What I am asking

What does Roman Catholic theology hold to be the nature of the original sin? If we consider the Tree of Knowledge, its fruit, and Adam and Eve partaking of it as all being metaphors, what is the meaning behind the metaphor? What exactly did Adam and Eve do that ran counter to God's command not to "eat of the Tree"?

To clarify, I am not seeking to identify the Original Sin in terms of the Seven Deadly Sins; Catholic dogma tells us that the sin was Pride. What I'm trying to do is identify the specific prideful thought or action that Adam and Eve committed which was sinful.

This question is being asked primarily to form the basis of another question I have posted.

What I am looking for

The ideal answer will contain citation of specific doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church regarding original sin, including:

  • The degree of binding authority conferred by the Magisterium upon the teachings (i.e. solemn or ordinary, universal or non-universal).
  • How the teachings were added to the deposit of faith (i.e. Sacred Scripture or Sacred Tradition).
  • Teachings derived from Sacred Scripture should also furnish quotation of the applicable verse(s) from a Catholic English Bible (i.e. an English-language translation of the Bible containing only the 73 canonical books and having the imprimatur of a Catholic bishop).
  • Teachings derived from Sacred Tradition should furnish quotations from the applicable conciliar canons or decrees, as well as links to the sources of their full texts.

What I am not looking for

  • Discussion, analysis, or answers from non-Catholic perspectives.
  • 1
    You may consider dividing this question into two different questions. 1.What does Roman Catholic theology hold to be the nature of the original sin? 2.How do the teachings of original sin conflict with the (alleged) private revelations of Maria Valtorta, as documented in her book The Poem of the Man-God?
    – Ken Graham
    Commented May 20, 2016 at 2:40
  • @KenGraham Do you mean "divide" as in making this two separate posts? Also, thanks for the suggested edit! I got so absorbed in the content I didn't really give thought to links. Commented May 20, 2016 at 2:48
  • 1
    Make two separate posts as it will make answering somewhat more possible.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented May 20, 2016 at 2:52
  • I have split my question into two posts per suggestion from @KenGraham Commented May 20, 2016 at 3:06
  • 1
    You may wish to put the words "the specific prideful thought or action" in bold.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented May 20, 2016 at 5:04

3 Answers 3


The doctrines of Original Sin are of the highest level, de fide or "of faith."
(cf. this table of theological notes, the proximity of truths to Divine Revelation)

The following comes from Ludwig Ott's Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. Denzinger numbers (e.g., D 788) are references to his Sources of [Catholic] Dogma, a collection of Catholic dogma from Councils and Popes' ex cathedra dogmatic definitions. For example, D 788 is a reference to the Decree on Original Sin from the Council of Trent's Session V (June 17, 1546).

III. Man’s Lapse from the Supernatural Order

§ 20. The Personal Sin of Our First Parents or Original Sin

1. The Act of Sin

Our First Parents in Paradise sinned grievously through transgression of the Divine probationary commandment. (De fide.)

The Council of Trent teaches that Adam lost sanctity and justice by transgressing the Divine commandment (D 788). Since the punishment is proportionate to the guilt, the sin of Adam was clearly a serious sin.

The biblical account of the fall through the sin of the First Parents is contained in Gn. 2:17 and 3:1 et seq. Since Adam’s sin is the basis of the dogma of Original Sin and Redemption the historical accuracy of the account as regards the essential facts may not be impugned. According to a decision of the Bible Commission in 1909, the literal historical sense is not to be doubted in regard to the following facts: a) That the first man received a command from God to test his obedience; b) That through the temptation of the devil who took the form of a serpent he transgressed the Divine commandment; c) That our First Parents were deprived of their original condition of innocence. D 2123.

The later Books of Holy Writ confirm this literal, historical interpretation. Ecclus. 25:33: “From the woman came the beginning of sin, and by her we all die.” Wis. 2:24: “But by the envy of the devil death came into the world.” 2 Cor. 11:3: “But I fear lest, as the serpent seduced Eve by his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted and fall away from the simplicity which is Christ.” Cf. 1 Tim. 2:14; Rom. 5:12, et seq; John 8:44. The mythological explanation, and the purely allegorical explanation (of the Alexandrines) are therefore to be rejected.

The sin of our First Parents was a sin of disobedience. Cf. Rom. 5:19: “By the disobedience of one man many were made sinners.” The root of the disobedience was pride. Tob. 4:14: “From it (pride) all perdition took its beginning.” Ecclus. 10:15: “Pride is the beginning of all sin.” The theory that Original Sin was a sexual sin (St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Ambrose) cannot be accepted. The gravity of the sin is clear when we regard its purpose and the circumstances of the Divine commandment. St. Augustine regards Adam’s sin as an “inexpressibly great sin” (ineffabiliter grande peccatum: Op. Imperf. c. Jul. I 105).

