Can Christians still believe in the doctrine of original sin, or has the advance of the sciences and the application of the historical-critical method to its scriptural foundations consigned it to the dustbin of dogmas?
It is certainly understandable if we wonder today what has happened to the doctrine of original sin. Is the traditional teaching still in force with Adam and Eve, their special prerogatives, the Garden of Eden and their sin that affected us all, even infants? We understand that evolution, at least in some form, is acceptable and the first chapters of Genesis cannot be interpreted literally. But we might have also heard the distant rumblings and roarings of heavy equipment as theologians after the Second Vatican Council attempted to dismantle the traditional formulation of original sin, or have read something about their work that shows it to be far distant from what we had been accustomed to. Therefore the question remains today in all its actuality, "Whatever happened to original sin?" One of the best ways to try to answer this question is to look at the history of the modern Catholic theology of evolution and original sin. Since a full fledged history is yet to be written we will have to make do with the following sketch.
Original Sin after Darwin
1860. The Provincial Council of Cologne asserts as contrary to faith that the human body could have been the product of evolution.1 Had they read Darwins Origin of Species that had appeared the previous year, or had they simply picked up something of the fast-growing controversy surrounding it?
More exactly they state: "Our first parents were immediately made by God. Hence, we declare openly opposed to Holy Scripture and to the Faith the opinion of those who go so far as to say that man, so far as his body is concerned, was produced by the spontaneous transformation of the less perfect into the more perfect, successively, ultimately ending in the human."2
While we might think that this is a rather clear-cut condemnation of the evolution of the bodies of our first parents, later theologians, attuned to the subtleties of official pronouncements, argued along the lines that the conciliar fathers "do not condemn the origin of Adams body by organic evolution if this evolution is not regarded as purely spontaneous up to its term inclusively." 3
1869, May. The First Vatican Council prepares a schema whose purpose is to proclaim as a dogma of faith that all humans are descended from one couple, and there is no opposition from the Council fathers to such a definition. But the Council is interrupted and never makes this proclamation.4
1871. St. George Jackson Mivarts On the Genesis of Species appears. Mivart (1829-1900), an English Catholic convert, styled by Darwin, himself, as a "distinguished biologist,"5 was a vigorous participant in the debates that surrounded Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace about evolution and its religious implications. He summed up the purpose of his book:
"The aim has been to support the doctrine that these species have been evolved by ordinary natural laws (for the most part unknown) controlled by the subordinate action of "Natural Selection," and at the same time to remind some that there is and can be absolutely nothing in physical science which forbids them to regard those natural laws as acting with the Divine concurrence and in obedience to a creative fiat originally imposed on the primeval Cosmos, "in the beginning," by its Creator, its Upholder, and its Lord."6
Interestingly, he supported a theory of "punctuated equilibrium," one of any number of such theories circulating long before the work of Eldredge and Gould.7 And he clearly put forth a theory of evolution he felt to be compatible with his faith in which it was not "absolutely necessary to suppose that any action different in kind took place in the production of mans body, from that which took place in the production of the bodies of other animals, and of the whole material universe."8
"When Mivarts book first appeared," one commentator, who was not far distant from the scene, writes, "it was severely criticized by the Catholic press, both of the Old and the New World, and its author was in many instances denounced as a downright heretic. Indeed, he was almost as roundly and as generally berated, by a certain class of theologians, as was Charles Darwin after the publication of his "Origin of Species." In England, France and Germany the denunciation of the daring biologist was particularly vehement, and strenuous efforts were made to have his work put on the Index. It was almost the universal opinion among theologians, that the proposition defended was heretical, and it was considered only a matter of a short time until it would be formally condemned. The book was forwarded to Rome, but, contrary to the expectations of all who were eagerly watching the course events would take, the book was not condemned. Neither was its author called upon to retract or modify the proposition which had been such an occasion of scandal."9
In 1893 Mivart leaves us his own account of this aftermath, "I did not hesitate to promulgate the idea that Adams body might have arisen from a non-human animal, the rational soul being subsequently infused. Great was the outcry against such a view, but I forwarded my little book to the Supreme Pontiff, and thereupon Pius IX benignantly granted me a doctors hat, which the late Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster bestowed on me at a public function."10
Late in life Mivart came in conflict with Church authorities for his theological writings, and was excommunicated. His friends claimed that it was under the sway of the diabetes that was to kill him that he had written as he did, and affected a reconciliation after his death, which led to his reburial in consecrated ground.11
1891. M.D. Leroy, O.P. writes LEvolution restreinte aux espèces organiques. Following Mivart, he advances a theory of the evolution of the human body, and argues that the Provincial Council of Cologne had spoken only against spontaneous evolution.
1895. Up to this point it appears that the books of Mivart and Leroy had circulated unhindered, but the climate is changing. We are on the brink of Americanism, and the crisis of modernism. The Roman authorities, including Pope Leo XIII, himself, are increasingly worried by initiatives in the Church to open it to the worlds of science, philosophy and democracy, as well as the historical-critical method in regard to the Scriptures. Traumas at the hands of the modern world, stretching back to the reformation and the French revolution, still weigh heavily. The crisis of modernism will be a clash between a defensive authoritarian mentality wanting to safeguard the patrimony of the faith and the more open progressive initiatives of theologians whose ideas are not always exempt from error. It is going to be modernism with its papal condemnations, its oath given to theologians teaching in seminaries, and its spy system set up to root out dangerous innovations that will establish what could be called the psychological dynamism of action and reaction that have colored Catholic theology for the past century. It is in the light of this growing situation that Mivarts later theological writings would have to be examined.12
In February 1895 Leroy is summoned to Rome for a private talk with the Holy Office, and soon publishes a retraction of his views in Le Monde. "I learned to-day that my thesis, examined here in Rome by the competent authority, has been judged untenable, especially in so far as it concerns the body of man, being incompatible alike with the texts of Holy Scripture and with the principles of a sound philosophy."13
Behind the scenes at the Holy Office the Leroy affair had been in motion since the previous year when a French layman, M. Charles Chalmel, had written them about Leroys book, and was concerned that "the author affirms that in the Genesis narrative the only truths of orthodoxy are "the creation of the universe by God and the action of his providence; that the how of creation is left to human investigation; that Moses narrative is an old patriarchal song, a tissue of metaphors, and that science cannot take any account of the literal sense of Genesis."14
These quite explosive questions about the welcome that can be accorded to the advances of exegesis, as well as evolutionary science, are going to play a critical role in modern theological attempts to reevaluate the doctrine of original sin. But these questions are embedded in Romes perception of a crisis of modernism and the procedures by which they attempt to deal with this problem. This makes the Leroy case a microcosm of what is to come, and it is worth spending a moment looking at the process by which his book was condemned, a process that unfortunately Leroy was excluded from. A consultant appointed by the Holy Office studied the book which he appears to have believed was published in 1887 and, after a lukewarm defense of its contents, concludes on pragmatic grounds that since no action had been taken against it up until the present and other books saying similar things are abroad, no action should be taken against it now. But this did not satisfy the Holy Office and the spirit of the times. Three new consultors were appointed. One, an Italian Dominican, and thus a confrere of Leroy, proved to be no friend, writing that he "instead of combating the absurd opinion of evolutionist anthropologists with the dictates of Revelation, seeks to harmonize evolution with Sacred Scripture and Divine Tradition Evolution, as all Catholic philosophers teach, stands resolutely condemned by the science of ontology as well as by empirical science."15 A second consultor concurred, and a third settled the matter with a 54-page broadside that blasted Leroys theory, as well as the whole idea of the evolution of animals and humans, itself. Human evolution, he felt, should be publicly condemned. The door opened by Mivart is beginning to be closed as part of a larger process of trying to shut out the dangers of modernity.
1896. John Augustine Zahm (1851-1921), an American Holy Cross father and professor of physics at Notre Dame, writes Evolution and Dogma in which he sees no reason following Mivart, why evolution cannot be applied to the human body even without a special divine intervention to prepare that body for the soul. Part of the book had originally been given as lectures at Catholic summer education camps, and had been well received, and the publication of Zahms book, while it drew some conservative criticism, made him one of the leading Catholic spokesmen for the relationship between science and religion.16
We should not imagine that Zahm is some sort of evolutionary radical. He was quite moderate. He follows, for example, the opinion of the celebrated anatomist and anthropologist Rudolf Virchow who, despite favoring evolution, as late as 1889, found no evidence for the descent of man from ape-like ancestors.17 It was Virchow who argued that the original Neanderthal skull "came from a modern person afflicted by disease and antemortem blows to the head."18 But Zahm, despite his acceptance of the improbability of the demonstration of the descent of man from ape, still asked the question, "is man, as to his body, the direct and special work of the Creators hands, or is he the descendant of some animal, some anthropoid ape or some "missing link," of which naturalists as yet have discovered no trace?"19 And he answered it by referring to Mivarts work.
We find Zahm in August of 1897 speaking on evolution at the International Catholic Scientific Congress held at Freibourg. Fellow speakers included Marie-Joseph Lagrange on the authorship of the Pentateuch, and Baron Friedrich von Hügel on historical criticism.20 By May of 1899 he has had his own encounter with the Holy Office, and writes to the Italian translator of his book, "I have learnt from unquestionable authority that the Holy See is adverse to the further distribution of Evoluzione e Domme, and I therefore beg you to use all your influence to have the work withdrawn from sale. You have probably foreseen this result, and it will therefore cause you no surprise."21
Even those who look favorably on Zahms book, like Mgr. Bonomelli, the bishop of Cremona, and Dr. Hedley, the bishop of Newport, are called on the carpet.22 While this is going on, the superior general of the Jesuits is trying to deal with the supposed theological indiscretions of George Tyrrell, a member of the English province who, among many other things, was reported to have helped the brother of a nun whose conversion was held up by his qualms about original sin, and whom Tyrrell had told that the historicity of Genesis had not been established. The conversion went forward; the nun was upset, and the General was informed. Tyrrell was to embroil himself in controversy and to leave the Church, but Zahm, himself, seems to have emerged from this affair relatively unscathed. He went on to become the Provincial of the Holy Cross fathers, and accompanied Teddy Roosevelt on one of his South American adventures. As a sign of the times at the 1900 Scientific Congress for Catholic Scholars, the exegetical section has been canceled, and this is the last congress of its sort to be held.23
1899. Testem benevolentia, the apostolic letter of Leo XIII to Cardinal Gibbons condemning Americanism appears.
1907. Pius X issues a decree Lamentabili and an encyclical Pascendi condemning modernism
1909. The Pontifical Biblical Commission asserts that there is a historical sense to Genesis in terms of the special creation of man (peculiaris creatio hominis), the formation of the first woman from the first man, and the unity of the human race.
This peculiaris creatio hominis posed difficulties in interpretation. Was it aimed at those who held that the evolution of the human body was compatible with Catholic doctrine, or did it leave the door open to this possibility?24 Later E. C. Messenger claims that the language was "deliberately chosen in order not to reprove" the theory of evolution being applied to the human body.25
1922. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is teaching science at the Institut Catholique in Paris, but he is also talking to seminarians about his ideas on original sin. He writes an essay that remains unpublished called, "Note on Some Possible Historical Representations of Original Sin" intended for theologians that makes its way to the Superior General.26 Sometime later he is told to confine himself to science, and sent off to work in China.27 He continues to write on theological topics, and his ideas continue to circulate. By 1935 at the latest, they are being disseminated by mimeograph.28 If we look at his remarks on original sin which stretch from "Fall, Redemption and Geocentrism" in 1920 through "Historical Representations" to other essays in 1933, 1942 and 1947, we will see that he continues to present his ideas on original sin and the question of evil, and these ideas appear to change very little despite the opposition they aroused.
