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By DR. ARTHUR HIPPLER
The doctrine of original sin might seem more a matter for catechetics than Church social teaching. Nonetheless, the consequences of the rejection of this doctrine for politics are profound. If one denies that man's nature is permanently wounded by the effects of our first parent's sin, one ends up placing the cause of all social evils in society itself. Man, in this view, is not weakened by sin; rather, he is a victim of "bad socialization." As a result, one turns to society to save itself from its own problems, and, contrary to the teaching of the Popes, turns away from the grace of the Sacraments as the ultimate solution to our social problems.
Adam and Eve were created in the garden with the perfection of human nature and the gifts of divine grace, for "God made man right" (Eccles. 7.30). The mind and will were subject to God, and the passions were subject to the mind and will. Once the will turned from God in disobedience, Adam and Eve lost the graces that perfected their nature. As their wills rebelled against God, so the passions rebelled against their wills. Now Adam and Eve "knew they were naked," because of the shame that arose from the passions which they could no longer rule.
St. Thomas Aquinas described these new disorders in the soul as the "wounds" of nature: "in so far as the reason is deprived of its order to the true, there is the wound of ignorance; in so far as the will is deprived of its order to the good, there is the wound of malice" (Summa Theol, IaIIae, Q.85, a.3). Our rebellious passions, insofar as they make us weak in the face of difficulties, are wounded with infirmity; insofar as they lead us to an excessive delight in bodily pleasure, they are wounded by concupiscence.
Our social "environment" does not create these wounds; it merely alters the way in which these wounds are expressed. Education and moral formation can help restrain the effects of original sin, but even the grace of baptism does not take them away (cf. CCC, no.1264).
The French writer Rousseau was the first to make the open rejection of original sin a political principle. Sin and evil, he taught, arose from the social order. Change the social order, free man from the selfishness modern society fosters, and he will be happy and whole. There is no need for sacraments or the Church.
Modern people, many of whom have never read a page of Rousseau, follow these principles as a matter of course. Society can cure itself with better programs, better education, better regulations and better technology. Neither the Church nor the sacraments are necessary. And yet, with more schools, more programs, more regulations and more technology than the world has ever seen, the wounds of our fallen nature continue to grow and bleed anew. One only needs to watch the television news for evidence.
But the gift of sanctifying grace gives us hope. God can make the world better even if we cannot. As John Paul II explains "the Church's teaching on original sin can be extremely valuable also for modern man who having rejected the data of faith in this matter, can no longer understand the mysterious and distressing aspects of evil which he daily experiences and he ends up by wavering between a hasty and unjustified optimism and a radical pessimism bereft of hope." (Catechesis on Original Sin, Sept.8-Oct.8, 1986). Let us always put our confidence in God and His Church for the healing of our wounded society.