2. The Consequences of Sin

a) Through sin our First Parents lost sanctifying grace and provoked the anger and the indignation of God. (De fide.)

In Holy Writ the loss of Sanctifying Grace is indicated in the exclusion of Our First Parents from intercourse with God. (Gn. 3:10, 23). God appears as a judge and announces the sentence of punishment (Gn. 3:16 et seq.).

God’s displeasure finally takes effect in the eternal rejection. Tatian believed that Adam lost eternal salvation but St. Irenaeus (Adv. haer. III 23, 8), Tertullian (De poenit. 12) and St. Hippolytus (Philos. 8, 16) rejected this view. In later times, the Fathers generally, supported by Wis. 10:2: (“She [Wisdom] brought him out of his sin”), teach that Our First Parents did atonement and “through the Blood of the Lord” were saved from eternal destruction (cf. St. Augustine, De peccat. mer. et rem. II 34, 55).

b) Our First Parents became subject to death and to the dominion of the Devil. (De fide.) D 788.

Death and the evils associated with it follow from the loss of the gifts of integrity. According to Gn. 3:16 et seq., God imposed suffering and death as a punishment for sin. The dominion of the devil is mentioned in Gn. 3:15 and is explicitly taught in John 12:31; 14:30; 2 Cor. 4:4; Hebr. 2:14; 2 Peter 2:19.

§ 21. The Existence of Original Sin

1. The Heretical Counter-propositions

The doctrine of Original Sin was rejected by the Gnostics and Manichaeans, who believed that the moral corruption of humanity comes from an eternal principle of evil and also by the Origenists and Priscillianists, who explained humanity’s inclination to evil by a pre-corporeal fall through sin.

Original sin was directly denied by the Pelagians, who taught: a) The sin of Adam is transmitted to posterity not by inheritance but through imitation of a bad example (imitatione, non propagatione). b) Death, suffering and concupiscence are not punishment for sin, but a natural condition of man who was created in a pure state of nature. c) The baptism of children is administered, not for the remission of sins, but as a sign of acceptance by the Church, and to enable men to reach the Kingdom of Heaven, which is distinct from vita aeterna (a higher stage of blessedness).

The Pelagian error was combated chiefly by St. Augustine and was condemned by the Church at the Synods of Mileve 416, Carthage 418, Orange 529 and in later times by the Council of Trent (1546) D 102, 174 et seq., 787 et seq.

The Pelagian error lives on in modern rationalism (Socianism, Rationalism of the age of the Enlightenment, Liberal Protestant Theology, modern unbelief).

In medieval times the Synod of Sens (1141) rejected the following thesis of Peter Abelard: Quod non contraximus culpam ex Adam, sed poenam tantum D 376.

The Reformers, the Baians, and the Jansenists admitted the reality of original sin, but misunderstood its essence and its operation, since they regarded it as identical with concupiscence which corrupts completely human nature. Cf. St. Augustine Conf. Art. 2.

2. Teaching of the Church

Adam’s sin is transmitted to his posterity, not by imitation, but by descent. (De fide.)

The dogmatic teaching on original sin is laid down in the Tridentine Decree “Super peccato originali” (Sess. V; 1546), which in part follows word for word the decisions of the Synods of Carthage and of Orange. The Council of Trent rejects the doctrine that Adam’s loss of the sanctity and justice received from God was merely for himself alone, and not for us also, and that he transmitted to his posterity death and suffering only, but not the guilt of sin. It positively teaches that sin, which is the death of the soul, is inherited by all his posterity by descent, not by imitation, and that it dwells in every single human being. It is removed by the merits of the Redemption of Jesus Christ, which as a rule are bestowed through the Sacrament of Baptism on adults as well as on children. Therefore children also are baptised for the forgiveness of sins (in remissionem peccatorum). D 789–791.

3. Proof from the Sources of Faith

a) Scriptural proof

The Old Testament contains references to original sin. Cf. especially Ps. 50:7: “For behold I was conceived in iniquities: and in sins did my mother conceive me.” Job 14:4 (according to Vulg.): “Who can make him clean that is conceived unclean?” Both passages speak of an inborn sinfulness whether this be understood in the sense of habitual sin or merely of the inclination to sin, but do not bring this into causal connection with the sin of Adam. The causal connection between the death of all mankind and the sin of our First Parents (original death) is, however, clearly stated in the Old Testament. Cf. Ecclus. 25:33; Wis. 2:24.

The passage which contains the classical proof is Rom. 5:12–21, in which the Apostle draws a parallel between the first Adam, from whom sin and death are transmitted to all humanity, and Christ, the second Adam, from whom justice and life are transmitted to all men. V. 12: “Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world and by sin death, and so sin passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned (in quo omnes paccaverunt—ἐφʼ ᾧ πάντες ἥμαρτον) … 19. For as by the disobedience of one man many were made sinners: so also by the obedience of one, many shall be made just.”

