Irenaeus (and others) on original sin

I had reason to dig around in some of the Patristic literature recently, and came across Irenaeus’ (late 2nd century) teaching on Adam and sin whilst looking for something else. It reminded me that I haven’t yet recorded in this blog what Irenaeus actually teaches, which is an oversight as many modern writers in the evolution/theology field, and outside it, question the traditional teaching on original sin, most often by attributing it to Augustine in the west. The Eastern Church, they say, never taught the idea of hereditary sin. Even John H Walton, much of whose excellent work I have been reading of late, mentions this as a plain fact in order to defend the concept that Adam need not be regarded as the physical ancestor of the entire human race.


Now I am open to alternative views of Adam’s role as the author of human sin, since the relevant Scriptural passages are be difficult to interpret dogmatically. Neither do I regard the Church Fathers as the fount of infallible gospel truth. But the Patristic writers do at least give us an idea of what “the Church has always taught”, and if modern writers are misrepresenting their positions truth is not served.

Irenaeus wrote over two centuries before Augustine, and is regarded as an authority in both the Eastern and Western traditions. His main teaching on this matter, in Against Heresies Book III, is actually primarily against the heretic Tatian’s teaching that Adam was not redeemed from his first sin. Irenaeus wants to prove how fitting it was that God should save him, and how the Scriptures support that assertion. In other words, his theme is tangential to our interest here, and it is likely that any teaching involving original sin merely reflects the prevailing belief of orthodox Christians then. So in #2 of chapter XXIII he says:

For it is too absurd to maintain that he who was so deeply injured by the enemy [Satan], and was the first to suffer captivity, was not rescued by Him who conquered the enemy, but that his children were – those whom he had begotten in the same captivity.

See that Irenaeus says that Adam’s children are begotten in captivity. But is that captivity to sin, or just to mortality? In the previous paragraph he has said that Adam became “a vessel in Satan’s possession”, in his power, because Satan wickedly bought sin upon him, and pretending to offer immortality instead made him liable to death. In other words, the captivity is both: death is the consequence of sin for Adam’s children as for Adam. But he clarifies this by an illustration:

If a hostile force has overcome certain [enemies], had bound them, and led them away captive, so that they begat children among them; and somebody, compassionating those who had been made slaves, should overcome this same hostile force; he cerainly would not act equitably, were he to liberate the children of those who had been led captive, from the sway of those who had enslaved their fathers, but should leave these latter … the children succeeding to liberty through the avenging of their father’s cause, but not so that their fathers, who suffered the act of capture itself, should be left [in bondage]. For God is neither devoid of power nor of justice, who has afforded help to man and restored him to His own liberty.

I think it’s clear that the whole force of Irenaeus’ argument is that Adam entailed bondage to sin and death on his physical descendants. He does not spell out whether that bondage consists of the tendency to sin, or guilt for Adam’s first sin, but the first seems more in line with his words and is usually the main point at issue in terms of discussing Adam’s progeniture.

How is this different from Augustine’s view? In the matter of the inheritence of bondage to sin not at all. Augustine’s contribution was, firstly, to argue carefully from Scripture for the additional element of corporate human guilt for that first sin. But his most contentious offering, though frequently forgotten now, is merely a suggestion for the mechanism of transgression of original sin. He suggested that sin was transmitted to the new life as it was conceived through the concupiscence (lust) now inherent in fallen sexual relations. This doesn’t resonate with our modern mindset – but neither does it affect the nature of original sin itself.

What, then, has the Eastern Church rejected about original sin? Here my reading, as an outsider to Eastern Orthodoxy, suggests that all is not as it is often portrayed. An article by Orthodox writer Vladimir Moss, unfortunately no longer online, argues strongly that the tendency in Orthodoxy to deny the transmission of sin down the generations is a recent change initiated primarily by publications of Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky (1926) and Fr. John Romanides’ (1957), who argued that Orthodoxy had fallen into its own bondage to the Augustian tradition by accepting his erroneous translation of Romans 5.12. Moss, as a traditionalist, disputes their modern translation of this verse, their conclusion and their re-writing of history, and says that their teaching itself is not Orthodox (remember the high regard given to tradition in Orthodoxy – one can draw such conclusions in a way impossible within Protestantism).

