Christ came to redeem us from slavery to sin and give us the grace to enter Heaven – this was the purpose of His Life, Death, and Resurrection. I thought it’d be a good idea to take a deeper look at Original Sin with some Frequently Asked Questions, so that we can gain a better appreciation of all Our Lord has done for us in the mystery of our Redemption.
Q. What is Original Sin?
A. Original Sin is a state of spiritual death and slavery to sin and the devil, which keeps us from entering Heaven. From the very moment of our conception we are in a state of Original Sin, having inherited it from Adam and Eve. (Wow, nice way to put it, I know!) Its effects include sin, suffering, sickness, and death. Baltimore Catechism Four says: “Adam sold himself and all his children to the devil by committing sin. He and they therefore became slaves. They could not earn any spiritual wages, that is, grace of God to purchase their liberty; and as all men were slaves one could not help another in this matter.” When Adam and Eve were sent away from the Garden of Eden, God promised them a Redeemer, someone who could “buy them back” from this slavery to sin and the devil, and pay their debt to God, offering to them again the grace they had lost.
Q. Why do we get punished for the sin of Adam and Eve?
A. Many people use the “ripple effect” to explain this – that our actions affect other people in the same way that a ripple grows – but this doesn’t really help me much. As the Baltimore Catechism states in Question 257: “It is not unjust to punish us for the sin of our first parents, because their punishment consisted in being deprived of a free gift of God; that is, of the gift of original justice to which they had no strict right and which they wilfully forfeited by their act of disobedience.” The life of grace was a gift, not a right – and Adam and Eve wilfully, and knowingly, refused it when they disobeyed God.
Let me use an example. Say there was a wealthy nobleman, who offered to make a poor man and his wife his heirs, and them and their children nobles, giving them a house, and land, and everything they could want for their comfort…on the condition that they remain faithful and obedient to him. Soon, however, the man and his wife break the agreement, proving ungrateful and disloyal by wilfully disobeying him. So the nobleman withdraws his offer, and leaves them in their original state. He has taken away nothing but privileges to which they had no strict right, and which they could not have obtained for themselves.
But maybe you’re wondering why God didn’t just offer the gift of grace again to the next generation, and why we’d even have to inherit the gift at all. But if you read the Bible you will see the unfolding of God’s plan for our salvation – His way to offer us not only that Gift again, not only a way to regain grace each and every time we lose it by sin (i.e. in the Sacrament of Penance), but also His Only Son – Jesus Christ, God Himself. Mankind could again walk with God as Adam and Eve did in the Garden and also unite themselves to Him through the Most Blessed Sacrament! “O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the Death of Christ! O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!” (Exsultet of Easter Vigil Mass)
Q. Why do we still suffer the effects of Original Sin if it has been taken away by Baptism?
A. Let me use an analogy. Say there has been a war, but the war has ended. Is everything going to be the same as it was before the war? No! The war has damaged the country – many cities have been destroyed and many people have been wounded or killed. In a similar way, Original Sin has wounded our human nature, leaving us susceptible to sin, suffering, and death. But it is important to remember that God, who uses all things for good, has made these things aids to our salvation – we can gain merit by overcoming temptations, by suffering we can atone for and overcome sin, and by death, we are born to eternal life.
Q. How was Mary conceived without Original Sin?
A. Because God is Eternal, He can see all things at once. You can think of it like the aerial view of a parade – to onlookers watching the parade from the street, they can only see one part of the parade at one time, but an onlooker from above could see the whole parade below, all at once. In the same way God can see all of time before Him and all at once. All of history is present before Him like one moment.
God works outside of time, and so the merits of Jesus’ death on the Cross, the same merits that free us from Original Sin, were applied to Mary at her conception. (Kind of like a Baptism at her conception, if you will). She was conceived “full of grace,” without the stain of Original Sin. Mary still needed Jesus for her salvation – something she declares in the Magnificat when she says: “…my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.” (Luke 1:46-47)
So there you have it – Original Sin FAQs. And if you have any others, please leave them in the comments below!