Showing posts with label Hamartiology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hamartiology. Show all posts

All Have Sinned

 Original Sin

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.
Romans 3, 23

In Catholic teaching, original sin is a sin contracted rather than a sin committed. To say that all people are "guilty of original sin" is inaccurate. This idea implies that everyone is born guilty in a morally responsible sense and is blameworthy for having contracted this stain of sin. But the only sins we are morally responsible for are our own personal sins. The guilt of original sin should be understood in a legal sense, meaning that in our fallen state we are all liable to punishment for our sins which we are naturally inclined to commit. And because we normally do sin and freely choose to sin against God, we are morally liable to Him. Adam's personal sin is not imputed to us as if we are morally responsible for his actions. Original sin does stain our souls when we are conceived and born but through no fault of ours.

However, since we all are inclined to sin because of our innate selfishness, we can say that we are implicated in the sin of Adam. None of us is born more innocent than the other. We are equally born under the condemnation or curse of the law, for each of us will certainly violate it at some point in our lives (even at least once if it were possible) on account of our inbred selfishness, weaknesses, and disordered desires which constitute the state of original sin.

Adam’s personal sin demonstrates what it means for each human being to offend God of their free will. Through temptation we lose our trust in God’s will for our true well-being and happiness; we aspire to be like God, but apart from God and against God’s will. And so, we abuse our free will by disobeying God, preferring that which we feel, or judge, is better and more personally beneficial to ourselves, thereby acting on our errant inclinations.  Thus, original sin is a state of guilt insofar as all human beings are “deprived of the original holiness and justice.” And, according to Catholic teaching, “it does not have the character of a personal fault” in any of us who have descended from Adam. [Catechism of the Catholic Church n. 405].

With the view that all humanity is implicated in the sin of Adam by being biological descendants of his, the Council of Trent declares that the “guilt of original sin” contains the “whole of that which belongs to the essence of sin,” viz., the deprivation of justice and sanctity. Baptism does not merely legally “remit” or “cancel” this contraction of sin, but fully “takes it away.” With respect to our personal sins, we read in Isaiah 1, 18: ‘Though my sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though red like crimson, they shall be like wool.’ And in Isaiah 43, 25: ‘I am He who blots out your transgressions and forgets your sins.’ In other words, God is so powerful that He brings about a genuine change in us through his efficacious grace through the redeeming merits of Jesus Christ.

God blots out (exalipho/ἐξαλείφω) our sins by the healing power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Col 2:14). Sin is eliminated, albeit its remnants, and not merely covered up ( See Rom 4:3 elogisthe). God does not simply declare us to be righteous but makes us personally righteous no less than Jesus is righteous in his humanity, though not absolutely because of his divinity, by His sanctifying and justifying grace ( 2 Cor 3:18; 5:17). This same principle applies to the stain of original sin. The sacrament of baptism completely blots this stain out from our souls by God’s sanctifying and justifying grace, though the penalties of original sin – suffering and death – remain part of our natural condition along with our faults and weaknesses. Although the moral ill-effects of original sin remain, viz., the concupiscence of the eyes and of the flesh, and the pride of life, the grace of baptism sanctifies the soul rendering it justified before God. We forfeit the sanctification of our souls by the commission of mortal sins.

God reveals what He has decreed to accomplish in us through the prophet: I have swept away your transgressions like a cloud, and your sin like mist (Isa 44:22). We mustn’t deny that God has the power to “create a clean heart” and “put a pure and right spirit” within any of us. With the forgiveness of sin and the removal of guilt comes cleansing and washing which we initially receive when we are baptized (Ps 51: 7-10; cf. Ezek 36: 26-27; Acts 22:16; 1 Cor 6:11; Eph 4:22-24). The remission of sin is coupled with inner cleansing and healing. Our justification and regeneration form two sides of a single coin.

If we aren’t simply declared righteous, though still dead to sin, it’s because the soul is sanctified and thereby justified. According to the Council of Trent, sanctification is the formal cause of justification. Paul uses the two terms interchangeably. Prenatal and infants have no past personal sins that need to be remitted, so morally they aren’t culpable for any actual sins of their own. But they are deprived of the original justice and holiness which is forfeited by our human condition. Given the chance to develop morally, they will most likely sin by having been conceived and born as a child of Adam. Anyway, there is a distinction between original sin and actual sin. Essentially the former is a primeval state of moral corruption which by nature we are imbued with but by no fault of our own.

