A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Catholicism and Evolution

August marked the 60th anniversary of the encyclical Humani Generis, prompting this short essay in the Wall Street Journal. Money quote:

While Pius was willing to concede that there was reason to believe the human body was the product of evolution, he was adamant that the special status of Adam as the father of the human race should not be a matter of question. "For the faithful," he wrote, "cannot embrace that opinion which maintains either that after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents."Pius declared that it was not apparent how such a theory of a founding population of humans, and not a single couple, could be reconciled with original sin. That Catholic doctrine regards the Fall as an historical rebellion against God; a sin actually committed by an individual and which is passed on through the generations from him to all men and women.Subsequent research into genomics, however, has settled this question against Pius. It's not that scientists cannot trace human ancestry back far enough to an Adam and Eve; it's that in principle, the level of genetic variation present in the species today rules out a founding population with fewer than several thousand individuals.

John Paul II, for his part, called evolution "more than a hypothesis," and went so far as to indicate that, while there is necessarily an "ontological leap" from ape to human, that perhaps the timing of such a leap could be gleaned where signs of human self-awareness, conscience, etc. may be observed. In sum--there's no real shift from Pius in insisting that the creation of the human soul must have been direct, a supernatural grace bestowed on some lucky ape. His reasoning is that no materialist notion of the soul could ground a strong concept of human dignity. He doesn't take on the problem of a founding population and whether that causes our doctrine of Original Sin to run aground. (It wasn't that kind of document, but I'm unaware of any other papal statement since Pius' on that point.) That question seems to remain. I see an echo of this concern in the CDF's 1981 reiteration of the warning against reading Teilhard de Chardin, who argued for a more evolutionary conception of human history altogether.So what's at stake here? Well, lots of big doctrines are in play--the nature of the soul, Original Sin and its transmission, and Christology, for starters. Is it time perhaps to re-open the possibilities raised by Teilhard's evolutionary mysticism? Where might that take us?HT: The Daily Dish, Zoe Pollock


Commenting Guidelines

Brendan,I appreciate your staying with the dialogue. Jesus did say that God hid the gospel from the wise and powerful and gave it to the simple and unlearned. The pope and bishops sided with the wise and powerful and tried to make the gospel a vehicle of domination. The leaderships killed people for disagreeing with a dogma while committing murder against them. This is power and domination not humility, crucifixion and loving your enemy. Clearly the gospel is not that difficult. The definition of dogma is largely a power move which threatens to kill or imprison anyone who disagrees. The history is clear. Infallibility is the most grandiose concept to come out of the papacy. The hierarchy has used revelation as a tool of domination. Not a vehicle of service. What does papal legates all over the world do. They are principally concerned with furthering papal privilege.Jesus Crucified, loving one's enemies are simple concepts which have not been implemented. Coat of Arms and all the trappings of the Vatican are power symbols. Taking the lowest place is unknown in the Vatican except in a symbolic way.

David,None of those quotes, as far as I can see, espouse your theory. Nor do they contradict what I have said. In fact, both The Catholic Answers Book and The Catholicism Answer Book, in the passages you cited, says precisely what I have been saying all along: all of humankind can be traced to Adam. just as all can be traced to some guy who lived in Africa 60,000 years ago. Rahner otoh seems to make clear "that man, as far as his body is concerned, stands in historical connection with the animal kingdom" and that this is distinct from the question of monogenism, which I would think supports the idea that biological human and theological human are distinct concepts that should not be conflated as you would have it.What you are espousing is the theory that theological human (=Children of Adam) only intermarried with other theological humans. That theory is indeed incompatible with genomics and evolution. And it is incompatible with Genesis, which describes 'others' who presumably are not brothers and mentions intermarriage with the Nephilim. (Thank you, Ann, for making explicit my allusion to the absurdity of "bestiality" and "incest" in this context.)None of this is to defend Pius XII as if he could not make a mistake. He makes some in Humani Generis in my opinion. But monogenism is not scientifically impossible. As your answer books say, "scientific concensus seems once more to be favoring monogenism over polygenism."

