The narrative of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, is one that is well known among humanity. Simply put, it is the story of the origin of mankind; their creation, their temptation, and their initial sin, leading both, man and woman, and their progeny thereafter, to be banished from the Garden of Eden by the Creator Himself. Why us, their progeny? Are we to pay for their sin as well? Or are we also sinful in nature and therefore subject to the same punishment? Where did our sinfulness come from? Is it a punishment? The answers to these questions, and more, are the aim of the Doctrine of Original Sin.
This concept attempts to lay out the meaning, reasoning, and actuality behind the story of Adam and Eve, including if or why human nature is sinful or evil, and where it originates. It cannot be so simply described, as there are not only many theories, but also many sources from which the Doctrine originated. The following will, not only contain key persons’ aid in the development, but also the final adoption of this doctrine in the Church, as well as explain the fallibilities, and incoherence of the accepted belief itself.
Many have searched for an answer to why humanity is in the position it is; why man kills its own kind; why such horrors exist in our world. Those of the Christian faith have turned to the narrative of Adam and Eve, the first pair, for such answer. First we must define what “sin” actually means in reference to the following. Sin is a failure to act in accordance with the will of God (Keefer). The belief that sin, or sinfulness, originated at the beginning of man’s time, in relevance to The Fall of the first pair seems to be a common belief in the Christian theology.
To start, we will look at the works of a Greek apologist by the name of Justin Martyr. The Fall of Mankind has been referenced to as the cause of sinfulness in humanity by some, but Martyr disagreed with this statement. Martyr believed that “The Fall itself does not necessarily have to be regarded as the cause of sinfulness; instead it is merely the beginning of sin”. Although his deductions on this matter seem logically sound, it does not help explain why mankind as a whole is sinful.
To this he adds, “[n]ot only this,” The Fall is not the cause of sinfulness, “but the fact that Adam did sin, by disobeying God, does not mean his sin is hereditary, nor a cause for guilt for the rest of mankind”. Martyr took an individualist point of view of man’s sinfulness and death, stating that it is because humans follow Adam that they also sin and are destined for death as he was. Therefore, the individual’s sin is of the same type of evil as Adam’s was, but not caused by Adam’s sin.
This is the basis of Martyr’s work on Original Sin, but in his time, the doctrine, or idea of the doctrine had not yet come about. His works were solely based on the study of Christianity as a plan for the redemption of sin. Therefore we will continue onto one of the more impacting predecessors of the Doctrine of Original Sin. (Tennant 275-277) The first constructive theologian of the Church, Irenaeus, delves deeper into the subject than the Greek apologists. His driving force was his belief that Man’s original place of creation was not intended as a permanent dwelling.
He views man as a trichotomous constitution, or made of three parts. First, man was created from clay, or earth; this was man, first as an imperfect creation, unable to attain perfection at this point. It was not until God brought man to what scripture refers to as The Garden, that perfection became attainable; this being the second part of the trichotomous (the ability, or competence of man). Still, man was not yet perfect, for to Irenaeus, “[p]erfection is the destination, not the original endowment, of mankind”.
Perfection can only be achieved when man’s soul is in union with the Spirit, and then, only if it is consistent in keeping the Spirit and the fellowship of God. Therefore, it is not enough for man’s soul to just unite with the Spirit, but it also must not stagger in order to attain the likeness of God; in other words, in order to attain perfection (the third and final part of the trichotomous, the achievement of perfection, wherein this may, to some, be seen as heaven, the place where creation and the Creator coexist again).
So man’s nature is subject to growth, and was not originally possessed by Adam, except, Irenaeus points out, in his seed. To Irenaeus, The Fall of Man was not intended as a curse, or necessarily strictly a punishment; instead, it was meant as a way to lead man to a path where they would eventually attain perfection. So in essence, he was putting forth the idea that both paths, originating from the obedience or disobedience to God’s only command, lead to the attainment of perfection.
