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Original Sin


The hereditary sin incurred at conception by every human being as a result of the original sinful choice of the first man, adam. Before treating theologically of original sin, this article considers the Biblical data.


First the possible evidence for original sin in the Old Testament is considered, then the New Testament teaching.

Possible Evidence in the Old Testament. The Old Testament makes no explicit or formal statement regarding the transmission of hereditary guilt from the first man to the entire human race; but such a doctrine harmonizes with the general atmosphere of the Old Testament and is hinted at in some passages. Thus, the story of the fall of man in Genesis ch. 3 explains the human condition, and this is marked by a universal tendency toward sin. Chapter 4 of Genesis (from the yahwist tradition, like ch. 3) illustrates, by a series of anecdotes, how sin has invaded mankind. Chapter 5 (of the Pentateuchal priestly writers) may show the same thing through its reduction of life spans (see also Gn 11.1026, also of the priestly tradition), even though this would be a more subtle method. In Gn 6.5 a strong indictment is presented against man's universal inclination to sin, and the "justice" of Noe (Noah) is qualified by 8.21a kind of divine resignation to man's sinfulness. Solomon's prayer (1 Kgs 8.46) implies the same, and Ecclesiastes is aware of some evil having entered into mankind (Eccl 7.20). The words of Ps 50 (51) 7 may be no more than a personal outcry, but many good scholars have seen a universal condition reflected in its words. Of dubious value is Jb 14.4 in the Masoretic Text, even if the Vulgate, perhaps through Christian influence, is most expressive. However, Wis2.24 is significant: "By the envy of the devil death entered into the world." In strict exegesis one may not call the doctrine of original sin, as defined by the Council of Trent, a teaching of the Old Testament; but the foundations for it are there, strong and undeniable.

Teaching of the New Testament. It should be remarked that the New Testament seldom, if ever, formulates theological definitions such as are currently used. Its doctrine is set forth mostly in a descriptive manner. While one may gather, here and there in the New Testament, hints at the universality of sin, it is only St. Paul, in Eph 2.3 ("We were by nature children of wrath even as the rest") and especially in Rom 5.1219, who forcefully brings out the doctrine. Through an extended series of contrasts Paul's doctrine gains great power: sin and death have entered into all men (Rom 5.12); in the transgression of the one, the rest died (5.15); consequent upon the judgment passed on one man, all men were condemned (5.18); and through the disobedience of one man the rest were constituted sinners (5.19). Only one inclined to quibble could deny Paul's general thought. Still it is true that Paul does not explicitly say all that will be said by the Council of Trent. This, of course, is quite a normal phenomenon in the development of doctrine. Paul lays a strong foundation from which details may be drgawn harmoniously and legitimately.

Bibliography: j. blinzlibr, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 195765) 3:965967. Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) 167778. a. m. dubarle, Le Péché originel dans l'écriture (Paris 1958). t. barrosse, "Death and Sin in St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 15 (1953) 438458. s. lyonnet, "Le Péché originel en Rom 5,12: L'Exégèse des pères grecs et les décrets du concile de Trente," Biblica 41 (1960) 325355; "Le Péché originel et l'exégèse de Rom 5,1214," Revue des Sciences Religieuses 44 (1956) 6384; "Le Sens de φ[symbol omitted] en Rein 5,12 ," Biblica 36 (1955) 436456. a. hulsbosch, God in Creation and Evolution, tr. m. versfeld (New York 1965) ch.2. a. vanneste, "La Préhistoire du décret du Concile de Trente sur le Péché originel," Nouvelle revue théologique 86 (1964) 355368, 490510.

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The term original sin designates a number of things. One is a condition of guilt, weakness, or debility found in human beings historically (or in which they are personally situated), prior to their own free option for good or evil (peccatum originale originatum ). This is a state of being rather than a human act or its consequence. The other meaning has to deal with the origin of that state: its cause or source (peccatum originale origbzans ). In what follows, both meanings will be treated from a dogmatic and from a strictly theological point of view.

Dogmatic: Sin of Adam. It is first of all imperative to understand the motivation behind the Church's concern with this issue. The Church saw it closely connected with something very central to the Christian's profession of faith: that the Father has sent His Son Jesus as Savior. This was present in the earliest apostolic preaching and creeds (Acts 2.3840; 3.26; 4.12; H. Denzinger, Enchridion symbolorum, ed. A. Schönmetzer 1, 3, 4, 40, 42). Similarities notwithstanding, it was not just another human confrontation with the problem of evil or a purely philosophical stand relative to the same issue. Faith in Jesus as redeemer implied that God had offered a solution of His own. If man was in a state of real need, it was one his Creator took into account and sought to remedy. To the adults who heard Peter on Pentecost, the need of salvation was not one that required a great deal of elaboration.

