ON THE ANCESTRAL SIN AND GRACE

 

Marin Mihalache

 

In his Epistle to the Romans Saint Paul wrote: Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned…” (εἰς πάντας ἀνθρώπους ὁ θάνατος διῆλθεν ἐφ' ᾧ πάντες ἥμαρτον). This text seems to be the only place in the Holy Scriptures which says that Adam’s sin has something to do with the human beings. Of course, this text can be corroborated with other passages from the Bible on the same theological theme; however, the specific, direct umbilical cord tying and binding the human beings to Adam is to be found in the above text from Romans 5:12.

One may cite for example some other concurring verses: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Genesis 2:17); “Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” (Genesis 3:6); “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.” (I Corinthians 15:21); or “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23).

Saint Augustine had a brilliant theological and philosophical mind, but not fully mastered the Greek language and so he translated the term “προπατορική” as „original sin” whereas „αμαρτία” in Greek has the connotation of „ancestral sin”. Augustine’s translation of Romans 5:12 mean that all humanity actually has sinned with Adam and Adam’s sin has become our own sin. The theological consequence of Augustine’s translation was that ontologically the concept of „guilt” ended by making “death” as “the ancestral inheritance” of mankind. Saint Augustine, an eloquent master of the Latin language, has however translated ἐφ᾿ ᾧ, “eph’ ho” (ef Jw) in Romans 5:12 as "in whom" which the Greek language exegeses translate as "because of". This slight deviation from the actual meaning of a word resulted in some unexpected doctrinal consequences. To say that we all have “sinned in Adam” is quite different from saying that we all “sinned because of Adam.” What can be understood is that Adam’s sin carried death to all the creation but actually it is not Adam’s specific transgression that the human race has inherited. Such understanding does not negate the fact that our sin is evidence of Adam’s death. Therefore, the essential issue here is how can be correctly and concretely understood our relationship to Adam in terms of sinfulness and fallen condition.

The key to understanding stands in this tiny and yet extremely complicated and complex old Greek pronoun “ἐφ' ᾧ”, “ef Jw”, “eph’ ho” which literary can be translated as “for”, “that”…”as long as”… “…because of…". The confusion comes from the fact that this word can be used as neuter or masculine. If it is neuter, the text in above mentioned text from Romans 5:12 can be understood as meaning that death passed to man because all have sinned.  In this situation, there is no so called “original sin”: if we sin, we die, or if we don’t sin, we do don’t die, as long as our sin like Adam’s deserves death. However, if from the Greek translation we take the pronoun in its neuter sense, then there is no explanation of why we sin, and therefore the original sin is de-mythologized. The sting of the passage is withdrawn as long as there is no natural inclination in man to sin. If the pronoun “ἐφ’ᾧ” (“ef Jw”) is masculine, then it refers to the death. This would mean that the death passed to all men because of which (of death) all have sinned. Death is a cosmic reality unleashed by Adam and because of that death we all sin.

According to Saint Paul there was no Law, hence no sin before Moses, but the death reigned. The form “eph’ ho” (a contraction of “epi’“with the pronoun “ho”) is to be translated as “because”. This leads to the conclusion that the death (“the wages of sin”) for Adam is to be extended to all those like him. This does not mean that Adam’s descendants are “guilty” for Adam’s sin, unless they sin like Adam sinned. If “” is masculine grammatically it is impossible to relate “eph’ ho” to another word than “thanatos” (death). Romans 5:12 cannot be an exception in Saint Paul’s writings as long when he uses “epi” with the dative this word becoming a relative pronoun which modifies a preceding noun or phrase (conform Romans 6:21; 9:33; 10:19; 15:12; II Corinthians 5:4; Phil. 4:10). Thereby “eph’ ho” exegetical and grammatically is understood to modifying “thanatos” and the context must be “because of which (death)”, or “for which (death) all have sinned”. Eastern Orthodox Fathers interpreted Romans 5:12 in relation with I Corinthians 15:22, according to which there is a solidarity in death between Adam and his descendants in the same manner as we understand the solidarity in the life of a baptized Christian with Christ. We inherit the sinfulness from fall in only the consequence of mortality. But what then it means, ‘for that all have sinned?” That means: he having once fallen, even if they that had not eaten of the tree as he did, from him, all of them, became mortal. (Saint John Chrysostom Homilies 10, Romans 5:12). Saint John Chrysostom denies also this imputation of sin to Adam’s descendants.

But it seems unreasonable that one man should be deemed to have sinned, because another has disobeyed: therefore, by “sinners” the Apostle Paul must mean “liable to the penalty of sin”, i.e., death. Even so, however, it is difficult to see why mankind should be liable to death for Adam’s sin. The Apostle states the fact; but is silent as to the reason for it, teaches Saint John Chrysostom. Therefore, like other Greek Fathers of the Church, Saint John Chrysostom denied sin by nature, with the understanding that Romans 5:12 refers to death and that the sin is always a personal act. The sin cannot be inherited. What we inherit from Adam is death, mortality, corruption. These make the sin inevitable and the life a struggle for survival in the world of corruption. Only in Christ is possible to overcome the sin in the light of the Resurrection. We shall answer for what was given to us.

Therefore, the sin is our personal act, but not an act of nature. In this case Adam’s rebellion against God is his personal sin, for there is not such as an “inheritance of guilt” or a “sin of nature”, although we suffer the consequences of Adam’s sin. It is related to us just as is the salvation brought to us by Christ. But as long as salvation cannot be achieved without personal and free responsibility, the original sin cannot be imposed to us.

