The story of the Fall of man is a true story, not a mere fable. This is the general opinion of theologians.
1. God imposed on man in paradise a precept; He forbade him to eat the fruit of one of the trees which stood in the midst of the Garden of Eden.
The fruit of the tree of good and evil was not bad in itself, for God did not place anything that was evil in paradise; it was only bad and injurious to man because it was forbidden.
By obedience to this precept God intended that Adam and Eve should merit eternal happiness.
It was the intention of God to bestow upon our first parents eternal happiness an inheritance that was to be theirs as children of God. But as a happiness that is earned is a greater happiness, and one of greater value than if it were bestowed without any action deserving of it, God in His goodness decreed that man should earn it as a reward of obedience. If man had not transgressed the command of God, he would have passed without pain and without death from the earthly into the celestial paradise. The posterity of Adam would have come into existence, like him, in a state of original justice. They would have died as Adam died if they had sinned like him, but the sin would not have passed on to their children, for Adam alone was the appointed head and representative of the human race.
2. Man allowed himself to be led astray by the devil, and transgressed the precept of his Creator.
The devil was envious of the happiness of our first parents. “By the envy of the devil death came into the world” (Wisd. ii. 24). “The devil was a murderer from the beginning” (John viii. 4). He deceived Eve by a lie. Hence Our Lord calls him the father of lies (John viii. 4) . He took a visible form because a mere internal suggestion would have had no power to influence the mind of our first parents in their state of original justice. He took the form of a serpent, because God would allow him to take no other and the serpent was a fit emblem of his cunning and poisonous wickedness. St. Augustine tells us that Adam and Eve had already admitted the beginnings of evil by thinking little of God and allowing themselves to be distracted by visible and palpable things. This was the occasion of the temptation. Their great happiness had made them unwary, and Eve foolishly lingered near the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and listened to the serpent, instead of turning away at once. The common tradition among the Fathers is that Adam was created on a Friday and fell on the following Friday, at the same hour at which Our Lord on Good Friday died upon the cross.
3. The transgression of the precept of God had disastrous consequences; man lost sanctifying grace, and all his supernatural gifts, and also suffered injuries both in soul and body.
The disobedience of our first parents received this severe punishment, because the law given them was one that it was easy for them to obey, and because they had such a high degree of knowledge. The sin they committed was a mortal sin, else it would not have been necessary for God Himself to die upon the cross in order to expiate it. From the cost of the remedy we may judge of the deadly nature of the wound. Just as the man who fell among the thieves on the road to Jericho was robbed of his goods, and also sorely wounded, so man was robbed by Satan of his supernatural gifts, and was sorely wounded in his natural gifts. In other words, the supernatural likeness to God was lost, and his whole nature, body and soul alike, was disfigured and weakened.
Original sin injured the soul of man in the following ways: His understanding was darkened, his will weakened and made prone to evil; lie lost supernatural grace and thus became displeasing to God, and could no more enter into the kingdom. of heaven.
His understanding was darkened, i.e., he had not the same knowledge of the nature of God, of the will of God, the end of life, etc. His will was weakened, for by sin the harmony between his spiritual and his sensible faculties was destroyed, so that the inclinations of his senses no longer submitted without revolt to the dominion of his reason. The flesh rebelled against the spirit in punishment for man’s rebellion against God. Hence St. Paul says, “I see another law in my members, fighting against the law of my mind” (Rom. vii. 23). “The flesh lusteth against the spirit” (Gal. v. 17). Hence forward man’s nature was drawn towards the things of sense, as iron is drawn by the power of the magnet. Many other evil tendencies also arose in him. Doubt in the goodness of God, in His truth and justice; vanity and pride, etc. Eve, who had fancied that she was going to become like to God, condemned herself and her posterity to a foolish curiosity, to a love of dress, and ill-timed loquacity. Man has not lost the freedom of his will by original sin, else he would not have that consciousness of being able to exercise choice, or that feel ing of remorse when he had yielded. Our first parents also lost sanctifying grace, the justice and holiness in which they were created, and the friendship of God which accompanied it. He who dies still burdened with original sin cannot see the face of God in heaven, but he does not suffer the pains of hell unless he has committed grievous sin himself. Children who die unbaptized are excluded from heaven, but it does not follow that their existence is one of pain or misery.
