Thursday, December 4, 2008

Benedict Sheds Some Light On Original Sin

Pontiff: Christian Concept of Sin Veils Happy Fact
Notes Doctrine on Goodness of Creator
VATICAN CITY, DEC. 3, 2008 (

The Christian explanation of evil and original sin is a happy proclamation, since it affirms that life and living is good, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope offered an explanation of original sin today during the general audience in St. Peter's Square, in which he reflected on St. Paul's teaching about Adam and Christ as found in the Letter to the Romans.

As "men of today," the Holy Father said, "we must ask ourselves: What is this original sin? […] Is this doctrine still tenable today? Many think that, in the light of the history of evolution, there is no longer a place for the doctrine of a first sin, which then spread to the whole history of humanity. And, consequently, the question of the Resurrection and of the Redeemer would also lose its foundation." (This is only true for atonement theology. Other Christologies are not dependent on the notion of original sin as the motivating story for the incarnation of Christ.)

In answering if original sin exists, the Pontiff said that we must "distinguish two aspects of the doctrine on original sin. There is an empirical aspect, namely, a concrete, visible, I would say tangible reality for all, and a mysterious aspect, regarding the ontological foundation of this fact."

The empirical fact, he said, is clear: There is a contradiction within man, who wants to do good, but feels the impulse toward the contrary. (This is a far cry from ascribing an actual act of sin to mythical first parents Adam and Eve.)

"This interior contradiction of our being is not a theory," Benedict XVI said. "Each one of us experiences it every day. […] Suffice it to think of the daily news on injustice, violence, falsehood, lust. We see it every day: It is a fact. […]"Hence, the fact of the power of evil in the human heart and in human history is undeniable. The question is: How is this evil explained?"

Unique understanding:

The Pope said that Christianity stands alone in the history of human thought with the explanation it offers.

In all other proposals, "there is a principal model of explanation, with several variations," he explained. "This model says: Being itself is contradictory, it bears within it good and evil. In ancient times this idea implied the opinion that two equally original principles existed: a good principle and an evil principle. […] (In other words, God and His evil counterpart were equal in all things and operating in the world.)

"In the evolutionist, atheist version of the world the same vision returns in a new way. Even if, in such a concession, the vision of being is monistic, it is implied that being as such from the beginning bears in itself evil and good. […] Evil is equally original as good, and human history would develop only the model already present in the whole of the preceding evolution." (I take this to mean that the dualism is inherent within man and not a product of outside influence, hence it is monistic.)

"Deep down," the Holy Father affirmed, "it is a despairing vision: If it is so, evil is invincible. In the end, only self-interest matters. (Other monistic traditions would say, evil is not invincible but change and learning are, and we keep getting recycled until we get it.)

"But faith, he said, has a different proposal: "As a first point, it confirms the fact of the competition between the two natures, the fact of this evil whose shadow weighs on the whole of creation. […] Evil simply exists." (Or one could say, choice simply exists.)

"As explanation, in contrast with the dualisms and monisms that we considered briefly and found desolating, faith tells us: There are two mysteries of light and one mystery of night, which is, however, shrouded by the mysteries of light. The first mystery of light is this: Faith tells us that there are not two principles, one good and one evil, but only one principle, the creator God, and this principle is good, only good, without a shadow of evil.

"As well, being is not a mixture of good and evil; being as such is good and because of this it is good to be, it is good to live. This is the happy proclamation of faith: there is only one good source, the Creator. And because of this, to live is good, it is a good thing to be a man, a woman, life is good. (This is the proposition of the humanists, as espoused most eloquently by St. Thomas More in Utopia. It was not well received by ecclesiastical authority because it was seen as contradicting atonement theology.)

The mystery of darkness follows, he said, "Evil does not come from the source of being itself, it is not equally original. Evil comes from a created liberty, from an abused liberty." (I'm assuming he means free will which is a gift. That it's abused is ontological to the whole notion of choice, just as what is determined as evil very often has more to do with the prevailing cultural norms than anything else.)

