All the Major Eastern Fathers Taught Original Sin

Eastern Fathers who Taught Original Sin Before Augustine

I compiled these quotes to show the Eastern Orthodox that the Eastern Fathers all taught that Adam’s sin destroyed the spiritual life of all his descendants. I did this because it seems to me that many of the Eastern Orthodox do not believe that teaching, and perhaps the teaching of the Fathers will convince them. I got some of these quotes from St. Augustine’s book Against Julian and others from an article by Corunum Catholic Apologetics.

Origen - “Everyone in the world falls prostrate under sin. And it is the Lord who sets up those who are cast down and who sustains all who are falling. In Adam all die, and thus the world [is] prostrate and requires to be set up again, so that [in] Christ all may be made to live.” (Homilies on Jeremias 8:1)

St. Cyprian - “[A]n infant…being lately born, has not sinned, except in that, being born after the flesh according to Adam, he has contracted the contagion of the ancient death at its earliest birth. [He] approaches the more easily on this very account to the [baptism] of the forgiveness of sins—[for] to him are remitted, not his own sins, but the sins of another.” (Letter 58, To Fidus)

St. Athanasius - “[W]hen Adam had transgressed, his sin reached unto all men, so [that], when the Lord had become man and had overthrown the Serpent, [His] great strength…[could] extend through all men, so that each of us may say, ‘For we are not ignorant of his devices.’ ” (Against the Arians Book I Chapter 51)

St. Basil of Caesarea - “Little given, much gotten; by the donation of food the original sin is discharged. Just as Adam transmitted the sin by his wicked eating, we destroy that treacherous food when we cure the need and hunger.” (Eulogies & Sermons, Famine & Drought 8:7)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem - “[O]ur forefather Adam was cast out [of Paradise] for disobedience, and exchanged a Paradise bringing forth wondrous fruits of its own accord for the ground which bringeth forth thorns. What then? some one will say. We have been beguiled and are lost. Is there then no salvation left? We have fallen: Is it not possible to rise again? We have been blinded: May we not recover our sight? We have become crippled: Can we never walk upright? In a word, we are dead: May we not rise again? He that woke Lazarus who was four days dead and already stank, shall He not, O man, much more easily raise thee who art alive? He who shed His precious blood for us, shall Himself deliver us from sin.” (Catechetical Lectures 2:4-5)

St. Gregory Nazianzen - “[W]e were all without exception…partake[rs] of the same Adam, and were led astray by the serpent and slain by sin, and are saved by the heavenly Adam and brought back by the tree of shame to the tree of life from whence we had fallen.” (Against the Arians 33:9)

And: “Let the word of Christ persuade you of this, also, as He says that no one can enter into the kingdom of heaven unless he is born again of water and the Spirit. Through Him the stains of the first birth are cleansed away, through which we are conceived in iniquity and in sins have our mothers brought us forth.” (Oratio in natalem Christi.)

St. John Chrysostom - “When Adam sinned that great sin, and condemned all the human race in common, he paid the penalties in grief.” (Letter to Olympia) And: “It is clear that it is not the sin which comes from transgression of the law, but that sin which comes from the disobedience of Adam, which has defiled all.” (Homily on Romans 10)

According to Augustine, fourteen Eastern bishops named Eulogius, John, Ammonianus, Porphyry, Eutonius, Porphyry, Fidus, Zoninus, Zoboennus, Nymphidius, Chromatius, Jovinus, Eleutherius, and Clematius sat in council over Pelagius and “condemned those who say that the sin of Adam harmed him alone and not the human race; and that new-born infants are in that state in which Adam was before he sinned; and that infants even if they are not baptized have eternal life.” These also count as Eastern witnesses for original sin. (Against Julian Book I Chapter 5 Paragraph 19)

Does anybody know of any other Eastern fathers who can be cited in this regard?

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Western Fathers who Taught Original Sin Before Augustine

These quotes might be helpful in these discussions too.

St. Justin Martyr - “[Jesus saved] the human race, which from Adam had fallen under the power of death and the guile of the serpent.” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 88:4)

St. Irenaeus - “Men cannot be saved in any other way from the ancient wound of the Serpent except by believing in Him who according to the likeness of sinful flesh was lifted up from the earth on the tree of testimony and drew all things to Himself and gave life to the dead.” (Against Heresies Book 4 Chapter 2 Paragraph 8)

And: “Just as the human race was bound to death by a virgin it is released through a virgin, the obedience of a virgin evenly counterbalancing the disobedience of a virgin. For the sin of the first-formed was wiped out by the chastisement of the First-born, the wisdom of the Serpent was conquered by the simplicity of the dove, and we were released from the chains by which we were bound to death.” (Against Heresies Book 5 Chapter 19)

And: “[Jesus did] away with that disobedience of man which had taken place at the beginning by the occasion of a tree…rectifying that disobedience which had occurred by reason of a tree…the disobedience which had been incurred towards our Maker…[for] it was by these things that we disobeyed God, and did not give credit to His word…indeed we had offended [God] in the first Adam, when he did not perform His commandment. … For we were debtors to none other but to Him whose commandment we had transgressed at the beginning.” (Against Heresies Book V Chapter 16 Paragraph 3)

