The Ecumenical Stain of Original Sin


Do Orthodoxy and Catholicism significantly disagree on original sin? Both agree that by his sin and disobedience Adam broke fellowship with God and introduced into the world chaos, disharmony, corruption, evil, and death. But Orthodoxy dissents from Catholicism, we are often told, at one crucial point: unlike the Catholic Church, Orthodoxy does not teach that the heirs of Adam inherit the guilt of Adam; rather they inherit mortality. Fr John Meyendorff elaborates:

Now, in Greek patristic thought, only this free, personal mind can commit sin and incur the concomitant “guilt”—a point made particularly clear by Maximus the Confessor in his distinction between “natural will” and “gnomic will.” Human nature as God’s creature always exercises its dynamic properties (which together constitute the “natural will”—a created dynamism) in accordance with the divine will, which creates it. But when the human person, or hypostasis, by rebelling against both God and nature misuses its freedom, it can distort the “natural will” and thus corrupt nature itself. It is able to do so because it possesses freedom, or “gnomic will,” which is capable of orienting man toward the good and of “imitating God” (”God alone is good by nature,” writes Maximus, “and only God’s imitator is good by his gnome“); it is also capable of sin because “our salvation depends on our will.” But sin is always a personal act and never an act of nature. Patriarch Photius even goes so far as to say, referring to Western doctrines, that the belief in a “sin of nature” is a heresy.

From these basic ideas about the personal character of sin, it is evident that the rebellion of Adam and Eve against God could be conceived only as their personal sin; there would be no place, then, in such an anthropology for the concept of inherited guilt, or for a “sin of nature,” although it admits that human nature incurs the consequences of Adam’s sin.

The Greek patristic understanding of man never denies the unity of mankind or replaces it with a radical individualism. The Pauline doctrine of the two Adams (”As in Adam all men die, so also in Christ all are brought to life” [1 Co 15:22]), as well as the Platonic concept of the ideal man, leads Gregory of Nyssa to understand Genesis 1:27—”God created man in His own image”—to refer to the creation of mankind as a whole. It is obvious, therefore, that the sin of Adam must also be related to all men, just as salvation brought by Christ is salvation for all mankind; but neither original sin nor salvation can be realized in an individual’s life without involving his personal and free responsibility.

The scriptural text, which played a decisive role in the polemics between Augustine and the Pelagians, is found in Romans 5:12 where Paul speaking of Adam writes, “As sin came into the world through one man and through sin and death, so death spreads to all men because all men have sinned [eph ho pantes hemarton].” In this passage there is a major issue of translation. The last four Greek words were translated in Latin as in quo omnes peccaverunt (”in whom [i.e., in Adam] all men have sinned”), and this translation was used in the West to justify the doctrine of guilt inherited from Adam and spread to his descendants. But such a meaning cannot be drawn from the original Greek—the text read, of course, by the Byzantines. The form eph ho—a contraction of epi with the relative pronoun ho—can be translated as “because,” a meaning accepted by most modern scholars of all confessional backgrounds. Such a translation renders Paul’s thought to mean that death, which is “the wages of sin” (Rm 6:23) for Adam, is also the punishment applied to those who, like him, sin. It presupposes a cosmic significance of the sin of Adam, but does not say that his descendants are “guilty” as he was, unless they also sin as he sinned.

A number of Byzantine authors, including Photius, understood the eph ho to mean “because” and saw nothing in the Pauline text beyond a moral similarity between Adam and other sinners, death being the normal retribution for sin. But there is also the consensus of the majority of Eastern Fathers, who interpret Romans 5:12 in close connection with 1 Corinthians 15:22—between Adam and his descendants there is a solidarity in death just as there is a solidarity in life between the risen Lord and the baptized. …

Mortality, or “corruption,” or simply death (understood in a personalized sense), has indeed been viewed since Christian antiquity as a cosmic disease, which holds humanity under its sway, both spiritually and physically, and is controlled by the one who is “the murderer from the beginning” (Jn 8:44). It is this death, which makes sin inevitable and in this sense “corrupts” nature. (Byzantine Theology, pp. 143-145)

Meyendorff reiterates this difference between East and West in his brief discussion of the Immaculate Conception. “Byzantine homiletic and hymnographical texts,” he writes, “often praise the Virgin as ‘fully prepared,’ ‘cleansed,’ and ’sanctified.’ But these texts are to be understood in the context of the doctrine of original sin which prevailed in the East: the inheritance from Adam was mortality, not guilt, and there was never any doubt among Byzantine theologians that Mary was indeed a mortal being” (p. 147). He even goes so far as to suggest that “the Mariological piety of the Byzantines would probably have led them to accept the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary as it has been defined in 1854, if only they shared the Western doctrine of original sin” (p. 148).

I distinctly remember reading Meyendorff’s discussion of original sin many years ago while I was still an Anglican and wondered whether he had accurately stated the Western understanding. I knew that I did not and had never understood original sin as a sharing in the guilt of Adam; but my knowledge of magisterial Roman Catholic teaching was limited at that time.  I would not explore the matter until many years later.  And the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was certainly well beyond my sympathies.  Of course Mary was a sinner—how could she not be?

Tracing the doctrine of original sin within the Latin tradition is well beyond my competence. Those who are interested in the topic might want to purchase or borrow Henri Rondet’s book Original Sin.  Rondet discusses at some length St Augustine’s construal of the Fall and its effects on humanity. For Augustine, he writes, “the most important consequence [of Adam’s sin] is sin itself. The children of Adam come into the world in a state of sin. To this sin of nature that they bring with them on being born, they add personal sins, so much so that of itself the human race, fallen from its primeval state, has no prospect other than hell” (pp. 120-121). Think massa damnata. In mysterious solidarity every human being shares in the sin of Adam and is thus deserving of divine wrath and condemnation, even apart from their personal sins. Commenting on Ezekiel 28:4 (“Both the soul of the father is mine and the soul of the son is mine. The soul that sins is the one that will die”), the Bishop of Hippo writes:

This is why he contracted from Adam what is absolved by the grace of the sacrament: for he was not yet a a soul living separately, that is, an other soul of which it could be said, “both the soul of the father is mine and the soul of the son is mine.” Thus when he is already a man existing in himself, having become other than the one who begot him, he is not held responsible for another’s sin without his own consent. Therefore he does contract guilt [from Adam] because he was one with him and in him from whom he contracted it, when what he contracted was committed. But one does not contract it from another when each is already living his own life, of which it is said: “the soul that sins is the one that will die.” (Letter 98.1; see Phillip Cary, Outward Signs, pp.205-212, and Jesse Couenhoven, “St Augustine’s Doctrine of Original Sin)

On the basis of this profound solidarity with Adam, Augustine concludes that infants and small children who die without baptism are justly damned; or perhaps more accurately, on the basis of the salvific necessity of sacramental initiation into the body of Christ, Augustine infers Adamic solidarity in sin and condemnation. The condition of original sin can only be cured by rebirth in the New Adam.

Rondet makes clear, however, that as influential as the Augustinian construal has been, Latin theologians have not been content to simply reiterate it. Significant modifications and corrections have been made over the centuries.

So what does the Catholic Church presently teach about original sin? Fortunately for our purposes, the Catechism of the Catholic Church devotes several pages to a discussion of the creation and fall of man. It tells us that man was created in the image of God and “established in friendship with his Creator and in harmony with himself and with the creation around him” (§374). This state of friendship and harmony is called “original holiness and justice.” But man let trust die in his heart and disobeyed the command of God. He “preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good” (§398). Consequently, humanity immediately lost the grace of original holiness. The Catechism describes the consequences of this fall:

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. (§400)

All men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as St. Paul affirms: “By one man’s disobedience many (that is, all men) were made sinners”: “sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned.” The Apostle contrasts the universality of sin and death with the universality of salvation in Christ. “Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.” (§402)

So far so good. Is there anything in this presentation to which an Eastern Orthodox theologian would strongly object? One even notes the adoption by the Catechism of the Greek text for Rom 5:12: “sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned.” But the above passage intimates mankind’s Adamic solidarity: “all men are implicated in Adam’s sin.” Perhaps here we finally arrive at the dreaded Augustinian assertion of inherited guilt. The Catechism, however, decisively qualifies such an assertion:

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.

How did the sin of Adam become the sin of all his descendants? The whole human race is in Adam “as one body of one man”. By this “unity of the human race” all men are implicated in Adam’s sin, as all are implicated in Christ’s justice. Still, the transmission of original sin is a mystery that we cannot fully understand. But we do know by Revelation that Adam had received original holiness and justice not for himself alone, but for all human nature. 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. (§§403-405; emphasis mine)

B_Escorial_18.jpg~original.jpegThe Catechism’s presentation of original sin is open to interpretation. It does not seek to resolve the differences between the various Catholic schools. The catechetical doctrine excludes the Pelagian reduction of original sin to “the influence of Adam’s fault to bad example,” on the one hand, and the Reformation exaggeration of original sin as the radical perversion of human nature and destruction of human freedom, on the other (§406). Between these two boundaries lies the mystery of human iniquity and the fall of man. In the tradition of St Thomas Aquinas, the Catechism identifies the essential character of original sin as the loss of original holiness and justice: man is born into a state of spiritual death. Not only is every human being born into a world dominated by oppression, violence, and hatred; but he is also born into a condition of profound alienation from his creator. The Holy Spirit does not indwell his soul, as originally intended by God. Fallen man is thus deprived of sanctifying grace. His nature is wounded. This is the sin bequeathed to humanity by Adam. This original sin is properly understood as a condition and state, not as personal act: it “does not have the character of a personal fault.” The Catholic Church thus agrees with Orthodox theologians who insist that no person may be deemed morally culpable for a sin he did not personally commit. Individuals are not condemned by God because of Adam’s disobedience. In the words of Pope Pius IX: “God in His supreme goodness and clemency, by no means allows anyone to be punished with eternal punishments who does not have the guilt of voluntary fault” (Quanto conficiamur moerore [1863]). All human beings enjoy solidarity with Adam and share in the consequences of his disobedience. All are born “in Adam.” But we do not inherit his personal guilt but only his corrupted nature and separation from the divine life. In one of his 1986 catechetical teachings, Pope John Paul II elaborated upon the “sin” of original sin:

Therefore original sin is transmitted by way of natural generation. This conviction of the Church is indicated also by the practice of infant baptism, to which the [Tridentine] conciliar decree refers. Newborn infants are incapable of committing personal sin, yet in accordance with the Church’s centuries-old tradition, they are baptized shortly after birth for the remission of sin. The decree states: “They are truly baptized for the remission of sin, so that what they contracted in generation may be cleansed by regeneration” (DS 1514).

In this context it is evident that original sin in Adam’s descendants does not have the character of personal guilt. It is the privation of sanctifying grace in a nature which has been diverted from its supernatural end through the fault of the first parents. It is a “sin of nature,” only analogically comparable to “personal sin.” In the state of original justice, before sin, sanctifying grace was like a supernatural “endowment” of human nature. The loss of grace is contained in the inner “logic” of sin, which is a rejection of the will of God, who bestows this gift. Sanctifying grace has ceased to constitute the supernatural enrichment of that nature which the first parents passed on to all their descendants in the state in which it existed when human generation began. Therefore man is conceived and born without sanctifying grace. It is precisely this “initial state” of man, linked to his origin, that constitutes the essence of original sin as a legacy (peccatum originale originatum, as it is usually called).

