What is Original Sin? *
Much of the language on Genesis' opening chapters is figurative. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church affirms that we find there a reference to a real event in time that took place at the very beginning of the human race--a tragedy unequaled in history, known as the Fall (see 3:1-24). We know few details, but the basic realities surrounding that fateful development are clear from the teaching of Scripture (here and elsewhere) and Tradition:
God created our first human parents in a state of holiness, an original justice (righteousness), without sin, and thus without shame (see Gn 2:25). They enjoyed a right and harmonious relationship with God, themselves, each other, and the world around them (see Gn 1:26-31; 2:8-9, 15, 21-25).
Through their own free choice, however, they disobeyed God, breaking fellowship with him (see Gn 2:15-17; 3:1-13; Sir 15:14).
Their disobedience--a turning away from the Source of all life and order--necessarily brought death and disorder into the world, and above all within themselves. So they "fell" from their previous condition to a state of sinfulness, misery, and ignorance (see Gn 3:14-24). Their human nature was deeply wounded, though not totally corrupted.
Our first parents, having lost their original wholeness, could not pass on to their descendants what they themselves no longer possessed. This deprivation is consequently inherited by all human beings and is called "original sin" (see Rom 5:12-19).
Unlike personal sin, resulting from the wrong choices of individuals, original sin does not result from our own doing. It is contracted, not committed; we are conceived with it (see Ps 51:7).
The sacrament of Baptism cleanses us from original sin. It restores us to original righteousness and fellowship with God (see Acts 2:38; 22:16). But after Baptism we are still left with a certain moral and spiritual weakness (concupiscence), so that even though our wills are free, we are inclined to sin--an inclination we must continually overcome by God's grace (see Rom 6:19; 7:15-24).
The only two human beings (after our first parents) to be conceived without original sin are our Lord Jesus Christ (see 2 Cor 5:21) and his blessed mother, whose immaculate conception was possible through the merits of her sinless Son (see Lk 1:28; see also Mary).
Other related scriptures: Ps 14:1-3; 53:2-4; Eccl 7:20; Sir 15:11-20; Rom 3:9-18, 23; 1 Cor 15:22; Heb 4:15.
Catechism of the Catholic Church: 396-421
*Quoted from The New Catholic Answer Bible: A-4. Wichita, Kansas, Fireside Catholic Publishing, 2005. www.firesidecatholic.com
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