Sunday, September 10, 2006

Fr. John Meyendorff on Original Sin

Over at Pontifications, in the thread Eastern Triabloguers Take on Eastern Orthodoxy, the discussion was brought to the topic of Roman Catholic teaching on the Immaculate Conception.

As a result of Stephen Todd Kaster's suggestion that I read Fr. Meyendorff on original sin, I looked for a copy of Byzantine Theology online, since I don't have a hard copy of it. I found an abridged version of the book.

Before I comment on what I read, some links:
My Belief in the Immaculate Conception, by Daniel Joseph Barton
Original Sin and Its Transmission, Peter Kwasniewski
New Insights into the Deposit of Faith
Plus this thread at Pontifications on "Bad, bad Augustine." See Daniel Jones's posts in particular, and his replies to Perry Robinson. [Written during his "Romanist" days--he is now Orthodox and goes by the handle Photios Jones at Pontifications and Energetic Procession.]

Here is the abridged(how much abridged?) text plus my comments:

In order to understand many major theological problems, which arose between East and West both before and after the schism, the extraordinary impact upon Western thought of Augustine’s polemics against Pelagius and Julian of Eclanum must be fully taken into account. In the Byzantine world where Augustinian thought exercised practically no influence, the significance of the sin of Adam and of its consequences for mankind was understood along quite different lines.

We have seen that in the East man’s relationship with God was understood as a communion of the human person with that, which is above nature. "Nature" therefore designates that, which is, in virtue of creation, distinct from God. But nature can and must be transcended; this is the privilege and the function of the free mind made "according to God’s image."
The divine life or friendship with God.

Now, in Greek patristic thought, only this free, personal mind can commit sin and incur the concomitant "guilt" — a point made particularly clear by Maximus the Confessor in his distinction between "natural will" and "gnomic will." Human nature as God’s creature always exercises its dynamic properties (which together constitute the "natural will" — a created dynamism) in accordance with the divine will, which creates it. But when the human person, or hypostasis, by rebelling against both God and nature misuses its freedom, it can distort the "natural will" and thus corrupt nature itself. It is able to do so because it possesses freedom, or "gnomic will," which is capable of orienting man toward the good and of "imitating God" ("God alone is good by nature," writes Maximus, "and only God’s imitator is good by his gnome");17 it is also capable of sin because "our salvation depends on our will."18 But sin is always a personal act and never an act of nature.19 Patriarch Photius even goes so far as to say, referring to Western doctrines, that the belief in a "sin of nature" is a heresy.20
Here is the definition of sin, which is strictly adhered to: a personal act, in which one rebels against God, etc. Sin can be used only univocally, and not analogically.

From these basic ideas about the personal character of sin, it is evident that the rebellion of Adam and Eve against God could be conceived only as their personal sin; there would be no place, then, in such an anthropology for the concept of inherited guilt, or for a "sin of nature," although it admits that human nature incurs the consequences of Adam’s sin.
Yes, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God they committed a sin in the sense defined above. They were responsible for this sin and therefore guilty. However, the concept of inherited guilt, even if it be of Augustine, is not part of the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Greek patristic understanding of man never denies the unity of mankind or replaces it with a radical individualism. The Pauline doctrine of the two Adams ("As in Adam all men die, so also in Christ all are brought to life" [1 Co 15:22]) as well as the Platonic concept of the ideal man leads Gregory of Nyssa to understand Genesis 1:27 — "God created man in His own image" — to refer to the creation of mankind as a whole.21 It is obvious therefore that the sin of Adam must also be related to all men, just as salvation brought by Christ is salvation for all mankind; but neither original sin nor salvation can be realized in an individual’s life without involving his personal and free responsibility.

This is insistance on the univocal use of sin, which names a voluntary, personal act for which one is responsible.
The scriptural text, which played a decisive role in the polemics between Augustine and the Pelagians, is found in Romans 5:12 where Paul speaking of Adam writes, "As sin came into the world through one man and through sin and death, so death spreads to all men because all men have sinned [eph ho pantes hemarton]" In this passage there is a major issue of translation. The last four Greek words were translated in Latin as in quo omnes peccaverunt ("in whom [i.e., in Adam] all men have sinned"), and this translation was used in the West to justify the doctrine of guilt inherited from Adam and spread to his descendants. But such a meaning cannot be drawn from the original Greek — the text read, of course, by the Byzantines. The form eph ho — a contraction of epi with the relative pronoun ho — can be translated as "because," a meaning accepted by most modern scholars of all confessional backgrounds.22 Such a translation renders Paul’s thought to mean that death, which is "the wages of sin" (Rm 6:23) for Adam, is also the punishment applied to those who like him sin. It presupposed a cosmic significance of the sin of Adam, but did not say that his descendants are "guilty" as he was unless they also sinned as he did.
Except that "inherited guilt" does not become a part of the Latin theological tradition lasting to this day. Nonetheless, the question is whether "inherited guilt" is taken to mean what Orthodox theologians and polemicists think it means.