Latin theologians typically employ the terms sin, stain of sin, guilt, punishment, and penalty to describe the condition of fallen man. Following the ritual practice of the Church, they even speak of infants and small children being baptized for the “remission of their sins.” But the Catholic Church is clear that this usage is to be interpreted analogically, not literally. The driving concern here is the universality of salvation in the New Adam and the necessity of Holy Baptism. Jesus is the savior of all humanity, infants and adults. All need to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit and incorporated into the glorified human nature of the eternal Son of God; all are summoned to the waters of baptism. Apart from this new act of grace, whether ministered sacramentally or extra-sacramentally, none can be saved.

Again I ask, Is there anything in this presentation to which an Eastern Orthodox theologian would strongly object? I acknowledge that the conceptuality of sanctifying grace, developed in the medieval West, is alien to Orthodox reflection.  Scholasticism’s concern was to explicate the impact of God’s gratuitous self-communication on the human being. But the Roman Catholic Church can hardly insist that the Eastern Church must think in scholastic categories.  Consider, for example, the presentation of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception by Fr Karl Rahner:

What is the meaning of the Immaculate Conception then? The Church’s teaching that is expressed in these words, simply states that the most blessed virgin Mother of God was adorned by God with sanctifying grace from the first instant of her existence, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ her son, that is, on account of the redemption effected by her son. Consequently she never knew that state which we call original sin, and which consists precisely in the lack of grace in men caused in them by the sin of the first man at the beginning of human history. The Immaculate Conception of the blessed Virgin, therefore, consists simply in her having possessed the divine life of grace from the beginning of her existence, a life of grace that was given her (without her meriting it), by the prevenient grace of God, so that through this grace-filled beginning of her life, she might become the mother of the redeemer in the manner God had intended her to be for his own Son. For this reason she was enveloped from the beginning of her life in the redemptive and saving love of God. Such is, quite simply, the content of this doctrine which Pius IX in 1854 solemnly defined as a truth of the Catholic faith. (Mary, Mother of the Lord, pp. 43-44)

The Immaculate Conception means that Mary possessed grace from the beginning. What does it signify, though, to say that someone has sanctifying grace? This dry technical term of theology makes it sound as though some thing were meant. Yet ultimately sanctifying grace and its possession do not signify any thing, not even merely some sublime, mysterious condition of our souls, lying beyond the world of our personal experience and only believed in a remote, theoretical way. Sanctifying grace, fundamentally, means God himself, his communications to created spirits, the gift which is God himself. Grace is light, love, receptive access of a human being’s life as a spiritual person to the infinite expenses of the Godhead. Grace means freedom, strength, a pledge of eternal life, the predominant influence of the Holy Spirit in the depths of the soul, adoptive sonship and an eternal inheritance. (p. 48)

Like us, Mary is born into a sinful world and must engage in spiritual battle against Satan and the principalities and powers. Like us, Mary lives in a world filled with violence, sickness, and death. Like us, Mary is mortal and lives in the knowledge of her mortality. Yet she differs from us in one crucial respect: from the very first moment she came into existence in her mother’s womb, she was indwelt by the Holy Spirit and thus enjoyed intimate, enduring communion with God. It seems to me that Rahner’s interpretation of the Immaculate Conception is easily translated into the language of theosis.  In this sense, the blessed Virgin Mother was, by the grace of God, free from sin, original and actual. Do Orthodox Christians truly desire to deny this?

In one of his homilies on the Annunciation of the Virgin, St Sophronius of Jerusalem envisions the Archangel Gabriel speaking the following words to the young maiden:

Many became saints before you. But no one was full of grace like you; no one was blessed like you; no one was sanctified like you; no one was magnified like you; no one was purified in advance like you; no one was enlightened like you; no one was illuminated like you; no one was exalted like you; no one brought God forward like you; no one became so rich in God’s gifts like you; no one received God’s grace like you; you exceed in every human excellence. (Quoted in John Panteleimon Manoussakis, For the Unity of All, p. 9)

If the Latin doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is reformulated in positive terms, as the assertion of Mary’s possession of the Holy Spirit from conception, does the doctrine then become acceptable to the East? And if Catholics and Orthodox can agree on the original and life-enduring purity of the Theotokos, do they not in fact essentially agree on original sin?

[This article was originally published on my old blog Pontifications in April 2007.  It has been significantly revised. Also see the 2019 revision.]

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57 Responses to The Ecumenical Stain of Original Sin

  1. Mike H says:

    How do the Orthodox approach evolution/the age of the earth? Are they firmly in the YEC camp? Or are such things not really relevant to the way that theology is done?


  2. The Greek patristic tradition used “pre-purified” (prokathartheisa) to describe Mary. Pius IX used language of preservation and immunity. I don’t think these are relationally opposed qualities. If Mary were simply immune from the stain of original sin, which is all the dogma says, wouldn’t she thereby be as a pre-fallen Adam or Eve? Recently, Fr. Pat Reardon coined an expression, “the dialectical consolidation of the effects of sin,” to understand how the life of the gospel integrates the Fall, that the life of the gospel is not a mere reversal. It seems, however, that preservation from the stain of original sin would deny this consolidation. How can be speak of Mary suffering, being ignorant, dying, etc., if she were preserved precisely from the origin of those things?

    I think this goes back into the late medieval discussions of preservative versus extractive redemption. I’m not sure the Scotistic solution actually solves the problem.

    To further this discussion, I would point us to “Matthias Joseph Scheeben and the Controversy over the Debitum Peccati” by Trent Pomplun (Nova et Vetera, English Edition, Vol. 11, No. 2 (2013): 455–502). He writes, after laying out what the IC dogma says,

    “The Church, however, has not defined the following points:
    1. the specific parameters of the original sin from which Mary was preserved immune;
    2. whether the expression ‘all stain’ (omni labe) includes immunity from the infectio carnis, from the debitum peccati, or from concupiscence;
    3. whether the phrase ‘by a singular grace’ (singulari gratia) is to be understood in the sense of a special ‘exclusive’ grace, as sanctifying grace, or as a divine favor;
    4. whether the word ‘privilege’ is to be understood in the sense of a ‘dispensation’ or an ‘exemption’ from the law;
    5. whether God foresaw Christ’s merits post praevisum lapsum;
    6. whether God’s foreknowledge of Christ’s merits was by His scientia simplicis intelligentiae, scientia visionis, or scientia media sive conditionata;
    7. whether Christ saved His mother per modum glorificationis, per modum redemptionis, per modum satisfactionis, and/or per modum sacrifici; nor
    8. whether the word ‘revealed’ is to be understood formally or virtually.”


  3. tgbelt says:

    If God can in principle erase the effects (in question) of original sin in the womb, wouldn’t that have been a nice thing for him to have done for every baby?


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I suppose so, Tom, but one might raise a similar objection to the entire economy of salvation. Why did the Son have to die on the cross when the Father could simply have forgiven, and regenerated, mankind right from the start?

      So why Mary’s “exception”? I think it has to be because she of her vocation to be the Mother of God. Only she was chosen to be Theotokos–not simply at the Annunciation, as if God got lucky to have found a willing maiden–but from all eternity. Her identity, from the beginning of her conception, is conditioned by this calling. She is the second or new Eve, as St Irenaeus named her. John Henry Newman defends the doctrine (in its Latin form, of course) precisely on this basis: You may find his treatment of interest.

      Fr Panteleimon Manousakis develops an understanding of the Immaculate Conception not in terms of “sanctifying grace,” which is an alien concept for him, but of her purity and holiness—but more on that next week.


      • tgbelt says:

        I don’t think a similar objection could be raised regarding the entire economy of salvation. It doesn’t seem to me that God could simply have regenerated mankind from the start. Incarnation is why God creates. But Incarnation requires a certain fullness of time that we simply don’t have ‘from the start’. So I’m still left wondering why, if God can erase the effects of original sin in the womb, he doesn’t do so for every human being.

        Mary is the Theotokos. I see the necessity and beauty of that. That’s just the gospel. But I don’t see anything similar to that in the case Mary’s needing to be exempted from original sin or free from all personal sin throughout her life as if the hypostatic union required such a history.

        But if the argument for the Orthodox view of Mary is just the history of prayer and hymns and the matter is settled there (because that history isn’t to be questioned) then that’s good to know. I’ve not understood that to be the case, but I want to understand even if I don’t agree.



        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Glad to have been of help, Tom. 🙂


          • tgbelt says:

            By saying “the history of prayer and hymns” is “not to be questioned” I meant taking those prayers and hymns to be “infallible” (like the Creeds are infallible). That is what’s news to me.


  4. 407kwac says:

    I can’t quite get my mind around this stuff. Confusing! Related to this in my mind at least are the OT cases of Enoch (who “walked with God and then was not, for God took him”) and Elijah who also did not suffer physical death, but was seen riding a chariot of fire to heaven. Why were they able to complete theosis before the advent of Christ? Presumably the Holy Spirit doesn’t indwell humankind until He is sent at Pentecost. What gives? Somehow, I can only account for such exceptional instances of holiness attained, by thinking of it as Grace working through Christ’s Incarnation outside the boundaries of time–that is, Grace working backwards through time as well as forwards (from our vantage point), but I have never heard whether any Father has said any thing along this line.



    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Karen, the place to begin our reflection, I think, is with the prayers and hymns. Consider the titles we attribute to the Theotokos. Consider how we magnify her, how differently we treat her from other saints. Only she has been raised from the dead and now lives, with her son, in a resurrected body. In Orthodoxy her conception is considered a minor feast. Her dormition and assumption overshadows the other Marian feasts. That may say something very important. Yet with a few exceptions the Eastern Church has been reluctant to attribute actual sin to her. Why was she so exceptional?

      I think it is considerations like these that should lead Orthodox Christians to cut the Latins some slack. Outright rejection of the dogma may cause us to miss an important truth. After all, unlike many Protestants, we are not invested in the sinfulness of our Lady.

      Have you read Vladimir Lossky’s essay “Panagia“?


      • 407kwac says:

        No, Father, I really need to do a lot more reading and reflection. I love the wholeness of the “other shoe” dropping within the Orthodox and Catholic Tradition with the proper emphasis on the “Theotokos” (and the Church in her consummation) as the venerable embodiment of the fulfillment of God’s purpose within creation and redemption. Certainly, even Protestants acknowledge grace works in at least two ways to make us holy; one, by delivering us and cleansing us from the sin into which we fall, and/or, two, by keeping us from sinning in the first place. Why shouldn’t we allow it has worked wholly in the second way in the case of the Theotokos?

        I think it is just a fault of mine that I long to have a coherent spiritual/metaphysical explanation for the mystery of the interaction between the human and Divine wills — and it seems to me that’s not a mystery that is going to open itself to me apart from my own theosis (and perhaps not even then).

        I hope that makes some sense.



  5. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    I’m surprised no one has commented on the second image. Click on it to see it in a larger version. It’s from a 10th century Spanish illuminated manuscript.


