On Original Sin

May 10, 2006    By: Geoff J @ 3:22 pm   Category: Ostler Reading,Theology

Chapter 4 in Blake Ostler’s new book is called “The Implausibility of Original Sin”. That’s a nice way of saying “The doctrine of original sin is a total crock and here is why”.

I have to admit that as a Mormon this chapter wasn’t all that thrilling to me. We have rejected original sin from the start after all:

We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.
(Articles of Faith 1:2)

But I did find it interesting to see how our rejection of original sin sets Mormon theology and doctrines apart from many creedal Christians from the get-go. Blake writes:

The doctrine of original sin is as puzzling as it is entrenched in current conventional Christian thought. Even though the doctrine of original sin is scarcely mentioned at all during the first three centuries of Christian writings, it became a key doctrine at the core of “Christian” thought due largely to the influence of Augustine. (119)

On original sin, Theopedia says:

Original sin is the doctrine which holds that human nature has been morally and ethically corrupted due to the disobedience of mankind’s first parents to the revealed will of God.

Ostler thinks the two primary reasons the doctrine of original sin has flourished are 1) People misread Paul’s writings, and 2) It helps explain the perplexing question of why we all inevitably sin. He spends the remainder of this chapter going into detail of why the doctrine of original sin is simply false. Since I assume most of my readers are Mormons I’ll avoid going into great detail on that (buy the book and read yourself!). I will mention that one argument against original sin is the fact that one person cannot be held morally accountable for the acts of another person. If my father steals, I cannot be held morally culpable for that theft. Over the centuries creedal theologians have tried to come up with sophisticated reasons why we can be morally responsible for the acts of a progenitor but Ostler spends time debunking these arguments. Another interesting problem arising from the doctrine of original sin that Ostler brings up is that it becomes a convenient excuse at times. Instead of saying “the Devil made me do it” we get to say “Adam and Eve made me do it”.

What do you think? Are there pros or cons of the doctrine of original sin that stand out to you? As someone somewhat sympathetic to Arminianism or even moreso to Pelagianism I find the appeal of such a doctrine totally baffling.


  1. Hey Geoff,

    I don’t know if you saw it, but I wrote something about original sin (and infant baptism) back in March. Check it out.

    Comment by Brad Haas — May 10, 2006 @ 11:19 pm

  2. There is nothing good about the doctrine of Original Sin other than that it has some superficial support in the Bible. It is altogether a theological disaster, more effective as a means for avoiding responsibility, than instilling it.

    Augustine was a convert from Manicheanism – the prototypical black and white way of looking at the world, and it shows. He took the general idea of the Fall of Adam as taught by Paul and for various reasons devised the doctrine of Original Sin – namely that Adam’s fallen, sinful nature was transmitted from generation to generation like a disease.

    Aquinas in several respects performed the amazing trick of negating (perhaps unwittingly) some of the worst implications of Augustinianism while ending up as its most prominent exponent. Whether that was intentional or not, I am not qualified to say.

    Aquinas maintained Original Sin through a rather more subtle theology and Augustine, but gave a theological backbone to a much more positive philosophy of nature in general – nature as the greatest creation of God, subject to timeless principles of pure reason, apparent to man prior to the advent of grace.

    On Original Sin itself Aquinas maintained that it was not consequence of Adam’s sin per se, but rather the withdrawal of God’s indwelling spirit – for Aquinas, the “stain” of Original Sin was the “privation of grace”. Nature per se was not evil, it was man’s *limited* ability to exercise correct judgment over his actions that lead to actual sin (as opposed to original sin).

    Well for various reasons, Luther and Calvin went in the opposite direction, out doing Augustine in several respects, leading to the Protestant Reformed theology that generally prevails today. Augustine and Aquinas were generally compatibilists. Luther and Calvin denied free will completely. Aquinas maintained a limited ability in man to recognize the work of God in nature. Luther and Calvin maintained the total inability or depravity of man. The Thomists had a pretty positive outlook on human nature, reason, and academic inquiry. Luther despised all three.

    It is one of the great ironies in history that the Protestant Reformation was mostly characterized by a seriously reactionary trend in theology, rather too progressive in ecclesiology, but a thousand year step backwards on the doctrine of human nature, more a restoration of the philosophy of the dark ages than the sum of medieval perfection.