In the demonstration of his teaching of the “original sin” Saint Augustine used the text from the Old Latin version of the Bible which translates “ἐφ’ᾧ” by “in quo”…”in whom all have sinned”. So, in this case “in quo” does not refer to death, but it refers to Adam. Because this faulty translation, the interpretation leads to the false conclusion that all of us have sinned in Adam (“quasi in messa”) as long as we all derive from him, and thereby all of us are guilty and must be punished for the sin of Adam. Before Saint Augustine, Saint Ambrose taught that the solidarity of all human race with Adam is not only in consequences of sin, but in sin itself, which is transmitted through natural generation. The so called “Ambrosiaster” translates “ἐφ’ᾧ” by “in quo” and refers it to Adam “in whom all have sinned.”

Saint Augustine following this point in “Quaestiones ad simplicianum” and other pre-Pelagian writings taught that Adam’s guilt is transmitted to his descendants by concupiscence (“concupiscentia carnalis”) and according to this line of reasoning the humanity in whole seems to be a “massa damnata” and thereby the freedom of man although is not totally denied or destroyed is very much weakened or even annihilated.

According to Saint Augustine the original sin is a “peccatum” but also “poena peccati”. Therefore, “in quo” (omnes peccaverunt) preceeds from “per unum hominem” (Adam). Only Christ was free from original sin because He came into the world without “concubitus”. “Concupicentia carnis” is sin because belongs to the original sin, but also is a punishment for sin; it originates through sin and leads to sin. It is true that even the Greek Fathers had often spoken of the solidarity of the human race in Adam, but in the manner of which Saint John Chrysostom also understood this. But Saint John Chrysostom’s point of view was misinterpreted in one side by Pelagian Julian, who using Chrysostom’s homily “Ad neophytos”: “We baptize infants, though they do not have sins”, understood this only as a denial of inherited guilt from parents, and on another site, Augustine, who interpreted that even the word “sins” used in that sentence is a proof, besides others, that Chrysostom’s intention was at least the acceptance of the idea of original sin.

Even Pelagius justifies the infant baptism as a positive gift, giving life to the soul. On the contrary, on the extreme side Saint Augustine stressed that all of us sinned in Adam and thereby even the baby is born as sinful. The practice of baptizing infants with exorcisms was a proof for Saint Augustine to sustain that all of us are infected by sin and the original sin is inherited from parent to child by the sexual intercourse or physical act of generation. Thus, the baptism only removes the guilt: “dimitti concupiscentium carnis in batismo non at non sit, sed up in peccatum non imputetur”. But it is hard to understand Saint Augustine in this case because he wrote also that we inherit either the nature of “the ancient sin”. Thus, Saint Augustine wrote “all sinned in Adam on that occasion, for all were already identical with him in that nature of his”.

Saint Augustine taught also that after baptism concupiscence is not a sin, but it is tolerated by God. But because man has sinned in Adam, hence all are guilty by nature and punished by death. Saint John Chrysostom also recognizes that mortality was a consequence of Adam’s sin, but he understood the words of Saint Paul “for that all sinned” and “all become mortal”. He doesn’t recognize any doctrine of inherited sinfulness of nature. For him the infants have not sin, and the Fall had no effect upon man’s freedom of will, neither concupiscence in the nature of sin. Therefore, baptism is liberation for the devil’s power exercised over man after Adam’s sin, and freedom to choose an immortal life in Christ. It is the sanctification and the restoration of man, to his initial image. Thus, we baptize the children not for “remission of sins” which they in fact have not, but rather to give them something that their mortal parents cannot give them: a new and immortal life. Thus, there is not a problem of guilt or forgiveness, but a problem of death and life, a paschal mystery. Through baptism in Christ, we can begin a new life for salvation, as long as it represents Christ’s victory over death, because of His Resurrection.

Nature, according to Greek Fathers is to be transcended by the function of the free mind. The personal mind, in freedom of choice, can commit sin, which implies at the same time “guilt”. There is a dynamic relationship between divine will and our personal will. When the rebellion of our personal will turn against God and nature, thus misusing its freedom, it leads to corruption. Saint John Chrysostom teaches that we cannot do anything without God, but even if the grace takes the initiative of our salvation it cooperates “synergic” with our free will. Or if we desire the good, then God strengths our desire and makes it effective: “When we choose, it (the grace) brings us much assistance.” God calls us, but he waits for us to come to him, he affords us every help.

The grace of Saint Augustine is God’s free gift (“gratia dei gratuita”) because it anticipated and inaugurates stirring man’s will towards good and carries everything before God’s will as an expression of Almighty’s power. Therefore, God’s will act on our will by grace is irresistible. In Augustine’s view through Adam’s sin man has lost his freedom. Adam was granted with freedom in the sense that he had the ability to avoid sin (“posse non peccare”), but he lost this liberty by misusing this free choice. Augustine, in fact, doesn’t deny that the man still has “liberum arbitrium” but doesn’t know to use it as long as he has lost “the liberty not to sin”. In other words, Saint Augustine sustains that man is responsible for his sin, but he cannot do too much to sin not. Therefore, the only hope for man is the free gift of God’s grace. Then, Augustine uses the Latin version of the Psalm 59: “His mercy will go before me” to develop the concept of “prevenient grace” done by God. To this grace man must answer by “co-operant grace” which can be “sufficient” (corresponding to “posse non peccare”) or “efficient” (“non posse peccare”). The last one can be realized only by a kind of elite with “gift of perseverance” given to them by God. Therefore, this category of people is predestined to find bliss, and the rest to eternal damnation. But the original sin is to be properly understood only by taking in consideration the fallen, corrupted state of creation. Not to forget also the Satan and the reality of death itself. In this theological perspective, we may be more inclined to accept that all human beings share the guilt of Adam, which results in the last instance in a degree or another a certain denial or diminution of human freedom and responsibility towards our own salvation.

 

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