Part 3 – Original Sin
Original sin is distinguished from actual, or personal sin, because actual or personal sin is the sin which we personally with our own free will commit, whilst original sin is that sin which our human nature has committed with the will of Adam, in whom all our nature is united as a branch to a root, as a child to a parent, as men who partake with Adam the same nature which we have derived from him, and as members of the same human family of which Adam was the head. The difference that exists between original and personal sin is, that the latter is committed with the will physically our own, whilst original sin is committed with a will physically of another, and only morally our own, because it forms with that other (Adam), who is our head, one moral body.
If our hand strike a fellow-creature unjustly, though the hand has itself no will, yet it is considered guilty, not indeed as viewed separately by itself, but inasmuch as it is united to the rest of the body, and to the soul, forming one human being therewith, and thus sharing in the will of the soul with which is it connect.
Also the sin committed inwardly by the hum will, by a bad desire, belongs to the whole human being.
Of the original sin in which we are born we are not personally guilty with our personal will, but our nature is guilty of it by the will of Adam our head with whom we form one moral body through the human nature which we derive from him.
It is a point of Catholic faith that original sin does not consist in what we call concupiscence, which is a propensity to evil of the inferior part of the human soul.
Sin of any kind in order to be a sin, in the strict sense of the word, must be within the sphere of morality, that is, it must depend upon free-will; and hence the noted principle in moral philosophy and theology, that there is no sin where there is no will.
Concupiscence, there, which is not will, but a blind involuntary inclination of our lower nature (and therefore an irresponsible tendency to evil), is not of itself sinful unless it be consented to by the human will, or rendered strong by bad and not retracted habit.
Concupiscence is indeed sometimes called sin in holy Scripture (Romans vii. 7, Galatians v. 24), but it is called so, as the holy Council of Trent explains, not in a strict sense, but in a wide sense, that is, inasmuch as it is a consequence of original sin, and an incentive to actual sin.
This concupiscence, or inclination to evil, in fact, still remains in those in whom the guilt and stain of original sin has been entirely washed away by the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. Moreover, strictly speaking, no one is regarded as a sinner merely because he feels tempted to sin. This miserable propensity to evil excited the compassion of God rather than His anger. God said to Noe: ‘I will no more curse the earth for the sake of man; for the imagination and thought of man’s heart are prone to evil from his youth’. (Genesis viii. 21).
The Catholic Church teaches that Adam by his sin has not only cause harm to himself, but to the whole human race; that by it he lost the supernatural justice and holiness which he received gratuitously from God, and lost it, not only for himself, but also for all of us; and that he, having stained himself with the sin of disobedience, has transmitted not only death and other bodily pains and infirmities to the whole human race, but also sin, which is the death of the soul.
The teaching of the Council of Trent (Session V) is confirmed by these words of St. Paul: ‘Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world, and by win death; and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned’ (Rom. v. 12).
The Royal Psalmist in Psalm L (li) 7, says: ‘For behold I was conceived in iniquities, an in sins did my mother conceive me’. (In the Hebrew text it is in singular, i.e. conceived me in sin).
Upon this text St. Augustine says: ‘David was not born in adultery, for he was born from Jesse, a just man, and his wife. Why does he say that he was conceived in iniquity unless because iniquity is derived from Adam?’
Since the early Christians believed in original sin, as it can be gathered from what St. Augustine said to Pelagius, opposing him on the matter. ‘I did not invent original sin, which Catholic faith holds from ancient time; but thou, who deniest it, thou, without doubt, art a new heretic’. (De nuptiis, lib. Xi c. 12).
It may be said that this belief is as old as the human race, for traces of this ancient tradition are spread in all nations, insomuch that Voltaire had to confess that ‘The fall of man is the base of the theology of nearly all ancient people’. (Philosophie de l’histoire, chapitre xvii).
Besides the guilt of original sin, which is that habitual states of sinfulness in which we are born (because our human nature is justly considered to have consented in Adam to the rejection of original justice), there is also in man the stain of original sin, entailing the privation in the human soul of that supernatural lustre, which, had we been born in the state of original justice, we all should have had.*
As neither Adam nor any of his offspring could repair the evil done by his sin, we should ever have remained in the state of original sin and degradation in which we were born, and we should have been for ever shut out from the Beatific Vision of God in Heaven, had not God, in His infinite mercy, provided for us a Redeemer.