    Here is Luther: “Philosophy is the devil’s whore”. Luther’s God was the God of absurdity, sort of a hyper-Ockhamist “I can do anything for any reason” sort of being. To a point this re-emphasis of revelation was probably a good thing, but in Luther and his fellow travelers it got way out of hand. All faith, all the time – reason was something for secular matters and had no business in theology. We are completely hopeless, helpless, corrupt and depraved and can accomplish no good thing in and of ourselves. [This should sound rather familiar by now] Of course this was traced to the fall of Adam, in the same manner (and with the same consequences) as Augustine. Quite a contrast from the theology of Aquinas.

    Now Calvin was a much more rationally oriented scholar than Luther. And he gave Luther’s sentiments an incredibly consistent systematic theology, drawing on scriptures all over the Bible to give persuasive support for one of the most impressive displays of theological re-interpretation ever made. Calvinism, whatever its other weaknesses, is almost unassailable on purely logical grounds, mostly due to its pervasive quasi-pantheism, where everything that occurs is because God has determined it. The heirs of Aquinas considered it another seriously imbalanced form of theological extremism, an extremism of the sort that was fought every century or so throughout church history.

    Here’s Calvin: “man, having been corrupted by his fall, sins voluntarily, not with reluctance or constraint; with the strongest propensity of disposition, not with violent coercion; with the bias of his own passions, and not with external compulsion: yet such is the pravity of his nature that he cannot be excited and biased to anything but what is evil” i.e. just as in Luther, man is totally depraved – not even a spark of divinity remains within him.

    And of course Calvin’s famous perspective on presdestination (also a heritage of Augustine): “Predestination we call the eternal decree of God, by which He hath determined in Himself what He would have to become of every individual of mankind. For they are not all created with a similar destiny; but eternal life is foreordained for some, and eternal damnation for others.”

    Note that nothing a person does of themselves has anything to do with where they end up. God has created some to be saved, and some to be damned for his own inscrutable purposes. There is no spark of divinity or free will, just mechanical dependence on God’s will and pleasure in every aspect of existence. No more natural law, nor natural reason. No more free will. Just God said and done.

    Well for a variety of reasons this general doctrine was wildly popular for a century or so. Not only popular, but theologically stable enough that it is the staple of Protestantism even today, except for one “lesser” branch: Arminianism.

    Now Arminius thought that some of the leading doctrines of Dutch Calvinism were ridiculous, and the religious leaders invited him to a conference to discuss the matter, where the summarily excommunicated him. His crime was to re-introduce “semi-Pelagianism” in particular the doctrine of free will into Protestant theology, something that didn’t mesh well at all with Calvinist orthodoxy. So Arminianism stayed at most a theological undercurrent for another century.

    By the time of John Wesley (ca. 1720), many people had begun to regard the prevailing Calvinist doctrines like Predestination with some understandable derision. Here is the Westminister Confession of the Faith (ca. 1646):

    “They being the root of mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed, and the same death in sin and corrupted nature conveyed to all their posterity, descending from them by original generation. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions. This corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be through Christ pardoned and mortified, yet both itself, and all the motions thereof, are truly and properly sin.”


    “God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; … By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death. These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it can not be either increased or diminished.”

    “Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of his free grace and love alone, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace.”

    “The rest of mankind, God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice.”

    These doctrines are theologically related, in the manner of who says one must say the other, of course.

    Wesley lead a whole contingent of mostly common folk eventually into a new denomination, Methodism, largely based in Arminian, rather than Calvinist theology, causing no end of disagreements which were still hotly disputed issues in the time of Joseph Smith, nearly a century later. Presbyterianism on the other hand, was the semi-populist Calvinist counterpart, as advocated by John Knox, George Whitefield (Wesley’s former traveling companion) and others. Of course the Puritans in America were in the Calvinist vein as well, including Wesley’s notable contemporary Jonathan Edwards.

    The first point that Wesley departed on was Pre-destination. Unlike the Calvinists, Wesley taught that God “desired all mankind to be saved”.

    So when we hear Joseph Smith comment that he preferred Methodist doctrine to Presbyterianism, we may safely conclude that he preferred Arminianism to Calvinism. And it shows, of course. Though going much further than the Arminians (who, including Wesley, still maintained a rather Protestant view of Original Sin), Mormonism is much more similar to Methodism than Presbyterianism on a variety of closely related theological issues.

