Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Part II, Articles IX – XIII: Personal Religion


Article IX
Of Original or Birth Sin
Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the fault and corruption of the nature of every man that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God's wrath and damnation. And this infection of nature doth remain, yea, in them that are regenerated, whereby the lust of the flesh, called in Greek phronema sarkos (which some do expound the wisdom, some sensuality, some the affection, some the desire of the flesh), is not subject to the law of God. And although there is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptized, yet the Apostle doth confess that concupiscence and lust hath itself the nature of sin.
Peccatum originis non est (ut fabulantur Pelagiani) in imitatione Adami situm, sed est vitium et depravatio naturae eiuslibet hominis ex Adamo naturaliter propagati, qua fit ut ab originali iustitia quam longissime distet, ad malum sua natura propendeat, et caro semper adversus spiritum concupiscat; unde in unoquoque nascentium iram Dei atque damnationem meretur. Manet etiam in renatis haec naturae depravatio, qua fit ut affectus carnis, Graece phronema sarcos (quod alii sapientiam, alii sensum, alii affectum, alii studium carnis interpretantur), legi Dei non subiiciatur. Et quanquam renatis et credentibus, nulla propter Christum est condemnatio, peccati tamen in sese rationem habere concupiscentiam fatetur Apostolus.
Composed in 1553 by English reformers.

Fr. Laurence Wells

At this point in the progression of the Articles, we move from the area of doctrine which was more or less agreed on by all sides in the 16th century, into the area which was then under dispute.  Without a doubt, we will be reminded shortly that those disputes have not gone away.  Therefore it may be helpful to review the purpose of this series.  Our goal is quite simple: not to debate but to explicate.  We wish to unfold in simple terms what the Articles actually say and to establish their place in the great mainstream of the Christian faith.      

In Genesis 3, we encounter a haunting story of a man and a woman, presented as the earliest ancestors of the human family, who lived in moral innocence and in close fellowship with the generous loving God who had created them.  They were, however, seduced by a malign power into a simple but fatal act of defiance of their Creator.  That act almost (this adverb is important) destroyed the happy and intimate relationship they had enjoyed with the Creator.  But even so, it had drastic and disastrous consequences.  Not only was their moral innocence spoiled, but they were driven out of their original home into a hostile world.  Exiled from God's presence, their simple but fatal act of defiance was quickly expanded by their offspring in hideous ways too numerous to list.  It is important that the offspring of this archetypal couple do not begin life in the same happy circumstances, but must take their very origin as exiles in the harsh thorny world outside the Garden.

Somewhat oddly, this story was never mentioned again in the Old Testament (save one obscure passage in the Book of Hosea).  But it still seemed to haunt the Hebrew Scriptures like a dark shadow, with the unrelenting themes of disobedience, judgment and exile.  Genesis 3 served as a silent paradigm for the Law, the Prophets and the Writings.  It remained an undeveloped theme, until St Paul brought Genesis chapter 3 out of cold storage and unfolded it for us in Romans 5 and I Corinthians 15.  These passages figure conspicuously in the Easter liturgy, in the great hymn "Exsultet" and in our Prayer Book's Easter Canticle.

Each of us must make up his mind what to do with the woeful tale in Genesis 3.  Many earnest believers have long since dismissed it as primitive folklore, having no relevance to anything, and consequently they have packed away the doctrine of Original Sin into their theological attic, no longer finding it useful but not quite ready to throw it away.  Many others have decided that Genesis 3 is a moral fable.  "Let's not be like Adam and Eve, we can get things right and stay in the Garden."  That was the essence of the Pelagian heresy, which Article IX alludes to as "the following of Adam."  That heresy maintained that as Adam fell from his original innocence, so each of us begins life in an innocent state and suffers his own fall.  "Every man is his own Adam" is the familiar Pelagian slogan, and we have a thousand pieces of modern literature devoted to the "loss of innocence" theme.

And then there are many who believe that the story of Adam is a fine bit of fiction which does not point up a real Fall within clock-time history, but simply serves to illustrate an unfortunate tendency which we all share.  They tell us we are prone to disease, but not really sick.  That point of view damaged our Prayer Book in the 1928 revision.  From 1549 and in every revision until 1928, the Baptismal Office contained the clear language, "Dearly beloved, forasmuche as all men bee conceived and borne in sinne, and that no manne  borne in sinne, can enter into the kingdom of God except be be regenerate, and borne anewe of water and of the holy ghost..."    As moralistic theology undermined the doctrines of grace in the Anglican Churches, the robust language of the first Prayer Book proved embarrassing.  The Proposed English Book of 1928 softened the language, "seeing that all men are from their birth prone to sin, but God willeth all men to be saved, for God is love."  The American revision that same year, our hallowed "1928 BCP," was more forthright in simply deleting the Biblical language altogether. 

