Sin (and original sin) - positive or negative attribute?

Hello, I’ve been pondering sin, particularly original sin, and also Orthodox arguments against the Catholic conception of original sin and the Immaculate Conception. I wanted to see if my thoughts have strayed against Church teaching. So, is sin a positive or negative attribute?

By positive attribute, I mean something that has been added to us. You often see sin spoken of in positive terms. For example, sin is often described as a stain. But would describing sin in negative terms be more specific. The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers this explanation of original sin:

405 Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence". Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.

The emphasis is mine. This conception of sin as a deprivation seems to fit better with Augustine’s and Aquinas’ view of good and evil, where God is goodness, and evil is a deprivation of good. The more I’ve thought about it, the more preferable I’ve found it. Sin is a willful deprivation of good such that it creates a disunity between God and man.

This leads us to original sin. It’s not about what we inherit, but about we don’t inherit. We are not born in a state of grace. That is, men are born in a state of disunion with God. As such, I can see why Augustine had such concerns about whether unbaptized infants would be saved. However, is it accurate to say that we are *guilty *of original sin if we are being technical? Or would it be more specific and accurate to say that we are born in a state that is not in union with God, due to what we don’t inherit due to Adam’s sin? [Let me pause here and clarify that I don’t believe such a formulation is at all original to me, or that it would solve disagreements between Catholics and Orthodox.] Such a lack of union [outside of extraordinary action of God], while not implying true guilt in how we normally conceive the term, would seem to explain the Church’s movement on the question of the unborn, while explaining how there’s been no change in doctrine. I think it also still successfully does away with Pelagianism and the idea that men can merit salvation apart from the grace of God.

To follow this through to the Immaculate Conception, whereas we are no formulating sin in negative terms, the Immaculate Conception also reverses and becomes a statement of a positive attribute. Instead of phrasing it negatively as “Mary was preserved from the stain of sin,” we instead, if we’re being technical (and pushing our glasses up our noses while we explain it), formulate it positively that Mary was filled with the grace of God at the moment of her conception. Rather than preserved, she was imbued, much like we are at Baptism, and then was never at a moment of disunion with God throughout her life (or after).

First, thank you for reading this far. Second, forgive me. I know I must seem as if I’ve carved a wheel and am presenting it as a new invention. I can’t recall seeing this fully expounded anywhere, though, which is why I ask, and I find this preferable to the idea of newborns being guilty (in an un-nuanced sense of the word). Is anything of what I’ve stated above at odds with any teachings of the Church?

Simply make the distinction and move on - inasmuch as an absence exists, a deprivation of some grace or perfection exists.

To follow this through to the Immaculate Conception, whereas we are no formulating sin in negative terms, the Immaculate Conception also reverses and becomes a statement of a positive attribute. Instead of phrasing it negatively as “Mary was preserved from the stain of sin,” we instead, if we’re being technical (and pushing our glasses up our noses while we explain it), formulate it positively that Mary was filled with the grace of God at the moment of her conception. Rather than preserved, she was imbued, much like we are at Baptism, and then was never at a moment of disunion with God throughout her life (or after).

There is no contradiction… She must be imbued because there is an absence, inasmuch as that can be said to be done in the same instant of conception.

We retain the stain of original sin after baptism. Before baptism, we hold its guilt. If we are not incorporated into the New Covenant by adoption through death and rebirth, we are not able to be saved. There has been from an early time the notion of three kinds of baptism (fire, water, blood)… I submit here that perhaps we give too much attention and place too much hope in baptism by fire for non-Christians… We have a tendency to make the Great Commission a Great Suggestion.

A stain, to my mind, is like ink poured over a white robe. That is, it’s the ADDITION of something else on top of my own nature that stains it.

I’m wondering if this terminology is the most specific way of speaking of sin. Is it truly something additional to us? Or is sin ONLY the lack of something, say grace and a unity with God?