Original sin did injury to the body of man in the following ways: He became subject to sickness and death; he was shut out from paradise and had to labor and to suffer. Woman became subject to man; the forces of nature and the lower animals had power to injure man; lastly the devil had permission from God to tempt him to sin, and to injure him in his temporal possessions.
Man was condemned to die in consequence of original sin. God said to Adam “In the sweat of thy brow thou shalt eat bread, until thou return to the earth from which thou wast taken; for dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return” (Gen. iii. 19). Of these words the Church reminds us on Ash Wednesday, when the priest places the ashes on the heads of the faithful. Death is the worst consequence of original sin. But the death of the body is but the sensible image of the terrible and eternal death of the soul, from which man can only be delivered through the redemption of Christ and by penance. The exclusion from the earthly paradise also had its meaning, and was meant to remind man how sin excludes him from the celestial paradise of heaven. Man had also to labor hard. God said to Adam: “Cursed is the earth in thy work. With labor and toil thou shalt eat the fruit thereof all the days of thy life” (Gen iii. 17). Be cause of this curse the Church makes use of various blessings on material things. Woman had to be subject to her husband, because she had led him into disobedience, and had to bear children in sorrow because she had involved them in sorrow through her disobedience. The lower animals also received power to injure man. He had revolted against God, his Master; so it was only just that they should rebel against him. The devil has also a great influence over man, in accordance with the saying of Holy Scripture: “By whom a man is overcome, of the same also he is made the slave” (2 Pet. ii. 19). He can tempt them more easily and lead them to mortal sin; he can also injure them in their worldly goods (Cf. Job). He is the prince of this world, and has the empire of death (Heb. ii. 14). A heavy yoke lies upon the shoulders of the children of Adam from the day of their birth to the day of their death (Ecclus. xl. 1). The punishments that God sent upon man were a valuable medicine to counter act the effects of sin. Sickness, death, the necessity of labor, and the subjection of men one to another were intended to check pride and sensuality. Man was driven out of paradise lest he should eat of the tree of life, and so live forever in this valley of tears. His banishment was also an effective means of leading him to penance.
4. The sin of our first parents with all its evil consequences has passed on to their descendants.
Not merely the consequences of sin, but the sin itself, has in some sense passed on from Adam to his descendants, so that it is true of all of them that they have sinned in Adam. If it were not so, God could not with justice have visited that sin upon them. We are all by nature children of wrath (Eph. ii. 3). But we partake in the sin of Adam, as the members of the body partake in the sin which the soul commits through their agency, by putting them in motion to perform the sinful act. Suppose a king bestows an estate upon one of his servants, on the condition that the servant remain faithful to him. He is unfaithful, and thereby loses the estate not he only, but also his whole posterity. So it is with original sin. We must also remember that original sin and all its consequences are not any thing positive, but are the absence of that which would otherwise be present. It is the absence of the supernatural grace of God; of original justice, with all the privileges and perfections that it carries with it. When we say that we have sinned in Adam, this does not mean that we have imitated Adam’s sin by some positive act of our own. All children have sinned in Adam, even though absolutely free from any personal act of sin.
The sin that we inherit from Adam is called original sin.
We are already tainted with sin before we draw our first breath, or see the light of day. We are conceived in sin (Ps. 1. 7). Even the children of Christians are born in sin. Not only the seed of the wild olive, but also of the cultivated olive comes up as a wild plant. So is it with the children of Christian as well as of heathen parents.
Only Jesus Christ and His holy Mother were free from original sin.
All mankind save Christ and our blessed Lady were conceived in sin. St. John the Baptist (Luke i. 15) and probably the prophet Jeremias (Jer. i. 5), were born without sin, having been cleansed from sin in their mothers womb, but they were not conceived without sin. Some believe that St. Joseph was also born free from sin. All other men were cleansed from sin in baptism. The history of man is un intelligible to those who do not believe in the doctrine of original sin. Oh, how great is the misery that original sin has brought into the world! Yet how few there are who are conscious of their misery! Men are like children born in slavery, who laugh, and play, and enjoy themselves, as if they were free. It is only the saints, who know the emptiness of the joys of earth, who lament over the misery of sin.
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This article, 12. ORIGINAL SIN is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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