Sin as Alienation From Man

Author: Pope John Paul II

In his General Audience on Wednesday, 12 November 1986, the Holy Father teaches that sin against God is also sin against man.

1. The considerations on sin developed in this cycle of our catechesis force us to always return to that first sin that is spoken of in Gen 3. Saint Paul refers to it as the "disobedience" of the first Adam (cf. Rom 5, 19), in direct connection with that transgression of the Creator's commandment concerning the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil". Although a superficial reading of the text may give the impression that the prohibition referred to an irrelevant thing ("you must not eat of the fruit of the tree"), a deeper analysis of it is easily convinced that the apparently irrelevant content of the ban symbolizes an entirely fundamental issue. And this appears in the words of the tempter who, in order to persuade man to act against the Creator's prohibition, encourages him with this instigation: "When you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God in knowing good. and evil " ( Gn 3, 5).

2. In light of this it is necessary to understand, it seems, that this tree of knowledge and the prohibition of eating its fruits had the purpose of reminding man that he is not " like God ": he is only a creature! Yes, a particularly perfect creature because it is made in the "image and likeness of God ", and yet always and only a creature . This was the fundamental truth of being human. The commandment that man received at the beginning included this truth expressed in the form of a warning: Remember that you are a creature called to friendship with God and only He is your Creator: "Do not want to be what you are not ! Do not want to be" as God". Work according to what you are , all the more so this is already a very high measure: the measure of the "image and likeness of God". This distinguishes you among the creatures of the visible world, places you above them. But at the same time the measure of the image and likeness of God forces you to act in accordance with what you are . So be faithful to the Covenant that God-Creator has made with you, creature, from the beginning.

3. Precisely this truth , and therefore the primordial principle of man's behavior, has not only been called into question by the words of the tempter referred to in Gen 3, but has also been radically "answered" . Pronouncing those tempting words, the "old serpent", as the Apocalypse calls him ( Rev.12, 9), formulates for the first time a criterion of interpretation to which sinful man will resort later many times trying to affirm himself and even create an ethic without God: that is, the criterion according to which God is "alienating" for him. man, so that if he wants to be himself, he has to put an end to God (cf., for example, Feuerbach, Marx, Nietzsche).

4. The word "alienation" has various shades of meaning. In all cases it indicates the " usurpation " of something that is owned by another. The tempter of Gen 3 says for the first time that the Creator has "usurped" what belongs to the man-creature! Man's attribute would therefore be "being like God" which would have to mean the exclusion of all dependence on God. From this metaphysical assumption logically derives the rejection of all religion as incompatible with what man is. In fact, atheistic (or anti-theistic) philosophies hold that religion is a fundamental form of alienation .through which man deprives himself or allows himself to be expropriated of what belongs exclusively to his human being. Even by creating an idea of ​​God, man alienates himself, because he renounces, in favor of that perfect and happy Being imagined by him, what is originally and primarily his property . Religion in turn accentuates, preserves and feeds this state of self-dispossession in favor of an "idealistic" God of creation and for this reason it is one of the main coefficients of the "expropriation" of man, of his dignity, of his rights.

5. Regarding this false theory, so contrary to the data of history and the data of religious psychology, I would like to point out here that it presents several analogies with the biblical narration of the temptation and the fall. It is significant that the tempter ("the old serpent") of Gen 3 does not question the existence of God, and does not even directly deny the reality of creation; it is true that at that historical moment they were even too obvious for man . But, in spite of this, the tempter - in his own experience as a rebellious creature by free decision - tries to insert into man's conscience already " at the beginning ", almost in "germ", what constitutes the nucleus of the ideology of the ". And with it operates a radical inversion of the truth about creation in its deepest essence. Instead of the God who generously donates existence to the world, the God-Creator, in the words of the tempter, in Gen 3, a God "usurper" and "enemy" of creation, and especially of man, is presented. In reality, man is precisely the recipient of a particular divine gift, having been created "in the image and likeness of God." In this way the truth is excluded by the non-truth; is changed into a lie, because it is manipulated by the "father of lies", as the Gospel calls the one who has worked this falsification at the "beginning" of human history: "He is a murderer from the beginning... because the truth was not in him When he speaks a lie, he speaks of his own, because he is a liar and the father of lies" ( Jn 8, 44).

6. When looking for the source of this "lie" , which is found at the beginning of history as the root of sin in the world of beings created and endowed with freedom in the image of the Creator, the words of the great Augustine: "Amor sui usque ad contemptum Dei" ( De Civitate Dei , XIV, 28: PL 41, 438). The primordial lie has its source in hatred , which leads to contempt for God: contemptus Dei . This is the measure of moral negativity that has been reflected in man's first sin. This makes it easier to understand what Saint Paul teaches when he describes Adam's sin as "disobedience" (cf. Rom 5:19 ). The Apostle does not speak ofdirect hatred of God, but of "disobedience" , of opposition to the will of the Creator . This will be the main character of the first sin in the history of man. Under the weight of this inheritance, the will of man , weakened and inclined towards evil, will be permanently exposed to the influence of the "father of lies" . This is confirmed in the different periods of history. This is attested in our times by the various ways of denying God, from agnosticism to atheism and even antitheism. In various ways, the idea of ​​the "alienating" character of religion is inscribed in them.and of the morality that finds its own root in religion, precisely as the "father of lies" had suggested at the beginning.