Maybe a patch of darkness in a robe of Light might look like a stain that would appear on normal cloth, but in reality that would not be the ADDITION of ink or some other substance on my robe, but a lack of light.

I’m looking for a better understanding of sin, particularly original sin. I understand that Baptism does not restore our disordered nature or preternatural gifts, but it does fill us with God’s grace, which we did not inherit. This follows reading Orthodox objections to original sin, and my thinking on it. I don’t claim this is an explanation they’d agree with, but it satisfies me. So, I wanted to make sure I haven’t stumbled into some heresy or what not.

Maybe it’s a silly question. Has the Church ever formally defined sin as a positive attribute, such as a foreign substance added to my nature, staining me in that sense? Or can I think of it entirely as a lack of something, such as goodness and grace?

But Westrock here’s where you’ve mistaken on Baptism. Baptism not only gives us grace, but it cleanses us of original sin and gives us eternal life so that’s why it restores our union with God that Adam and Eve lost! And we do receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit in our baptism…So it does restore our supernatural life with God… In dying He destroyed our death, In Rising He restored our life! Our baptism is joined in Jesus baptism…:slight_smile: We are baptized for the forgiveness of sins original and personal (in the case of an older person who receives)… Our problem is we might lose that connection due to our unbelief or sinfulness. This is why we should always keep our faith in Jesus alive and receive the sacraments to grow in our faith till the end when we are in heaven…:slight_smile: Of course we have a sinful ‘nature’, but that does not mean we cannot try to be better persons or be cleansed of our sins, that’s why we need the mercy of God always…:slight_smile:

I appreciate the responses, but I’m not sure my question is being understood… That may be my own fault. :blush:

Well… Maybe you could restate the question in another way??:slight_smile:

Re-read what I wrote and see if I answered it… I edited it… :blush:

Okay please remember that in the beginning God said to Satan that He would put enmity between him=satan and her… That enmity is ‘purity and holiness’ which came from God… Through the Immaculate Conception God made Mary pure and holy with no spot of the stain of Adam on her… That’s why Adam became a mortal being… That’s why we say Mary was preserved from the stain of sin…Remember that the wages of sin is death… And so Mary was always immortal, and we will not lose immortality as long as we stay in union with God… Does this help??

I’m not doubting original sin or the Immaculate Conception.

I think I’m just looking for the best way to *talk about *original sin. I feel like speaking of stains is insufficient and inaccurate. Is original sin about inheriting something additional (which is how it is most often explained, as some type of stain or oil coating or dirt on top of something clean)? Or is it about not inheriting something that man was created with? A positive description of what sin is versus a negative description.

I’m aware of the miraculous grace conferred in Baptism, the adoption of sons and daughters of God through Christ, that we die and rise again in Baptism as new people and are regenerated.

Good… I think I see where you’re coming from… Okay Original sin ‘the stain that doesn’t come clean’ is about receiving human nature and mortality (the fact that we will die and suffer)… I suppose human nature can be seen as a good thing, as long as we are ‘good’ about it… :slight_smile: But it is also the thing that can take us away from God… God gave us free will… it’s up to us to choose, that in itself is good, but can also lead us away from God… I think every day is a blessing for those who appreciate all that God has given us, and those things are often material and good… Like bread, water, sun…

With another perspective on this… Adam and Eve did enjoy the Garden of Eden and only developed shame when they were made mortal… So… would we miss this if we are in heaven? :shrug:

It is a deprivation.

Original Sin is a lack of what we otherwise would have had in an exalted nature; the gifts of grace, integrity, and incorruptibility were gifts and not owed to us, in the first place.

We are much closer to the Orthodox understanding, though at times the church in its history has emphasized certain other understandings of original sin, especially as understood by Augustine.

catholicculture.org/culture/library/most/getwork.cfm?worknum=140

Thank you all for your responses.

And thank you for this link. This seems to be exactly what I was looking for.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.