They might inquire about ways and means, but they accepted the fact itself without undue question (Acts2.3641). Then and later the preaching-believing Church radiated the conviction that through divine condescension in Christ, man could reach God's own interpretation-solution of the evil present in the human situation.

It is not surprising, however, that questions soon arose concerning the further implications of that evil. These had a significance at once soteriological and sacramental. To what extent is Christ really the savior of all menonly after their personal sins, or even before? To what degree is Baptism conducive to the forgiveness of sinsonly for those who have offended God on their own initiative?

These questions led to an explicitation of the Church's faith and understanding of man's need for Christ in terms of sin and death. A scriptural basis for such a development existed (Eph 2.10; Rom 5.1221; 1 Cor 15.22). It is quite another matter, however, to ask whether the Church in this matter proceeded from the Bible by making use of purely scientific, positive criteria to determine its meaning. There is no indication that it did; the Church relied on the Spirit of Truth who guides its faith throughout the ages (cf. Enchridion symbolorum 1514 relative to Rom 5.12). This is not to say that its interpretations, authentically formulated, have been contrary to sound exegetical determination of the literal sense. It is only to assert that the believer contends the Church had other aids as well in expressing the latent significance of God's written word.

Question of Origins. One of the Church's earliest confrontations with problems of this nature dealt with the question of origins. The Marcionists and Manichaeans tended to see in human history a struggle between the good Godfather of Jesus Christ and author of the New Testamentand the evil god, who manifested his severity and justice in the Old. Equivalently the question was, when did God begin to save. The Church asserted the strict unity of the redeeming God, the maker of all things who directs all to man's salvation from the earliest beginnings to culmination in His Son, Jesus.

This is an element that is often overlooked, though it is of considerable significance in the nicene creed. There Jesus the Savior in time is said to have preexisted in the realm of invisible realities before becoming incarnate. He is begotten but not made; this by the Father, who is, however, the maker of all other realities, visible and invisible (Enchridion symbolorum 125126). This distinction between the Son as invisible though not made and other invisible realities that are made by the Father through the same Son has soteriological as well as strictly Christological import. As Son and Savior, He stands related to the Father in a manner different from that of other invisible realities, which are made. Although the Holy Spirit was not directly taken into account in this context at Nicaea I, the twofold distinction just enumerated was expanded at the First Council of Constantinople and later (Enchridion symbolorum 75, 150, 800,1300). As proceeding, the Holy Spirit is neither Father nor Son; as Lord and life-giver, He shares their creative-salvific work. God three-in-one is thus presented as distinct from all other realities, both visible and invisible.

Satan and Adam. The same invisible world became again the object of concern in the Middle Ages at the instance of the Albigenses. What was at issue was not philosophical dualism as such or even a mere denial of universal divine providence, or government, of human affairs. Again the question was intimately related to a central Christian truth. though the technical terms in which it was answered might at first seem to indicate otherwise.

The Jewish people had once asked themselves: When did Yahweh begin His saving action in historyat the Exodus or before, with the Patriarchs or earlier? The Christian, who professed belief in the same saving God, had a similar difficulty. The God who so commended His love for man in the work of His only Son Jesus, how much did He love? How strong was His love? St. Paul had written that neither death nor life nor any creature could separate the Christian from the love of God in Jesus Christ (Rein 8.3139). What then of the principle hostile to man's salvation?

In the Fourth Lateran Council, the Church proclaimed more than the universal origin of all realities from the same good God. It went further and pronounced that the principle opposed to man in working out his salvation is not only dependent on that God but was originally created good and chose evil personally. It was at his instigation that man gave sin and death admission to the world (Enchridion symbolorum 800). Thus the origin of the evil situation in which the world is found came not from God but from man himself at the instigation of a created, invisible power. Dualism in salvation history is therefore different from the philosophical dualism encountered elsewhere. For an interpretation that makes the decree Firmiter of this Council at once more symbolic and philosophical, see Peter Schoonenberg, God's World in the Making (Duquesne Studies, Theological Series 2; Pittsburgh 1964) 89.

Monogenisrn. Even though it is treated in a separate encyclopedia article, mention must be made of monogenism in this context. In Hurnani gertefts Pills XII. warned:

For Christ's faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents; since it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the teaching authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which through generation is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own. [Enchridion symbolorum 3897.]