    As an example, consider this passage from John Wesley:

    “Can it be denied that something of this is found in every man born into the world? And does it not appear as soon as the understanding opens, as soon as the reason begins to dawn?… This faculty seems to be what is usually meant by those who speak of natural conscience…though in one sense it may be natural, because it is found in all men; yet,…it is not natural, but a supernatural gift of God above all His natural endowments. No; it is not natural, but the Son of God that is the true light which enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world.”

    “The light which lightens every man is capable of increase if man does not hinder it and is incapable of functioning without the Holy Spirit. If graciously responded to, it leads to the moment of salvation under the gospel. ”

    The way Wesley worked around the consequences of total depravity (which he maintained) was the idea of prevenient grace, or what we generally call the “Light of Christ” – not some sort of natural reason or limited ability as Aquinas maintained, but a direct channel or gift of grace to every man.

    Now that makes a lot of sense for obvious reasons, and Joseph Smith was right to preserve some of the terminology. But the abandonment of the doctrine of Original Sin, is one of many places where Mormonism dramatically parts company with Arminianism, even though we hear echoes of the concept on a regular basis even today. The doctrine of the pre-existence and especially the non-canonical concept of self-existent intelligences take Mormonism much further in the direction of robust moral responsibility. We can’t hold God responsible for our failings, nor trace our moral weaknesses to some sort of inherited inability.

    The idea of Original Sin can be cast in terms of scriptural doctrines (c.f. Helaman 12) but properly understood it is not Original nor is it a Sin, just a understandable consequence of liberty itself.

    [I apologize for the length – I hope someone finds that informative]

    Comment by Mark Butler (II) — May 10, 2006 @ 11:33 pm

  3. I can’t speak for any Protestant views of original sin, but the actual Catholic belief is not what most people object to. I think I faithfully portrayed it (the Catholic view, that is) in the blog post I linked above, of which Mr. Butler seemed to approve. I’ve also found this article informative so far, though I won’t have time to read it all tonight.

    I do disagree with Mr. Butler’s short statements on St. Augustine, but maybe I’m misunderstanding them.

    Comment by Brad Haas — May 11, 2006 @ 12:22 am

  4. Brad: I agree that the Catholic doctrine of original sin — at least as promulgated by Aquinas — is far superior to its Protestant counterpart. However, the notion that we are deprived of an original grace and that such deprivation is heritable is problematic to say the least. Moreover, why are unbaptized babies consigned to hell without baptism if they are not deserving of it? Lacking grace is not a justification for a doctrine of damnation but could justify at most failing to give blessings. Moreover, why would God withhold the grace from babies? What difference does an ordinance make to salvation when the acts that lead to salvation are not referrable to the person who is being saved or damned? If I choose to be baptized, then there is something for which I can be accountable. If my parents decided for me, then how could that be a just basis for whether I am damned or saved? The doctrine just won’t pass moral muster. Perhaps you could it explain your view of why such a doctrine is defensible.

    Comment by Blake — May 11, 2006 @ 8:04 am

  5. Mark: Why do you say that the concept of self-existent intelligences is “non-canonical”? I would have thought that Abraham 3:18 adopted that view explicitly: “Howbeit that he made the greater star; as, also, if there be two aspirits, and one shall be more intelligent than the other, yet these two spirits, notwithstanding one is more intelligent than the other, have no beginning; they existed before, they shall have no end, they shall exist after, for they are gnolaum, or eternal.” As the footnotes comment, gnolaum is Joseph smith’s transliteration of the Hebrew ‘olam which means “eternal”. If they have no beginning, it seems to me fairly straightforward that they are not created at some first moment and therefore must self-exist (barring the notion that they are co-eternally existent but ontologically dependent on God).

    Comment by Blake — May 11, 2006 @ 8:17 am

  6. Blake, did you read the post to which I linked in the first comment? We don’t believe that unbaptized babies are consigned to hell. There are relatively very few cases where we know with certainty that someone is in heaven – for example, baptized children, martyrs, people whom God wants to be emulated and asked for intercession by the faithful. Apart from that, we just don’t know. I don’t see any good reason to believe that unbaptized infants go anywhere but heaven, but (savor this, you don’t often hear it in Catholic/Mormon dialogue) it’s one of the things God chooses not to reveal.