What you are espousing is the theory that theological human (=Children of Adam) only intermarried with other theological humans. That theory is indeed incompatible with genomics and evolution. Jim McK,I am not espousing the theory that "theological humans" only intermarried with other "theological humans." I am, however, saying that is what Pius XII meant.What I think is confusing -- and has been confusing me in some of this discussion -- is that both Pius XII (as I interpret him) and contemporary geneticists believe in monogenism. As I now understand it, polygenism is the belief that different races had different origins. I don't think any serious scientist believes that today. The difference between the monogenism of Pius XII (as I understand him) and that of modern science is that Pius XII believed the human race began with two parents, and modern geneticists believe it began with group. I don't think we disagree on the science. We both seem to believe in Mitochondrial Eve and Y-Chromosomal Adam. But of course if Pius XII (as I interpret him) were correct, they would have been husband and wife instead of being separated by over 100,000 years. (Thank you, Ann, for making explicit my allusion to the absurdity of bestiality and incest in this context.)I am not quite sure what Ann meant, but of course as I understand Pius XII, the intermarrying of the descendants of Adam and Eve would indeed have been incestuous. (Also, if the story of Noah's Ark is taken literally, the children of Noah's sons would have had to intermarry to repopulate the earth.) And what you and Felapton call "theological humans," Pius XII called "true men." What would it be when "true" men and women intermarry with "non-true" men and women? I think the theory of "theological humans" intermarrying with "biological humans" assumes there is no essential difference between the two. But if the belief is that humans as we know them came into existence when God directly intervened in evolution to make creatures in his image and likeness, where there had been no such creatures before, then there had to be a profound difference between merely biological humans and theological humans. Whether you want to call it bestiality or not, the idea of true humans mating with "biological humans" who (according to Felapton) had no soul and no free will is really quite bizarre.

Jim McK,By the way, are you saying that Mitochondrial Eve or Y Chromosomal Adam, committed Original Sin?

David,I have been using Y chromosomal Adam as an example of how a trait travels through a population. (and because it means all the references to "men" don't have to be changed to "people.") With scientists using Adam and Eve language it is simple to convey the idea, but the same process applies to all evolutionary changes, eg bipedalism. With that concept of evolution in mind, I see no reason why Pius' monogenism would be contradicted by genomics.The problem with bestiality lies in mixing up definitions of human. A theological human is also a biological human human, so mating with a non-theological human is still the mating of two biological humans and not bestiality. Whether those mates are "helpmates" as described in Genesis 3 is another question. In part because of it, I lean toward thinking that "sin" as a social construct is passed on socially rather than through generation. To use Felaptons example, an Untainted person who marries a Tainted person becomes tainted, and not vice versa. And a child becomes tainted as soon as he enters into a social relationship with another person, ie parents. But there are problemms with that, and I have not pursued it to the point where I would defend it.

Lisa, I have already said I do not see exclusive endogamy in Humani Generis. Rereading it does not change that. Why do you think he uses the word "true"? What would be a "false man"? I doubt that he is talking about quiche.Pius says that original sin is passed on "through generation", not through sexuality. While Augustine may gave identified this with sexuality, there are other aspects to 'generation.' Consider a snip from Fr Komonchak's quote of Cardinal Ratzinger: sin means the damaging or the destruction of relationality. Sin is a rejection of relationality because it wants to make the human being a god. In the womb, a child is deeply tied into a relationship with the mother, but at birth that tie is severed. It is not a complete severance, and other bonds grow as a result, but it is a disruption of relationality.This disruption differs from animal births because of our consciousness. Not that the infant is conscious, but as her grows, he becomes aware of the isolation caused by exile from the depth of relationality in pregnancy. Every person can 'recall' their isolation, either by imagination or just by feeling the air on their face and knowing they are exposed.That describes one way of passing on original sin through generation that is not sexual. There may be others. Just because Augustine chose sexual activity as the mode of passing on original sin we cannot assume it is the only mode by which it can happen.

David N: Christianity depends on certain events having really and truly happened.Yes. But many schools of Christian thought do not accept the event of the bodily assumption of Mary as having really and truly happened.Roma locuta, finita est? Nope.

"The problem with bestiality lies in mixing up definitions of human. A theological human is also a biological human human, so mating with a non-theological human is still the mating of two biological humans and not bestiality."Jim --Bestiality would not be simply the mating of two generically "biological humans" (if there are biological ones that were not "fully"/"true"/"theological" human. Bestiality would be the mating of a fully/tre/theological human with a different species, a non- fully/true/theological human (the other kind of biological human, that is). These are two different species ontologically, hence the bestiality.