  6. Ordo Antiquus says:

    It is important to see how original sin (or any other Catholic doctrine) might have been “misunderstood” by Orthodox theologians. Simultaneously in my honest opinion we need to ask where these Orthodox theologians were getting their understanding of Latin Catholic teachings. I detect a tendency among Catholics and ecumenically-minded Orthodox to present the more vocal Orthodox critics of Latin doctrine as idiots who did not understand what they were talking about – cue “Orthodox theologian says XXX when what John Paul II and the CCC really say is YYY.” All this risks becoming ahistorical because it evades the question about the extent of Latin Catholic theology itself changing n the last 100 years. I think it is reasonable to assume that when Orthodox theologians writing into the 1980’s discussed Latin teachings they understood them the way many Latin dogmatic teachers understood them before Vatican II and the Nouvelle Theologie came along.


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Your point is well taken, Ordo, and I certainly do not have the competence to even begin to address it. Just a quick read-through of the article cited above on Scheeben demonstrates (1) the scholastic complexity (and for me, incomprehensibility) of 19th century Mariology and (2) its diversity. Newman is a heck of a lot easier to understand!

      That is one reason I did not attempt to trace historically the Latin doctrine of original sin, because, at any given historical period, there in fact is not just one doctrine. And that is why I focused, instead, on what the Catholic Church presently teaches. That is a much easier and safer task, and for ecumenical purposes is the only task that matters.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      One more comment: I believe that it is irresponsible for Orthodox priests and apologists today to continue to present a crude version of original “guilt” as the teaching of the RC Church. One sees this done all the time on the internet, and I know it frequently occurs in parochial catechetical classes.


      • 407kwac says:

        It is certainly true also that “guilt” as the stain of original sin in the full sense Augustine understood this was repudiated by the Protestant tradition (at least as I remember learning about the development of doctrine at my Evangelical college), so there needs to be more nuance in representing the “Western” tradition on “original sin” in general, perhaps, on the part of Orthodox. It’s still true, however, that in my former Evangelical context there was a (for me) troubling emphasis on sin as guilt — as a crime vs. the law of God that corrupts the soul from conception on and which prevents our “fellowship” with God because “He cannot look upon sin”– God can’t have anything to do with sinners. The only reason sin as death working in our members is taught or emphasized at all with respect to our deliverance from death (as opposed to our ongoing sanctification) it seemed was in order to instill an understanding of the utter helplessness of our condition apart from Christ’s atoning work on the Cross and its appeasement of God’s wrath. Christ as Conqueror of hell and death was not denied, of course, but it had a very different place in the scheme of our salvation — being seen as almost a sort of epilogue to the main act of our redemption, which was Christ’s taking God’s wrath against and punishment for our sin upon Himself in His suffering and death on the Cross.

        So, though the current RC teaching may have changed, it seems to me in many powerful ways, the Medieval version lives on in the convoluted teachings of its offspring (particularly, its more Calvinist permutations) in the Reformation. Perhaps, this is why this emphasis on a distinction between East and West in our resent context must persist — so those of us who have in effect received a different “gospel” may clearly see the true one shining through our Orthodox Liturgy. Even the present RC language (e.g., the use of the language of original “justice” regarding the prelapsarian state) is muddying of the fullness of what I see and understand as an Orthodox, given my background as a former Evangelical.



  7. Dear Al,
    Christiaan Kappes here. Thanks for alerting me to your post. You mentioned that you were seeing anything from resistance to dismissal in the presentation. I thought it was a fair stab at it. What may help the readers is to understood:

    STAGE 01

    (1.) Although Roman Catholics (who advertise themselves as well informed) often dismiss or minimize Orthodox objections to “Catholic Original Sin,” I will argue that the Orthodox are not off base with their discomfort.
    (A.) In the latest scholarly articles on Aquinas and Original sin (ex. Heythrop Journal, 2009) they experts spend at least several Sentences convincing the reader that Aquinas (though he sounds like and repeats Augustine) is not really holding for the transmission of “guilt” as sexual reproduction (insemination).
    (B.) This betrays a common problem among Scholastics. Except for the Franciscan school post-Scotus (c. 1300), the Scholastics I have encountered (Bonaventure, Hervaeus, etc.) are too wed to Augustine’s authority and terminology to abandon it. In some passages it is clear that Original Sin is very much like Photius (fl. 870-880), who thinks of it as a “privation” or “lack” of something (grace?) in the will.
    (C.) The Scotistic school is adamant about the latter point against Augustine’s seminal guilt.

    (2.) STAGE 02: How did Latins get to this point?

    (A.) The Augustinian or N. African guilt-inheritance likely stems from a tradition traceable to Tertullian (fl. c. 200). Augustinian studies suggest that Manicheism may have been behind his fixation on sexual production. As far as bonafide “traducianism,” it is clear that Augustine was open to special creation of the soul by God, but wrote St. Jerome that he had no idea how to argue for it even being probable. As it stood, his approach favored the interpretation that the soul is produced by the male and female contribution coming together. When flesh is in sin, it begets a guilty item (fetus). Lastly, I have recently shown that because Augustine was familiar with certain Orations of Gregory Nazianzen, he was clearly aware of the fact that Mary had a special privilege of (pre)purification before her conception. In the Greek tradition (Nazianzen-Hymns-Justinian-Sophronius-Damascene-ConstantinopleIII-Nikephorus-Palamas-Eugenicus) this meant that Mary was mentally predestined by God as completely pure from the first moment in the divine mind until the formation. The easiest demonstration of this is Damascene’s dormition homily that uses Nazianzen’s idea “Jesus was purified at baptism, but not for sin but to purify the water by touching it” Damascene applies this to Mary in the exact same words. Clearly she can only “cleanse” baptismal water if she herself is without any trace of defect on any moral or grace filled level.
    (B.) Augustine’s theology influenced the west and Original Sin was commonly spoken of as an infection of flesh. However, Bede the Venerable (via Theodore Tarsus), Idelfonse (via Justinian & Isidore Seville), and Paschasius Radbertus (850; France), all held that Mary’s Annunciation-purificaiton was a sign of immaculateness (as the Greek and from the Greeks). The problem was Augustine. Paschasius Radbertus finally was brave enough to kick Augustine to the curb and simply said that -as powerful as Augustine’s (wrongheaded) theology of Original Sin was- Mary had no part in it.
    (C.) Orthodox -though unaware of this history- were correct to suspect that Augustine + Mary exemption from Original Sin made little sense in Orthodoxy. Latins forgot about Paschasius -so far as I can tell- after the Norman Period (11 c. +) and only began debated the problem after Anselm (12th c.). The gradual result was that the Latins totally misunderstood Greek prepurification (wrong premises) but they got Greek conclusions (Mary is exempt from Augustinian sin) by 1308. After that came the definitive rejection (among theologians) of Augustinianism (save the likes of Jansenists).
    (D.) The Catechism (likely out of respect for the LANGUAGE of Aquinas) is unfortunately still talking in residue language of the late 13th century. The Schoolmen absolutely rejected (as the common opinion) an “analogical sin” in favor of Original Sin as a mere lack of grace in the will to ensure it to choose with ease what is good.

    STAGE 03:

    (A.) Although Maximus -according to scholars- is evermore showing himself to be familiar with and favorable to aspects of Augustinian Original Sin, he definitely avoid traducianism and any idea of seminal infection of the body-soul (fetus).
    (B.) All the same, the Council of Carthage (c. 418), approved at Orthodox Trullo (690-1) affirmed the need to baptize babies to cleanse from Original Sine (without defining the terms).
    (C.) All the same I have recently presented the point that Palamas (d. 1357) cited Augustine’s Greek version of De Trinitate adopted Augustine’s traducian language (ex. Adam’s sperm is an infection in the “root” of the human race that poisons the entire vine). However, Palamas too corrected Augustine’s fundamental error. He rejected and systematically avoided notions of fetal “guilt” and replaced it with “putative curse-punishment” (euthyna). This was followed to in Nicholas Cabasilas who explicitly affirms baptism as removing Adam’s “evil sperm”. Still, Cabasilas won’t talk of fetal guilt. The first time Orthodox are tempted to use fetal guilt is the Champion of Orthodoxy (Macarius Macres) and his student Gennadius Scholarius (d. 1472). They do so because the former cites Aquinas’ messy language in the Summa contra Gentiles, while the later is too excited about both Aquinas and Augustine, whom he mixes freely with his beloved Palamas.
    Orthodox criticism of the history of Catholic dogma would be correct until the late 13th century shift on the notion of Original Sin (actually inspired by 12th century Anselm).

    Catholics and Orthodox have no discernible differences in their officially sanctioned synods and Fathers (other than Augustine) on the issue, merely thomistic ambiguity that lends itself to erroneous thinking.

    The immaculate conception equivalent was thought of in the Augustinian sense in England, Spain, and France. Early authors simply assumed somehow traducianism didn’t apply to Mary. All Orthodox (and now Catholics) should reject traducianism. Paschasius Radbertus made the definitive argument in (850) that were forgotten. The entire Scholastic debate on Mary’s prepurification from the 12th-19th century was a confusion stemming from Catholic (and sometimes post-15th c. Orthodox) ignorance of the universal constant and clear position of prepurificaiton in Latin and Greek doctors (not to mention Constantinople III). The rediscovery of its real meaning was begun in the 1960s by Manuel Candal and is as solid as any study can be.

    I hope this helps!


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Fr Kappes, thank you so much for stopping by and sharing with us your thoughts. I spent this afternoon out on the deck, skimming through your book The Immaculate Conception. I confess I was blown away. It introduced me to aspects of both the Eastern and Western tradition of which I was totally unaware.

      I had no idea that the 14th century Byzantines were so well acquainted with the Western debates on the topic, and, if I read you rightly, largely sympathetic to the Franciscan position.


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Fr Kappes, in his essay in St Nicolas Cabasilas and the Theotokos, Met Kallistos Ware argues that Cabasilas’s understanding of Mary did not approximate an immaculate conception. But in your book you intimate strong similarities. I was wondering if you might elaborate a bit further.


      • (01) Nicholas Cabasilas (d. 1391):

        “If there are some of the holy doctors who say that the Virgin is ‘prepurified (προκεκαθάρθαι)’ by the Spirit, then it is yet necessary to think that ‘purification (κάθαρσιν)’ (i.e. an addition of graces) is intended by these authors, and these [doctors] say that this is the way the angels are ‘purified,’ with respect to whom there is nothing knavish.”

        [My Commentary:] NB, No Byzantine author, who embraced the prepurified Virgin, ever questioned the absolutely immaculate status from Mary’s conception in the divine mind (exemplar of humanity), to her first moment of existence, until her death. Cabasilas is clearly replying to Aquinas [Summa Contra Gent. translated 1354 and Summa Th. 1358 +] and perhaps even DEMETRIUS CYDONES’ reworking of Aquinas argument against the Immaculate Conception (S.Th. III, q. 27, a. 3, arg. 3) in favor of the Immaculate Conception by recourse to the prepurified Virgin (partim) in Cydones’ Sermon on the Annunciation (existing only in unedited MSS).