By sin (ἁμαρτία) is to be understood quite generally sin, which here appears personified. Original sin is therefore included. What is meant is the guilt of sin and not the consequences of sin. Death is expressly distinguished from sin and is represented as the consequence of sin. Concupiscence is not meant, because sin, according to V. 18 et seq., is removed by the grace of Christ’s Redemption, while evil desire remains as experience shows.

β) The words in quo (ἐφʼ ᾧ; V. 12 d) were related relatively to unum hominem by St. Augustine and during the whole middle-ages: “By one man … in whom all have sinned.” Since the time of Erasmus the better-founded conjunctional meaning already proposed by the Fathers, especially by the Greeks, came to the fore: ἐφʼ ᾧ = ἐπί τούτῳ ὅτι = “on the ground that all have sinned” or “because all have sinned”; cf. the linguistic parallels in 2 Cor. 5:4; Phil. 3:12; 4:10; Rom. 8:3. Since those also die who have committed no personal sin (young children), the origin of bodily death is not a personal guilt, but a guilt inherited from Adam. Cf. V. 13 et seq. and V. 19, in which the sin of Adam is given as the reason for the sinfulness of the many. The conjunctional interpretation, which is adopted generally to-day, conforms to the explanation of St. Augustine: all have sinned in Adam, therefore all die.

γ) The words: “Many (οἱ πολλοί) were made sinners” (V. 19a) do not limit the universality of original sin, since the expression “many” (in opposition to the one Adam, or Christ) is parallel to “all” (πάντες) in V. 12 d and 18 a.

b) Proof from Tradition

St. Augustine appeals to the Tradition of the Church against the Pelagian Bishop Julian of Eclanum: “It is not I who have invented original sin, which the Catholic Faith holds from of old, but thou, who deniest it, thou art without doubt a new heretic” (De nupt. et concup. II 12, 25). St. Augustine, in his Contra Julianum (L. I and II), adduces a formal proof from Tradition, in which he quotes St. Irenaeus, St. Cyprian, Reticius of Autun, Olympius, St. Hilary, St. Ambrose, Innocent I, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil and St. Jerome as witnesses of the Catholic teaching. Many assertions of the Greek Fathers who insist on personal responsibility for sin and appear entirely to prescind from original sin, are to be understood as being in opposition to Gnostic-Manichaean dualism and to Origenistic pre-existentianism. St. Augustine defended the teaching of St. John Chrysostom against its misinterpretation by the Pelagians: vobis nondum litigantibus securius loquebatur (Contra Jul. 16, 22).

Irrefutable proof of the conviction of the primitive Church as to the reality of original sin is the old Christian practice of the baptism of children “for the remission of sin” (in remissionem peccatorum). Cf. St. Cyprian, Ep. 64, 5.

4. Dogma and Reason

The doctrine of Original Sin cannot be proved by natural reason, nevertheless the fact of Original Sin is evidenced by many signs: peccati originalis in humano genere probabiliter quaedam signa apparent (S.c.G. IV 52). Such signs are the frightful moral aberrations of humanity, and the many lapses from belief in the True God (polytheism, atheism).

§ 22. The Nature of Original Sin

1. False Views

a) The view of Peter Abelard that Original Sin consists in eternal punishment (“reatus poenae aeternae) is false. According to the teaching of the Council of Trent, Original Sin is a true and proper sin, that is, a guilt of sin. Cf. D 376, 789, 792. St. Paul speaks of a real sin. Rom. 5:12: “All have sinned.” Cf. Rom. 5:19.

b) Original Sin does not consist, as the Reformers, the Baians, and the Jansenists taught, in: “The habitual concupiscence, which remains, even in the baptised, a true and proper sin, but is no longer reckoned for punishment.” The Council of Trent teaches that through Baptism everything is taken away which is a true and proper sin, and that the concupiscence which remains behind after Baptism for the moral proving is called sin in an improper sense only. D 792. That sin remains in man, even if it is not reckoned for punishment, is irreconcilable with the Pauline teaching of Justification as an inner transformation and renewal. The justified man is saved from the danger of rejection because the ground for the rejection, the sin, is removed. Rom. 8:1: “There is now, therefore, no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” As concupiscence, in consequence of the composition of human nature out of body and spirit would be present, as natural evil, even in the pure state of nature, it cannot be sinful in itself, for God has created everything well. D 428.

c) Original Sin does not consist, as, among others, Albert Pighius († 1542) and Ambrosius Catharinus, O.P. († 1553), taught, in a mere external imputation of the sinful deed of Adam (imputation theory). According to the teaching of the Council of Trent, Adam’s sin is transferred by inheritance to all the children of Adam, and exists as his own proper sin in every single one of them: propagatione, non imitatione transfusum omnibus, inest unicuique proprium. D 790. Cf. D 795. Propriam iniustitiam contrahunt. According to the teaching of the Council of Trent, the efficacy of baptism consists in a real eradication of sin, not in a mere non-imputation of an alien guilt. D 792. Cf. Rom. 5:12, 19.