If our trust in Genesis 3 has been undermined by a skeptical view of Holy Scripture and by the incurable virus of Pelagianism, the doctrine of Original Sin can be strongly argued from the New Testament.  We have a series of texts asserting the sinlessness of Christ which indirectly assert the universality of the human sinful condition. Sin, let us recall, is more than a generic name for a certain category of behaviors; it is our plight, our condition, our predicament.  What person can doubt that Psalm 51:5 ("Behold, I was shapen in wickedness, and in sin hath my mother conceived me") describes a deadly universal problem which has no human solution?  We did not become sinners by committing some particular sinful act.  We began to sin because of a fatal defect in our soul's DNA.

In two key passages (Romans 5 and I Corinthians 15) St Paul sets up a contrast between Adam and Christ.  In Romans he wrote,

"Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, death spread to all men because all sinned....for if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for man... For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification...."  Paul argues this principle with relentless logic in a passage too long to quote, Romans 5:12--21.  He hammers home by the repetition of the word "one."  One man, one trespass, one man's disobedience, with dire consequences for all the human race. This is contrasted with "one man's obedience" which makes many righteous.

Paul also develops this antinomy in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, "For as by man came death, by a man came also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive."

Here we have a picture of two human families.  First, the family of Adam, born into exile and guilt, thanks to the first ancestor's unique disobedience, living from the moment of conception under his curse, sharing his ultimate doom.  Second, the new humanity of Jesus the second Adam, salvaged by His unique act of obedience, blessed with an undeserved gift of new life, ultimately sharing His glory.

It will not do to say that "Adam is Every-man."  Paul's logic stands or falls with his perception that Adam was a historical figure and his "one trespass" was an event which took place in clock time.  The parallel between Adam and Christ is absolutely precise.  If "Adam is every-man," then Christ is equally every-man.   If "every man is his own Adam," then every human can be his own Christ.

At this point permit me to retract, slightly, my statement above that the Old Testament never mentioned again the sorrowful tale of Genesis 3.  The arguments of Paul in Romans and I Corinthians, which eventually became labeled Original Sin, were not original with him.  In II Esdras we read:

"The same fate befell all of them: just as death came upon Adam, so the flood upon them [of Noah's generation]. .... For the first Adam, burdened with an evil heart, transgressed and was overcome, as were also all who were descended from him, as were also all who descended from him.  Thus the disease became permanent....  (II Esdras 3:10, 21).  It would be difficult to argue that Paul was influenced by this text, since II Esdras was actually written after the Fall of Jerusalem, and is therefore less ancient than Paul's Epistles.  But this little known passage shows that such theological ideas were not peculiar to Paul.  Some of the strongest statements concerning human depravity come from the mouth of Our Lord Himself. "For out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander" (Matt. 15:19).

Before summarizing, let me offer two final comments.  As noted above in the history of some unfortunate revisions in our Prayer Book Baptismal Office, Anglicans have shown a certain hesitation with and resistance toward the doctrine of Original Sin.  C. B. Moss objects to the theory of Our Lady's Immaculate Conception because it would have the effect of dogmatizing Original Sin.  Frequently it is claimed that the language of Article IX, "very far gone from original righteousness" softens the more thunderous pronouncements of the Calvinists.  It should be pointed out that the underlying Latin expression is "longissime quam," an idiom which really means "as far gone as possible," a hyperbole which Calvinist Confessions guarded against. 

Also we sometimes encounter a curious distinction between "Original Sin" (understood as a mere tendency toward sin, a congenital weakness in the constitution of a moral neutral creature) and "Original Guilt" (an unpopular notion that Adam's guilt is shared by all the human family and each human being is born into his guilty status).  The latter concept does not commend itself to a mind saturated with notions of democracy, equality, and human autonomy.  It is difficult to comprehend by those whose world-view is shaped by nominalism.  But the attempted disjunction of sin and guilt will not work, unless one wishes to make sin trivial.  While there may be guilt-free ice cream, there is no guilt-free sin.  Adam's sons were not only excluded from the Garden, but moreover labored under his curse.  As hard a doctrine as this may be, it is both a realistic description of the human predicament and a faithful restatement of the faith of the ancient Church.  In the Easter liturgy, in the Blessing of the Paschal candle, we find at the very beginning, "through Jesus Christ our Lord, who for us paid the debt of Adam to the Father eternal, and blotted out the handwriting of the olden trespass with his precious Blood." 