        Here is Thomas Aquinas: Objection 3:

        “Besides, the Damascene says that ‘The Holy Spirit, while It was purifying (purgans) her, came upon’ the Blessed Virgin before the time of the conception of the Son of God. But this cannot be understood as other than a purification from concupiscence, as Augustine says in his work De natura et gratia, for she did not commit sin. Therefore, she was not profusely cleansed from concupiscence through sanctification in utero.”
        Response to Objection 3:
        “It must be said that the Holy Spirit produced a double purification on the matter of the Blessed Virgin: (a.) Indeed It worked one purification, as if it were preparatory for the conception of Christ, whose conception was not out of any sort of impurity of guilt or concupiscence; but the Spirit was recollecting her mind into a greater concentration and withrawing her from what is common. For, too, the angels are called ‘purified,’ in whom no impurity is found, as Dionysius says in chapter six of De ecclesiasticis hierarchiis. (b.) However, the Holy Spirit worked another purification in her through of the conception of Christ, which was of the Holy Spirit. And according to this it may be said that It purified her entirely from concupiscence.”

        Cabasilas seems to be clearly objecting to Aquinas’ objection against the immaculate conception. Kallistos Ware’s opinion might be thought of in 2 ways (for me):
        (1.) Ware is reacting to the Augustinian-Cabasilas and Immaculate Conception problem. Yes, Cabasilas does use Augustinian language of original sin in his treatment on Baptism in his life of Christ, but no, he did not accept original guilt in what we have of his opera.
        (2.) Ware was arguably correct until this passage was recently discovered (present in 2014 book “immaculate conception”; Stockholm, Sweden 2015). It seems fairly impossible to argue that Cabasilas is talking about a single Orthodox author in the history of the term prepurified. He is only talking about Dominicans, particularly the ST III.27.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Nathaniel McCallum says:

      Fr Christiaan, can you clarify for me where precisely Augustine ever articulates inherited guilt? I’ve been reading Augustine somewhat seriously in Latin for the last five years or so and, despite the terrible English translations to the contrary, from what I have read Augustine *always* distinguishes between guilt (reus; never inherited) and liability (reatus; inherited). It seems to me that the 13th century “shift” is more consistent with Augustine than “Augustinianism” is.


      • Anytime you are in Pittsburgh you are welcome to a coffee an tour on me.
        In X


      • Sorry, Wrong reply.

        Your question is excellent. I am not at home at this moment. However, the question is of a “hereditas damnosa”. I myself looked in vain to find any mention of this until I came across an epistle that presumed this kind of transmission. Hence, the question is one of reading into the text what Augustine means.

        Please take a look at the images and inheritance in:
        Augustine, De Trinitate 13.[18.]23.

        In light of secondary literature, my presentation in Sweden (2015) showed a possible (if not probable) reason why the hereditas damnosa (as grafted onto the notion of inherited sin/guilt) made little sense as an analogy in Byzantine law-speak:

        “Damned inheritance” is a legal term in Roman law (mentioned in Gaius) about a son’s heredity whereby debt passes (versus wealth) from Father to son. In this sense association-sonship to the Father is literally a “liability” versus an “asset.” See Encyclopedic Dictionary of Roman Law, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 43.2, ed. A. Berger (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1953), s.v. “hereditas damnosa.” This jurisprudence was eliminated under Justinian, so that Byzantine Law made an inheritor liable from what assets actually still existed under the debtor. See William Buckland, The Main Institution of Roman Private Law (New York: 1931), 199 (10§72). Augustine sees the debt of guilt in the fetus very much under this kind of legal guilt. See Augustine through the Ages: an Encyclopedia, ed. J. Cavadini, M. Djuth, et al. (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), s.v. “concupiscence.” The technical idea of a “bad inheritence” would have been lost on Palamas. Instead, Palamas likely means a morally “worthless inheritance” or the LXX’s “wicked” inheritance.
        Ancient medical employed ῥίζα in relation to bodily flow (χυθεῖσαν) in humans. For example, see Galen, De methodo medendi libri 14, in Claudii Galeni opera omnia, C.G. Kühn (Hildesheim: 1965), 10:979.

        Lastly, I have been disappointed as to the few number of passages that are claimed for the hereditas damnosa in secondary literature. All the same, I am only interest in De Trinitate; De libero Arbitrio; Contra Julianum. For only these (re Original Sin) existed in Greek translations so far as we know.


        • Athanasius seems pretty clearly to teach a heredity of damnation. As does Symeon the New. Of course, it lacks a notion of guilt in these two preeminent writers. But of course, I would argue that it is lacking in Augustine as well.

          De Trinitate 13.[18.]23 is a great example.

          “Nec interfuit carnis concupiscentia per quam seminantur et concipiuntur ceteri qui trahunt originale peccatum, sed ea penitus remotissima credendo non concumbendo sancta est fecundata uirginitas ut illud quod nascebatur ex propagine primi hominis tantummodo generis non et criminis originem duceret.”

          … becomes …

          “Nor did that concupiscence of the flesh intervene, by which the rest of men, who derive original sin, are propagated and conceived; but holy virginity became pregnant, not by conjugal intercourse, but by faith—lust being utterly absent—so that that which was born from the root of the first man might derive only the origin of race, not also of guilt.”

          The translation of the second half of this sentence is, shall we say, rather loose. Augustine’s emphasis here is not that Christ is born without inherited guilt but that Christ’s humanity does not proceed tainted by the original crime (of Adam). There is no question of guilt in this passage. There are literally dozens of these kinds of translation errors in Augustine; nearly all of them find places to insert a notion of inherited guilt. I’ve even found several where the English verbiage has no corresponding Latin verbiage; that is, it is a completely foreign interjection into the text.

          I agree with you completely about debt. However, debt is not guilt.

          For Augustine, debt is the result of Adam’s shunning the donum superadditum. And therefore resulting in the debt of corruption and death. This debt is settled in potentia in baptism and in esse in just living. This debt emerges, for Augustine, from the sentence pronounced by God upon Adam (“surely you shall die”). Every single one of these points is found exactly in Athanasius, including the debt language. Augustine is just an Alexandrian in this regard (following both Origen and Athanasius).

          In short, Augustine doesn’t teach that we are born guilty of Adam’s sin. Rather, we are born liable to a debt we cannot pay. We become personally guilty when we die without having paid this debt (via baptism and just living). Infants are damned precisely because they did not pay the debt, no matter the length of their lives. It is important to get this logical order correct.

          This theology may still be problematic. But it is at least important to reflect his thought accurately.


        • The following also likely had early (5th c.) translations to Greek:
          * On Nature and Grace
          * The Proceedings of Pelagius


          • Dear Nathaniel,

            Thanks for these great talking points. I agree with you for the most part on Augustine’s sources. If one reads (I believe) the contra Julianum, it is clear that Augustine sees himself as synthesizing Greek forebearers. I would have to go back and review, but there is even a hint of dispositive anthropology toward Augustine in things as “nightly pleasure” in the aforementioned N. African Greek Fathers (including Cyril) that reminds me very much of Augustine’s starting point. For this reason, I consider the hamarteological tradition to be N. African more than “Latin”.

            Might it be that we are concentrating on the senses of guilt diversely? For me, I am interested in the homonym, where Augustine in De Trinitate does not mean “guilt” in the univocal sense of personal sin. I wonder if that is clear? To me it is “putative” guilt, which I see the passage above affirming. You would be correct to theologically reduce this to “no real guilt,” at least in the proper sense of a guilty subject. However, whatever its nature, it is sufficient to quasi-merit infants the privation of heaven and whatever sort of pains that “justly” follow. I think this is very much in line with the not-so-common references to the hereditas damnosa. Again, this is -as you say- potentially reducible to “liability”. However, it need not be. As I recall, Leo I in his Tome was comfortable with styling this “culpa”. The reception (not necessarily a proof of ipsissimus Augustinus) of him by his quasi-coeval fellow-Latinspeakers was often times confusingly on the side of some kind of quasi-moral defect. My interests are simply in the following (which the article to which you refers I read to agree):
            (1.) Sexual transmission is somehow to play the role of an explanatory cause (in that it is disordered/sinful)
            (2.) The effect of this is “flesh of sin” or concupiscence, which has a concomitant (even if ambiguous) guilt attached.
            (3.) The guilt is clearly not the same as “reus” i.e. personal guilt of someone able to undergo a judgment in a law court -as we say sui compos- rather it is the kind of guilt that must nonetheless justify God’s condemnation of persons -even infants- as being what is their due. Hence, even if we invoke tertium quid non datur, I see Augustine as comfortable with some degree of guilt that technically nullifies Pelagianism.
            (4.) Pelagianism does profess “no guilt” in the unqualified sense
            (5.) Whatever Augustinian guilt is, it is not #4, though it is clearly neither #3. Hence, there is some kind of putative guilt (justifying your appeal to legal liability). However, I think that -because it is so bound up in the production of the person and is said to be part of the intrinsic process of human formation, I am not satisfied with a purely extrinsic “liability”. I would be more forceful with an extrinsic “culpability” that analogously is guilt, and is more than a metaphor, since there is something fundamentally “wicked-disordered” in every instantiation of nature qua existent making it deserving of punishment.

            At any rate, if you find that we still disagree, then I am certainly interested in your insights, since I have to correct two papers for submission in the next months on this subject with respect to the prepurified Virgin in Latindom and in Palamite theology. I would also like to add, as far as reception goes, guilt (enoche) was used in some Byzantine authors as that what is cleansed in baptism, though they relied on Aquinas’ reception of Augustine. The only time guilt is washed in Byzantine authors, otherwise -esp. 1st millenn- is when the person baptized has already sinned as an adult.

            in X.,


          • Fr. Christiaan,

            I would love to find an excuse to come to Pittsburgh and discuss this over coffee/beer/whiskey. I cannot begin to state how valuable I find your work. Please don’t take any of our conversation to be antagonistic. If you find yourself in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area, please look me up; I’ll buy you dinner!

            The dispute between Augustine and the Pelagians (and indeed the Syrian and Alexandrian traditions; the latter of which is the category to which Augustine belongs) is over the locus of divine condemnation. The Pelagians argue that the locus of divine condemnation is personal sin. It necessarily follows that punishment is corrective, limited and temporal (i.e. universalism). The anti-Pelagians argue that the locus of divine condemnation is the failure to actualize human personhood to its divinely appointed supernatural end while motion towards this end was still possible; and of which personal sin is but a symptom. It necessarily follows that punishment is retributive and eternal.

            I think it is preeminantly clear which side of this debate the church (both RC and EO) is on.

            For the Pelagians, because the locus of divine condemnation is personal sin, any condemnation without personal sin implies “concomitant guilt.” For the anti-Pelagians (which includes many not touched by Augustine’s writing itself), personal sin is the symptom of a severing of divine grace. Thus personal guilt is orthogonal to salvation and relates instead to purgation. In this system, the number and scale of personal sins is irrelevant for the unjustified since he remains unjustified.

            What is, in fact, remarkable is that the Byzantine tradition has retained this emphasis *without* Augustine’s systematization.

            But accusing Augustine of “concomitant guilt” requires one to understand the locus of divine condemnation as being personal guilt; but this is the very first principal under dispute.