    As I also mentioned in the post, baptism is not the only way God gives sanctifying grace. It’s just one way that we know He always gives that grace, because He promised it.

    I don’t know if I entirely understand your question about “when the acts that lead to salvation are not referrable to the person.” Could you clarify it?

    As for choosing, like I also discussed in the post, it’s not something completely out of left field. There are plenty of things babies don’t choose, being born among them. The eight-day-old Hebrew babies like Jesus didn’t choose whether to be circumcised, but that was the way that God revealed for them to enter the covenant family. The same goes for us.

    Comment by Brad Haas — May 11, 2006 @ 10:32 am

  7. Thanks Brad. Yeah, I read it, I just didn’t believe it [grin]. I could provide a good deal of evidence that many Catholics (tho apparently not you!) are committed to unbaptized infants going to hell (including Augustine)… and a papal bull. I’m glad that you don’t. So if all unbaptized babies may go to heaven, in that case, what difference would infant baptism make?

    By “not referrable to the person,” I mean that the act does not arise out of the choices of a person for which a person could be held accountable, or praised and rewarded, or blamed and punished. LDS also believe that babies “born in the covenant” have certain blessings bestowed upon them without any choice, but the choice to be in a loving relationship with God which constitutes salvation is definitely not among them — nor could it be. The Hebrew covenant is not like baptism in that respect.

    Comment by Blake — May 11, 2006 @ 10:57 am

  8. Brad – Thanks for the link. I glanced at that post earlier but had not read all of it until now. You certainly paint a moderate and reasonable take on the idea of original sin there.

    Mark – Thanks for the highly informative comment! Keep that good stuff coming.

    Blake – I think you ask some good questions of Brad and Mark — I’m looking forward to seeing their responses.

    Comment by Geoff J — May 11, 2006 @ 12:26 pm

  9. Mr. Butler,
    Your post is impressive! You’re more familiar with the doctrine of original sin than many of my fellow Calvinists. I also enjoyed reading your perspective on my favorite doctrine (predestination).

    Comment by Trevor — May 11, 2006 @ 2:46 pm

  10. Blake (#5), I was under the impression you were among those who thought that Joseph Smith used the terms “spirit” and “intelligence” pretty much interchangeably, and thus associated your views with the idea that “intelligence” is self-existent as some sort of raw material out of which souls are made by spirit birth (as advocated by Brigham Young and Bruce R. McConkie).

    The other view, that “intelligences” are self existent in terms of personal identity or primal personality, I believe is the straightforward reading of the King Follett Discourse and Abraham 3:18 as well. I believe B.H. Roberts is the most well known advocate of this view.

    Re-exaxining Abraham 3:18 it seems clear it should be considered canonical, but there seems to be a lot of resistance on this point, both from defenders of a certain conception of spirit birth, and those who think self-existence of something as complex as a personal identity is untenable given what we know about the distributed function of the brain, etc.

    From moral responsibility / LFW considerations though I think the Roberts view makes the most sense. The idea that a personal identity is an accident of assembly seems incoherent with the general idea of the purpose of God to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of Man. After all, if souls could be assembled, why not just assemble them in a perfected or nearly perfected state to begin with?

    Comment by Mark Butler (II) — May 11, 2006 @ 4:35 pm

  11. Thanks Trevor. I think the best way to study a doctrine is to start with its boldest advocates. Later interpretations often tend to be softened or adorned with various forms of sophistry for a variety of mostly apologetic reasons. Though one can see traces of the idea in the Old Testament, in Paul, and in Tertullian, Augustine is definitely the man who developed the boldest exposition of Original Sin as we know it today, one that it seems the Catholic tradition has been backpedalling on to various degrees ever since.

    The same goes with predestination. Augustine advocated predestination, but Calvin is definitely its most prominent exponent, and much more so than Augustine, Calvin was a scholar in the scholastic tradition, and the theology was worked out in great detail from the very beginning, including a full throated reaffirmation of Original Sin in the manner of Augustine rather than Aquinas. So rather than reading between the lines, as one often has to do with Augustine and many of his predecessors, you can read the fully appreciated theological consequences right out of Calvin’s own works as well as in enormously confident expressions of belief like the Westminster Confession.

