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Kevin wrote:

Hi, guys —

  • I would like to know why the Catholic Church and most Protestant sects teach the idea of "original" or "hereditary" sin?

When reading the Scriptures, I see in Romans 2:6 that we will be judged according to what we (ourselves) have done, not our parents, friends or co-workers.

Also Ezekiel 18:20 clearly states that we don't bear the iniquities of our fathers.

Thank you,


  { Why does the Catholic Church teach "original" or "hereditary" sin when Scripture says this? }

Mary Ann replied:


Original sin is a state that we are in, not a personal sin. It is a state of alienation, of lacking a communion with God. This lacking makes us error-prone, weak of will, and prone to commit sin.

Because our nature is meant to be united to God, being out of order with him makes our inner selves disordered, with all of our aspects of ourselves in conflict and disorder. We don't have control of our appetites or emotions, for instance. We lean more toward evil, though we ARE good in our being.

Mary Ann

John replied:


It sounds like you may be coming at this from an Eastern Orthodox perspective.

  • Am I correct?

As Mary Ann explained, there is no guilt involved, but simply an inability to respond to God because of a lack of grace. The Orthodox and even Eastern Rite Catholics, might call this original death or something similar. In the end, we mean the same thing. We know baptism is the normative cure for the condition, no matter how you diagnose it.

In the West, we tend to look at salvation in a juridical paradigm. This started with St. Augustine. Not that it's wrong; it's just different.

In the East, the perspective surrounds Eternal Life, the Life of God, being transformed into the image of God as we enter into the mystery and life of the Blessed Trinity. These two approaches are complementary nor contradictory.

All that said, let me defend our approach. While we don't bear the guilt of our original parent's sin, we certainly pay the consequences. Adam was thrown out of the garden. We don't start out the same as Adam, in the garden, until we mess up. We live under the same curse and the same cursed earth.  We have to deal with mortality, sickness, heartache, all those things Adam did not know until he sinned.

In the Old Testament, it says the sins of the father are passed on to the son and on to their third and fourth generations (I'm paraphrasing).

  • What is God saying in those verses?

He is saying that the consequences of our sin just don't effect us. Well, original sin works the same way. We don't inherit guilt but we inherit the inability to reach communion with God and we inherit the desire to sin.

I hope that helps,


Paul replied:

Dear Kevin,

I, too, concur with Mary Ann and John but I'd like to approach it from a different viewpoint.
It seems that, in an analogous way, we all share in the guilt of Adam. It's not a personal guilt but a corporate guilt, which is "washed way" with baptism. The temporal effects of the sin on each individual remain after baptism, as they do with the individual after the sacrament of Confession, but the eternal effect, which is union with God, the state of grace and eternal life, is restored. This is dispensed on the individual at baptism.

Romans 5:12-19:

Therefore, just as through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all...But death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin after the pattern of the trespass of Adam, who is the type of the one who was to come.  But the gift is not like the transgression. For if by that one person's transgression the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one person Jesus Christ overflow for the many.
And the gift is not like the result of the one person's sinning. For after one sin there was the judgment that brought condemnation; but the gift, after many transgressions, brought acquittal.  For if, by the transgression of one person, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one person Jesus Christ.  In conclusion, just as through one transgression condemnation came upon all, so through one righteous act acquittal and life came to all.  For just as through the disobedience of one person the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of one the many will be made righteous.

The word "Adam" in the biblical Hebrew is the common noun for mankind as well as the proper name for the individual. Since Adam, as a proper noun, is the father of the human race, we are eventually begotten of him as humanity unfolds. This Adam not only represented us as head but as mankind we are "in" Adam as he sinned; and we are all condemned by God by the rescinding of grace and being kicked out of paradise — the head of the human race first, and the rest of the body of man as they are conceived and born in a world of concupiscence, suffering, death and injustice.

Christ came to restore the Adam of humanity to a state of grace and the destiny to share eternal life in the ultimate paradise of heaven but He didn't come to take away the effects of sin in this world, but rather to grant us the grace to overcome them. We, individual Adams, are judged by how we respond to the grace won for us by the "second Adam" or Head of humanity, Jesus Christ.



Kevin replied:

  • So we don't inherit the sins of our ancestors?

That is what I believe the Bible teaches too.

  • So "original sin" does not mean "we inherit Adam's sin"?
  • Thanks for the clarification, but what about babies?

I believe they are innocent until they sin against God. It's sin that separates us from God,
(Isaiah 59:2), not being born into the world.

  • Isn't that what Jesus is saying in Matthew 19:14 and Mark 10:14?
  • Doesn't he say that children are of the kingdom of God?
    (not a sinful being because they have not sinned yet.)


Paul replied:


I do believe we inherit the sin of Adam, in our nature. Our human nature is tainted; we are conceived and born with imperfect bodies, a darkened mind and a weakened will, and something called concupiscence which is an internal disorder (a desire to sin). All of this imperfection and more is the inheritance of original sin. Baptism washes away the corporate guilt of mankind being "in" Adam as he sinned, restoring the individual to a state of grace and friendship with God.

As for the sins of our ancestors, we don't inherit their guilt. They do not represent us as Adam did but we may experience some of the effects of their sins. For example, if my grandparents divorced and remarried others I, as a grandchild, do not have the opportunity to have my extended family intact, having grandparents "married" to other people and not to each other.
If my parents had an abortion, I will never know my brother or sister that should have accompanied me through my life in some familial way. There are many ways we can think of that our ancestors' sins may affect us now but we are not guilty of any of them.

As for babies, we have to say they're conceived and born alienated from God as being children of Adam. As Christians, they are also children of God when baptized allowing restoration of union with God.

  • But what about those that die before or without baptism?

God has not revealed to us what happens to them. With John Paul II we can "hope in the mercy of God" for their souls. (See Mary Ann's answer).

  • Can God dispense baptismal grace without the physical channel of baptism to a personally innocent child that still has the corporate guilt of alienation from Him?

If this is not a logical contradiction, He can.



Mary Ann replied:


The Church speaks of original sin as a state that we inherit, not a guilt we inherit.

As for unbaptized children, they are in the same state as any innocent or just life who died before Christ — they have their hope in Christ, and can be saved through the faith of others, just as children are baptized through the faith of others.

Jesus said, "Whoever accepts a little child accepts me," (Luke 9:48) so He identifies with children. Pope John Paul II originally said that unbaptized children are "living in the Lord" until some Vatican bureaucrat changed the words of Evangelium Vitae, paragraph 99.

Evangelium Vitae, paragraph 99

I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion.
The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly.
If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost and you will also be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord. With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone's right to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by accepting the birth of other children or by welcoming and caring for those most in need of someone to be close to them, you will become promoters of a new way of looking at human life.

God is just and merciful, so there is no worry, in any case.

Mary Ann

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