A number of Byzantine authors, including Photius, understood the eph ho to mean "because" and saw nothing in the Pauline text beyond a moral similarity between Adam and other sinners in death being the normal retribution for sin. But there is also the consensus of the majority of Eastern Fathers, who interpret Romans 5:12 in close connection with 1 Corinthians 15:22 — between Adam and his descendants there is a solidarity in death just as there is a solidarity in life between the risen Lord and the baptized. This interpretation comes obviously from the literal, grammatical meaning of Romans 5:12. Eph ho, if it means "because," is a neuter pronoun; but it can also be masculine referring to the immediately preceding substantive thanatos ("death"). The sentence then may have a meaning, which seems improbable to a reader trained in Augustine, but which is indeed the meaning which most Greek Fathers accepted: "As sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, so death spread to all men; and because of death, all men have sinned..."

Mortality, or "corruption," or simply death (understood in a personalized sense), has indeed been viewed since Christian antiquity as a cosmic disease, which holds humanity under its sway, both spiritually and physically, and is controlled by the one who is "the murderer from the beginning" (Jn 8:44). It is this death, which makes sin inevitable and in this sense "corrupts" nature.
Just physical mortality or spiritual morality as well?

For Cyril of Alexandria, humanity after the sin of Adam "fell sick of corruption."23 Cyril’s opponents, the theologians of the School of Antioch, agreed with him on the consequence of Adam’s sin. For Theodore of Mopsuestia, "by becoming mortal, we acquired greater urge to sin." The necessity of satisfying the needs of the body — food, drink, and other bodily needs — are absent in immortal beings; but among mortals, they lead to "passions," for they present unavoidable means of temporary survival.24 Theodoret of Cyrus repeats almost literally the arguments of Theodore in his own commentary on Romans; elsewhere, he argues against the sinfulness of marriage by affirming that transmission of mortal life is not sinful in itself, in spite of Psalm 51:7 ("my mother conceived me in sin"). This verse, according to Theodoret, refers not to the sexual act but to the general sinful condition of mortal humanity: "Having become mortal, [Adam and Eve] conceived mortal children, and mortal beings are a necessary subject to passions and fears, to pleasures and sorrows, to anger and hatred."25
It is not clear to me that Adam and Eve did not need to eat. If we take Genesis literally, why would they offered be food if they did not need nourishment? For the pleasure of eating?
It seems to me that one can argue that they needed food in some way, though they could not be killed by an external object. As for Orthodox teaching on whether Adam and Eve needed food, is this a definitive teaching or is Fr. Meyendorf advancing a theological opinion? not definitive teaching?

One notes that strictly speaking, nature (as form or essence) itself cannot be corrupted without simultaneously being destroyed. Nature as matter, however, can be, or nature as referring to the composite taken together, form + matter. Hence, Aquinas will speak of corrupt nature as well--see for example, question 85 of the Prima Secundae, or this passage.

There is indeed a consensus in Greek patristic and Byzantine traditions in identifying the inheritance of the Fall as an inheritance essentially of mortality rather than of sinfulness, sinfulness being merely a consequence of mortality. The idea appears in Chrysostom in the eleventh-century commentator Theophylact of Ohrida27, who specifically denies the imputation of sin to the descendants of Adam,26 and in later Byzantine authors, particularly in Gregory Palamas.28 The always-more-sophisticated Maximus the Confessor, when he speaks of the consequences of the sin of Adam, identifies them mainly with the mind’s submission to the flesh and finds in sexual procreation the most obvious expression of man’s acquiescence in animal instincts; but as we have seen, sin remains, for Maximus, a personal act, and inherited guilt is impossible.29 For him as for the others, "the wrong choice but not inherited guilt made by Adam brought in passion, corruption, and mortality."30
And the Latins would agree--(1) concupiscence is a consequence of the sin of Adam, and (2) there is no inherited personal guilt for Adam's descendants. But is there guilt in another sense?