Obedience would have meant eventual achievement of the likeness of God, most definitely sooner than the opposite track. “God used Adam’s disobedience and its consequences for educational purposes, these things were not contingencies, but foreordained ends as well as means for attaining perfection. ” In addition to this, Irenaeus frequently identifies Adam with the race (of humanity) and the race with him. “We sinned against God in Adam, and through Eve the whole of humanity became liable to death. In other words, he is saying that Adam was the Sinner, and Eve was the one who perpetuated the Sin by birthing Adam’s progeny. So it may be said that Irenaeus was the first to interpret the doctrines of The Fall and that of Original Sin in the Church, and also to insist in the unity of the race of humanity with Adam. Irenaeus does not mention at all that the sin itself is “an inherent disease”; therefore, he stops short of creating a doctrine of inherited corruption or sin.
Because of this, Irenaeus is only one step in the development of the Western thought of this topic. (Tennant 282-291) Unlike Irenaeus, whose works were but a step towards the Western thought of Original Sin, Tertullian, a Father of the Latin Churches, was indeed the beginning of an attempt to formulate a system of Doctrine of Original Sin. He held the belief, that “[e]verything that is, is body”. Therefore, the soul, and, he goes as far as to say that, even God Himself, are corporeal.
Because the soul is corporeal, just like the body, it is produced in tandem with the body; not the body first and then the soul after; and, just like the body, the soul is a mixture of the parents’. With this basis laid out, Tertullian now has what he needs in order to create the doctrine of hereditary sinfulness of nature, derived from the first man, Adam. Tertullian held the concept that sin originated from Adam to his kin, the rest of mankind, through birth because “[o]ur first parent contained within himself the undeveloped germ of all mankind, and his soul was the fountainhead of all souls”. All varieties of individual human nature,” says Tertullian “are but different modifications of that one spiritual substance.
Therefore the whole of nature became corrupt in the original father of the race, and sinfulness is propagated together with souls. ” Basically, Tertullian is stating that Adam’s soul was corrupted when he essentially gave in to Satan, and broke the commandment of God, whereupon Adam was given over to death. Because the soul is also inherited, as well as the body, the hole race of man is ‘infected’ with this seed, and also transmits it to their offspring. This corruption of the soul, according to Tertullian, makes man actively sinful from birth, changed only by being born again in Christ; “[f]or as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). Still, there is a small part of the soul, which has the original, divine and genuine good nature, which is its proper nature.
So, that part of the soul, which is derived from God, is not absent, but instead obscured. Tertullian’s doctrine basically laid out the foundations for Augustine because he was the first develop the idea of inherited sin or corrupted nature, to explain the process by which this corruption is handed down through the generations. Ironically, Tertullian’s doctrine would eventually be rejected by the Church through the very person for which he laid out the foundations, St. Augustine of Hippo. Tennant 328-336) Before we discuss Augustine, whose concept was the final accepted Doctrine of Original Sin in the Western Church, the ideas of two other distinguished leaders of the Christian faith must be discussed. The first of which very much paved the way for Augustine’s Doctrine of Original Sin, and also helped him to his conclusion of human nature which we will see after such persons are discussed; Father Ambrose’s doctrine involved separating the two entities of sinfulness.
He defined these two entities as follows: Sinful Tendency, and Sin itself. Sinful tendency is not a sin unto its own, but following that tendency leads to committing a sin. When The Fall took place, according to Ambrose, because of Adam’s sin, a loss of the divine image occurred in him. The Father holds that because Adam’s sin, in itself, is not that of mankind in totality, man need not fear it; but because Adam was the first of mankind, and he was, in essence, human nature, his original transgression was human nature’s sin as well.
Therefore, although the guilt of the sin is not mankind’s, because man is seeded by Adam, and his nature transcends into mankind, man or human nature, after The Fall, has become inherently sinful. (Tennant 338-345) Father Ambrose can be seen as the last actual source of development for the Doctrine of Original Sin; from this point onwards, the ideas of the predecessors have been said to become fully matured in the writings of St. Augustine of Hippo, whose doctrine of original sin was formally accepted by the Western Church as The Doctrine of Original Sin.
