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
but this sin affected
the human nature
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
Although it is proper to each individual,
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,
294 Cf. Council of Trent: DS 1511-1512.
295 Cf. Council of Trent: DS 1513.