A little over five years ago, I was desperate for a good answer. At my office, I was working with a woman—who was a fallen-away Catholic—and she had two young children that she would not get baptized. Her opinion—though she didn’t quote scripture—was based upon Deut. 12: 24.
“Parents shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their parents; only for one’s own crime shall a person be put to death.” (NAB)
This passage states that everyone is accountable for their own sins and that sin cannot be passed from person-to-person or generation-to-generation. This woman’s argument was that since her children had not incurred sin (i.e., being less than the age of reason) that baptism was unnecessary because they could not have possibly committed any sin. I needed a meaty and solid answer to address her contentions. The typical reply, “everyone already knows that baptism is necessary” was not going to do the job and the souls of the children were at risk.
I went to various people—whom I considered very knowledgeable—seeking a solid answer to what is Original Sin in detail. I did not receive anything very satisfying. Finally, St. Augustine, Dr. Scott Hahn, Curtis Mitch, St. Teresa of Avila, Fr. Joseph Iannuzzi and others—through their writings and presentations—provided me with the parts I needed to surmise, coupled with some graduate course work, a meaningful answer as to what is Original Sin and—in fact—why we need to be baptized.
To begin with, we need a little background information. Sin is any action (i.e., transgression) or state that moves us away or keeps us from God. More information about transgressional sin can be found in my article “What is sin?” that can be found on Catholic365.com. By way of contrast, grace is a free gift from God obtained by faith that moves us closer to God.
The fall of Adam—father of humankind—resulted in the loss of the preternatural gifts and the four Shaloms. The preternatural gifts are infused knowledge, absence of concupiscence, and bodily immortality. The four Shaloms are harmonies with respect to humankind’s relationship with God, relationship with one’s spouse, relationship with others and relationship with nature. Humankind was created for relationship and through relationship. The Catechism provides additional information under the headings of Original Holiness and Justice (CCC 374–379). It was God’s will, when man was created, that he would have His image and likeness (Gen 1: 26, NAB); however, we lost His likeness.
While we still have the image of God (i.e., the intellect and will powers of a rational soul), the preternatural gifts and four Shaloms that compose the likeness of God were lost due to the fall. God granted only humans an intellect—to know God exists [i.e., Vatican I] and the ability to contemplate God’s love for us—and a will (i.e., the power to act) so that humankind could return His love for us. Moreover, the lower two powers of the soul—which we share with the animal kingdom—seems to have taken priority over the image of God with the fall. The two lower powers of the soul are the emotions and appetites (e.g., sexual lust).
The assertion that the passions and emotions have taken priority over the image of God is evidenced by Gen 1: 28, “God blessed them [Adam and Eve] and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply…” Yet, a careful reading of Genesis reveals that Adam and Eve didn’t have any children until after the fall (i.e., Gen 4: 1 – 2, NAB). Before the fall, they were naked and felt no shame. However, after the fall they sought bodily coverings (i.e., Gen 3: 7, NAB). Adam and Eve incurred lust of the flesh, lust of the eye and pride as a result of their fall. (1 John 2: 16, NAB) The outcome of passions and emotions taking priority over the intellect is concupiscence.
Fr. Iannuzzi quotes the teachings of St. Maximus the Confessor, which states—with respect to the “divinization and the divine will”—that we must consider the two dimensions of the human will. These two dimensions are the natural will (Logos), which is the rational will created and infused by God, and the personal will (Tropos) which is intended to conform to the will of God. The former is beyond human influence and the latter is wholly within each person’s power to control. It is important to remember that the will is the efficient cause of action. We will return to this teaching later.
Because of Adam’s fall, we cannot always see what we ought to do, and in fact we do things we don’t even want to do as acts influenced by the personal will. St. Paul understood this situation well when he wrote “For I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh. The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want. Now if [I] do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.” (Romans 7: 18 – 20, NAB) The conflict or difference between the natural will and the personal will is what Maximus calls the gnome. When the personal will and natural will are in perfect accord it is called divine synergy. The existence of the gnomic will is a result of Original Sin. Divine synergy is sainthood.
Original Sin is not the hereditable transmission of a transgression, but the hereditable transmission of a deprivation. Specifically, Original Sin is the absence of something (i.e., the likeness of God) that we should have inherited and passed down from generation-to-generation but didn’t. The deprivation being passed down from generation to generation is evident in Gen 5: 3 which states “Adam was one hundred and thirty years old when he begot a son in his likeness, after his image; and he named him Seth. “ (NAB) This is the reason why Original Sin, being a state of sin, does not contradict Deut. 12: 24 which entail sinful acts. This state of sin sets us apart from God. The fact that sin can be a state rather than a transgression is consistent with St. Augustine’s writing “Against Pelagianism.” St. Thomas Aquinas further refined the concept of Original Sin as well as other medieval scholars. The Council of Trent defined the Catholic doctrine of Original Sin in the 16th century with a special focus on Romans 5: 15 which states “Therefore, just as through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all…” (NAB)
Given the situation concerning Original Sin, does Baptism return all the things that the hereditable depravity of Original Sin took away? The answer is, not entirely. Baptism gives us a starting point from which we become an heir and—thereby—are eligible to receive an inheritance. How? By faith and baptism we become an heir. St. John wrote “But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name …” (John 1: 12, NAB) In short, to those who believe (i.e., faith) become adopted sons and daughters of God the Father. As His children we are eligible to obtain our inheritance from Him. Inheritance—by its very nature—means to receive something that was not previously possessed. The concept of inheritance fits perfectly with the concept that Original Sin is a deprivation. However, this inheritance can be freely rejected—if a person choses to do so—because of free will.