2. Positive Solution

Original sin consists in the deprivation of grace caused by the free act of sin committed by the head of the race. (Sent. communis.)

a) The Council of Trent defined Original Sin as the death of the soul (mors animae: D 789). The death of the soul is, however, the absence [not-being-present] of supernatural life, that is, of sanctifying grace. In Baptism Original Sin is eradicated through the infusion of sanctifying grace (D 792). It follows from this that Original Sin is a condition of being deprived of grace. This flows from the Pauline contrast between sin proceeding from Adam and justice proceeding from Christ (Rom. 5:19). As the justice bestowed by Christ consists formally in sanctifying grace (D 799) so the sin inherited from Adam consists formally in the lack of sanctifying grace. The lack of sanctifying grace, which, according to the will of God, should be present, establishes that the guilt of Original Sin signifies a turning away from God.

As the ratio voluntarii, that is the free incurring of guilt, belongs to the concept of formal sin, and as a young child cannot perform a personal voluntary act, in original sin, the factor of spontaneity must be explained from its connection with Adam’s deed of sin. Adam was the representative of the whole human race. On his voluntary decision depended the preservation or the loss of the supernatural endowment, which was a gift, not to him personally but, to human nature as such. His transgression was, therefore, the transgression of the whole human race. Pope Pius V rejected the assertion of Baius, that Original Sin had the character of sin in itself without any reference to the will from which it sprung. D 1047. Cf. St. Augustine, Retract. I 12 (13), 5. S. th. I II 81, 1.

b) According to the teaching of St. Thomas, Original Sin consists formaliter in the lack of original justice, materialiter in the unregulated concupiscence. In every sin St. Thomas distinguishes between a formal and a material element, the turning away from God (aversio a Deo) and the turning towards the creature (conversio ad creaturam). As the turning towards the creature manifests itself above all in evil desire, St. Thomas with St. Augustine, sees in concupiscence, which itself is a consequence of original sin, the material element of original sin: peccatum originale materialiter quidem est concupiscentia, formaliter vero est defectus originalis iustitiae (S. th. I II 82, 3). The doctrine of St. Thomas was influenced partially by St. Anselm of Canterbury, who sees in the nature of original sin only the lack of original justice and partially by St. Augustine, who defines original sin as: an evil concupiscence with its state of guilt (concupiscentia cum suo reatu) and explains that the state of guilt (reatus) is removed by Baptism, while the concupiscence persists for a moral test (ad agonem), but not as a sin. (Op. imperf. c. Jul. I 71). Most of the post-Tridentine theologians do not regard concupiscence as an essential constituent part of original sin, but as its consequence.

§ 23. The Transmission of Original Sin

Original sin is transmitted by natural generation. (De fide.)

The Council of Trent says: propagatione, non imitatione transfusum omnibus. D 790. In the baptism of children that is expurgated which they have incurred through generation. D 791.

As original sin is a peccatum naturae, it is transmitted in the same way as human nature, through the natural act of generation. Although according to its origin, it is a single sin (D 790) that is the sin of the head of the race alone (the sin of Eve is not the cause of original sin) it is multiplied over and over again through natural generation whenever a child of Adam enters existence. In each act of generation human nature is communicated in a condition deprived of grace.

The chief cause (causa efficiens principalis) of original sin is the sin of Adam alone. The instrumental cause (causa efficiens instrumentalis) is the natural act of generation, which gives rise to the connection of the individual human being with the head of the race. The actual concupiscence associated with the act of generation, the sexual pleasure (libido) is, contrary to the view of St. Augustine (De nuptiis et concup. I 23, 25; 24, 27), neither the cause nor the inescapable condition for the reproduction of original sin. It is only an accompanying phenomenon of the act of generation, which in itself alone is the instrumental cause of the transmission of original sin. Cf. S. th. 1 II 82, 4 ad 3.


From the Christian doctrine of the reproduction of original sin, it does not follow, as the Pelagians maintained, that God is the Originator of sin. The soul created by God is, according to its natural constitution, good. The condition of original sin signifies the want of a supernatural advantage to which the creature has no claim. God is not obliged to create the soul with the adornment of sanctifying grace. God is not to be blamed for the fact that the newly-created soul is denied the supernatural endowment, but man is who misused his freedom. Again, it does not follow from this teaching that marriage is bad. The marital act of generation is good because, objectively, that is, according to its adaptation to its end, and subjectively, that is, according to the intention of the generators, it is aimed at good, namely, the reproduction of the human nature desired by God.