    Comment by Mark Butler (II) — May 11, 2006 @ 5:13 pm

  12. Brad, I do not see any problem with the idea of “original sin” as a deprivation of grace, I just don’t see how that is a “sin”. As Augustine himself said, “There can be no sin that is not voluntary, the learned and the ignorant admit this evident truth”. And of course as the Apostle James has said, “to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”

    So the number one obstacle to the idea of “original sin” is some element of voluntariness or culpability on the part of all man kind. Now some commentators have tried to finesse this point, to no avail – even if our fallen nature were transmitted by inheritance, the idea of moral culpability for an act we had nothing to do with is completely untenable.

    The second problem with Augustine’s notion of original sin is the idea of transmission from parent to child, going so far as to say that it is the father that supplies the corrupting element in conception. Now the idea that matter itself is corrupt or corruptible doesn’t make any sense – that is where Augustine’s Manichee heritage seems to show through the most.

    Now it is interesting to note the the Eastern Orthodox church does not believe in Original Sin in the manner of Augustine at all. They believe that of course we bear the consequences of Adam’s sin, but do not believe we share in the culpability for it. This is one of several points that Mormonism shares in common with the Eastern Orthodox tradition.

    It is worth noting that Pelagius was tried twice on charges of heresy in Palestine and he was vindicate in each case. His two other trials were conducted in absentia by Augustine. When the results were submitted to the pope at the time, he was somewhat ambiguous about the matter, then he died, and the next pope was generally favorable too, until the Council of Carthage (418) was convened and formally condemned several of Pelagius’ key doctrines, affirming the following:

    1. Death did not come to Adam from a physical necessity, but through sin.
    2. New-born children must be baptized on account of original sin.
    3. Justifying grace not only avails for the forgiveness of past sins, but also gives assistance for the avoidance of future sins.
    4. The grace of Christ not only discloses the knowledge of God’s commandments, but also imparts strength to will and execute them.
    5. Without God’s grace it is not merely more difficult, but absolutely impossible to perform good works.

    One these five points the general attitude of Mormonism is:
    (1) Yes.
    (2) Definite No.
    (3) Yes.
    (4) Yes.
    (5) No.

    Some might dispute the positive answer on (1) and the negative answer on (5). It is hard to say what would happen to Adam and Eve if hypothetically speaking they partook of neither fruit. Personally, I tend to look on that episode in allegorical terms. The idea of existence in the absence of God’s grace is sufficiently hypothetical that some might argue for its impossibility. However, the general theology of Mormonism suggests that the concept of good is not completely dependent on God.

    Comment by Mark Butler — May 11, 2006 @ 9:46 pm

  13. Mark (#12), strictly speaking the “sin” referred to in “original sin” is the sin of Adam and Eve. The state of the unbaptized is not an actual sin; the deprivation of grace due to the original sin has come to be abbreviated simply to “original sin.” In other words, when people say “original sin” not in reference to Adam and Eve, they probably mean “the effects of original sin.” At least, I do.

    I haven’t read all that Augustine said about original sin or the transmission of the effects thereof. Have you? Do you have some references where I could look to see this? I’m not saying this out of some automatic suspicion, but I haven’t seen any of his actual words or references to actual works, only secondary sources or commentaries.

    On corruptibility of matter, I don’t see any reason not to believe it can be corrupt. That’s one of the effects of sin. Any good thing we have can become corrupt. That’s not the same thing as saying it’s intrinsically evil.

    And, it was off the topic, but I’m intrigued: is it LDS teaching or your opinion that good works are possible without the grace of God?

    Comment by Brad Haas — May 12, 2006 @ 1:14 pm

  14. Blake (#7), you said:

    I could provide a good deal of evidence that many Catholics (tho apparently not you!) are committed to unbaptized infants going to hell (including Augustine)… and a papal bull.

    Go for it.

    So if all unbaptized babies may go to heaven, in that case, what difference would infant baptism make?

    Well, if you believe in the Catholic faith, God commanded it, so causa finita est. Otherwise, if God has promised to pour out grace through baptism, why not do it? All people benefit from grace, and an infant is no less a person than an adult. It’s not as though we do the bare minimum to get into heaven, anyway.

    LDS also believe that babies “born in the covenant” have certain blessings bestowed upon them without any choice, but the choice to be in a loving relationship with God which constitutes salvation is definitely not among them-nor could it be. The Hebrew covenant is not like baptism in that respect.

