What is original sin, and why should it concern me if I was not responsible for it?
The doctrine of original sin is hard for many to understand, as it is often discredited by rationalism and apparently negated by science. It is increasingly less present in religion classes and in homilies. Nevertheless, John Paul II and Benedict XVI have strongly reminded us that this doctrine is the cornerstone of Christianity.
It is difficult to understand how man is burdened by the punishment due to Adam and Eve, whose existence is often relegated to the world of myths. And, since this matter is often not given the attention due to it, it gives rise to many questions of interest to the faithful: Is original sin hereditary? How is it transmitted? Is it caught during the sexual act, as many philosophers have thought? But is sexuality then a sin? What does the “apple” signify? Moreover, if it is hereditary and erased through baptism, why does a child of baptized parents have to be baptized?
It is wrong to think that the sin of Adam was only a personal sin; with this first historical sin of man, evil entered the world, and the power of the devil took hold on the human race so that only the death and resurrection of Christ could break it.
Of what does original sin consist? The Catechism of the Catholic Church provides an answer in #397-412: it is man’s distrust in the goodness of his Creator that separates man from the Creator. This “state of sin” is transmitted to men not because they are sexually begotten, but because they are begotten with a human nature. Due to original sin, every person at conception is deprived of his original state of grace with God and cannot return to this state by his own free will.
According to biblical commentators, the first chapters of Genesis were written around the time of the Exile, compiled from various earlier traditions. Thus, they are not composed as a historical chronicle. In addition, some elements are reminiscent of mythological texts from Babylon and Persia.
However, the meaning of the story itself introduces entirely new religious truths about other religions: if one reviews the pagan mythological stories, he sees that the relationship between man and divinity, as well as the explanation of the origin of evil, is totally different from the Christian account.
Genesis was compiled at a time when Jewish thought, in light of revelation, pondered the problem of evil. Genesis states a number of fundamental truths: God created man with a nature that is both good and free, and made in His image and likeness, with a complementarity between man and woman. But at the Devil’s prompting, man used the freedom God had given him to rebel against Him, and man fell.
The Word of God became flesh precisely to free man from this power, for only a Creator has the ability to rebuild His own creature. This doctrine is spelled out by St. Paul in 1 Cor. 15:21-22, 45-49; Rom. 15:12-21; and Eph. 2:1-3, and also appears in Revelation (12:9-11).