§ 24. The Consequences of Original Sin

The consequences of original sin are, following Luke 10:30, summarised by the scholastic theologians, in the axiom: By Adam’s sin man is deprived of the supernatural gifts and wounded in his nature (spoliatus gratuitis, vulneratus in naturalibus). The word gratuita usually means only the absolute supernatural gifts and naturalia the gifts of integrity, which were part of man’s abilities and powers before the fall. Cf. S. th. 1 II 85, 1; Sent. II d. 29 q. 1a.2.

1. Loss of the Supernatural Endowment

In the state of original sin man is deprived of sanctifying grace and all that this implies, as well as of the preternatural gifts of integrity. (De fide _in regar__d to Sanctifying Grace and the_ Donum Immortalitatis. D 788 et seq.)

The lack of the sanctifying grace has, as a turning away of man from God, the character of guilt and, as the turning of God away from man, the character of punishment. The lack of the gifts of integrity results in man’s being subject to concupiscence, suffering and death. These results remain even after the extirpation of Original Sin, not as punishment, but as the so-called poenalitates, that is, as the means given to man to achieve the practice of virtue and moral integrity. The person stained by Original Sin finds himself in the imprisonment and slavery of the devil whom Jesus calls “the prince,” and St. Paul “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4). Cf. Hebr. 2:14; Peter 2:19.

2. Wounding of Nature

The wounding of nature must not be conceived, with the Reformers and the Jansenists, as the complete corruption of human nature. In the condition of Original Sin, man possesses the ability of knowing natural religious truths and of performing natural morally good actions. The Vatican Council teaches that man, with his natural power of cognition, can with certainty know the existence of God. D 1785, 1806. The Council of Trent teaches that free will was not lost or extinguished by the fall of Adam. D 815.

The wounding of nature extends to the body as well as to the soul. The 2nd Council of Orange (529) explained: totum, i.e., secundum corpus et animam, in deterius hominem commutatum (esse) (the whole man both in body and in soul was changed for the worse). D 174. Cf. D 181, 199, 793. Side by side with the two wounds of the body, sensibility to suffering (passibilitas) and mortality (mortalitas), theologians, with St. Thomas (S. th. 1 II 85, 3) enumerate four wounds of the soul, which are opposed to the four cardinal virtues: a) ignorance (ignorantia), that is, difficulty of knowing the truth (opposite to prudence), b) malice (malitia), that is the weakening of the power of the will (opposite to justice), c) weakness (infirmitas), that is, the recoiling before difficulties in the struggle for the good (opposite to fortitude), d) desire (concupiscentia) in the narrower sense, that is, the desire for satisfaction of the senses against the judgment of reason (opposite to temperance). The wounds of the body are caused by the loss of the preternatural gifts of impossibility and immortality, the wounds of the soul by the loss of the preternatural gift of freedom from concupiscence.

There is a controversy as to whether the wounding of nature consists exclusively in the loss of the preternatural gifts, or whether human nature in addition is intrinsically weakened in an accidental manner. The former view, which is that adopted by St. Thomas and by most theologians, conceives the wounding of nature as relative only, i.e., by comparison with its primitive condition, while the latter view conceives it as absolute and visualises it as a worsening in comparison with the pure state of nature. According to the former view, the person who is born in original sin is to the human being in the pure state of nature as one stripped of his clothes is to the unclothed (nudatus ad nudum); according to the latter view, as the sick person is to the healthy (aegrotus ad sanum). The former view is to be preferred, as the sinful act of Adam, which occurred once only, could, neither in his own nature nor in the nature of his posterity, effect an evil habit and with it, a weakening of the natural powers. Cf. S. th. 1 II 85, 1. However, it must be admitted that fallen human nature, in consequence of individual and social aberrations, has declined below the state of pure nature.

§ 25. Souls who depart this life in the state of original sin are excluded from the Beatific Vision of God (De fide.)

The 2nd General Council of Lyons (1274) and the Council of Florence (1438–45) declared: illorum animas, qui in actuali mortali peccato vel solo originali decedunt, mox in infernum descendere, poenis tamen disparibus puniendas (the souls of those who die in original sin as well as those who die in actual mortal sin go immediately into hell, but their punishment is very different). D 464, 693.

The dogma is supported by the words of Our Lord: “Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God” (John 3:5).

The spiritual re-birth of young infants can be achieved in an extra-sacramental manner through baptism by blood (cf. the baptism by blood of the children of Bethlehem). Other emergency means of baptism for children dying without sacramental baptism, such as prayer and desire of the parents or the Church (vicarious baptism of desire—Cajetan), or the attainment of the use of reason in the moment of death, so that the dying child can decide for or against God (baptism of desire—H. Klee), or suffering and death of the child as quasi-Sacrament (baptism of suffering—H. Schell), are indeed, possible, but their actuality cannot be proved from Revelation. Cf. D 712.