His first essay on geocentrism sets the tone. The traditional formulation of original sin is, we are told, the chief stumbling block in reconciling science and religion. Monogenism, for example, that is, the origin of the human race from one couple, is impossible for science to accept. A whole new way of seeing the universe "is introducing an intrinsic imbalance into the very core of the dogma."29 It affronts Teilhards sense of the immense size and age of the universe that a universal fall be attributed to the action of one human on one small planet. This geocentrism is unacceptable not only in regard to Adam and Eve, but in regard to the way we see Christ, as well.
"Let me say frankly what I think: it is impossible to universalize the first Adam without destroying his individuality."30 The conclusion he will draw is that "strictly speaking, there is no first Adam."31 An original sin, itself, is no longer a "malady specific to the earth, nor is it bound up with human generation. It simply symbolizes the inevitable chance of evil (Necesse est ut eveniant scandala) which accompanies the existence of all participated being."32
These themes continue to repeat themselves over the years. "The more we bring the past to life again by means of science, the less we can accommodate either Adam or the earthly paradise."33 Original sin expresses "the perennial and universal law of imperfection which operates in mankind in virtue of its being in fiere."34 He goes on, "One might even, perhaps, go so far as to say that since the creative act (by definition) causes being to rise up to God from the confines of nothingness (that is, from the depth of the multiple, which means from some other matter), all creation brings with it, as its accompanying risk and shadow, some fault; in other words, it has its counterpart in some redemption."35
Original sin thus takes on cosmic proportions, but in doing so the nature of moral evil is eclipsed, and evil becomes somehow a component of creation, itself. And the next logical step, though one we can hardly attribute explicitly to Teilhard, is to put responsibility for it at Gods doorstep. These views of evil were to vex his friends and foes alike, but their objections seem to make no dent in his conviction. "Original sin is a static solution of the problem of evil. In days gone by, this major premise brought me a flat denial from a theological censor; but even now I can still find no way of denying that it is true."36 But if we move from a static view to an evolving universe, "while evil loses nothing of its poignancy or horror, it ceases to be an incomprehensible element in the structure of the world and becomes a natural feature. At this point, I know, I am beginning to come into conflict with some of my dearest intellectual friends."37 These are the ideas that are radiating from Teilhard and circulating, whether in privately printed pages or in his personal and public conversations.
In 1925, it is reported that "certain Integrists headed by Mgr. Benigni, openly boasted that, before the end of that year, a sort of Syllabus would be published, condemning the theory of evolution en bloc, by the Holy Office itself."38
1931. E.C. Messengers Evolution and Theology appears. Later he tells us that Catholic philosophers and theologians had regarded this whole area as a very dangerous one, for the private discouragement of the turn of the century Catholic writers on this theme still hung over them. "One distinguished Jesuit remarked to me at the time that the question would have to be reopened, and that someone would have to risk burning his fingers in doing so. I decided to take this risk myself."39 So Messengers book aroused interest not just for its contents which centered on demonstrating that the evolution of plants and animals, and even the human body, did not go against the teaching of the Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church, but in regard to whether Rome would react negatively to it. It did not.
The book and the reactions to it can also serve us as a gauge of where public Catholic theological discussion of evolution was at. There was no thought of saying that Eve did not somehow come from Adam. Messenger, himself, developed a rather far-fetched theory from todays point of view of Eve being derived from Adam by some sort of asexual reproduction.40 Messenger also attempted to show in great detail how the Fathers were not adverse to evolution, but as a number of his reviewers pointed out, this was certainly not a question that would have been in their minds one way or another. P.G.M. Rhodes, professor of dogmatic theology at Oscott College in a review of the book tells us he had been reading high school essays on evolution, and many of the students took the evolution of the human body for granted, and he comments: "This was not the case a couple of years ago."41
1941, Nov. 30. Pope Pius XII gives an allocution to the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences which, while asserting the essential differences between animals and men and the impossibility of the true generation of humans from animals, leaves the door open to evolution, but still declares that the first woman came from the first man.
After World War II progressive theological ideas are again on the advance in the form of a historical sense and a return to the sources which their opponents see as an overstepping of the boundaries of the officially sanctioned neo-scholasticism and a recrudescence of modernism. The ensuing controversy over what becomes known as the nouvelle théologie cast a shadow over the work and lives of men like Bouillard, Daniélou, Congar, de Lubac and von Balthasar. We find, for example, Reginald Garrigou-LaGrange in a series of articles that appeared in Angelicum between 1946-1951 not only railing against the nouvelle théologie, but noting the unofficial circulation of Teilhards writings.42 By September of 1947 Teilhard has been forbidden to write philosophy,43 and he refers in a letter of October, 1948, written while visiting Rome, to this struggle and the common roots that he shared with Garrigou-LaGrange: "Day before yesterday, at a meeting, I was introduced to Garrigou-LaGrange: we smiled and spoke of Auvergne."44
In 1946, Bruno de Solage, rector of the Institut Catholique of Toulouse, publicly defends Teilhard, and Cardinal Saliège defends the beleaguered theologians of the nouvelle théologie at a reception held at the French Embassy to the Holy See hosted by its ambassador Jacques Maritain.45
1950. Pius XII in his encyclical letter Humani generis makes no mention of the first woman originating from the first man and states that the idea of the human body as the product of evolution can be explored. It also asserts that polygenism poses a problem because it is unclear how it can be reconciled with the doctrine of original sin.
In the wake of Humani generis which Garrigou-LaGrange saw as his vindication and the crushing of his opponents, we see original sin attracting more rather than less attention by theologians. It is an inviting target upon which to exercise an openness to modern science and growing exegetical skills. Thus George Vandervelde dates a renewed interest in original sin to the 1950s, and Karl Rahner gives us a partial list of the theological literature in regard to monogenism, some of which appeared in the wake of Humani generis, in his own 1954 "Theological Reflections on Monogenism."46
The atmosphere of this early world of responses to evolution is as important as the statements, themselves. There is not only a religious world that is struggling to come to terms with Darwinism. It is also a world that has been traumatized by the modernist controversies at the turn of the century. Henri Rondet contrasts the attitude of Catholic philosophers who responded to the materialist evolutionists with that of Catholic theologians who, "less open to scientific problems and always very fearful, showed themselves much more reticent. A long scholastic tradition, closely tied to a theology severely shaken by alien concepts, weighed heavily upon Christian anthropology."47
Karl Rahner characterizes this early period as going from rejection to censure to "tacit toleration," and calls the process "both instructive and painful, yet at the same time understandable."48 He sums up where matters stood in 1958. From the middle of the 19th century until the first decade of the 20th evolution was "almost unanimously rejected by theologians."49 These theologians based themselves on a literal interpretation of Scripture confirmed by the 1909 decree of the Biblical Commission. "The slow change of opinion, therefore, took place almost wholly behind the façade of published theology, a fact which presents some rather delicate aspects."50
After Pius XII allowed a more open discussion, the picture changed. There were still those who rejected evolution, but they were now less critical of those who did not, a group that grew in number. As late as 1955 one commentator thought that the rejection of evolution was still the more common position among theologians, and Rahner suggests that change might be more advanced in oral presentations by theologians than in their written ones, and in any event he expects the toleration of evolution to accelerate.
1955. April 10. Easter Sunday. Teilhard dies suddenly in New York City. He has arranged for his writings, which had been forbidden publication during his life, to be in the hands of those who would shepherd them into print when he died. Quite rapidly this work of public diffusion begins. Le phénomène humain appears in 1955, and subsequent works follow hard on its heels. Its English translation, The Phenomenon of Man, sees the light of day in 1959, followed by Le Milieu Divin in 1960. Sympathizers and critics are not hesitant to speak out, either, and one of the principal objections to his work is precisely his ideas on evil. Early commentators include Louis Cognet and Claude Tresmontant, and later sharply critical remarks come from Etienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain.51
Up until the Second Vatican Council, however, the basic framework of the traditional theology of original sin remained in place. The original schema dealing with original sin prepared for the Council followed the old neo-scholastic model of many of the other schemas, and would have publicly committed the Church to much of the traditional theology, including monogenism, or as Vandervelde puts it, "An unquestioned framework would have been elevated to the status of an unquestionable constituent."52 But the schema suffered the fate of the similarly prepared schemas when the Council fathers declined to make it the basis of their discussions.
The very atmosphere of the Council counted more for the subsequent history of the theology of original sin than its minor expressions about it framed in the traditional language. The pressure that had been building up from the time of modernism was now released in an explosive way. Theologians felt free to speak about original sin, as well as many other topics, in a way they could not do before. Vandervelde counts a flood of some 70-odd works on original sin appearing in the decade between 1965 and 1975.
Two events in 1966 illustrate the difficult waters the doctrine of original sin has entered upon. The Dutch catechism appears, and with it an exposition of original sin that is strongly influenced by the new theological ideas in circulation. A committee of Cardinals is formed to review its treatment of this doctrine, and by way of compromise an appendix is added to the catechism.53 In July Pope Paul VI convenes a conference of experts on original sin at the Gregorian University, and he gives an allocution in which, according to one commentator, he grants freedom of research with one hand, and takes it back with the other by indicating the limits to that research.54 Vandervelde comments, "Subsequent attempts by Pope Paul VI, by a Committee of Cardinals and by the Congregation of Faith to constrict the latitude of reinterpretation with respect to the doctrine of original sin had little or no effect on the theological currents that were allowed to run their course by the Second Vatican Council."55 What better subject could there be than original sin upon which to operate with the sharply honed tools of modern exegesis applied now not only to the traditional scriptural supports of the doctrine, but to past conciliar pronouncements, as well? To make it even more tempting, this analysis could be carried out by means of the findings of modern science and the spice of the once forbidden Teilhardism.
We have now reached a critical point in our sketch of the modern history of original sin. If original sin is going to be what has been called a hermeneutical test case,56 it is only fair that the theological initiatives that are going to emerge be seen in the light of the historical context from which they were born. It is here that our efforts to comprehend something of this context bear their most important fruit. The openness of the Council allows a counter-reaction to the decades of repression to emerge. The world of the neo-scholastic manuals with their proof texts and atemporal aura have been floating on a sea where deep currents of modern scriptural exegesis, a return to the Fathers, and philosophical forays beyond the sanctioned neo-scholastic theology and philosophy had all tried to emerge, only to be driven down again. Now they can come forth, but they come out freighted with emotions born of this repression. In a moments time the face of Catholic theology is altered, and one of the focal points of this transformation is the question of original sin. It becomes a microcosm that allows us to see something of the birth of the currents that still dominate post-Conciliar theology. And in the case of original sin we see the birth of a reaction theology that not only compensates for the past, but overcompensates at times and eliminates part of the substance of the traditional teaching, as well.57
The Post-Conciliar Theologies of Original Sin
While we can hardly even begin to deal with the 70 plus works on original sin of 1965-1975, we do need to look at a few of its representatives. This can be supplemented by many reviews of the literature, for example, James Conners, 1968, "Original Sin: Contemporary Approaches,"58 who summarizes the work of Zoltán Alszeghy and Maurice Flick, Pierre Grelot, Piet Schoonenberg, A. Hulsbosch, Henri Rondet, Alfred Vanneste and Engelbert Gutwenger; G. Vanderveldes extensive 1975 Original Sin: Two Major Trends in Contemporary Roman Catholic Reinterpretation which covers the work of Piet Schoonenberg, Karl Rahner, Karl-Heinz Weger, Alfred Vanneste, and Urs Baumann; and Bryant McDermotts 1977 "The Theology of Original Sin: Recent Developments"59 which summarizes the work of Karl-Heinz Weger, Karl Rahner, Charles Baumgartner, Maurice Flick and Zoltán Alszeghy, Sharon MacIssac, Alfred Vanneste, Pierre Grelot, Urs Baumann, Karl Schmitz-Moorman, Juan Luis Segundo, Domiciano Fernandez and G. Vandervelde.
