How do I defend Original Sin? Debating with Eastern Orthodox

Hello everyone. I found a thread on another forum in which an Eastern Orthodox Christian is stating that there is no such thing as Original Sin. How do I go about defending the Catholic Church’s teaching that Original Sin is true. This Eastern Orthodox Christian seems to think that Original Sin was invented by Saint Augustine or something.

I’m a bit surprised by your interlocutor’s position to be honest. As I understand it concerning the original—or “first”—sin, that commited by Adam and Eve, Orthodoxy believes that, while everyone bears the consequences of the first sin, the foremost of which is death, only Adam and Eve are guilty of that sin.

Perhaps it would be best to confirm what your interlocutor means when he says there is no such thing as Original Sin?

Its existent is evident in our society’s constant grasping for moral supremacy, asserting that it does not need God and instead can discern moral good for itself, for example.

Have a read of CCC 396 ff.

From the Catholic perspective there is no hereditary guilt involved with original sin. There is simply an inability to respond to God because of a lack of grace. The Orthodox might call this original death or something similar.

In the end, we mean the same thing. We know baptism is the normative cure for the condition, no matter how you diagnose it.

In the West, we tend to look at salvation in a juridical paradigm. This started with St. Augustine. Not that it’s wrong; it’s just different.

In the East, the perspective surrounds Eternal Life, the Life of God, being transformed into the image of God as we enter into the mystery and life of the Blessed Trinity. These two approaches are complementary nor contradictory.

While we don’t bear the guilt of our original parent’s sin, we certainly pay the consequences.

Holly, then they should have ample evidence in the patristic period pre-dating Augustine where their Doctrine of Ancestral Sin could be viewed by us. Its not true, it doesn’t exist.

Guilt is a distraction, polemical talk. There’s no guilt since we don’t inherit Adams actual sin, we DO inherit his actual punishment.

Your playing word games with them which amounts to the usual, they would rather tell you what they “think” you believe and Rome teaches, while not providing their Ancestral Sin formulation since none exists.

In other words. they would rather be understood than to understand. :blush:

One helpful thing is to defend Original Sin through the Church Fathers. In his book “Against Julian,” St. Augustine answers the charge that he “invented” original sin by (1) proving it from the Scriptures and (2) proving it from the Fathers. I’ve gone through and compiled some of his quotes. There are more in the original. Another resource to look up early references to original sin is Jurgens’ book “Faith of the Early Fathers.”

— 100 A.D. - 200 A.D. —

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)

— 200 A.D. - 300 A.D. —

St. Cyprian - “[Since] nobody is hindered from baptism and from grace, how much rather ought we to shrink from hindering an infant, who, 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, who approaches the more easily on this very account to the reception of the forgiveness of sins—that to him are remitted, not his own sins, but the sins of another.” (Letter 58, To Fidus)

— 300 A.D. - 400 A.D. —

St. Hilary of Poiters - “[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. 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. [Scripture] does not say whether that of our parents or our own. [But] in sins his mother gives birth to each one. Nor does [Scripture] state here whether the mother gives birth in her own sins or whether there are already some sins in the one being born. But, consider whether both are not to be understood. 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)

St. Gregory Nazianzen (Eastern Father) - “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. Basil of Caesarea (Eastern Father) - “Fasting was established in paradise by law. For Adam received the first commandment: ‘From the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you must not eat.’ But, ‘you must not eat’ means fasting, and the beginning of the Law. If Eve had fasted from the tree, we should not need [forgiveness]. For it is not the healthy who need a physician, but they who are sick. We have fallen ill through sin; we are healed by penance. But penance without fasting is vain. The accursed earth shall bring forth thorns and thistles for thee. Are you not ordained for sorrow and not for delights? … Because we did not fast we fell from paradise. Let us fast, therefore, that we may return to it.’ ” (Sermon 1)

Augustine comments: “[H]ear that we should not need this fast if man had not transgressed the law of fasting in the happiness of paradise, and [do not] deny that other men are born subject to the sin of those men. [H]ear what he adds: ‘Nor it is not the healthy who need a physician,’ and [do not] deny that we have lost by the sin of those men the health in which we were created. [T]he sentence pronounced against the first man… ‘The earth shall bring forth thorns and thistles for thee,’ applies to us also, [therefore do not] deny that they are subject to the sin whom you perceive to be subject to the same sentence.”

St. John Chrysostom (Eastern Father) - “When Adam sinned that great sin, and condemned all the human race in common, he paid the penalties in grief.” (Letter to Olympia) And: “Christ wept because mortality had transgressed to the point that, cast out from eternity, it loved the world of the dead. Christ wept because the Devil made mortal those who could have been immortal.” (Homily on the Resurrection of Lazarus) 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.”