Moss gives a long paragraph of Orthodox authorities for his claim, which is worth pasting here since the article itself is no longer available:

The Holy Fathers, on the other hand, contrary to the heretics just quoted and contrary to Metropolitan Anthony, stress the causal link between the sin of Adam and our death. Thus St. Athanasius the Great writes: “When Adam had transgressed, his sin reached unto all men”. Again, St. Cyril of Alexandria writes: “[All men] have been condemned to death by the transgression of Adam. For the whole of human nature has suffered this in him, who was the beginning of the human race.” Again, St. Symeon the Theologian writes: “When our Master descended from on high He by His own death destroyed the death that awaited us. The condemnation that was the consequence of our forefather’s transgression he completely annihilated.” Again, St. Gregory Palamas writes: “Before Christ we all shared the same ancestral curse and condemnation poured out on all of us from our single Forefather, as if it had sprung from the root of the human race and was the common lot of our nature. Each person’s individual action attracted either reproof or praise from God, but no one could do anything about the shared curse and condemnation, or the evil inheritance that had been passed down to him and through him would pass to his descendants.” Again, St. Anastasius of Sinai writes: “In Adam we became co-inheritors of the curse, not as if we disobeyed that divine commandment with him but because he became mortal and transmitted sin through his seed. We became mortals from a mortal…” Again, St. Gennadius Scholarius writes:“Everyone in the following of Adam has died, because they have all inherited their nature from him. But some have died because they themselves have sinned, while others have died only because of Adam’s condemnation – for example, children”.

To me, it seems that this Eastern tradition includes both the elements of original sin – transmission of the sin nature and guilt for Adam’s sin. All very Augustinian. I wonder if the old rejection of Augustine by the ancient Eastern Church may merely relate to the question of transmission by concupiscence, because otherwise ancestral sin (as Orthodox writers prefer to call it) was alive and well until challenged in the twentieth century in the East, just as it has been in the west (often by claiming that the East never held it!). It is probably true to say that the Eastern Church inherits a less radical view of sin than Augustine’s – Irenaeus’ image of bondage because of Satan’s deceit seems to predominate over Augustine’s bondage to our own all-pervading corruption.

But the net result is the same – both primary traditions of the Church assume that sin is inherited by descent from Adam. Our attempts to accommodate historic Christian doctrine to modern scientific findings needs to take that into account, and to demonstrate clearly just why the Fathers were wrong about it, if we end up rejecting it.

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
This entry was posted in Adam, Creation, Genealogical Adam, Science, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Irenaeus (and others) on original sin

  1. Mark Mark says:

    I appreciate the Eastern Orthodox treating Theology as a science on non-essentials to the faith instead of declaring everything dogma so that inquiry and exploration of meaning from scripture is not dis-allowed.

    I think you make a good case with those quotes that the ancient EOs held to transmission of original sin through descent, but with those same quotes you also make a good case that ancient EOs held to the view that Adam was the sole male genetic progenitor of humanity. We no longer believe that view, you and I, so if we accept that they were wrong about who Adam was then why should we hold to their view on the transmission of original sin which derives from their erroneous view of Adam? I think that article is no longer found on the web for a reason.

    I think we need to take a new look at the method of transmission of original sin in light of the correct view of Adam.

    https://earlygenesistherevealedcosmology.blogspot.com/2017/11/thesis-4-inheritance-of-adam-is-not.html

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      Well, it’s 6 years on from this post, Mark – and for readers who may spot this in 6 years time, C John Collins has pointed it out to Joshua Swamidass in advance of his presentation on Genealogical Adam to the forthcoming Dabar Conference on human origins.

      This post was written to counter the false claim often made in contemporary circles (and I had BioLogos in mind) that Irenaeus does not teach original sin. So although even then I was a proponent of the Genealogical Adam hypothesis of David Opderbeck, the post had no bearing on the question of its transmission.

      But in fact I see no reason to revise Irenaeus’s simple assumption that Adam’s entanglement with Satan also caught up his progeny in the penalty of death for sin, and that’s because I believe his reasoning still stands.

      It would seem, though I’m not privy to their correpsondence, that Irenaeus is persuasive for Collins too, and has induced Joshua to modify his paper accordingly.

      • Mark Mark says:

        “This post was written to counter the false claim often made in contemporary circles (and I had BioLogos in mind) that Irenaeus does not teach original sin.”

        I am glad hear that. Someone should hold BioLogos accountable for their errors, and if they don’t believe in original sin, that would be one of them.

        “But in fact I see no reason to revise Irenaeus’s simple assumption that Adam’s entanglement with Satan also caught up his progeny in the penalty of death for sin, and that’s because I believe his reasoning still stands.”

