October 14, 2003

More on the Assumption

Darn. I'd been satisfied with the argument that a lack of physical corruption was the way to see Mary's sinlessness in lieu of the "sin = death" equation. But after reading Mark's powerful post it seems less satisfactory. That which makes us humans is our combination of body AND soul. It does seem that the cleaving of the two is a violent act that is "unnatural by nature" for humans. It seems to me not much ameliorated by the preservation of a corpse. (I'd always imagined that the stories of incorrupt bodies of saints was God's way of hinting that sin causes physical death.) Tom of Disputations responds to Mark.

Here are some excerpts from EWTN's forum concerning the differing views of the East and West on Original Sin:
The Orthodox understanding of original sin, which equates it first and foremost with mortality, is based largely on how several key Eastern Fathers read the scriptures. St. Maximos the Confessor, for instance, is very clear on this point. He believes that Adam's fall initiated a process of disintegration and death, in which all of creation is spiralling away from God. Christ's death and resurrection reversed this process. Likewise, Maximos doesn't believe that physical death is an entirely bad thing. By causing us to die physically, God placed a limit on our sinfulness so our evil wouldn't be immortal. You may want to read the article on this subject which I wrote for Eastern Churches Journal: "Byzantine Perspective on The Fall," in Vol. 8 No. 3. --Anthony Dragani

More here also by Anthony Dragani:
I have heard that the Greek biblical texts of Rom. 5:12 do not contain the phrase "in whom all have sinned" relating to Adam's sin. Consequently, I gather that the Eastern churches' doctrine of original sin developed differently than that of the Western churches. Is this correct?

The Greek biblical text of Romans 5:12 contain(s) the phrase "eph'ho pantes hemarton." The Western Church has traditionally translated this as "in whom all have sinned."

In contrast, the Eastern Fathers understood the word "eph'ho" to modify the preceeding word "thanatos," which means "death." Therefore the Eastern Church translates the phrase in question as "because of which (death) all have sinned." Both are legitimate translations of the text. However, this difference in translation changes the meaning of the entire verse.

Thus, the Western Church has traditionally translated the entirety of Romans 5:12 as such:
"Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world and by sin death: and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned," (Douay-Rheims Version). The Eastern Fathers translated the second part of Romans 5:12 as follows: "...and so death passed upon all men, because of which all have sinned."

In part because of this difference the Eastern Christian teaching on original sin developed differently. In our [Byzantine] tradition, the primary effect of original sin is not a "stain," passed on from generation to generation. Rather, it is death. Because "death passed upon all men," all of us now sin. It is death itself that causes us to sin.

Can you explain the difference in the way the East views Original Sin?
I'll try to briefly summarize the issue, but I can't do it justice in so little space.

In the East: The primary consequence of Original Sin is death. The reality of death causes people to desire that which can distract them from the realitiy of their impending death. Hence, people turn to sex, money, and power as a way to forget about death. In this way, death leads to sin.

In the West: The primary consequence of Original Sin is a "stain" of guilt. People are born with a guilt that needs to be washed away as soon as possible.

Both the East and the West agree that original sin causes an ABSENCE of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Through baptism, the Holy Spirit can again dwell within man.

It should be noted that the Catholic Church has adopted a much more Eastern understanding in recent years. In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is very Eastern in its approach to original sin.

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