To sum up and to initiate discussion:
          At the outset of human history there was a primeval act of rebellion by our earliest ancestors, a mutiny of the creature against the Creator, which catapulted the entire human race into a situation of estrangement, alienation, hostility and consequently elicited the Divine wrath.  This is a desperate and hopeless predicament, from which no human being can extricate himself.  The rescue was aptly described by J. H. Newman:

          O loving wisdom of our God,
          When all was sin and shame,
          A second Adam to the fight,
          And to the rescue came.
          O wisest love!  That flesh and blood,
          Which did in Adam fail,
          Should strive afresh against the foe,
          Should strive and should prevail.


Fr. Robert Hart

"Behold, I was shapen in wickedness, and in sin hath my mother conceived me." Psalm 51:5

Fr. Wells has defended the understanding of Original Sin that always has prevailed, though some may insist “in the west.” In this Article we still find no theological disagreement with the Church of Rome, the Lutherans or the Calvinists. However, the doctrine of Original Sin itself, like the authority of Scripture, was never a subject of dispute within the Church. The doctrine of Original Sin was considered by St. Augustine to be the one dogma of Christian Faith that is self-evidently true in the eyes of all mankind everywhere.
          The language of Article IX should not be considered disputable at all. It describes Original Sin as a fault we all inherit, not the loss of innocence by “following” Adam’s example of disobedience. That is, it is not that we followed Adam’s behavior, but that we inherited his sinfulness. Someone may object that anyone who is old enough to learn about the doctrine must already be aware of his own personal sins; and, so why should it matter whether we teach that sin is an inherited state?
          First of all, Original Sin, like Creatio ex nihilo, is a revealed doctrine. It did not arise from men reasoning about the Scriptures, but from the very words of Scripture. Second, we need to know that our nature itself has been affected by sin to the point where we all are helpless if left to our own devices, and in need of the grace of God. The words in the confession from Daily Morning and Evening Prayer, “there is no health in us,” mean that we do not have in ourselves the power to heal this fatal disease.
          It has been argued that the East and the West have very different beliefs about Original Sin. How truly authentic that point of view is I would rather not debate. Essentially, we are told, the western point of view places sin as the cause and death as the effect, and the eastern point of view sees it as the opposite. The words of St. Paul should here be quoted: “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.” What emerges from those words should not be cause for dispute about cause and effect, but the fact that sin and death are, for human beings, inseparable. They are like two sides of one coin.
          We are told also that the western view emphasizes guilt, and the eastern view emphasizes the tragic state of man. Again, just how accurate these dichotomies between “eastern” and “western” Christianity are, I do not care at this point to debate (let us just say that blaming the “Eastern Church” for modern ideas, is hardly justified). What really seems to be the problem has more to do with modern people and their sensibilities, so easily offended. “How could God accuse a cute little newborn baby of being a sinner?” (No one brings this up about the “terrible twos.”) That hypothetical question is more to the point than a supposed theological dichotomy; and, as we can see, it has no place in serious discussion- or it should not.
The other question is, does everyone inherit Adam’s guilt, or merely his consequential weakness? Is everyone being “punished” for what some ancient ancestor did? Again, we have the words of Scripture that teach clearly that every human being has sinned (except for Jesus Christ). St. Paul does not say that death has passed on all men because mortality leads to sin. He says something more startling: “All have sinned.” We need to look at this for all that it means.
          The words, “All have sinned” are, properly understood, so inclusive that we may say, with certainty, that even every human being not yet conceived, but who will be conceived, has sinned. If Levi paid tithes in Abraham, because Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek (as taught in Hebrews 7:9), then it is right to say that every human being sinned in Adam. That is, because the human race has sinned, all have sinned.
          Fr. Wells has emphasized that Adam is not “every man.” However, Adam is in every man, and every human being is also in Adam. In Adam we are sinners, mortal, unable to escape death. The inheritance of guilt comes because we are in Adam; that is, we were in the human race when the Fall took place, “and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Here we see the Biblical meaning of the One and the many.