For Alfred Vanneste in his 1971, The Dogma of Original Sin, original sin means: "every human being from the first moment of his humanity is a sinner, and hence he needs the saving grace of Christ."60 Therefore, infants, too, are sinners. All are sinners "not because their nature is evil, but because they have freely chosen to be sinners."61 "In our opinion the dogma of original sin adds no authentic new element to the notion of the universality of sin in adults."62 With one radical stroke Vanneste has swept away the traditional theologys preoccupation with Adam and Eve and their sin and its transmission to us, and the sin of our first parents is but the symbolic expression of the universal sinfulness of mankind.63 But so narrowly focused is this reinterpretation it doesnt address the origin of this sinfulness and why it is universal, and so forth.
Piet Schoonenberg in his 1965, Man and Sin carefully analyses the sin of the world which is composed of actual sins and sinful situations. These sinful situations are the way in which the free actions of one person impact the life of someone else for evil.64 He hopes by concentrating on this sinful situation he can remedy some of the defects of the traditional theology which accentuated the first sin, tended to ignore the sins between the time of Adam and that of Christ, and put perfection at the beginning of the human race at the price of grasping its progress and development through evolution and history. Schoonenberg wants, as well, to avoid the opposite defects of an evolutionary world view which would neglect the drama of sin and salvation. To this end he evokes a picture of Christ as the end and fullness of creation. And all these insights are quite valuable.
But in trying to strike this new balance, he seems to unduly negate the insights of classical theology. Paradise is no longer at the beginning, but at the end of history. The first humans could have had "an incredibly low level of consciousness and of responsibility."65 The first sin might not have been of decisive importance, especially in comparison to the rejection of Christ. The first humans might not have had any extraordinary endowment of grace, and their sins might not have given rise to the universality of sin which could be better attributed to the rejection of Christ, an opinion he later changed. Original sin for Schoonenberg becomes a being-in-situation which conditions us from the outside and finds its parallel in a salvific being-in-situation. But while the idea of sin as situation has real merit, it does not go far enough and really address what the traditional sources on original sin had been saying, or fully answer the questions that they were trying to address.
Is Original Sin in Scripture? is, in fact, the English title of a study by Herbert Haag, and he answers this question mostly in the negative. He reacts against the old proof text use of Scriptures of the past that wanted to find in them a foundation for the prerogatives of Adam and Eve, the hereditary nature of original sin, and so forth. But to the degree it is a reaction, it tends to focus on these texts in contrast to the Scriptures as a whole. Haag will use the priestly account of creation to "help sift the binding doctrine" of the Yahwist account "from its form which does not bind."66 He finds no scriptural basis for Adams preternatural gifts or immortality. The curse of the Yahwist account "reflects rather the human situation, or situation grounded in the nature of man and independent of whether he sins or not."67 Much the same he feels should be said about death, itself. The historicity of the Yahwist account is found in the beginning of sin and its rapid spread to mankind rather than in the paradise story. But the beginning of sin does not really mean original sin, but more that there is a sinful world, and generation after generation of sinners.
When we arrive at St. Pauls famous verses in Romans 5:12-21 about how through one man sin came into the world, the thrust is the same. There is no biological unity with Adam. Sin enters the world through Adam, and we commit our own sins, and thus stand in need of redemption. "There seems to be no teaching of original sin here."68 Sin somehow enters the world and becomes, as Haag puts it, a rushing torrent, but we maintain our freedom and enter into the world not as sinners until we commit our own personal sins. Baptism is therefore not for the removal of original sin, and the adult rite of baptism is not suitable for children.69 There is a sobriety in all this that tries to counterbalance past excesses, but we can certainly ask, is this all Scripture is saying, that is, that sin began and spread, and we add to the disaster and so are in need of redemption?
Alejandro Villalmonte, professor of dogmatic theology at Salamanca, searched for many years for original sin and came up empty. His Original Sin: Twenty-Five Years of Controversy 1950-1975 helps us to get some sense of how this story of the reassessment of original sin unfolded. It was the evolutionary mentality, he tells us, that created a whole cultural atmosphere that vitally impacted the doctrine of original sin. Advances in exegesis were to show the weaknesses of the biblical foundations for this doctrine, but it, too, was influenced by this larger cultural context. This evolutionary mentality was not just composed of scientific advances in biology, but a whole philosophical climate, some of which was materialistic and atheistic, and he goes on to make the important distinction between evolution as a science and evolution parading as a philosophy. Lets look at evolution as a science. When scientists said that man had developed over millions of years, how did theologians take it? If Villalmontes own attitude is any indication, what they heard science saying was that the first humans were very rudimentary in their morphology and activities, and therefore their spiritual activities would be equally rudimentary. In short, the whole museum diorama of evolution starting with the Australopithecines carried the label "man." And the theologians, comparing it to the traditional doctrine of original sin, which showed Adam in a state of preternatural and supernatural development, saw that one or the other view had to be wrong, and so a powerful impulse for the reinterpretation of original sin was born.
Villalmonte describes the pivotal years of 1961-1970 for the theological attempts to reassess original sin under the headings of renovation, reformu-lation, overcoming, and abandonment. While he puts them forth as distinct options, it is possible to see them, as well, as phases in a single process that in his mind was to end in abandonment. When the dust and smoke of this wide-spread onslaught against original sin began to settle, it looked like the old doctrine had been obliterated. No more original sin in Scriptures, no more Adam, and therefore no more prerogatives of Adam, and certainly no more paradise, and best of all, no more original sin, itself. We are told what Genesis 2 and 3, and what Romans 5, and the Council of Trent did not say, but what did they say, and what was the underlying reality that they were expressing?
Villalmonte in another study that appeared in 1999 looks at original sin from a theological point of view, and the very title of his book reveals his final conclusion: Cristianismo Sin Pecado Original, that is, Christianity Without Original Sin, or as he puts it inside the covers, "Christianity cleansed of every stain of original sin."70 To his mind, empirical science, modern exegesis and contemporary theological reflection all concur that the old theology of Adam and with it, original sin, itself, must be eliminated. But at the same time, he wants to preserve the central role of Christ the Redeemer as the universal Savior. On the way to reaching this conclusion, he highlights how in parts of the western Christian tradition the impression was given that few people were destined to be saved, and infants without baptism were destined for limbo or worse. How, he asks us, can these things be reconciled with the universal salvific will of God? These are all good points, but the real question is whether they lead us to the elimination of original sin. Is it really fair to lay original sin at Augustines doorstep and make him its inventor from which it passed to the Christian West?
The traditional reasoning about original sin, according to Villalmonte, went like this: Christ is the universal redeemer without whom men cannot be saved. But if they need to be saved, they must be sinners. Christ is the savior of the newborn, so they must be sinners, as well. But what sins could they have but original sin, itself? But now Villalmonte will reason that we are finite creatures and therefore unable to reach the very goal inscribed in us, which is to share in the life of the Trinity. This, in his mind, is what salvation means. Therefore, we need the salvation that comes through Christ irregardless of sin because we are impotent to attain this goal, ourselves. "It is not licit to identify soteriological impotence and the necessity of the Savior with the universal situation of sin."71 But this unfortunately, is to conflate two distinct issues, that is, the distinction between nature and grace, and that of sin and salvation from sin. We are certainly impotent to reach the supernatural goal of sharing in the life of the Trinity in virtue of the exigencies of our own nature, but that is not really what is at stake here. We are still faced with the question of why we live in a world riddled by evil. It is not an adequate answer to look at the suffering we see in this life and call it connatural or "normal," as Villalmonte does.72
It is not surprising that James Mackey would write in 1971: "Small wonder that the speculative theologian should feel uncomfortable with original sin at the moment. Between the devil of exegetical unhelpfulness and the deep blue sea of apparent papal intransigence, he is also aware that the same sea is infested by scientific sharks already sharpening their teeth for him."73
We can look to Stephen Duffys, 1988, "Our Hearts of Darkness: Original Sin Revisited" for a lucid summary of the fruits of this initial post-conciliar reaction against the traditional formulations. He points to the difficulties its critics saw at the heart of the classical doctrine. " original sin was said not to be an essential element of human nature, but freely and responsibly introduced. And yet original sin was also said to be a hereditary impairment, hence ingrained."74 The doctrine appears, he feels, as an incoherent mixture of deliberate acts and biological inheritance, and the "stock explanation of inherited guilt and corruption as resulting from the inclusion of all of us in Adams loins made the classical doctrine difficult to distinguish from its Gnostic rival, for sin came to appear as an intrinsic and inescapable dimension of the human condition for which no one is or can be liable."75
But Duffy has assimilated without apparent resistance the negative atmosphere of this era of demolition of the traditional formulations of original sin: "Actually there is no doctrine of original sin in Scripture "76 The classical gifts traditional theology attributed to Adam and Eve fly "in the face of our evolutionary worldview and renders the Fall itself wholly unintelligible."77 "Obviously Christology eliminates the need for the supplementary hypothesis of monogenism to ground the assertion of sins radical and universal sway."78 And again: "Obviously the shaking of the scriptural foundations by critical consciousness brings the received doctrine of original sin crashing down."79
Therefore, he proposes a reconstruction based on the components of existentialist angst, Freudian psychoanalytic theory, the sin of the world, and an eschatological dimension. "The central point," in regard to angst, "is that humanity is saddled with a basic ontological insecurity and dread which derive from freedom itself as the capacity for self-transcendence."80 Fallibility and anxiety become the ontological constituents of freedom. "Sin knows, therefore, a tragic historic inevitability."81 Psychoanalytic theory and experience point to a similar picture. "Self-alienation is natural to us and makes sin a virtually inescapable accompaniment of human development."82 We trade "lamentation over an imagined lost paradise" for hope in "an originally flawed but improvable human nature."83 The fall becomes a symbol of our emergence into consciousness. The sin of the world is well characterized as: "The tangle of evil persons with their evil deeds and diseased institutional structures and systems weaves a history which constitutes humanity in its network of interdependence as deaf to the appeal of the good."84 The eschatological dimension embraces "a more processive, evolutionary perspective from which original sin is viewed not as the disastrous residue of some primal crime but as a present conflict between our history and the dynamics of the ultimate."85 And in a passage that appears close to the heart of Duffys reconstruction, he tells us: "Original sin" is a code word for a mise en situation, an involuntary existential condition that is natural to humans as disordered and incomplete. Human evil, therefore, must be grasped as underdevelopment by reference to a future goal and as statistical necessity in an evolving universe. It is difficult to imagine a world created for development and the becoming of freedom where evil is not a structural component."86
The classical theology of original sin has disappeared, and with it its historicity. Original sin is somehow inevitable. It is part of human nature and the evolutionary process, itself. The tragedy of evil as moral evil cannot help but be diminished and undermined. The fruits of the reaction theology of original sin have proved themselves to be bitter, indeed, and further works in a Teilhardian vein will continue to appear.
