The First Sin in the History of Man "Peccatum Originale"

Author: Pope John Paul II

In his General Audience on Wednesday, 10 September 1986, the Holy Father reflected on the description of the first sin as found in the third chapter of Genesis.

1. In the context of creation and the granting of the gifts with which God constitutes man in the state of holiness and original justice, the description of the first sin that we find in the third chapter of Genesis, get more clarity. It is obvious that this description, which focuses on the transgression of the divine prohibition to eat "the fruits of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil", must be interpreted taking into account the specific character of the ancient text and, particularly, the literary genre to which it belongs. But, even bearing in mind this scientific requirement in the study of the first book of Holy Scripture, it cannot be denied that a first certain element of it is obvious due to the specific character of that narration of sin: this character consists in the fact that it is It is about a primordial event, that is, about a fact , which, according to Revelation, happened at the beginning of the history of man. Precisely for this reason, the text presents another certain element: that is, the fundamental and decisive meaning of that event for the relations between man and God and, consequently, for the inner "situation" of man himself, for the reciprocal relations between men and, in general, for man's relationship with the world.

2. The fact that really matters, under the descriptive forms, is of a moral nature and is inscribed in the very roots of the human spirit. A fact that gives rise to a fundamental change of the "situation": man is thrown out of the original state of justice to find himself in the state of sinfulness ( status naturae lapsae ); a state that carries with it sin and knows the tendency to sin. From that moment, the entire history of humanity will feel the weight of this state. The first human being (man and woman) received, in effect, from God sanctifying grace not only for himself , but, as head of humanity, for all his descendants .. Thus, with the sin that brought him into conflict with God, he lost grace (he fell from grace), even in the prospect of inheritance for his descendants. In this deprivation of grace, added to nature, lies the essence of original sin as an inheritance from the first parents, according to the teaching of the Church, based on Revelation.

3. We will better understand the character of this inheritance if we analyze the account of the third chapter of Genesis about the first sin. The story begins with the conversation that the tempter, presented in the form of a snake, has with the woman . This data is completely new. Until now, the book of Genesis had not spoken of the existence of other intelligent and free beings outside of man and woman in the created world. The description of creation in chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis refers, in effect, to the world of "visible beings". The tempter belongs to the world of " invisible beings ", purely spiritual, although, during this conversation, the Bible presents him in a visible form. This first appearance of the evil spirit on a biblical page, it must be considered in the context of what we find on this subject in the books of the Old and New Testaments. (We have already done it in the previous catechesis). Singularly eloquent in this sense is the book of Revelation (the last of Sacred Scripture), according to which "the great dragon, the ancient serpent (an explicit allusion to Gen 3), called the Devil and Satan , is cast on earth , who lead all the roundness of the earth astray" ( Rev 12, 9). Due to the fact that he "leads the whole earth astray", in another text he is called "the father of lies" (Jn 8, 44).

4. The human sin of the beginning, the primordial sin to which the Gen 3 account refers , occurs under the influence of this being.

The "ancient serpent" provokes the woman: "'So what has God commanded you not to eat from the trees of paradise?' that is in the middle of paradise, God has told us: 'Do not eat of it, do not even touch it, you will not die.' And the serpent said to the woman: 'No, you will not die; it is because God knows that the day that eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil " (Gen 3:1-5).

5. It is not difficult to discover in this text the essential problems of man's life hidden in such an apparently simple content. Whether or not to eat the fruit of a certain tree may seem like an irrelevant matter. However, the tree "of the knowledge of good and evil" signifies the first principle of human life, to which is attached a fundamental problem . The tempter knows this very well, which is why he says: "On the day you eat of it... you will be like God, knowing good and evil." The tree therefore signifies the insurmountable limit for man and for any creature, even the most perfect. The creature is always, in effect, only a creature, and not God. She can in no way claim to be "like God", "knowing good and evil" like God. God alone is the source of all being, God alone is absolute Truth and Goodness, in whom good and evil are measured and distinguished. God alone is the eternal Lawgiver, from whom any law in the created world derives, and in particular the law of human nature (lex naturae). Man, as a rational creature , knows this law and must be guided by it in his own conduct. He cannot claim to establish the moral law himself, to decide for himself what is right and what is wrong, independently of the Creator , even more so, against the Creator .. Neither man nor any other creature can put himself in the place of God, attributing to himself the domain of the moral order, against the very ontological constitution of creation, which is reflected in the psychological-ethical sphere with the fundamental imperatives of conscience. and, consequently, of human behavior.