            PS – Your points #1 and #2 are attested as early as 2 Baruch 56:6 and Origen’s commentary on Romans 5. They are also widely asserted in the Byzantine tradition. This proves either widespread Augustinian influence in the East or and independent anti-Pelagian tradition. Both of which only confirm Augustine’s conclusions.


      • Dear Nathaniel,
        One last point, Christian Latin (I’m not sure about the Vetus Itala) did use reatus as “guilt” in Vulgate: Ex. 32:35 Dt. 21:8. Cf. Augustine’s use of the same in Contra Jul. Pelag. 6.19.60. If you have found this to be inaccurate, I’m certainly interested to hear any new reads.

        in X


        • I’m familiar with these references. On closer examination, they aren’t silver bullets and in fact add some nuance. The Exodus passage is somewhat ambiguous owing to multiple levels of textual redaction. I don’t think that alone it can really prove anything.

          The Deut. passage, OTOH, is rather interesting precisely because the “bloodguiltiness” (reatus) is in fact not a guilt at all but a liability. The people are, in this passage, explicitly not guilty of the crime. The LXX doesn’t even use guilt at all: καὶ ἐξιλασθήσεται αὐτοῖς τὸ αἷμα. The scenario here is that a person is found dead and the murderer is unknown. By performing the prescribed rite, the liability is mitigated. This in fact goes to the heart of what Augustine is trying to get across.


          • Dear Nathaniel,

            As I greedily take little snippets of time to look at your responses, know that I do hope to comb over these passages in the future (for the purposes I repeat ad nauseam!). You may enjoy a fun-fact shared with me by Basil Lourie (Scrinium ed.). Augustine’s Rm 5:12 “in quo omnes peccaverunt” happens to agree with the 1992 editio critica of the Syriac NT of the same. Lourie is confident of the potential 4th century pedigree for the Pauline verse in Syriac. Additionally, it is thinkable that the translation is earlier. In this respect, he brought to my attention that the Latin vetus (viz., Itala) is likely a separate witness to this tradition that mitigates Meyendorff’s harsh words contra Augustine on this matter, since N. African tradition might have simply been privy to the alternative Greek reading that did not necessitate him doing a “self-correction” according to our textus receptus. Of course, this suggestive alternative reading in (now lost) Greek MS/S of Rm. We might agree that the “inspired” version of the NT & OT is that which is adopted in the Greek Byzantine liturgical pericopes (would that a critical edition might come about!). Still, it seems that you are all for breaking the mini-paradigm shift c. 1960 from the Romanides’ legacy. It may be of value to you to have this in your back pocket.

            I will try to remember to get back with you on the passages above. As an aside, my own forthcoming study on Mark of Ephesus and the Papacy (with honorable mentions of Augustine) -so far as I know – is the first attempt to show the integration of Augustine as an ecumenical authority based upon Eugenicus’ possession of the MSS of the liturgy of St. James, where Gus is commemorated as “our Father and Teacher.” Thereafter, upon being informed by the Latins about the Acta of Const. II 553, Mark was only secured in prioritizing Augustine -as he did- for doing dogmatic and systematic theology. The forthcoming volume of SVS press includes this article that really show the shocking inroads that Augustinianism had made by the time of Eugenicus (because of Palamas). Of course, this explains well Scholarius’ permissible love affair with Gus, given his spiritual Father’s own obsession with him.

            I’ll get to your other points soon -I hope!


      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        In his book Outward Signs, Philip Cary argues that St Augustine’s understanding of original sin is grounded on a profound solidarity between Adam and mankind:

        The key Pelagian theses ascribed to Coelestius and condemned by a council at Carthage in 411 were “that the sin of Adam harmed only himself and not the human race” and “that infants who are born are in the state Adam was in before his transgression.” These theses ran smack up against the dee-rooted African conviction about the necessity of infant baptism, which Augustine stressed in his early sermons against the Pelagians. … For it is important to understand that the Augustinian doctrine of original sin is far stronger than what often goes under that name today. It teaches not merely that we are all born with a corrupt and sinful nature due to the Fall, but that we are quite literally born guilty, deserving to be punished eternally for Adam’s sin, so that even babies who have never done anything wrong in their lives deserve nothing less than eternal damnation. The justice of infant damnation is the crucial point of contention. The Pelagian argument that there is no justice in damning a person for another’s sins had to be met by an argument showing that Adam’s sin belongs in some deep way to the whole human race: it is not merely the sin of another but truly yours and mine, so that there is no injustice in our being punished for it even if we die in infancy before we have done anything blameworthy in our own lives. (p. 206)

        According to Cary, Letter 98 succinctly presents Augustine’s understanding of Adamic solidarity. Cary summarizes the position outlined in this letter: “When Adam sinned, each one of our souls was not other than Adam’s. There was but one human soul in the beginning, and we all were it. Long before we had separate lives of our own, we were all there in Adam and shared in his sin. When infants are damned for Adam’s sin, therefore, they are not being punished for the sin of another” (p. 207).


        • Thanks. I’ll try to read this in Latin tomorrow.


          • I didn’t have a reply option above, so I am trying to make a few comments per your effort on Pelagianism (very appreciated).

            First, thanks for your invite, and if you ever pass by…let me know ahead of time and we’ll provide you with a room (I am now the all-powerful [in my own mind] academic dean). I would not be surprised if, eventually, one of the societies of which I’m a member has a convention/symposium nearby. I first recognized you from the well placed and interesting points you brought up on the Council of Carthage (since then I have recommended to others). I’ve taken everything you’ve said with eager interest, not in the least as belligerent.
            You wrote:
            The dispute between Augustine and the Pelagians (and indeed the Syrian and Alexandrian traditions; the latter of which is the category to which Augustine belongs) is over the locus of divine condemnation. The Pelagians argue that the locus of divine condemnation is personal sin.
            This doesn’t sound controversial from my limited knowledge of the history of the disputes.
            On the question of temporary vs. eternal punishment-debates…I honestly had no idea this was central to the Pelagian view.
            Your wrote:
            For the Pelagians, because the locus of divine condemnation is personal sin, any condemnation without personal sin implies “concomitant guilt.”
            I take this to mean “guilt” in the primary sense = reus = a convicted offender sui compos.
            Although I am unfamiliar with the nuances in the anti-Pelagian positions (outside of Augustinian theology), it make sense to me that justification or non-justification is the disjunct upon which any other axiological concerns about guilt or alia must be categorized in to descending genera-species.
            You wrote:
            But accusing Augustine of “concomitant guilt” requires one to understand the locus of divine condemnation as being personal guilt; but this is the very first principal under dispute.
            As you contextualize the N. African players -coeval and in discussion with Agustuine and/or his nemeses- I understand your denotation of “guilt” as personal, having a moral or ethical character. In this sense, I believe I understand your insistence on “liability” vs. “guilt” within the historical context of the dispute (which I cede to your expertise). Of course, it seems we agree that the foundation of quasi or really sinful acts of reproduction as universally concupiscent is founded in N. African hamarteology (I have gone as far back as Origen’s accounts of Ps. 50 [51].
            From what I gather: (1.) you read Augustine as a whole (successively pouring through his works). In this I need to cede the advantage that your presentation has. My Achilles heel is the (somewhat embarrassing) text hopping. I simply have not made the time to sit down and read more than several of his works. (2.) I would be perfectly willing to cede that the origins of the argumentation are as you present them.
            On the other hand my visceral misgivings are in the reception of Augustine (as exemplified in Leo I use of culpa, et al.). Also, I am not convinced that -despite the possible scope of Augustine’s individual treatises- his attribution to flesh of affecting the natural or intrinsic operations of soul (to which he attributes passions if I am not mistaken) can be squared with pure “liability.” Intrinsic defects that make instantiations of human nature qua defective so as to justifiably make punishment due to them, ipso facto, is based upon a constitutional defect and thus (logically) seems to bestow a necessarily axiological inferior or demeritorious state to the fetus beyond extrinsic concerns. Hence, a fetus prior to Adam does not contain this attribute (more than a privation but rather an intrinsically disordered operation). Wherefore, the pre-Adamite fetus is not due eternal loss in virtue of its diverse intrinsic operation. That the flesh is the culprit, and that the flesh is part of the person’s constitution, does not seem to me to be merely extrinsic liability (even if Augustine were to suppose it so in some or other place).

            I do agree that some of Augustine’s viewpoints on the nature of this defective soul-affecting concupiscent-conceived flesh are implicit or arguably explicit in N. African Greek Fathers. However, the metaphysician in me (or systematical side of me) sides with the standard reading of Photius (with my scotistic prejudices) whereby original sin, having an immaterial status, is purely concerned with faculties of the soul, and among these, only the will can be said to merit or demerit in a guilty mode. Hence, original sin is a privation of some divine operation/grace in the will such that the operation of the will is otherwise than it would be in the first stage of Adamite existence. It is not real guilt, put is analogically referred to as “guilt” due to the effects that are -in a system of justice- reserved for a “reus” qua “reatus”. In this sense, guilt is a misnomer. In effect, your insistence on liability is absolutely theologically correct. I would agree that my own approach enjoys no priority (so far as I know) in early Fathers. Whether Greek or Latin, the only interest in Ps 50, inherited curses, etc., has led me to patristic intuitions that agree more with Augustinian physicalist explanation than with the contemporary Orthodox (though consistency is wanting) or with Anselmiano-scotistic conclusions. Oddly, the only patristic approach that has any degree of continuity (of which I know) favors some or other form of Augustine’s approach until Anselm (save Photius).


  8. danaamesd says:

    Thank you for that summary, Fr Kappes – very helpful indeed!

    Fr Aidan, though I was a “cradle Catholic,” I had such a long detour in Evangelical Protestantism that I would find myself sharing Karen’s hesitancies, especially regarding seeing sin generally as violation of (a) law. For myself, I have trouble with the terms “sanctifying grace” (still carrying the flavor of something other than God Himself, even though the definition given by Rahner could be likened to the energies of God), “merit,” and the word “immaculate” itself (without stain – again implying something – guilt? – attached to a person as a result of the violation of some law, more than a condition). I would also hesitate about the Theotokos being “filled with the Holy Spirit” before Pentecost. For me, these all add up to her being considered as something other than completely human, and that makes me very uncomfortable.

    I get the idea of “prepurification” – I’ve heard from Orthodox sources that the whole Jewish people existed, in a theological sense, to produce Mary, coming from a family that was known as righteous – as well as having special help from God, in the sense of his energies (which is, yes, the action of the Holy Spirit within us), to enable her to not knowingly sin (she was always able to will with her natural will rather than gnomic will, to call to mind what little I understand of St Maximus). I can go with that terminology, because it doesn’t seem like it’s canceling out Mary’s humanity.