    I guess I don’t see infant baptism as such a stretch from that line of thinking. I guess we’ll just have to disagree for the moment.

    Comment by Brad Haas — May 12, 2006 @ 1:22 pm

  15. Brad: Of course good works are possible without grace. However, we don’t and never could earn salvation by good works in LDS thought. Salvation is not the kind of thing that could be earned because it consists in the free choice to enter into a relationship and to signify that relationship by baptism. However, a non-Christian can do good things and these acts have intrinsically good value. For example, if a person shovels the snow off of the walks of a widow, that act is good regardless of whether it is done by a Christian or an atheist. So LDS have a realist view of value of the good works that we do and not a voluntarist view that was adopted by Protestants. BTW Catholics also adopt a realist view across the board, including Augustine, Aquinas, de Molina, Suarez and pre-reformation theologians.

    What is essential to grasp is that we are able to accept God’s grace by our willing acceptance — or more technically, our act of not rejecting what has already been offered out of sheer, unconditional love. Nothing we do earns this love because love cannot be earned. The moment of entering into this relationship by freely choosing not to reject grace that is given (to everyone equally) is called by Paul “justification by grace.” However, once we have entered that relationship we maintain it by returning the offered love with our own love in return. Moreover, love always manifests itself in works of love that are part of the process of sanctification. So salvation is by grace (pure and simple) and judgment and reward is always by works. One of the most common mistakes that I see in Protestant scriptural exegesis is to point to passages that refer to judgment by works and conclude that such works must be contrary to salvation by grace. But it is universal in every scriptural statement of works (and every work in Jewish thought of the Second Temple period) that reward is always according to works.

    However, I would point out that in LDS thought there is also a measure of grace in judgment and reward because the reward that is received is so much greater than we could ever merit by our own efforts.

    Comment by Blake — May 12, 2006 @ 1:37 pm

  16. Brad: I wanted to make a seperate post because there is an essential difference between the view that “original sin” consists in God’s withholding grace from us and without which we cannot do any good act. On the LDS view, whether we are saved is up to us — we can reject God’s grace if we choose and it is given equally to all. However, on the Anselmian view that you adopt we are unable to accept God’s grace without God causing us to accept his grace. It follows that whether we are saved is up to God because we lack the essential ability to accept grace when it is given. Moreover, God only causes some to accept his grace and not others. Thus, a doctrine of predestination follows from your doctrine. The most essential feature of the doctrine of original sin is to explain why we cannot be saved without grace. However, the fact that we lack the grace essential to do any good thing like accepting God’s grace because we don’t have a pre-lapsarian grace means that God alone decides who is saved. It follows from this view that if a person is not saved it is for the want of grace. Such a doctrine of predestination is just not morally acceptable.

    Comment by Blake — May 12, 2006 @ 1:54 pm

  17. Brad: First let me state that I have a great deal of admiration for Catholic theology in general and several brilliant Catholic theologians past and present. However, infant baptism is one area that I believe is unsupportable.

    Let’s begin with a statement from the Council of Trent: “If anyone says that Baptism is optional, that is, not necessary for salvation, let him be anathema.” (De Baptismo, Canon V). I have a hard time reconciling this statement with the Catechism which affirms: “As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: ‘Let the little children come to me, do not hinder them,’ allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1261).

    Of course there has been a good deal of discussion by Catholics about the fate of unbaptized babies — the traditional view being that they go to limbo. Abelard argued that Augustine was incorrect to argue that little babies who are unbaptized to to hell; rather, he argued, they go to the intermediate state of limbo awaiting the grace of the saints. The notion of limbo has of course been downplayed if not abolished in modern Catholic thought.

    However, it seems to me that Catholics have a doctrine of original sin which entails that all unbaptized go to hell. As the Catechism also states: “[T]he Church has always taught that the overwhelming misery which oppresses men and their inclination toward evil and death cannot be understood apart from their connection with Adam’s sin and the fact that he has transmitted to us a sin with which we are all born afflicted, a sin which is the ‘death of the soul.’ Because of this certainty of faith, the Church baptizes for the remission of sins even tiny infants who have not committed personal sin” (403). So the “hope” expressed in the Catechism is dashed by the supposed reality of original sin. If baptism is necessary for salvation — as the Church has always maintained — and if babies are not baptized, then they are not saved. The unsaved go to hell in Catholic thought. Am I missing anything?

