While preparing for a lesson this Sunday I came across Deuteronomy 24:16.

(KJV) The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.

(D-R) The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor the children for the fathers, but every one shall die for his own sin.

This piqued my interest, so I looked into the Catholic Catechism.

1250 Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called.50 The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.51

Does Deut. 24:16 suggest that no one but Adam and Eve can be held responsible for their action? or are children considered sinful at birth? or is baptism in Catholocism seen as something more pre-emptive than the immediate cleansing of past actions as other churches believe? How does the Catholic Church reconsile Catechism 1250 with Deut. 24:16?


Baptism is considered by the Catholic Church to be a cleansing not only of personal sin ("past actions", as you put it) but also original sin. Original sin, confusingly, is not "really" a sin. That is, it's not a sin in the same sense that adultery (for example) is a sin. It is a change in human nature that was brought on by the first sin, which has effects persisting for all humans:

Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam's descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, 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". Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ's grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.

(Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 405)

Children are not seen as sinful at birth. Indeed, since sin is the result of a voluntary action, word, or thought, it is not possible for a child to sin until they are (as the saying goes) "old enough to know better". (The Church generally takes this to be about six or seven years old.)

Baptism, among other things, allows a person to be justified before God, and to receive again the strength to pursue holiness which original sin deprives us of. It also cleanses us of any previous personal sins we've committed.

Adam and Eve are the only ones responsible for their actions (and thus the passage from Deuteronomy applies to them, in that we are not condemned for what they did); but on the other hand, their actions changed human nature in such a way that it is, generally speaking, impossible for us not to be sinful to some extent. Thus, it is in a sense because of their actions that we can be sinful; but any condemnation that comes on us is because of our actual choices, not because of that first sin.

  • «Original sin, confusingly, is not "really" a sin.» Yes it is; the unbaptized are guilty of it. – Geremia Sep 30 '17 at 4:10
  • @Geremia Perhaps I should clarify myself. I was thinking along these lines: "Actual sin is an inordinateness of an act: whereas original sin, being the sin of nature, is an inordinate disposition of nature." (Summa Theologica, II-I, Question 82 Article 1 ad 2). I could clarify that it is not a sin in the same sense that personal sin (e.g. murder) is a sin. – Matt Gutting Oct 2 '17 at 16:44

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