Jerry Korsmeyer in Evolution and Eden gives us some idea of how far parts of modern Catholic theology have traveled since the Second Vatican Council in regard to original sin. Before, Kors-meyer tells us, we had a classical Greek metaphysics in which God was immutable and eternal, but that God "cant be a God who loves and responds to creatures; that requires real relationships."87 Therefore many Catholic theologians, we are told, have quietly dropped that kind of theism. We are advised, therefore, to take up some sort of process philosophy in which God is personal and not just being, and feels and responds, and genuinely enters into relationships with us. Further we are told, "If God were to exist alone and then creatures were created outside God, as classical theism asserts, then God plus creatures would be a greater reality than God."88 It is easy to imagine Thomas Aquinas being completely baffled if this is supposed to represent a position that he embraced. But lets go on and see what Korsmeyer has to say about original sin, and then perhaps we will see why such a process theology is so important to him.
Science, he tells us, has shown us that what we read in Genesis is not historical fact. The conclusion? There was no paradise, no freedom from suffering and death, and most of all, no offense committed by the first human beings. "Original sin was not some primal crime. As theologian Stephen Duffy reminds us, "It is the contradiction between what humans are and what they are called to become in Christ."89 But just what is that contradiction? Human beings are the product of a long evolutionary process which at times required aggression and violence. They were emotion-laden before they were self-conscious. "There was suffering and evil for millions of years, but no guilt, and no sin."90 It is by genes and culture that we are in a state of alienation from God. Original sin, then, becomes a biologically and culturally inherited state which is the result of Gods creation by way of evolution.
Korsmeyer goes on to tell us that there is really no need of the direct creation of each human soul by God and, indeed, our subjectivity is much closer to the primates than we once thought. We have no need to look to any descent from Adam and Eve, and his whole perspective is summed up, "The human need for redemption, salvation, or atonement through Jesus Christ is necessary because of what we are, selfish by nature and nurture."91 The essence of his position appears to be that there is no original sin in the sense of a free and deliberate turning away from God, but only a state of what could be called original imperfection that flows from the evolutionary process, itself.
John Haught presents us with a similar perspective in an essay called, "In Search Of A God For Evolution." Most theologians are still shackled, we read, by outmoded cosmologies and time-worn static ontologies. In this regard Teilhard de Chardin was ahead of his time, for he saw the importance of evolution in developing a new understanding of God. God is the Omega, drawing evolution into the future, and providing a foundation for understanding evolutionary emergence. But Teilhard, and Tillich, as well, "moved decisively in the direction of interpreting sin, evil, suffering, and death as tragic, or as somehow inevitable."92 For Teilhard this meant, "original sin, taken in its widest sense, is not a malady specific to the earth, nor is it bound up with human generation. It simply symbolizes the inevitable chance of evil as an inevitable consequence of their effort to progress. Original sin is the essential reaction of the finite to the creative act. Inevitably it insinuates itself into existence through the medium of all creation."93
Haught comments, "Cosmic and biological evolution instruct us as never before that we live in a universe that is in great measure not yet created. The incompleteness of the cosmic project logically implies, therefore, that the universe and human existence have never, under any circumstances, been situated in a condition of ideal fullness and perfection. In an evolving cosmos, created being as such has not yet achieved the state of integrity. Moreover, this is nobodys fault, including the Creators, because the only kind of universe a loving and caring God could create in the first place is an unfinished one."94 The world has inevitably a dark side, we are told, because it is unfinished, and therefore we cant expect it to be perfect. Redemption, if it is going to mean anything, is the healing of a tragedy that accompanies a universe that is evolving.
The strategy is clear. If we make original sin a cosmic reality, that is, an inevitable dimension of evolution, itself, we with one stroke solve all the problems that surround the traditional doctrine of original sin, that is, the issue of our first parents and how they could sin in such a way as to affect us, and so forth and so on. Haught, following Teilhard, also thinks that such a view of evolution revolutionizes metaphysics, as well. Our focus turns from the past to the future, and from being to becoming. "Sin and evil, moreover, would be understood here as the consequence of our free submission to the pull of the multiple, to the fragmentary past of a universe whose perfected state of ultimate unity in God-Omega has yet to be realized. In an unfinished universe, we humans remain accomplices of evil, of course, even horrendous forms of evil. But our complicity in evil may now be interpreted less as a hypothesized break from primordial innocence than as our systematic refusal to participate in the ongoing creation of the world."95 But if horrendous forms of evil exist, and we systematically refuse to participate in the ongoing creation of the world, arent we back at the very question of how this situation came about?
Haughts reevaluation of original sin is a remarkably bold one. Elsewhere he talks about it in a more nuanced way. "Moreover, even though the potential to do evil is already a part of our genetic makeup, it is theologically inappropriate to identify original sin simply with the instincts of aggression or selfishness that we may have inherited from our nonhuman evolutionary ancestry. Even though these tendencies are part of our evolutionary legacy, the substance of "original sin" is the culturally and environmentally inherited deposit of humanitys violence and injustice that burdens and threatens to corrupt each of us born into this world."96 But once again, the question is just where this culturally and environmentally inherited deposit of humanitys violence and injustice comes from. Can we really reduce it to the necessary imperfections that exist in the evolutionary process? Or does the tremendous mystery of evil still confront us?
Patricia Williams has her own way of trying to make original sin vanish by replacing it with sociobiology. In our social behavior we are much like our hominid and animal ancestors, and in the socio-biological literature, "There is no suggestion here that human beings ever experienced a state of harmony such as that envisioned in Eden before the Fall."97 Therefore, the human condition doesnt demand an explanation in terms of an original harmony and a fall from it. "The way humans are is the result of their evolutionary history."98 And "explanations of human origins should be left to science."99 Once again, we are faced with assertions that we are urged to accept, but which are never demonstrated. And once we make this leap of socio-biological faith, we get rid of the theological idea of original sin and all the problems that follow in its wake, and we can put something new in its place. "Instead, science tells of lineages of bipedal apes evolving from quadrupedal ones, and of some of those lineages evolving into us. The theory of evolution says conflict is part of nature. Conflict is not the result of sin in us, but of diploidy Because sociobiology connects the amount of cooperation and conflict among individuals and groups to variation in degrees of relatedness, these figures predict conflict within the nuclear family."100 The reasoning underlying this rather amazing assertion is that we are diploid organisms receiving half of our genes from our father and half from our mother. We dont have to explain why there is evil in the world, but rather, how evolution by natural selection, or survival of the fittest, has given birth to cooperation. The answer lies precisely in this diploid genetic makeup which underlies both our selfishness and altruism. We love ourselves most of all, our nearest relatives half as much, and strangers with natural love not at all because this is how we are genetically made, and this is original sin.
It is time to try to sum up where we have been, and to prepare for the next stage of our exploration of original sin in which we assess the possibilities of a new positive formulation. Many of the various post-conciliar initiatives to explain, or explain away, original sin are too unilateral and too dismissive of the tradition, yet they have brought to our attention some important elements that need to be considered in the creation of a more synthetic view. They are at once understandable in the context of the times in which they emerged, but also disturbing in how excessive these reactions sometimes were.
Vanneste, for example, brings to the forefront of his conception of original sin the role of actual sins, and actual sins are, indeed, the terrible holes at the center of our being caused by moral evil, and we cant let our preoccupation with the inherited state of original sin distance us from that truth. At the same time, however, he minimizes original sin as an initial historical event and the transmission of its injurious effects to us. Schoonenbergs sin of the world, or situation of sin, has much more to recommend it. In fact, there is no reason not to accept what he says about its existence and pervasive activity. But there is no reason, either, to imagine that it explains the origin of this situation and its universality, and the intensity of this disorder which comes not only from without, and which we internalize, but rises up from within due to the distortions that exist in our own minds and hearts.
The insights of those who draw on existentialism and depth psychology complement an explanation of the situation of sin, especially in regard to that interior aspect, but they share its weakness by not addressing the question of origin and transmission, and leaving us with the sense that human nature, in itself, is deeply flawed.
The replacement of a static view of the world by an evolutionary one provides a necessary and invigorating context for a renewal of the theology of original sin, and keeps us from being perpetually at odds with science for misplaced religious reasons. Yet the conclusion to draw from this evolutionary view is not as obvious as it is often supposed in regard to the state of the first true humans. We cannot confuse the fundamental task of human beings to grow and develop interiorly and socially with moral evil seen as a natural feature of their world and the universe as a whole. Teilhards vision in this regard was defective, and combining it with a process-style philosophy has not made it any better. These kinds of evolutionary explanations that find evil built into the universe go against a Christian view of the goodness of creation. But a Teilhardian sense of the central role of a cosmic Christ, even in the question of original sin, can help theology see that such an explanation has ultimately to be Christocentric.
Exegetical efforts, applied to the Scriptures and later traditions in regard to original sin, have helped to liberate us from the restricting confines of the old neo-scholastic arguments and have opened up new possibilities, but these efforts were sometimes too tightly focused on and too dismissive of what we could call the four pillars of the traditional position, that is, the account of the fall in Genesis, St. Pauls letter to the Romans, the teaching of Augustine and the local councils of his era, and the dogmatic pronouncements of the Council of Trent, precisely because of the central role that they played in the tradition. This negativity of their findings is suspect in light of the reactions to the previous repression that we were examining before. The story of our universal need of redemption is woven into the very fabric of the Old and New Testaments, as well as the later tradition, and a wider view of this whole tradition is necessary so that we can see that it is depicting a universal drama of sin and redemption, and reflecting on its origins. The Fathers, not excluding Augustine as some sort of anomaly, and the Councils and theologians, provide us with a tradition that has a rich positive content that we need to take into account. This does not mean that the question of original sin, itself, did not emerge slowly and resubmerge and develop in fits and starts, both in the Scriptures and in the later tradition, but our response to this evolution of doctrine should not be to imagine that modern exegesis has eliminated it, but to try to fathom the import of this wider tradition about our need for redemption. Lets take but a couple of steps in the direction of this sort of perspective in order to get its flavor.
