In our last two reflections, we have explored the nature of the sin that occurred at the beginning of human history when Satan tempted our first parents to mistrust their Creator and seek to supplant Him. Being deceived, they grasped at divinity, thinking they could determine right from wrong and become gods themselves. In so doing, they broke faith with God, rejected their creaturely status, and allowed sin to enter the visible world. Let us reflect on the effects that this original sin had on our first parents and continues to have on their children.
Prior to the Fall, our first parents existed in a sinless state marked by the four harmonies. When they accepted Satan’s lies and rebelled against God, those four harmonies were all disrupted. As the fathers of the Second Vatican Council said, “refusing to acknowledge God as his beginning, man has disrupted also his proper relationship to his own ultimate goal as well as his whole relationship toward himself and others and all created things” (Gaudium et spes, no. 13).
Most fundamentally, original sin effected a fundamental break in our first parents’ graced friendship with God. “In that sin man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned Him” (Catechism, no. 398). As representatives of the entire human race, our first parents’ act of rebellion resulted in the loss of divine grace and the preternatural gifts not only for themselves but also for their descendants. As John Paul II taught,
“The first human being (man and woman) received sanctifying grace from God not only for himself, but as founder of the human family, for all his descendants. Therefore, through sin which set man in conflict with God, he forfeited grace (he fell into disgrace) even in regard to the inheritance of his descendants” (Sept. 10, 1986).
The first and most important wound of original sin, then, is our alienation from God. However, the legacy and effects of our first parents’ sin remains extending to our very essence for we now inherit a human nature that is not only deprived of grace but is itself deeply wounded. As the Catechism describes, original sin damages the essence of man in the unity of his body and soul. In our fallen human nature, man’s intellect is darkened, his will is weakened, and his passions become rebellious. Even the unity of body and soul is wounded such that we are now vulnerable to a myriad of sicknesses and disorders and will ultimately succumb to the separation of body and soul, which we call death. Due to the uncorrupted quality of human nature and the abundance of God’s grace and gifts prior to sin, man was immune to these maladies and the inevitability of death. Clearly, our situation after the Fall is radically different.
All of us inherit this fallen (i.e., wounded) human nature. We experience sickness, decay, and eventual death. We experience interior conflict rather than harmony and struggle to know what is right, freely choose it, and follow through in action while our impulses and desires pull us to go astray. St. Paul expressed well our conflicted, fallen existence in his lament:
“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do…. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:15, 18b, 22-24).
All is not lost. Our human nature, though wounded, is not wholly corrupt. It is still essentially good and capable of being redeemed, sanctified, and glorified. Just as we can join in St. Paul’s lament over our fallenness, we can also join with him when he immediately exclaims, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:25). For God did not abandon us to the power of sin and death but pursued man down the centuries, sparing nothing to bring about our Redemption, even taking up our human nature to heal and restore it and through His resurrection, re-open the path to eternal life.
Note: This article is part of a series of reflections on Pope St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body.”
Continue Reading: Original Shame – Part 1
Written by, Dr. Andrew Sodergren, M.T.S., Psy.D.,
Director of Ruah Woods Psychological Services
(Article originally published in The Catholic Telegraph, January 2023 Issue, the official magazine of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati)