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

Question E: What does faith teach about the initial human condition?

1. As was noted in question C, many Fathers of the Church added more than is needed to their description of humankind’s original condition.22 Following their lead, classical theology elaborated on the extraordinary knowledge, virtue, and power with which Man was said to have been endowed (see S.t., 1, q. 95, a. 3; q. 96, aa. 1–2; q. 97, a. 2; q. 102). But the Church’s teaching does not propose all of this supposed endowment as essential to faith. The concern in what follows is to give a minimal, essential description of what faith requires one to hold concerning the original human condition.

It often was suggested that Man was immune from pain. The argument for this is that Trent teaches that the sin we inherit is more than death and bodily pain (see DS 1512/789). But this argument is weak, since Trent does not assert here that we inherit susceptibility to bodily death and pain from Man, but that what we inherit as sin affects the soul and cannot be reduced to these bodily consequences. (Trent does assert in the previous article that sin leads to death; therefore, nonmortality must be considered part of the original human endowment, although immunity from pain need not be.)

2. It is basic to everything else that God created Man good, without sin, and with the power of free choice (see DS 239/130). Man was constituted in holiness and justice—that is, in friendship with God and moral uprightness (see DS 1511/788, 1901–26/1001–26). Moreover, by God’s special gift, not by nature, Man would have been immortal had he not sinned (see DS 222/101, 1978/1078; S.t., 1, q. 97, a. 4; 2–2, q. 164, a. 1). The Church’s teaching leaves it open whether nonmortality was given and lost or whether it was only promised if Man remained in God’s friendship.

3. Man cannot be envisaged as unconscious of the initial situation of friendship with God. Not only does God make himself known in the things he has made, but, as Vatican II teaches, “planning to make known the way of heavenly salvation, he went further and from the start manifested himself to our first parents” (DV 3). The bond of friendship between God and humankind was a real relationship in the experience of the first human persons. It has been fully restored only through Jesus (see Rom 5.10–21; Col 1.20). One who thinks it incredible that there was a divine revelation to primitive humankind will think it no less incredible that there was revelation through Abraham, Moses, or Jesus.

4. Trent says concupiscence is a result of sin.23 Implicit in this teaching is the proposition that Man in the beginning was free of unruly desire which might positively tend toward sin. Instead of the inner conflict we experience, Man was at first well disposed toward integral human fulfillment (see S.t., 1, q. 95, aa. 1–2). Yet this disposition obviously could not have ruled out natural human desires or a normal inclination toward a good which it would be wrong to choose. Otherwise, sin would have been impossible.

22. It is worth noticing that not all the Fathers took this direction. Some are uninfluenced by its metaphysical presuppositions and others reacted to excesses. See Robert F. Brown, “On the Necessary Imperfection of Creation: Irenaeus’ Adversus Haereses iv, 38,” Scottish Journal of Theology, 28 (1975), 17–25; John Boojamra, “Original Sin According to St. Maximus the Confessor,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, 20 (1976), 19–30.

23. A theological reflection on concupiscence: Karl Rahner, S.J., Theological Investigations, vol. 1, God, Christ, Mary and Grace, trans. Cornelius Ernst, O.P. (Baltimore: Helicon, 1963), 347–82. Although suggestive, this reflection is weakened by the assumption, common since Augustine, that one can choose directly contrary to divine goodness. (Against this assumption, see 13‑C and 24‑E.)