A.M. Dubarle in his The Biblical Doctrine of Original Sin: Towards a More Positive Formulation looks at the Genesis account in the wider context of the sinful human condition as expressed in the Old Testament under the themes of mans wretched condition, the universality of sin, the estrangement of man from God, the contagion of sin, and so forth. We are confronted throughout the Old Testament, he feels, with a graphic portrait of the "congenital perversion of the human heart."101 When Dubarle turns to Genesis he places the account of the fall within the context of the whole book. Genesis is about origins, origins which include sin and salvation. "A general plan can be seen: the establishment of divine order, its perversion through the fault of man and its restoration by divine grace, or in other words: genesis, degeneration, regeneration."102 "Convinced from other sources of the goodness, power and wisdom of God, who can do nothing that is not very good (Gen. 1:31) or perfect (Deut. 32:4), the faith of the Chosen People could not admit that man had originally been formed in the state of wretchedness and sin that he now experiences."103
But how did the sacred author come to these conclusions? Dubarle goes on, "This mental process, seeking the causes of universal facts of experience, was inspired and guided by God and consequently gained unique acuteness in its diagnosis of the human condition and complete truth in its explanation of it."104
What Dubarle is talking about is the same thing that Karl Rahner called historical aetiology. "The question," Rahner writes, "really is, therefore, what is the source of the knowledge that the author of Genesis had of what he reports, or how was it known to the sources which he incorporated into his work under the light and protective guarantee of inspiration?"105 The answer is a process of reasoning by which we look at the current state of things around us and reason to their causes. The starting point is not "the absolute nature of man, but his nature as it is experienced under Gods redemptive action in sacred history and under grace."106
There is nothing mysterious here. We have access to this same kind of reasoning that the author of the account of the fall in Genesis employed, for we are caught up in the same salvation history, although in our case, however much we would like to think that our reflections are guided by Gods inspiration, we can hardly claim that for sure. An important distinction lies at the foundation of this kind of reasoning. It is not a purely philosophical form of reasoning based on the abstract nature of man, as Rahner said, but a concrete, or existential, form of reasoning based on our own fallen and redeemed state. We can know something about our beginning because we live within the history of salvation that connects us to it. The authors of Genesis reasoned in this way, and we have to take this literary genre into account. But it is a type of reasoning that will appear in the New Testament, as well, and in later ages of Christian thought, and is still accessible to us. We can see Jesus using it in the Gospels when he talks about divorce. "Some Pharisees approached him, and to put him to the test they said, Is it against the Law for a man to divorce his wife on any pretext whatever? He answered, Have you not read that the Creator from the beginning made them male and female and that he said: This is why a man leaves his father and mother and becomes attached to his wife, and the two become one flesh? They are no longer two, therefore, but one flesh. So then, what God has united, human beings must not divide. They said to him, Then why did Moses command that a writ of dismissal should be given in cases of divorce? He said to them, It was because you were so hard-hearted, that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but it was not like this from the beginning " (Matthew 19: 3-8)
Dubarle says: "This passage, then, suggests the idea of salvation as the re-establishment of an original innocence. It is a prelude to Pauls doctrine of the two Adams, for which it might be the source."107
When Rahner in Hominisation looks at the question of human origins in science and Scripture, he notes the gap we saw before between science seeing the first humans as the end product of an ascent from very rudimentary beginnings and the old theology of Adam which saw human perfection at the beginning. It is this gap that helped impel theologians to demolish the traditional view of Adam and Eve lest this old theology lead to another Galileo affair. But Rahner asks if these two approaches are really contradictory.108 The Churchs teaching about human beginnings is, to Rahners mind, founded on nothing more than what the Scriptures say, and the Scriptures are really not talking about "the visible and tangible concrete details of proto-history."109 But what we do know is nonetheless impressive. We know that human beings were created by God; "that concupiscence and death do not belong to man as God wills him to be, but to man as a sinner; that the first man was also the first to incur guilt before God and his guilt as a factor of mans existence historically brought about by man, belongs intrinsically to the situation in which the whole subsequent history of humanity unfolds."110
Rahner feels that if the first reaction of our parents to Gods initiative had been a positive one, since it would have been made without concupiscence, it would have been a confirmation in grace. "In other words, original sin can only be thought of as the first act of mans real, authentic freedom."111 If this is true, then this original state before the fall could not have lasted very long, and the picture of our first parents in that state deals much more with what ought to have been than what actually was. The first human did not have to empirically "look and feel very different from what he does today."112 He points out that despite medieval theological speculation on the prerogatives of Adam before the fall, the first man was at the beginning of the road of human development he was meant to travel.
Science, he continues, might never be in a position to form a detailed picture of the initial inner and outer situation of the first humans. It might not even be able to point to a clear dividing line between the hominids and the first true humans, but there is "a metaphysical difference at stake"113 because we are dealing with the difference between spirit and non-spirit, and with spirit comes the knowledge of God. This knowledge need not be an explicitly developed knowledge, and here Rahner evokes an idea that was to flourish in his development of the theme of anonymous Christianity, that is, "that the real decisions of a man can occur very implicitly in a global commitment, in a fundamental decision regarding some conceptual content which to all appearance is very far removed from God and moral principles."114
We can hardly expect that this kind of view of the first humans could be confirmed by science, but it is not contradicted by science, either. From a philosophical point of view there must have been a "hidden plenitude" or "genuine real potentiality" in the beginning from which future development and progress grew. "There is no danger, therefore, that evolution if it is understood in a truly metaphysical and theologically correct way, will teach us to think less of the first human being than was thought in earlier ages."115
In essence, therefore, we could say that we need to affirm the genuine spiritual nature of the first humans even though this nature may have expressed itself in less conceptual ways, and far from precluding further development, was the root from which this development was meant to grow.
We can imagine that Dubarles and Rahners expositions represent the last gasp of an exegesis and a dogmatic theology that are striving at all cost to shore up the traditional teaching, and that it is Haag who is pioneering a new and more authentic path, but that would certainly be to oversimplify the matter, to say the least. Rather, it is probably more accurate to see Haags kind of radical demolishing exegesis more as a reaction against the poor use of exegesis made by the traditional theology of original sin than as some sort of definitive state of the question. It is entirely possible to arrive at a much more positive view of the presence of original sin in Scripture on the basis of todays exegesis, as we can see in the case of Henri Blocher, the evangelical theologian and scriptural scholar in his Original Sin: Illuminating the Riddle. He writes, for example, "The affirmation of the disobedience in Eden as a real event or occurrence at a specific moment in time has been part of church dogma from the start; this could hardly be disputed. I submit that it is an essential part, which we shall be wise to maintain. This, however, sounds hopelessly conservative and literalistic to many ears today, not only among opponents of the doctrine of original sin but among its official defenders, especially Roman Catholic and neo-orthodox."116 Nor does he find insuperable problems coming from the direction of paleoanthropology. "Modern prejudice may tempt us to underestimate the mental powers and sensitivities of palaeolithic man; the artists who painted the cave walls of Lascaux, Altamira, and the Grotte Chauvet near Vallon-Pont-dArc, discovered in December 1994, were masters at least equal to the greatest in our times."117
The two creation accounts in Genesis need not be read by a kind of "hermeneutical myopia," he tells us, as two rival accounts, still less as one virtually eliminating the other, but rather, the way the editor of Genesis made the extremely important point that the ills of mankind come from human disobedience since Gods creation was good.118 In Blochers mind the historical nature of this fall is an essential point, and prevents us from going down the road that takes original sin out of space and time. That kind of interpretation "leads to the conclusion that humans are evil "as if" they had fallen; but if they did not really fall, they must be evil from creation and by creation."119 When he looks for a direction in which to begin to explain the nature of original sin, it is in terms of the "mysterious bonds of a psycho-spiritual nature in the community of Adam,"120 or the "headship, or capitate, structure the organic solidarity of the race, the spiritual dimension of humanitys oneness."121 This is a suggestion we cannot afford to overlook.
We need not immerse ourselves here in these scriptural debates that revolve around Genesis and St. Pauls letter to the Romans, or in the similar ones that have surrounded every major source for the doctrine of original sin whether in terms of the differences between the Greek and Latin Fathers, the doctrine of Augustine, the Council of Trent, and so forth. What we do need to do, however, is realize these debates have far from eliminated these sources as genuine foundations leading to an understanding of original sin however much they have modified and clarified the less critical way these questions were handled in the past. For a review of these discussions we can go not only to Dubarle and Blocher for the Scriptures, but Henri Rondet for the Fathers and theologians, the careful and concise summary of the traditional doctrine by Piet Schoonenberg, and so forth.
What I would like to do here is much more limited in scope. It is to take up Blochers suggestion and get some small idea of what the traditional sources have to say about our solidarity with the first humans because this is the direction we will need to go in in order to try to shed some light on the nature of original sin. The account of the fall in Genesis, while of outstanding value, is not, as we have been seeing, so far removed from the rest of the Old Testament so as to be suspect. It is the opening scene of a drama of sin and redemption that is going to be played out throughout all of the Old and New Testaments. In the New Testament, itself, it is the passage from St. Pauls letter to the Romans that holds a similar position. It is an outstanding text, but in harmony with the basic themes that surround it. St. Paul writes: " it was through one man that sin came into the world, and through sin death, and thus death has spread through the whole human race because everyone has sinned." (Romans 5:12) "There is no comparison between the free gift and the offense. If death came to many through the offense of one man, how much greater an effect the grace of God has had, coming to so many and so plentifully as a free gift through the one man Jesus Christ!" (Romans 5:15)122
The exceptional nature of the account of the fall in Genesis, and St. Pauls words in Romans, argue less for the need for them to be leveled down, and point more to the long, slow process by which the question of original sin emerged and became submerged again and again during the course of the centuries, a process that still continues today. Lets look at some flashes of insight where they momentarily came to the surface.
Cyprian, the African bishop who lived in the first half of the third century, writing in favor of infant baptism, says that a child has committed no sins except that "being carnally born after Adam he has incurred the stain of ancient death through his first birth."123 They suffer from what Cyprian called "aliena peccata," or alien sins, or what Ambrose styled "peccata hereditaria," or hereditary sins.124 Origen, the great speculative theologian of the early church, talks about how all men were "in the loins of Adam when he was still in paradise."125 "All men have been driven out of paradise with or in" Adam.126 Cyril of Alexandria writes of how the many became sinners not because of their own sins, "for they did not yet exist but because they are of his (Adams) nature, which has fallen under the law of sin."127
This kind of solidarity that has an almost biological ring to it is denied by Pelagius. Adam, he feels, has given us nothing more than bad example, which we are free to follow or not, and therefore infants are free of sin and in a state like Adam before his sin. This called forth the ringing refutations of Augustine which brought the whole tradition of original sin to a deeper level of self-awareness. "Through the ill will of that one alone, all have sinned in him, when all were this one alone from whom, therefore everybody has inherited original sin." (De Nupt. et Conc. II, 5, 15; ML 44, 444.) "In Adam, then, all have sinned, when through that inner power by which he could beget them all they were this one in his nature." (De pecc. Mer. et Rem. III, 7, 14; ML 44, 194.)128
This same language of solidarity is to be found in the official statements of the Church. The provincial Council of Carthage in the fifth century which condemned Pelagius states that even infants who naturally have not yet been able to commit sins need to be baptized "so that what they have contracted from generation may be cleansed in them by regeneration."129
When we look at what Thomas Aquinas has to say in his Summa Theologiae about our human unity in Adam, we see it plays a central role in his explanation of original sin.130 He tells us that all the human beings who are born from Adam are able to be considered "as one man" insofar as they have the same nature which they have received from their first parents. The many people derived from Adam are "as the many members of the one body." (I-II, Q.81, a1). Original sin is not the sin of this or that particular person except insofar as each person received their nature from the first parent. It is transmitted to that person in virtue of the seed that transmits human nature from parent to child, and together with human nature "the infection of nature." (ad 2)
Original justice was to have been transmitted along with human nature. It was a gift of grace to the whole of human nature gathered together in our first parent by divine initiative, which gift the first man lost through sin. Therefore, just as this original justice would have been transmitted to posterity, together with human nature, so, also, the opposite inordinateness of original sin is transmitted. (I-II, Q.81, a2) Those alone contract original sin who descend from Adam through the active power in generation originally derived from Adam. (a4) The cause of the corrupt disposition which is called original sin is only one thing, namely, the privation of original justice through which is taken away the subjection of the human mind to God.