6. In the story of Genesis, under the appearance of an irrelevant plot, at first glance, is, therefore, the fundamental problem of man, linked to his very condition as a creature: man as a rational being must be guided by the " First truth", which is, moreover, the truth of its very existence. Man cannot pretend to constitute himself in the place that corresponds to this truth or to put himself on the same level. When this principle is questioned, the foundation of the "justice" of the creature in relation to the Creator is shaken, at the very root of human action. And in fact the tempter, "father of lies", insinuating doubt about the truth of the relationship with God, questions the state of original justice. For his part, man, yielding to the tempter, and determines in human nature the state of original sin.

7. As it appears in the biblical story, human sin does not have its origin first in the heart (and conscience) of man, it does not spring from a spontaneous initiative of man. It is, in a certain sense, the reflection and consequence of sin. happened before in the world of invisible beings. To this world belongs the tempter, "the ancient serpent." Already before ("anciently") these beings endowed with consciousness and freedom had been "tested" so that they chose according to their purely spiritual nature. In them had arisen the "doubt" that, as the third chapter of Genesis says, the tempter injects into the first parents. Already before, those beings had suspected and accused God, who, as Creator, is the sole source of the donation of good to all creatures and, especially, to spiritual creatures. They had answered the truth of existence, which demands the total subordination of the creature to the Creator. This truth had been supplanted by an original suspicion, that had led them to make their own spirit the principle and rule of liberty. They had been the first to claim that they could "know good and evil like God," andthey had chosen themselves against God , instead of choosing themselves "in God", according to the demands of their creaturely being: because, "Who is like God?". And man, by yielding to the suggestion of the tempter, became a henchman and accomplice of the rebellious spirits.

8. The words, which, according to Gen 3, the first man heard next to the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil", hide in themselves all the burden of evil that can be born in the free will of the creature in his relationships with Him who, as Creator, is the source of all being and all good: He, who, being absolutely disinterested and authentically paternal Love, is, in his very essence, Will of gift! Precisely this Love that he gives meets with the objection, the contradiction, the rejection . The creature who wants to be "like God" concretizes his attitude perfectly expressed by Saint Augustine: "Love of oneself to the point of despising God" (cf. De civitate Dei , XIV, 28:PL 41, 436). This is perhaps the most penetrating precision that can be made of the concept of that sin that occurred at the beginning of history when man gave in to the suggestion of the tempter: " Contemptus Dei ", reject God, despise God, hate everything. that which has to do with God or proceeds from God.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated event at the dawn of history. How many times do we find ourselves before actions, gestures, words, living conditions in which the heritage of that first sin is reflected!

Genesis puts that sin in relation to Satan: and this truth about the "ancient serpent" is later confirmed in many passages of the Bible.

9. How is the sin of man presented in this context?

The account of Gen 3 continues: "When the woman saw that the fruit was good to eat, beautiful to look at, and desirable to attain wisdom through, she took some of the fruit and ate, and gave some of it also to her husband." , who also ate with her" (Gen 3, 6).

What element highlights this description, very precise in its own way? It shows that the first man acted against the will of the Creator , subjugated by the assurance that the tempter had given him that "the fruits of this tree serve to acquire knowledge". In the story it is not said that the man fully accepted the burden of denial and hatred towards God, contained in the words of the "father of lies". But he accepted the suggestion of using a created thing against the Creator's prohibition , thinking that he too - man - can "like God know good and evil".

According to Saint Paul, man's first sin consisted above all in disobeying God (cf. Rom 5:19). The analysis of Gene . 3 and the reflection of this profound text show how this "disobedience" can arise and in what direction it can develop in the will of man. It can be affirmed that the sin "of the beginning" described in Gen 3 contains in a certain sense the original "model" of any sin that man can commit.

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