Original Sin Stated Contrary to Contemporary Pelagianism
The doctrine of original sin in brief
In past centuries, the Roman Catholic Church approved, with the highest authority that it claims to possess, the teaching of St. Augustine on original sin. Augustine drew upon the Bible to maintain against the British monk Pelagius and his camp in the fifth century the following points of doctrine.
o The guilt of Adam’s sin is transmitted to all of his posterity – each of us is conceived with the guilt of Adam as one’s own;
o Each of us is justly punished in body and soul for Adam’s sin, the guilt of which we have as our own – thus we are subject to bodily and mental suffering, temporal death and damnation; our intellect is darkened, particularly with regard to spiritual and ethical matters and our will is weakened and debased in its operations;
o Each of us is due eternal punishment for that sin in the fires of hell – we bear the guilt of Adam’s actual sin which, given the state of Adam, merits such sufferings;
o Only through the merits of Christ’s passion, applied to us through baptism or its desire can this guilt be erased – and only through baptism, and perhaps through its desire, can we be spared eternal torment.
Since that time, it has been considered a part of the “Pelagian” heresy to deny that doctrine.
The teaching of St. Augustine on original sin was codified at the XVI Council of Carthage in 418, the Council of Lyons II in 1274, the Council of Florence in 1438-1445 and at the Council of Trent in 1545-1555. The teaching of these councils is considered to be infallible by Catholic theologians because of the degree of authority given to them by popes.
The doctrine illustrated from traditional texts
It is vital to note that the traditional doctrine maintains that we are conceived actually guilty of Adam’s sin, we have the guilt as our own, and we merit to be justly punished for it in body and soul. We shall present some magisterial texts on original sin below but for now we shall just give a few quotes to make the point.
St. Paul stated the fact in his Epistle to the Romans (5:12).
“By one man sin entered into this world (and by sin death and so death passed upon all men) in whom all have sinned.”
These quotes from the Council of Trent and its Catechism well illustrate the traditional Catholic doctrine.
Council of Trent: “If any one denies, that, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is conferred in baptism, the guilt of original sin is remitted, let him be anathema.” (Session Five)
Council of Trent: “If any one asserts, that this sin of Adam – which in its origin is one, and being transfused into all by propagation, is in each one as his own – is taken away by any other remedy than the merit of the one mediator, our Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema.” (Session Five)
Council of Trent: “If any one asserts, that the prevarication of Adam injured himself alone, and not his posterity; and that the holiness and justice, received of God, which he lost, he lost for himself alone, and not for us also; or that he, being defiled by the sin of disobedience, has only transfused death and the punishments of the body into the whole human race, but not sin also, which is the death of the soul; let him be anathema.”
Catechism of Trent: “Wherefore, the pastor should not omit to remind the faithful that the guilt and punishment of original sin were not confined to Adam, but justly descended from him, as from their source and cause, to all posterity. To remedy the evil and repair the loss it became necessary that the Son of God should remove the infinite weight of sin and reconcile us to God in His blood.” (1, 2, 2)
The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913 was clear on the matter.
“In baptism the guilt of original sin is wiped out and the soul is cleansed and justified again by the infusion of sanctifying grace. The Council of Trent (Sess. V, e.v.) defines that by the grace of baptism the guilt of original sin is completely remitted and does not merely cease to be imputed to man.” (Concupiscence)
“As to infant baptism Pelagius granted that it ought to be administered in the same form as in the case of adults, not in order to cleanse the children from a real original guilt, but to secure to them entrance into the ‘kingdom of God’.” (Pelagius and Pelagianism)
A mystery of the faith
The doctrine of the transmission of guilt from Adam to his posterity is a mystery of faith that cannot be fully understood or even squared with rationalistic human attitudes. For how can one be guilty of what one did not do? How is it just to hold someone guilty, and to punish them, for something that they did not do? The Jansenist Blaise Pascal summed up the situation.