Augustine says: “We have fourteen other Eastern bishops Eulogius, John, Ammonianus, Porphyry, Eutonius, Porphyry, Fidus, Zoninus, Zoboennus, Nymphidius, Chromatius, Jovinus, Eleutherius, Clematius whom we have found together in one place and can introduce into this assembly, the very ones who sat as judges over Pelagius.” He says this because they “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.”

Original Sin is found in the Old Testament. It was understood by the 1st and 2nd Temple Jews, as well as found in the Psalms. That is why Gentiles are considered unclean, and must be baptized before they can convert to Judaism. Original sin is also found in the Epistles of St Paul. The doctrine of Original Sin is, well, very old. St. Augustine coined the term “original sin” in his defense of this very old doctrine while battling the Pelagian heresy.

I think you mean “and must be circumcised before they can convert to Judaism.” You said baptized, but I don’t think the Jews require you to go through a rite similar to baptism, do they?

The purpose of the label, original is to indicate the origin of the issue=sin/grace.

How this equates to ancestral in translation, I don’t know. But ancestral doesn’t equate to origin.

I don’t see where we are not saying the same thing since we all defend the same points.

Yes I did mean baptize. Today’s Christians (and maybe some reformed Jews) have forgotten that baptism was necessary to anyone converting to Judaism because of their uncleanness. Circumcision was necessary to ALL males, even born of Jews, to enter into the Covenant. In Judaism, however, baptism was hereditary. That is why the children of Jews did not need baptism, only Gentile converts. All Jews were initially baptized by Moses and Aaron, after they had become unclean by worshiping the golden calf. That baptism was hereditary. Converts needed 1.) baptism 2.) circumcision (if they were males) and 3.) A sacrifice. Number 1 & 2 were reversed for males.

That is why St. Paul makes such a point of baptism because Jews DID NOT believe THEY needed to be baptized. But St. Paul stresses that ALL are in need, there are no Jews, Greeks etc. (Gal 3:28)

That is also why the Pharisees when questioning St. John the Baptist asked if he were the Messiah, or Elijah, as only those two would have the NEW baptism for Jews according to their then current beliefs. Remember, the Jews didn’t ask WHY he baptized, but WHO he was.

The Christian ritual of Baptism is very much a continuation and perfection of the Jewish baptism.

And we Catholics have plenty among our ranks about whom the exact same thing can be said, including–maybe even especially–with respect to matters regarding the Orthodox.

The EO rejection of original sin is a recent innovation of theirs. From what I can tell, it traces back to their 19th century anti-Latin movement (they have always been ant-Latin to some degree, but it got really rabid at this time). They pretty much chucked anything that they thought seemed Western–this included original sin, since the theology behind it was primarily developed by St. Augustine. It may also be related to their revulsion towards papal definitions, in this case that of the Immaculate Conception (since they wouldn’t attack the holiness of the Mother of God, they attacked the concept of original sin, which they had come to see as “Western.”).

But they used to teach the Catholic understanding (just like they did with indulgences, satisfaction, etc.). For example, at their Synod of Jerusalem in 1672, they taught the following relating to infant baptism. Note the part I bolded–how is this different from the Catholic position? They teach that infants need to be cleansed of original sin to be saved and that original sin makes one liable to eternal punishment.

[quote=EO Council of Jerusalem, 1672]We believe Holy Baptism, which was instituted by the Lord, and is conferred in the name of the Holy Trinity, to be of the highest necessity. For without it none is able to be saved, as the Lord says, “Whoever is not born of water and of the Spirit, shall in no way enter into the Kingdom of the Heavens.” {John 3:5} And, therefore, baptism is necessary even for infants, since they also are subject to original sin, and without Baptism are not able to obtain its remission. Which the Lord showed when he said, not of some only, but simply and absolutely, “Whoever is not born [again],” which is the same as saying, “All that after the coming of Christ the Savior would enter into the Kingdom of the Heavens must be regenerated.” And since infants are men, and as such need salvation, needing salvation they need also Baptism. **And those that are not regenerated, since they have not received the remission of hereditary sin, are, of necessity, subject to eternal punishment, and consequently cannot without Baptism be saved. ** So that even infants should, of necessity, be baptized. Moreover, infants are saved, as is said in Matthew; {Matthew 19:12} but he that is not baptized is not saved. And consequently even infants must of necessity be baptized. And in the Acts {Acts 8:12; 16:33} it is said that the whole houses were baptized, and consequently the infants. To this the ancient Fathers also witness explicitly, and among them Dionysius in his Treatise concerning the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy; and Justin in his fifty-sixth Question, who says expressly, “And they are guaranteed the benefits of Baptism by the faith of those that bring them to Baptism.” And Augustine says that it is an Apostolic tradition, that children are saved through Baptism; and in another place, “The Church gives to babes the feet of others, that they may come; and the hearts of others, that they may believe; and the tongues of others, that they may promise;” and in another place, “Our mother, the Church, furnishes them with a particular heart.”

