What are the Effects of Original Sin?
Many of the exterior consequences of original sin follow from the interior ones. Thus we might expect that concupiscence, our weakened nature and the influence of the evil spirit, would create antipathy between us and God, us and one another, and even us and nature.
As Rudolf Otto noted (see the Third Topic), the first pole of the numinous – emphasizing the fearful and overpowering nature of the “Wholly Other” was dominant for centuries.
Furthermore, the enmity between human beings gave rise to a culture of slavery and callous disrespect for human life (as noted immediately above). Finally, our relationship to nature was filled with superstition and a pervasive sense that the material world was evil.
Enmity vs Evangelization
God’s gradual revelation of himself to Israel – and His complete revelation of Himself through the words and actions of His Son – redeemed these corrupted external relationships. Only a few decades after the resurrection of Jesus, the Christian Church would initiate public welfare, public education, and public healthcare on an ever growing scale.
As a result, larger numbers of slaves – educated by Christians – began to have influence within the Roman bureaucracy – as Christianity swept over the Roman Empire.
By the time Constantine I issued the Edict of Milan (in 313) – stopping the persecution of Christians, giving them legal status, and in some sense preferential status – many of the Christian Church’s practices with respect to education, healthcare, and public welfare had softened the cruelties of Roman culture and weakened the institution of slavery.
Jesus had not only given humanity the means to contend with the interior effects of original sin but also its exterior effects as well. To the extent that Christian evangelization is successful, and that the Christian Church remains faithful to the teaching of Jesus and His call to holiness, the interior and exterior effects of original sin will never rise to its former prominence.
So it is incumbent upon us to use the gifts of our baptism, to deepen our faith, and to share that faith with as many as possible. For as the mystical body of Christ increases, the influence of our weakened nature and the evil spirit (who works through it) will decrease.
The Exemption from Death
There is one more external effect of original sin that must be considered – the loss of our exemption from death. God created the first human beings by infusing in them a unique transphysical soul which was meant to be eternal by its very nature.
Our bodies – which evolved over a long period of time – were significantly influenced by the presence of this transphysical soul – developing an ever more refined cerebral cortex to mediate the soul’s 12 capacities to our material embodiment.
When God infused a soul into the first human being, the body took its lead from the soul – not vice versa – and so human beings were exempt from death.
However, the first man and woman gave credence to the suggestions of the evil spirit, and so committed the first sin by wishing to be separated from God – so as to do things on his own as a “little god.” When this occurred the first man and woman lost their natural exemption from death – and their souls no longer exerted incorruptibility over their bodies.
Their souls remained incorruptible, but their bodies would die – being corrupted by the same sin that ushered in concupiscence and the increased influence of the evil spirit. Jesus’ redemptive self-sacrifice did not overcome the necessity for the body to die – but it did much more.
If we remain faithful to Him, He will glorify our bodies – divinizing, transforming, and spiritualizing them so that they resemble His own risen body. Once again, the effects of original sin would be overcome by the redemptive act of Jesus and our faithful following of his teaching and way.
It is important to note that Jesus’ redemptive act is not reserved only for professed Christians – its effects for negating original sin and bestowing the resurrection extend to all human beings who “seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.”
In its Pastoral Constitution of the Church – the Second Vatican Council describes how the actions of Jesus help us contend with the lasting effects of original sin – and how his saving work extends to all people who seek God with good will:
The Christian is certainly bound both by need and by duty to struggle with evil through many afflictions and to suffer death; but, as one who has been made a partner in the paschal mystery, and as one who has been configured to the death of Christ, he will go forward, strengthened by hope, to the resurrection.
All this holds true not for the Christian only but also for all men of good will in whose hearts grace is active invisibly. For since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery.
In our next post we’ll tackle the next “Reconciling Contemporary Science and the Doctrine of Original Sin” in our continuation of the topic Free Will and Original Sin.