Sin Involves the Deep Deformation of Creation

Author: Pope John Paul II

In his General Audience on Wednesday, 27 August 1986, the Holy Father began a new series of catecheses on God as Savior.

After the catecheses on God as One and Three, the provident Creator, Father and Lord of the universe, we open another series of catecheses on God as Savior.

The fundamental reference point for the present catecheses is also found in the formulas of faith, especially in the most ancient of these, which is called the Apostles' Creed, and by the one known as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. These are also the best known and most used creeds in the Church, the former especially in the prayer of Christians, and the latter in the liturgy. Both texts have a similar arrangement of their contents, which proceed from the articles that speak of God, the almighty Father, Creator of heaven and earth and of all that is visible and invisible, to the articles that speak of Jesus Christ.

The Apostles' Creed is concise: (I believe) "in Jesus Christ his (i.e., God's) only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary..." etc.

The Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, on the other hand, notably amplifies the profession of faith in the divinity of Christ the Son of God: "Born of the Father before all ages...begotten, not created, of one substance with the Father," who—and this is the passage to the mystery of the incarnation of the Word—"for us men and for our salvation...came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit...was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man." At this point, both creeds present the components of the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ, and announce his second coming for the judgment.

Both creeds go on to profess faith in the Holy Spirit. We must therefore emphasize that their essential structure is trinitarian: Father—Son—Holy Spirit. At the same time, they contain the salient elements that constitute the action ad extra of the Most Holy Trinity. They speak first of the mystery of creation (by the Father as Creator) and then of the mysteries of redemption (by the Son as Redeemer), and of the mysteries of sanctification (by the Holy Spirit who makes holy).

1.  The whole created cosmos

Thus, following the creeds, after the cycle of catecheses about the mystery of the creation—or better, about God as Creator of everything—we pass now to a cycle of catecheses that concern the mystery of redemption, or better, God as the Redeemer of man and of the world. These will be the catecheses about Jesus Christ (Christology). Although the work of redemption pertains to the God who is One and Three (like the work of creation), it was brought about in time by Jesus Christ, the Son of God who became man in order to save us.

Let us note at once that in this sphere of the mystery of redemption, Christology is located within anthropology and history. This is because the Son who is consubstantial with the Father and became man by the work of the Holy Spirit and was born of the Virgin Mary, entered the history of humanity in the context of the whole created cosmos. He became man "for us men (propter nos homines) and for our salvation (et propter nostram salutem)." The mystery of the Incarnation (et incarnatus est) is seen by the creed as part of the redemption. According to revelation and to the faith of the Church, it has therefore a salvific (soteriological) meaning.

For this reason, when the creeds locate the mystery of the salvific Incarnation within the setting of history, they touch on the reality of evil, and in the first place the evil of sin. For salvation means above all liberation from evil and, in particular, liberation from sin. However, it is obvious that the scope of this term (salvation) is not reduced to this but embraces the riches of the divine life that Christ has brought to humanity. According to revelation, sin is the principal and fundamental evil. It contains the rejection of God's will, of the truth and holiness of God and of his fatherly goodness, as they are already revealed in the work of creation, and above all in the creation of the rational and free beings who are made "in the image and likeness" of the Creator. It is precisely this "image and likeness" that is used against God, when the rational being of his own free will rejects the finality which God has established for the existence and life of the creature. Sin therefore contains a particularly deep deformation of the created good, especially in a being that, like man, is the image and likeness of God.

In its very root, the mystery of the redemption is joined to the reality of man's sin. It follows that when we explain the articles of the creed which speak of Jesus Christ, in whom and by whom God has accomplished salvation, we must confront the theme of sin in this systematic catechesis. Sin is the obscure reality diffused abroad in the world created by God. It lies at the root of all the evil in man, and, one can also say, in what is created. Only in this way can one fully understand the meaning of the fact that, according to revelation, the Son of God became man "for us men" and "for our salvation." The history of salvation presupposes de facto the existence of sin in the history of humanity, created by God. The salvation of which divine revelation speaks is first of all the liberation from the evil that is sin. This is the central truth of Christian soteriology—"propter nos homines et propter nostram salutem descendit de coelis."

Here we must say that, in consideration of the centrality of the truth about salvation in all of divine revelation—and, in other words, in consideration of the centrality of the mystery of redemption—the truth about sin also takes its place in the central nucleus of the Christian faith. Sin and redemption are correlative terms in the history of salvation. We must reflect first of all on the truth about sin, in order to give due meaning to the truth about the redemption wrought by Jesus Christ, which we profess in the creed. One could say that it is the interior logic of revelation and of faith that impels us to concern ourselves in these catecheses above all with sin.

We have been prepared for this in a certain measure by the cycle of catecheses on divine Providence. As the First Vatican Council teaches: "God conserves and directs by his providence all that he has created," and the Council quotes the Book of Wisdom: "reaching from one end to the other with might, and governing all things with goodness" [1] .

When it affirmed this universal care for the things which God conserves and guides with a powerful hand and the tenderness of a Father, this Council stated precisely that divine Providence embraces in a particular way all that the rational and free beings introduce into the work of creation. Now we know that this consists in acts of their faculties, which can be in conformity or in opposition to the divine will; this therefore includes sin.

As we see, the truth about divine Providence allows us to see sin also in a proper perspective; it is in this light that the creeds help us to reflect on it. In reality—let us say this right at the beginning of the first catechesis on sin—the creeds only touch on this theme. But precisely in this, they suggest that we examine sin from the perspective of the mystery of redemption, in soteriology. We can immediately go on to say that the truth about creation, and still more the truth about divine Providence, allows us to approach the problem of evil, and especially the problem of sin, with clarity of vision and precise terms. This is because of the revelation of the infinite goodness of God. The truth about redemption will make us profess, along with the Apostle, "ubi abundavit delictum, superabundavit gratia—where sin increased, grace abounded all the more" (Rom 5:20), because it will let us discover better the mysterious reconciliation in God of justice and mercy, which are the two dimensions of his goodness. We can already say that the reality of sin becomes, in the light of redemption, the occasion for a deeper knowledge of the mystery of God, of the God who is love (cf. 1 Jn 4:16).

Faith enters into an attentive dialogue with the many voices of philosophy, literature, and the great religions, which often speak of the roots of evil and sin, and frequently yearn for the light of redemption. It is precisely on this common ground that the Christian faith seeks to bring the truth and the grace of divine revelation, to the benefit of all.

[1]   cf. Wis 8:1; DS 3003

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