        Even though that reasoning was from a premise which you now regard as false? That Adam was the sole genetic progenitor of the human race? That doesn’t happen very often. It is a rare thing to correctly reason from untrue premises and yet come to precisely the correct conclusion.

  2. Mark Mark says:

    Also for the benefit any who might read this post six years from now, or sooner, I am going to put most of the text from that link here. It is an essay on which a chapter in my book “Early Genesis, the Revealed Cosmology” is based regarding the method of transmission of original sin. I do not share this at Peaceful Science because I see no need to provoke dissent over what I regard as a non-essential to the faith. When Joshua took a copy of my book, I asked him not to read the nine pages on which this essay is based.

    What I Learned in Romans Five About Transmission of Original Sin

    Here is the key passage from Romans chapter five:

    12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned

    13 (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law.
    14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come .
    15 But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.
    Verse twelve does not say that we inherited our sin nature from Adam because we are his physical ancestors. It says that sin (God’s definition) entered the world through Adam and because of that death “passed” upon all men. Why? Was it because Adam was their ancestor? No, but rather “because all sinned.”

    “Entered” in this verse is the Greek word eiserchomai and it is used in the metaphorical sense of “arise, come into existence, begin to be”. Another way to put it is to “come to life.” Sin came to life and mankind died when Adam transgressed. Paul himself used very similar language nearby, in chapter seven of Romans when he describes the role of the law and sin. Here I quote chapter seven, verses eight and nine. This time from the New International Version:
    “… For apart from the law, sin was dead.9 Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.”
    If you will read the whole passage you will see what I am suggesting about how sin “entered” the world. I say the same thing Paul says about the relationship between sin, death, and the law. Before he knew the law, he had life and sin was dead. But once the commandment came, sin came to life (it entered his world) and he died. What I am suggesting is that the condition Paul describes is just what it was like for those men who lived before Adam. They were alive apart from the law. They were acting out of God’s will, but there was no law and hence no accountability.

    Once Adam, as the stand-in for all mankind, broke the law then sin came to life and Adam died (as the Bible defines death). If any of them had been perfect, they would not have died, but none of them were. All of them needed the protection afforded by Adam as the stand-in for all of mankind, even as we need the protection afforded by Christ as our stand-in.

    Sin sprang to life. What was once dead had existence in the world. That is what is meant by sin “entering” the world. There is no need for theologians to concoct another method of entry of sin into the world besides the one Paul describes two chapters later. Sin was dead before Adam’s failure. After that, it was alive and Adam was dead. Sin entered, became alive, in the world.

    That word “passed” is from a Greek word deirchomai, which means just that- to pass through or spread through. It is used to describe events like going on a journey or the children of Israel “passing through” the Red Sea. It has nothing to do with inheritance. Paul could have used the word for inheritance, kleronomeo, if he had meant that.

    Notice that Paul writes that sin entered the world but death passed through the world. Sin entered the world, but did not pass through the world like (spiritual) death did. Without law, sin was dead. There was no way for it to bring any spiritual death. But it was only waiting for knowledge of the law to become alive. It was only waiting for the failure of the stand-in in order to become animated.

    When Adam chose to be his own god, sin sprang to life. It entered the world by animation, as would some creature made of stone that suddenly became viable. The stones were always there, all around, but until they had life, the creature did not exist. It did not enter the world until it came to life.

    Death did pass to all men. Not that the evil deeds were greater, but our knowledge that they were evil was greater. The deeds were old. The guilt was new. The shame was new. The separation from God due to willful disobedience and a stained conscience was new.

    Romans 5:12 is saying that spiritual death passed, or spread through, all of mankind when Adam sinned, not because of his sins, but because of theirs. Mankind was already doing things God disapproved of, but they were doing so in a state of innocence, like children. As it says in the next verse, “where there is no law, the penalty for sin is not imputed.” That is, it is not charged to one’s account.

    The souls who died before Adam’s sin are not damned to Hell. As for the souls between Adam and Moses which are spoken of, we can only hope for their sakes and the Father’s sake that they are among the captives carried off by Christ in the oblique reference made in Ephesians 4:8.

    God made the man Adam as the stand-in for all mankind, as the Second Adam Christ is also. When he was given a law, the state of innocence was over. When Adam broke the law his role as stand-in for man afforded no protection for the rest of the human race.