Thus, we are not personally guilty of original sin. The sin of Adam is no more imputed to our account than the righteousness of Christ is when the stain of sin is blotted out in our souls. Actual sin is a deliberate rejection of God by which we personally do incur moral guilt upon ourselves by abusing our free will. The stain of original sin renders us guilty by association. The Psalmist laments our fallen condition and implicitly appeals to God to consider our common wounded state in His mercy, but he takes full credit or moral responsibility for his own transgressions in his act of contrition:  Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight, so that thou art justified in thy sentence and blameless in thy judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me (Ps 51:4-5).

Therefore, just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all,
so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.
For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners,
so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
Romans 5, 18-19

As a result of original sin, our desires can become insubordinate to the dictates of reason since there is a tendency in our human nature to sin. This condition of ours is what the Catholic Church calls concupiscence in the strict negative sense of the word. Because of original sin, our sensitive appetites are often spontaneously directed to what our imagination portrays as pleasant and away from whatever it deems as painful or unpleasant against God’s will for our wellbeing. This natural condition of ours includes pride and the unruly inclinations of the will such as envy, greed, and lust: sins of the flesh. There are two basic forms of concupiscence in Catholic theology: of the eyes and of the flesh.

Concupiscence and the guilt of original sin, however, are distinct from each other. Original sin doesn’t mean original guilt since original sin is a sin contracted and not a sin committed. Baptism cures us of original sin but not concupiscence which is a lasting effect of original sin. Despite the lasting effects of original sin, which also include physical suffering and death, despite our being baptized since we are inclined to commit sin and shall sin, we still receive the initial grace of justification and forgiveness when we are baptized by no just merit of our own (Eph 2:8-10). On account of what Christ has merited for us by his blood, spiritual death is no longer an absolute certainty for all eternity. This is because we have been initially justified and sanctified by our baptism notwithstanding our inbred sinful inclinations and tendency to sin because of Adam, or the Adam in us who have ever been conceived in the womb, and born, except the Blessed Virgin Mary by the intervening grace of her Immaculate Conception.

We might ask how original sin is a sin though not something we have personally committed and are morally responsible for. Original sin may be taken to mean in a Catholic sense the consequence of the first sin ever committed by Adam and the hereditary stain or trait we have all received from our primordial parent. St. Augustine writes: “The deliberate sin of the first man is the cause of original sin” (De nupt. et concup., II, xxvi, 43). When we personally commit a mortal sin, the result is spiritual death. And since we are born with a tendency to sin and do, in fact, sin without exception because of the effects of original sin, as descendants of Adam, we enter this world spiritually dead. His sin isn’t imputed to us, but he has “transmitted sin to us with which we are all born afflicted, a sin which is the death of the soul” (CCC. n.403).

For this reason, infant baptism is imperative in the Catholic faith, as well as in mainstream Protestantism. Again, original sin is a sin contracted but not committed. We are not the “cause” of original sin but are affected by it in our standing with God. By our nature, we fall short of His glory inasmuch that we all have sinned through our indeliberate contraction of original sin. Meanwhile, we mustn’t hold God morally responsible for having created this state of affairs. God has given each one of us sufficient grace and strength to direct our will toward what is good and to resist evil temptations. When we sin against God, our selfishness or inordinate love of self is to blame. St. Paul assures us: No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it (1 Cor 10:13). St. James concurs: But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death (Jas 1:14-15).

God asked Adam, “Who told you that you were naked?” (Gen 3:11). The answer is what his conscience told him. Adam and Eve knew of the existence of good and evil and that they were not to experience and judge for themselves what was good and evil for them. Yet they did. They should have simply put their faith in God’s judgment and obeyed His command rather than making themselves out to be like God. The couple felt ashamed of themselves all of a sudden knowing that they had done wrong. Their conscience condemned them, for they acted against God of their own free will.

“Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Ps 119:11). David knew the difference between right and wrong and understood that he should abide by God’s word. But not unlike our primordial father Adam, he succumbed to temptation and fell from God’s grace by committing two mortal sins: adultery and murder (2 Sam 11:1-26). He was just as much personally responsible for his sins as Adam and Eve were for theirs, all because of a selfish desire and putting himself before God. God could certainly be faulted if He left us all alone in our natural state without instructing us on what we should or should not do and then punishing us for doing what we shouldn’t. But God has written His law in every human heart and has given us a conscience to warn us when we contemplate a sinful act and condemn us when we choose to violate His law. David lamented over what he had done and implored God’s forgiveness with a humble and contrite heart that rendered his sin offering pleasing and acceptable to God (See Psalm 51.).

The following excerpt is taken from the Council of Trent, Session V,5:

“If anyone denies, that, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is conferred in baptism, the reatum of original sin is remitted; or even asserts that the whole of that which has the true and proper nature of sin is not taken away; but says that it is only razed, or not imputed; let him be anathema.”

Dr. Taylor Marshall tells us that many English translations of this anathema inaccurately read “the guilt of original sin is remitted”, which obviously may confuse people. The original Latin of the Council reads “reatum originalis peccati remiti.” This is important for us to note since the term reatus does not mean “guilt” in the strict sense. In Roman law, reatus means liable to or indicted, or a penal sentence. Alternatively, the Latin word culpa means an actual act of wrongdoing. Reatus refers to the state that accrues because of a culpa. The following two terms have been adopted by the Catholic Church: Reatus culpa is guilt associated with the sentence (that is, culpability). Reatus poena is the penalty of the sentence (the word penalty comes from poena). Receiving only the penalty of sin (reatus poena) by definition of the Church is the loss of sanctifying or justifying grace and the preternatural gifts, suffering, and death because of original sin.

If a person commits armed robbery, the reatus culpa would be his intentional, personal act of robbing someone. He could be declared guilty of committing a felony. The reatus poena would be the penalty or sentence passed by the judge associated with the gravity of the crime. In this case, he might end up serving ten or more years in prison. Regarding Adam and Eve, they incurred both the personal guilt (reatus culpa) of original sin and the penalty (reatus poena). All their descendants from the time they are conceived in the womb are not guilty of eating the forbidden fruit that Adam and Eve consumed, but they do receive the penalty (reatus poena) of this sin. Human beings are not penalized for the personal sins of Adam and Eve. But once they attain reason and are morally responsible for their actions, they universally do in fact commit sins and incur personal guilt (reatus culpa) by being descendants of Adam with his hereditary traits.

Now, there are Catholic theologians who use the word culpa when referring to original sin. But the word is usually qualified as culpa contracta which does not mean personal guilt, but guilt by association. All babies who are born are naturally capable of committing their first sin and countless other personal sins once they have attained the age of reason and moral responsibility. It is this state of nature that we have inherited from Adam and Eve that alienates us from God and incurs divine justice. This is the middle ground between total innocence and total depravity. Infants and young children under the age of moral reason do suffer the penalties of original sin, including premature death, though they aren’t mature enough to deliberately sin and be held liable for it.

However paradoxical it may sound at first, there is a subtle distinction between being personally guilty of having committed a grave sin with full knowledge and consent and being guilty by implication. Yet original sin is a state of guilt insofar as the soul is deprived of the original justice and holiness forfeited by Adam, and thus it cannot ever see God unless this stain (not act) of sin is remitted and removed by the cleansing and regenerating water of baptism by the power of the Holy Spirit in and through the saving merits of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who ransomed us from sin and death by the outpouring of his most precious blood.

Early Sacred Tradition

“He stood in need of baptism, or of the descent of the Spirit like a dove; even as He submitted to
be born and to be crucified, not because He needed such things, but because of the human race,
which from Adam had fallen under the power of death and the guile of the serpent, and each one of
which had committed personal transgression. For God, wishing both angels and men, who were
endowed with freewill, and at their own disposal, to do whatever He had strengthened each to do,
made them so, that if they chose the things acceptable to Himself, He would keep them free from
death and from punishment; but that if they did evil, He would punish each as He sees fit.”
Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 88:4
(A.D. 155)

