The doctrine of original sin stems from the fall of humanity and signifies that “in” Adam all have sinned. This parallels the doctrine of justification that “in” Christ all are righteous. Romans 5:12 says “sin came into the world through one man and death through sin.” Romans 5:15–19 then states; “Many died through one man’s trespass… For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation… Because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man… Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men… By one man’s disobedience many were made sinners.”
One trespass brought condemnation for all men. Because of Adam’s sin, all men were made subject to sin and death. The sin of Adam’s did not just affect Adam personally; it also affected his human nature, which means it affected our nature, since we inherited it from him. Adam and Eve were created with immortal bodies. They knew no suffering, they knew no disease, they knew no death. Genesis 3:11-19 says, “To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.’ And to Adam he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, “You shall not eat of it,” cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’” These things affected them after the fall, just as they continue to affect us today.
To understand why we should pay a price for a sin we didn’t commit, we must understand what the Church means by the term original sin. The Catechism says, “original sin is called ‘sin’ only in an analogical sense: it is a sin ‘contracted’ and not ‘committed’—a state and not an act” (CCC 404). Adam’s sin caused a fundamental change in man’s relationship with God and a fundamental change in nature itself (cf. Rom. 8:19–22). Adam was the representative of the whole human race, since we are all the seed of Adam. When Adam fell, we all inherited his fallen nature. This obscured our relationship with God, weakened our will, and made us more prone to the temptation of sin. What’s more, it left us powerless to ever repair our relationship with God.
However, just as one man’s disobedience led to death for all; one man’s obedience leads to life for all. We see this parallel in 1 Corinthians 15:21–22: “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”… Christ is the new Adam who leads us to new life.
The Historical Development of the Doctrine:
“Sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned”
“Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me”
Church Father Quotes:
The Shepherd of Hermas
“‘They had need,’ [the Shepherd] said, ‘to come up through the water, so that they might be made alive; for they could not otherwise enter into the kingdom of God, except by putting away the mortality of their former life. These also, then, who had fallen asleep, received the seal of the Son of God, and entered into the kingdom of God. For,’ he said, ‘before a man bears the name of the Son of God, he is dead. But when he receives the seal, he puts mortality aside and receives life. The seal, therefore, is the water [of baptism]. They go down into the water [spiritually] dead, and come out of it alive’” (The Shepherd 9:16:2).
Theophilus of Antioch
“For the first man, disobedience resulted in his expulsion from paradise. It was not as if there were any evil in the tree of knowledge; but from disobedience man drew labor, pain, grief, and, in the end, he fell prostrate in death” (Ad Autolycus 2:25 [A.D. 181]).’
Irenaeus of Lyons
“But this man . . . is Adam, if the truth be told, the first-formed man. . . . We, however, are all from him; and as we are from him, we have inherited his title [of sin]” (Against Heresies 3:23:2 [inter A.D. 180-190]).’
“Indeed, through the first Adam we offended God by not observing his command. Through the second Adam, however, we are reconciled, and are made obedient even unto death [Rom. 8:36, 2 Cor. 5:18-19]. For we were debtors to none other except to him, whose commandment we transgressed at the beginning” (ibid., 5:16:3.)
Tertullian of Carthage
“On account of his [Adam’s] transgression man was given over to death; and the whole human race, which was infected by his seed, was made the transmitter of condemnation” (The Testimony of the Soul 3:2 [inter A.D. 197-200]).
“‘Because by a man came death, by a man also comes resurrection’ [Romans 5:17]. Here by the word ‘man,’ who consists of a body, as we have often shown already, I understand that it is a fact that Christ had a body. And if we are all made to live in Christ as we were made to die in Adam, then, as in the flesh we were made to die in Adam, so also in the flesh are we made to live in Christ” (Against Marcion 5:9:5 [inter A.D. 207-212]).
Origen of Alexandria
“The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism even to infants [Matt. 19:14; Luke 18:15-16; Acts 2:38-39]. For the apostles, to whom were committed the secrets of divine mysteries, knew that there is in everyone the innate stain of sin, which must be washed away through water and the Spirit” [Titus 3:5] (Commentaries on Romans 5:9 [A.D. 244]).
“Everyone in the world falls prostrate under sin. And it is the Lord who sets up those who are cast down and who sustains all who are falling. In Adam all die, and thus the world falls prostrate and requires to be set up again, so that in Christ all may be made to live” (Homilies on Jeremiah 8:1 [post A.D. 244]).
Augustine of Hippo
“Anyone who would say that even infants who pass from this life without participation in the sacrament [of baptism] shall be made alive in Christ truly goes counter to the preaching of the apostle and condemns the whole Church, where there is great haste in baptizing infants because it is believed without doubt that there is no other way at all in which they can be made alive in Christ” (Letter to Jerome 166:7:21 [A.D. 415]).
Athanasius of Alexandria
“Adam, the first man, altered his course, and through sin death came into the world. . . . When Adam transgressed, sin reached out to all men” [Romans 5:12]. (Discourses Against the Arians 1:51 [inter A.D. 358-362]).
Cyril of Jerusalem
“Indeed, one man’s sin, that of Adam, had the power to bring death to the world. If by the transgression of one man, death reigned over the world, why should not life more fittingly reign by the righteousness of one man [Jesus]? If they were cast out of paradise because of the tree and the eating thereof, shall not the believers now enter more easily into paradise because of the tree of Jesus [the Cross]? If that man first formed out of the earth ushered in universal death, shall not he that formed him out of the earth bring in eternal life, since he himself is life?” [John 10:10, 14:6] (Catechetical Lectures 13:1 [A.D. 350])