The Sin of Man and the "Sin of the World"

Author: Pope John Paul II

In his General Audience on Wednesday, 5 November 1986, the Holy Father spoke of the social dimension of personal sin.

1. In the catecheses of this cycle on sin, considered in the light of faith, the direct object of analysis is current (personal) sin, but always in reference to the first sin, which left its aftermath in the descendants of Adam , and that is why it is called original sin . As a consequence of original sin, men are born in a state of hereditary moral fragility and easily take the path of personal sins if they do not correspond to the grace that God has offered to humanity through the redemption wrought in Christ.

The Second Vatican Council points this out when it writes, among other things: "All human life, individual and collective, is presented as a struggle, and certainly a dramatic one, between good and evil, between light and darkness. Furthermore, man feels incapable of effectively taming the attacks of evil on his own... But the Lord came in person to liberate and invigorate man, renewing him interiorly" ( Gaudium et spes 13). In this context of tensions and conflicts linked to the condition of fallen human nature, any reflection on personal sin is situated.

2. This has that essential characteristic of always being the responsible act of a certain person, an act incompatible with the moral law and therefore opposed to the will of God . What this act entails and implies in itself we can discover with the help of the Bible. Already in the Old Testament we find different expressions to indicate the different moments or aspects of the reality of sin in the light of Divine Revelation. Thus, it is sometimes simply called " evil " ("rā'"): he who commits sin does "what is evil in the eyes of the Lord" ( Dt 31, 29). That is why the sinner, also considered as "ungodly" (raša'), is the one who "forgets God" (cf. Sal9, 18), who "does not want to know God" (cf. Job 21, 14), in whom "there is no fear of God" ( Ps 35/36, 2), who "does not trust in the Lord "( Ps 31, 10), even more, he who "despises God" ( Ps 9, 34), believing that "the Lord does not see" ( Ps 93/94, 7) and "he will not ask us to account" ( Ps 9, 34). And furthermore, the sinner (the impious) is the one who is not afraid to oppress the righteous ( Ps 11/12, 9), nor to " do injustice to widows and orphans" (cf. Ps 81/82, 4 ; 93/94, 6), nor of "exchanging good with evil" ( Sal108/109, 2-5). The opposite of the sinner is, in Holy Scripture, the just man (sadîq). Sin, then, is, in the broadest sense of the word, injustice .

3. This injustice , which has many forms, finds its expression also in the term "peša´", in which the idea of ​​a wrong done to the other is present, to the one whose rights have been violated with the action that constitutes precisely the sin . However, the same word also means " rebellion " against superiors, all the more serious if it is directed against God, as we read in the Prophets: "I have raised children and made them grow, but they have rebelled against me" ( Is 1, 2; cf. also, for example, Is 48, 8 - 9; Ez 2, 3).

Sin also means "injustice" ('āwoñ, in Greek άδιχία, άνομία). At the same time, this word, according to the Bible, highlights the sinful state of man, as guilty of sin. Indeed, etymologically it means " deviation from the right path " or also "twist" or "deformation": To be truly out of justice! The awareness of this state of injustice emerges in that sorrowful confession of Cain: "My guilt is too great to obtain forgiveness! ( Gen 4, 13); and in that other of the Psalmist: "My iniquities weigh on my head, they weigh on me as a heavy burden" ( Ps 37/38, 5). Guiltinjusticeinvolves a break with God, expressed with the term "hātā", which etymologically means "fault against one". Hence the other conscientious attitude of the Psalmist: "Against You only have I sinned!" ( Salt 50/51, 6).

4. Also according to Sacred Scripture, sin, due to its essential nature of "injustice", is an offense against God , ingratitude for his benefits, as well as contempt for his most holy Person. "Why then have you despised the Word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his sight?" Prophet Nathan asks David after his sin (2 Sam 12, 9). Sin is also a stain and an impurity . That is why Ezekiel speaks of "contamination" with sin (cf. Ez 14, 11), especially with the sin of idolatry, which is often compared by the Prophets to "adultery" (cf. Os2, 4. 6-7). That is why the Psalmist also asks: "Sprinkle me with the hyssop: I will be clean; wash me: I will be whiter than snow" ( Ps 50/51, 9).

In this same context, the words of Jesus in the Gospel can be better understood: "What comes from within, that does stain a man... From the heart of man come evil intentions ; fornication, theft, murder, adultery, covetousness , injustice, fraud, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, frivolity. All these evils... make man impure "( Mk 7, 20 - 23. cf. Mt 15, 18-20). We should note that in the lexicon of the New Testament sin is not given so many names that correspond to those of the Old: above all it is called by the Greek word "άνομία" (= iniquity, injustice, opposition to the kingdom of God: cf., for example, Mk 7, 23; Mt 13, 41;Mt 24, 12; 1 Jn 3, 4). Also with the word "άμαρτία" = error, lack; or also with "όφείλημα" = debt for example, "forgive us our debts..."; = sins), ( Mt 6, 12; Lk 11, 4).