“Everyone in the world falls prostrate under sin. And it is the Lord who sets up those
who are cast down and who sustains all who are falling. In Adam all die, and thus the world
prostrate and requires to be set up again, so that in Christ all may be made to live.”
Origen, Homilies on Jeremias, 8:1
(post A.D. 244)

“Through him our forefather Adam was cast out for disobedience, and exchanged a Paradise
bringing forth wondrous fruits of its own accord for the ground which bringeth forth thorns. What
then? Some one will say. We have been beguiled and are lost. Is there then no salvation left? We
have fallen: Is it not possible to rise again? We have been blinded: May we not recover our sight
We have become crippled: Can we never walk upright? In a word, we are dead: May we not rise
again? He that woke Lazarus who was four days dead and already stank, shall He not, O man,
much more easily raise thee who art alive? He who shed His precious blood for us, shall Himself
deliver us from sin.”
Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 2:4-5
(A.D. 350)

“Adam sinned and earned all sorrows; likewise the world after His example, all
guilt. And instead of considering how it should be restored, considered how its
fall should be pleasant for it. Glory to Him Who came and restored it!”
Ephraem of Syria, Hymns on the Epiphany, 10:1
(A.D. 350)

“And further, above this, we have in common reason, the Law, the Prophets, the
very Sufferings of Christ, by which we were all without exception created anew,
who partake of the same Adam, and were led astray by the serpent and slain by
sin, and are saved by the heavenly Adam and brought back by the tree of shame
to the tree of life from whence we had fallen.”
 Gregory of Nazianzen, Against the Arians, 33:9
(A.D. 380)

“How then did death come in and prevail? “Through the sin of one.” But what
means, “for that all have sinned?” This; he having once fallen, even they that
had not eaten of the tree did from him, all of them, become mortal…From
whence it is clear, that it was not this sin, the transgression, that is, of the Law,
but that of Adam’s disobedience, which marred all things. Now, what is the proof
of this? The fact that even before the Law all died: for ‘death reigned’ he says,
from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned.’ How did it reign?
‘After the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of Him that was to
come.’ Now this is why Adam is a type of Christ …[W]hen the Jew says to thee, How
came it, that by the well-doing of this one Person, Christ, the world was saved
thou mightest be able to say to him, How by the disobedience of this one person,
Adam, came it to be condemned?”
John Chrysostom, Homily on Romans, 10
 (A.D. 391)

“Evil was mixed with our nature from the beginning…through those who by their
disobedience introduced the disease. Just as in the natural propagation of the
species each animal engenders its like, so man is born from man, a being
subject to passions from a being subject to passions, a sinner from a sinner. Thus
sin takes its rise in us as we are born; it grows with us and keeps us company till
life’s term.”
 Gregory of Nyssa, The Beatitudes, 6
(ante A.D. 394)

“This grace, however, of Christ, without which neither infants nor adults can be
saved, is not rendered for any merits, but is given gratis, on account of which it
is also called grace. ‘Being justified,’ says the apostle, ‘freely through His blood.’
Whence they, who are not liberated through grace, either because they are not
yet able to hear, or because they are unwilling to obey; or again because they
did not receive, at the time when they were unable on account of youth to
hear, that bath of regeneration, which they might have received and through
which they might have been saved, are indeed justly condemned; because they
are not without sin, either that which they have derived from their birth, or that
which they have added from their own misconduct. ‘For all have sinned’
whether in Adam or in themselves–“and come short of the glory of God.’”
Augustine of Hippo, On Nature and Grace, 4
(A.D. 415)

“But the things that come out of a person's mouth come from the heart,
and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts-murder,
adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”

Matthew 15, 18-20

Pax vobiscum

God Saw that It Was Good

 The Fall

And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.
And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.
Genesis 1, 31

I believe it’s safe to assume that all Christians believe God is sovereign over all things, and that the fall of Adam and Eve didn’t catch God by surprise. Nor did Satan in the form of a serpent deceive God by any means. Yet Catholics and many non-Catholic Christians radically differ over how it was God wasn’t taken by surprise by our primordial parents and duped by the serpent. Without sounding negative or trying to be polemical, I wish to simply explain how it was neither Satan nor Adam and Eve fell from God’s grace by no free will of their own. Lucifer’s expulsion from heaven and Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden weren’t intentionally prearranged or determined by God only so that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ could come into the world strictly for the glory of God. Yet, there are countless Reformed and Evangelical Protestants who believe that’s how it was. Certainly, there’s nothing good about that.

