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Part One


Following St. Paul, the Church has always taught that the

overwhelming misery which oppresses men and their inclination

toward evil and death cannot be understood apart from their

connection withAdam’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 descen-

dants? The whole human race is in Adam “as one body of one



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 re-

ceived original holiness and justice not for himself alone, but for all

human nature. By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve commit­

ted 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 transmis­

sion 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 toward God, but

the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist

in man and summon him to spiritual battle.


The Church’s teaching on the transmission of original sin was

articulated more precisely in the fifth century, especially under the im-

pulse of St. Augustine’s reflections against Pelagianism, and in the six-

teenth century, in opposition to the Protestant Reformation. Pelagius held

that man could, by the natural power of free will and without the necessary

291 Cf. Council of Trent: DS 1512.

292 Cf. Council of Trent: DS 1514.

293 St. Thomas Aquinas,

De Malo

4, 1.

294 Cf. Council of Trent: DS 1511-1512.

295 Cf. Council of Trent: DS 1513.