    If any of them had been perfect, it would not have mattered that the stand-in had failed. They would not have needed Adam’s protection. But because they had their own sins, they did need it, just as we need the protection of the Last Adam. At that point, death reigned. They were condemned, even before the law was given, because, as Paul points out earlier, they had a conscience, a sort of natural law put in their hearts, so they are without excuse.

    Prior to the Garden no man was ever asked to live as a person who had faith in God rather than themselves. Adam was the “first man” who had that fateful choice. God decided to take man from a state of innocence to a state of responsibility. He did it with what is still the key question- do we have faith in God to determine what is good and evil, or do we wish to decide that for ourselves?

    To give mankind the best possible odds, God did not start accountability with each person, from lowliest to most privileged. He started at the top. He started with the best man on earth, the one with the most ideal circumstances and possessing the greatest privilege: The one who had received the breath of God which is the Holy Spirit and the one who had daily fellowship with the LORD. The one with a spouse created of him and for him. That one would be the stand-in for mankind to see if man would, for an age, be liberated or mired.

    Should he pass the test, then that one would be the one in whom God would reconcile creation to Himself. That one would begin, with his wife, a Royal Priesthood, and a Holy Nation that would take His glory to the ends of the earth. Then a Millennium of peace would be ushered in, ending in a New Heaven and a New Earth. I say that this was what God wanted the First Adam to do, because it is what the Last Adam is doing and has done. I will offer more scriptural proofs as we go on.

    I remember thinking in my prior misunderstanding how unfair it seemed that we would all be condemned to have a sin nature because of the choice of Adam and Eve. But now I see that we always had that nature, and only the absence of law kept sin out of our lives. The way God choose to do it gave us the best possible odds, and humanity still blew it. This creation, which was never made to be eternal, came built in with the capacity to trust ourselves more than God. Not that God is the author of sin, but He authored choice. It is the wrong choices, the choices outside of faith, which are sin.

    Man was always in need of reconciliation. From the day the first man was made and from the moment we ourselves are born, we needed to be re-connected to our Creator to produce righteousness. We can’t do it on our own. Man did not just get saddled with a sin nature when Adam came along. We had one, but we were not penalized for it. We sinned from the start, but since sin was dead in the absence of law, we were let off the hook. In the beginning the penalty for sin was not imputed because as it says, there was no law. We were not held accountable until God gave the man, Adam, a law. This command not to eat of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil embodied the very choice every man must make between faith in God or faith in self (or anyone or thing else) to determine right from wrong.

    As Paul said of the idol worship of the pagans in Acts 17:30: God winked at wrong-doing (idol worship in that example) in the times of ignorance, but now calls on us to repent. God’s revelation to man is progressive, and the more we know about who He is the more responsible we are to live in that knowledge. Israel was held to a higher standard than the heathen nations around her. Christians are expected to have a higher standard than the faithless. God had given man dominion over the earth. In Adam, God began the process of progressive revelation to man.

    Mankind always needed reconciliation, and Adam was the figure of He who was to reconcile us. Even as Christ was the royal representative on behalf of the whole human race, his foreshadow Adam was meant to be also. Adam was given every chance to make the right choice. God did not pick a representative stand-in for the human race who had poor circumstances. Rather, he had ideal circumstances. He had it “as good as it gets”.

    Even as Christ came from a special place of fellowship with God the Father, Adam had a special place of fellowship with God- the Garden of Eden planted by the LORD God Himself with every pleasant tree that gave good fruit. There would be no deflections about poor environment or a disadvantaged upbringing that some men still use to hide behind or obfuscate the truth. The truth is that man cannot be righteous in himself even in the best of circumstances. Adam and Eve did not make the choice of faith. They made the choice of self.

    And so, as verse 14 says “death reigned from Adam till Moses.” Mankind went from a state of innocence to a state of sin, and their stand-in now afforded no protection. Until the Law of Moses came there was no other law to keep in order to obtain right-standing with God through obedience to law. Man had still not, and most still do not to this day, learned the lesson that it is faith God desires. Even the first law, the commandment to Adam, was about faith. If our faith is truly in Him, our obedience will in time follow. If it is not, then no matter how determined our efforts are to be righteous by following the law, we will fail.

    While the mass of mankind sought a law, a list of rules to follow in order to earn right-standing on a basis of our own choosing, one man got it right. In Ur of the Chaldees, one descendent of Adam we now know as Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. That is not to say that he was righteous, but God counted it as righteousness. Abraham did what his ancestor Adam failed to do. He believed God. And from this descendent of Adam would come another- Moses the lawgiver.