In the punishment of Hell theologians distinguish between the “poena damni,” which consists in the exclusion from the Beatific Vision of God, and the “poena sensus” which is caused by external means, and which will be felt by the senses even after the resurrection of the body. While St. Augustine and many Latin Fathers are of the opinion that children dying in original sin must suffer “poena sensus” also, even if only a very mild one (mitissima omnium poena: Enchir. 93), the Greek Fathers (for example, St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Or. 40, 23), and the majority of the Schoolmen and more recent theologians, teach that they suffer “poena damni” only. The declaration of Pope Innocent III, is in favour of this teaching: Poena originalis peccati est carentia visionis Dei (= poena damni) actualis vero poena peccati est gehennae perpetuae cruciatus (= poena sensus). D 410. A condition of natural bliss is compatible with “poena damni.” Cf. St. Thomas, De malo, 5, 3; Sent. II d. 33 q. 2 a. 2.

Theologians usually assume that there is a special place or state for children dying without baptism which they call limbus puerorum (children’s Limbo). Pope Pius VI adopted this view against the Synod of Pistoia. D 1526.

  • 1
    Wow! Thanks for providing such a comprehensive answer. With regards to the relation of Church Doctrine to my related question re: The Poem of the Man-God, I note that Ott simply asserts that "the theory that Original Sin was a sexual sin cannot be accepted." It can't be disputed that the sin itself was Pride, but should Ott's statement be taken to preclude any association of some form of sexual activity with the Original Sin? What I'm trying to get at here is the "identity" of the prideful thought or action that Adam and Eve engaged in that was sinful. Commented May 20, 2016 at 3:43
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    @PolskiPhysics Their pride was thinking that, by disobeying God, they could be like gods. As a result of this, their lower passions rebelled against their reason, and this is why they became ashamed of their nakedness.
    – Geremia
    Commented May 20, 2016 at 15:53
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    @PolskiPhysics The actual concupiscence associated with the act of generation, the sexual pleasure (libido) is, contrary to the view of St. Augustine (De nuptiis et concup. I 23, 25; 24, 27), neither the cause nor the inescapable condition for the reproduction of original sin. It is only an accompanying phenomenon of the act of generation, which in itself alone is the instrumental cause of the transmission of original sin. Cf. S. th. 1 II 82, 4 ad 3.
    – Geremia
    Commented May 20, 2016 at 15:58
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    @PolskiPhysics Here's St. Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica I-II q. 82 a. 4 ad 3: "Reply to Objection 3: It is not the actual lust that transmits original sin: for, supposing God were to grant to a man to feel no inordinate lust in the act of generation, he would still transmit original sin; we must understand this to be habitual lust, whereby the sensitive appetite is not kept subject to reason by the bonds of original justice. This lust is equally in all."
    – Geremia
    Commented May 20, 2016 at 15:58
  • 3
    Not all of this seems very relevant to the question. How about editing it to cut it down a little, and to add a summary?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Mar 14, 2018 at 4:21

In Catholic teaching, what specific actual sinful act did Adam and Eve commit, and what level of authority can be applied to this teaching?

Before going any further let us be in agreement that there were two people in Eden when the Original sin entered the world. These two individual sinned against God. That does not mean that they committed the same offense against their Creator. For Adam sinned and eve sinned.

Although the doctrine of original sin is maintained at the highest possible level (de fide) in Church teachings, the originator of the fall remains Adam, not Eve, even though Eve was the first to sin.

Meaning [of Original Sin]

Original sin may be taken to mean: (1) the sin that Adam committed; (2) a consequence of this first sin, the hereditary stain with which we are born on account of our origin or descent from Adam.

From the earliest times the latter sense of the word was more common, as may be seen by St. Augustine's statement: "the deliberate sin of the first man is the cause of original sin" (De nupt. et concup., II, xxvi, 43). It is the hereditary stain that is dealt with here. As to the sin of Adam we have not to examine the circumstances in which it was committed nor make the exegesis of the third chapter of Genesis. - Original Sin (Catholic Encyclopedia)

St. Thomas Aquinas states in his Summa that Adam was responsible for transmitting Original sin to the entire human race and not Eve:

The solution of this question is made clear by what has been said. For it has been stated that original sin is transmitted by the first parent in so far as he is the mover in the begetting of his children: wherefore it has been said that if anyone were begotten materially only, of human flesh, they would not contract original sin. Now it is evident that in the opinion of philosophers, the active principle of generation is from the father, while the mother provides the matter. Therefore original sin, is contracted, not from the mother, but from the father: so that, accordingly, if Eve, and not Adam, had sinned, their children would not contract original sin: whereas, if Adam, and not Eve, had sinned, they would contract it. - Whether if Eve, and not Adam, had sinned, their children would have contracted original sin?

Here is what St. Thomas Aquinas has to say about the particular sins of both Adam and Eve:

The gravity of a sin depends on the species rather than on a circumstance of that sin. Accordingly we must assert that, if we consider the condition attaching to these persons, the man's (Adam) sin is the more grievous, because he was more perfect than the woman (Eve).