The One and the many
           When St. Paul uses the contrast between the One and the many in Romans chapter 5, he mentions the two fathers of the human race. He mentions the first Adam and the Last Adam (I Cor. 15:45 We must call Jesus by that name, the Last Adam. For there will come no other after Him). The language should take us to the Suffering Servant passage in the book of Isaiah:

“But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:5,6)

          Everywhere in that chapter we see that “He” (Hebrew-Hu, meaning a man, a male individual. The word is singular, not plural) took the weight of the sins of “the many.” St. Paul’s elaboration in the fifth chapter of Romans contradicts the idea of “Limited Atonement,” a doctrine wrongly attributed to Calvin,* that is corrected in the Book of Common Prayer (“…a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world”). The contrast in the Suffering Servant passage between “He” and the “many” whose sins He bore, is highlighted by Paul in these words:

“For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ. Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” (vs.17-21)

          The difference between the one, Adam, and the many is contrasted against the One, Christ, and the many. As St. John put it, “And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (I John 2:1,2)
          Before we get to what it means to be “in Christ” we need to see the condition from which we are saved. We begin our earthly life in Adam. Of course, the Gospel takes us to the remedy, to be born again of water and the Spirit, so as to be in the Everlasting Father (Isaiah 9:6) of the redeemed and new humanity. “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (I Cor. 15:21,22) Here too, we see Adam as the one, and “all” or the many; then we see Christ as the One, and “all” as the many.
          If your modern sensitivities are offended, therefore, by the sentence of death upon all as sinners, how can you appreciate the justification and salvation that comes by the One, that is, Christ? The revelation of Scripture ties these two things together: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” Do you appreciate that by baptism you were taken out of the domain of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13)? Then, do not complain when faced with the revelation of how dark the darkness is from which you are rescued.

The state of sin
          The question may be asked, how are all human beings sinners? Has a “sinful nature” been added to human nature as it was created? The way that some people use that expression, it can come across that way. However, what really happened is revealed to be something taken away. We see in Genesis that fallen man is forbidden access to the fruit of the tree of life, and is driven out of the garden. In fact, that is the sentence of death. We see also, “for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Gen. 2:17) yet, Adam lived on outside the garden for a very long time.
          Therefore, we see that the condition of sin is a kind of death, more than mortality. It is not simply that this life will end, but that outside of Christ we do not have anything good enough and real enough to be called “life.” The state of sinful mankind outside of Christ is one of walking death (Eph. 2:1). The condition is a grave defect, the lack of righteousness, the lack of life in the spirit. What we call “sinful nature” is man made in the image of God, but lacking grace to be that image, to live up to what he was created to be. It is subtraction, not addition; for death is the subtraction of life, not the addition of corruption.
          Even the saints, those who are in Christ by baptism, and even those who abide in Him by faith and obedience, are, at one and the same time, yet in Adam. As the German Reformer, Martin Luther phrased it, the Christian is simul justus et peccator (“Righteous and at the same time a sinner”). This is, by no means, debatable. It is the best we can hope for in this life, even as we cooperate in every way with the grace of God that is active in our lives by the Holy Spirit. Until the Last Day, when Christ will come to raise from the dead all who are His, we are, at best, in both fathers of humanity, the first Adam and the Last Adam.
          Anyone who rejects the dogma of Original Sin simply refuses to accept the self-evident reality of his own life, as well as the revelation of God in Scripture.
_______________________
         
* Calvin himself never taught the so-called “five points.” Concerning the doctrine itself, it does not follow that rejection of “Limited Atonement” must lead to Universalism. Christ “paid in full” the price of human sin (John 19:30, I John 2:2) . But, not everyone believes. 

16 comments:

AFS1970 said...

Two separate comments, first #1. I am by no means a scientist, but I have to wonder about the idea of sin being a defect in the DNA of the soul. Inasmuch as a soul has any structure similar to DNA, I think a better word for sin would be mutation. Defect too often brings to mind a faulty creation, which just is not possible with God. However a mutation of the original that has lasted from generation to generation seems to describe sin pretty well.

And onto #2. I had never really thought about this before, but given that the bible can never contradict itself, I thought the choice of words a bit odd between St. Paul's quote "for that all have sinned" which is in line with original sin and St. John's "if any man sin" which sounds like it might be placing sin as an option and not a foregone conclusion. Granted these are two half sentences compared without their full contexts, but it does raise a question in my mind.

