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But the doctrine of original sin, precisely



is not the conclusion of observation and reflection on the

presence of moral evil in the world. The most compelling


explanation for this undeniable feature of the hu-

man landscape is simply that people commit morally bad

actions which faith sees as sinful. There is in principle no

need to appeal to a theory of inherited sin. A persistent

problem is the confusion of original sin with the fact of

actual sins committed by human beings and the cumulative

consequences of these personal sins as they ramify through

history and society. In the Catholic tradition, especially as

expounded by Thomas Aquinas, original sin figures as a

causal factor in this dismal situation only as contributing

to the defective character of human moral agency, a lack

of facility in choosing the good. Its causality is indirect.

In fact, the doctrine of original sin is a


of revela-

tion. We learn about the peril of our state—the alienation

from God that is the human condition—and our need for

Christ the Savior only through the witness of the Sacred

Scriptures and the constant Tradition of the Church.



Genesis account is a divinely inspired narrative that depicts

in symbolic but realistic form the causes of moral evil. It

constitutes, as it were, a divine explanation for the existence

of moral evil in the world. Although apologetics might ap-

peal to empirical evidence to support the doctrine, it does

not depend on such evidence. As a revealed doctrine, it can

only be known by faith—that is, it can only be known by

faith that the moral evil in the world can be traced to the

personal actual sin of the first human beings.

Note that the endeavor to account for the existence

of moral evil is not restricted to cultures influenced by

the Christian doctrine of original sin. There are a variety

20 cf. Dubarle