2 Differences Between Catholics and Presbyterians on Original Sin Dogma

2 Differences Between Catholics and Presbyterians on Original Sin Dogma August 3, 2022

V&A Museum Collections/Wikimedia.
V&A Museum Collections/Wikimedia.

 

The Westminster Standards contain the system of doctrine taught in Scriptures from a reformed Presbyterian perspective. Among them, the Westminster Confession of Faith has a prominent role.

In chapter VI, in addressing the fall of man and original sin, it states:

I. Our first parents, being seduced by the subtilty and temptation of Satan, sinned, in eating the forbidden fruit. This their sin, God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory.

Analyzing words superficially

And on this point, Catholics agree. And, I should remember it, we should start analyses like these from what we agree on. However, we disagree on what it says shortly thereafter:

II. By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body.

The Confession, if one analyzes its words superficially, agrees with Catholic dogma by saying that “by this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin.”

So much so that, in similar words, the Council of Trent defines:

I. If any one does not confess that the first man, Adam, when he had transgressed the commandment of God in Paradise, immediately lost the holiness and justice wherein he had been constituted;

and that he incurred, through the offence of that prevarication, the wrath and indignation of God, and consequently death, with which God had previously threatened him, and, together with death, captivity under his power who thenceforth had the empire of death, that is to say,

the devil, and that the entire Adam, through that offence of prevarication, was changed, in body and soul, for the worse; let him be anathema.

That disobedience, the fruit of pride and a grave sin, provoked God’s righteous indignation and man’s eternal rejection. Through original sin, our parents lost what we call sanctifying grace, the supernatural gift which inserted them in the very life of God and made them his friends.

Our parents also lost the preternatural gifts: immortality, impassibility etc. They, therefore, lost that original righteousness.

In fact, they “became dead in sin”, as stated by the Confession. The Council of Trent also states:

II. If any one asserts, that the prevarication of Adam injured himself alone, and not his posterity; and that the holiness and justice, received of God, which he lost, he lost for himself alone, and not for us also;

or that he, being defiled by the sin of disobedience, has only transfused death, and pains of the body, into the whole human race, but not sin also, which is the death of the soul; let him be anathema.

Do we agree?

However, if the original sin is the death of the soul, and if the death of the soul is the absence of supernatural life (the sanctifying grace), the original sin, in Catholic doctrine, is the condition of being depraved of grace, “dead in sin”.

It is by Baptism that the grace of Our Lord, the life in God, is given to us, and we are regenerated, and sin is totally extinguished, as Trent says:

V. If any one denies, that, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is conferred in baptism, the guilt of original sin is remitted (…).

For, in those who are born again, there is nothing that God hates;

(…) who is created according to God, are made innocent, immaculate, pure, harmless, and beloved of God, heirs indeed of God, but joint heirs with Christ; so that there is nothing whatever to retard their entrance into heaven.

Therefore, even if the words employed by the Confession, in this first passage of paragraph II, affirm the same as Trent, our definition of original sin diverges from each other: while for Catholics it is the absence of sanctifying grace, for The Westminster Confession it is the entire corruption of nature which is a sin and which, even in the regenerated, persists as a sin, as the Confession says in number V:

V. This corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be, through Christ, pardoned, and mortified; yet both itself, and all the motions thereof, are truly and properly sin.

Another difference

The Confession also diverges from Catholic dogma by stating that, because of original sin, men are “wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body “. Thus explains the Confession:

IV. From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.

Catholic dogma, in contrast, states that “the entire Adam, through that offence of prevarication, was changed, in body and soul, for the worse”.

A change for the worse

Catholics do not hold that the corruption of nature is itself sin, or that the sinner, before he is regenerated, is “utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil”, since men can do, without the grace of God, e.g. morally good natural actions, as greeting a brother.

Thus, two points apart us in this dogma: the very definition of original sin and what is the consequence of it in human nature.


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