Can someone please help me explain the Church teaching on Original Sin?


I have a protestant friend who refuses to accept the idea of Original Sin or even that sin is part of our human nature.

His argument is a child learns not to touch a hot stove by touching the hot stove after he was warned not to. My friend compares this with the Fall by saying God was using the tree and the punishment that came after as a teaching tool.

What exactly is the Church teaching, and how can I easily explain it to my friend?


I would suggest that you begin with reading on the subject in the Catechism beginning at article 385, then come back with more specific questions. CCC #385


First specific question:

How are we still held accountable for Adam’s sin after the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus?


First, familiarize yourself with the Church’s articulation of the teaching on Original Sin that is in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: CCC 396-409. That may help you figure out what angle to approach from.

It always irks me to see people reject theological truths simply because a simplistic analogy struck a chord with them. :rolleyes: I would just turn the analogy around and say that any parent who intentionally let their child touch a hot stove simply to “teach them a lesson” would probably be found guilty of child endangerment. :wink: Simply because something is a useful teaching tool does not make it the first, preferred course of action. Any parent would want their child not to touch the hot stove to begin with rather than learn their lesson only by burning themselves.


Original Sin is still passed on to all.

“Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.[12]”

Source: Humani Generis



We were never accountable for Adam’s sin, because we didn’t commit it. We are affected by Adam’s sin - we are not born in a state of grace, and we have an inbuilt tendency to sin. Jesus’ sacrifice, applied through baptism, restores us to a state of grace (and washes away any sin that we may have committed). The tendency is not removed, though God does offer us graces to help us resist it.


But if we still suffer the effects of Adam’s sin, doesn’t that mean we are accountable? Just as ancient Jews believed things like blindness, leprosy, etc., were the results of either your sins or the sins of your father/grandfather. Isn’t the same logic in play that we are being punished for Adam?

My friend’s argument is that because of Christ, we are no longer responsible for Adam’s sin but only our own. Things like infant baptism are therefore irrelevant because until the age of reason they are not responsible for any sins.


The nature of the actual rebellion/sin…apple…sex…disobedience… curiosity…doesn’t really matter BUT without Original Sin the Christian religion is meaningless.

If there was no Original Sin then there was no need for Redemption/Incarnation/ Sacrifice of a God. If there is no need for Redemption, then there is no need for the Sacrifice of Jesus. Then Jesus is not the Christ – but just another prophet.

If there is no need for the Death of Jesus (and his Resurrection) then your religion is meaningless.
This is basically what the Jews and indeed Moslems believe. They must adore/submit to the Will of the Supreme God but all the other stuff is quite meaningless and unnecessary.

Without Original Sin, one is free to believe in Evolution and discount all the Biblical narrative. The logic of doctrine of Original Sin is therefore key to the understanding of the Truth of the entire Christian interpretation of Life and its fundamental meaning for us humans.


Perhaps we have a different meaning of the word accountable? We have no guilt for Adam’s sin.

If someone randomly shoots me in the arm, then I am not accountable for the action of shooting me in the arm in the sense that it was not my fault and I have no moral responsibility for it. When I die, God won’t say hold the fact that I got shot in the arm by a random stranger for no reason at all to be a moral lapse on my part. But I still feel the effects: I now have a bullet wound in my arm.

The effects of sin can propagate. The guilt cannot. My leprosy might be the result of my father’s sin, but that does not mean I am guilty of my father’s sin.

And so again: we were never guilty of Adam’s sin. Original sin in the sense that we have it is not a particular sin, but a state of being born damaged. We feel the effects of the original sin (the action) as original sin (the state). There may be some confusion over words here, but the phrase original sin was never meant to imply that we were guilty for something someone else did. It is human nature itself that was harmed when Adam sinned, and we all inherit the human nature with this harm included. Not because we personally are guilty, but because actions have consequences.


There is a certain corporate guilt to original sin. This is not a personal culpability, since we did not commit the particular sins of Adam and Eve. But in a sense, in the Garden of Eden, human nature was being tested. Adam and Eve were sinless before the Fall. We are not sinless. So we each would have fared no better than Adam or Eve. Thus, we deserve, in a sense, to inherit original sin. It is a guilt that is imputed to the human race (except Mary and Jesus) because our sinless representatives, Adam and Eve failed, and we would have done no better.

However, original sin is not a deliberate sin, and so it does not deserve eternal punishment. Only deliberate sin, specifically unrepentant actual mortal sin, is punished in Hell.

Pope Pius XI, in the encyclical Quanto Conficiamur Moerore, n. 7, wrote:
“Because God knows, searches and clearly understands the minds, hearts, thoughts, and nature of all, his supreme kindness and clemency do not permit anyone at all who is not guilty of deliberate sin to suffer eternal punishments.”


Thank you everyone for giving me well-reasoned and understandable arguments to discuss with my friend.

Another question that I’m sure will come up, how do I respond to the charge that in refuting Pelagius, Augustine and the Church went completely the other direction from everything Pelagius taught?

My friend’s assertion was that Pelagius was indeed mistaken in his teachings, but he was not as far off as Augustine and the other fathers taught at the time. I know very little about what Pelagius actually taught, so I had no way to effectively rebut his argument.

closed #12

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