By the way, if questions arise about why Catholics baptize infants, I recommend “Why We Baptize Infants” by Matthew Martinez on the Catholic365.com website.
St. Paul makes it clear that a link exists between salvation and baptism when he wrote “"But when the kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared…he saved us through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ our savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:4, 5b-7, NAB)
Moreover, according to St. Paul, Baptism gives us the down-payment of our full inheritance. St. Paul wrote, “In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,which is the first installmentof our inheritance toward redemption as God’s possession, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1: 13 – 14, NBA) St. Paul also wrote “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8: 22 – 23, NAB) Firstfruits refer to the religious practice of Israel where the first stalks of grain where gathered from the spring harvest and taken to the Temple. The firstfruits were offered to God in thanksgiving and then God was petitioned for His blessing on the rest of the harvest. Therefore, the firstfruits reference can be seen as granting a little of the inheritance upfront and the reminder of the inheritance at the end, which includes the “redemption of our bodies” that will occur at the 2nd coming of Christ (i.e., Parousia).
Given the information above, it is very reasonable to ask what we receive when we are baptized. The concise answer is sanctifying grace to become a son or daughter of God the Father and thus become an heir, actual grace to help us resist the temptations associated with concupiscence, the infused theological virtues (i.e., faith, hope and charity), and the forgiveness of our transgressions (i.e., sins) that we have incurred up to the point of our baptism.
With respect to our existing transgressions and God’s forgiveness, St. Paul explains how this is possible. First, St. Paul explains that our Baptisms are tied to the death and resurrection of Christ. St. Paul wrote “Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. (Romans 6: 3 – 5, NAB) Dr. Tim Grey comments that whenever we see Jesus ascend, the Holy Spirit descends. For example, when Jesus came out of the water at His Baptism, the Holy Spirit descended. The same situation exists for us as we emerge from the waters of Baptism. The Holy Spirit descends upon us at our baptisms.
Second, St. Paul explains that we are under the law which defines and makes apparent sin while we are alive; however we are no longer under the law after our death. St. Paul explains “Are you unaware, brothers (for I am speaking to people who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over one as long as one lives? Thus a married woman is bound by law to her living husband; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law in respect to her husband. Consequently, while her husband is alive she will be called an adulteress if she consorts with another man. But if her husband dies she is free from that law, and she is not an adulteress if she consorts with another man.” (Romans 7: 1 – 3, NAB) Since we die with Christ during our Baptisms we too are relinquished from transgressions we have committed and by participating in His resurrection, we emerge from the waters of Baptism without sin.
With respect to the preternatural gifts and the 4 Shaloms being restored as part of our inheritance, all but two of the items mentioned are intuitive except “Harmony of with Spouse” (2nd Shalom) and “bodily immortality” (3rd Preternatural Gift). St. Teresa of Avila helps our understanding of “Harmony with Spouse.” St. Teresa wrote about a soul having to traverse through seven mansions with respect to divinization. Further, she called reaching the 7th mansion a “Spiritual Marriage.” Moreover, upon receipt of our full inheritance the personal will is perfectly correlated with the natural will which results in sainthood which is consistent with the teaching of St. Maximus. All souls in Heaven are saints and are in a nuptial relationship with God. Clearly, God desires a nuptial relationship with His creation as evident in the 1st Covenant He made with Adam and Eve. In summation, all of our relationships will be harmonious.
With respect to bodily immortality, Dr. Brent Pitre points out that the glorified body of Christ is not simply a resuscitated body likes Lazarus’ body or Jairus daughter’s body which were subject to death again, but a resurrected body that lives forever. In the same vein, our resurrected bodies will not be simply resuscitations of our current bodies at the second coming of Christ, but resurrected bodies which—like Christ’s resurrected body—are in complete Harmony with Nature (i.e., Creation). Our resurrected bodies fulfill the 4th Shalom.
While I missed the opportunity with my co-worker to fully address why her two children needed to be baptized, I feel much better prepared when confronted with the same situation in the future. The understanding of Original Sin is important in the service of God. As St. Rose of Lima said, “Know that the greatest service man can offer to God is to help convert souls.” Perhaps, understanding Original Sin will help us in our efforts to convert souls.