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.
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
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;
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
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;
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
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.