    Once Moses came, God gave man The Law. Man at last had his list of rules he so coveted. A way he might keep score or have some basis of negotiation with which he might bargain with his Maker. Death did not have to reign. Righteousness could come through following the law, if anyone could do it.

    But of course man can’t do that. Death reigned from Adam until Moses, but it reigned even still. That is because the law, meant to give a way to back to life, instead produced more death. But the point of all of that death, produced by more law springing more sin to life, was to make it clear to man, to all of us, how guilty we are. It was to show how hopeless it is to count on our own works to be righteous. It was for the purpose of driving us to God’s real goal: Grace obtained by faith. Let’s look at that bit of Romans chapter five:

    19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.

    20 Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.

    When there was no law, it was easier for men to kid themselves in the period between Adam and Moses. They might be tempted to think that though Adam failed, they would not have in the same circumstance. In the absence of law, they might concoct their own law and their own rationalizations when they broke it. All were locked up under sin when Adam fell, but they might not see the true depth of their sinfulness absent the law. And so law was given. It put man under even more sin. It made men more aware of their sinfulness because they then had a Divine standard to which to compare their actions.

    Though this enumeration of rules bound man up in sin, it also allowed man a way of escape. For if the law could be kept by a new stand-in then we might be protected, even as they were protected in the absence of law. They were protected by their ignorance of God’s requirements, but we are protected because our stand-in not only fulfilled the requirements, but paid the debt for our failure to do so in His own Person. This is another way in which the free gift of God is greater than the offense. Let’s take another look at verse fifteen:
    15 But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.
    Here Paul compares the spread of grace to the spread of death and says that grace was spread on different and better terms. If man was in perfection instead of just innocence before “the fall”, then this makes no sense. Why did the grace of God abound “more” than the spread of death? They are on the surface quite symmetrical. Through the offense of one, death spread to the many. Through the obedience of one, grace abounded to the many. So why is the second better than the first?

    The answer for the spread of grace being better is simple: Death spread to the many, but those many were already in sin, it’s just that sin was dead before Adam’s choice brought sin to life. The grace abounds more because not only does it spread by God’s gift rather than our own works, but it pays the penalty for sin whereas before sin came to life there was no penalty to pay but the potential for one to spring up was always there. The spread of sin unleashed the potential of sin that was already latent. It did not “make” the sin. The free gift took away the penalty for the sin- it removed its “potential energy” to take life.

    It is the difference between living on a field of land mines which have never been activated vs. having someone detonate all of the mines safely for you. Once the mines are activated, your situation is worse, but the potential for them to cause you trouble was always there, even before activation.

    The problem of the land mines becoming activated is a problem, but the solution of someone safely detonating all of them for you is a blessing which is better than the original problem of the mines coming to “life”. Not only is the “activation” threat gone, but the underlying thing that was activated is also rendered harmless.

    I might add that the idea that the spread of the gift was similar to the spread of the offense makes no sense if sin was inherited by blood in the one case but not the other. The comparison makes better sense if we accept what the Bible says about who Adam was in Romans 5:14, a figure of Christ. The symmetry works if we lay aside our traditions that are not really found in the Bible (that he was the physical father of all humans). Adam was meant to be humanity’s champion and redeemer, because he was a figure of Christ. He was our stand-in. If any of us could have hoped to make it, it was Adam.

    What does this say about the doctrine of Original Sin? It doesn’t change the bottom line. Mankind, disconnected from God, is inherently prone to sin. It only changes the reason why this is so. It is not so because Adam was our forebear, it is so because connection to the Creator is the only way we can be righteous. We have to abide in the vine.

    Creation was designed to be disconnected from God, yet have the ability to re-connect with Him. Until that re-connection is made we choose with an imperfect moral compass. Only the absence of law in the beginning, not early man’s moral perfection, kept sin out of the world as a live force. Even the best of our motives will be mixed, tainted with sin. Christ came to reconcile the creature to the Creator.

  3. GBrooks12 says:

    Jon,

    Let me make it official. Moss writes from the viewpoint of the Russian Orthodox Church, which (for whatever reason) has closely aligned itself with Augustine’s view of Original Sin. As far as I have been able to determine, the mainstream Eastern Orthodox communions have long rejected Augustine’s view on the matter – – perhaps for 1,000 years.

    They agree that humanity inherited its sinful ways from Adam, but they reject the idea that each human is guilty of Adam’s sin; Adams sins are his alone. While the rest of humanity is fated to commit its own inevitable sins.

