I have been rereading Orthodox Dogmatic Theology by Father Michael Pomazansky, which I recall having found profitable a while back, and have found some things relating to original sin that confuse me. Beginning on page 160 he says this:
By original sin is meant the sin of Adam, which was transmitted to his descendants and weighs upon them. The doctrine of original sin has great significance in the Christian world-view, because upon it rests a whole series of other dogmas."
Further on he adds:
The common faith of the ancient Christian Church in the existence of original sin may be seen in the Church's ancient custom of baptizing infants. The Local Council of Carthage in 252, composed of 66 bishops under the presidency of St. Cyprian, decreed the following against heretics: "Not to forbid (the baptism) of an infant who, scarecely born, has sinned in nothing apart from that which proceeds from the flesh of Adam. He has received the contagion of the ancient death through his very birth, and he comes, therefore, the more easily to the reception fo the remission of sins in that it is not his own but the sins of another that are remitted."
In the history of the ancient Christian Church, Pelagius and his followers denied the inheritance of sin (the heresy of Pelagianism). Pelagius affirmed that every man only repeats the sin of Adam, performing anew his own weak will. However, his nature remains the same as when it was created, innocent and pure, the same as that of the first-created Adam. Moreover, disease and death are characteristic of this nature from the creation, and are not the consequences of original sin.
I was instantly struck by what sounded just like Roman Catholic doctrine. Here are statements like a sin which was "transmitted to [Adam's] descendants and weighs upon them" and which is seen "the Church's ancient custom of baptizing infants." Looking in the Catechism I found this:
Following St. Paul, the Church has always taught that the overwhelming misery which oppresses men and their inclination towards 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.
Further on Father Michael comments on the Roman teaching in these words:
Roman Catholic theologians consider that the consequence of the fall was the removal from men of a supernatural gift of God's grace, after which man remained in his "natural" condition, his nature not harmed but only brought into disorder because of flesh, the bodily side, has come to dominate over the spiritual side; original sin in this view consists in the fact that the guilt before God of Adam and Eve has passed to all men.
This sounded like an okay, though not exact, description of original sin as we see it, or at least as far as I am knowledgeable of it. However, I have never really heard or read of such an emphasis on "flesh" as such, though perhaps carnality, and the concept of "removal" may be overstated. But, more interesting, is the last statement which seems entirely removed from the rest of the paragraph. What above implies any passing on of guilt? There is a wounded nature, separated from the supernatural gift of grace, but no mention of guilt. As a matter of fact, the description first given by Father Michael describing the Orthodox view of original sin sounded more like guilt, when he said original sin was "transmitted to his [Adam's] descendants and weighs upon them
I looked in the Catechism and found no reference to guilt at all. I did find this:
By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state. It is a sin which will be transmitted by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice. And that is why original sin is called "sin" only in an analogical sense: it is a sin "contracted" and not "committed" - a state and not an act.
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.
If we compare to the final statment of Father Michael we see this:
Thus, original sin is understood by Orthodox theology as a sinful inclination which has entered into mankind and become its spiritual disease.
Is this not identical to what we are taught as Catholics? Father Michael rejects this about the Roman view:
The foundation of the Roman Catholic teaching lies in (a) an understanding of the sin of Adam as an infinitely great offense against God; (b) after this offense there followed the wrath of God; (c) the wrath of Gold was expressed in the removal of the supernatural gifts of God's grace; and (d) the removal of grace drew after itself the submission of the spiritual principle to the fleshly principle, and a falling deeper into sin and death.
But, is any of this Catholic teaching? I looked in the Catechism again and found these statements as they relate to the above charges:
a. Adam's infinitely great offense.
--- Phrase or similar seems not to occur.
of God, and (c) the removal of the supernatural gifts
of God's grace.
Scripture portrays the tragic consequences of this first disobedience. Adam and Eve immediately lose the grace of original holiness. They become afraid of the God of whom they have conceived a distorted image - that of a God jealous of his prerogatives.
The harmony in which they had found themselves, thanks to original justice, is now destroyed: the control of the soul's spiritual faculties over the body is shattered; the union of man and woman becomes subject to tensions, their relations henceforth marked by lust and domination. Harmony with creation is broken: visible creation has become alien and hostile to man. Because of man, creation is now subject "to its bondage to decay". Finally, the consequence explicitly foretold for this disobedience will come true: man will "return to the ground", for out of it he was taken. Death makes its entrance into human history.
Nothing about wrath or even punishment at all. Rather, a series of unfortunate natural consequences due to a rejection of God's grace. God did not "remove" the supernatural gifts, but we rejected them and separated ourselves from them. And notice above that one result of the sin is a distorted image of God as one "jealous of his prerogatives." That "distorted" image of God actually seems close to what Father Michael has charged us with believing, which would seem untrue in this instance.
(d) The submission of the spiritual principle to the fleshly principle
, and a falling deeper into sin and death.
There is a reference to lust, but that is in the context of the relationship between man and woman. Other than that nothing I could find listed in the Catechism as a result of the original sin, either in Adam or his offspring, seems to be directly tied to a flesh vs. spirit equation. Some effects are spiritual and some carnal, but I could not find anything overarching in that regard. On the contrary we find the above statement that original sin transmitted to us is 'a sin which is the "death of the soul"' which certainly indicates more than a flesh against spirit situation.
Where this all left me was wondering several things. One, is Father Michael's position indicative of Orthodoxy in general? Has he misrepresented or misunderstood the Orthodox faith and its position towards original sin? If not, are the alleged differences between our Church's position on this issue one of either semantics or an ignorance on the part of the Orthodox concerning the Catholic belief in this regard? What was suggested by Father Michael concerning the Catholic faith seemed either exaggerated or foreign to what I have heard, and I could not find it in the Catechism. Basically, I came away thinking that the author had done a decent job describing the Roman Catholic teaching on this issue, only he called it Orthodox.
I would very much appreciate any help in understanding this better. Just what do the Orthodox object to in our belief, and where are we really different?