In speaking of “original sin” we can turn to a scholastic distinction between the PECCATUM ORIGINALE ORIGINANS and the PECCATUM ORIGINALE ORIGINATUM. These Latin phrases offer us a theological insight which we would otherwise miss in English. The first phrase refers to “original sin” in the sense of “originating.” This means the personal sin of Adam. The second is “original sin” in the sense of “having been originated.” This means the state passed on in human nature which deprives the human race of the original justice and holiness which our first parents enjoyed before their sin. I’m going to concentrate on the PECCATUM ORIGINALE ORIGINANS, the first sin of the human race.

God created Adam and Eve in a paradise of righteousness in grace. In their original justice, Adam and Eve are perfectly ordered to God, so that they would welcome God’s movement in their lives. Adam and Eve were thus ordered within themselves, among themselves, and between themselves and the rest of creation. In this blessed state, they would not suffer. Human death was not God’s original intention. As Scripture tells us, “God did not make death” (Wis 1:13).

When we read Genesis 3, we find some startling ideas. Some may object to the language of Genesis as simply some ancient Near Eastern myth. The Church does not define the literal details of the story, but the Church does teach the truth that the story reveals. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault committed by our first parents” (CCC 390).

The serpent symbolizes the devil, an angel that had been created good. The devil sinned out of pride, and sought at the beginning of the human race to turn humans from God. The devil is “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). He tempts Adam and Eve with the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Some may wonder: “What? Did God want humans to be dumb?” No! That tree “symbolically evokes the insurmountable limits that man, being a creature, must freely recognize and respect with trust” (CCC 396).

The first sin was something far from something petty (“it’s just a piece of fruit, what’s the big deal?”) or something arbitrary (“it seems capricious of God to have such a silly commandment in the first place”). A Thomistic principle about sin is this: “We do not offend God except by doing something contrary to our own good” (St. Thomas, SUMMA CONTRA GENTILES III, chap. 122). Adam and Eve offended God by acting against their own good.

What was their good? To be like God!  The devil tricked Eve by claiming that if the forbidden fruit is eaten, “you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad” (Gen 3:5). The Church explains, “Constituted in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully ‘divinized’ by God in glory. Seduced by the devil, he wanted to ‘be like God,’ but ‘without God, before God, and not in accordance with God’ (CCC 398; cf. Maximus the Confessor, AMBIGUA AD IOANNEM, PG 91.1156C).” God is not a god of good and evil. He is all good. For Adam and Eve to want to know goodness and evil is to separate them from God, who is the author of the good alone.

Without grace, human nature falls apart because it is no longer rightly ordered to God. The punishment on our first parents shows forth the consequence of what Adam and Eve had done. Yet, God did not abandon them in their sin.

The Protoevangelium, or first Gospel, speaks of the woman’s offspring and how the serpent would be struck (Gen 3:15). One way I like to think about this is what St. Paul says, “I want you to be wise as to what is good, and simple as to what is evil; then the God of peace will quickly crush Satan under your feet” (Rom 16:19-20). By the grace of the Redeemer and with Our Lady who is the New Eve, may we experience the crushing of Satan under our feet!

Fr. Andrew Hofer, O.P., (Notre Dame, Ph.D. 2010) wants to be, like St. Dominic, a preacher of grace, not a herald of sin. You may contact him at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. at