An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

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Original Sin

The shared sinful condition of all humanity. This Christian doctrine is drawn from the Pauline writings, such as Rom 5:12-19 and 1 Cor 15:21-22, which suggest that humanity shares by nature in the fall of Adam described in Gn 3. Paul likewise urges that the consequences for humanity of Adam's fall are to be reversed through saving participation in Christ's victory over sin and death.

Original sin has been described as "hereditary sin." Augustine understood original sin to be transmitted through sexual intercourse leading to conception. This understanding contributed to negative attitudes concerning human sexuality on the part of some Christians.

Luther's understanding of original sin led him to emphasize humanity's utter dependence on God's grace and the need for faith. Calvinism came to emphasize humanity's total depravity relative to original sin. Although the consequences of original sin have not been emphasized as strongly in Anglicanism as in other Protestant traditions, Article IX of the Articles of Religion, "Of Original or Birth-Sin," states that "man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil" (BCP, p. 869). Roman Catholics likewise identify the consequence of original sin as a fall from grace or a wounded human nature rather than a corrupt nature.

Original sin may be understood as humanity's innate self-centeredness. A consequence of this condition is human weakness and fallibility relative to sin. Another consequence is the influence of human sinfulness in our history and environment, to which we are subjected from birth. These influences all serve to restrict the actual freedom of moral choices, requiring us to look to God for hope and salvation.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from "An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians," Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.