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We have seen that Aquinas touches on many of the

most neuralgic points in the doctrine of original sin, but

naturally he did not consider explicitly all of the issues that

confront us. The most serious new objections come from

modern biblical interpretation


and evolutionary theory.


Both sets of issues in a sense concern the historicity of the

first parents and their first sin—something that Aquinas not

only assumed, but took to be fundamental to the Catholic

doctrine of the economy of salvation.

It has become commonplace to construe modern

biblical criticism as entailing the view that the account of

the first sin in Genesis is a myth that conveys a universal



rather than, with classical exegesis, as a history-like

narrative conveying factual truths. While it is clear that we

cannot regardGenesis as strict history, wemust nonetheless

regard it—as did Aquinas and all traditional exegetes and

theologians—as a symbolic rendering of something that

really happened, utilizing mythic elements in a kind of

history-like or “realistic narrative,”


or “the history of the

first human beings in themanner of traditional narratives.”


Another exegetical issue has arisen with regard to

Romans 5:12-21, a passage that is central to canon 4 of

the Council of Trent’s Decree Concerning Original Sin.

Most scholars agree that the Vulgate rendering of

eph ho

as “

in whom

all men have sinned” is inaccurate. It seems

to suggest that all men were


in Adam when he

sinned and participated in his act—a reading that Aquinas

rejects as well. But the Council of Trent does not employ

the text to teach this controversial position. Rather, it seeks

13 cf. Frei,

The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative

14 cf. Korsmeyer, Maldamé, and Domning & Hellwig

15 Such as Kass, for example, and, in a different way, Pagels

16 Frei, “The ‘Literal Reading’ of Biblical Narrative in the Christian Tradition,” 142-43

17 Ashley, 373