Protestants who adhere to the false teaching of double predestination often cite Ephesians 1:5 which reads, “[God] predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” They believe that God predetermined some people to be destined to glory and other people to be destined to eternal damnation since no human soul is worthy of being saved by any natural merit of their own or even supernatural merit in the system of grace. However, the verb “predestined” is taken from the Greek word προορίζω (proorizó) which means “to know or declare in advance” by God’s foreknowledge. What God has known in advance is that faithful Christians shall be called to be adopted children of God through Jesus Christ but not necessarily to the preclusion of their free will.

Indeed, St. Peter refers to “the elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” when speaking of faithful Christians who are sanctified or justified by the working of the Holy Spirit who prompts and strengthens them to be obedient to Christ to the point of having to endure persecution and face death because of their faith (1 Pet 1:2). St. Paul and St. Peter are referring to predestination to grace, not to eternal glory, which has been foreseen by God since before the creation of the world and humanity.

Yet we believe that the martyrs of the faith must have been destined to glory, though no human creature can know with absolute certainty whether they belong to the elect who are destined to glory. This is something only God can know from all eternity outside of time. But, unfortunately, some non-Catholics confuse the meaning of predestination (God’s foreknowledge of what we choose to do in faith by becoming Christians) and predetermination (the erroneous belief that God determines what we will do without any will of our own). Just because God knows what we will do, it doesn’t mean that He determines what we do. Of course, if God knows that we will do something, then we will do it, but only because God knows everything. Nothing escapes his foreknowledge. In our finite humanity, we can infer that it will rain by looking up at dark, threatening rain clouds that have covered the entire sky. Should it happen to rain, it won’t be because we looked up at the sky and declared it will or might rain.

God isn’t the author of evil. We choose good or evil of our own free will. We choose to be baptized and/or live up to our baptismal commitment upon reaching maturity. The early martyrs chose to become Christians and be faithful to Christ by suffering and dying in union with the Lord because of their love for him. They weren’t sentient machines designed to walk into the Roman Coliseum so that God could be merely glorified in Christ and Christ in God. God is forbearing toward us, not wishing that any should perish, but that everyone should reach repentance. God desires all to be saved, but our salvation depends on whether we choose to repent and receive God’s grace by His prompting in the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 3:9).

He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.
Deuteronomy 32, 4

No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’;
for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one.
James 1, 13

It certainly wasn’t God’s plan before the creation of the world that all humanity must die in Adam so that all could be made alive in Christ. God didn’t create sinners for the sake of making them need Jesus to spare them from God’s justice. Such reasoning does in a sense place the cart before the mule. True, the fall of humanity didn’t catch God by surprise since He is omniscient. However, God didn’t preordain or decree that Adam and Eve’s fall from grace should happen. If God did act on a whim in this way, He would surely have to take full moral responsibility for their sins. And if this were the case, there couldn’t be such a thing as sin at all or the need for a savior.

Catholics, on the contrary, believe God simply permitted the fall to happen, though it wasn’t something He desired. And God did allow the fall to happen for the sake of the greater good or else it wouldn’t have happened. But it wasn’t for the greater good that God directly and intentionally caused the fall of humanity either. God might be the physical cause of our transgressions since He knew that by creating Adam and Eve all their descendants would fall along with them short of His glory (Rom 3:23). But our sovereign Creator certainly isn’t morally responsible for the sins of humanity. We must also consider the serpent which has freely played a part in this drama by initially tempting Eve. It wouldn’t have tempted Eve in the first place if she and her husband had no free will. The truth is we are morally culpable for our own sins, or else we couldn’t be justly rewarded or punished by the Lord. God has given us the freedom to choose between right and wrong, obedience and disobedience, and life and death (Deut 30:19).

