Evolution and the Sin in Eden
A New Christian Synthesis

Chapter 11: How the Sin is Transmitted

The CCC teaches that we inherit original sin from Adam, but adds that we do not understand the manner of transmisssion very well:

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" (St. Thomas Aquinas, De Malo 4,1). 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 transmit in a fallen state (Trent, DS 1511-1512). 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.

Transmission of the Sin by Generation

Thomas had explained the transmission of original sin by the mechanism of our biological presence in Adam. The CCC did not explicitly pick up this biological argument. Thomas theorized that we were already in Adam when he sinned, therefore we somehow sinned when he did: "Accordingly the original sin of all men was in Adam indeed, as in its principal cause, according to the words of the Apostle (Rom 5:12): 'In whom all have sinned.'" (ST III,83,,1).

But the translation "In whom all have sinned," is probably wrong. It differs from the original Greek of Rom 5:12. Most versions today read: "Because all have sinned." The translation of the Greek eph ho and of the Latin in quo has been the subject of much dispute. If we accept the translation "Because all have sinned" which is more likely the correct one, we remain open to a non-biological explanation. We then explain the inheritance of Adam's sin in a more diffuse sense: "because" Adam sinned.

Thomas had wrestled with the biological concept, which apparently did not satisfy him completely. He therefore blended our biological presence in Adam with a political imputability together with him. He makes this bio-political combo the pathway by which original sin reaches us:

All men born of Adam may be considered as one man, inasmuch as they have one common nature, which they receive from their first parents; even as in civil matters, all who are members of one community are reputed as one body, and the whole community as one man. Indeed . . . by sharing the same species, many men are one man.' Accordingly the multitude of men born of Adam, are as so many members of one body (ST I-II,81,1).

The sin which is in a person born of Adam is voluntary, states Thomas, not by that individual person's will "but by the will of his first parent, who, by the movement of generation, moves all who originate from him, even as the soul's will moves all the members to their actions" (ibid.; see also De Malo, 4,5). Adam, then, sinned in the name of all of us, much as Levi is said to have paid tithes to Melchizedek while still in the loins of Abraham (cf. Heb 7:9). God had constituted Adam as the head of the human race. By raising Adam to the state of supernatural grace, God intended to raise the entire race to that level together with Adam. When Adam lost this grace for himself by sinning, he lost it for his offspring as well. Various wordings of this explanation express the teaching in essentially the same manner (see e.g. Herve, II,433).

This standard explanation appears to imply that God punishes all descendants of Adam for his sin; that He chastises the race for the sin of the first parent. Many are not pleased with this solution; some attempt a more felicitous wording or prefer to leave the matter unexplained.

Further Attempts To Explain the Sin In Us

What tends to disturb us about the standard explanation is that, somehow, God punishes US for what someone else did; that God punishes me today, for what Adam did yesterday. This is difficult to reconcile with our concept of God's impartial justice. God is absolutely just we know, and does not punish one person for the wrong that another person did. He does not punish children for the sins of their fathers. Ezekiel corrected false notions about God's supposed communal punishments when he insisted strongly that "a son is not to suffer because of his father's sins" (18:20). Likewise Christ corrected His disciples when they asked Him: "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (Jn 9:2). Christ responded that neither the man nor his parents had caused the blindness by a sin. It was to be an occasion to show forth the works of God.

Yet in the Old Testament we do find references to communal punishment for the sins of individuals. For example: "For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their father's wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation; but bestowing mercy down to the thousandth generation" (Ex 20:5; see also, e.g. Deut 5:9; Tob 9:11). We must read this Old Testament concept of communal punishment for sin in its context, however, lest we give it a false interpretation. This description of God is poetic, a symbolic manner of teaching how much greater is God's inclination to have mercy than to punish. Ezekiel explicitly rejected the notion that God punishes children for the sins of their parents.

The concept that children can and do suffer punishment for the sins of their elders is very true to life, however, in another sense. Children do not inherit guilt from their parents, but they do inherit physical defects from them. If during a pregnancy a mother smoked excessively, or indulged in alcohol, or took drugs, the child may inherit physical disabilities by way of chromosomal damage. The poison in the mother's blood stream crosses the threshold of the placenta and affects the child. God is not punishing the child directly for the unhealthy indulgence of the parent, but the child suffers nevertheless from the mother's action. Similarly, if a father gambles away the family income at the race tracks, the children may suffer physically from lack of proper food.

This concept allows us to reason that God does not punish us directly for the sin of Adam. Rather, we are born into a spiritual poorhouse because our first parents gambled away the family inheritance. Such is the gist of the explanation which I will now propose.

Do Not Cast Your Pearls Before Swine

"Do not give what is holy to dogs, or toss your pearls before swine" (Mt 7:6) admonished Christ. He made His point starkly clear: "Don't waste precious gifts on unappreciative recipients." Applied to our subject, it interprets the mind of God to say: "I will not give the pearl of grace to members of the human family indiscriminately, without some guarantee that it will be treasured and appreciated." Given the present state of the sinful human race, God would waste His gifts were He to bestow sanctifying grace upon everyone at birth. That would violate principles of good management.

