Original sin is erased by baptism
By Father Paul Turner
Catholic Key Scripture Columni
The Good News for the 1st Sunday of Lent
Sunday, February 13, 2005
Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7
Romans 5:12-19 or 5: 12, 17-19
Sin, sex and death can make riveting reading, but in the hands of St. Paul they are as dense as a tax code. Still, if you take the time, such texts yield insights and unforeseen beauty.
The season of Lent puts the Catholic Church in a penitential frame of mind. Each year we call one another to repent from sin to prepare for the joy of Easter. The second reading for the First Sunday of Lent this year (Romans 5:12-19) exposes the contrast between sin and forgiveness in the context of death and eternal life. This passage perfectly opens the season of Lent. But it is dense.
Sin, sex and death are wrapped together in the Catholic imagination, and in Paul's defense, some Catholics make the relationship more complicated than he intended.
You see, this is the passage that lies behind our thinking on original sin, even though Paul does not explicitly use the expression.
The story behind original sin is told in this Sunday's first reading (Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7). Adam and Eve, created for an idyllic life, committed personal sin by disobeying God's command. Paul says Adam's action brought consequences for himself and for all of humanity: Sin entered the world.
The traditional Catholic teaching on original sin attempts to explain why - if we were created in the image of God - we are so easily tempted to commit sin. The reason is that something went haywire in the original human condition. God created us for a life of grace, but we sin. For us, original sin is not a sin we commit (Catechism of the Catholic Church 404). It is a state we inherit. Baptism erases original sin, but being human, we are still prone to sin (CCC 405).
When we say babies are born with original sin, we are not saying they have committed sin. That would be ridiculous. But we know they are born into a human state that will be tempted. The inclination to commit sin is not itself a sin (CCC 2515); sin is something freely chosen. Baptism offers us the grace of Christ to choose what is right and resist the temptation to sin.
Sex, however, has disturbed this teaching. Throughout history, some people - even Catholics - have equated sex with original sin. The rationale goes something like this: Adam committed the first sin, and if everyone else has inherited original sin, then sin is transmitted by sex, which must be a sin. It's hogwash, but some people believe this stuff.
And St. Paul said nothing like it. All he said was sin entered the world through one man, and humans share a sad solidarity of sin. Through that first sin, death entered the world as well. Paul believed that God created humans to live forever. Death was not part of the original plan. Sin introduced death into the picture, and now all humans share a sad solidarity of death as well. Paul is not talking about sex.
Paul is most anxious to talk about Christ. Sin and death are nothing compared to righteousness and eternal life.
One of the most deeply beautiful lines of the Bible is tucked into Paul's argument: "The gift is not like the transgression." Think about that. The gift is not like the transgression.
Jesus and Adam have something in common. They both did something that affected the entire human race. But the similarity ends there. The gift is not like the transgression. Adam's action brought sin; Jesus' action brought redemption. The effect of Adam's sin pales before the immeasurable influence of the grace of Christ. Paul says, "If, by the transgression of the one, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one Jesus Christ."
Sex is not original sin. Sex outside of marriage may be personal sin, but the beautiful sexual love of husband and wife has nothing to do with original sin. Original sin is an inherited state. Baptism erases it. We are still tempted to sin, but we do not lose heart, because the gift of Christ is not like the transgression of Adam. It is filled with grace and goodness, and it will reign over all.
As we begin Lent this year, we reflect upon our personal sins, and we face them humbly but confidently. In the joy of Easter, we will experience forgiveness and redemption - the gift that overpowers all transgression.
Father Paul Turner is the pastor of St. Munchin Parish in Cameron.