The Sin of Man and the State of Original Justice

Author: Pope John Paul II

In his General Audience on Wednesday, 3 September 1986, the Holy Father began a catechetical series on original sin, the first sin of man “described in the context of the mystery of creation.”

1. The Symbols of Faith are very sparing when speaking of sin; in Sacred Scripture , on the contrary, the term and concept of "sin" is among those that are repeated most frequently. Which shows that Holy Scripture is certainly the book of God and about God, but it is also a great book about man, considered in his existential condition, which results from experience.

In fact, sin is part of man and his existence: this dark reality cannot be ignored or given other names, other interpretations, as has happened in the currents of enlightenment or secularism. If sin is admitted, at the same time a deep relationship of man with God is recognized, because apart from this man-God relationship, the evil of sin does not appear in its true dimension, even though it continues to be obviously present in the life of man and in history. Sin weighs more heavily on man as a dark and disastrous reality when it is least known and recognized, when it is least identified in its essence of rejection and opposition to God. Subject and architect of this option is naturally man, who can reject the opinion of his own conscience, even without referring directly to God; but this insane and nefarious gesture acquires its negative significance only when viewed against the background of man's relationship with God.

2. For this reason, in Holy Scripture the first sin is described in the context of the mystery of creation . In other words: the sin committed at the beginning of human history is presented in the background of creation, that is, of the gift of existence by God. Man, in the context of the visible world, receives existence as a gift as "image and likeness of God", that is, in his condition of being rational, endowed with intelligence and will: and at the level of creative donation on the part of God even better explains the essence of sin from the "beginning" as a choice made by man with the misuse of his faculties.

Needless to say, we are not speaking here of the beginnings of history as described—hypothetically—by science, but of the "beginning" as presented in the pages of Scripture. It discovers in that "beginning" the origin of moral evil, which humanity experiences incessantly, and identifies it as "sin."

3. The book of Genesis, in the first account of the work of creation ( Gen 1, 1-28), which is chronologically later than the account of Gen 2, 4-15, recounts the original "goodness" of everything created and in a special way the " goodness " of man , created by God "male and female" ( Gen 1, 27). When describing creation, the following statement is inserted several times: "God saw that it was good" (cf. Gen 1, 12. 18. 21. 25), and, finally, after the creation of man: "And God saw that it was very good how much he had done" ( Gen1, 31). Since it is about being created in the image of God, that is, rational and free, the phrase alludes to the "goodness" of that being according to the Creator's design.

4. On this is based the truth of faith, taught by the Church, on the original innocence of man, on his original justice (iustitia originalis), as deduced from the description that Genesis makes of man coming out of the hands of God and who lives in total familiarity with Him (cf. Gen 2, 8-25); also the book of Ecclesiastes says that "God made man upright" (Ecl 7, 29). If the Council of Trent teaches that the first Adam lost the sanctity and justice in which he had been constituted ("Primum hominem Adam..., sanctitatem et iustitiam, in qua constituitus fuet, amisisse": Decr. de pecc. origi . , DS 1511), this means that before sin man possessed sanctifying grace with all the supernatural gifts that make man "just" before God.

With a synthetic expression, all this can be expressed by saying that, in the beginning, man lived in friendship with God.

5. In the light of the Bible, the state of man before sin was presented as a condition of original perfection , expressed, in a certain way, in the image of "paradise" that Genesis offers us. If we ask ourselves what was the source of this perfection, the answer is that it was found above all in friendship with God through sanctifying grace and in those gifts , called in theological language " preternatural ".", and that man lost through sin. Thanks to these divine gifts, man, who was united in friendship and harmony with his Principle, possessed and maintained in himself the inner balance and did not feel anguish at the prospect of decadence. and of death. The "mastery" over the world that God had given to man from the beginning, was realized first of all in man himself as self-mastery . And, with this self-mastery and balance, "integrity" was possessed. of existence ( integritas ), in the sense that man was whole and ordered in all his being, since he was free from the triple concupiscence that bends him before the pleasures of the senses, the concupiscence of earthly goods and the affirmation of himself against the dictates of reason.

For this reason, there was also order in the relationship with the other, in that communion and intimacy that makes one happy: as in the initial relationship between man and woman, Adam and Eve, the first couple and also the first nucleus of human society. From this point of view, that brief sentence from Genesis is very eloquent: "They were both naked, the man and the woman, without being ashamed of it " (Gen 2, 25).

6. The presence of original justice and perfection in man, created in the image of God, which we know from Revelation, did not exclude that this man , as a creature endowed with freedom, was subjected from the beginning , like the others. spiritual beings, to the test of freedom . The same Revelation that allows us to know the state of original justice of man before sin by virtue of his friendship with God, from which he derived the happiness of existing, informs us of the fundamental test reserved for man and in which he failed. .

7. In Genesis this test is described as a prohibition to eat the fruits " of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil ". Here is the text: "The Lord God gave this command to man: You may eat from all the trees of paradise, but do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for in the day you eat from it you will surely die" (Genesis 2, 16-17).

This means that the Creator reveals himself, from the beginning, to a rational and free being as God of the Covenant and, therefore, of friendship and joy, but also as the source of good and, therefore, of distinction. between good and evil in a moral sense . The tree of the knowledge of good and evil symbolically evokes the insurmountable limit that man, as a creature, must recognize and respect. Man depends on the Creator and is subject to the laws on the basis of which the Creator has constituted the order of the world created by Him, the essential order of existence ( ordo rerum ); and, consequently, he is also subject to the moral norms that regulate the use of freedom. The primary test is directed, therefore,to the free will of man , to his freedom. Will man confirm with his conduct the fundamental order of creation, recognizing the truth that he too has been created, the truth of the dignity that belongs to him as the image of God, and at the same time the truth of his limit as creature?.

Unfortunately we know the result of the test: the man failed. Revelation tells us. But this sad news is given to us in the context of the truth of redemption, thus allowing us to look confidently to our Creator and merciful Lord.

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