As was previously mentioned, the discussion of the ideas of two prominent figures of the Church was to come before Augustine’s works are to be discussed; Those of Father Ambrose above, and in addition to this, from the Catholic realm of Christianity, those of the foremost Catholic theologian, Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas, although of the Catholic faith, as opposed to the Protestant faith (that of Augustine), in Christianity was influenced greatly by Augustine’s works (specifically in his definition of freedom as freedom to do good, not the freedom of choosing between good and evil).
They were of the same time period, but had different ideas on the topic of Original Sin. Aquinas took Augustine’s doctrine of original sin (seen after Aquinas is discussed) and pointed out that it was not sexual lust in itself alone that allows original sin to pass from parents to child, but instead it was a wound of the whole human nature that causes original sin. So to Aquinas, explained in the following, original sin is not a hereditary trait, but is ingrained in human nature after the first sin.
Aquinas’ view of The Fall of Adam and Eve diverges from that of the Protestant faith in that Original Sin is not an active, positive force for evil, but instead is a deficiency in human nature. This shortcoming of human nature originates in the same place, at the same time, of the becoming of Original Sin in the Protestant faith: The Fall. He begins with the familiar notion, as it is in scripture, that harmony reigned before The Fall. To Aquinas, human nature comes in a tripartite hierarchy, where reason and will submit to God, the non-rational parts of a person submit to reason, and finally, a person’s body subordinates to the soul.
He adheres that as long as this subordination continues in human nature, mankind will have God’s sanctifying grace, otherwise known as the Spirit. Also as stated in scripture, The Fall of Adam and Eve, or rather (the reason for not calling it specifically The Fall will be mentioned later) Adam and Eve’s sin destroy this harmony; Aquinas’ reasoning behind what actually occurs is this: because of their sin, God revokes his sanctifying grace from man, which in turn destroys what Aquinas calls original justice or a person’s right relationship with God.
Not only does the withdrawal of grace destroy God’s divine gift of original justice, but it also destroys each person’s own harmony, making the soul subject to the senses and reason to desire, annihilating peace among people. Aquinas’ hope in mankind lies in his belief that not all is lost after the fall; although God withdraws his divine gift from man, the essential nature of a specific being, according to Aquinas, cannot be destroyed. Therefore, humanity retains its rational nature; but no longer does reason control the non-rational parts of a person.
Instead, due to humanity’s tendency towards virtue lying in reason, man’s natural inclination to virtue remains, but it is tainted by sin. In plain words, The Fall did not destroy freedom of will, so people can still choose to love God and each other, with God’s help. This view of Original Sin as a deficiency in human nature due to the withdrawal of original justice is the view the Catholic Church held of Original Sin. (Williams 55-58) Finally, Aquinas’ contemporary, and owner to the Doctrine of Original Sin of the Western Church, St. Augustine of Hippo.
Augustine’s Doctrine of Original Sin has been accepted among the Western Christian Faith, by both Catholic and Protestant. His concept of Original Sin incorporates both essences of the idea of sin being an act against the will of God, and a force or internal compulsion toward evil, but it refers specifically to a corruption of human nature that originates with the genesis of the human race and is common to all human beings. Augustine starts his interpretation of Adam & Eve’s story with the same notion as Aquinas, who held that everything was in harmony.
Adam and Eve lived extremely happily and perfectly knowledgeable, their bond unable to be broken, and their love for God undeniably high. Because of this love they held for each other and God, and their easy deference of sin, there was no force of evil able to bring them sadness. But, the Devil, being cast into misery himself, wanted to bring humanity misery also, and so used the serpent as his mouthpiece and Eve as his victim (according to Augustine because he saw woman to be more gullible).
So he deceived Eve into eating the forbidden fruit, and Adam, because of his love for Eve, ate of it as well. Augustine claims that Adam most likely knew Eve was not speaking the truth about the fruit (that it would give them more knowledge), but his love for her was stronger than his obedience to God, and that was his downfall. This sin was so awful, in respect to the other choice, and how easy it would have been to simply not eat the fruit.