“It is an astonishing thing that the mystery furthest removed from our knowledge, namely, that of the transmission of sin, should be a fact without which we can have no knowledge of ourselves. For it is beyond doubt that there is nothing which more shocks our reason than to say that the sin of the first man has rendered guilty those who, being so removed from this source, seem incapable of participation in it. This transmission does not only seem to us impossible, it seems also very unjust. For what is more contrary to the rules of our miserable justice than to damn eternally an infant incapable of will, for a sin wherein he seems to have so little a share that it was committed six thousand years before he was in existence? Certainly nothing offends us more rudely than this doctrine; and yet without this mystery, the most incomprehensible of all, we are incomprehensible to ourselves.” (Pensees 434)
Present-day Pelagian rationalists, who reject the doctrine of the transmission of guilt from Adam, like to say that as a consequence of Adam’s sin people are merely deprived of supernatural benefits to which they have no claim: they are not guilty and they are not being punished for that guilt. According to them, man was simply reduced to his natural state after Adam sinned. The Pelagian Karl Keating of “Catholic Answers” well summed up the contemporary Pelagian position with the following claim.
“Adam and Eve committed the original sin--called ‘original’ because it occurred at the origin of the human race. They incurred guilt for that sin. Their offspring – including us – did not. What we have been saddled with is not the guilt of their sin but the consequences of their sin. They forfeited the preternatural gifts God had given them, and that forfeiture has extended through all the generations. But the guilt of that first sin was theirs alone.” (E-letter of February 10, 2004)
We shall now see the texts of the councils of Carthage XVI, Lyons II, Florence and Trent in which the Catholic doctrine of original sin was defined.
The teaching of Carthage XVI
The text of the XVI Council of Carthage is online here. We give here only the relevant extracts. We have added some underlining to indicate phrases that are especially relevant to the doctrine of the transmission of Adam’s guilt. Carthage taught that infants are truly baptised “for the remission of sins” due to what (guilt) they have drawn of the original sin from Adam.
1. All the bishops established in the sacred synod of the Carthaginian Church have decided that whoever says that Adam, the first man, was made mortal, so that, whether he sinned or whether he did not sin, he would die in body, that is he would go out of the body not because of the merit of sin but by reason of the necessity of nature, let him be anathema.
2. Likewise it has been decided that whoever says that infants fresh from their mothers’ wombs ought not to be baptized, or says that they are indeed baptized unto the remission of sins, but that they draw nothing of the original sin from Adam, which is expiated in the bath of regeneration, whence it follows that in regard to them the form of baptism “unto the remission of sins” is understood as not true, but as false, let him be anathema. Since what the Apostle says: “Through one man sin entered into the world (and through sin death), and so passed into all men, in whom all have sinned” [cf. Rom. 5:12], must not to be understood otherwise than as the Catholic Church spread everywhere has always understood it. For on account of this rule of faith even infants, who in themselves thus far have not been able to commit any sin, are therefore truly baptized unto the remission of sins, so that that which they have contracted from generation may be cleansed in them by regeneration.
The following canon condemns the Pelagian doctrine of Limbo and professes that unbaptised infants are punished for the guilt of original sin in the fire with the devil.
It has been decided likewise that if anyone says that for this reason the Lord said: “In my house there are many mansions”: that it might be understood that in the kingdom of heaven there will be some middle place or some place anywhere where happy infants live who departed from this life without baptism, without which they cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven, which is life eternal, let him be anathema. For when the Lord says: “Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he shall not enter into the kingdom of God” [John 3:5], what Catholic will doubt that he will be a partner of the devil who has not deserved to be a coheir of Christ? For he who lacks the right part will without doubt run into the left [cf. Matt. 25:41,46].
The canon of Carthage taught that infants have the pain of fire, for they “run into the left” and are, in their fate a “partner of the devil”. This refers to the last judgement scene narrated in the twenty-fifth chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew.