The contrast with Western tradition on this point is brought into sharp focus when Eastern authors discuss the meaning of baptism. Augustine’s arguments in favour of infant baptism were taken from the text of the creeds (baptism for "the remission of sins") and from his understanding of Romans 5:12. Children are born sinful not because they have sinned personally, but because they have sinned "in Adam;" their baptism is therefore also a baptism "for the remission of sins." At the same time, an Eastern contemporary of Augustine’s, Theodoret of Cyrus, flatly denies that the creedal formula "for the remission of sins" is applicable to infant baptism. For Theodoret, in fact, the "remission of sins" is only a side effect of baptism, fully real in cases of adult baptism, which is the norm, of course, in the early Church and which indeed "remits sins." But the principal meaning of baptism is wider and more positive: "If the only meaning of baptism is the remission of sins," writes Theodoret, "why would we baptize the newborn children who have not yet tasted of sin? But the mystery [of baptism] is not limited to this; it is a promise of greater and more perfect gifts. In it, there are the promises of future delights; it is a type of the future resurrection, a communion with the master’s passion, a participation in His resurrection, a mantle of salvation, a tunic of gladness, a garment of light, or rather it is light itself."31
Augustine is not the whole of the "Western tradition." A straw man argument. What do the authoritative documents of the Catholic Church maintain? Also, how is remission being used by Augustine?Aquinas will speak of both the healing and the perfective necessity of grace.

Thus, the Church baptizes children not to "remit" their yet nonexistent sins but in order to give them a new and immortal life, which their mortal parents are unable to communicate to them.
Yes. And it is this lack of the new and immortal life, this privative state, which the Latins call original "sin"--not sin as a personal act, but sin analogically. Does original sin have the character of personal sin for Augustine? Or does he use it analogically as well? And if it is used analogically, can one still nevertheless speak of it being remitted? Does the privative state of original sin have the nature of punishment which should be lifted or taken away? If it does, then one can see why one could speak of the "remission" of original sin, to release from the guilt or the penalty [of]. And the penalty? Physical and spiritual death, being under the dominion of the devil, etc., which was incurred by Adam not only for himself but for the whole human race because of his act of disobedience.

The opposition between the two Adams is seen in terms not of guilt and forgiveness but of death and life. "The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven; as was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven" (1 Co 15:47-48). Baptism is the paschal mystery, the "passage." All its ancient forms, especially the Byzantine, include a renunciation of Satan, a triple immersion as type of death and resurrection, and the positive gift of new life through anointing and Eucharistic communion.
Ok, this is in agreement with Catholic teaching.
In this perspective, death and mortality are viewed not as much as retribution for sin (although they are also a just retribution for personal sins) but as means through which the fundamentally unjust "tyranny" of the devil is exercised over mankind after Adam’s sin. From this, baptism is liberation because it gives access to the new immortal life brought into the world by Christ’s Resurrection. The Resurrection delivers men from the fear of death and, therefore, also from the necessity of struggling for existence. Only in the light of the risen Lord the Sermon on the Mount does acquire its full realism: "Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body — more than clothing?" (Mt6:25).
What is retribution, or punishment? The effects of original sin are a punishment of Adam's sin, imposed on all human beings, in so far as they share his nature and are descended from him.

Communion in the risen body of Christ, participation in divine life, sanctification through the energy of God, which penetrates true humanity and restores it to its "natural" state rather than justification, or remission of inherited guilt, — these are at the centre of Byzantine understanding of the Christian Gospel.
Justification is not just the remission of inherited guilt--Catholi teaching also covers the "positive" aspect of justification and sanctification.

The differences in terminology can obscure the fundamental questions, which are:

(1) Was Adam given the gift of divine life or friendship with God or righteousness?
(2) Did God intend for this gift to be passed on to Adam's descendants?
(3) As a result of Adam's sin, was this inheritance taken away, so that his descendants would be not be created in the state of being righteous, etc., unlike Adam?

Is it necessary for official teaching and theology to use univocal naming only, for the sake of clarity? Even if this were taken to be the ideal, it would be necessary not for the intelligibility of discourse, but because of our weaknesses, both intellectual and moral.

As for the corruption of nature, we note that the Greek Fathers, who did not have a complete account of the word "nature," can be misconstrued if one equates "nature" with essence. Rather, however if they are interpreted in the light of a proper understanding of nature as matter, these difficulties can be resolved.

As for "inherited guilt" we note that it is not spoken of in the Compendium of the Catechism or in the CCC. I doubt if guilt is used in connection with original sin in any magisterial documents of the last century. (It is not used in the Council of Orange, as far as I can see.)

From the Compendium of the Catechism:

76. What is original sin?


Original sin, in which all human beings are born, is the state of deprivation of original holiness and justice. It is a sin “contracted” by us not “committed”; it is a state of birth and not a personal act. Because of the original unity of all human beings, it is transmitted to the descendants of Adam “not by imitation, but by propagation”. This transmission remains a mystery which we cannot fully understand.

77. What other consequences derive from original sin?


In consequence of original sin human nature, without being totally corrupted, is wounded in its natural powers. It is subject to ignorance, to suffering, and to the dominion of death and is inclined toward sin. This inclination is called concupiscence.