Because of this horrendous disobedience, Augustine holds, God punished the pair by banishing them from the Garden of Eden, and also their progeny thereafter. In this simple, yet monstrous act of eating what was forbidden, humanity fell from innocence and grace, and human nature became thoroughly corrupted, being passed along from the first pair to all of humanity, concluding in man being inherently sinful, unable to do good and obey God indefinitely any longer. Two major faculties of humanity were affected by this original act of sin.
Human nature continues to be good, but is tainted by this original sin, and human will was corrupted in that it is now subject to conflicting desires. One of these desired being the will to do good, and the other, the desire to do those things which alienate human beings from God. (Keefer) Although Augustine says that human nature changes after the deed, he also holds that human nature changing actually precedes the deed because “they would not have arrived at the evil act if an evil will had not preceded it”.
So, really, Adam and Eve had turned away from God even before they sinned. Now, instead of being free, defined as freedom was mentioned before, necessary obedience to God, humans are left in bondage, necessary obedience to evil. Just as Corinthians states that all die in Adam and live in Christ, Augustine held the same notion that it was because of Adam’s horrific sin that humans are all subject to death, but that eternal life can be found in the great atonement through Christ.
All in all, Augustine sums up The Fall as a catastrophic event that took humanity from a place of undying harmony with God, ourselves, and his other creations, into a state where humanity is no longer close to God, due to man’s change in nature from incorruptible and innocent to inherently sinful, but still good willing, passed down through the generations, sexually, as a corruption in human nature itself. (Williams 40-47) An understanding of these theories leading up to and including the ultimate Doctrine of Original sin is essential to seeing why it is an utter failure due to its fallibilities and incoherence.
First, taking a look at the first accepted doctrine of inherited sin, Tertullian asserted a somewhat viable method for the corruption of the soul of mankind, but only based on his tranducianist views of the creation of the soul, and not from the idea that God himself created everything (Tennant). The base from which his whole doctrine stems from is a creation of logic and theology, not of scripture or word of God. He creates a reason for the sins of man, by incorporating his own separate beliefs into those of the Church.
This is, metaphorically speaking, like building a house, supposedly strong, but having its base made out of an immaterial substance. The base, being essentially nothing because it is not material, will not hold the structure of the house, ultimately bringing the building down under its own weight, because it was built out of an object insufficient to its needs. Another way of expressing Tertullian’s method is by attempting to mix water and oil; they will never do so because they are not of the same type of substance.
A definite doctrine of this type must be able to be proven from its origins, that being scripture, and because the most integral part of this theory is not of this sort, the whole of the idea is at fault. Now if this way of defending a theory is to persist, this being that scripture must be the source of all the data building the doctrine, then both Aquinas and Augustine’s doctrines of Original Sin are most definitely discredited, if not fully disposable all unto their own.
Aquinas, being a Catholic, does not solely return to scripture as the source of truth, but also looks to the councils of the church, to tradition, and to the hierarchy (especially the Pope). Because of this, searching for correspondence in his doctrine to the standards of councils, traditions, and hierarchy would be of no use, due to the circular argument it would produce. Therefore, to test Aquinas’ doctrine, examining his correspondence to scripture is the main source. First, Aquinas’ model for human nature contains concepts that are not found in the text.
Genesis 2 and 3 do not mention the parts of human character (reason, will, etc. ), nor their relationship to each other. Aquinas’ ideas on these came from Plato & Aristotle, who not only had nothing to do with scripture, but were themselves Pagan, and studied ideology and philosophy. Neither sanctifying grace, nor original justice, is mentioned in Genesis 2 and 3. Secondly, as we will see his contemporary does also, Aquinas seems to exaggerate the distance in the form of Adam and Eve’s nature before and after their sin.