After His Resurrection, Christ appeared to His circle of friends, but kept His distance from enemies. He restricted His appearances to the Faith community. Similarly we can theorize that God now restores Adam's original gifts only to the Faith community. He does not thrust His grace upon the crowd at random, because some prefer to make themselves enemies of God, spurners of His gifts.

The central thought in this is that, with the commission of original sin, God changed His administration for the human race in reference to grace. Before the sin the human race was one united and believing society in paradise. None of the members was ignorant of God, none was an enemy of Him. By definition the entire race was initially obedient to the Creator and Father. God's plan to constitute the children of Adam and Eve in the same state of holiness and justice as He had constituted the parents would have been wise and reasonable before the sin. His grace would be welcomed and treasured in the believing community.

After the sin the human family is no longer a community which preserves and guarantees communal obedience to God. Some people of this disunited scattering of humans spread out over the globe believe in Him, others do not, still others reject Him outright. The All-wise God no longer sees His way clear to bestow grace upon each person when He creates him. So He changed administrative methods: God now bestows grace only upon those humans who ask for it; those who seek it by way of established norms, either personally or through their parents or guardians. Christ has established Baptism as the normal channel through which He bestows the gift of grace. Baptism is understood here in its broad meaning, including Baptism by water, by desire, and by martyrdom. That includes all who accept God's friendship in the manner which God alone may know.

In this proposed explanation, God does not endow humans with grace automatically for the same reason as the Church legislates conditions for the reception of the Sacrament of Baptism. She withholds Baptism from children if there is not even a minimum of assurance that they will be educated in the truths and commandments of Faith. This norm of the Church is reflected in Canon 868:

Canon 868: For the licit baptism of an infant it is necessary that ... there be a founded hope that the infant will be brought up in the Catholic religion; if such hope is altogether lacking, the baptism is to be put off according to the prescriptions of particular law and the parents are to be informed of the reason.

Before Adam committed original sin, his family -- which was the world family -- gave reasonable assurance that the descendants would be educated in the revealed religion. Into that world family God could wisely give the gift of grace to each child when He created it. The community would educate that child to cherish the gift of grace.

All that changed when Adam sinned. After original sin God no longer receives assurance that the human community will educate every newborn child to live and persevere in the state of sinlessness, of holiness and justice. It is not proper for God to toss pearls of grace to all humans in a non-discriminating manner with eyes closed to realities. Some recipients of grace in the fallen community might not care for it, might neglect it, might even repudiate it. Some parents would not care to educate their children religiously even should God coerce His grace upon all.

In the original Eden grace was to flow to each new person by way of propagation. The parents and community would educate each new member properly. So long as racial solidarity remained firmly committed to pursue holiness and justice as an uncompromising and compactual community policy, God could then lovingly provide the gift of grace to each new member of the race at the moment of conception. Such was the atmosphere in Eden before original sin.

Original sin shattered that virginal solidarity. God now waits for parents to come forward voluntarily to request the gift for their children. An Apostolic Tradition of infant Baptism, reflecting the will of Christ, directs believing parents to present their children to the font of Baptism. He waits also for adult individuals to come forward of their own accord. God is not a foolish spendthrift who scatters the precious gift of sanctifying grace broadside over the world without looking whether a field is cultivated to make His seed grow.

The "Sin of the World" Thwarts God's Plan

This explanation does not claim that God punishes the race or individuals for an original sin of Adam. Rather the human community itself, yesterday and today, does not obey God as it ought; does not commit itself individually and in racial solidarity, privately and publicly, with whole heart and soul and mind and strength, to our supernatural calling. We, individually and socially, in our private lives and in the public sphere, neglect to carry out a total commitment to live in accordance with God's call to live here as His creatures ought to live, in preparation for life hereafter in heaven. We fail individually by sinning in our private lives, and we fail to work in solidarity to shape our public institutions in a manner which facilitates an understanding of our moral obligations, and motivates each and all to use the means God provides to carry them out. God provides us with all we need to move back into Eden, on condition that we are willing to do so. The means He provides so generously are not only the natural faculties which are inadequate for the supernatural calling -- though the Pelagian Heresy denied this; God also provides ample supernatural helps: revelation, grace, the Sacraments, the teaching and guiding Church. What is lacking is a receptive atmosphere which would enable God, without acting foolishly, to entrust grace to each new member who enters that community. It is not God, then, who punishes the community for original sin. It is the community itself which, by its sinful state, by its "sin of the world" as some call it, dis-invites God from bestowing His gift on all new members of the race automatically.

This "sin of the world" is an unbroken continuation of the original transgression of our Adam and Eve. The originating sin occasioned the spawning of originated sin in which the world now languors. The world punishes itself by refusing to adopt a global lifestyle compatible with solidarity in grace. This lack of human solidarity in grace is the feedback to God which thrusts upon Him the logical necessity to allow the reign of original sin to continue.

But far from punishing the babies, God bestows grace on them just as soon as their parents bring them to the baptismal font. God is always ready, is always on call, is eager to respond to our search for grace. He will come quickly to each one's door to deliver His gift. He then makes the shadow of original sin disappear from the soul and emblazons the person with the radiant splendor of sanctifying grace. Happily, parents can extract themselves and their children from this catastrophic deprivation by means of Baptism.