Now the matter of Baptism is pure water, and no other liquid. And it is performed by the Priest only, or in a case of unavoidable necessity, by another man, provided he is Orthodox, and has the proper intention to Divine Baptism. And the effects of Baptism are, to speak concisely, firstly, the remission of the hereditary transgression, and of any sins of any kind that the baptized may have committed. Secondly, it delivers him from the eternal punishment, to which he was liable, as well for original sin and for mortal sins he may have individually committed. Thirdly, it gives to the person immortality; for in justifying them from past sins, it makes them temples of God.

Great post! This innovation is very dangerous to the EO. It puts them on the same path as the Pelagians. It’s one thing to object to our wording, but another to reject this ancient doctrine, which is found everywhere in the OT including the Psalms. (Ps 51:5)

Maybe I am missing something, or looking at it too “elementarily”, but original sin is straight out of the Scriptures, both OT and NT. Here are a few passages I used in THIS article on Infant Baptism, as understood through the doctrine on Original Sin:

Original Sin, all men contract it

“Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble. He comes forth like a flower, and withers; he flees like a shadow and continues not. And dost thou open thy eyes upon such a one and bring him into judgment with thee? Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one.” (Job 14:1-4)

“What is man that he can be clean? Or he that is born of a woman, that he can be righteous?” (Job 15:14)

“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me…Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Ps 51:5, 7)

“Do not reproach a man who is turning away from sin; remember that we all deserve punishment.” (Sirach 8:5)

“What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all; for I have already charged that all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one.””…”since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:9-12, etc…and Rom 3:23)

“12 Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned – 13 sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the effect of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. 17 If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. 18 Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many may be made righteous. 20 Law came in, to increase the trespass; but where sin increased grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 5:12-21)

“For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1Cor 15:21-22)

“One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.” (Heb 7:9-10)

“Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.” (2Cor 5:17)

If a created human is not the one most perfectly obedient created human (Mary, the Holy Mother), s/he will share the same original sin as Adam: Disobedience.

Thanks for sharing the interesting challenge! I pray this helps us all grow in God’s Love!

Amen, Bible consistency … “iniquity” repetitive term in relation to mans condition post fall.

I.perversity, depravity, iniquity, guilt or punishment of iniquity


B.guilt of iniquity, guilt (as great), guilt (of condition)

C.consequence of or punishment for iniquity

This is sticking point in dialogue. Guilt is in relation to injustice-consequence of the punishment which is iniquity.

Hello everyone. Thank you for the replies. I decided not to debate the person on this because it would result in derailing the thread. Nevertheless, I am enjoying this thread and I am learning from it. :slight_smile:

You are simply incorrect on this point. Seeing that you seem rather unacquainted with Orthodox theology (otherwise you would be naming specific theologians rather than criticizing the whole of Orthodoxy with vague generalities), it seems rather outrageous for you to tell the Orthodox how we should understand our own councils.

In Decree 6, Patriarch Dositheos makes a distinction between the ancestral sin and sin (the editor conveniently adds the adjective [actual], which is more accurate to modern phrasing):

We believe the first man created by God to have fallen in Paradise, when, disregarding the Divine commandment, he yielded to the deceitful counsel of the serpent. And as a result hereditary sin flowed to his posterity; so that everyone who is born after the flesh bears this burden, and experiences the fruits of it in this present world. But by these fruits and this burden we do not understand [actual] sin, such as impiety, blasphemy, murder, sodomy, adultery, fornication, enmity, and whatever else is by our depraved choice committed contrarily to the Divine Will, not from nature. For many both of the Forefathers and of the Prophets, and vast numbers of others, as well of those under the shadow [of the Law], as well as under the truth [of the Gospel], such as the divine Precursor, and especially the Mother of God the Word, the ever-virgin Mary, did not experience these [sins], or such like faults. But only what the Divine Justice inflicted upon man as a punishment for the [original] transgression, such as sweats in labor, afflictions, bodily sicknesses, pains in child-bearing, and, finally, while on our pilgrimage, to live a laborious life, and lastly, bodily*death.