As regards the genus itself of the sin, the sin of each is considered to be equal, for each sinned by pride. Hence Augustine says (Gen. ad lit. xi, 35): "Eve in excusing herself betrays disparity of sex, though parity of pride."

But as regards the species of pride, the woman sinned more grievously, for three reasons. First, because she was more puffed up than the man. For the woman believed in the serpent's persuasive words, namely that God had forbidden them to eat of the tree, lest they should become like to Him; so that in wishing to attain to God's likeness by eating of the forbidden fruit, her pride rose to the height of desiring to obtain something against God's will. On the other hand, the man did not believe this to be true; wherefore he did not wish to attain to God's likeness against God's will: but his pride consisted in wishing to attain thereto by his own power. Secondly, the woman not only herself sinned, but suggested sin to the man; wherefore she sinned against both God and her neighbor. Thirdly, the man's sin was diminished by the fact that, as Augustine says (Gen. ad lit. xi, 42), "he consented to the sin out of a certain friendly good-will, on account of which a man sometimes will offend God rather than make an enemy of his friend. That he ought not to have done so is shown by the just issue of the Divine sentence."

It is therefore evident that the woman's sin was more grievous than the man's. - Question 163. The first man's sin

St. Thomas has more on the virtue of virginity before the Fall:

St Thomas concludes logically that there would have been no place for the virtue of virginity before the fall. “Continence,” he says, “would not have been praiseworthy in the state of innocence, whereas it is praiseworthy in our present state, not because it removes fecundity, but because it excludes disordered desire. In that state fecundity would have been without lust.”

“Continentia in statu innocentiae non fuisset laudabilis, quae in tempore isto laudatur non propter defectum fecunditatis, sed propter remotionem inordinatae libidinis. Tunc autem fuisset fecunditas absque libidine.” (Ibid.: 98, 2 ad 3:) - The Perfection of our First Parents, According to St Thomas Aquinas

St. Augustine was the main promoter of the dogma of Original sin:

Many Christians who profess to believe in the doctrine of original sin do not know what it teaches. Even more Christians are ignorant of its history and origin: that it had its roots in a heathen philosophy, that it has evolved, and that it was made a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church in the fifth century A.D., primarily by the influence of Augustine. - The Origin and History of the Doctrine of Original Sin


I go with St.Augustine view that the actual sin committed by Adam & Eve was a sexual act...as CCC400 states…”the union of man & woman becomes subject to tensions, their relations henceforth marked by lust and dominations”and CCC405”…. 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" So the original sin which CCC embraced coming from St.Augustine teaching is clearly stated MARKED BY LUST and CARNAL CONCUPISCENCE...as St.Paul affirmed and said " Saint Paul says, "The flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh . . ." (Galatians 5:17).

  1. God created Adam & Eve primarily to bear fruit & multiply. CCC372 “Man and woman were made "for each other" - not that God left them half-made and incomplete: he created them to be a communion of persons, in which each can be "helpmate" to the other, for they are equal as persons ("bone of my bones. . .") and complementary as masculine and feminine. In marriage God unites them in such a way that, by forming "one flesh",245 they can transmit human life: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth."By transmitting human life to their descendants, man and woman as spouses and parents cooperate in a unique way in the Creator's work.”
  2. Patriarchs believe that Adam & Eve must undergo perfection or Theosis first.. CCC367” …Spirit" signifies that from creation man is ordered to a supernatural end and that his soul can gratuitously be raised beyond all it deserves to communion with God.” So we can see God ordered Adam a supernatural life meaning attain a perfection which Church Father called “theosis’
  3. God commandments of Adam is clear in Jesus words "Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect"(Mt5:48) and God the Father makes it clear "nothing defile shall enter the kingdom of God".. CCC364 “The human body shares in the dignity of "the image of God": it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit:…Man is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day. “
  4. Adam knew that God gave her Eve(Mother of the Living) to produce offspring that would be perfect & pleasing to the eyes of God and worthy of Heaven, and repeat this cycle of reproduction... CCC358 “God created everything for man,222 but man in turn was created to serve and love God and to offer all creation back to him:”
  5. To produce a holy offspring, one that is not tainted with lust Adam & Eve must be perfected/theosis...meaning they will procreate but not committing self-gratification of the flesh or void of lustful thoughts, that is God conditioned to Adam before pro-creating...And we can see Jesus emphasizing in the gospel lustful thoughts is a mortal sin...
  6. The ideal procreation design by God in order to produce a holy/immaculate offspring was not followed by Adam & Eve...And so God in the Old Testament showed us how Adam & Eve should have done it...The procreation although sexual acts in nature can be sanctified to produce an immaculate offspring if both male & female will consume it according to the Will of God and in the presence of God(CCC398)...St.Joachim & St.Anne showed us the way by doing the procreation void of self-gratification of the flesh...meaning lustful thoughts was absent...only pure acts with perfect obedience to the Will of God to produce a holy offspring. The Blessed Virgin Said to St. Bridget of Sweden:(Book Author Raphael Brown) “It is a truth that I was conceived without Original Sin and not in sin. A golden hour was my conception. My Son joined my father and my mother in a marriage of such chastity that a purer union has never been seen. Sensuality was extinguished in them. Thus my flesh was formed through divine charity. “ The late Raphael Brown was a well known author and secular Franciscan who wrote and translated many Catholic and Franciscan Works. The above article is an excerpt from his book, The Life of Mary as Seen by the Mystics, Tan, 1991.