Tertullian - “Every soul, then, by reason of its birth, has its nature in Adam until it is born again in Christ; moreover, it is unclean all the while that it remains without this regeneration; and because unclean, it is actively sinful, and suffuses even the flesh (by reason of their conjunction) with its own shame.” (On the Soul 40)

Reticius of Autun - “No one is unaware of the fact that this is the chief forgiveness in the Church, in which we put away the whole weight of the ancient crime and blot out the former evil deeds of our ignorance and also strip off the old man with his inborn crimes.” (Original work unknown, but quoted by Augustine, who says: “[N]otice the expressions, 'the weight of the ancient crime,’ ‘the former evil deeds,’ ‘the old man with his inborn crimes.’ ”

Olympius of Spain - “If faith had remained ever incorrupt upon earth and had followed the tracks which were formed and imprinted, but from which it departed, it would never have scattered by the death-dealing transgression of the first-formed the fault in the seed, resulting in this, that sin is born with man.” (Work unknown, but quoted by Augustine.)

St. Hilary of Poiters - “Therefore, when He was sent in the likeness of sinful flesh, He did not have the sin though He had the flesh. But, since all flesh comes from sin, namely, descended from the ancestral sin of Adam, He was sent in the likeness of sinful flesh, not that the sin existed in Him, but the likeness of sinful flesh.”

And: “[David] does not think he lives in this life, for he had said: ‘Behold I have been conceived in iniquities, and in sins did my mother bear me.’ He knows that he was born of sinful origin and under the law of sin.” (Exposition of Psalm 118)

St. Jerome - “Those of adult age [do penance], and it reaches to the smallest, for none is without sin, not even if their life were only one day, or the years of their life were able to be counted.”
(Commentary on Jonah 3:5, Duval 248.101-103; trans. Hegedus, 50).

St. Ambrose of Milan - “Before we are born we are stained by contagion, and before seeing the light we receive the injury of our very origin, we are conceived in iniquity…[for] there are already some sins in the one being born… The conception is not without iniquity, since the parents are not without sin, and if not even a child of one day is without sin, so much more are those days of the maternal conception not without sin. Thus, we are conceived in the sin of our parents and are born in their iniquities. But birth itself also has its own contagions, and the nature itself has not merely one contagion.” (Defense of the Prophet David 11)

And: 380 A.D. - “For death is alike to all, without difference for the poor, without exception for the rich. And so although through the sin of [Adam] alone, yet it passed upon all; that we may not refuse to acknowledge Him to be also the Author of death, Whom we do not refuse to acknowledge as the Author of our race… In Adam I fell, in Adam I was cast out of Paradise, in Adam I died; how shall the Lord call me back, except He find me in Adam; guilty as I was in him, so now justified in Christ.” (On the Death of his Brother Satyrus II:6)

384 A.D. - Ambrosiaster - “ ‘In whom’ – that is, in Adam – ‘all have sinned’. And he said ‘in whom,’ using the masculine form, when he was speaking of a woman, because the reference was not to a specific individual but to the race. It is clear, therefore, that all have sinned in Adam, en masse as it were; for when he himself was corrupted by sin, all whom he begot were born under sin. On his account, then, all are sinners, because we are all from him. He lost God’s favor when he strayed.” (Commentaries on thirteen Pauline Epistles Romans 5:12)

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Small quibble, but shouldn’t Cyprian be classed as a Western father since he was from Carthage and wrote in Latin?

I don’t know. You can put him in the other column if you want to.

I think the Eastern/Western borders are fuzzy for many of the Fathers. In my opinion, all the Eastern Fathers on that list are Western Fathers too because they are accepted by the Catholic Church. The Eastern Orthodox accept most of the Western Fathers in the second post, so I wouldn’t mind calling them Eastern Fathers either.

The Fifth Ecumenical Council (II Constantinople) proclaimed even St. Augustine to be a Church Father and said so in the name of the Eastern Church, so I think even St. Augustine counts as an Eastern Father: “We further declare that we hold fast to the decrees of the four Councils, and in every way follow the holy Fathers, Athanasius, Hilary, Basil, Gregory the Theologian, Gregory of Nyssa, Ambrose, Theophilus, John [Chrysostom] of Constantinople, Cyril, Augustine, Proclus, Leo and their writings on the true faith.”

I’ve seen Catholic writers call St. Justin Martyr an Eastern Father, but I think he should be a Western Father because he opened his school in Rome and modeled it after Roman schools of philosophy. (Maybe they call him Eastern because he wrote in Greek. :shrug:)

I think Eastern Christians could make a serious case for claiming St. Ambrose as an Eastern Father because he learned the faith by reading the Cappadocian Fathers. I think Western Christians could make a serious case for claiming Athanasius as a Western Father because he lived in France for a long time, founded at least some of his monastic communities in the West, and the only person on his side who retained his apostolic See was the pope.

I’ve seen Eastern writers claim St. Cyprian as an Eastern Father but I don’t know why. Maybe because they say he denied the universal jurisdiction of the pope. But I think his treatise on the Unity of the Church tells another story. I put him in the Eastern list because I’ve seen other people do it, but I don’t know why they do, and maybe I’m mistaken.

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Eastern/Western in this case is a geographical and linguistic label, so Cyprian would be a Western father, which is different from him being a father to the Eastern Church.


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