Fr. Wells said...

AFS1970: As for #1, I would accept your correction. I was not altogether comfortble with the metaphor of DNA (and it is ONLY a metaphor). To state matters in Aristotelian terms, the Fall of Adam did not effect any change in his essence.
The Image of God was not destroyed; it was damaged almost beyond recognition. Your term "mutation" (still just a metaphor) is an improvement. Thanks.
As for #2, Context is everything! The apostle has already asserted the universality of sin at 1 Jn 1:8, "If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us."
We might make an argument that at 2:1 ("if any man sin") he is thinking of particular acts of sin as opposed to sin as a state of fallenness. But to suggest that "sin" is an option is to do genuine violence to his apodosis, "we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." The logical conclusion would be, If I just stop sinning, I will not need Jesus.

charles said...

Hello Fr. Wells,
Good post. I did not know about the 1928's softening of language regarding depravity from the 1892. This is another reason why I prefer 1892 and especially the 1549 bcp over 1928. Another avenue to prove the nature of sin is through the 1549 churching of women. Normally, the woman did not attend the baptism of the child, but received the white vestment and offered it upon her churching. I'm still trying to figure out the significance of this, but it seems to demonstrate not all sins are equal, and the woman is counted for transmitting sin in the flesh, or concupiscence perhaps, while the man transmits it by his seed. To tell you the truth, I am still not sure why women in the OT were withheld from public for 40 days if a boy was born vs. 80 if a little girl. It seems the instrument for the fall and WO prohibitions might somehow be related? The baptism rite is certainly jam-packed with theology, especially augustinian.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Some very confused person made a comment that St. Paul denied the Incarnation. We have room for serious disagreements here, so even though I hate to block comments, that comment did not amount to the kind of disagreement that any clear minded person could take seriously. I suggest that that person, whose carnal pride moves him to stand in judgement of Holy Scripture, read Phil. 2:5-11.

Getting back to discussion among Christians, Charles, I question if original sin is passed on by the mother; perhaps it is passed on only in the seed. I base this, very simply, on the Virgin Birth of our Lord Who was, Himself, without sin. Also, it is always the fathers who are spoken of, the words of Psalm 51:5 not withstanding ("in sin did my mother conceive me"), where David's real emphasis was not on his mother, but on himself-that he, the Psalmist, was conceived in sin. I see the emphasis as being on the word "me."

Of course, that raises many questions in itself; I don't claim to have it all figured out.

Shaughn said...

The best sense I can make of uncleanness regarding childbirth in the OT has to do with the weird (by our standards, anyway) logic associated with the way blood works in the Old Testament.

1) Blood is unclean.
2) Women naturally produce blood on a regular basis.
3) Women, therefore, are more often unclean than men.

And:

1) Blood is unclean.
2) Childbirth involves blood.
3) Therefore, child birth renders the mother unclean.

Coupled together:

1) Blood is unclean.
2) Women naturally produce blood on a regular basis.
3) Women, therefore, are more often unclean than men.
4) Childbirth involves blood.
5) Therefore, child birth renders the mother unclean.
6) The birth of a girl involves more blood, potentially, than the birth of a boy.
7) Therefore, the birth of a girl renders a mother more unclean than the birth of a boy.

Thank heavens Christ fulfilled all that for us, eh?

Fr. Robert Hart said...

"Weird" to us maybe, as our culture would be weird to the ancient Israelites. Maybe "strange" is a better word.

It makes sense, because the life, or soul (nefesh) of the flesh is in the blood (Lev. 17:11). It is not blood that is unclean, but shed blood - if shed anywhere other than God's altar.

welshmann said...

Frs. Hart and Wells:

The fact that Levi paid tithes in Abraham was offered to underline the fact that all have actually sinned in Adam. So how does that leave room for the Immaculate Conception as a pious opinion? Did the BVM sin in our ancestor Adam, only to be redeemed from sin at the time of her actual conception? Or was she in some way prospectively preserved from sin, even in Adam?

welshmann

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Don't expect me to defend the theory of Immaculate Conception.

Fr. Wells said...

Charles: I am uncomfortable with your suggestion that the transmission of Adam's sin (and resulting status of guilt) has anything to do with the ritual uncleanness of women after chilbirth.

The PB Office entitled "The Purification of Women" in 1549 and "The Thanksgiving of Women after Childbirth" has no language pertaining to Original Sin. That is a red herring.