“Then he shall say to them also that shall be on his left: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels. ... And these shall go away into everlasting punishment.” (St. Matthew 25:41, 46)
Thus it is defined by Carthage that unbaptised infants receive their everlasting punishment with the devil in the fires of hell. St. Augustine often taught this in his writings and it was characteristic of him to do so with reference to Bible passages. The canon also condemns the Pelagian Limbo, which is the “some place anywhere where happy infants live”, in heaven, hell or anywhere else.
The Teaching of Lyons II and Florence
The councils of Lyons II and Florence both indicated that those who die with original sin only, such as unbaptised infants, are punished for the guilt of original sin. The councils wrote as follows.
“The souls of those who die in mortal sin or with original sin only, however, immediately descend to hell, to be punished however with disparate [disparibus] punishments.”
As St. Augustine taught, infants who die unbaptised have the pain of sense but to a milder extent than the do the damned who have added further sins to the guilt of original sin. Some have misinterpreted (and even mistranslated) this passage to mean that unbaptised infants have only such punishments as are “different” from those had by adults, the idea being that infants have a state of natural rest and happiness without the vision of God while adults have the pain of the senses in hell. However that is an evidently false (and Pelagian) reading as both adults and infants have the punishment of the loss of the vision of God. The damned have “disparate punishments” in that each will receive according to his guilt.
The Council of Florence also taught that all those who die outside of the Roman Catholic Church – which would include unbaptised infants as they are not considered to be members of the Church – “will go into the everlasting fire”.
“The Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that none of those outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but neither Jews, nor heretics and schismatics, can become participants in eternal life, but will depart ‘into the everlasting fire that was prepared for the devil and his angels’ [Matt. 25:41], unless before the end of life they have been added to the Church.”
The Teaching of Trent
Trent taught, that “all have sinned” in Adam and “death and the punishments of the body” are due to all as a result; that the sin of Adam is “transfused into all by propagation” and is “in each one as his own” and with “the true and proper nature of sin”; consequently the “remission of sins” for infants in baptism is “true”; indeed, “the guilt of original sin” is thus remitted; “all men had lost their innocence in the prevarication of Adam”; they contract through him “injustice as their own”.
Session 5 – Decree Concerning Original Sin
That our Catholic faith, without which it is impossible to please God, may, errors being purged away, continue in its own perfect and spotless integrity, and that the Christian people may not be carried about with every wind of doctrine; whereas that old serpent, the perpetual enemy of mankind, amongst the very many evils with which the Church of God is in these our times troubled, has also stirred up not only new, but even old, dissensions touching original sin, and the remedy thereof; the sacred and holy, ecumenical and general Synod of Trent,--lawfully assembled in the Holy Ghost, the three same legates of the Apostolic See presiding therein,--wishing now to come to the reclaiming of the erring, and the confirming of the wavering,--following the testimonies of the sacred Scriptures, of the holy Fathers, of the most approved councils, and the judgment and consent of the Church itself, ordains, confesses, and declares these things touching the said original sin:
1. If any one does not confess that the first man, Adam, when he had transgressed the commandment of God in Paradise, immediately lost the holiness and justice wherein he had been constituted; and that he incurred, through the offence of that prevarication, the wrath and indignation of God, and consequently death, with which God had previously threatened him, and, together with death, captivity under his power who thenceforth had the empire of death, that is to say, the devil, and that the entire Adam, through that offence of prevarication, was changed, in body and soul, for the worse; let him be anathema.
2. If any one asserts, that the prevarication of Adam injured himself alone, and not his posterity; and that the holiness and justice, received of God, which he lost, he lost for himself alone, and not for us also; or that he, being defiled by the sin of disobedience, has only transfused death and the punishments of the body into the whole human race, but not sin also, which is the death of the soul; let him be anathema:--whereas he contradicts the apostle who says; By one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death, and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned.