In Genesis 2 and 3, the pair seem just as immature and naive before their sin, as they are after. Aquinas makes the effort to incorporate an immense difference in their nature and attitudes before and after the fall. The most direct conflict between his doctrine and scripture, Genesis 3 specifically, is that the change that occurs in Adam and Eve is not their degradation in nature, as Aquinas professes; it is an acquiring of the knowledge of good and evil. This is the third entity of fault in his doctrine. The pair does lose some things, for example the pleasure in labor (turning into laboring ains), and friendship with serpents, but these things seem unimportant to Aquinas. In fact, in Aquinas’ Summa Theologicae, and in his other writings on original sin, Aquinas shows almost no interest in the Genesis text; instead he refers more often to other authorities, such as Aristotle and Augustine. His lack of interest in the Genesis text is his ultimate downfall, simply ignoring the fact that in it is not mentioned a change in human nature, creating a contradiction in a central feature of Genesis 3 itself. In addition, he misses entirely Adam and Eve’s childishness and immaturity.
Although Aquinas’ theory is coherent, understandable based on how it is presented; it is too clearly a product of reason and higher education. (Williams 40-47) St. Augustine of Hippo’s Doctrine of Original Sin, the final accepted view of this subject, is ironically by far the most incoherent and unaccredited doctrine of the three. Not only does it not pass the test of correspondence to scripture, but unlike Tertullian and Aquinas’ views, it is also completely incoherent. In order to comprehend Augustine’s fault, his gross misunderstanding, and mutation of scripture must be first be illustrated.
Foremost, before looking at his fabrication of the narrative of Adam and Eve, it must be understood that Augustine misread Genesis 2 and 3. There were many influences that lead him to this; one being the incorrect translation which Augustine read of Romans 5:12, wherein it the Latin translation says “sin came into the world through one man … in whom all men sinned,” whereas the original Greek reads “because all men sinned”. The incorrect translation leads Augustine to believe that all people are somehow contained in Adam and carry guilt for Adam’s sin.
These misreadings lead him to his misinterpretations of the scripture. But be sure to understand that the point here is not that many things influenced Augustine’s misreading of the Genesis texts; the point is, he misread it. Augustine’s first downfall is his belief that Adam and Eve’s disobedience lead to a catastrophe much greater than scripture actually describes. Therefore, in order to find such a horrendous fall, he departs from the text. He embellishes the situation of Adam and Eve in all its parts; their original nature to Augustine is very noble.
They have free will, full health, full knowledge, the ability not to sin, an inclination to choose good, and the ability to persist in this blessed state. This view goes beyond and often against Genesis 2 and 3. Augustine describes the original nature of the pair as somewhat incorruptible. He then goes on to say that they become corrupt even before they are tempted, and will before they commit their devouring deed. He portrays their disobedience as a kind of afterthought: ““It was in secret that the first human beings began to be evil; and the result was that they slipped into open disobedience.
For they would not have arrived at the evil act if an evil will had not preceded it” (Augustine [413-426] 1984, 571). ” So really, according to Augustine, the first pair had turned away from God before the sin was even committed. This is not stated in the slightest in Genesis 2 and 3. (Williams 40-47) Secondly, still testing Augustine’s correspondence to scripture, Genesis says little to nothing about the original character of Adam and Eve for him to come up with these conclusions based on solid scripture.
Genesis actually describes Adam as made from clay or mud, hardly a mold for perfection as Augustine presupposes, and Eve, more carefully made. What Genesis does say is that both Adam and Eve “were both naked, and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25b). What this would lead us to believe is more-so along the lines that they were innocent and naive, like anything or anyone who is newly created and lacks experience. Therefore, when Adam and Eve were tempted by the serpent, their actions were more likely lead by innocence and naivety, like small children, impetuously following the latest suggestion, impulsively fulfilling their immediate desires.
They seem to act more like disobedient children than corrupt sinners. Also, by God condemning the serpent, scripture clearly indicates that the sin of Adam and Eve lies not in any prior corruption, but instead in the deed itself. So then, if human nature changes at all, it is due to the consequences of the deed. The change does not precede and cause the deed, as Augustine says. (Williams 40-47) Not only does Augustine exaggerate Adam and Eve’s state before the fall, but also their punishment for the deed.