We find the same themes in Thomas De malo which show, as Peter Kwasniewski indicates, "the way in which Adam is the font of humanity, the origin and repository, in a sense, of human nature." The nature of man was "precontained" in Adam, and "the whole of mankind was existentially represented."131 Thomas writes, "Adam, inasmuch as he was the principle of all human nature, fulfilled the function of a universal cause, and so by virtue of his act all human nature propagated from him is corrupted." Kwasniewski comments, "Thus the collegium spoken of here is the collegium of human nature, whose first member is, in a unique way, at once the head and the body of the community, and whose first act of rebellion therefore causes guilt and the consequences of sin to be communicated to all who share the same human nature. In Thomass words: "the whole multitude of men receiving human nature from the first parent is to be considered as one community, or rather as one body of one man, in which multitude each man, even Adam himself, can be considered either as a single person, or as a particular member of this multitude which is derived from one man by natural origin."132
For the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century which in its statements about original sin summed up the previous conciliar pronouncements, Adam transmitted to the human race not only punishment and death, but "sin also, which is the death of the soul." It states that the sin of Adam "which is one in origin and transmitted to all, is in each one as his own by propagation, not by imitation "133
It is interesting to note that Schoonenberg ends his summary of past theological opinions about original sin by calling our attention to Emile Mersch who, in his attempts to address this issue in his The Theology of the Mystical Body, "clearly advanced in a more ontological direction,"134 and it is precisely the theme of our unity in Adam and Christ that Mersch developed more deeply that anyone before him as we shall see in a moment.
The post-conciliar theology of original sin has produced some positive results within a mainly negative landscape which can be used to construct a new synthetic view. This process is made much easier by the work of Karl Rahner who lived through the theological battles surrounding original sin, contributed important essays to these discussions, and yet maintained his balance in terms of the historical nature of original sin and the essential elements to be found in the traditional sources. Thus, it is worth the effort to look at some of his contributions.
In 1954, in the aftermath of Pius XIIs remarks on polygenism and original sin, Rahner wrote a long essay called, "Theological Reflexions on Monogenism" that, while subjecting the traditional understanding of the traditional sources to serious criticism, basically defends monogenism by looking at the official teaching of the Church, and the possibility of proving it from the Scriptures, as well as by way of metaphysics. His examination of the magisterium is confined to Humani generis as the first place where this issue was formally raised. The encyclical, as we saw, had stated that it was unclear how polygenism could be reconciled with the doctrine of original sin. Rahner concludes that the encyclical presents monogenism as "theologically certain," a qualification that does not preclude change in the future. The 1909 decree of the Biblical Commission, he feels, takes us no further. In the case of the Council of Trent, the Council fathers, when speaking of original sin, had had in mind one couple at the beginning of human history from whom all people had descended, who by their sin affected those who had come after them. This fact has considerable weight, but does not go so far as to be an implicit definition of monogenism.
As far as the Scriptures are concerned, Rahner cannot see a firm determination of the presence of monogenism which can be established by exegetical methods only, in Genesis, chapters 2 and 3. When he comes to the New Testament he is more positive. "The indirect proof of monogenism consists in the demonstration that it is an indispensable presupposition of the doctrines of redemption and original sin as these are contained in Scripture and in its interpretation by Tradition and the Churchs magisterium; and that in this sense it is taught by Scripture."135
Christ has taken on our sinful flesh. He has become one with sinful humanity. "Scripture knows of such a common situation of salvation and ruin only insofar as men are of one stock." 136 This common situation has come about by a personal action which presupposes this common stock, and Rahner points to an issue we saw before. The exegesis of the foundations of original sin cannot be confined to the classical texts, but must look to the wider picture of sin and our redemption in Christ.
In order to develop a metaphysical argument for monogenism he starts with some "notes for a metaphysics of generation" in which generation is seen not as one of the possible ways of an individual coming to be, but "the one necessary way of forming community." "Monogenism and the unity of species allow of being distinguished conceptually but not of being separated in reality."137
He then argues against polygenism as a possible object of divine action, for the same thing cannot have two different causes, and if men arise by generation, then they cannot arise otherwise. The first man is created by God as capable of generation, and therefore God would not use other methods to produce other men and thus reduce Gods action to the level of the secondary causality of creatures. The first man is not temporally and numerically the first, "he is also the transcendent humanity instituted by God."138
While biological evolution could have produced different creatures suitable to become human beings, that act of transformation only took place once in order to establish something metaphysically new which then multiplied by way of generation. Otherwise, why did God will to give human beings the ability to generate? Once the transformation took place, evolution developed away from this point and the forerunners of man became extinct because they had fulfilled their purpose: "The scaffolding which served the achievement is simply taken down again."139 "Nor can it be said that men would not have been able to continue if they had first appeared in a single pair. This cannot be proved."140 Larger numbers are no guarantee of existence, for numerous forerunners of mankind became extinct. God acts within evolution "in the most discreet and economical way, only, in fact where something essentially and irreducibly new is to appear for the first time as an origin. What the world can do by itself, it must do in the highest possible way; and that includes both the preparation of the biological substratum which was to become man and the spreading abroad of the one stock."141
By 1967 and we have seen what a seismic shift has taken place during these years Rahners perspective has changed as shown in his "Evolution and Original Sin." The issue of whether original sin implies monogenism is considered again, but the extensive treatment that it received in 1954 is condensed, bracketed, and avoided as he hurries on to his principle theme: is it advisable for the magisterium to refrain from censuring polygenism? To answer this question he asks whether original sin demands monogenism, and he replies that polygenism exists, at least as far as the first couple is concerned, since theories about the body of Eve being derived from Adam have fallen by the wayside. But if it is true of these two, why not of more? And if just two people had been created, how could they have found each other?
While before we saw him arguing on metaphysical grounds for monogenism, he now appears to have changed his mind. "It is doubtful, to say the least, whether a bodily, historical unity of the first human beings can only be understood in terms of monogenism."142 But his arguments here are not metaphysical, but biological. Concrete genetic unity is not found in the individual, but in a population, he tells us, and natural selection only operates in that arena. This "biological-historical unity" can describe the state at the origin of mankind even in terms of polygenism. Does original sin demand the existence of only one couple? Rahner states that "there is in our argument no definite answer."143 He goes on to create two scenarios by which to explore the question. In the first one man or one couple even within the context of polygenism commit the original sin. In the second, a group commits it collectively. In regard to the first situation, he argues that one individual could determine the grace-communicating function of the community of the first humans polygenistically derived. In this case we need to imagine one persons decision deciding the issue for all the members of the group, even if they are personally innocent. In the second situation, the entire group could have sinned together since they influence each other. On this basis he argues that it is not necessary to maintain monogenism in order to uphold the doctrine of original sin if we imagine a polygenistically derived group that formed a biological and historical unit, and hence, the magisterium ought to refrain from censuring polygenism in order to protect the doctrine of original sin.
We can note that Rahners arguments in these two articles do not fully coincide. The first advances metaphysical reasons in favor of monogenism, while the second advances biologically based reasons why polygenism does not necessarily conflict with original sin. Rahner has certainly shifted his position, but his second position has not fully integrated the insights from the first.
In todays theological climate the question has shifted even further, and we might almost say that it has become not whether polygenism is a possibility in the light of original sin, but whether monogenism can be accepted at all. But this attitude is perhaps another reaction compounded of the demolition of the traditional doctrine, and certain over-hasty conclusions drawn from what science is saying. The question of monogenism as opposed to monophyletism, that is, the descent of humans from more than one branch of hominids is not a question that science can address directly. Genetic evidence points to the entire human race having common male and female ancestors in Africa, but this African Adam and Eve are not the first human couple, but simply our genetic ancestors that we have evidence for. If polygenism is not ruled out according to Rahners line of reasoning, we can say that monogenism is not ruled out, either. The question remains open.
In 1968 Rahner gave a lecture to Protestant and Catholic theologians at Paderborn that provides us with a very valuable summary of his views on original sin. He notes that "for the past few years, even in Catholic theology, attempts have been made to interpret the Catholic doctrine of original sin such that they appear all but contradictory to one another and to be opposed to the simple and literal sense of the Churchs definitions."144 So Rahner is going to put forward the essentials of his own understanding of what the official Catholic teaching means.
He starts with his fundamental methodological principle of historical aetiology, and remarks in passing that we do not have to hold monogenism as a necessary premise of the Churchs teaching, and that polygenism "is no longer exposed to the danger of being censured by the authorities of the Church."145 Is he referring to the initiatives by Church authorities directed at the new theories about original sin immediately after the Council which led him to believe that such a censure was in the offing, and thus to call forth his 1967 article, and now this threat of censure has subsided? In any event, just because he is leaving this issue open, he does not want his audience to imagine that he is veering in the direction of some "existentialist" view that turns original sin into a dimension of everyman and takes away its historical nature.
Rahner will take an "existential-ontological" approach to his own theology of original sin in which the beginning is not just the first of a series, but plays a primordial role. Original sin "belongs to the initial constitution of that ultimate beginning which is withdrawn from us and never recurs, and the true nature of which is only gradually revealed in the light of the future which is Christ."146 Gods self-bestowal is given to the whole of humanity only in virtue of the fact that this humanity as a historical reality "draws its existence from Christ and is oriented to him."147 But what, then, can be said of our descent from the first humans by way of generation? This descent was the way God willed to make his self-bestowal "in view of Christ as the supreme point in history."148 Therefore, "descent from and union with the human race was capable of being, and should have been the medium in which this sanctifying grace was communicated to the individual man."149 "The absence of that holiness which is an existential modality imparted by Gods own holiness prior to the concrete conditions of individual existence, inasmuch as this was intended to be mediated through human descent but in fact is not so this is rightly called a state of sinfulness, and it is this that is meant by original sin (peccatum originale originatum)."150 Or put in another way, the descendants of the first humans "do not possess the state of sanctification by Gods self-bestowal in Christ precisely as descendants."151
Human descent should have been the medium of holiness, and the only way we can account for its absence is by a sin on the part of the first humans. But along with the state of original sin we have to recognize another universal and even more powerful state, which is the "effective will of God to save men which, on account of Christ, always imparts that sanctification through Christ (at least as "offered") which was not imparted through descent from "Adam."152
At the heart of Rahners view of original sin, then, is the insight that descent from Adam was supposed to be the medium of grace but can no longer function that way because of original sin. But we are still caught up in the mystery of Christ as the redeemer. Such a view of original sin does not come into conflict with what modern science tells us of early man, Rahner feels, because the interior freedom it demands could have existed in a variety of material circumstances without this freedom being reflected upon in a fully conscious way. Further, the subject of this freedom can be conceived of as a group. What Rahner has presented us with is a fire-tried synthesis, shorn of elements of the earlier theology, but containing the essentials needed to create a theology of original sin faithful to the traditional teaching.