Modern Orthodox scholars like Meyendorff or Romanides are largely reacting against the historical trend in Latin theology to posit that original sin is itself actual sin or a sin of nature (as opposed to the approach taken by more modern theologians to treat it as a privation), ideas which are foreign to our tradition, which has always identified the original sin with a certain privation from our original state rather than as being actual sin, since actual sin in the thought of the Eastern fathers like St. Maximus the Confessor is acting not in accordance with nature. The remission of the ancestral transgression spoken of by Dositheos refers not in this sense to the remission of actual sin, but of the reordering of the noetic faculties. Without acquiring in this life well-being (as St. Maximus would call it), one cannot share in the eternal well-being which is paradise, and the restoration of the noetic faculties through baptism is the only way known to the Church to begin acquiring well-being. This is how St. John Chrysostom could write that infants are baptized even though they are undefiled by sin (surely you would not like to call St. John Chrysostom a rabid Latin-hating Pelagian, would you?), because they lack the gifts of the Holy Spirit which save us, while yet bearing no actual sin. The unbaptized participate in the soul-killing fruits of Adam’s transgression by sharing in fallen human nature, on which account they are in need of baptism for salvation, but they are not implicated with Adam as cotransgressors.

You are also incorrect to read Dositheos as advocating for satisfaction as it is understood in Latin theology (and hence also incorrect to compare absolution certificates to indulgences, as one cannot have indulgences without the system of satisfaction from Pre-Reformation Latin theology) but that is an issue for another thread.

[quote=Cavaradossi]Modern Orthodox scholars like Meyendorff or Romanides are largely reacting against the historical trend in Latin theology to posit that original sin is itself actual sin or a sin of nature

So your answer to the OP would be that her Orthodox antagonist was being argumentative rather than Charitable. It is apparent that what you believe (if we can suppose you speak for all of the Orthodox) is very much in agreement with Latin Theology, but differs only in emphasis and nuance. That is understandable. But it does not justify Orthodox rejection of the true Latin theology of original sin, which despite your fears of “historical trends” does not change our basic theology, which again, if you speak for all of the Orthodox, appears to be in complete harmony with the Latin theology. It does not build up the Church of Christ to make a difference of nuance or emphasis a reason for attacks on the others basic theology. I can understand a desire (even a need) to express it differently though.

IOW, why not just say the Orthodox opinion is IN ESSENCE in agreement with Latin theology. That it has another way of expressing the same essence.

Well, that is because the Orthodox teaching is not always completely consonant with Latin theology. For example, noted dogmatist Fr. Hardon summarizes De Lugo’s analysis of original sin as follows, “In this theory, original sin is a peculiar type of habitual sin, namely an actual sin morally perduring in the eyes of God, and making its possessor hateful to God in the same way as if the person had himself committed an actual sin.” Fr. Hardon himself though rejecting such a view admits that this view is not contrary to the faith, as it is faithful to all elements of faith required by the Magisterium.

Fr. Hardon advocates instead for a modified version of Cardinal Billot’s theory, which understands original sin as the privation of sanctifying grace, which is a moral and sinful privation. Original Sin therefore goes beyond mere privation, but is real sin, because it is a voluntary and sinful condition (as it was initiated by the human will of Adam against the divine will) and it is a furthermore a moral privation (which is to say, we lack from the very moment of conception the supernatural ordination to God as our final end). The end result is that from the very moment of conception we are guilty of sin as a result of Adam’s transgression (something which I see even many posters here reject as ever having been part of the Latin tradition), though this guilt is not imputed to us as some Protestants teach, but rather is intrinsic to our condition.

The issue of whether we are in this sense cotransgressors with Adam is at the very heart of Meyendorff’s and Romanides’ studies on original sin in the Eastern tradition. Romanides rejects the notion of shared guilt as being a type of moralism not present in the Eastern tradition. Meyendorff rejects it on the grounds that sin in the Eastern tradition is understood as a personal act, the abuse of free-will not according to nature.

They still do. A friend of the family was preparing to convert to Judaism in order to marry an observant Jew, and she went through Tvilah, a ritual purification of submersion in water conducted by a rabbi, and which is required before conversion to Judaism. (She backed out of conversion at the last moment, but that’s another story.) Tvilah, I think, is repeatable whereas Baptism in the Christian tradition is one-time only. Tvilah is conducted in “living water,” so either a natural body of water (like St. John the Baptist did) or in a special ritual basin called a mikveh, which is attached to a natural source of water like a spring.

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