    There are many, many, many writings from all over the Orthodox community (by laymen and by cleric) that treat the logic and the consequences of this rejection. For example, there are writings on infant baptism, in which the reasoning for baptism is plainly laid out as traditional, cultural, familial and any other important reason to perform a traditional practice – – but not because of Original Sin.

    Adam was the first to show that human flesh is inclined to sin. And each man and woman after him was doomed to sin – – and earn the consequences of sin from making his or her own sin.

    If we can find other branches of the Eastern Orthodox tradition that shares the Russian Orthodox view, I would welcome that – – in order to maintain accuracy in reporting on the matter. But one cannot extrapolate the Russian views regarding Original Sin onto all the rest of the tradition.

  4. GBrooks12 says:

    Jon,

    Let’s treat this nice paragraph of yours:
    “I think it’s clear that the whole force of Irenaeus’ argument is that Adam entailed bondage to sin and death on his physical descendants. He does not spell out whether that bondage consists of the tendency to sin, or guilt for Adam’s first sin, but the first seems more in line with his words and is usually the main point at issue in terms of discussing Adam’s progeniture.”

    On this opinion of yours, I dare say that I believe all Eastern Orthodox communions would agree: “[Irenaeus] does not spell out whether that bondage consists of the tendency to sin, or guilt for Adam’s first sin, but the first seems more line with his words and is usually the main point at issue in terms of discussing Adam’s progeniture.”

    The “tendency to sin” has been proven through Adam. There may even be Orthodox who say that this “tendency to sin” is communicable in ways other than simply being a genetic descendant of a frail creature we call mankind.

    But this is not the Eastern objection. The Eastern objection is that Adam’s sin is Adam’s alone. And that all his off-spring thereafter will inevitably harvest their own sin and the consequences of that sin…. but none are guilty of the sin that Adam made for himself.

    Maybe, ultimately, this is too fussy a distinction for you. But it is the position of all the Eastern Orthodox traditions I have been able to survey, with the odd exception of the Russian Orthodox Church.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      George

      As far as the point of my post is concerned, your distinction is too fussy, even after all these years. The genealogical inheritance of the sinful nature is at the core of most Protestant, and on your own testimony all Orthodox, teaching on sin. That’s enough to refute the Western denials of original sin I referenced.

      Furthermore, Irenaeus (and many Orthodox sources I have read and quoted) clearly designate death as inherited from Adam, whilst denying inherited guilt – a nice distinction which affects the way they do theology, but not the core matter that mankind is in bondage because of Adam’s sin.

      And, of course, the Eastern baptismal rite, given to infants even on the point of death, is “for remission of sins”. What sins need remitting in such cases?

      The Russian Orthodox is an “odd exception” that comprises, in Russia alone, over half of the 250-300 million Orthodox believers, and it claims jurisdiction over all the Orthodox of the former Soviet Union too. Orthodoxy is full of complex schisms, but there’s no doubt the former Soviet states are related to the Russian more than the Greek outlook. In any case, unlike the West, they still regard themselves as one communion, and one cannot divide the Russians off from the Greeks as one can say, the Roman Catholics from the Lutherans.

  5. GBrooks12 says:

    Jon,

    This isn’t a beauty contest for Russia. The Russian example is relevant only in that it hues more closely to the usual interpretation of Augustine’s discussion on Original Sin.
    The Roman Catholic church has a billion believers. So she wins…. but since the two churches are in such close agreement, it is a hollow victory.

    The point has been, and still is, whether the Eastern Orthodox communion believes that humans are born with the guilt of Adam’s transgression on their souls. Evangelicals are not satisfied with the interpretation you prefer (which is, virtually, the same as the Orthodox preference): that what was inherited from Adam was “an inclination to sin, inevitable and unavoidable”.

    This preference works very nicely with evolutionary theory – – humans inherit, genetically, the moral weakness of flesh towards sin.

    But you are the only Protestant I know of so far that is satisfied with this formulation. The Evangelicals that I know insist that Adam’s sin is lodged somewhere on the Christian person, and that this can only come from descent from Adam and Eve.

    I have sent you (at Peaceful Science) two articles by Eastern Orthodox writers that explicitly describe a definition of Original Sin that would suit you and me just fine: the inclination towards sin, not the actual sin of Adam.

    When you can confirm that the Catholic Church has adopted that definition, that will be half the battle. The other half of the battle, which may take twice as long to conclude, is getting Protestant churches in the West to **agree** with you, me and the majority of the Eastern Orthodox communions.

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