Elements for a Theology of Original Sin
Let me set forth some of these elements that can come together to create a renewed theology of original sin.
A Christological perspective. Starting with the very origin of Christian theological reflection on original sin in St. Paul, the doctrine was put in a Christological perspective. The theme of the unity of all people in Adam that we looked at before was overshadowed, and rightly so, by our unity in Christ. The cosmic Christ that Teilhard helped to bring to the attention of Catholic theology fits smoothly into this perspective and finds its origin, as well, in St. Pauls letter to the Colossians and its famous passage: "He is the image of the unseen God, the first-born of all creation, for in him were created all things in heaven and on earth " (1:15-16) This centrality of Christ which found parallel developments in the Logos and Wisdom theologies of the New Testament was not always to the forefront of Western Christian theology when it regarded matters like original sin, but it did find a certain form of expression in the Scotist or Franciscan tradition on the purpose of the Incarnation, and in modern theology in Emile Merschs studies of the mystical body.153
It is by taking such a cosmic Christological perspective that we can from the outset prepare the way for a deeper understanding of original sin. If we accept the principle that the universe was meant to flower in intelligent life, we can then contemplate going a theological step further, and say that it was meant to culminate, as well, in the Incarnation of the Word. Lets take that as our working hypothesis and say that from the beginning of creation God intended to create a universe whose deepest center and highest point was to be found in Christ. Therefore, the first humans were part of this plan, and if, as Christian revelation has consistently taught, they were created in grace, that is, from their first moment of existence God extended to them an offer of intimacy and union, we can ask just what was the character of that grace. Could it not have been the very grace of Christ that we are familiar with, but given now in anticipation, as it were, of Christs coming? Then the elevation and transformation of Jesus human nature in the Incarnation is the model and source of the life of grace to be found in the first humans. If this is so, then we are left with a unified picture of Gods loving intent. The first humans were meant to create the human community which would find its deepest center in the coming of Christ. The human nature they received in the creation of their souls was a graced human nature, and the grace was not some grace of Adam, but the grace of Christ.
The Unity and Superunity of the Human Community. One of the most distinctive and valuable insights of our modern age is our hard-won sense of our own personalities. It is a sense of subjectivity that allows us to uphold the rights of the individual in the face of any larger community. Yet if we are not careful, it can obscure an equally profound truth of how much we are part of the human community without which we cannot properly develop. It was Emile Mersch who pursued the natural, or metaphysical unity of the human race the farthest. The universe, itself, culminated in human beings, and we would need to take into account the entire universe, he felt, in order to get some idea of what it truly means to be human. But it was necessary to go farther, still. The human soul, in virtue of its very nature, indeed, of its very self-consciousness which makes us most distinctly who we are as individuals, at the very same time is our deepest bond with other people. The human spirit has inscribed within it a dynamism that drives it to embrace the universe around it and all other human beings. If we were to try to sum up all this in one image we could say that if we were to take the entire universe that we see spread out across billions of miles of space and billions of years of time, and if we were to take all the human beings that ever existed, and will ever exist, and concentrate them both into one point, this would give us a sense of what it means to be truly human. This is the kind of humanity that we carry in the depths of our souls.
Mersch took this profound sense of human unity, and saw it as the cosmic human nature, as it were, that was elevated, transformed and intensified by its assumption by the Word. This gave him an organic way of understanding just how and why the universe can be said to be summed up in Christ. Christ is not added from without, but emerges from within, and becomes the very way in whom the universe comes together and in whom we find our union with God and with each other.154
We need to apply this perspective to the first humans. In virtue of their possession of this human nature, at once individual and social, and as the first possessors of this nature, the human race could be said to be contained in them. This community of the human race in the first humans was intensified by the grace of Christ, and they were meant to transmit to their descendants not only human nature, but a graced human nature. The depths of their souls were pregnant with the spiritual energies meant to begin the fashioning of the mystical body of Christ. Just as we are conditioned to think of the Incarnation as somehow necessarily a redemptive Incarnation, in a similar way when we think of sacramentality, that is, the mode, or medium, of the transmission of grace, we think of the Church and the sacraments. But there was, and still is, a more primordial sacramentality that is implied in the assertion that the first humans were meant to transmit grace to their descendants. How were they to do this? It was to be by means of their loving actions in regard to each other. Another way of putting it is that this primordial sacrament was to be marriage, human generation, and the family.
Original Sin. The gift of grace, intensifying human nature in view of the great work of fashioning the mystical body of Christ, could only have been a freely offered gift of love. And it had to be freely accepted. There is no way to conceive of human freedom without the possibility of the abuse of that freedom. The first humans could reject their fundamental role in the creation of the body of Christ, and they did. The result was catastrophic. They did not fall back to the level of a human nature fashioned without grace. This was not possible. They had been created from the beginning in grace in view of the Christ to come. This grace was at the very center of their souls. It held everything together in harmony. The original aim of God remained in place, but the profound turning away of the first humans wreaked havoc in their souls. They lost their center, and with it their sense of balance. The whole economy of grace was altered, not in its ultimate goal or intent, which was the summing up of everything in Christ, but in the way this would have to be carried out. The universal loving intent of God remained, but took on the character of a universal salvific or redeeming will. The Incarnation was still the goal of the universe, but it became a redemptive Incarnation. The reign of grace remains, but no longer integrated and transmitted with human nature. Grace still knocks at the doors of the heart of each and every person, and their good actions spread out and affected the generations to come, but set up in opposition to it is a current of evil, a cascade of evil actions and their effects that starts at the beginning of the human race and grows in scope and magnitude through the human generations as more sins are added.
We are now in a position to try to understand something of the effect and transmission of original sin. As a voluntary act, the sin of the first humans was theirs and theirs alone, and Gods offer of grace remained for them and their descendants, as it does for all of us. But what had been altered is the way this grace was meant to be transmitted to us as an integral dimension of human life and love and generation. The sacrament of it was to be human love so that children would have been born with graced natures, but this primordial sacramentality was severely damaged. Grace was still offered, but now it was offered to a human nature that was in a state of dislocation in regard to the initial plan of God. Human nature without grace as its "connatural" quality can no longer rely on this graced nature as its spontaneous and instinctive principle of action. The pristine harmony that was meant to be established in the first human community in virtue of an inner orientation to this grace was lost. Instead, we find ourselves in a fallen-redeemed world. We are wounded, not because of some prior sinful actions, but because we lack the state of harmony and integration that was meant to be and is not. And this woundedness is compounded by our sins and those of others.
This view of original sin coincides in its essentials with the one we saw Rahner expressing in his 1968 lecture. Vandervelde, examining the work of Schoonenberg and Rahner, distinguishes a transcendental situation (Existential) of grace which is always being offered from a spatio-temporal situation which is a privation of grace. "God wishes," he writes, "to communicate Himself transcendentally and spatiotemporally, so that each human being is to act as spatiotemporal, historical mediator of grace for his fellowman."155 This can be taken as equivalent, I think, to the fragmentation of the primordial sacramentality that we have been looking at.156
Criteria of evaluation. There are a number of ways in which we can evaluate the different theologies of original sin that are in currency today. How well, for example, does it express the traditional doctrine of original sin found in the Scriptures, Fathers, and Councils? Or how well does it harmonize with the other Christian mysteries? Or does it go against the well-established findings of science in regard to human origins? Or does it contradict our experience of the world? Or how well does it advance solutions to the more problematical and less developed parts of the tradition like the question of limbo, or monogenism? For brevitys sake I will look at just some of these criteria.
Paleoanthropology. Does the view of original sin that I am advancing come in conflict with what paleoanthropology tells us with any reasonable amount of certitude? Two fundamental misconceptions which have dogged the theological efforts to reformulate a doctrine of original sin need to be examined. The first is that the first humans were somehow such rudimentary creatures that any view that attributed to them gifts of grace or nature immediately conflicted with the findings of science because these first humans could barely be said to be conscious or able to act in moral ways. It is one thing for paleoanthropologists to place human origins millions of years in the past at the time of the early members of the genus Homo, or even among the Australopithecines, but it is quite another matter for philosophers and theologians to do so. For them the dividing line between the hominids and the first true humans could much more reasonably be the creation of the human soul. This kind of definition of what it means to be a human being, while resting on philosophical and theological foundations, fits quite well with recent scientific findings on human origins. Ever increasing genetic and fossil evidence puts the origin of near anatomically modern humans in Africa roughly some 150,000 years ago. Further, the archaeological record shows that modern humans appear to have undergone some kind of great leap forward, or cognitive revolution, around 50,000 years ago, as we saw in Chapter 3. This would put the Cro-Magnons in Europe and other modern humans on one side of a divide that separates them from the Neanderthals and the hominid forerunners of both of them. Scientists have ascribed this dramatic change to different reasons ranging from climate change to a mutation affecting the anatomy of the vocal tract, or the language center of the brain. From a philosophical and theological perspective it makes sense to suggest that this transformation took place with the arrival on the scene of the first true humans who became such because of the creation of their spiritual souls. Further, this scenario of the first humans suddenly appearing out of Africa is a quite recent one so that theologians writing 30 years ago could not have taken it into consideration.
Evolutionary Imperfection and Moral Evil. Here we arrive at the second misconception. A human lack of differentiation and development cannot be equated with moral imperfection, still less with moral evil. It is entirely likely that the first humans were in a more psychologically and socially undifferentiated state than their descendants in terms of language, the elaboration of conceptual thought, technology, and so forth. They stood at the beginning of the road of the great human task of building the human community. But this lack of development is very different from moral evil. There is no reason to believe that these first true humans were not just as intelligent and good-hearted as the painters of the Chauvet Cave, or as we are. Further, there is no reason why we cannot imagine that the first true humans with their freshly minted souls were endowed with gifts of grace, as well as nature. But these gifts would have been like seeds deeply buried in what Maritain liked to call the spiritual unconscious, ready to germinate and to give birth to a whole array of creative intuitions that would have grown into branches and fruits of science, articulated religion, and so forth.
Limbo and Gods universal salvific will. How well can this conception of original sin deal with the issue of limbo? The first thing we need to do is to put it within our Christological perspective. The reasoning of the earlier traditions that deprived unbaptized infants of heaven and relegated them to some lesser beatitude, if not some mitigated form of punishment, was incomplete in this regard. Indeed, theologians over the centuries sensed this incompletion, and as Stephen Duffy put it, "Later theologians, more merciful if less logical, would rescue the unwashed infants from the flames and consign them to the incomplete happiness of limbo."157 The theological situation of limbo is somewhat analogous the question of salvation outside of the Church before the Second Vatican Council. The sacrament of baptism was seen as the remedy to the loss of original justice by way of original sin, and therefore without baptism in the Church a person was heading towards hell. Rahner has suggested that one of the most important yet unanticipated fruits of the Second Vatican Council was the transformation of the old no salvation outside the Church perspective that had been gestating for centuries into a visible and publicly accepted doctrine in which salvation is extended to all people of whatever place and time, and which he, himself, expressed in terms of his anonymous Christianity.158
If we apply similar ideas to the question of limbo, we see that the profound dislocation that took place by way of original sin in regard to the transmission of grace is not the whole story. Gods universal offer of grace continued to be operative, and the dislocation centered on the way grace had been meant to be transmitted rather than a cessation of the offer of this grace. This dislocation of the primordial sacramentality is the reason why a new sacramental structure is created with the coming of Jesus in order to repair and supplement the old, but it is one that is now geared to a fallen-redeemed world. But we cannot focus on this new structure to the degree that we forget the omnipresent working of Gods salvific will. The baptism of infants can be looked upon as the sign of their entrance into this new sacramental order, but this new order as visibly expressed in the Catholic Church cannot be considered identical with the offer of grace, itself. And we can hardly think that God who offers grace to people outside the Catholic Church and, indeed, to everyone of all times and places, makes an exception for unbaptized infants however difficult it might be to conceive of how this offer of grace to them takes place.
Monogenism and Polygenism
The movement on the part of theologians in the direction of polygenism after the Second Vatican Council can be read as part of the general reaction that took place then against the traditional teaching. This reaction wanted to be open and sensitive to the findings of science. But to imagine that polygenism has somehow emerged as the more probable theological opinion is to go too far. The question, itself, remains open, as I said before. Lets look at some of its elements.
This is not an issue that paleoanthropology or genetics can address directly. What the scientific evidence at this point seems to say is that we have descended from a relatively small group of humans who lived in Africa. Genetic evidence of our descent from an African Eve or Adam indicates, however, that single individuals have played vital roles in human descent, but it cannot be understood, as we saw before, as pointing to the origin of the human race from a single couple. But none of the findings of science appear to actively disprove monogenism, and it is hard to imagine in what way they could.
Speciation in general is a mysterious process which in the case of human beings is made more mysterious if we imagine that the emergence of the first true humans was due to the infusion of spiritual souls. Could the human race have started with one couple? Yes. Did it? Science cannot say.
When we turn to theology we are faced with similar complexities. Does original sin demand a common physical descent? This cannot be ruled out. Polygenism is not a clear and evident better choice. Rahners polygenistic scenarios are not particularly convincing. In the first, one person, he tells us, could have decided for the group, but this sounds a bit too similar to the kinds of juridical theories of redemption which have fallen out of favor today. The other scenario has the group sinning. This would make it a very small group, for it is hard to imagine a large one coordinating some common deed, and so it is hardly much of an improvement over monogenism.
St. Thomas naturally could not have addressed this issue, but indirectly he poses questions which can shed light on it. He teaches that our souls are created pristine by God and contract original sin not by the act of God infusing them into bodies, but in virtue of the bodies they are infused in. (S.T., 1-2, Q. 88, a1) It would be possible, I think, to understand the human body in this context, not only as our individual bodies, but in the wider sense as the social body, or community of mankind. We contract original sin, then, not because of how God has created us in terms of our spiritual souls, but because this process of creation takes place together with the generation of our bodies in this wide sense of the term, which come to us by descent from the first humans. Further, he asks, would a person not descended from Adam because they have a miraculously formed body have contracted original sin? (S.T. 1-2, Q. 88 a1, a4.) He says they would not. Rahners own earlier reasoning points in the same direction.
It is because we receive our human nature from others, and this nature is wounded, that we contract original sin, but this human nature is transmitted by generation so that we share in a very real way the flesh and blood of the first humans. In the case of polygenism, it is hard to imagine how to avoid the possibility that some humans did not sin, and therefore their descendants would not have contracted original sin. While we have to listen carefully to the findings of science, we also have to make sure we are not drawing theological conclusions that arent warranted by the sure findings of science. In this regard the remarks of Augustine Kasujja in Polygenism and the Theology of Original Sin Today, are worth pondering. "To presume polygenism categorically, we would be presuming to affirm what palaeontology itself cannot yet affirm with certainty."159 "We must observe that proposing a theory in a polygenetic context when polygenism is still a riddle even for scientists themselves is a procedure whereby the cart is put before the horse. This way of proceeding is very imprudent in theology; for, from such a starting point, one risks simply accommodating at any cost truths of faith to an undemonstrated scientific hypothesis."160
The Effects of Original Sin
A certain picture of original sin has emerged in which it appears as a kind of structural deformation of the human community that occurred at its very origins, been reinforced through the subsequent history of sin, and made it unable to transmit grace as it was meant to. But we are far from fathoming the depths of this situation that if true, must affect the far reaches of mind and heart and our most intimate social relationships. Lets examine several facets of what could be called the phenomenology of the effects of original sin and the whole history of sin. In this way we can gain a way to perceive both our inner and outer experience in the light of the history of salvation.
Reflection on original sin, starting in Genesis, has groped to express the insight that it has vitally impacted our sexuality. While this insight was often mixed with poor biology, misogynism, or a pessimistic view of the human race, we ought not to simply reject it because it is, in fact, true that both as individuals and as a society, we experience great difficulties in dealing with sexuality in an appropriate manner. We are driven by our sexual desires to act in ways that are harmful to ourselves and others even when we rationally know that they are harmful.
Sexual morality, in its turn, is not just a matter of analyzing the nature of our acts, but in some way has to take into account the concrete or existential situation in which they take place. Indeed, we need to see our sexuality in light of the whole panorama of salvation history which includes viewing it from the perspective of original sin. I have carried out an exploration of this sort in regard to contraception in Is There a Solution to the Catholic Debate on Contraception?161
Sexuality is intimately connected with what Jung called the animus and anima, those deep archetypal dimensions of the psyche that express themselves in characteristics of the opposite sex. Here, too, we can expect a certain distortion has entered in because of original sin. Further, the whole trajectory of psychological development that Jung called the process of individuation, especially in terms of the fourth, or inferior, function, could have suffered distortions due to original sin. Thus we are faced with the difficult question of how to distinguish normal growth towards psychological integration from what might be the effects of a fallen and redeemed nature. We often act, for example, under the influence of the unconscious which clouds our rational judgment, and the archetypes of the unconscious understood as natural aspects of the soul, exist in a certain existential state generated by the fallen-redeemed world we live in, and so their influence might be more disruptive than it otherwise would be.
At the root of our deepest intellectual and creative activity are certain intuitions that flash like heat lightning in the depths of the unconscious. These include the intuition of being that gives rise to metaphysics, and the creative intuitions that come to fruition in art and poetry. Is it not possible that these kinds of intuitions, including genuine religious ones, could have played a primordial role in the minds and hearts of the first humans? And could they not have been adversely affected by their turning away from God? Then it is possible to imagine that these intuitions would have become more obscure and distant to us, and would only make their way into consciousness and find adequate expression there with considerably more difficulty. But the disruption wrought by original sin would have fallen most heavily on the relationship the first humans had with God even if much of this relationship were to be conceived as a virtual one, waiting on their acceptance of Gods offer of grace.162 This is a relationship in which a supernatural contemplation of God would likely have played a central role. It would have formed the central axis which held the various energies of the soul in their proper places and bound them together into a harmonious whole. Without it, they would tend to seek their own goals irregardless of the goal of the whole person.
Just how deeply rooted in the depths of our souls are the effects of original sin and the subsequent history of sin? When John of the Cross is describing the journey of the soul to God, he gives a central place in it to what he calls the dark night of sense, and the dark night of spirit. He tells us that it is the very dawning of the souls union with God that illuminates the stains and distortions within it. It would be possible, I think, to read his detailed and often horrific descriptions of these nights in the light of the damage done to the soul in its depths by original sin.
The effects of original sin and all sins are social, as well. We literally cannot exist physically, psychologically, intellectually or spiritually outside of the human community. We are members of the one human race that gives birth to us, and all our actions for good or for ill reverberate throughout this community. The actions of the first humans had a devastating impact on all their descendants because they stood at the very beginning, and had the task of transmitting both nature and grace. But we, too, in a lesser way, are meant to transmit nature and grace to all those around us and who will come after us, and the effects of our bad actions are transmitted to them, as well. We have an instinctive understanding of this. We realize how powerfully we have been impacted for both good and for evil by those around us, and even those far distant from us in space and time. But what I want to focus on is the embodiment of these influences in our social structures. These structures are natural and normal expressions of our social natures. We create schools, hospitals, corporations, and so forth, but they, too, have a dimension that can be seen as a result of original sin and subsequent sins. They take on, for example, a certain life of their own, and can even lose sight of the very purposes for which they were created. Then we have schools that extinguish the love of learning, hospitals that spread disease, and corporations that wrench the pursuit of profit out of a truly human context.
The point of these examples of the possible impacts caused by original sin and subsequent sins is not to push us into a pessimism that sees sin behind every tree and under every bush. Each of these areas has a progressive and salvific side. We do not just live in a fallen world, but a fallen-redeemed one. The nights of St. John of the Cross are nights because they lead to divine union. The passion of Jesus and his death ends in the resurrection. The distortions of our souls and social structures, however powerful, need to be seen in the context of the greater power of the grace of Christ. But if we learn to see the world through the optic of original sin, then perhaps we can learn to act in a more determined manner to remedy some of these ills.
Adam and Eve
The atmosphere generated by some of the post-conciliar theologians of original sin was much like that of a building site where the demolition crews have gone home, leaving a field strewn with rubble, and the builders have failed to appear. We have seen, however, that the elements for constructing a viable theology of original sin exist. But now I want to add an appendix to these elements in the form of an imaginative recreation of what it could have been like at the beginning of the human race. This is a somewhat dangerous procedure because the traditional theology of original sin elaborated similar scenarios, but sometimes failed to distinguish them from those elements of a strictly theological nature. By way of reaction we tend to lose sight today both of the theological elements brought to us by the genuine traditions of original sin, and their imaginative clothing, and we are led to a kind of quasi-paralysis about what to say about original sin both in theological circles and in preaching and catechesis. Theological imagination has a role to play in filling this void as long as we dont confuse it with the theology of original sin, itself.
I like to imagine a small band of hominids living somewhere in Africa some 50,000 years ago. These hominids, anatomically like modern humans, were much more intelligent than we might expect. They could make a variety of tools, had tamed fire, engaged in communal hunting, had a rudimentary type of communication, and so forth. They stood at the very threshold that separates true human beings from even the most intelligent hominids.
Then two children were born to this band, children who were the first true humans because God gave them spiritual souls. They would have been nurtured by their hominid parents, and would have learned the quasi-culture of the band, but they were truly different. In the depths of their spiritual souls flashed creative intuitions that lay at the roots of abstract language, art, innovative technology, and genuine self-consciousness and freedom, and an awareness of God. As these children grew, they soon outpaced their parents and were drawn to each other. They instinctively recognized each other as different from the rest of the band. They could look into each others eyes and see true self-awareness.
As their intuitions began to flower, they realized that they were being called by God to build a human community that would dwell in Gods presence. This calling could have taken place in the depths of their hearts without necessarily being accompanied by elaborate conscious conceptualizations. But they rejected this calling, and freely and knowingly turned away from God. They frustrated in its tenderest beginnings the role they were meant to play in transmitting both nature and grace to their descendants.
The conclusion of Experiment 3. The demise of the doctrine of original sin has been greatly exaggerated. Neither the sciences of nature nor historical criticism have demonstrated fundamental flaws in it. What has happened is that the sciences have created an atmosphere in which theologians felt compelled to reevaluate the doctrine of original sin, and so they often put aside the traditional formulations, but failed to come up with new ones that would truly express what is at its heart.
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Chapter 1: The Beginning of the Universe
Chapter 2: Evolution and Human Origins
Chapter 4: The Jesus of History and the Jesus of Faith