Drawing heavily on St. Thomas Aquinas’ “Summa Theologiae,” a Vatican archbishop with New York roots called original sin “the absence of sanctifying grace in the substance of the soul.”
Perhaps surprisingly to some, Archbishop J. Augustine Di Noia said original sin “does not involve what is proper to actual sin: there is no conscious turning away from God and toward the creaturely instead of Him.” With the “positive orientation to God” at the root of “original justice” absent, it means that “effective moral direction” is also lacking, the archbishop said.
And so, with the loss of original justice, Catholics receive sanctifying grace “not by human nature inherited from Adam, but by redemption through the new Adam, Jesus Christ,” Archbishop Di Noia said.
“Original sin is not an inclination to evil, but a lack of facility in choosing the good…We are not born bad,” the archbishop said.
Archbishop Di Noia’s remarks came during the annual Edward Cardinal Egan Lecture, which he delivered at the Catholic Center at New York University in Lower Manhattan May 21. His topic was “Not Born Bad: The Catholic Truth About Original Sin From a Thomistic Perspective.”
More than 450 people attended the talk, with several participating in a lively question and answer session afterward.
The lecture represented a homecoming for Archbishop Di Noia, the adjunct secretary of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who grew up in the Bronx where he was an altar boy at St. Anthony’s parish on Richardson Avenue and graduated from Cardinal Hayes High School.
Ordained to the priesthood for the Dominican Fathers in 1970, he previously served as secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments. He also taught theology as a visiting professor at St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, for a year before moving to the Vatican in 2002. He was ordained to the episcopacy in 2009.
In a section of the talk titled “Original Sin in a Contemporary Context,” Archbishop Di Noia said God’s intention in creating human beings “is to make them sharers in the divine life and thus in the communion of Trinitarian life.” From divine revelation, we learn that “the first human beings momentously turned away from this invitation to share in divine life,” and that the decision “had inescapable consequences for the human race, which could only be undone by Christ.”
According to Catholic doctrine, human beings are born in a state of sin, “a state that is…said to be acquired not by imitation but by propagation,” the archbishop said.
Archbishop Di Noia later noted that the Church’s doctrine of original sin is needed today “to counter the pessimism and dualism that have become endemic in popular culture.” The authors of the Book of Genesis, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, seek to convey “the truth of divine revelation that the source of the moral evil we see around us lies in the human will of a single moral agent” who did not embrace the offer of divine communion intended by God to define “the supernatural destiny of human nature,” the archbishop said.
Good and evil “are not equally matched forces locked in an eternal struggle,” the archbishop said.
“The goodness of creation and the omnipotent goodness of God are not undone,” Archbishop Di Noia explained. “Foreseeing the fault, God out of love foreordained the remedy. And, for the record, we are not born bad.”
The annual lecture is sponsored by the Magnificat Foundation, which seeks to promote the best of Catholic culture, thought and liturgy. Information: www.magnificatfoundation.org.