Jim, A couple more points: 1. to equate "true" humanity with "fallen" humanity (iow, to parallel Pius' language with your own,) would seem to imply that we weren't human pre-fall, but somehow less than human. We would then truly be our own co-creators, since God would only have created the incomplete un-fallen form now mercifully (?) extinct. 2. We could also wonder about the tens of thousands of years between Adam and Eve, and then the tens of thousands of years before all the unfallen humans died out. How do we describe those populations? 3. The Adam and Eve hypotheses are extrapolated from a wide range of DNA from several continents, and finding the most recent common ancestors, male and female. This does not rule out the possibility that we might discover another population of people (not necesssarily particularly remote, but just un-tested by those looking for those recent common ancestors,) who do not trace to the same common ancestor. It could be that this population's last common ancestor with us is back in the earliest speciation, that first population of humans (again, hard to identify a "moment of speciation" archeologically.) Or before it. This theory DEFINES "first common female ancestor" as "Eve who sinned," and "first common male ancestor" as "Adam who sinned." Is it problematic to assert that any "true" human (from A&E on,) MUST sin? COuld we still assert that sin isn't natural to us, since by this theory it is sin that defines us as human?2. Even if we extend "generation" beyond sexuality, we're left with a problem, and especially if we think of birth as itself a sin, since it marks a disruption of a relationship. I'd say that, given what we now know about actual biological reproduction, to hold both of these positions (or either,) leaves us either siding with the Manichees, or barely a stone's throw from them. Remember that the Manichees' basic stance was that spirit is holy, and matter profane. the world of matter was created by an evil demi-urge, who strove to capture spirit in matter. Thus, the worst thing one could do would be to participate in the on-going evil of incarnation--to reproduce. Augustine's response to this was basically to through up his elegant rhetorical hands and say. "and yet God did this, so somehow it must be good." Grace does abound where wretched humans are incarnate, but surely God could have been gracious to us without tossing us into the mire of sinfulness that starts merely with our birth! Don't forget also his "Oh happy fault, oh necessary sin of Adam," pinning his Christology to a human cause. Tying sin to the very process of human generation, whether sexual or more broadly concerned, is problematic. Indeed, I'm not at all certain that the very notion of special creation of the human soul isn't, given current science, irreducibly Manichean. I realize I 'm opposing Aquinas here, but remember the vastly different scientific world Thomas lived in. And let me state clearly--in using terms like "Manichean," I mean no insult, just a shorthand to designate a philosophical construct: a matter/spirit dualism in which incarnation is problematic. The Manichees are alive and well today, of course, since a version of Manicheanism is a strong aspect of some New Age thought. Even Augustine was only just non-Manichean, and some dispute that. (Just as when some say "scratch a moral theologian, find a Pelagian," it's not an attack, just shorthand for a direction many of us tend towards.)

Prof Fullam,If I recall Peter Brown's biography of Augustine, original sin was his response to why christians were baptizing babies. In the Confessions, he also offers his view of the "greediness" of infants at the breast.Augustine is a moderate to anyone who's ever read Jerome on sex.

Rereading it does not change that. Why do you think he uses the word true? What would be a false man? Jim McK,I don't see that it is necessary to conclude that because Pius XII said "true men," that he was leaving open the possibility that some other kind of men existed. It seems to me that what he was saying was that any human being alive after Adam (and Eve) had to be a descendant of Adam and Eve. In Catholic thinking, what is it that makes us human? I think that Pius XII meant that there were no human beings before Adam, and after Adam, there were no human beings who were not descendants of Adam. For those who accept that God intervened in evolution and made humans from protohumans, any protohumans continuing to exist at the time of Adam or afterward would not have been humans. They would have been protohuman animals. If God created man by intervening in evolution (rather than simply letting evolution run its course and at some point resulting in man), then there has to be a first man, and for Pius XII, that first man was Adam. Positing biological men and theological men seems (to me) to indicate there is no biological difference between the first humans and the immediately preceding protohumans. Your theory also robs the story of Adam and Eve of most of its meaning if you are saying that figuratively what it tells us is that when God created man, he created only one person. What could plausibly be the point of creating one lone human and letting his humanity spread like a mutation through the protohuman population? (Remember the part about, "It is not good for man to be alone?") What about the other creation story? Does it talk of biological humans or theological humans?

Then God said: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the cattle, and over all the wild animals and all the creatures that crawl on the ground." God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them, saying: "Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth." God also said: "See, I give you every seed-bearing plant all over the earth and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food; and to all the animals of the land, all the birds of the air, and all the living creatures that crawl on the ground, I give all the green plants for food." And so it happened.

