Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Desert Father on Original Sin

We are sometimes told that the doctrine of original sin is exclusively a Western idea. The primary basis of this claim is that it is Augustine who primarily popularized the term "original sin," and his influence was mostly felt in the West. The secondary basis is that most Eastern Orthodox folks today seem to reject the idea of original sin. In the following discussion, one can see one of the desert fathers speaking about original sin, but - of course - without using the term "original sin." Thanks to Roger Pearse for making this translation available.

Isidore of Pelusium (died about A.D. 449), Letter 100 — to Syros the Reader (Against the Novatians)(translated by Clive Sweeting)
Say to the disciple of Novatian’s pride: why are you foolishly boasting as if [you were] clean? Why are you pretending that you are sinless? Why deny the (fault) common to nature? Isaiah declares himself unclean; David knows that every man is a liar and that all were conceived and carried in the womb in sin. God Himself knows that human beings are devotedly attached to evil and require only the mercy of divine kindness- and do you arrogantly boast of being clean? Either then give over lying or from what you are doing be exposed as a laughing-stock or indeed mightily shameful.
(source)

I think the expression "common to nature" is particularly interesting, since the opponents of original sin seem to be fond of allegedly that man's nature was not affected by Adam's sin. I should point out further that the source of this nature is not explained in this short letter. So, it would be a stretch to conclude from this short letter that Isidore of Pelusium had as well-developed an idea of original sin as Augustine did. Still, the statements are interesting, particularly as an expression of Eastern rejection of Pelagian errors.

-TurretinFan

10 comments:

wtanksley said...

The closest this came to "original sin" was the statement "common to nature", wouldn't you say? And most Christians don't define original sin as being part of man's nature: if it were natural, Christ would have had it.
I know most of the EO say that all men sin. (I say "most" simply because I know there's some doctrinal disunity, not because I know of any on this point.) They simply don't say that their sin was passed to them from Adam, but rather they were put into vulnerability by Adam, and then they sin on their own account.

Turretinfan said...

"Conceived and carried in the womb in sin" is also relevant.

wtanksley said...

My mistake; you're right. The EOs agree with the words "conceived in sin", of course (it's hard to avoid agreeing with THAT), but "carried in the womb in sin" is definitely a distinctive statement of original sin.

tesla1389 said...

I think it is a little more complex than that (greetings, btw). The EO, as I understand it, do not reject that the sin in the garden has negative affects today; they simply reject the proposition we inherit Adam's guilt. Persons accrue guilt; not natures. Conversely, the problem is not with transmitted guilty statuses, but with death (1 Cor. 15).

but I'm no expert

Lvka said...

The human nature that we inherit from Adam has been corrupted by death and weakness, but we're not "born guilty". And that death and weakness has been destroyed in Christ's human nature by His pure, holy, and unspotted life, and by His death and resurrection. And this freedom becomes ours through Baptism and Holy Communion.

Turretinfan said...

Luka:

You have given a fairly typical EO view (which is not surprising, since that is your background).

This isn't really the place for us to debate, but I simply note that you would need to respectfully disagree with this particular father. He states more than inherited concupiscence when he says "all were conceived and carried in the womb in sin."

-TurretinFan

Lvka said...

We were conceived in sin, and we were carried in the womb in sin. (Unless you think our parents are spotless, people are sinless, and this world is heaven on earth...)

Turretinfan said...

The father is not talking about the person's parents, or about the person's mother, but about the person.

Lvka said...

And by whom was that person conceived, and in whose womb was he or she carried? From whom does he derive his nature, and how is that nature like? Isn't it weak and inclined to sin? Isn't it marred by sin through death and weakness?

Turretinfan said...

Why are you asking me?