For norwegian readers, I will write (a bit more extensively) on this in norwegian.

Many people claim that what we Christians (or most of us) teach about Original Sin (hereafter; OS) is a heresy, because we teach that Man inherit the guilt of Adam’s sin. But this is wrong. The problem lies in the fact that most Christian churches — at least Catholic, Orthodox and Lutheran — hold that sin is more than a merely moral category, but also an ontological category. Sin is not just about wht we do, but who we are. The Cathecism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states this in §404:

How did the sin of Adam become the sin of all his descendants? The whole human race is in Adam “as one body of one man”. By this “unity of the human race” all men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as all are implicated in Christ’s justice. Still, the transmission of original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand. But we do know by Revelation that Adam had received original holiness and justice not for himself alone, but for all human nature. By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state. It is a sin which will be transmitted by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice. And that is why original sin is called “sin” only in an analogical sense: it is a sin “contracted” and not “committed” — a state and not an act.

Peter Kreeft says the same: “Sin doesn’t just mean “no-no’s,” it’s an ontological term. It’s like divorce from God, the source of all good.”[1] Sin is a relational category. “Sin” tells us primarily what conditions we build our relations within. Are our relations characterized by trust or not. According to the The Augsburg Confession (Confessio Augustana, CA), § 2, the Lutheran Churches “teach that since the fall of Adam all men begotten in the natural way are born with sin, that is, without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with concupiscence; and that this disease, or vice of origin, is truly sin.”

Before I go on, I recommend you to read § 374-379 of the CCC, which concern the state of Man in Paradise. I will write a paragraph further down, § 384: “Revelation makes known to us the state of original holiness and justice of man and woman before sin: from their friendship with God flowed the happiness of their existence in paradise.”

What you might have read from the CCC, is tightly connected with the four gifts Man had in Paradise; three preternatural gifts and one supernatural. The supernatural gift is original righteousness, connected to sanctifying grace; the “preternatural gifts” are (1) Infused Knowledge, (2) Immortality, and (3) Integrity (human appetites being completely submitted to the human intellect). Taylor Marshall writes:

Preter refers to something prior, as in the Latin sense of the adverb praeter, meaning “prior” or “beyond”.

The three “preternatural gifts” (the three I’s: infused knowledge, immortality, and integrity) are preternatural in the sense they do not belong to bare human nature, while at the same time they are not supernatural. In other words, the preternatural gifts strengthen human nature, but are not habits of grace. They bring out the best of what human nature could be.

With this in mind, I will post a few points about what OS (and salvaion) is:

  1. Man is not divine by nature, and cannot become like God naturally. We need God’s sanctifying grace, a supernatural gift, to help us achieve our true goal of eternal life together with, or in, God.
  2. God gave Man this sanctifying grace (and therefore the original righteousness), and the preternatural gifts, so that he could achieve this goal.
  3. God intended this package of super -and preternatural gifts to be passed on as heirloom in the generation of offspring.
  4. Adam failed this both passively and actively; (1) he didn’t defend Eden and Eve against the serpent, as steward and husband, and (2) he ate the fruit).
  5. Man loosed the four gifts, and also lost the friendship (and trust) to God. It doesn’t mean tha God stopped loving us, it’s the other way around, Man only started to care about himself, about “the Flesh.”

OS isn’t about inheriting the guilt of Adam, but that we possess the same nature as he does. And without God, we are sinners because sin is ultimately about our state or, as Peter Kreeft, pointed out, “divorce from God.” Paul writes about this in his letters, and distinguishes between “the Spirit” and “the Flesh.” I will quote two Bible passages.

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” (Romans 8:5-6)

“For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice” (Romans 7:19)

For Paul, and for us, sin is an existential reality. It’s something that characterizes our lifes. “If we say that we have no sin,” John writes, “we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1. Joh 1:8) This reality is something that we can either cling to — and thus “live according to the flesh” — or distance us from — and thus “live according to the Spirit.” A short clarification: The distinction between “the Spirit” and “the Flesh” is not about spirit/soul vs. body. No, it’s a distinction between God and Man. If Man doesn’t want to have anything to do with God, he lives according to the Flesh. If Man has a communion with God, he lives according to the Spirit, which recreates us in the image of God. As it says in 2. Cor. 3:18:

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

A short summary: OS isn’t about us inheriting the guilt of Adam, but that we have the same nature as Adam, and that this nature isn’t enough in and of itself. We know deep down inside that without help, we can never really become ourselves, as God intended. We need help from outside of ourselves. And Christ helps us, by taking up into himself our Human Nature so we, by His grace, can become “partakers of the divine nature.” (2. Pet. 1:4) Taylor Marshall writes more:

[The teaching about the four gifts in Paradise] is an important feature of Catholic anthropology. A) It resists the Calvinist doctrine of “total depravity” because Original Sin causes man to fall to bare human nature. The Fall is the removal of a set of gifts, strictly speaking. B) It also allows us to understand how redemption is accomplished through Christ — that we are reconstituted in sanctifying grace through Christ. C) It may be helpful with understanding an evolutionary origin of mankind, in that human beings were not created as “naturally” immortal, but that this immortality was something “preternatural”. Immortality was a gift that was forfeited.

Notes and references:

[1] Kreeft, Peter, “The Dark Side.” Lecture held at Socrates in the City, May 4th 2005. (December 21st 2007)