This theory illumines the reason for the existence of original sin without implying that God is unjust in some manner. It also by-passes the explanation of Thomas that we all sinned in Adam because we were in his loins biologically. It turns the blame on ourselves, not so much on Adam. We ourselves are doing the sinning today which perpetuates the situation once begun by Adam.

The Nature of Original Sin In Us

God originally called our first parents to think and act as He does insofar as this is possible to supernaturally capacitated creatures. He adopted Adam and Eve into His private family. If they persevere, He will admit them into His presence in heaven. Christ referred to this mysterious reality, which transcends sense perceptions and powers of observation, in His High Priestly Prayer:

And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent...As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us...The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world (Jn 17).

The proper response to an invitation made by God to become adopted members of His family is gratitude and joyful acceptance. God initially invited every descendant of Adam to this adoption into the divine family through the original grace He gave to Adam. This invitation continues even now, and is valid despite the by-gone rejection by Adam. It is a standing call from God to all the children of Adam to enter the intimate life of the Trinity, the cause for which Christ offered His High Priestly Prayer.

Though called, children cannot respond to that call of their own accord at the time of childhood because they cannot perceive the call. Only if their parents or guardians bring them to Baptism can they become obedient to God's call and invitation. If their parents do not bring them to Baptism, they are situated, unbeknown to themselves, in a static stand-off of disobedience against God. They ought to respond positively to God's communications, but, like autistic children, remain dumb and uncomprehending.

God is not pleased when, because of neglect of the parents, children are not baptized. Nor is He satisfied when the human race does not cultivate an environment completely receptive to grace. Our morally chaotic world prevents Him from endowing every new child with grace automatically at the time when He creates that new person. That God is not pleased with this persistent and stiff necked "sin situation," which distances people from Him, is illustrated by Christ's parable about the wedding feast:

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come....The king was enraged (Mt 22:2-3,7).

Objective disobedience against God's invitation to live a life in supernatural grace is the state in which we are born. This disobedience is not rectified for infants until parents bring them to the font; nor for adults until they freely receive Baptism, whether of water, or desire, or blood. The objective and overt disobedience of the corporate earthly population is not rectified until the race converts; until individuals, families, governments, the United Nations, the entire human race, profess the Credo and live it unerringly. Until that is done we continue the corporate racial rebellion now still in force so many years after Adam and Eve started it.

Another aspect of original sin in us is our birth into a situation of rebellion against God. Being without grace at birth, we belong to Adam who had lost grace by sin, but had not yet regained it by repentance. We are stillborn into the moment of Adam's spiritual death of soul. The Bible implies that our first parents converted from their sin of rebellion when they responded to God's call in the garden of Eden. Even though they confessed their sin reluctantly, making excuses, the Bible states that they did confess it. They also accepted their penance, however reluctantly. God then clothed them in leather garments which signifies their conversion and renewed friendship (see Genesis 3). We are not born, however, into the situation of their renewed friendship with God. We enter the world of their previous moment of rebellion. We are stripped of grace when born.

We are also born into the camp of God's sworn enemy: into the camp of the crafty serpent which crawled out of paradise on its belly but only after it had done its wicked work. Unless we rectify this situation of objective rebellion by receiving Baptism, we remain unconverted and separated from God, dead in soul, unanimated by supernatural life, and somehow subjected to the conquest of the serpent.

The Sin: Undone by Exorcism and Baptism

The Church exorcises the Devil out of infants before pouring the waters of Baptism. Original sin kidnaps us into "the power of ... the devil" (cf. Council Trent, Canon 1 on original sin, DS 1511). The Church is now the woman who is at enmity with the ancient serpent. "Do you renounce Satan?" asks the Church of the child. The sponsors answer for it: "I do." Satan has to go. The Church stands tall and commands the Devil to depart forthwith from this child. Having rid the child of the serpent's pretentious claim, the priest then pours the waters: "Child, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

Then occurs that for which Christ prayed at the Last Supper: "That the love with which you have loved me may be in this child and that I, Christ, may live in it" (cf. Jn 17:26). The child is thereby adopted into God's family with a title to enter heaven at the time of departure from this life. It has only to bring along its white garment, either unsullied by sin, or laundered and restored after sin.

Pope Leo the Great, in one of his monumental sermons on Christ's Passion, tells us that Christ undoes the harm that Adam had done for us; that we are a new people in Christ now; that we can proudly stride right back into to the paradise from which Adam had been ousted:

Ignorance has been destroyed, obstinacy has been overcome. The sacred blood of Christ has quenched the flaming sword that barred access to the tree of life. The age-old night of sin has given place to the true light.

The Christian people are invited to share the riches of paradise. All who have been reborn have the way open before them to return to their native land, from which they had been exiled. Unless they indeed close off for themselves the path that could be opened before the faith of a thief (Sermo 15, De Passione Domini, 3-4 PL 54, 366-367; in Liturgy of the Hours, Thursday, Fourth Week of Lent).

Next Page: Chapter 12: Irenaeus on Original Sin
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18