condition. Its real mission to preach and teach is directed to fallen and redeemed man. Humanity in its state of innocence is relevant as a factor required for a less inadequate grasp of what Jesus Christ has done for historical, guilty man. To restore is to give back what was lost; to restore justice and holiness implies man's possession of both at one time.
In view of this, it is not surprising that the teaching Church prescinded from defining certain questions regarding original justice. One of these was whether man was created immediately in this condition or in one where by divine assistance he was to dispose himself for the latter. Another was whether man in justice and holiness possessed sanctifying grace prior to the Fall. It is dogmatically tenable as well to hold that man was faced with a choice in the first moment of his existence (his response being negative—original sin). In this way original justice is a real, historical divine offer, one with definite effects in man, effects proposed immediately for man's acceptance or rejection. Even in this conception of things, it is still a gratuitous gesture on the part of a loving God, whose generosity does not leave humanity unaffected. Implied is an irrevocable invitation to a rational creature to share in the fellowship or life of the Trinity. Acceptance would have signified man's willingness to be thus transformed, elevated, supernaturalized—in a word, deified, but without losing his human condition. However, there were other gifts as well. One was immortality, the promise of life with immunity from the necessity of undergoing the death man now experiences. Another was integrity; effective commitment to the truly good was not to be accompanied by the difficulty man now feels because of internal conflict within himself.
The Church taught, especially at the Council of Trent (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum 1511), that Adam was constituted by God in holiness and justice. The latter signified a condition in which man was destined for personal union with God in the beatific vision. This included provision of whatever man needs to live a life ordered to such a union. It is interesting to note that the Biblical expression with which St. Paul described the Christian was applied in retrospect to man in his original condition as related to God.
In reference to the above state, the term historical is rightly taken to mean real, factual, but not necessarily verifiable or detectable by positive scientific method. Consequently the prehistorian's inability to discover evidence from such a period in no way stands at odds with Catholic dogma. Catholic theologians can maintain that the condition, state, or period in question was momentary and no more. Thus the lack of any traces left behind would not be unintelligible, especially since science would find it even more difficult to deal with this religious-moral condition of primitive man than with many other factors of greater permanence in his existence. Why then has there been such insistence on such a state or condition?
The reason is that the Church considers it necessary to make faith in the redemptive act of Jesus Christ more integral (and, hence, also more intelligible). It fills in important details, gives nuances to what is otherwise a blunt fact. There is much to the Redemption-justification of man that transcends his power to understand. Only God could attest—since only He can make just—that the death of Jesus Christ, His Son, is redemptive for the latter's brothers and sisters. Only He could relate to man precisely to what extent humanity needed to be saved and redeemed, what the salvation brought by His Son entailed in terms of restoration. The Church, especially by reading and reflecting on His word, came under the inspiration of the Spirit to understand Redemption-justification as restoration to a prior state, at least under certain aspects; hence original justice in its profession of faith.
Theological. Further questions have arisen in the course of time regarding the intelligibility of this dogmatic truth. One of the foremost is the extent to which the details of Genesis ch. 2 are to be taken as a description of factual conditions realized in the state of original justice. Recognition that the history there related is of a very special type—accompanied by and embellished with many symbols—has helped considerably. Thus the degree of cultural attainment realized in Adam of Genesis appears less as a direct object of scriptural affirmation than as antithesis to the assertion that man's present state of ignorance, strife, etc., is humanly caused, consequent
upon a misuse of freedom. The world is different for man in Genesis ch. 2 and 3; many theologians are beginning to regard this as a way of asserting that man's change for the worse in relation to God sets him in disaccord with the rest of nature as well. Such an interpretation has the obvious advantage of posing fewer difficulties in a confrontation with positive science, which finds only a primitive degree of development in men in their earliest states.
There was once a type of speculation current in Catholic theology that was often introduced with the question: What if Adam had not sinned? The exact, concrete details of a universe with man abiding in a state of original justice were not directly revealed by God. The fact— however long or short a period was entailed—is one thing; all the implications are another. The first is necessary to grasp the meaning of Christ's redemptive act. The latter is not. A fortiori one can only conjecture about the concrete mode of realization of what might have been. More and more Catholic theologians have come to wonder whether such a line of inquiry is likely to be conducive to further insights and truth. The proper and direct object of theology is the divinely revealed word of what the Triune God has done, does, and will do for man in salvation history—not the even more abstruse area of concrete detail in the realm of what He might have done.
This is not to say what might have been is always irrelevant to what is or has been. The scriptural description of original justice involves an intimacy between God and man surpassing, but not destroying that of Creator-creature. The dogmatic way of putting this is that in its original state humanity was deified, or endowed with gifts belonging properly to God alone or Divine Persons. Because of this, it is necessary to conclude that God could have produced man without this relation of sonship and merely with that of creaturehood. In this case, the "what might have been" is quite relevant to the gratuity of "what is." However, "what might have been" had original justice been preserved casts little light on what has been through divine intervention in Jesus Christ for restoration.
A final question that deals with the relation between sanctifying grace and original justice has also concerned Catholic theologians. In terms of causal theory, it has been asked whether the former acts as formal or efficient cause of the latter.
See Also: concupiscence; destiny, supernatural; elevation of man; justice of men; man; obediential potency; preternatural; supernatural; supernatural existential.
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[c. j. peter]