7. But if you want to look at reality without prejudice and call things by their name, we have to say frankly that in the light of Revelation and faith, we must turn the theory of alienation on its head. What leads to the alienation of man is precisely sin, it is only sin ! It is precisely sin that from the "beginning" causes man to be in a certain way "disinherited" from his own humanity. Sin "takes away" from man, in various ways, what determines his true dignity: that of the image and likeness of God. Every sin somehow "reduces" this dignity! The more "slave of sin man becomes" ( Jn8, 34), all the less does he enjoy the freedom of the children of God. He ceases to be his own master, as the very structure of his being a person would require, that is, as a rational, free, responsible creature.

Sacred Scripture effectively underlines this concept of alienation, showing a triple dimension: the alienation of the sinner from himself (cf. Ps 57/58, 4: "alienati sunt peccatores ab utero"), from God (cf. Ez 14, 7: "[qui] alienatus fuerit a me"; Eph 4, 18: "alienati a vita Dei"), of the community (cf. Eph 2, 12: "alienati a conversatione Israel").

8. Sin is therefore not only "against" God, but also against man . As the Second Vatican Council teaches: " Sin diminishes man, preventing him from achieving his own fullness " ( Gaudium et spes , 13). This is a truth that does not need to be proved by elaborate arguments. It is enough simply to verify it. For the rest, do not perhaps offer eloquent confirmation of this so many works of literature, cinema, theater? In them, man appears weakened, confused, deprived of an inner center, enraged against himself and against others, dominated by non-values, waiting for someone who never comes, almost with the experience of the fact that, once he has lost contact with the Absolute, he ends up losing himself.

That is why it is enough to refer to experience , both internal and historical-social in its different forms, to be convinced that sin is an enormous "destructive force" : it destroys with deceitful and inexorable virulence the good of coexistence between men and human societies. Precisely for this reason one can rightly speak of " social sin " (cf. Reconciliatio et paenitentia , 16). But given that at the base of the social dimension of sin is always personal sin, it is necessary above all to highlight what sin destroys in each man , the subject and creator of him, considered in the concreteness of person of the.

9. In this regard, it is worth citing an observation by Saint Thomas Aquinas, according to whom, just as in each morally good act man as such becomes better, so also in each morally bad act man as such becomes worse. (cf. I-II q.55, a. 3; q. 63, a. 2). Sin, then, destroys in man that good which is essentially human, in a certain sense "takes away" from man that good which is his own, "usurps" man from himself. In this sense, "whoever commits sin is a slave to sin", as Jesus affirms in the Gospel of John ( Jn 8, 34). This is precisely what is contained in the concept of "alienation". Sin, then, is the true "alienation" of the rational and free human being.Instead of the truth about the good, sin introduces the untruth : the true good is eliminated by sin in favor of an "apparent" good, which is not a true good, the true good having been eliminated in favor of " false".

The alienation that occurs with sin touches the cognitive sphere, but through the conscience it affects the will . And what then happens in the realm of the will, has been expressed perhaps in the most exact way by Saint Paul when he wrote: "The good that I want to do I do not do; the evil that I do not want to do , that is what I do. Then, If I do precisely what I do not want, it is a sign that it is not I who act, but the sin that I carry within. When I want to do good, I inevitably find myself with evil in my hands. Woe to me! ( Rom 7, 19 -20. 21. 24).

10. As we see, the real "alienation" of man - the alienation of a being made in the image of God, rational and free - is nothing more than " the slavery of sin " ( Rom 3, 9). And this aspect of sin is strongly highlighted by Holy Scripture. Sin is not only "against" God, it is at the same time "against" man.

Now, if it is true that sin implies, according to its own logic and according to Revelation, appropriate punishments, the first of these punishments is sin itself. Through sin man punishes himself ! Punishment is already immanent in sin, someone dares to say: Hell is already there, as a deprivation of God!

"But do they offend me," asks God through the Prophet Jeremiah, "is it not rather their shame?" ( Jer 7, 19). "Serve your perversities as punishment, and your apostasies as a lesson" ( Jer 2, 19). And the Prophet Isaiah laments: "We all wither like leaves, and our iniquities carry us away like the wind... You have hidden your face from us and given us over to our iniquities " ( Is 64, 5-6).

11. Precisely this "surrender (or self-surrender) of man to his iniquities" explains in the most eloquent way the meaning of sin as alienation from man. However, evil is not complete or at least it is remediable, as long as man is aware of it, as long as he retains the sense of sin. But when this is also lacking, the total fall of moral values ​​is practically inevitable and the risk of definitive perdition becomes terribly threatening. For this reason, we must always remember and meditate with great attention on these grave words of Pius XII (an expression that has become almost proverbial): " The sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin " (cf. Discorsi e Radiomessaggi , VIII , 1946, 288).

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