Hence, Jesus came into the world because of sin. Sin didn’t enter the world because of Jesus. God did not create the world so that we should sin to allow Him to flaunt His divine mercy. If God permitted the fall of humanity, it was because He knew Jesus would come into the world and gain for us a life immeasurably more glorious than the preternatural life in the original paradise. In His justice, God has always loved us and has desired our spiritual well-being even before He created Adam. His omnipotence and sovereignty don’t negate His mercy and justice. All of God’s essential attributes co-exist harmoniously.

Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get
a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel?
For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord.
Repent and live!
Ezekiel 18:32

God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.
1 Corinthians 14, 33

In Catholic theology, there is a marked difference between what God desires and what God decrees. What God desires is His antecedent will, and what God decrees is His consequent will. God desires that everyone be saved (Ezek 18:23; 1 Tim 2:4; 1 John 2:2, etc.), but He decrees that unrepentant souls must be cast into the everlasting fire of Hell in eternal expiation for their grave sins (Matt 25:41; Lk 13:3, etc.). And so, what God did intend, according to what He desired, was to create a world in which each human being would be free to respond to his grace as a sign of their love for Him. There can be no true love without human free will and liberty. The fall of Adam and Eve was a consequence of their moral freedom which God in His goodness and justice decreed they should possess in order to truly love Him and make their abode with Him (cf. Jn 14:23). It was because of their inordinate love of self that Adam and Eve were deceived by the serpent and consequently disobeyed God.

Because of the fall, which God foresaw when He created the world, it was His predestined (not predetermined) plan and His grace that went before Him to give us the chance to be saved once we had fallen from His grace. Therefore, a person must willfully reject God’s ‘predestined’ plan for his salvation in order to be eternally damned. God has intended that a soul be saved this way: by not rejecting His word and resisting His grace. As a consequence of the reprobate’s act, God has predestined him to eternal damnation by His consequent will. With this, we perceive God as not being self-contradictory – willing two different things at once – but as completely faithful to Himself. God does desire that everyone come to repentance and be saved, but He is also a just God who doesn’t tolerate sin and will punish those who refuse to repent: “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezek. 18:4).

Thus, what God hasn’t intended is to predetermine the eternal destiny of souls either way (double predestination) which is why He appeals to us to obey His commands and cooperate with His saving grace (2 Cor 7: 1; Eph 6:11-13, etc.). If God were, in fact, the author of confusion rather than peace, He wouldn’t implore us to renounce our carnal ways and receive His Spirit in our hearts so that we should be reconciled to Him and have eternal life with God.

And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel
of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him.
And the LORD said unto Satan, The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan;
even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand
plucked out of the fire?
Zechariah 3:1,2

Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands
you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
James 4, 7

If God has intentionally created evil over and against the good that He desires, then God can’t be good. And if God weren’t good, then there could be nothing good at all in His creation (cf. Gen 1:31). Obviously, if we know the difference between right and wrong, we can freely decide how to act – for good or for evil, for or against God who is absolute goodness in His divine essence. Meanwhile, God in His goodness and mercy has made sure that it shouldn’t be impossible for us to resist evil temptations by giving us sufficient grace which operatively enables us to direct our will to what is good and pleasing to Him.

Moreover, we couldn’t perceive anything as evil unless we first knew what is good in its proper measure according to our conscience. There would be no point in even having a conscience if we had no free will and moral responsibility. Nor would God have given us a conscience if, in fact, He were the author of evil. Love is good, and thus it originates from God who is love because He is good, but inordinate self-love isn’t good. Selfishness is an evil that freely arises out of a vacuum from within our natural selves. God expects us to love ourselves, but in proper measure, and He expects us to renounce our selfish desires which often lead to sins against Him and our neighbor. Certainly, we cannot hold God morally culpable for our own innate selfishness or inordinate love of self which original sin basically is. Human beings are the moral cause of entertaining dark thoughts and committing wicked deeds regardless of who created them physically. They have the moral liberty and capability to renounce their selfish desires.

Temptations arise within the order of creation, which Satan has been granted a certain limit to exploit. It’s because of the devil’s involvement in human affairs that our temptations are more difficult to overcome. Indeed, God blamed the serpent for having wrought what had tragically transpired in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:14). Nevertheless, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin by choosing to act on the serpent’s words which appealed to them in their inordinate self-love. They were morally responsible for their own actions. Instead of remaining in friendship with God, our primordial parents decided to draw away from Him by trying to be like God but apart from God and against His will. Satan didn’t face much resistance from Eve when he attempted to deceive her. This is why he succeeded. The thing that appealed to her more than her Creator was what He had created.

