TOC Previous Next A+A-Print


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

Question G: What were the consequences of the first sin?

1. Humankind as a group was no longer in friendship with God. The human family was no longer God’s earthly family. Moreover, whatever the matter of the first sin was, it inevitably disrupted harmony at every level of existence; it generated inner tension, insincerity, and interpersonal conflicts.24

2. As faith teaches, Man would not have died had he not sinned, but with sin, death became inevitable. Question H will consider how death is a consequence of sin. Here we need to consider some of the implications of introducing death into human existence. This consideration will explain why fear of death makes fallen men and women lifelong slaves of Satan (see Heb 2.14–15).

3. The fear of death has an effect on all human emotion. Were it not for this fundamental anxiety, our emotional reactions would be as naturally well adjusted as those of a healthy animal. Given this anxiety, however, the whole human emotional make up is distorted, radically biased toward intense pleasure, which helps offset fear. This distortion is documented by modern psychiatry, with its description of the subsconscious and of neurotic behavior.25

4. The fundamental processes of human experience are affected by the distortion of emotion brought about by anxiety concerning death. As psychology makes clear, memory and learning are very heavily conditioned processes. Therefore, emotions skewed by anxiety about death necessarily generate a very different experiential world than would have been generated by emotions without this basic anxiety.

5. Intellectual judgments, especially of a practical sort, are also distorted. They are based on experience to some extent and are also influenced by one’s choices. Rationalization, together with the impact of distorted experience, generates moral opinions which often are false.

6. As a result of distortions in knowledge, especially in practical judgment, language and the other products of culture are deprived of the rationality and pure usefulness they should have. Tools are made to serve not only good purposes but sinful ones. Language is used not only to communicate but to deceive. Everything human, as Marx helped show, is perverted by injustice.

7. Once begun, this whole situation is perpetuated in a vicious circle. Each sin of one person against another intensifies anxiety. Each immorality adds its bit to the pollution of the whole human system. Nothing of an individual’s make up is what it would otherwise have been. The whole person, body and soul, is changed for the worse. This change, a result of sin, gives rise to temptations which would not have occurred in the condition of innocence. From this point of view, human desires as affected by sin and its consequences are called “concupiscence.”26

The social impact of original sin can be clarified by considering the question: How can parents have any real effect upon their children’s future free choices? In other words, how can one posit any real influence of parents on children without implicitly denying the children’s own true freedom and moral responsibility?

One way parents make a difference is by their conditioning of children’s spontaneous willing (discussed in 9‑B). Such conditioning shapes the way in which the child will come to see human goods and his or her own possible fulfillment in them. Moreover, parent’s choices to a great extent limit the options of children. Thus parents very largely predetermine the conditions under which their children’s moral battle will be fought.

Some children, when they begin making free choices, have little reason to choose what is morally right even to the extent that they correctly judge what that is. Without any fault of their own, they can be strongly tempted to do things they know to be immoral. Supposing they make some morally evil choices under such conditions, then even if at some point they are converted and begin to live upright lives, their early immoral acts can continue to reverberate throughout the rest of their lives. Years later, such persons still will be insensitive to some of their obligations and to many of the consequences of their acts, and so will be responsible—in one of the weak modes of voluntariness—for things they cannot any longer do anything about. In such a way the failures of parents can affect their children’s lives.

8. Insofar as the will is a spiritual power, its weakening seems difficult to explain. If one can make a free choice, what does it mean to say one’s will is weak? The answer is that as a capacity for free self-determination the will cannot be weakened in itself. However, choices are among diverse possibilities, and some possibilities—not necessarily the morally right ones either—can be far more attractive than others to the person as a whole, especially given the change for the worse in this “person as a whole” described above. This accounts for the evident fact that some temptations are harder to resist than others. And so we can understand the total phenomenon to which we refer in speaking of the weakening of the will.

9. Every choice involves self-limitation. There is compensation for this in the fact that choices in accord with integral human fulfillment open us to community, where our individual limitations are transcended. But sin lessens the likelihood of genuine community. Thus it worsens the possibilities confronting every human person. Once sin is at large in the world, the morally upright person is as likely to suffer from others as to find fulfillment in them. Virtue becomes its own punishment, as Scripture teaches (see Wis 2.10–20, aptly applied to Jesus in Mt 27.41–44). Thus, too, in creating a situation in which right choices are harder, original sin can be said to weaken the will.

The primal human group lost something—perhaps virtually all—of its character as genuine community when its members sinned. After sin was committed, anyone considering making a choice faced worse alternatives than those initially confronted by Man. For now the self-limitation involved in all choice was not offset by participation in community, and so moral goodness did not have on its side one of its most appealing fruits.

24. Not only does the Church teach that humanity as a whole, body and soul, is changed for the worse by original sin (see DS 1511/788), but the image of sick and wounded humanity frequently recurs in the liturgy: Lukken, op. cit., 305–51. For a theological treatment of the pervasive effects of original sin: Enrique Colom Costa, Dios y el obrar humano (Pamplona, Spain: EUNSA, 1976), 130–81.

25. See Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (New York: Free Press, 1973), for an introduction to the relevant psychiatric literature.

26. For a study of concupiscence, chiefly according to Augustine, see John J. Hugo, St. Augustine on Nature, Sex, and Marriage (Chicago: Scepter, 1969), 39–78.