God, in Augustine’s description of punishments, including changes not only in the pair’s own nature but also in their progeny, seems a very cruel God, even more than the Gnostics believe. It is not consistent with the portrait of the orthodox Christian doctrine, which presents an omnibenevolent God. Also, Augustine leaves Adam and Eve, in the end, wholly enslaved to sin, no longer able to choose to do good, nor decide to obey God. Even more, all mankind following the ordeal become helpless slaves of sin.
His depiction of the change in human nature does not correspond to the text of Genesis and sometimes directly contradicts the text. Three very imminent examples conclude this. First, as mentioned above, the list of punishments in Genesis 3 does not include any change in human nature. Second, there is no actual fall in the narrative; this is the reason as to why Aquinas’ idea that harmony was destroyed after The Fall is actually only due to the occurrence of the first sin. Not only this, but The Fall is solely a fabrication of Augustine’s; there is no great Fall in Genesis.
Lastly, Augustine leaving the first pair and their progeny wholly enslaved to sin, unable to do good, is outrageous considering the mentions of the exact opposite in the text; some of Adam and Eve’s progeny are able to be good and obey God. Noah is referred to in Genesis as “a righteous man, blameless in his generation” (Genesis 6:9). (Williams 40-47) Augustine’s Doctrine of Original Sin fails not only the test of correspondence to text, but also of coherence. First off, he depicts Adam and Eve as perfect upon their original creation, unable to sin, yet they are not perfect because they sin.
He even states their corruption before they are even tempted. He fails here, unable to make sense of how a perfect, incorruptible being can be corrupted, especially before the temptation even occurs. Secondly, Augustine’s description of the pair before the fall includes that they posses perfect knowledge. If this is so, then how can they succumb so easily to the temptation of the serpent to desire more knowledge? If their knowledge is perfected, then there is no more to know. Third, along the lines of the crucifixion of Christ, Augustine believed that this incident was both an awful and wonderful atonement.
This must mean that it was in response to a horrendous catastrophe, but as it is seen, Augustine fabricated such a great Fall by misreading, and embellishing Genesis 2 and 3. Also, an idea adopted by Aquinas, Augustine defined freedom as the freedom to do good, not between the choices of good and evil. Taking it further, he states that necessary obedience to God is freedom, and necessary obedience to evil is bondage. How, within any boundaries of reasoning, can necessary obedience be both freedom and bondage simultaneously? It cannot. Williams 40-47) In totality, Augustine ignores detail, and embellishes the narrative of Adam & Eve, inventing evidence he seeks, creating and then preserving his belief in a primordial catastrophe. His interpretation of the texts is ideologically motivated, contradicting scripture, leading to his concept of free will being self-contradictory, therefore it is false. (Williams 40-47) Looking at the doctrines above, solely based on reason, can, in some instances, lead humanity to believe is such theories of their own origin and why man is sinful.
But when the necessary implications are reconsidered, it can very easily be seen that such doctrines and ideologies are but fabrications of man’s own mind, mixing, excluding, adding, creating and misconceiving facts or truth which ultimately lie in the original source, text, or scripture. “[T]he development of the highly complicated doctrine of Original Sin was less the outcome of strict exegesis (following of scripture) than due to the exercise of speculation: speculation working, indeed, on the lines laid down in Scripture, but applied to such material as current science and philosophy were able to afford” (Tennant 345).
Bible. O. T. Genesis. English. Catholic Biblical Association of America. 1948 Keefer, R. For the forgiveness of sins: Original sin, evolution, and baptism. Diss. Union Institute and University, 2006. Dissertations & Theses: A&I, ProQuest. Web. 8 Dec. 2010. Paul, St. Corinthians. Unknown publisher. New International Version. 2010 Romans 5:12 Tennant, F. R. The Sources of the Doctrines of the Fall and Original Sin. 1st. New York, N. Y. :Schocken books. 1968. 363. Print. Williams, Patricia A. Doing without Adam and Eve: Sociobiology and Original Sin. Minneapolis. :Fortress Press. 2001. 227. Print.