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Chapter 14: Sin Of Adam and Sins of Men and Women

Appendix 2: Responses to some objections

A careless reader might object that the present account is implausible in assuming that God constituted the original persons as unelected representatives of the whole human race and that they formed by social contract a community in friendship with God. Such an objection would show incomprehension of the theory of action set out in chapter nine and of the account of original sin proposed here. For no such juridical assumptions are required. The entire theory moves on a different plane altogether, one which takes full account of both the social character of human acts and the conditioned character of personal moral responsibility. The persons in the primal situation no more represented us than parents represent their children when, in living foolishly, they squander what should be their children’s heritage.

Someone might object that the present account of original sin still leaves standing a difficulty in any account of it: A universally inherited sin is hard to reconcile with God’s universal salvific will. The response is that the two data of faith are not hard to reconcile. God creates the human race, endows human persons with freedom, permits sin, and allows it to have its inevitable consequences. But at the same time he provides remedies. If all who come to be as humans are in sin insofar as they are children of Man, all also can be redeemed insofar as they are brothers and sisters of our Lord Jesus. As St. Paul teaches, the gift is greater than the offense (see Rom 5.15–17).

What about unbaptized children? Revelation and faith bear primarily upon the situation of those who can hear the word and believe it. In insisting upon the reality of original sin, the Church teaches the necessity of baptism (see DS 1514/791). But the Church does not say when and how baptism begins. One can hold that absolutely everyone has an opportunity for salvation, inasmuch as any real relationship to Jesus is a bridge over which life in him can come, and everyone at all times and places has some real relationship to Jesus.36 (This view does not render the completion of baptism in its full, sacramental rite less necessary when it becomes possible, nor does it at all suggest that anyone who freely refuses God’s grace and persists in this refusal is saved despite this personal sin.)

If this is so, how is Mary, conceived immaculate, different from anyone else? The answer is that for every other human person, the beginning of existence is without grace, for the sin of Man obtains. Subsequently, grace is given overcoming an existing state of sin. In Mary’s case, redemption is preventive rather than curative. She is God’s child even in the first instant of her being.

However, someone might object that, this fine distinction apart, the very social character of original sin, as it has been described, would entail that Mary too—and for that matter even Jesus himself—is caught up in it. The answer is that they truly were caught up in the condition and consequences of original sin, but original sin was excluded for them personally. In other words, they never exist as humans-without-divine-life. Moreover, certain effects of original sin in their very humanity were prevented. Thus it is false to suppose that either Jesus or Mary was subject to concupiscence. It also seems inappropriate to suppose that Jesus could have died had he not permitted himself to be killed (see S.t., 3, q. 47, a. 1) or to suppose that Mary did die (a point the Church has left open).37

36. See Peter Gumpel, S.J., “Unbaptized Infants: May They Be Saved?” Downside Review, 72 (1953–54), 342–458; “Unbaptized Infants: A Further Report,” Downside Review, 73 (1954–55), 317–46; P. J. Hill, “Limbo,” New Catholic Encyclopedia, 8:762–65.

37. See Bonaventura Kloppenburg, O.F.M., De relatione inter peccatum et mortem (Rome: Liberia “Orbis catholicus,” 1951), 155–200, for a survey of theological opinions. The definition of the dogma of the Assumption (see DS 3903/2333) uses a formula which carefully leaves open the question whether Mary died.