  7. Satan destroy God's plan and distorted the purity of sexual act in pro-creation by introducing self-gratification first to Eve (my personal opinion, Eve masturbated first by touching the fruit/Womb)...Then she seduced Adam to violate God commandments by doing the sexual acts together at the evil suggestions of the serpent...Since, Satan was present during the sexual act imagine how far Adam & Eve exploits their body for self-gratification. I did not that the Poem of Valtorta had a passages on Eve selfishly arousing her body the Fruit & Tree of Life symbolies the Womb of a Woman… As we Catholics prayed in Ave Maria…”and blessed is the Fruit of THY WOMB,Jesus” (Poem of Valtorta)Satan wanted to deprive man of this intellectual virginity and with his venomous tongue he blandished and caressed Eve's limbs and eyes, exciting reflections and a perspicacity which they did not have before, because malice had not yet intoxicated them. She "saw". And seeing, she wanted to try. Her flesh was aroused. Oh! If she had called to God! If she had hurried to Him saying: "Father! The Serpent has caressed me and I am upset". But since this was not approved by the Catholic Church I live it to readers judgment.

  8. Adam knew God conditioned and commandments before doing the sexual procreation acts..that they must both reach perfection first/theosis, but since they did not control their urges Adam knew that the offspring to be produce will not be pleasing to God...and so Adam committed the sin of Onan...Adam deliberately spilled the seed to avoid producing an imperfect offspring...(personal thoughts only, this Adam acts merited the sentenced of death) (Gen38:9)Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so when he went in to his brother's wife, he wasted his seed on the ground in order not to give offspring to his brother… God sentenced the sin of Onan was death… In the New Testament we can find numerous passages on the sin of the flesh in Romans&Galatians that resulted in death..

  9. This sexual act committed in the presence of Satan/Serpent made Adam & Eve violates the commandment of God. If Eve resisted the temptation of the serpent that would be her theosis...and Adam if he resisted the seduction of Eve that would be his theosis.and so Satan was allowed by God for Adam & Eve perfection but they failed.. Gen2:17” but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die." What does the punishment implied by God saying “on the DAY” Adam suffers two kind of death in a DAY… 1.spiritual death – literally on the day that the sexual act with malice inspired by serpent. 2.physical death- also in a DAY…but we need to use the passage from 2Peter3:8 “But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day.. So, how old did Adam suffered physical death close to 1000 years old… 10.With regards to transmission of original…I also already debunked it initially it can traced biblically and most importantly for skeptics scientifically…

  10. And so God, sees that Adam spilled the seed knowing the offspring to be produced is imperfect...he merited the sentence of God which is death...as we can relate in the story of Onan (this is my personal reflections, as the question is seeking more on the actual sins based on human possible actions & not on theological & doctrinal references...the bible is silent in the actual acts...i expound not distort the Truth but provide a possible imagery of the acts committed)..S&IHMMP4us.Amen
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    Is this what you go with, or what the Catholic church teaches? Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 18:18
  • I go with St.Augustine view that the actual sin committed by Adam & Eve was a sexual act... Can you provide a reference to Augustine saying such?
    – bradimus
    Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 2:04
  • Nathaniel - the patriarchs & early Church Fathers believes on original they called it 'ancestral sin"...but in St.Augustine time it was called "original sin'...you might be asking the early church prior to St.Augustine held the same view...please see below statement w/ links; Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 15:59
  • bradimus A SINFUL DOCTRINE?: SEXUALITY AND GENDER IN AUGUSTINE’S DOCTRINE OF ORIGINAL SIN: By Jon Stanley..Augustine’s reading of Psalm 51 had a profound effect on his thinking about sin, particularly his understanding of sin’s (sexual) transmission. He takes verse 5: “Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me,” to mean that sin is transmitted by means of sexual intercourse and received in conception.Thus, sexuality matters, and takes center stage in Augustine’s account of solidarity with Adam and the actual transmission of Adam’s sinful inheritance. Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 16:32
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    Downvoted, so that people won't mistake this for the Catholic Church's teaching Commented Mar 10, 2018 at 4:35

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