JC,Right--what's the point of "cleansing" someone who cannot possibly be personally responsible (heck, not yet really CAPABLE) of sin? One of the fun things about this kind of question (indeed much of systematic theology,) is the interwoven nature of doctrine. How we understand original sin is connected to theological anthropology, theology narrowly speaking, Christology, and even (as you point out) sacramental theology. Not to mention the faith/reason question. So shall I infer that anyone still following this thread finds no obvious theological problem with gradualism w.r.t. the evolution of the human soul?

"vA theological human is also a biological human human, so mating with a non-theological human is still the mating of two biological humans and not bestiality."Jim McK --If a theological human has a trait that makes him essentially different from a non-theological one, then there are two different specie involved.(Not that I'm arguing about facts here -- I'm just arguing that IF there were theological and non-theological humans THEN, their mating would have been instances of bestiality according toRC theological definitions.)

"Indeed, Im not at all certain that the very notion of special creation of the human soul isnt, given current science, irreducibly Manichean. I realize I m opposing Aquinas here, but remember the vastly different scientific world Thomas lived in."Lisa --While there might be some Manicheean overlay of Aquinas' metaphysical description of what it is to be a human being, his view that we have souls is derived from Aristotle, who, in the de Anima, argued against the materialists' notion that people were simply material organisms. He concluded that it is necessary to affirm that there is a spiritual soul (which "informs the body" and is the source of our rational powers).There are problems with Aristotle, of course. First, he needs to account for the *origin* of human souls, but as far as I know he doesn't try to. Second, he grants that the lower animals also have souls ("souls" = "psyches" in Greek), It seems that at the end of his life he identified those souls with the organic *structures* of the parts of the purely animal bodies. As I see it, this is quite a contemporary notion. It requires no individual creation of animal (and plant) psyches. But rational souls, says Aquins, being purely spiritual, need a spiritual cause, and Aquinas identifies this cause with God, the Creator. The contemporary neo-atheist scientists, of course, are unwilling to go down that route.

Lisa,I am not sure I have answers for your questions, but I will try.1. I'll agree. How does that differ from every other interpretation of Adam and Eve? God creates an innocent person capable of sinning, who sins and then must live with the consequences of that. I do not see any problem.2. See my answer to David -- mitochondrial Eve and y chromosomal Adam are examples of monogenism with respect to human-defining traits. Moral Adam and Eve would be a similar example of monogenism with respect to moral/sin defining aspects of humanity. They do not need to be the same as the 'Adam and Eve' w/r/t mitochondria and y chromosomes. Drawing species boundaries through time is notoriously difficult, so referring to populations in flux is tricky. I suppose it also depends on how we define human.3. How does this differ from your first comment? Does it help if we make moral Adam and Eve were the first persons capable of making a sinful choice? I just don't see why this question does not apply to every reading of Adam and Eve that suits Pius' criteria.2. Associating sin with birth is indeed a problem. At least Genesis does it first, with the "cursing" of Adam and Eve. The choices seem to be birth, the woman's 'urge for her husband', labor, or turning back to dirt. None of them seem like good choices, but birth at least is about the beginning of the person, and the beginning of alienation in a person. A full explanation probably will account for consciousness, but I can only guess at that.Does this explanation come near to Manicheism? Probably. What explanation of biological and moral dimensions of humanity does not? Granted, I have no idea what "gradualism w.r.t. the evolution of the human soul" could possibly mean...

So shall I infer that anyone still following this thread finds no obvious theological problem with gradualism w.r.t. the evolution of the human soul?Lisa,I see no problem . . . unless you're a Catholic!

366 The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God - it is not "produced" by the parents - and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.

If a new soul is created immediately (that is, directly) by God for every human person, in what sense could a soul evolve? A soul doesn't have chromosomes and genes. It can't have mutations. A soul does not reproduce. Souls are created one at a time. They can't evolve.Of course, that is based on a very crude definition of what a soul is. But it is hard to get away from that definition if a soul is created at the time of conception, leaves the body at death, and is reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.

Positing biological men and theological men seems (to me) to indicate there is no biological difference between the first humans and the immediately preceding protohumans.Yes, that is pretty much the point. The difference is not biological, but on a different level, traditionally called "rational". Is there a problem with that?As to the first creation account, it talks about the creation of theological humans, humans who are made in God's image. Physical features are probably not what make us images of God. Rather it is our ability to Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over..." Other animals can be fruitful and multiply, but only 'true' humans can be commanded to do it, and can try to fulfill that command.And I have no clue of what you are getting at with your remark about creating "one lone human". Isn't that what the story says?