    I also wish that some attention would be paid to Hebrews 2.5ff, which, taken along with Rom 5, makes it very clear that we sin because we are enslaved by the fear of death. When we say “… who without corruption gave birth to God the Word…” I connect that not to the condition of Mary’s soul as “immaculate” or sinless, but rather to Christ being brought into the world through her in a way that is outside of the usual motives for human generation that are intimately linked to death and the fear of it. In Greek the “without corruption” is ἀδιαφθόρως, which has the same root as “incorruption” in 1Cor 15.51ff, where St Paul is talking about our transformation in the Resurrection from having a body that is subject to death and decay to having a body that is not so subject. Wright was very helpful for me in understanding how St Paul often uses “flesh” as shorthand for “all that is subject to death and decay.” The Incarnation of the Lord was totally outside those bounds – not having anything to do with survival of the human race in the face of death.

    I do appreciate the caution regarding inaccuracies floating around on the Internet – a good reminder. This interview with Fr Kappes might also be interesting:
    Evidently, he has “written the book” on the subject.



    • Dear Dana,

      I posted your reply below


    • Nathaniel McCallum says:

      “I’ve heard from Orthodox sources that the whole Jewish people existed, in a theological sense, to produce Mary, coming from a family that was known as righteous”

      The root of this idea, AFAICS, is Augustine who argues that the liability (reatus; inherited) of original sin is limited to four generations (cf. Numbers 14:18). Thus, the effects of the original sin are not possessed equally and directly but are mediated by our recent ancestors. Aquinas parses this rather differently.


      • Dear Nathaniel,
        There may be other sources than what I am going to name, but Palamas is certainly called “original” for this theory in the sense of physical blood line becoming gradually holy for the sake of the Theotokos in his Homilies. Of course, this itself is for the sake of the Incarnation. I discuss this in detail -if with a slightly different concentration- in my 2 2015 presentation ( at Notre Dame and Sweden. I am in the process of perfecting these for publication with two invited academic publishers. However, I wrote this recently to one Maximus Scott:

        The question is definitively answered in Palamas (not necessarily all of Eastern Tradition) where Palamas surmises a gradual purification of the physical lineage mentioned in Luke. The terminus of the purification is shown by the “root of sin” from the demon being all but extinguished in Zechariah and Elizabeth, which produces the all-holy John. However, Mary’s seed (Damascene’s all-holy sperm of Joachim) means that she is the terminus for total purification of Adam’s lineage to make the 100 percent contribution of real flesh to the flesh of Jesus. In this sense, Palamites are viscerally wed to some sort of physically immaculate conception (though they categorically reject Augustinian traducianism -Save Macarius Makres and Scholarius). Damascene is certainly easily the source of this synthetic doctrine. The question remains, however, if this is true of the totality of the Greek patristic tradition. I do not know Andrew of Crete and several others…so I do not have an answer on this. I do agree with you that Palamas’ logic for why Christ is exempt from any of Adam’s heritage -if applied as the singular solution for exempting- cannot justify immaculatist Marian claims. I have not thought of this before, but it may be that Palamas is making a categorical universal for “exemption from sin”. If that were the case then, I would argue, he is simply internally inconsistent since there is -for me- no doubt that he is the strongest immaculatist in the Byzantine tradition of the prepurified Mary. Still, it is my recollection that -given the fact that Mary is not from a miraculous conception- he then searches for some alternative to justify his position on Mary as having an absolutely perfect human nature. Absolute means that from its first moment in mental and actual existence (in God and in creation). The effect is to ingeniously use Augustine’s De trinitate and weave the root-sin-virus-human race ideas into a narrative. I go over this thoroughly in my Swedish conference from 2015.

        Incidently, you may have discovered Palamas’ own source for the 4-generation and diminution of sin theory. That is, if this is in De Trinitate; De libero arbitrio or (almost impossibly) the Opus Imperfectum (lost by this time). If this is the case you have actually completed the last piece of my own puzzle that may solve how Palamas arrived at his Augustinian analogies (sin as root of infection; virus in Adam’s inheritance) in combination with the theory of a gradual purification of Mary’s lineage.



      • I have found an affirmation of this kind of punishment in Contra Julianum (very unlikely known to Palamas):

        I have also found it in Peter Lombard’s, Sentences (I have just had a new discovery of Nicholas Cabasilas and Symeon of Thessalonica’s citation from Lombard to be published in the next 3 months). Barlaam, Nich. Cabasilas, and Symeon of Thessalonica all explicitly cited from the Sentences. Palamas would have been perfectly placed to know the relevant passage of Augstine’s Enchiridion:

        If you know of some other more explicit passage, and these turn out to prove your point of a diminution of sin through the generations, I would be most happy to cite you in an upcoming publication (both ND 2015 and Sweden 2015).

        In X


  9. Dear Dana,
    I’ll do my best to address your questions. I must plead ignorance about Rahner. Also, yes, your hang up on sanctifying grace is the same hang up that the Palamite (though not Palamas) school had with Aquinas. For Mark of Ephesus (ex.), the notion that we could call grace in us a “habitus/hexis” in Aristotelian fashion was offensive. For their part, Latins of all stripes at least tried to analogize Faith, Hope, Love as habits. In the end, they admitted that these graces/habits were equivocal with Aristotelian habits (they were not naturally acquired, they were not dispositions that were naturally brought into act by natural human acts, viz., the habit of patience by being patient over and over again to actualize a predisposition to be patient). Still, they Schoolmen liked to analogize the fact that F-H-C are implanted at baptism and so are “like unto” a disposition, for we have to perform faithful acts, hopeful activities, and charitable actions to do them with greater ease and to solidify their hold on our being. That said, the Palamites thought that if the Holy Spirit is the agent of this change in us (grace) that it is the Spirit directly (albeit “habitually”) acting in us that give us these elevated powers/virtues. Hence, “sanctifying grace” was not an issue for Mark of Ephesus at Florence because we need something “habitual” in us, but rather that what is habitual is equivocal to an Aristotelian habit. At least, to an extent, Schoolmen would have conceded this last point. They would have resisted the agency of the Spirit directly in use without some corresponding habit or modification of the soul, however.

    Merit is another question. Since the word does not exist in patristic Greek (modern = axiomisthia), one looks in vain in the OT and NT and Fathers. What we find are form of payback-granting in exchange for work (apodosis) and payment for good work (misthos) and work that has value (agathoergeia). Merit seems to have its origin (Christian) in the theology of Tertullian but its meaning is somewhat vague (I just learned this in Sweden 2015 from a theologian who did his doctorate on “meritum”). What is sure is that the Roman Canon (anaphora) used it. This anaphora is Orthodox and Orthodox saints and Ecumenical Synods were communing from the hands of such a liturgy. Furthermore, Cyril and Methodius initially used this anaphora in paleoslav in Moravia. So, the greatest of saints and doctors of Orthodoxy had no problem with its contents. The question remains as to whether or not the Latin systematization of merit goes beyond the bounds of necessity vs. Tradition. I am not an expert on the history and meanings of merit post-13th century. So, I must stop there.

    There reason that the Theotokos is not “filled with the holy spirit” before Pentecost is that this is a prophetic spirit (LXX Moses-Joshua; LXX Elisha-Elisha; Zechariah-Elizabeth-John). Mary is greater than all these. Lk 1:35 has her as the Ark that actually contains the overshadowing (LXX) divinity. The most intense form of presence (not merely prophetic spirit) is in her. She also has Jesus (power and wisdom of God) and the Spirit “come upon her”. The 1-3rd cent. interpretation of Justin, Origen, Tertullian, suppose the Greek to mean the Son comes (=power) and his spirit goes into Mary to prepare her. Only after 381 do we see a shift from archaic models to the Spirit coming directly to act without the Son first showing up. This was understandably an emphasis on the full equality of the Spirit, not so obvious in primitive epicleses. Hence, Lk 1:35 does not have her “full of the spirit” because it use the imagery of LXX Ex 24-5; the Ark; and the Isaiah Temple scene of the Sanctus: she is the Temple “full of GLORY” not “full of the Spirit”. Glory, as in John’s Gospel and LXX OT, is the co-essential attribute (i.e. hypostasis) called “the Son.” Mary is full of the Son. When he leaves the uterus, Mary can be filled with the prophetic Spirit (as in Acts) or “full of the Spirit”. So, it has nothing to do with sin, but a very poignant observation on your part missed by most!

    Without making you read my book (and two conference on new findings), prepurification is likely dealing with the Greek textus receptus version of the “purification in the Temple.” The Greek has Mary and Jesus purified (“they”). This means that it had to be explained why and how Jesus needed purification. Because the sense was taken as univocal for Jesus and Mary by the Fathers, Ephrem, Nazianzen, Hymns, Justinian, Sophronius, Maximus (Life of the Virgin), Theodore Tarsus, Constantinople III, Ildephonse Toledo, Bede, Nikephorus, Palamas, about 5 Palamites, and Scholarius all understood it to mean in sum: “Mary was -like Jesus- with completely perfect flesh predetermined to be “elevated” by grace as a sign of future glory.” No one veered from this kind of hint or definition. Not one instance of suggesting sin, guilt, or imperfection every occurs. In fact, even the Arabic tradition of Islam, preserving no doubt Nestorianesque sources, also affirms Mary’s “purification” before giving birth as a totally elevating experience. The point is that it is a sign of christlike grace, nothing less. She is the only one to be twinned with Christ flesh. If we cancel Mary’s humanity by perfection, then -I would argue- Eutyches is correct and we must deny the consubstantiality of the Son with Mary (and thus with us). For he would thus have totally pure-perfect-sinless-guiltless humanity (intrinsically) and hence would not be “human” in the same univocal sense as Mary putatively not being human.

    I wish I could go more into incorruptibility but I have not finished studying this issue. What is clear so far to me is the following:
    (1.) Cyril Jerus.-Ambrose-Damascene all equate eucharistic flesh as “flesh of the Virgin/Mary”. What are then the implications from “incorruptibility”?
    (2.) Marian typology has the womb-tomb inseparably linked. What issues from the womb is what issues from the tomb. Incorruptibility is a large part of this.
    (3.) As the Life of the Virgin exemplified, Mary’s flesh is called “incorruptible”, as it is universally described when separated from the soul at the dormition. What makes flesh incorruptible in Mary, if she has guilt/sin in any sense and is thus subject to death? Does death imply corruption definitionally?

    At any rate, you might enjoy the dormition homilies of John Damascene. I seem to remember one where he supposes that Mary died in order to properly follow her Son’s example. IF my memory serves, this would then place the Franciscan explanation of why Mary died (to imitate Jesus) at the fore and place questions related to sin as a remote unlikelihood.

    I hope I have addressed your very interesting points.
    in X

    Liked by 1 person

    • danaamesd says:

      Thank you, Father K. Would love to sit down and chat with you over coffee! You’ve done some really interesting work. Appreciate your response.



