Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Orthodox Church and Original Sin- Tenny Thomas

The Epistle of Romans is St. Paul's magnum opus While it's not the systematic
theology text that some make it out to be, it is his most theological and most
systematic epistle.It's in this chapter that Paul writes most specifically about
the inherited nature of sin, and it is from this passage that St. Augustine gets
his material for 'inherited guilt'. Romans 5:12-19 reads: "Therefore, just as
sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way
death came to all people, because all sinned -- For just as through the
disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the
obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous".

Technically speaking, in their writings the Eastern Fathers and Orthodox
theologians do not use the Latin term introduced by Augustine in his treatise
"De Peccato originali", but instead translate this concept by means of two
cognate terms in Greek, namely, progoniki amartia and to propatorikon amartima,
which is properly translated "ancestral sin". These terms allow for a more
careful nuancing of the various implications contained in the one Latin term.[1]

With regard to original sin, the difference between Orthodox Christianity and
the West is:

In the Orthodox Faith, the term 'original sin' refers to the 'first' or
'ancestral' sin of Adam and Eve. As a result of this sin, humanity bears the
'consequences' of sin, which is death. Here the word 'original' may be seen as
synonymous with 'first' or 'ancestral'.Hence, the 'original sin' refers to the
'first sin' or 'ancestral sin'.[2]

In the West, humanity likewise bears the 'consequences' of the 'original sin' of
Adam and Eve. However, the West also understands that humanity is likewise
'guilty' of the sin of Adam and Eve. The term 'Original Sin' here refers to the
condition into which humanity is born, a condition in which guilt as well as
consequence is involved.

In the Orthodox Christian understanding, while humanity does bear the
consequences of the original, or first, sin, humanity does not bear the personal
guilt associated with this sin. Adam and Eve are guilty of their willful action;
we bear the consequences, which is death.[3]

John Karmiris writes that 'the sin of the first man, together with all of its
consequences and penalties, is transferred by means of natural heredity to the
entire human race. Since every human being is a descendant of the first man, no
one of us is free from the spot of sin, even if he should manage to live a
completely sinless day'.[4]

The Orthodox Church cannot agree with Augustine, when he says that humans are
under a 'harsh necessity' of committing sin in his City of God. The image of God
is distorted by sin but never destroyed and because we still retain the image of
God we still retain free will, although sin restricts its scope. Orthodoxy
repudiates any interpretation of the fall which allows no room for freedom.
However, we agree with the West that sin had set up a barrier which humanity by
its own efforts could never break down. Sin blocked the path to union with God.
Since we could not come to God, He came to us. With all that said I do recommend
works of Augustine for Orthodox believers.

It can be said that while we have not inherited the guilt of Adam's personal
sin, because his sin is also of a generic nature, and because the entire human
race is possessed of an essential, ontological unity, we participate in it by
virtue of our participation in the human race. St. Cyril of Alexandria says:
"The imparting of 'First Sin/Ancestral Sin/ Original Sin' by means of natural
heredity should be understood in terms of the unity of the entire human nature,
and of the homoousiotitos of all men, who, connected by nature, constitute one
mystic whole. Inasmuch as human nature is indeed unique and unbreakable, the
imparting of sin from the first-born to the entire human race descended from him
is rendered explicable: 'Explicitly, as from the root, the sickness proceeded to
the rest of the tree, Adam being the root who had suffered corruption'".[5]

[1] Original Sin in Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford, 2005).

[2] Fr. Anthony Hughes, 'View of Sin in the Early Church: Ancestral Versus
Original Sin'.

[3] Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky, Orthodox Dogmatic Theology: A Concise
Exposition, trans. Hieromonk Seraphim Rose (Platina, Calif.: St. Herman of
Alaska Brotherhood, 1994).

[4] John Karmiris, A Synopsis of the Dogmatic Theology of the Orthodox Catholic
Church, trans. from the Greek by the Reverend George Dimopoulos (Scranton, PA.:
Christian Orthodox Edition, 1973), pp. 35-36.

[5] Justo L. Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought: Volume 2 - From
Augustine to the eve of the Reformation.

Tenny Thomas, New York

1 comment:

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