Yes, that is pretty much the point. The difference is not biological, but on a different level, traditionally called rational. Is there a problem with that?Jim McK,The problem, as I see it, is that it implies that the human body is not up to the task of being human. It needs an extra, nonmaterial part. It will mean -- and this may not trouble you -- that science will never be able to explain the workings of the human mind. I am not an expert on souls, but I believe your position is an extreme form of dualism. It also raises the question why, when death is defined as the soul leaving the body, mere "biological humans" are alive. And I have no clue of what you are getting at with your remark about creating one lone human. Isnt that what the story says?You have me confused now, based on other things you have said, I am going to assume this is your theory: Y Chromosomal Adam and Mitochondrial Eve themselves have nothing to do with the story of Adam and Eve. They are merely examples of how genetic material from individuals can spread through an entire population. And with the biblical Adam and Eve, it is not genetic material; it's basically a soul. Is that correct?

FYI: were working on the bug thats displaying e-mail addresses instead of usernames.

Re: Trent, Adam and Eve, and Original Sin - in whatever context it was that Trent said whatever it said on this topic (can anyone post the actual text here, btw?), I'm pretty sure it wasn't in response to advances in genetic science. I have a vague impression that it's formula of 'inherited, not mimick'd' is in response to a heresy (possibly Arianism?) that posited that humans sin, not because original sin is intrinsic to the human condition, but because humans imitate other humans who sin. If that were a true, than in theory, a human could be raised in a bubble, apart from other humans, and she would not sin - an experiment that monks and anchorites/esses have conducted many times but without success, so far as we know.In short, it seems that what Trent has been trying to tell us is that original sin is intrinsic to the human condition. Felapton's interesting theory notwithstanding, I still don't see that genetics or any other modern biological science would lead us to conclude otherwise.

Jim McK,I have a hard time holding in my head the concept of most recent common ancestor, and I realize I have been making an error about Y Chromosomal Adam and Mitochondrial Eve. I can't at the moment figure out if it makes your hypothesis more unlikely or less unlikely. I was not taking into account that Mitochondrial Eve is not our most recent common female ancestor. She is our most recent common matrilineal ancestor. That is, you must trace your ancestry to her back through your mother, your grandmother your great grandmother, and so on. Likewise, Y Chromosomal Adam is the most recent common patrilineal ancestor, and you must trace your ancestry to him through your father, your grandfather, your great grandfather, and so on. So if Adam and Eve had sons only, who married nontheological women, the real Eve would have had no chance of being Mitochondrial Eve, because she had no direct female descendants. However, the real Adam and Eve would nevertheless both have to be common ancestors to everyone alive today, unless Adam and Eve were not monogamous. I will try to figure out more of the implications later, but thinking about this too long makes my head hurt. Also, it causes Pius XII to spin in his grave.

The decrees on Original Sin from the Council of Trent are here.

David, The soul is a non-material part of every living being. It can be vegetative, animal, or rational, with vegetative subsumed within the animal and both within rational. A true human is one with a rational soul. A protohuman has only an animal soul. They are alive, and physically indistinguishable from true humans, but have no rational soul. And yes, the body is not up to the task of being human; it needs a rational soul.Mitochondrial Eve is the most recent common ancestor who has modern mitochondrial genes. Others, like her mother or grandmother, may have the same m-DNA, but they are not the most recent. Ditto for Y Adam, who is the most recent common ancestor with the Y chromosome. If a couple had only sons, the woman's particular line of m-DNA would die out -- this what happened to all women alive at the same time as m-Eve, more or less. This process is not limited to mitochondria and Y chromosomes. Presumably, if one identified the gene for red hair, tested a representative sample of red haired individuals, you could construct a profile of the most recent common ancestor, or discover that there were multiple ancestors, or some other situation. Because m-DNA and Y chromosomes are passed on by only the mother or father respectively, they are easier to track, but the other could be done.My argument was that this is the process by which traits are handed down. Genetics is easily traceable, but it works the same regardless. If a man gave every child a gold coin, and every one of his descendants and only they, did the same thing, you could tell something about the man by who had gold coins. Genealogists do this with family names. Given this, it seems entirely appropriate that a story would tell how the traits that distinguish humanity were passed on from a first parent. And if that makes your head spin, imagine how I feel! I am not any kind of expert in all of this, and I am getting questions like "Why only one" from you, and "What makes it singular" from Lisa. It has been interesting, but I am not sure I have helped the discussion of original sin much by going into such detail about genetics.