It is well to note the intentional precision with which this was expressed. Monogenism is not described as an article of faith or even unequivocally as a theological conclusion following necessarily from the dogma of Adam's sin. Still the question of polygenism, at least in certain forms, is proposed as one affecting original sin as the faith of the Church professes it. According to the document carefully interpreted, certain polygenistic hypotheses appear to offer insoluble difficulties with regard to the dogma of original sin as proceeding from one Adam, but this does not rule out the possibility that the incompatibility may be seen in the future to have been only apparent. It must be added that Humani generis does not offer positive justification for the hope of any who may think this will be the case. For a further discussion of the question, e.g., from the point of view of the possibility of preadamites, see K. Rahner, Theological Investigations, v.1, tr. C. Ernst (Baltimore 1961) 231239.

Fact. The precise nature of the sin of Adam in Genesis ch. 3, as well as the time and circumstances of its commission, have not been the objects of explicit definition by the Church. As is the case with original justice, it is more the fact than the details surrounding it that has concerned the Church in teaching (Enchridion symbolorum 3514, 386264).

Dogmatic: Consequences in Progeny. First of all the Church professes belief that Adam of Genesis by his sin brought about a change of religious-moral condition in relation to God not only for himself (see original justice) but also for subsequent men. This the Catholic episcopate expressed most clearly in the Council of Trent. The change in question is there described as involving loss of justice and holiness, incurrence of divine wrath, death of soul as well as of body (Enchridion symbolorum 1512). Men may and do imitate Adam in his sin; they may personally set up obstacles to a state of friendship with god. Even prior to so doing, however, they are, for the reason that they are human beings descended historically from him, affected by the sin and guilt he brought into the worlda condition or state at least in its most extended ramifications their more immediate ancestors may have aggravated or helped to perpetuate through personal sins (Enchridion symbolorum 1513). Exaggerated humanism at the time of the Renaissance had particular difficulty in accepting the fact that one's religious-moral state could be so affected by something prior to his own free choice. A similar tendency at the time of Pelagius and St. Augustine had occasioned a much earlier determination of Adam's influence on his progeny (cf. Enchridion symbolorum 222224, 231, 237, 239, 371372, 398400). In both instances the Church reacted by seeing in the assertion of man's autonomy in self-determination, both for good and for evil, a direct challenge to the saviorship of Jesus Christ.

Capacity for Good. If, on the one hand, there has been insistence that man in his religious-moral life depends on Christ, that without Christ he has no religious-moral significance (cf. Council of Orange; Enchridion symbolorum 392), still another truth has been present in the Church's teaching as well. Affected though he is by the sin of Adam, man is nevertheless a being possessed of the capacity for good; he has free will. This does not mean that he will ever exercise that power without Christ, or even that his possession of it to begin with is without Christ, in whom all things are created. This simply means that historical man, affected by Adam's sin, is not so corrupted as to be without a radical power for choosing good (Enchridion symbolorum 1555).

At this point it may be well to note the fact that insistence on a humanity that remains truly human though affected by original sin is by no means out of accord with the Scriptures. The New Testament speaks of the community of Christ and other men, His brothers, in humanity despite humanity's sinfulness in them and sinlessness in Him (Heb 4.15; 7.2627). An observation similar to this has been made by Karl Barth (Kirchliche Dogmatik 4.1:480481).

Role of Christ. The Church has forcefully asserted Adam's evil influence on his progeny and has simultaneously taught that Christ exerts a contrary and superior influence for good. To speak solely and exclusively of man as under the sway of sin and evil caused by the first human sin is therefore to make use of an abstraction. It is a useful one and corresponds to a portion of a complex reality. Man in his relations with God is historically subjected to the most varied influences. From the start he is created in Jesus Christ, called to God through the latter, and aided in attaining such union; but he is affected also by the evil introduced into the world by the first Adam. An age that has come to recognize the major influence of heredity and environment on man may not find it difficult to understand that man, even from a religious-moral point of view, can be affected both adversely by human evil that he did not perpetrate and favorably by good for which he was not ultimately responsible. The Church itself has tried to make clear that for all its insistence on the reality of the adverse moral condition that man is born into because of Adam, still it is not the same as a situation of personal sin (recall the distinction made in this regard at the Councils of Lyons II and Florence, and in later ecclesiastical documents; Enchridion symbolorum 858, 1306, 194648, 2003).