The corresponding sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

402 All men are implicated in Adam's sin, as St. Paul affirms: "By one man's disobedience many (that is, all men) were made sinners": "sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned."289 The Apostle contrasts the universality of sin and death with the universality of salvation in Christ. "Then as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men."290

403 Following St. Paul, the Church has always taught that the overwhelming misery which oppresses men and their inclination towards evil and death cannot be understood apart from their connection with Adam's sin and the fact that he has transmitted to us a sin with which we are all born afflicted, a sin which is the "death of the soul".291 Because of this certainty of faith, the Church baptizes for the remission of sins even tiny infants who have not committed personal sin.292

404 How did the sin of Adam become the sin of all his descendants? the whole human race is in Adam "as one body of one man".293 By this "unity of the human race" all men are implicated in Adam's sin, as all are implicated in Christ's justice. Still, the transmission of original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand. But we do know by Revelation that Adam had received original holiness and justice not for himself alone, but for all human nature. By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state.294 It is a sin which will be transmitted by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice. and that is why original sin is called "sin" only in an analogical sense: it is a sin "contracted" and not "committed" - a state and not an act.

405 Although it is proper to each individual,295 original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam's descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence". Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ's grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.

406 The Church's teaching on the transmission of original sin was articulated more precisely in the fifth century, especially under the impulse of St. Augustine's reflections against Pelagianism, and in the sixteenth century, in opposition to the Protestant Reformation. Pelagius held that man could, by the natural power of free will and without the necessary help of God's grace, lead a morally good life; he thus reduced the influence of Adam's fault to bad example. the first Protestant reformers, on the contrary, taught that original sin has radically perverted man and destroyed his freedom; they identified the sin inherited by each man with the tendency to evil (concupiscentia), which would be insurmountable. the Church pronounced on the meaning of the data of Revelation on original sin especially at the second Council of Orange (529)296 and at the Council of Trent (1546).297

However, the Council of Trent does use the word guilt.

The Council of Trent, Decree on Original Sin (DS 1510-1516):

One online English translation reads thusly:
5. If any one denies, that, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is conferred in baptism, the guilt of original sin is remitted...

The original Latin:
5. Si quis per Iesu Christi Domini nostri gratiam, quae in baptismate confertur, reatum originalis peccati remitti negat...

Here reatum = guilt or the state of guilt. But is it personal guilt or fault, that which obtains with responsibility? Or is guilt being used to name something analogically, namely that effects or consequences of Adam's sin?

Aquinas writes in the De Malo, q. 4, a. 1:

If we should consider this privation so transmitted by physical descent to a particular human being insofar as the human being is an individual person, then such privation cannot have the nature of moral fault, for which voluntariness is a prerequisite. But if we should consider a particular begotten human being as a member of the whole human nature propagated by our first parent, as if all human beings were one human being, than the privation of original justice has the nature of moral fault because of its voluntary source, that is, the actual sin of our first parent.
It has the fault not because we are responsible for bringing it upon ourselves, but because Adam was responsible for himself and for all of mankind, as head of the human race. It is called fault not in reference to us, but in reference to the origin, Adam, from whom the consequences are transmitted.

A similar charge has been levelled at the term "sin of nature"--the objection again rests on a univocal definition of sin as something that is personal. The response is the same--Aquinas continues in the same passage:

This is as if we should say that the movement of a hand to commit homicide, insofar as we consider the hand as such, does nto have the character of a moral fault, since something else moves the hand in a determined way. But if we should consider the hand as part of the human being who acts willingly, then the hand's movement shares the character of the moral fault, since then the movement is voluntary. Therefore, as we call teh homicide the moral fault of teh whole human being and not the hand, so we call the privation of original justice a sin of teh whole human nature and not a personal sin. Nor does the privation belong to the person except insofar as human nature corrupts the person. And different parts of a human being, namely, the will, reason, hands, eyes, and the like, are used to commit one sin, and yet there is only one sin because of its one source, namely, the will, from which the character of sin is transmitted to all the acts of the other parts. Just so, we consider original sin as if one sin by reason of its source in the whole human nature.

If, however, " sin of nature" is equivalent to the corruption of nature (as matter), then the objection does not hold. Or, to put it in another way, "sin of nature" merely emphasizes that we are all descended from Adam and suffer the consequences of his sin, and that "all have sinned in Adam."

Hence, the "sin" of "sin of nature" should not be understood univocally as it meant the same thing as personal sin. Aquinas [and I assumes other Latin theologians as well] are not committing the mistake of attributing a personal act to the nature, as some Orthodox might assert. Rather than assuming they understand the terms, they should back their interpretation up with texts, and see how the terms are being defined.

Unless I see how Augustine defines "guilt" and "sin" univocally (and I have not seen any proof that he has), I withhold from judging that he has made an error. If he does not define guilt and sin, then the meaning must be drawn from the texts and given "the most charitable interpretation" possible. Even if he does make this mistake, one needs to show that his definitions are employed by the Latin tradition, and not just the terms.