Sorry for jumping in after all this discussion. Only one of you has alluded to Rahner in this thread. He wrote extensively on original sin and in some ways would suggest that he is clearer than deChardin.He does not use scripture literally - rather, he places the current and past church sacramental history/theology in a context and posits a "supernatural existential" prior to original sin - link to explanation: points:- "In this context he reinterprets the notion of original sin. It is called original sin because human beings have established guilt throughout history. He rejects the traditional understanding of original sin as biologically transmitted through Adam and Eve. Rather, original sin refers to the fact that guilt is universal and ineradicable. This fact is evident since every one is co-determined by others guilt as well as by the whole history of wrongdoing. In this context, Rahners statement about grace as Gods self-communication within the depth of human existence obtains its significance.Original sin, therefore, expresses nothing else but the historical origin of the present, universal and ineradicable situation of our freedom as co-determined by guilt, and this insofar as this situation has a history in which, because of the universal determination of this history by guilt, Gods self-communication in grace come to man not from Adam, not from the beginning of the human race, but from the goal of this history, from the God-Man Jesus Christ. (FCF, 114)"- "Rahner argues that human beings as Gods partner have to be able to receive Gods loving grace. Here he relies on the Thomistic notion of obediential potency, which becomes the conditionor better, a remainder concept (Restbegriff)in the human existential constitution that has been present before God offers grace, even prior to sin (FCF, 124). This condition he calls the supernatural existential. In Rahners most-quoted words, Gods self-communication as offer is also the necessary condition which makes its acceptance possible (FCF 128). The end and goal of Gods grace, finally, is that human beings receive the final vision of God (beatific vision), which implies an ontological relationship between God and creatures. Yet, it is not merely an ideal reality in the future. Rather, according to Rahner, it is an historical experience, hic et nunc,[I]n grace, that is, in the self-communication of Gods Holy Spirit, the event of immediacy to God as mans fulfillment is prepared for in such a way that we must say of man here and now that he participates in Gods being; that he has been given the divine Spirit who fathoms the depths of God; that he is already Gods son here and now, and what he already is must only become manifest. (FCF, 120)"

"Original sin" in the Christian sense in no way implies that the original, personal act of freedom of the first person or persons is transmitted to us as our moral quality. In "original sin" the sin of Adam is not imputed to us. Personal guilt from an original act of freedom cannot be transmitted, for it is the existentiell [sic] "no" of personal transcendence towards God or against him. And by its very nature this cannot be transmitted, just as the formal freedom of a subject cannot be transmitted. . . . For Catholic theology, therefore, "original sin" in no way means that the moral quality of the actions of the first person or persons is transmitted to us, whether this be through a juridical imputation by God or through some kind of biological heredity, however conceived. -- Karl Rahner

I am far from being a theologian, but to me this sounds like it could be part of an article titled "Everything You've Ever Heard About Original Sin Is Wrong." How is it possible to reconcile these statements from the Catechism about baptism with what Rahner says about Original Sin?

1250 Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism . . . 1263 By Baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all punishment for sin. In those who have been reborn nothing remains that would impede their entry into the Kingdom of God, neither Adam's sin, nor personal sin, nor the consequences of sin, the gravest of which is separation from God.1279 The fruit of Baptism, or baptismal grace, is a rich reality that includes forgiveness of original sin and all personal sins . . . .

How is it possible to reconcile the dogma of the Immaculate Conception with what Rahner says (or Ratzinger says, in the quotes given by Fr. Komonchak) about Original Sin? I don't put much stock in apparitions, but for those who do, how can you make any sense of the Virgin Mary saying to Bernadette of Lourdes, "I am the Immaculate Conception"? It seems to me that it is dogma that Original Sin is an act freely chosen by humans in the past and is passed on at the moment of conception "by propagation, not by imitation." While I acknowledge that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception is probably one of the less critical dogmas, nevertheless, it was formally pronounced as an infallible truth. How can a Church that claims to be under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, so that it cannot teach error, present to the faithful an infallible pronouncement that is at best a statement the meaning of which is either innocuous or cannot be determined?



About the Author

Lisa Fullam is associate professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. She is the author of The Virtue of Humility: A Thomistic Apologetic (Edwin Mellen Press).