Specifically, Catholic faith includes the assertion that because of man's first offense against God, human beings now enter this world in special need of the redeeming assistance-grace of Jesus Christ. Called to live as a son of God, man cannot do so without special reliance on the natural Sonthis due to the original ingratitude of the first human beings to whom adopted sonship was offered. As to death, this much is likewise certain from the teaching of the Church: the death that man now dies he undergoes because of the sin of Adam. [For disputed interpretations of the implications this has, see further M. Flick and Z. Alszeghy, Il Creatore: L'Inizio della salvezza (2d ed. Florence 1961) 319; R. Troisfontaines, I Do Not Die, tr. F. E. Albert (New York 1963); K. Rahner, On the Theology of Death, tr. C. H. Henkey (Quaestiones Disputatae 2; New York 1962) 5457.] What is more, the difficulty man now experiences in applying himself effectively to accomplishing real, religious good is there because of Adam historically. For all the natural character of concupiscence, it is not what God intended or what He offered man in his original religious-moral condition. As a result, according to Catholic teaching, the lack of justice-holiness, immortality, and integrity in historical man is a real privation and not a mere absence. The reasoning leading to this is that because their restoration through Jesus Christ (at least in its state of consummation) is a real deification of sinful man, it follows that justice-holiness, etc., were a deification in relation to innocent man as well, there by divine offer and intent but absent subsequently (save through Jesus Christ), because of human sin, which sets man in discord with himself, the world, and God.

Theological. In what follows, it is proposed to give special attention to the theological hypotheses proposed to understand, within the limits open to man after revelation, the mystery involved in peccatum originale originatum. There can be no question that the nexus between a personal sin of a remote ancestor and a condition of guilt in a descendant has received different nuances of understanding in the history of Christian thought. St. Augustine was hesitant when it came to deciding whether parents passed on merely a body or a body and soul both directly affected by Adam's sin (C. Iulian. 5.4.17; Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne 44:794). Nevertheless, the connection between original sin in offspring and concupiscence in parents is something he asserted as well (C. Iulian. op. imperf. 2.45, Patrologia Latina 45:1161; cf. Nupt. et concup. 1.24.27, Patrologia Latina 44:429). One can hold with Trent for transmission "generatione, non imitatione" without being constrained to accept such a view of marital relations. The assertion that the sin of Adam affects man before his own personal sin is by no means coincident with stating that he contracts it by a sin his parents commit at his generation or by some result of sin present therein though his parents may not actually be guilty.

Theories concerning Transmission. In this precise area a number of theories have been put forward by Catholic theologians. They attempt to explain how a truly guilty condition can affect man historically prior to his own choice and due to a misuse of liberty on the part of previously deceased humanity. One of these theories accords Adam a type of moral or juridical headship over the human race. In this conception of the matter, God by an inscrutable decree established Adam of Genesis as the legal representative of all Humanity, which would descend from him. His exercise of free choice would be taken as theirs; he would act in their name, for better or worse. The consequence of his conduct would affect all. As a matter of fact he rejected God's offer of friendship and passed on to his descendants a heritage of enmity with God. All men can be said to have acted in him and through him because of the fact that he was their head, so constituted not by them but by their Creator in His good pleasure. This theory has at least the advantage of appealing directly to the free choice of God. Cardinal Juan de Lugo (15831660) expounded it at some length; for this reason it is often associated with his name (see De poenitentia 7.7; De incarnatione 7.34). What remains extremely difficult to understand in the explanation is the analogy made between the sinfulness of a state in subsequent men and an act of choice in Adam. Still it has proponents, at least in its mitigated form, among Catholic theologians today (see J. F. Sagues, De Deo creante et elevante, Sacrae theologiae summa, ed. Fathers of the Society of Jesus, Professors of the Theological Faculties in Spain 2.2).

Since the theory of Adam's moral headship involves the problem of understanding how each man's will can be presumed (even by God) to have coincided with that of Adam, certain Catholics proposed an alternative theory according to which Adam is to be considered as the physical, not the moral, head of the human race. This was the position, for example of Cardinal L. Billot [De peccato originali (Rome 1912)].

Their assumption is that Adam could pass on his humanity only as he possessed it. Having rejected divine friendship, he found that humanity affected by sin in himself, and he generated children similarly disposed. His descendants come from him in this condition: they are deprived of the wherewithal to live out their ineradicable call to divine sonship, save through Jesus as head in a redemptive as well as a creative order.