      • Anytime you are in Pittsburgh you are welcome to a coffee an tour on me.
        In X


        • elijahmaria says:

          This question/comment is for C. Kappes should he return and read it: He said above: “Still, they Schoolmen liked to analogize the fact that F-H-C are implanted at baptism and so are “like unto” a disposition, for we have to perform faithful acts, hopeful activities, and charitable actions to do them with greater ease and to solidify their hold on our being. That said, the Palamites thought that if the Holy Spirit is the agent of this change in us (grace) that it is the Spirit directly (albeit “habitually”) acting in us that give us these elevated powers/virtues. Hence, “sanctifying grace” was not an issue for Mark of Ephesus at Florence because we need something “habitual” in us, but rather that what is habitual is equivocal to an Aristotelian habit. At least, to an extent, Schoolmen would have conceded this last point. They would have resisted the agency of the Spirit directly in use without some corresponding habit or modification of the soul, however.”
          My comment/question is this: Often I have heard Orthodox writers of all kinds talk about the transfiguration of the soul in theosis. We actually speak of man becoming God, indicating some sort of ontological change in the person, body and soul, through and in theosis. In this change wrought by grace, in this perfection of nature by grace [and by perfection I mean Christian perfection which is a return to the original intent for us at the time of the creation of mankind] we are not only transformed but are transfigured: where the image becomes more and more in the likeness to the point where the holy fathers of the desert tell us that it is no longer possible for that soul, so deeply participating in the divine life, to ever sin again. It seems to me that this is the habitus of St. Thomas Aquinas as well. And he too would have well understood the stages of the spiritual life.


          • I apologize for missing this.
            I have not systematically studied the Palamite (or Greek patristic) notions of virtue. Indubitably, John Damascene has been classed as one who is Aristotelian in his presentation of virtue. Eventually, for seminary purposes, I need to take a look at the sacra parallela better and re-read his on the virtues and vices. However, if this is the case more or less with his source (prior Greek Fathers) and his dependents (Palamites), then it is no surprise that my reading of Palamite Marian homilies has constantly left the taste in my mouth that something like a “habitus” or series of Aristotelian-described habits are in Mary and any other good Christian. The question that I have not searched is whether or not these natural habits form a basis for supernatural grace-influence to operate in Byzantine theologians (as in thomistic teaching). Secondly, I do not have anything that comes to mind that I have found whereby a supernatural possession of faith, hope, or charity is described in similar terms to the quasi-virtue of the Schoolmen. This would make a wonderful dissertation. I suspect, as in many things Palamite, a sagacious selection of some of Aquinas’ points is selectively adopted but anything smacking of pure naturalism or Aristotelian naturalism is ignored. Scholarius is the notable exception to this, he thought that Aquinas’ treatment of the virtues was one of the two areas where Aquinas showed himself to be all but and Orthodox theologian. Because Scholarius (demonized since the 1930s) had such a vast knowledge of the Tradition (both East and West) it would not surprise me if he saw many cases where Aquinas and someone like the Damascene were saying essentially the same sorts of things. What is clear, however, is that the 2 antirrhetics of Mark of Ephesus -without being disrespectful to Aquinas- considered his description of supernatural virtue in the terms of Aristotelian habit as erroneous.


  10. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    The interesting discussion here on St Augustine encouraged me to revise my article and say a little bit more about Augustine’s view of original sin.


  11. Perhaps then we can all agree that Ineffabilis Deus says not too much but too little about the glories of the Theotokos!


  12. Fr. Christiaan, I think it might be best to just continue at the bottom rather than using the “reply” facility. That way others won’t be lost in the oblique train of comments. 🙂 Also, I sincerely accept your offer. I might even make such a trip a personal priority if only to discuss with you the larger contours of your work which is so essential to the Christian obligation of unity.

    Returning to the matter at hand, I agree with much of what you have written.

    “I honestly had no idea this was central to the Pelagian view.”

    Three views stand and fall together: Nestorianism, Pelagianism (via Rufinus) and Universalism. These three represent the Syrian reception of Origen. The 3rd-6th councils represent the Church’s (critical) dismantling of this worldview. In all of these controversies, both sides accused the other side of being Origenists.

    The Church’s response was always to reject the extremes of both position. For instance, both Pelagianism and double predestination. The content of the remaining debate today (after the anti-Jansenist condemnation) is largely over the logical ordering of prescience and merit. A proper method for analyzing the controversy would focus on the occluded theological assertions of each position; the end result of which shows that for RCs and EO the union of these two sets is substantially identical (aside from the aforementioned issue; one which, I think, Maximus has something to offer that the Church has largely passed over — namely, fantasia as locus of human freedom and culpability; I’d love to discuss this with you sometime vis-à-vis Franciscan spirituality).

    “it make sense to me that justification or non-justification is the disjunct upon which any other axiological concerns about guilt or alia must be categorized in to descending genera-species.”

    I think we are then agreed. It is important to note that justification, in both Paul and Augustine, is a reflection on the Israelite prophetic tradition itself reflecting on the perpetual inability to live up to the law of God. The solution of this is the perfect sacrifice bestowing God’s perpetual presence which gives us hearts of flesh, writing the law on our very hearts. Pentecost, and the close association of baptism with the Holy Spirit, is the Christian theological heir of this prophetic reflection. In Paul’s theology, death in Christ via baptism and the reception of the Holy Spirit is the solution to the problem posed by the prophets. And since this problem and solution is tied closely with the eschatological vision of the prophets, especially Ezekiel’s heavenly Jerusalem and temple, the basis of salvation is not first and foremost moral action but justification by faith in baptism and the reception of the Holy Spirit.* Personal moral acts are a second-order consideration. This is precisely why “those who belong to Him” are raised first (cf. 1 Cor. 15). All will be raised, but “His” will be raised first.

    Thus, even without Augustine, the locus of salvation is first and foremost justification. The Pelagians reduce all divine punishment to personal guilt and thus imply a “concomitant guilt” in Augustine.** We can thus conclude that Augustine is incorrect in his conclusion that infants unilaterally go to hell; but we cannot do so without considering that they must be justified. It is this latter assertion that Carthage binds us all to. And it is orthodox precisely because it is Pauline.

    “(as exemplified in Leo I use of culpa, et al.)”

    I am less versed in the latter reception of Augustine. This is somewhat intentional on my part as I wish to read Augustine on his own terms not those imputed (pun intended) by his later interlocutors.

    Regardless, let me say this. I do not believe Augustine ever uses culpa regarding the inherited state. However, he explicitly describes the prelapsarian state*** as aculpa and then contrasts our state to it. Thus, Leo’s use of culpa may not be without implied precedent. What is noteworthy about culpa is that culpa does not necessarily entail reus, though it does entail reatus. I believe Augusitne may be playing on this ambiguity to express an ambiguity that is itself found in scripture. Even more interesting is Duns Scotus’ use of culpa contracta, which deserves careful study. Thus, I don’t think culpa is a silver bullet – careful contextualization is necessary.

    “Also, I am not convinced that -despite the possible scope of Augustine’s individual treatises- his attribution to flesh of affecting the natural or intrinsic operations of soul (to which he attributes passions if I am not mistaken) can be squared with pure “liability.” Intrinsic defects that make instantiations of human nature qua defective so as to justifiably make punishment due to them, ipso facto, is based upon a constitutional defect and thus (logically) seems to bestow a necessarily axiological inferior or demeritorious state to the fetus beyond extrinsic concerns. Hence, a fetus prior to Adam does not contain this attribute (more than a privation but rather an intrinsically disordered operation). Wherefore, the pre-Adamite fetus is not due eternal loss in virtue of its diverse intrinsic operation. That the flesh is the culprit, and that the flesh is part of the person’s constitution, does not seem to me to be merely extrinsic liability (even if Augustine were to suppose it so in some or other place).”

    “concupiscentia est reatus originalis peccati” (Retract. 1.15)

    I think here we have arrived at the heart of the matter. You have described the Augustinian position well. This all turns back to Paul and the prophets. God saves people by justifying them. This usually means baptism. It always means dying with Christ. One justification has occurred, personal moral actions come into question.

    Is humanity defective from Adam? If so, is God just to condemn us on this basis alone without personal moral actions (i.e. guilt)? For Augustine, the answer is yes to both. I understand very much that we don’t like such an answer (*I* don’t like such an answer.). But ultimately, rejecting it because I don’t like it strikes me as Marcionism. I think an important figure here is St. Symeon the New. He seems to clearly teach this without Augustinian influence.

    * – On this basis, one of my greatest personal struggles with the Latin tradition liturgically is delayed confirmation.

    ** – I do think Photius is helpful here. But that is really another discussion.

    *** – As an aside, the overlap between Augustine’s third usage of natura meaning state and Maximus use of tropos is worthy of a detailed study. I don’t believe they are coterminous, but I would not at all be surprised if the latter depends on the former.


    • Dear Nathanel,

      Again, you’re always welcome at our place. We have an Orthodox-Catholic faculty (not to exclude our beloved Anglican), so we have been blesed with both Orthodox and Catholic students (in addition to seminarians). My hope is to expand our Orthodox outreach, since -often unlike yourself- Orthodox don’t have a “safe” place to go to learn Latin theology in dialogue with there own, while respecting the strengths of Orthodoxy. We are actively working toward that dual model of education in systematics, philosophy, and Scripture (with LXX studies). Our liturgy is thoroughly Orthodox, though I have taught a liturgy course here and there.

      Thanks for the Pelagian points. It simply reminds me of another area that I need to get very familiar with before going ahead with current projects. As far as Maximus and predestination, I just answered in a lengthy narrative-analogy hereabouts that shows that I tend to agree on Maximus’ enduring value.
      You wrote:
      We can thus conclude that Augustine is incorrect in his conclusion that infants unilaterally go to hell; but we cannot do so without considering that they must be justified. It is this latter assertion that Carthage binds us all to. And it is orthodox precisely because it is Pauline.
      I would only add to the first line that Augustine’s conclusions for infants are Because he can be read analytically thus (though I find your case convincing from Augustinian language and its primary signification) to see babies as intrinsically disordered in the sense that each one is inexorably a sinner waiting to happen in virtue of his physico-ethical constitution (unlike unfallen-Eve babies). Now, even a privation (whether thomism or scotism) leads to the automatic corollary of concupiscence, but especially scotism is adamant about the non-physical nature of original sin in its essence, versus Augustine. The point is that Augustine’s baby is intrinsically produced as a defective widget, where schoolmen (of post-Anselmian variety) see a baby as a perfectly produced widget without the requisite fuel to run at the maximum speed, but not without the fuel to run at normal speed. This fuel is put into the widget -and to that extent a really intrinsic modification- but defect is extrinsic in the sense that it is decree of liability that results in a decree of privation of something that does not make the widget a “bad widget” but a widget without a necessary item to act as widgets are designed to act as optimal widget.