    Comment by Blake — May 13, 2006 @ 9:24 am

  18. Blake,

    I think we agree about grace for the most part, but our wires got a little crossed because of a Catholic differentiation among different types of grace. I should have been more specific about this. We believe that God gives something called “actual grace” to a person, which is what enables them to do anything good at all. This isn’t the same type of grace given at Baptism, and any person can receive and act on actual grace. It’s just what prompts any good work. I don’t think it’s ever withheld by God, but people can choose not to act on it. I don’t know if Mormonism has any defined, parallel belief on this.

    So, hopefully that clears up our apparent disagreement in your first and second posts.

    Regarding “limbo,” I don’t know if that’s a “traditional” view; I think it’s a relatively recent theory. It hasn’t been authoritatively taught by the Magisterium, and I read recently that the Vatican is discouraging it.

    As for the salvation of the unbaptized, it’s the Church’s mission to baptize all nations. She knows that baptism restores man to a state of sanctifying grace. She’s bound by Christ’s mandate to administer baptism to all who desire it. However, God is not bound by the Sacraments He instituted. He can give sanctifying grace by some other way, if He wants. This is the case in “baptism by blood” and “baptism by desire.” I see no reason to doubt that He also does it for unbaptized infants. So baptism (being born again, as Jesus said) is necessary for salvation, but God can do it in other ways besides the ministry of the Church.

    I haven’t read all the documents of Trent, but I doubt you’d find mention of this in them, because Trent was in response to the attacks on the Church and her Sacraments from the Reformation. I don’t think the idea is ruled out, though, either. I could be wrong, though, since I haven’t read ’em all.

    Comment by Brad Haas — May 16, 2006 @ 3:41 pm

  19. Brad (#13),

    It would be nice to have Augustine’s works online (or to be able to afford to buy and keep them on hand), so I could make an proper reference. However, I think a careful examination of Summa Theologica, Question 81 of Aquinas will demonstrate the point more than adequately:

    “Whether the first sin of our first parent is contracted by his descendants, by way of origin?” …

    “Objection 3: Further, whatever is transmitted by way of human origin, is caused by the semen. But the semen cannot cause sin, because it lacks the rational part of the soul, which alone can be a cause of sin. Therefore no sin can be contracted by way of origin.” …

    “Reply to Objection 3: Although the guilt is not actually in the semen, yet human nature is there virtually accompanied by that guilt.”


    Note the explicit semantics of “original” – “by way of origin”.


    As to total inability, no it is not a doctrine of the LDS Church, however it is (barely) within the realm of reasonable belief. Our concept of the *Light of Christ* is closely related to the Methodist concept of *prevenient grace*, and may be interpreted in a similar way.

    More conventionally however, we think of the Light of Christ as a guide, an aid to conscience, that enlightens every person who has not driven it away completely, including unbelievers, and not as an absolute necessity to do any good work.

    Comment by Mark Butler — May 19, 2006 @ 1:28 am

  20. Mark, you can find many of Augustine’s works (and other Church Fathers) online at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/ and also at http://ccel.org/fathers2/ .

    They both have the same text (the public-domain Ante-Nicene Fathers et al.), although I think Newadvent’s site omits the translators’ introductions and notes because of their… decidedly unfriendly approach to Catholicism.

    Comment by Brad Haas — May 19, 2006 @ 9:28 am

  21. Thanks Brad. Unfortunately the references I have are to the Latin titles, and I do not know Latin well enough (hardly at all) to translate into the English titles listed at both sites. I am sure they will be helpful in the future, though I find Augustine’s style rather harder to follow than that of Aquinas.

    NewAdvent appears rather pro-Catholic to me, but I have not pursued the issue, of course.

    Comment by Mark Butler — May 19, 2006 @ 1:14 pm

  22. NewAdvent is a Catholic site. :) You can find a bunch of stuff there, most notably the Catholic Encyclopedia. They also host the Summa Theologica.

    A Google search for “Augustine (title)” should turn up the English version of whatever “title” is. If you still have trouble, contact me and I’ll be happy to help. I don’t know too much more Latin than you.