One major difficulty with this theory is that it has often in the past looked as if man received from Adam a humanity that in its own line was fully intact. One must try to see this in comparison with the tradition that man was, if not corrupted, nevertheless really wounded even in his humanity. When original justice and the gifts it involved are conceived as an accident affecting human nature, it is only too simple to imagine its loss with the nature remaining not only intact but in equilibrium in its own right. Still the Church maintains that man historically without Christ (a state he never totally experiences but one that merits consideration to see the primacy and necessity of Christ) is incapable of living an entire life worthy of a human being and much less of a son of God. How is it that because of Adam, even if he does pass on a humanity that is deprived of the wherewithal to live as son, man cannot even live as long as befits a human being? How can the lack of what in themselves were gifts cause anything even approximating a condition of sin or guilt, particularly in those whose wills have not yet ratified the act that caused the loss?

Other attempts to formulate theories have been made with questions such as these in mind. An aspect of physical headship has been retained: Adam as progenitor did pass on his humanity as he possessed it after his sin, that is, in a truly weakened condition. How? The divine offer of friendship entailed as well a possibility of living without the difficulty injected into life by concupiscence. With concupiscence, selfishness is an obstacle to leading a truly human life. To do so requires at times a recognition and acceptance of the fact that sacrifice of personal convenience and preference is required for the glory of God and the good of man. To love God above all else and to love all creatures as He loves them are imperative for man; selflessness often is required to achieve this. Whatever there is to be said for the possibility of other orders in which man might have been, there is no reason to hold or even think tenable that man in this present order can make that option other than through Jesus Christ. His aid is always at least remotely ordered to man's living as a son and not as a mere human being. And even so, the value found in the old theological distinction between gratia sanans and elevans may still be recognized. To pass on a humanity subject to concupiscence, in an order where purely natural aids against concupiscence are not offered, is to pass on a humanity that is in a weakened condition morally even before it acts. Prior to its option for good or evil, it is so disposed that without aid in the order of humanity itself it is going to fall freely. But to avoid failure requires divine assistance, an assistance that is given only in ultimate relation to living a life worthy of a son of God. For an extended treatment of this opinion, see M. Flick and Z. Alszeghy, 455470.

Related Questions. There are many other questions that are raised by the dogma of original sin. Some of these are connected with a particular conception of the state from which Adam fell. Some presuppose more than divine revelation has offered in telling man about that state and what would have been had it lasted or been initially accepted by Adam. Others are peculiarly modern and ask, for example, just what the implications are for the doctrine of original sin in the evolutionist assumption that the present human race did have more than one pair of ultimate ancestors in the remote past.

Whatever answer is offered to such a question, the defectibility that follows necessarily as a consequence of creaturehood is not sufficient to explain the present evil in the human situation. Philosophy might well conclude with probability to the opposite; empirical sciences similarly. The Church, starting with its experience of Christ as redeemer and revealer, has concluded that He offered gifts that were at once a restoration and a deification. As a restoration, they were at least really available to man previously through God's goodness; as a deification, their loss involved more than the exercise of liberty that is present and a necessary condition of defectibility in every creature that is human. One cannot, in the light of revelation, start with the assumption that original sin has been satisfactorily accounted for if an explanation is given of how each of a number of remote ancestors sinned as men. That would indeed explain evil, but not the evil God Himself has indicated to be present in the world. Misuse of human liberty is one thing; it is involved in original sin. But the misuse revealed is one that brings with it a privation of godliness, which is not identical with defective creaturehood. A truly superhuman, or God-like, condition was present in humanity originally, at least by divine offer; it was lost, possibly in the first moment of truly human existence, only to be reoffered in restoration to all men by Christ.

Recent Church Teaching. The documents of Vatican II made scant reference to the first sin. The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et spes, 13) briefly asserted that humanity (homo ), made by God in a condition of righteousness (iustitia ), violated its freedom "at the outset of history" (ab exordio historiae ), and thereby fell into a state of both internal and external disorder, and of susceptibility to death (Gaudium et spes 18). Paul VI, however, cited Trent and recalled Rom 5:12, the seminal text in the tradition, when in his Credo of the People of God (1968) he stated that "all have sinned in Adam," such that now all suffer the consequences of that man's sin (originalem culpam ab illo commissam ). Because of this sin, the nature passed on to us by our protoparents (protoparentibus nostris ) is destitute of grace and wounded in its natural powers. Also instructive was the revision in 1969, under the direction of a papal commission established by Paul VI, of the discussion of original sin in the Dutch Catechism of 1966 (Het Nieuwe Katechismus ) so that it would accord more closely with the Tridentine teaching of an inherited nature injured by sin. John Paul II spoke of the death introduced into the world by "the disobedience of Adam" (Evangelium vitae, n. 36), and he made awareness of the effect the first sin has had on the human condition an important part of his analysis of the moral life in Veritatis splendor.