3. If any one asserts, that this sin of Adam,--which in its origin is one, and being transfused into all by propagation, not by imitation, is in each one as his own, --is taken away either by the powers of human nature, or by any other remedy than the merit of the one mediator, our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath reconciled us to God in his own blood, made unto us justice, sanctification, and redemption; or if he denies that the said merit of Jesus Christ is applied, both to adults and to infants, by the sacrament of baptism rightly administered in the form of the church; let him be anathema: For there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved. Whence that voice; Behold the lamb of God behold him who taketh away the sins of the world; and that other; As many as have been baptized, have put on Christ.
4. If any one denies, that infants, newly born from their mothers' wombs, even though they be sprung from baptized parents, are to be baptized; or says that they are baptized indeed for the remission of sins, but that they derive nothing of original sin from Adam, which has need of being expiated by the laver of regeneration for the obtaining life everlasting,--whence it follows as a consequence, that in them the form of baptism, for the remission of sins, is understood to be not true, but false, --let him be anathema. For that which the apostle has said, By one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death, and so death passed upon all men in whom all have sinned, is not to be understood otherwise than as the Catholic Church spread everywhere hath always understood it. For, by reason of this rule of faith, from a tradition of the apostles, even infants, who could not as yet commit any sin of themselves, are for this cause truly baptized for the remission of sins, that in them that may be cleansed away by regeneration, which they have contracted by generation. For, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
5. If any one denies, that, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is conferred in baptism, the guilt 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 rased, or not imputed; let him be anathema. For, in those who are born again, there is nothing that God hates; because, There is no condemnation to those who are truly buried together with Christ by baptism into death; who walk not according to the flesh, but, putting off the old man, and putting on the new who is created according to God, are made innocent, immaculate, pure, harmless, and beloved of God, heirs indeed of God, but joint heirs with Christ; so that there is nothing whatever to retard their entrance into heaven. But this holy synod confesses and is sensible, that in the baptized there remains concupiscence, or an incentive (to sin); which, whereas it is left for our exercise, cannot injure those who consent not, but resist manfully by the grace of Jesus Christ; yea, he who shall have striven lawfully shall be crowned. This concupiscence, which the apostle sometimes calls sin, the holy Synod declares that the Catholic Church has never understood it to be called sin, as being truly and properly sin in those born again, but because it is of sin, and inclines to sin.
This same holy Synod doth nevertheless declare, that it is not its intention to include in this decree, where original sin is treated of, the blessed and immaculate Virgin Mary, the mother of God; but that the constitutions of Pope Sixtus IV., of happy memory, are to be observed, under the pains contained in the said constitutions, which it renews.
Session 6 – Decree Concerning Justification (extracts)
The holy Synod declares first, that, for the correct and sound understanding of the doctrine of Justification, it is necessary that each one recognise and confess, that, whereas all men had lost their innocence in the prevarication of Adam-having become unclean, and, as the apostle says, by nature children of wrath, as (this Synod) has set forth in the decree on original sin,-they were so far the servants of sin, and under the power of the devil and of death, that not the Gentiles only by the force of nature, but not even the Jews by the very letter itself of the law of Moses, were able to be liberated, or to arise, therefrom; although free will, attenuated as it was in its powers, and bent down, was by no means extinguished in them.
But, though He died for all, yet do not all receive the benefit of His death, but those only unto whom the merit of His passion is communicated. For as in truth men, if they were not born propagated of the seed of Adam, would not be born unjust,-seeing that, by that propagation, they contract through him, when they are conceived, injustice as their own,-so, if they were not born again in Christ, they never would be justified; seeing that, in that new birth, there is bestowed upon them, through the merit of His passion, the grace whereby they are made just. For this benefit the apostle exhorts us, evermore to give thanks to the Father, who hath made us worthy to be partakers of the lot of the saints in light, and hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the Kingdom of the Son of his love, in whom we have redemption, and remission of sins.
St. Augustine, Doctor of Grace