Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Original Sin

My mother sums up this doctrine in a simple sentence: "We sin because we are sinners, we are not sinners because we sin."  Calvin, however, is a little more verbose.

The term "original sin" does not describe the act of the first sin whether it was the biting of the fruit, pride, or unfaithfulness.  When Adam sinned he not only affected himself but every subsequent generation.  Original sin is the state we are living in.  Adam became so corrupted by his sin that it was passed on to future generations.  Calvin wrote, "Therefore, after the heavenly image was obliterated in him, he was not the only one to suffer this punishment...but he also entangled and immersed his offspring in the same miseries."

Years before Calvin, a British monk named Pelagius argued back and forth with Augustine.  Pelagius believed that sin was merely a habit taught to us by our parents.  It was possible to live a sin-free life.  It was our choice whether or not we sin.  "Pelagius quibbled that it was transmitted through imitation, not propagation.  Therefore, good men (and Augustine above the rest) labored to show us that we are corrupted not by derived wickedness, but that we bear inborn defect from our mother's womb."  Calvin does not address this, but Augustine wrote in some places that there was a certain amount of lust involved in every act of reproduction, therefore even at conception we are infected with sin. 

The entire next section is spent refuting Pelagius' claims that our sin is merely an imitation of our parents' sinfulness.  He quotes Romans 5:12, "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned..." which states clearly that Adam brought sin to all men.  He paraphrases the first half of Romans 5:19, "For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners..." which tells us again that Adam's sin radically changed the entire human race.  Calvin wrote, "Paul's statement that 'by nature all are children or wrath' [Eph. 2:3] could not stand, unless they had already been cursed in the womb itself.  Obviously, Paul does not mean 'nature' as it was established by God, but as it was vitiated in Adam."  Later, Calvin concludes this section on sin not being just imitation by stating, "Christ himself, our heavenly judge, clearly enough proclaims that all men are born wicked and depraved when he says that, 'whatever is born of flesh is flesh' [John 3:6], and therefore the door of life is closed to all until they have been reborn [John 3:5]."

The final section of today's reading dealt with the transmission of sin from one generation to the next.  Many times Calvin used the word "contagion" which means the communication of a disease by direct or indirect contact (  He also describes it as rotten roots on a tree sprouting rotten twigs.  He quotes Augustine again, "whether a man is a guilty unbeliever or an innocent believer, he begets not innocent but guilty children, for he begets them from a corrupted nature."

Taking a quote from the middle of today's reading, I thing that this is a fitting summary of what Calvin wrote about original sin.  "Therefore all of us, who have descended from impure seed, are born infected with the contagion of sin.  In fact, before we saw the light of this life we were soiled and spotted in God's sight.  'For who can bring a clean thing from an unclean? There is not one' - as The Book of Job says [Job 14:4 cf. Vg.]."  Finally, I would like to encourage you to read Romans 5:12-21.  It deals not only with the first Adam bringing sin to all generations, but also with Christ, the second Adam, bringing salvation to us.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.1.8-2.1.11

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