The most thorough statement of the Church's continued view on original sin is that found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992). The Catechism expressly affirms each of the elements that have belonged to the doctrine in the west since the time of Augustine's commentaries on St. Paul: that the physical, psychological, and spiritual condition of each human being, the relation of human beings to one another, their relation to visible creation, and even the state of the physical world itself, have been fragmented by virtue of an act committed by man (variously referred to as "Adam" or "Adam and Eve" or "our first parents") at the beginning of human history despite his (or their) having been created by God in holiness. In consequence, we are burdened with a nature inclined to sin (concupiscence) and destined for death. The one element not explicitly referred to is the idea that all share in the guilt (reatus, to use Trent's term) of that first act. Instead, the Catechism speaks of the passing on to us of "Adam's sin" which, in the words of Trent, is the "death of the soul," and because of which even infants are baptized "for the remission of sins" (n.403). The Catechism maintains, with a sharpness lacking perhaps in the documents of Vatican II, the event character of the first sin as a personal act that affected the whole of history and each person within it. Even more significantly, however, it situates this sin within what it claims is a more fundamental event, the event that has defined history from its beginning, namely the event of Christ's atoning Incarnation (nn. 38589, 402). Hence, the Catechism provides the doctrine of original sin with a Christological setting that is absent in the decree of Trent, but which one may find in the work of Vatican II, and which reflects the Christological focus that characterized the entire twentieth century.

Developments in Theology. The twentieth-century writer who exerted the greatest influence on the theology of original sin was Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Teilhard's abiding concern was to reconcile the teaching on original sin with the evidence of science, and thereby demonstrate the credibility of the faith to an educated, contemporary audience. The majority of theologians over the last 40 years have adopted at least the broad outline of his approach, which is to place the history of human sin within the evolutionary progress of the world. Whether one views the sin of a first individual or first group in the earliest human period as having lost for all of us the grace of God (Rahner) or, as Teilhard himself believed and which has become more common, one regards sin as the necessary failure of a species that is still in the process of maturing, lying at the heart of this approach is the picture of Christ as active in the world since the moment of creation, unifying, integrating, and ultimately drawing all into the presence of the Father (Segundo, Duffy, Mooney, Korsmeyer). The difficulty is that this amounts to a denial of the Fall, the teaching that, as Trent put it, a first human decision changed the human condition "for the worse" (in deterius ). Physical death (or for Rahner, our experience of it) and suffering, the inclination to self and hence our alienation from ourselves, each other and from God, are said to be natural to us as finite and physical, even though they are certain to be overcome, by virtue of the grace of Christ, in the eschaton. It was out of concern for this trend that the Catechism warned against taking sin "as merely a developmental flaw, a psychological weakness, a mistake, or the necessary consequence of an inadequate social structure, etc." (Catechism of the Catholic Church 387). For their part, however, theologians have been frustrated by what they regard as a blind insistence on taking biblical "myth" as historical fact (Daly). Yet to a great extent, Church authorities and theologians seem to have been talking past each other. The latter consider the doctrine of original sin as addressing the same questions about human origins as do the natural sciences, e.g., how and why did the species arise, under what circumstances, whether from a single couple, a single group, or a variety of groups in a variety of locations, etc. Church teaching, on the other hand, has proposed the doctrine as an explanation, based on revelation, of the human person as free and self-transcendent, belonging to a single community generated from the mutuality of man and woman, the subject of a divine vocation which nevertheless required purchase in the blood of Christ (John Paul II, "Message to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences,"1996). If this doctrine establishes a standard against which may be measured certain empirical extrapolations that refer to the nature of the person, it nonetheless does not propose a kind of rival natural history. The task presently facing theology is the investigation of ways that will lead beyond the impasse, which requires a reconsideration of the doctrine on its own terms. Meriting fuller notice is the suggestion by D. Keefe that the first sin be understood as lying neither before nor beyond our history, nor as still another event lying within the flow of history, but as an exercise of human freedom that is constitutive of history.

See Also: death (theology of); destiny, supernatural; elevation of man; grace, articles on; immaculate conception; man; natural order; optimism (theological aspect); monogenism and polygenism; preternatural; salvation; supernatural; supernatural order.

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[c. j. peter/

k. mcmahon]

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