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a formation in the moral life according to the pattern of

Christ’s cross and Resurrection, death to sin and life on

high in Christ Jesus.

Original sin in contemporary context

The most fundamental elements of the Christian faith

are in play in the doctrine of original sin. God’s intention

in creating human persons is to make them sharers in the

divine life and thus in the communion of Trinitarian life.

For this reason, the first human beings were created in grace,

or at least immediately thereafter constituted in grace. Only

from divine revelation itself do we know that the first hu-

man beings momentously turned away from this invitation

to share in divine life, and, further, that their doing so had

inescapable consequences for the human race which could

only be undone by Christ. According to Catholic doctrine,

just by virtue of being part of the human race, all human

beings are born in a state of sin—a state that is thus said to

be acquired not by


but by



Two crucially significant elements of Aquinas’ theology

of original sin address some of the most vexing issues that

have arisen in recent writing: (1) his insistence that the first

personal sin of Adam was not merely the transgression of

an arbitrary command but an interior disobedience rooted

in pride, which could be rectified in the divine economy of

salvation only by the perfect obedience of the Only Begotten

Son, and (2) his understanding of original sin in us as a lack

of original justice—a lack of facility in choosing the good,

not a fatal inclination to evil. By considering original sin

within the context of the factors that affect our capacity for

moral action, Aquinas leaves us with a remarkably sober

and relatively optimistic account of the consequences of

Adam’s sin. Clearly, for him, we are not born bad.