Thus, in His goodness and kindness towards us, God desires that we renounce our pride and inordinate love of self which are the root of sin, and humble ourselves before Him so that He will exalt us by helping us prevail over the false allurements of evil in our short-sightedness (1 Pet 5:6). It’s up to us to allow God to persuade us from succumbing to temptation with insufficient resistance because of our inclination to please ourselves with things that really aren’t good and enslave us.

A clean heart create for me, God;
renew within me a steadfast spirit.
Do not drive me from before your face,
nor take from me your holy spirit.
Restore to me the gladness of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Psalm 51, 12-14

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things
that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on
earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.
When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with
him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: immorality,
impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
On account of these the wrath of God is coming.
Colossians 3, 1-6

St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that perfection in this world amounts to someone or something achieving its purpose. Human perfection lies in us achieving our proper end, viz., our intellectual capacities of understanding God and directing our will towards God by conforming it to His will. As I see it, Adam and Eve were created perfect in this way, but they were not created absolutely perfect. It’s a dogma of the Catholic Church that only God is absolutely perfect. According to the Angelic Doctor of the Church, God is absolutely perfect because He is entirely actual with no potential. All beings and things are perfect in proportion to their actuality. Adam and Eve were created perfect, but not absolutely, since they had the potential to freely fall short of achieving their purpose, which was to be good and in friendship with God by aligning their will with His. If God were responsible – though not morally responsible – for anything, it would be because of His wise decision to create an imperfect and free world in which we may choose or reject God. God desires that we want to be with Him in Heaven more than anything else to be there.

Ontologically, absolute perfection or immutability is an attribute of God as a composition of His divine essence which binds all His other attributes together. God’s faithfulness and justice, for instance, stem from His non-moral attribute of immutability which presupposes God cannot do any wrong by contradicting Himself. So, God can never be better or worse than He essentially is. Absolute perfection cannot be improved upon. His righteousness and justice are immutable. In His essence, God cannot ever be less righteous and just or unrighteous and unjust than we human beings can be. Nor can He be more righteous or just. God told Moses, “I am who I am. (Ex 3:14). God cannot be more or less than who He is.

Thus, if God had directly caused or pre-programmed Adam and Eve to sin, He would have acted or sinned against Himself by acting unjustly, and so there would be mutability in God. No Christian in their right mind can profess belief in a just and loving God while believing God caused Adam and Eve to sin against their will so that we would need a savior. An immutable God couldn’t possibly act on a whim to His own discredit.

As we noted above, there could be no reason for God to reward the righteous and punish the wicked if He determined how they should behave without any will of their own. By nature, in comparison with His creatures, God is perfect. In His essence, God is absolute perfection, just as He is absolute love, righteousness, and justice. There is no such thing as less-than-perfect perfection or a less-than-perfect God, one who deliberately damns people for no fault of their own or rewards people who don’t merit being rewarded. What we have here is a contradiction in terms: A god who can’t possibly be God.

In guilt I was born; a sinner was I conceived.
Psalm 51, 5

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want,
but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I
agree that the law is good.  So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which
dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is,
in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the
good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.
Romans 7, 15-19

Catholics believe original sin (a state) is proper to each human being; that we all have inherited Adam’s moral weakness in our humanity. But original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of us. Adam’s personal guilt is something no human being has incurred. I suppose, since we are all inclined to sin and do, in fact, sin, we are guilty by association and thereby must often repent of our personal sins. Our human nature must be genetically transferred by our original ancestors. As soon as we are conceived in the womb, we acquire a nature that has the potential to draw us away from being good or godly and thereby less perfect. We do things that we don’t really want to do or hate doing, or we don’t do things that we know we are supposed to do and want to do – signs of our original goodness impaired by our moral faults and weaknesses affected by the stain of original sin. At some point in our lives, once we’ve morally matured, we commit our first sin. This is inevitable since we haven’t been created absolutely perfect. Our imperfect world is a moral testing ground that God has permitted us to inhabit so that we may show our love to be worthy of making our eternal abode with Him.