      Also, I would say that in Leo or Fulgentius of Ruspe, Augustine is Analytically interpreted in a correct mode; namely, that babies have what is equivalent to an “intrinsic” defect that justifies them being treated as guilt laden. They are would-be sinners and just don’t know it yet! This is taken up in Aquinas and remains thus, there is a quasi-moral dimension to this personal intrinsic disorder that is described as ancestral “guilt”. Still, your point about Augustine’s personal sense of guilt as lexically personal demerit is not out of my sight. My point is that the Latin tradition makes a correct inference about what a bad Augustinian fetus is intrinsically (viz., more than extrinsically liable) in order to maintain the goodness and justice of God condemning it to hell. I do not saddle you with Augustine’s Reception as obligatory. Yet, if you would indulge me by playing dress-up, and put on your dogmatic-theologian hat, both Fulgentius (in Byzantium) and Leo have different but real weights. Fulgentius was used by late Byzantine theologians and Leo (Chalcedon, the Liturgy of JAS, etc.) is an approved authority. Systematic theologians -I would argue- need to pay a degree of reverence to what posterity says about Augustine.
      You wrote:
      Regardless, let me say this. I do not believe Augustine ever uses culpa regarding the inherited state. However, he explicitly describes the prelapsarian state*** as aculpa and then contrasts our state to it.
      Thanks for this! If you have a reference for this handy, I’d love to see it.
      I am glad you are familiar with Scotus’ solution. I think he does try to take the legal jargon (as you call liability) and respect what was begun in Paul and Augustine and make it as clean a narrative as possible. Still, he is clearly one who holds for the primary reality of original sin as the ipso facto privation of grace at the moment of creation in the Soul, which only has an ulterior effect of concupiscence. Franciscans that I know from the 14th-15th century explicitly reject the very a propos text that you provided below:

      “concupiscentia est reatus originalis peccati” (Retract. 1.15)

      This passage was central to Scholarius’ treatment of Original Sin via Aquinas in both Cydones and his “own” translation. However, I have always seen this a “putative guilt” which is theologically -as you say: liability or an extrinsic judgment of a judge that one should be imputed punishment of crime x, without necessitating that the imputed criminal is conscious as reus, as actually culpable, but only imputable for the legal offense. In this case, it could be like the judge confirming a ticket issued for a speed trap. The speeder still is not conscious of being a speeder! I myself reject this Augustinian equation above, based upon Franciscan analysis. However, I concede to you that it is a legitimate patristic position. I would not embrace but it has more than a few Fathers arguing for it virtually or explicitly.

      My major objection -to which I do not think you are dogmatically obliged by any means- is that Augustine’s tertium quid does not make sense anthropologically. I am -on this question- completely in agreement with Franciscans, who do not see humanity as defective in its essential operations -particularly physical operations, but simply deprived of that which elevates beyond natural capacities; namely, complete metriopathy. So, God’s influence on the will is the only way to give a human equal pleasantry in choosing indifferently in every case between what is pleasant and what is just. For my part, without trying to place you in a box, but attempting to understand your view, I see your position as wanting to be faithful to the best patristic tradition and as comfortable with patristic formulations even if you might admit -which I am not sure- that Augustine’s liability language is actually insufficient, as extrinsic, to describe the quasi-moral intrinsic and rooted disorder in human persons qua existent (but as fetus pre-moral). Yet, I am getting the feeling that you -as a pious Christian- just live with the ambiguity that the tertium quid (that is neither purely extrinsic-liability nor morally intrinsic-guilt) that seems to act as a mysterious bridge between these two traditional ways of thinking of Original Sin.

      I hope it does not feel like I’m boxing you in…you are free to widen or narrow my piecing together of your viewpoint. Thanks again for the provocative and helpful discussions. These clear my mind so much, since I have been disappointed by a goodly number of claims about the nature and notions behind Original Sin in some secondary literature.

      in X


      • Nathaniel McCallum says:

        To be completely honest, I’m not quite sure I have a personal position. In many senses I think these differing approaches all butt up against fundamentally intractable philosophical problems such as the one/many problem or the foreknowledge/predestination dialectic. I find myself more concerned with the apophatic; that is identifying what our traditions cannot allow. I prefer this for several reasons. First, it substantially lowers the bar to something much more achievable. Second, it serves the primary task of Christian life: that of charity. Third, and relatedly, it advances the cause of Christian unity.

        My concern then is not so much whether or not Augustine is right (which on a great deal is of much diminished importance), but that he is accurately heard. For too much critique of him is based on faulty premises and motivated by contemporary sociological concerns.

        I notice you did not address my question of St Symeon the New. Do you not think his writings form an independent attestation?

        I’m not sure that the later nuances of the schoolmen really solve the problem (not am I convinced they are really all that different from Augustine himself who also admits the human ability to do good without justification; albeit imperfectly). The problem at its sharpest point is this: if no act in this life enables salvation, then the moral acts of this life are ultimately inconsequential and universalism is true. Conversely, if an act in this life enables salvation, then those who do not perform this act go to hell*; including infants (unless they can somehow perform the act; a thesis Augustine finds unbelievable). Notice that this formulation entirely avoids Augustinian anthropological concerns.

        In the 13th century and later formulations, if a fallen man still has fuel but cannot go at full speed, does he eventually reach the destination or not? If yes, universalism. If not, limbo. I don’t know how to avoid this razor.

        Unfortunately, most of my notes are packed in a box because of my move; so I can’t find the citation of aculpa for you. 😦

        * – This is the reasoning of Carthage.


        • Chris Kappes says:

          Thanks for the response. I read it to be sort of what I was supposing. Although I think that the Schoolmen make a better stab at the nature of Original Sin qua essence, I would not go so far as to say that they have solved all or most puzzles. It is not at all clear to me that one can demonstrate or point to examples of “how” the will acts in this “elevated” or 100 octane fuel vs. 80 octane. We are agreed, however, that 90 octane doesn’t allow you to naturally traverse the distance between heaven and earth (falling short in merit or misthos, agathoergeia, etc.). Grace is so elusive in the schoolmen that Aquinas and Scotus take different positions as to whether one can actually have sensible experience of it–so far as I recall. Hence, that I am loving people better than anyone recorded in history does not seem to demonstrate that I possess supernatural charity, since it is equally as valid (if not more philosophically probable), that final causality (intention) for the Christian mentally proposing things that “naturally” (that is in the means to the end) lead to such acts given the constitution, physical powers, etc. of such and such a person. In the end, we arrive–as in all sensitive knowledge of particulars in the inability to say very much about the “nature” of the gracefilled Christian in comparison to graceless heathen. So, it is indeed a matter of justification, which is -as far as human and ecclesial means goes- only possible through baptism (whether this be argued as virtually [explicit intention for it or martyrdom before it] or really = water, words, etc.).

          BTW, I already agree with you on Confirmation. If my memory serves, the last mention of presumed confirmation before communion is in the pontifical books in the first quarter of the 13th century, which presuppose communion at baptism–and by implication [if not explicitly] rely on prior liturgical book that suppose confirmation prior to communion for infants. For some reason I can’t remember the books beyond the 8th century -13th, which seem to betray a Gallican practice of disassociating confirmation (whence the invention of the term in the liturgical books) due to the requirement for the bishop to dispense the sacrament. As numerically Christians increase, the rounds of the bishop for baptism is longer and longer. Eventually we see the order flipped for infant communion -though not universally. The real inversion of the sacrament actually stems from the more or less French practice of reversing the order post-reformation. This was then normalized -unintentionally- for the rest of the Latin Church when Pius X lowered the age of communion to 7 yrs. (yet another problem). Our 1962 liturgical books (reflecting on the whole the liturgy of the reforming committee after the Council of Trent) still had an ancient Gelasian prayer (7th cent.) that asked for the child to receive baptism In Order That s/he might come to the bread of life. Even the Tridentine books presumed infant communion (as well as technically retaining the rubrics for immersion in baptism) but canonical legislation forbade it. Among the best liturgists in the Vatican II reform committees (coetus) was Bernard Botte who forcefully argued for the return to the universal and ancient practice. Cyprian Vagaggini (a great theoretician -if somewhat incomplete in his historical theology) argued that because of the intrinsic nature of Confirmation taken in itself, there was nothing per se linking it baptism. You and I might argue for the liturgical texts themselves. However, he was arguing scholastically that the nature of the thing, per se, on demands prior baptism as factually received not as contiguous. So, he argued, bishops want to keep confirmation late -essentially- to hold it over the heads of parents to keep their (12-18 yr old) kids in catechesis classes. I did a M.A. Seminar paper on this at Anselmo and was able to consult a doctorate (written by the seminar teacher) on the same. In the end the properly begun, poorly executed, and hardly effectual reforms of Vatican II continue to unnecessarily divide our linked liturgical tradition. For me -more scandalously–all the ancient Tridentine-Gelasianum prayers were either dropped or mutilated so that now absolutely no presumption of infant communion is found in the liturgical rites. More scandalously -since you are an “Original Sin” buff- was the fact that the first editio typica intentially avoided mentioning the fact that baptism was for the remission of original sin. It is still not in the prayers or rubrics of the current rite. Instead, it is only a doctrinal preamble in the instructional part of the editio typica. This is where the Latins are currently, and there is no serious move to budge from this praxis.

          As far as Symeon the New, I must confess that I don’t know the passage and have spent precious little time on him (save a few readings-works). Now that I think of it, his title should make me a bit more sensitive to his importance in theology.


          • All the historical sources you need for seeing the separation of the sacraments of initiation are found in J.D.C. Fisher, Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West.


          • You can read St. Symeon here: I have no idea of the quality of Fr. Seraphim’s translation as I’ve not consulted the primary sources. However, in translation at least, something clearly Carthagean emerges from someone rather isolated from the greater Augustinian debate. Namely, without the incarnation (and the personal baptismal application of its graces) salvation is not possible. I would dare say that it is not possible to articulate a Greek-without-direct-Augustinian-influence position without a study of these texts.

            I have noticed the epistemological problem latent in Augustine’s thought (which I have sensed the Schoolmen translating into unfalsifiability). I’m not comfortable with it. Particularly, the problem of how to deal with persons of significant moral/spiritual achievement (such as Enoch) who appear to be unjusitified cannot be swept away by word games (as Origen does) or by severing completely the link between justification and the moral life (this does violence to the prophetic/apostolic sense of justification). Any defender of the Augustinian (Origenist) tradition needs to address this problem directly and frankly.

            Regarding confirmation, I would argue that proximity of confirmation and baptism is implied in the Acts inversion of baptism and confirmation proving the ability of gentiles to be baptized. If there were ever a case where a sacrament should be wisely withheld for catechism, that would be it. The assumption that holding confirmation ransom for catechism produces spiritual maturity I would take to be flawed. What is lacking is not education, but love. A child needs to learn to love the things of God, and later seek to understand them. Being fully confirmed and regularly participating from a young age is what produces this love. Calculated hostage negotiations over sacraments produces the opposite: spirituality as commodity.

            As our conversation is winding to a close here, I would humbly ask if you would contact me privately ( I’d love to discuss some personal matters with you privately if you have time.


    • brian says:


      Pardon my jumping into an erudite and complex conversation. I don’t think you are reading Origen correctly if you are asserting that universalism, pelagianism, and nestorianism are logically interdependent upon one another. Regardless of how one reads the tradition, however, a contemporary universalist is not compelled to follow erroneous connections. If one asserts universalism, one is not required to be a Pelagian or a Nestorian. On the contrary, universalism properly understood precisely focuses on the flourishing of human nature that you attribute to anti-pelagian theology. Further, the mode of healing requires the high Christology that explicitly rejects Nestorianism. Certainly, the kind of narrow, individualistic focus that you imply is necessary for universalism to be coherent is exactly what would make universalism incoherent.


  13. elijahmaria says:

    Father C. Kappes: Just popping in to say that I read your recent response to me and also your latest to Nathaniel and they are very helpful to me to try to bring some of the diverse elements addressed here into sharper focus. My curiosity in these matters is far greater than any ability other than an intuitive one so I am happy to have you and Nathaniel and others, Maximus, to guide, direct, affirm, etc.


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