Are we naturally bad?

A friend of mine made the statement “…we are all sinners by nature…” and I took exception. I said to him that we are all essentially good but are stained by Original Sin and then he replied that the bible says numerous times that we are filthy beings. This person is non-catholic. I then gave him the “created in God’s Image” quotation from Genesis and was further rebuffed. Are there other biblical references to the essential goodness of human nature?

Fr. Brian Davies O.P. looks at Aquinas’ writing on sin and the goodness of the incarnation here. It deals alot with the issues you are thinking about. (Apologies in advance if I am wrong.)

Davies continues: What does this mean, that “the goal of the Incarnation is `our furtherance in good,’ and that ‘it occurred in order to free us from the thraldom of sin … by Christ satisfying for us’. The companion piece is here (or click on the next post).

See if you don’t agree…


Yes…and no…and yes. Yes we were made originally good. We were without sin and our nature was pure. However, it was also in our nature to have free will. So, a long time ago the first humans decided to sin. This has changed our nature. We are no longer pure and innocent without a desire to sin, we have original sin and are now drawn to sin. But then baptism comes into the picture and we are a new creation. That sin is wiped off of us and we are now left only with our own sins which we try to keep at a minimum with confession. So, without baptism, yes we are naturally bad creatures. After baptism, we are good creatures who are simply left with the free will to choose either way. Unfortunately, we don’t always choose good.

A. Heuchler

If I could summarize how I feel about human nature in a sentence, it would be “We have great potential to do good, but we often fall short of it.”

Just my opinion, though.

How can we be naturally bad? We were created by God. Did God create evil?

Simply state your case, and leave it at that.

We are all sinners, we have all inherited a sinful nature and are damnable.

At the same time, we are all created in the image of God.

I don’t know how these two jive but definitely let me know if you figure it out.

The church teaches that we are inherently good but sin damaged us

We Catholics believe that since we are made in the image and likeness of God, that we are not evil – we are made for good and love. While we are saved in baptism our damaged nature leads us to sin. Hence for the remainder of our lives we are called to work toward holiness, the sacraments strengthens us toward this goal.

I think I understand the Catholic teaching on our human dignity. I went to ccc 1700-1709 and was happily confirmed in my belief that we are made in His images and essentially good. Unfortunately there are no specific biblical references. Gaudium et Spec is good enough for me but my friend wants chapter and verse. I truly appreciate all of your responses. Thank you!

This is a question that goes to the heart of the Reformation. Luther’s view of human nature was one of his fundamental errors. The Church teaches that Adam and Eve were in possession of both supernatural and preternatural gifts over and above human nature. Through their sin they lost these gifts but still retained human nature. Luther, however, thought that because of their sin man has a fallen human nature.

The Church teaches that everything in creation was created good (even Satan). This is why Genesis states that man is created in the image and likeness of God. The Church Fathers made a distinction between these two terms. We are in the image of God because, among other things, we have a spiritual soul with the faculties of intellect and will (this image of God cannot be lost). The likeness of God corresponds to our state of grace. When we are in a state of grace we are in the likeness of God (obviously this can be lost). It is lost through our free actions to pursue sin.

There are three debilitating effects of Original Sin: a darkening of the intellect, a weakening of the will, and a diminished unity of body and soul. However, this does not mean we are essentially evil, rather that we are diminished.

Jesus commanded us to “be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Mt. 5:48) Evil beings could not and cannot do this.

If we were essentialy evil there is no way we could be redeemed, for there would be nothing left to redeem. Evil must be destroyed, not reclaimed.

It deals alot with the issues you are thinking about. (Apologies in advance if I am wrong.)

Does that mean because of the fruit? which could affected our genetics thus we lost those gifts, or just a a punishment by God which pulled off those gifts from us? :confused:

Hi I am Lutheran and so I desire to answer as a whole and this specifically.

Luther was wrong, and Paul says so in Romans 1. Calvin took Luther’s error about the nature of man, which was informed by Platonism as well as the prevailing philosophies of his day which were the foundations of humanism, and ran with that error and ended up by teaching that the fall destroyed the Imago Dei. I think Luther was right about a great many thing (obviously) but he was wrong about this.

Furthermore, Calvin, working from Luther’s bad assumption about human nature, devised a system by which no man anywhere can have any knowledge of God at all, which the Bible flatly contradicts, and that no man can do anything pleasing to God in any fashion apart from Christ, which the Bible contradicts (for example the OT Saints and their praise.)

Luther’s teaching came from Augustine but he misunderstood Augustine. Augustine argued that man is fallen from birth, but that fallenness is not inborn guilt but rather an inborn bent that gives us a false appetite that would rather worship self than God. Augustine taught (On Teaching Christianity is the book btw) that we are born with affections that instead of being focused on God, as we should be, are focused on ourselves, as our father Adam’s were when he chose to eat in spite of his knowledge of the Law given him by God to not do so. Therefore Augustine argues that our love is real, but it consumes that which is loved rather than upholding and helping it. Our passions are real, but they consume that about which we are passionate rather than upbuilding and bettering that thing. Does that make sense?

In this manner, we are born with a tendency to sin but not an actual guilt of sin. The notion that we are guilty of Adam’s sin because we were in Adam when he fell is Platonic.

But doesn’t the Church teach that we are in Christ on the Cross?

Yes, but that is different.

The reason why is that Christ took on the flesh of man and when He did so the infinite communicated itself to the finite, and so the death of Christ is not the death of one man, but an infinite death of infinite value, and so His resurrection is an infinite resurrection rather than that of one man as well.

These are difficult distinctions to understand but they are very important because if we do not make them then we will become man centered rather than God centered. Remember Calvin begins his systematic theology with a study of man and Thomas begins his with God. That is no accident. Calvin, and here he parted from Luther radically, constructs a theology of an infinite fall with a finite atonement rather than the Thomist or Augustinian understanding of an infinite atonement and finite fall. That is why Calvin did not believe that Christ was present in the Eucharist; because he could not accept that the infinite could communicate to the finite.

But Augustine taught that the infinite did communicate to the finite, as did Thomas, and furthermore Augustine, unlike Luther, taught that our nature is good but our appetites are bent, and it is by the corrupted affections that we sin and become guilty before God rather than being born guilty without choice or chance as Calvin believed.

God Bless.

Hi, I am a little confused here, If you believe Luther was wrong, why are you lutheran? Just wondering is all.

Is your friend by any chance an evangelical who uses the NIV translation? The NIV has been widely criticized for translating sarx as “sinful nature.”

This is also the position expressed in Judaism, namely that we are born with the potential for goodness. Judaism does not believe in original sin. However, it believes we are born with both a good and evil inclination, and the latter, which is also necessary for our survival, if abused, may lead to sin. We often do fall short of the mark.

I think Luther was wrong about this. I think he was right about a great many thing, but I think he was wrong about this.

God Bless

Shakespeare explains the catholic position best in many of his stories.

Not just the main character, but EVERY human is the tragic hero in his own story. Basically good in nature, but having a tragic, fatal flaw that will be our eternal undoing without the assistance of Grace. That’s a big difference from having a “sinful nature.”

It’s also why Shakesperean tales are timeless. They are about human nature, not just a particular culture.

As a mater of fact my friend is Southern Baptist and I believe he would use the NIV but I’m not sure.

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