During recent months there has been discussion among theologians regarding the existence of Limbo. The subject of Original Sin was raised and I thought it might be an opportune time to offer some thoughts on this topic.
In the Book of Genesis (2:7-9, 3:1-7) we are told that God created man. But man turned against his creator and so brought sin into the world. In the beginning everything was enticing to look at and good to eat. This was provided by God for the use of man. So why did our first parents have to spoil it and turn from God?
In the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 76, it is stated: 'Original sin in which all human beings are born, is a state of deprivation of original holiness and justice. It is a sin 'contracted' by us not 'committed'; it is a state of birth and not a personal act. Because of the original unity of all human beings, it is transmitted to the descendents of Adam and Eve 'not by imitation, but by propagation.' This transmission remains a mystery which we cannot fully understand.'
In the Gospel of Matthew 4:1-11 it is stated that even Jesus, although he was God, was subject to temptation, to sin. We are shown a picture of Jesus in the wilderness. It is the desert, one of the loneliest places in the world and there Jesus was tempted by the devil. We might then wonder whether Jesus was tempted in the same way as we are. Certainly Jesus was aware of the power of evil and the existence of sin and therefore temptation.
It is stated in the Compendium, 106: 'The temptations of Jesus in the desert recapitulate the temptation of Adam in Paradise and the temptations of Israel in the desert. Satan tempts Jesus in regard to his obedience to the mission given him by the Father. Christ, the new Adam, resists and his victory proclaims that of his passion which is the supreme obedience of his filial love. The Church unites herself to this mystery in a special way in the liturgical season of Lent.'
To help us gain some insight into sin we need to think about our faith which is based very much on what St Paul calls the 'madness' of the Cross. The saints through the ages describe it as the 'foolishness' of God's love.
To refer once more to the Compendium, 78: 'After the first sin the world was inundated with sin but God did not abandon man to the power of death. Rather he foretold in a mysterious way in the 'Protoevangelium' (Genesis, 3:15) that evil would be conquered and that man would be lifted from the fall. This was the first proclamation of the Messiah and Redeemer. Therefore, the fall would be called in the future a 'happy fault' because it 'gained for us so great a Redeemer' (Liturgy of Easter Vigil).'
The pictures we have presented certainly confront us with two extremes. It is difficult to understand God's love. We can only begin to understand it when we follow him in the way of the Cross, in his journey in the desert. As the Compendium, 85, informs us: 'The Son of God became man for us men and for our salvation. He did so to reconcile us sinners with God, to have us to learn of God's infinite love, to be our model of holiness and make us 'partakers in divine nature' (2 Peter 1:4).' It is only when we follow Christ in this 'foolishness' of his love that we can learn something of the madness of sin.
We are born with a fallen nature; in a state of separation from God. It is not a question of personal sin on our part at birth. The baby who is born cannot be guilty of any personal sin for it is not yet mature enough to make a personal choice which is necessary for sin. But it is born human, in a fallen state, with a nature that calls out for God, yet is incapable of reaching him by its own powers. It is in Christ we have hope.
When we realise in faith the depths of man's fallen state we in turn realise that we rise in hope to the glory of Christ's risen life. If we have failed to appreciate the extreme of God's love it is because we have not recognised the extreme of man's sin.
During the season of Lent we contemplated both. The shame of having given in to temptation we share with our first parents will be overcome by Christ. As proclaimed in the Mass: 'Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.'
Fr Dennis W. Byrnes is parish priest of Kempsey, NSW, in the Lismore Diocese.