Articles

Ancestral Sin

by Dr. John S. Romanides

Excerpts from: Translator's Introduction by Dr. George S. Gabriel

Before "The Ancestral Sin" became widely acclaimed for its unprecedented exposition of the patristic and scholastic traditions in conflict, this work was the doctoral thesis of Fr. John Romanides. For this reason, the author wrote the Introduction primarily as an historic overview of the theological themes that the subsequent chapters examine in considerable detail. In this Translator's Introduction, I offer a theological summary of some of the main themes.

The transgression of Adam and Eve was first called "original sin" (Latin: peccato originali) by Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (d. 430). With its new name, Adam's sin also received a new theology. The term "original sin" is known to everyone in the Western?Christian world today...What the world generally understands about original sin dates from the formulations begun by Augustine?and systematized by the post-Augustinian Theologians...

The Fathers simply could not have called Adam's transgression the original, generic, or first sin, nor could they have imagined God imposing legal guilt for it on all human beings at the moment of their conception. The Fathers assigned responsibility solely to the transgressors: Adam and Eve. Original Sin posed a massive dilemma for the cosmological, [and all]...paradigms of Augustine and the post-Augustinian theologians. After all, in the following scheme of Augustinian...theology, the first man's sin had disturbed the self-contented happiness...of the Unmoved Mover, a philosophically-conceived (Aristotelian) deity that is neither moved by nor moves toward things outside His Divine essence. Moreover, the first man...came into perfection [in this Augustinian world]) and happiness, enjoying the beatific vision of the Divine Essence [unheard of in the Fathers].

Thus the post-Augustinian West saw the Sin of Adam as a fall from the greatest height and an offense of the highest order against the Divine Nature and the very honor of God. Necessity [a pagan idea] in the Divine Nature Itself, dictated certain adjudications: the retributive death of Adam; the imposition of guilt for Adam's Sin and, therefore, the just penalty of death on the entire human race; the Incarnation, suffering, and death of the Son of God for the Infinite Satisfaction of Divine Justice and the restoration of the Divine Honor; the appeasing of the just "wrath" of the Father by the merits of His Son's suffering and death on the Cross, enabling God to absolve men of their sins; and, at the Second Coming of Jesus, to finally lift the penalty of death. In this scheme, the expiatory nature of redemption and of spiritual life is consequent to and built on the presuppositions of the Latin teaching of Original sin. Virtually all of the Western influences that have entered into Eastern Orthodox thought in the last four centuries spring from these cosmological, anthropological, and soteriological doctrines.