Sin (part 1 of 4)

In her doctrine (teaching) on the nature of humans, the Catholic Church holds the middle ground as true between two opposing theories, that humans are both body AND soul. That is NOT splitting the difference. The Church’s one mission is Truth. He is Truth. And, typically, the Truth is found between extremes, typically. Heresies tend toward one extreme or the other, as is typical of heresies.

We don’t have a souls. We are souls and have bodies, imago Dei, made in the image and likeness of God, Himself; from and through which each person receives their inestimable value and divinely given dignity, without qualification.

Through original sin, we lost our original justice/righteousness. We lost immortality and our original innocence having eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We, justly, earned suffering, death, ignorance and lust; ignorance and lust often leading to suffering and death.

By the disobedience of our original parents, sin entered the world.

CCC 1849 Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is a failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods…. It has been defined [by St Augustine] as “an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law.”

CCC 1850 Sin is an offense against God…. Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become “like gods,” knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus “love of oneself even to the contempt of God.”

Sin is social

In his Apostolic Exhortation, Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, Pope John Paul. II says that the “mystery of sin”

“is composed of [a] twofold wound which the sinner opens in himself and in his relationship with his neighbor. Therefore one can speak of personal and social sin: From one point of view, every sin is personal; from another point of view, every sin is social insofar as and because it also has social repercussions.”

All sin is social, says John Paul II, in this regard: It wounds our relationship with our neighbor. No man is an island.

This does not mean that sin is not personal at all; and it does not mean that “external factors” in a society are to blame for a person’s sins. That would be a misreading. The pope is clear in pointing that out.

“Sin, in the proper sense, is always a personal act, since it is an act of freedom on the part of an individual person and not properly of a group or community. This individual may be conditioned, incited and influenced by numerous and powerful external factors. He may also be subjected to tendencies, defects and habits linked with his personal condition. In not a few cases such external and internal factors may attenuate, to a greater or lesser degree, the person’s freedom and therefore his responsibility and guilt. But it is a truth of faith, also confirmed by our experience and reason, that the human person is free. This truth cannot be disregarded in order to place the blame for individuals’ sins on external factors such as structures, systems or other people.”

That is important. Only an individual can be responsible for sin. “Social sin” does not mean that society sins, or that society bears the burden of guilt. What it does mean is that every sin, to one degree or another, has a consequence for others.

“To speak of social sin means in the first place to recognize that, by virtue of human solidarity which is as mysterious and intangible as it is real and concrete, each individual’s sin in some way affects others.”

To sin is to wound not only yourself but a brother or a sister. It puts you out of right relationship with God, out of right relationship with yourself, and also out of right relationship with other human beings (who are themselves the image of God). In that way, all sin wounds the Christ in your brother or sister.

The pope expands on this thought:

“Consequently one can speak of a communion of sin, whereby a soul that lowers itself through sin drags down with itself the church and, in some way, the whole world. In other words, there is no sin, not even the most intimate and secret one, the most strictly individual one, that exclusively concerns the person committing it. With greater or lesser violence, with greater or lesser harm, every sin has repercussions on the entire ecclesial body and the whole human family. According to this first meaning of the term, every sin can undoubtedly be considered as social sin.”

It is not just “society,” in the secular sense, that is wounded by each sin, but the society of the Church itself. The Body of Christ also bears the wound. Even to that extent alone, all sin is “social”, and tragic, and devastating in its effects.

It is important to work to change laws. But changing laws will be, in John Paul II’s words, “ultimately vain and ineffective” unless we also convert souls.

Love,
Matthew

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