So, does original sin exist or not? To be able to respond we must distinguish two aspects of the doctrine on original sin. There is an empirical aspect, namely, a concrete, visible, I would say tangible reality for all, and a mysterious aspect, regarding the ontological foundation of this fact. The empirical fact is that there is a contradiction in our being. On one hand, every man knows that he must do good and he profoundly wants to do so. However, at the same time, he also feels the other impulse to do the contrary, to follow the path of egoism, violence, of doing only what pleases him even while knowing that he is acting against the good, against God and against his neighbor. In his Letter to the Romans Saint Paul expressed this contradiction in our being thus: “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” (7:18-19). This interior contradiction of our being is not a theory. Each one of us experiences it every day. And above all we always see around us the prevalence of this second will. Suffice it to think of the daily news on injustice, violence, falsehood, lust. We see it every day: It is a fact.
As a consequence of this power of evil in our souls, a filthy river has developed in history, which poisons the geography of human history. The great French thinker Blaise Pascal spoke of a “second nature,” which is superimposed on our original good nature. This “second nature” makes evil appear as normal for man. Thus even the usual expression: “this is human” has a double meaning. “This is human” might mean: This man is good, he really acts as a man should act. However, “this is human” might also mean falsehood: Evil is normal, it is human. Evil seems to have become a second nature. This contradiction of the human being, of our history should provoke, and provokes even today, the desire for redemption. And, in fact, the desire that the world be changed and the promise that a world be created of justice, peace, goodness is present everywhere: In politics, for example, all speak of this need to change the world, to create a more just world. It is precisely this expression of the desire that there be a liberation from the contradiction we experience in ourselves.
Hence, the fact of the power of evil in the human heart and in human history is undeniable. The question is: How is this evil explained? In the history of thought, except for the Christian faith, there is a principal model of explanation, with several variations. This model says: being itself is contradictory, it bears within it good and evil. In ancient times this idea implied the opinion that two equally original principles existed: a good principle and an evil principle. This dualism was insurmountable; the two principles are on the same level, hence there will always be, from the origin of being, this contradiction. The contradiction of our being, therefore, reflects only the contrariety of two divine principles, so to speak. In the evolutionist, atheist version of the world the same vision returns in a new way. Even if, in such a concession, the vision of being is monistic, it is implied that being as such from the beginning bears in itself evil and good. Being itself is not simply good, but open to good and evil. Evil is equally original as good, and human history would develop only the model already present in the whole of the preceding evolution. That which we Christians call original sin is in reality only the mixed character of being, a mixture of good and evil, according to this theory, it belonged to the very fabric of being. Deep down, it is a despairing vision: If it is so, evil is invincible. In the end, only self-interest matters. And every progress would necessarily have to be paid for with a river of evil and whoever wishes to serve progress must accept to pay this price. Politics, deep down, is based precisely on these premises: And we see the effects. This modern thought can, in the end, only create sadness and cynicism.
And so we ask again: What does faith say, as witnessed by St. Paul? As a first point, it confirms the fact of the competition between the two natures, the fact of this evil whose shadow weighs on the whole of creation. We heard Chapter 7 of the Letter to the Romans, we can add Chapter 8. Evil simply exists. As explanation, in contrast with the dualisms and monisms that we considered briefly and found desolating, faith tells us: There are two mysteries of light and one mystery of night, which is, however, shrouded by the mysteries of light. The first mystery of light is this: Faith tells us that there are not two principles, one good and one evil, but only one principle, the creator God, and this principle is good, only good, without a shadow of evil. As well, being is not a mixture of good and evil; being as such is good and because of this it is good to be, it is good to live. This is the happy proclamation of faith: there is only one good source, the Creator. And because of this, to live is good, it is a good thing to be a man, a woman, life is good. Then a mystery of darkness, of night follows. Evil does not come from the source of being itself, it is not equally original. Evil comes from a created liberty, from an abused liberty.
How was this possible, how did it happen? This remains obscure. Evil is not logical. Only God and the good are logical, are light. Evil remains mysterious. It has been presented in great images, as does chapter 3 of Genesis, with the vision of two trees, of the serpent, of sinful man. A great image that makes us guess, but it cannot explain how much in itself is illogical. We can guess, not explain; nor can we recount it as a fact next to another, because it is a more profound reality. It remains a mystery of darkness, of night. However, a mystery of light is immediately added. Evil comes from a subordinate source. With his light, God is stronger and, because of this, evil can be overcome. Therefore, the creature, man, is curable.; but if evil comes only from a subordinate source, it remains true that man is curable. And the Book of Wisdom says: “the creatures of the world are wholesome” (1:14).
And finally, the last point, man is not only curable, he is in fact cured. God has introduced healing. He entered in person into history. To the permanent source of evil he has opposed a source of pure good. Christ crucified and risen, the new Adam, opposed the filthy river of evil with a river of light. And this river is present in history: We see the saints, the great saints but also the humble saints, the simple faithful. We see that the river of light that comes from Christ is present, is strong.
Pope Benedict XVI on original sin
January 11, 2011 by joyfulpapist