Shaughn: I do not follow your suggestion that blood in the OT is unclean or makes unclean. Check any Bible Dictionary or Theological Wordbook. Blood was regarded as the vehicle of life and therefore sacred, hence the prohibition of drinking it. Symbolically, blood sometimes represents life but more frequently, the word refers to a violent death. "This cup is the new covenant in My blood," -- hardly unclean, or "Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins."

Shaughn said...

Fr. Wells,

I was being a bit imprecise, and for that I apologize. It's menstrual blood that renders a woman ritually unclean, as noted in Leviticus 15:19 - "When a woman has a discharge, and the discharge in her body is blood, she shall be in her menstrual impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening."

As for drinking of blood, that is found in Lev. 3:17 - "It shall be a perpetual statute for your generations throughout all your dwellings, that ye eat neither fat nor blood."

That is, ultimately, one of many paradoxes of the New Testament -- that something people are traditionally never allowed to drink becomes a means by which our souls may be washed clean.

The most well known one is, of course, the cross itself. Cursed is the man who hangs from a tree!

Anonymous said...

Fr. Wells and Fr. Heart, is an historical Adam a necessity for the doctrine of original sin ? Tom R

Fr. Wells said...

Tom R: There have been attempts by various Protestant theologians of the neo-orthodox type to reconstruct the doctrine of original sin without Adam as a historical figure. They made use of existentialism, Jungian archetypes, notions of corporate guilt, that sort of thing.

This, in my way of thinking, does not do justice to the Biblical data. Remember that Original Sin is not so much grounded on Gen 3 as on Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. Paul is quite serious in his parallel of Adam and Christ. If Adam is dismissed as a mythological or unhisorical figure, then logically Christ must be dissolved also.

This does not require a fundamentalist approach to the early chapters of Genesis or a young earth or 6/24 creation. It does not even require that we insist on Adam as biological progenitor of the entire human race (although I believe he was). Adam (the name means "Mankind") is presented as the legal representative, the covenant head, of the human race, the flesh and blood particular man whom whom God first had dealings, after God had made him by a special act of creation, making him to be His own image and lieness, appointing him His vicegerent with authority to rule over creation. His act of rebellion (or was the Fall more an act of negligence, as Michael Horton suggests) took place within clock-time with disastrous results for all subsequent history and for every single human being without exception.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

The question Fr Wells addresses regarding the historicity of Adam and his biological and spiritual parenthood is an interesting one. The Roman Catholic Church is presently committed (though not strictly infallibly) to the proposition known as monogenism. That is, Adam as the first man was the father of the whole human race and that no other human beings apart from Eve shared with him at that time in such parenthood.

However, what is often not realised is that this Adam, who knew God in perfect innocence and lived in harmony with nature, and then fell, could be the biological as well as spiritual father of virtually all later humans without having been the only biological human other than Eve then present. Imagine for example, a hominid population who have progressed as sophisticated social animals to a great extent in intelligence, but have not received the "spark" of spiritual and moral awareness, the characteristic of humans that includes conscience, a capacity for volitional worship, and perhaps other "trans-animal" properties such as rational abstraction, aesthetic sense and artistic creativity. Then God "elects" a small sub-population, perhaps literally only one couple, to separate out and call into a localised paradisical environment. He reveals himself to them and gives them that "spark". Like the election of Israel, this is not designed to benefit them alone, but to spread His gift mediatorially with time. But they sin. As a result, their mediatorial work as they return into contact with the rest of the hominid population after exile from Paradise is not prevented but distorted. A new "awareness" is spread to a group who, like the elect couple, had been prepared for its reception by their development to that point. But this awareness is poisoned. It still contains those uniquely human characteristics abovementioned, but without the divine grace of original righteousness and with the beginning of corruption. From here on in, the combination of social contact and reproduction ensures that all of homo sapiens is infected, and that, not long afterwards in anthropological terms, every such member of the species was a biological descendant of Adam and Eve anyway.

Alternatively, it might be that only hominids derived from or "married to" the descendants of Adam and Eve were constituted human in the fully biblical sense. It would not take that long, as mentioned above, for natural ancestral relationships to mean all physical humans were also descendants of the elect couple. Thus, while other hominids were present and contributed to the early gene-pool, over time all those biologically identifiable as the human species were biologically as well as spiritually "children" of Adam and Eve.

