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Faith/Spirituality Forum: Why Original Sin?

by Catherine Frakas 10 Jul 2001

Why Original Sin? QUESTION from Helena on September 29, 2002 Thank you for your answer to my question on 'the Last Supper'.
I wonder if you can help with something else, a subject that I know is going to come up on a Theology course that I start next week:
Why do we have the doctrine of Original Sin? I do understand it, but I just don't know why we are asked to believe it. I have Jewish roots, and there isn't any such doctrine in Judaism. This makes me think that therefore, as Jesus came as a Jew, and as His followers, friends and family were Jewish, this isn't a teaching that they would have known about or preached about either.
In fact, I've been unable to find any teaching on this till St Augustine, and then only after Pelagius had written something against Augustine's idea of predestination.
In fact, despite saying that I understand the teaching, I must say that I find it a little contradictory in one sense- if, because of Adam, mankind was then stained with original sin, then after Jesus, mankind would not be. So surely the teaching should be that mankind between Adam and Christ were born with original sin, but not those of us born since Christ...? (You can see how I'm getting tied up in knots here!!)
It seems to affect the whole of Church teaching, in that, if original sin exists, the human race is seen as having a natural inclination to doing wrong. This is very depressing. The Jewish tradition says the opposite, that people have a natural inclination to good. That doesn't make them incapable of not doing good, of course, it just means we start off with a clean slate, or an even stack. The Jew's first prayer of the day contains the words 'my God, my soul, the soul you gave me, is pure.' It's the trials of life that can lead to sin in this point of view, not the person's natural inclination to it.
When I suspend all knowledge of original sin, and think instead that we are naturally inclined to good, it is a very liberating feeling!
Also, as we are made in His image, surely to say we are born sinful is a little blasphemous?
I know that one of the scriptures quoted to support the teaching is from the 50th(or 51st) psalm, surely I was sinful from birth, a sinner from the time my mother conceived me. But I've always read this not literally, but as an expression of the psalmist's grief at his sin. Just as, when St Paul declared that he was the worst of all sinners we don't take it literally. Or, when I have failed at something and am feeling low, I might say Oh I'm a total failure and anything I touch falls apart. It's an exaggerated expression of the regret felt at the time.
I really can't bring myself to have a real conviction on this doctrine. SOmetimes the weight of 'what the church has always taught' helps with difficulties like this one, but this has the weight of the ancient Jewish faith, out of which Christianity grew, behind it.
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, OLSM on September 30, 2002 Dear Helena:
Your question implies that the doctrine of original sin is merely a theological construct to help us understand the world.
It is not a concept, it is a historical and ontological fact.
We are asked to believe it because it is a fact. Why are we asked to believe in gravity? because it is a FACT and if we ignore it we might find out the hard way that it is a fact as we fall off a cliff.
The teaching goes back a LOT further than St. Augustine. I have found manuscripts that speak of Original Sin as far back as the 180 AD.
The first evidence for Original Sin is the Jewish Scriptures. The Garden of Eden story is the explanation of the origin of original sin. While the Jews may not have had a complete understanding of this doctrine as we do, they certainly do have an idea of the reality of it -- after all the Fall of Adam is THEIR story.
Jesus came to fulfill the Old Testament and to bring a more complete understanding to the teachings of the Old Testament. For example, the Ten Commandments were summarized by Jesus in his Two Great Commandments. The two commandments of Jesus is a more complete and mature understanding of what the Jews understood in the Law of Moses.
Freedom and liberation come from TRUTH, not wishful thinking. The Church calls the Fall of Adam the happy fault. It is happy because due to the Fall, Jesus had to come and die for us to redeem mankind. The grace of salvation comes to us because original sin means that we need that grace.
The entire Jewish culture of purity rites and sacrifices are ENTIRELY dependent upon original sin. It is the reason why those sacrifices were necessary. It is why the ultimate Lamb was sacrificed on the Cross.
We cannot be Christian and deny original sin.
Here is an article that might help:
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