Hence, we are deprived of the original state of sanctity and justice because of this potentiality to sin against God. Original human goodness is manifested in our natural inclination towards what is good and comes from God. We all have the ability to direct our will towards what is good and is sustained by God’s sufficient grace since God is good and we have been created in the divine image. Yet, because of the fall, we possess a wounded nature that prompts us to choose what isn’t good and pleasing to God despite our knowledge of good and evil. Pride comes before the fall. Adam and Eve do in fact live inside each one of us. We all have inherited their selfishness which lies in the natural fabric of our being, so we are in daily need of conversion and being restored to God’s grace. However, the shame we might feel because of our sins reveals that human beings are still essentially good, having been created in the divine image, which Adam didn’t forfeit for his descendants (Gen 1:26). It’s just a matter of our living up to it, which isn’t an insurmountable feat and is necessary for our salvation (1 Jn 1:5-7).

Early Sacred Tradition

“Seeing, therefore, that we are the portion of the Holy One, let us do all those things which
pertain to holiness, avoiding all evil-speaking, all abominable and impure embraces,
together with all drunkenness, seeking after change, all abominable lusts, detestable
adultery, and execrable pride. ‘For God,’ saith [the Scripture], ‘resisteth the proud, but giveth
grace to the humble.’ Let us cleave, then, to those to whom grace has been given by God. Let us
clothe ourselves with concord and humility, ever exercising self-control, standing far off
from all whispering and evil-speaking, being justified by our works, and not our words.”
St. (Pope) Clement of Rome, Epistle to the Corinthians, 30
(A.D. 98)

“I do not mean to say that there are two different human natures, but all
humanity is made the same, sometimes belonging to God and sometimes to the
devil. If anyone is truly spiritual they are a person of God; but if they are
irreligious and not spiritual then they are a person of the devil, made such not
by nature, but by their own choice.”
St. Ignatius of Antioch, To the Ephesians
(c. A.D. 107)

“But neither do we affirm that it is by fate that men do what they do, or suffer what they suffer,
but that each man by free choice acts rightly or wrongly…The stoics, not observing this,
maintained that all things take place according to the necessity of fate. But since God, in the
beginning made the race of men and angels with free will they will justly suffer in eternal fire
the punishment of whatever sins they have committed, and this is the nature of all that is
made, to be capable of vice and virtue.”
St. Justin Martyr, Apologia 2
[c. A.D. 160]

“The wicked man is justly punished, having become depraved of himself;
and the just man is worthy of praise for his honest deeds,
since it was in his free choice that he did not transgress the will of God.”
St. Tatian the Syrian, Address to the Greeks 7
[A.D. 170]

"So likewise men, if they do truly progress by faith towards better things, and receive the
Spirit of God, and bring forth the fruit thereof, shall be spiritual, as being planted in the
paradise of God. But if they cast out the Spirit, and remain in their former condition, desirous
of being of the flesh rather than of the Spirit, then it is very justly said with regard to men of
this stamp, 'That flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God;' just as if any one were
to say that the wild olive is not received into the paradise of God."
St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5:10,1
[A.D. 180]

"You are mistaken, and are deceived, whosoever you are, that think yourself rich in this
world. Listen to the voice of your Lord in the Apocalypse, rebuking men of your stamp with
righteous reproaches: 'Thou sayest,' says He, 'I am rich, and increased with goods, and have
need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind,
and naked. I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and
white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness may not
appear in thee; and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see.' You therefore,
who are rich and wealthy, buy for yourself of Christ gold tried by fire; that you may be pure
gold, with your filth burnt out as if by fire, if you are purged by almsgiving and righteous
works. Buy for yourself white raiment, that you who had been naked according to Adam, and
were before frightful and unseemly, may be clothed with the white garment of Christ. And
you who are a wealthy and rich matron in Christ's Church, anoint your eyes, not with the
collyrium of the devil, but with Christ's eye-salve, that you may be able to attain to see God,
by deserving well of God, both by good works and character."
St. Cyprian of Carthage, On Works and Alms, 14

"Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
Matthew 5, 48

Pax vobiscum