This is, of course, mere speculation. It provides another kind of explanation of where Cain's wife, and the people he was afraid would kill him in Genesis 4:14, came from, and why the Bible does not hint at them being his sisters or brothers.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

"And then there are many who believe that the story of Adam is a fine bit of fiction which does not point up a real Fall within clock-time history, but simply serves to illustrate an unfortunate tendency which we all share."

Yes, that one is particularly annoying, as it cannot avoid making God the author of sin, once sin becomes simply inherent to created nature. It is unintentionally blasphemous, it seems to me.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

While I agree with most of what is written here, there are parts that give me pause. It seems that the Article itself is more careful in its Augustinianism. It represents original sin as fault, corruption and inclination rather than as an "actual sin" (= sin performed and punished as such) in the proper sense. It says that the Original Sin ("it") deserves God's condemnation, rather than that the person with this inclination is damned to Hell automatically solely on the basis of that corruption. It says that the remnant of Original Sin in the Christian has "the nature of sin" rather than that it is "true and proper sin", as I believe the Westminster Confession puts it. Indeed, a comparison of the Westminster Confession with the 39 Articles is quite instructive, as it shows what the Calvinist Puritans felt needed "improving" as not sufficiently Reformed or Augustinian.

One problem with saying that Original Sin in and of itself entails Original Guilt in the full sense is that it seems to reduce to "Your damned for breathing, human. If you do nothing else, just your existence condemns you." Another problem is that it implies that unbaptised infants and children are condemned to Hell as the default position, even if they die before committing any actual, deliberate sin. Augustine realised this, didn't like it, but couldn't escape it. Limbo was conceived to deal with the issue.

However, the Scriptures seem to teach both the sinfulness of all fallen nature, as well as the special position of children before the age of reason as not subject to the same liability (e.g., Deuteronomy 1:39) and as objects of special grace as far as Jesus was concerned. And the statement "all sinned" need not be interpreted as "all sinned virtually in Adam's actual sin", given the similar statements about the universality of sin in earlier parts of Romans referring to actual sins committed (e.g., Romans 1:18-2:6, 3:12-16, 23).

It would be better to think of the "Guilt" due to Original Guilt being analogical just as Original Sin is called so by analogy with actual sin. There are similarities and differences in such analogies. Original Sin is the root of all actual sin, and inevitably causes it in those who have reached the age of responsibility. Original Guilt shares with "guilt due to actual sin" the characteristic of the guilty one living under the penumbra of God's imminent judgement and subject to his hatred of evil as a threat of wrath. However, unlike guilt due to actual sin, it does not automatically necessitate condemnation at death on its own. It is a potential guilt, putting the person in peril as they approach the point of taking it upon themselves and incurring actual eternal guilt, a point inevitably arriving unless death intervenes first.

Such a perspective is less than pure Augustinianism, but matches the general patristic and scriptural position better, I believe.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Inasmuch as Levi paid tithes in Abraham, I can accept the teaching that the human race sinned in Adam. That comes across a more than potential, indeed as inherited guilt, as well as inherited weakness. To some of the Eastern Orthodox the idea seems ugly; but, since we are thinking in the context of the Gospel, and therefore of God's love and perfect will, holding the belief is not ugly at all. God acted with compassion for us, even as His hatred for evil remained complete.

Was Adam a historical figure? In some way we do not understand fully, the answer is yes.

In fact, it was reported in the late 90s, by news services, that DNA confirms that all human beings come ultimately from the same one male ancestor, though it has not confirmed, or perhaps not yet confirmed, a single female ancestor.

However, it is obvious that elements of the story come across as a parable (fruit of the tree, a snake as the tempter, etc.). This is interesting, for even evolution is spoken of in terms of descent (not an ascent), as if the idea of a Fall has been an inherent part of human thought. Well, of course, "descent" is used because we all descend from our ancestors - but, how did that word get into our speech, a word that means fall, as the word for tracing ancestry?

The story may need strong elements of a parable, not because Man was a lower and baser creature, still evolving at that time; but, rather, because Man in his innocencey was a glorious godlike creature compared to fallen Man. We may not understand the state from which Man fell until Christ comes and we have been risen and glorified with Him. Perhaps then we will remember - call it a race memory if you will.

That is to say, Gen. 3 and Rom. 5 teach the truth, but there are things in Gen. 3 that are quite mysterious, even more mysterious (because they remain somewhat veiled) than our salvation as taught in Rom. 5.