Still mysterious

How this happened, the Bishop of Rome contended, "remains obscure."Images have offered explanation, like those of Chapter 3 of Genesis, but "it cannot explain how much in itself is illogical. We can guess, not explain. […] It remains a mystery of darkness, of night," he said. (Interesting observation on Genesis and not exactly a literalistic interpretation,)

"However, a mystery of light is immediately added," Benedict XVI affirmed. "Evil comes from a subordinate source. With his light, God is stronger and, because of this, evil can be overcome. Therefore, the creature, man, is curable; […] man is not only curable, he is in fact cured. God has introduced healing. He entered in person into history. To the permanent source of evil he has opposed a source of pure good. Christ crucified and risen, the new Adam. (Jesus is more than just a force of pure good interjected into humanity to oppose the source of evil. That's too static. To either/or. To human. Jesus is The Way, the Truth, and The Light showing us the way to transcend the whole dualistic notion of man as something caught in battle between diametrically opposed forces. Until we understand this we are never going to get Jesus.)

"The Pope concluded with an Advent reflection: "In the language of the Church the word Advent has two meanings: presence and expectation. Presence: The light is present, Christ is the new Adam, he is with us and in our midst. The light already shines and we must open the eyes of the heart to see the light and to enter the river of light. […] "But Advent also means expectation. The dark night of evil is still strong. […] And we pray with insistence: Come Jesus; come, give force to light and goodness; come where falsehood, ignorance of God, violence and injustice dominate; come, Lord Jesus, give force to the good of the world and help us to be bearers of your light, agents of peace, witnesses of truth. Come Lord Jesus!" (This is a statement to meditate on.)


If one spends some time reading what Benedict is saying here, this is not your average fare for the 'simple people'. This reflection would not play well amongst the New Apostolic Reformation folks. This isn't atonement theology. This isn't the Baltimore Catechism on original sin.

This is Enlightened Catholicism.


  1. In the evolutionist, atheist version of the world the same vision returns in a new way. Even if, in such a concession, the vision of being is monistic, it is implied that being as such from the beginning bears in itself evil and good.

    This seems like a strawman to me. What evolutionist would probably deny, whether they are atheists or not, is that the capacity for evil entered human nature as the result of some mysterious, primeval event. In other words, human imperfection was not the result of a fall from some edenic state.

    Good and evil, in the sense that the pope refers to, can only be the product of a discriminating self-consciousness struggling with its own animal nature.

  2. Do you suppose that Benedict has had a revelation of the real truth, and that he is trying within his limited consciousness to begin the process of transitioning catholicism into a new awareness and understanding of the truth?

    Or, is this just another deception to try to lull us into complacency and draw us back into the old ways?

  3. How [original sin] happened, the Bishop of Rome contended, "remains obscure."

    Images have offered explanation, like those of Chapter 3 of Genesis, but "it cannot explain how much in itself is illogical. We can guess, not explain. […] It remains a mystery of darkness, of night," he said.

    I don't know if any special revelation was involved. What was amazing to me, however, was his exegis of Genesis.

    This book forms one of the pillars of the creationist canon. The fact that the pope (at least implicitely) acknowledged the validity of evolution and admitted to the difficulty of reconciling it with the biblical account of creation (with only a minor rap on the knuckles to the so-called evolution atheists) is amazing.

    But beytond that, I wonder what this implies for the notions of atonement and removing the "stain" of Original Sin through baptism. Then again, since my uderstanding of doctrine is at the level of the 1947 Baltimore Catechism, I don't know if this has much real significance at all.

  4. Antonio, I think it does. It may not have much impact in the day to day operations of most parishes, but this really is a Christology beyond atonement theology and has implications about the understanding of baptism and the 'stain' of original sin.

    For what ever his reasons, Benedict's latest musings are moving in a different direction, away from Vat I and into areas less in conflict with science. Maybe he's been reading Dairmud O'Murchu or he's about to rehabillitate Chardin.

    Carl, that was my question too. Is he trying to bring back some folks with his take on things while leaving everything else in tact? Time will tell.

  5. Yes, time will tell whether Benedict is a true follower of Christ and a good shepherd or if he is just another politician dressed as a Pope.