    Comment by Brad Haas — May 19, 2006 @ 9:52 pm

  23. Friend:
    I am a Catholic priest. I believe and I teach the doctrine that every human being, with only two exceptions, viz. Jesus and Mary, comes into existence with a spiritual wound which manifests itself in self-centeredness and a predisposition to sin. It makes perfect sense to me.
    Please note that this woundedness and this predisposition are not due to any sin committed by the baby. (Such wold be absurd!) To imply that the Catholic Church teaches otherwise is dishonest, unfair and serves no useful purpose. Fairness to one’s perceived opponent is a fundamental human value.
    Perhaps an analogy would be useful:
    There are (I think) two ways whereby one can become addicted to crack cocaine. One way is to be a user. Another way is to be conceived and carried by a woman who is a user. A person addicted by reason of his or her free-will decision to use the addictive substance is in need of treatment — and possibly even punishment, especially if he or she refuses treatment. On the other hand, a person addicted by reason of having been conceived and carried by an addict does not deserve any punishment. However, he or she is still in need of treatment.
    There is much more that I could say on the subject, but I hope this will provide at least some clarification.
    Let’s put it this way: The doctrine of Original Sin is practically self-evident. The fact that every human being who lives long enough eventually commits personal sin must be evidence that the “germ” of sin lies dormant in every human being, from his or her earliest moments of life.

    Comment by Rev. Edward B. Connolly — June 19, 2006 @ 7:03 pm

  24. Brad writes “NewAdvent is a Catholic site. :) You can find a bunch of stuff there, most notably the Catholic Encyclopedia. ”

    Be careful, the Catholic Encyclopedia found on NewAdvent is not the most recent. The most recent is “The New Catholic Encyclopedia, Second Edition (15 Vol. Set)” To my knowledge this is not currently available online.

    While useful in many regards, you’ll get hammered (as I was) for citing the online version in any publishing-type paper.

    Comment by Brett McD. — June 19, 2006 @ 8:19 pm

  25. Welcome, Rev. Connolly.

    So Brad already mentioned that according to his understanding of Catholic doctrine, babies who die without baptism are not sent to hell. Is that your understanding as well? Also, if babies are born with only a “predisposition to sin” as you said, is there an age at which they all actually do sin?

    Comment by Geoff J — June 19, 2006 @ 8:46 pm

  26. I certainly would never say the Catholic church teaches that babies are morally responsible for Original Sin. However going all the way back to Augustine we find it rather curious that the word *sin* is used to described a transmitted stain or deprivation. Augustine himself admitted this was problematic (referring to James 4:17), so I do not see why he could not have picked a more appropriate word, or invented a new one. We would still disagree of course, but the doctrine would be more readily understood.

    We believe that men can and do fall from grace, more by degrees than all at once, but we do not believe that any stain is transmitted from biological parents to biological child as such. The whole world is in a fallen state, sure, but not in such a way that it infects human nature, except as harmful doctrines, beliefs, and practices are learned from others, including ones own parents. That leads to what we call transgression, but is not considered sin, until the child departs knowingly and willingly from what he know is right. We call that the age of accountability, and baptize at age eight for that reason. Prior to that (roughly speaking) we generally do not believe a child can sin, although they can certainly transgress.

    Comment by Mark Butler — June 20, 2006 @ 12:09 am

  27. Rev. Connolly: Why do we come into the world wounded? Further, if Christ escaped this wound, isn’t the wound tramitted in the semen? Is that a belief that is plausible?

    Further, is Christ somewhat docetic on your view because not subject to the proclivity to sin that the rest of us inevitably bear as a result of this wound that he escaped? Is he less worthy of admiration than we when we he overcomes sin because he has nothing really to overcome?

    Comment by Blake — June 20, 2006 @ 8:02 am

  28. One thing that has me somewhat confused in this chapter is the whole (MP) (MPC) (MC)bit.

    It says that someone can not be morally responsable for the actions of another. But what if I teach or brainwash my child all my life to think killing people is ok? Am I not guilty as a father for giving my child false traditions?

    What if I’m a hyponotist and I hypnotize Sharon Carter to go shoot Captain America? Am I responsible or is Sharon?

    What if I am an owner in a company and an employee of mine does bad work. Am I not responsible for that bad work? Is it not just that my company is punished for the bad work of it’s employee?

    Comment by Matt W. — March 28, 2007 @ 11:16 am