5. We have just heard the words of Jesus that describe sin as something that comes "from the heart" of man, from within. They highlight the essential character of sin. Being born from within man, in his will for him, sin, by its very essence, is always an act of the person ( actus personae ). A conscious and free act, in which the free will of man is expressed . Only on the basis of this principle of freedom, and therefore on the fact of deliberation, can its moral value be established. Only for this reason can we judge it as evil in the moral sense., just as we judge and approve as good an act according to the objective norm of morality, and ultimately to the will of God. Only what is born of free will implies personal responsibility : and only in this sense, a conscious and free act of man that opposes the moral norm (the will of God), the law, the commandment and ultimately conscience constitutes guilt .

6. In this individual and personal sense, Sacred Scripture speaks of sin , since this, in principle , refers to a certain subject, to the man who is its creator . Although in some passages the expression "the sin of the world " appears, the previous meaning is not disqualified, at least in what refers to the causality and responsibility of sin: it can only be a rational and free being who is in this world. world, that is, man (or in another sphere of beings, also the created pure spirit, that is, the "angel", as we have seen in previous catecheses).

The expression " the sin of the world " is found in the Gospel according to Saint John: "This is the Lamb of God, this is the one who takes away the sin of the world" ( Jn 1, 29); (in the liturgical formula it says: "the sins of the world"). In the first Letter of the Apostle we find another passage that goes like this: "Do not love the world or what is in the world... For what is in the world—the passions of earthly man, and the covetousness of the eyes, and the arrogance of money—, that does not come from the Father, but comes from the world" (1 Jn 2, 15-16). And with these even more drastic words: " We know that we belong to God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one " ( 1 Jn 5, 19).

7. How to understand these expressions about the "sin of the world"? The passages recalled clearly indicate that it is not about the "world" as God's creation, but as a specific dimension, almost a spiritual space closed to God in which, on the basis of created freedom, evil was born. This evil transferred to the "heart" of the first parents under the influence of the "old serpent" (cf. Gen 3 and Ap12, 9), that is, satan, "father of lies", has borne bad fruit since the beginning of human history. Original sin has left behind that "inclination to sin" ("fomes peccati"), that is, the triple concupiscence that induces man to sin. In turn, the many personal sins committed by men form almost an " environment of sin ", which for its part creates the conditions for new personal sins, and somehow induces and drags each of the men to it. Therefore, the " sin of the world " is not identified with the original sin, but it constitutes almost a synthesis or a sum of its consequences in the history of each one of the generations and therefore of all humanity. The result is that the different initiatives, tendencies, achievements and institutions also bear a certain imprint of sin, even in those "groups" that constitute cultures and civilizations, and that condition the life and behavior of each one of the mens. In this sense, one can perhaps speak of the sin of structures, due to a kind of "infection" that spreads from the hearts of men to the environments in which they live and to the structures by which their existence is governed and conditioned.

8. Sin then, while retaining its essential character as a personal act, has at the same time a social dimension , of which I spoke in the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation on reconciliation and penance, published in 1984. As I wrote in that document, "To speak of social sin means, above all, to recognize that, by virtue of a human solidarity that is as mysterious and imperceptible as it is real and concrete, the sin of each one has repercussions in a certain way on others. This is the other face of that solidarity which, on a religious level, unfolds in the deep and magnificent mystery of the Communion of Saints, thanks to which it has been possible to say that "every soul that rises, raises the world" . Unfortunately, the law of descent , so that one can speak of a communion of sin , whereby a soul that lowers itself through sin lowers the Church with it and, in a way, the whole world" ( Reconciliatio et Paenitentia , 16 : L'Osservatore Romano , Spanish Language Edition, December 16, 1984, page 9).

Then the Exhortation speaks of sins that in a particular way deserve to be qualified as "social sins"; a topic that we will deal with in another cycle of catechesis.

9. From what has been said it follows quite clearly that "social sin" is not the same as the biblical "sin of the world". And yet it must be recognized that in order to understand the "sin of the world" it is necessary to take into consideration not only the personal dimension of sin, but also the social dimension . The Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia continues: "There is no sin, even the most intimate and secret, the most strictly individual, that exclusively affects the one who commits it. Every sin has repercussions, with greater or lesser intensity, with greater or lesser damage, in the entire ecclesial group and in the entire human family. According to this first meaning, each sin can be indisputably attributed the character of social sin " ( Reconciliatio et Paenitentia , 16). At this point we can conclude by observing that the social dimension of sin better explains why the world becomes that specific negative spiritual "environment", to which Sacred Scripture alludes when it speaks of the "sin of the world".

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