St. Peter Chrysologus (380AD – 450AD) on Original Sin

January 28, 2015

Sermon 111

“Therefore as through one man sin entered into the world and through sin death, and thus death has passed into all men because all have sinned–for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law; yet death reigned from Adam until Moses even over those who did not sin after the likeness of Adam, who is a figure of Him Who was to come.” (Romans 5: 12-14)

Brethren, the selection from the Apostle for today tells us that through one man the whole world received its sentence. This passage impels us not to preach a sermon, but rather to weep with a renewed and heartfelt sorrow. Renowned prophets have bewailed at length the plight of the Chosen People, and of one city, and sometimes of a single man. If this is the case, then what mind would not be suffering from a total darkening, or what senses would not be getting confused from a complete dulling, or what eyes would not be converted into flowing springs of tears at this fact: The downfall of all men has issued from the fall of one, and the fault of one man has flowed out to become a punishment of all, and the vice of the parent has brought a sad catastrophe upon the whole race? That is what the Apostle states: “Therefore as through one man sin entered into the world and through sin death.”  Oh, what grief I feel! The very man who was a source of all our goods has become the entrance letting in all our evils!

‘Sin entered into the world.’ Into this world. Are you in wonderment that he who by his sin brought condemnation on the world proved harmful to his descendants? But, you ask: “How did sin enter? Through whom did it get in?” How? By means of a fault. Through whom? Through a man. And what is sin, a nature or a substance? It is neither a nature nor a substance, but an accident. It is an unfavorable power which is observed in its operation and felt in the punishment it brings on. It attacks the soul, wounds the mind, violates and disorders the nature itself.

And why should I say more, brethren? Sin is to nature what smoke is to the eyes, what fever is to the body, what a bitter salting is to the sweetest springs. The eye indeed is faultless and lucid through nature, but becomes confused and disordered through the injury brought on by smoke. The body, too, thrives by means of its parts, members, and senses, because it was formed into a unit by God. But, once the stormy force of fever has begun its control, that whole units become weak. Then there is bitterness in the man’s mouth and confusion before his eyes. The path of his steps is uncertain. Then, too, a gentle breeze causes pain, and his dear ones are burdensome, and even helpful attentions bothersome. Too, springs are very pleasant through their natural sweetness, but they become just as unpleasant when they receive foreign matter from outside to spoil them.

But, let us get back to the theme we began. ‘Therefore as through one man sin entered into the world and through sin death.’

There is the entrance, brethren! Through a man sin came, and clearly through this sin we are seen to have come under the control of death. O sin, you cruel beast—and a beast not content to vent your fury against the human race from merely one head. We have seen this beat, brethren, devouring with a triple mouth all the highly precious sprouts of the human family. Yes, brethren, with a mouth that is triple: as sin this beast captures, as death it devours, as hell it swallows down.

And as we stated, what copious tears we should surely shed over such a parent! How great are the miseries he left us for our inheritance! Not only did he lose the goods conferred on himself, but he left all hid descendants at the mercy of such fierce creditors. O bitter and cruel inheritance! Oh, how unfortunate we were! We found no pleasure in getting that inheritance, but could not disclaim ourselves as the heirs!

Hear what follows. ‘And thus death has passed into all men.’ However, do not by any chance think it something unjust when through one man death has passed into all men, because all men have their existence through that one. You are deploring your condemnation through him through whom you glory for having received your birth to the light of day.

But, you object: If I owe to my ancestry the fact that I was born, do I also owe to its transgression this, that nature should make me guilty, before any fault of my own? The very next words of the Apostle give a reply to this question of yours. ‘Because all have have sinner.’ If because of him [Adam] all men have become sinners, then rightly through him have all men received the penalty.

‘As through one man sin entered into the world and through sin death, and thus death passed unto all men, because all have sinned.’ Whether it be in the case of the man, or in the case of his sin, through him and because of him all have become sinners. Therefore, sin has not been changed into a nature. But while sin brings on death, it requires that the penalty due to itself be paid through a nature. God has made man’s nature such that He was creating man for life. However, when this nature reluctantly generates [offspring] destined to death, it acknowledges that it is subject to sin, and serves as the minister in this life of the penalty due to sin. For, brethren, who would hold opinions like these—that nature would desire its infants to perish, and those young so dear to itself to be killed? Rather, while she groans in her grief, she signs and longs to see her lost liberty again.

But it is John who first clearly shows through whom nature received this liberty. When he sees Christ he proclaims with loud shouts: ‘Behold the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world.’  The sin of the world—namely, brethren, that sin which the Apostle testifies to have entered through one man. Therefore, brethren, rejoice! Because the sin which by its heavy mass was depressing toward hell has by Christ been taken away and already sunk into hell. And the grace of this second and divine Parent has restored us from this punishment back to life—us whom the fault of our first parent had sentence to death. Therefore, man could not be saved without Christ, because before His coming the sin of the whole world had an enduring position.

You, however, admit that you are justified through Christ. Then do you object to your having received sentence through Adam? And do you complain that the penalty due to another man has also hurt you—you who see that the injustice of another another man has helped you? Is not the whole tree contained in the seed? Therefore, a defect of the seed is a defect of the whole tree. If the nature itself had been able to help itself through its own power, the Creator Himself would never have assumed this nature to work its repairing. Do you believe that it has been created for life, if you still doubt that it has been repaired by its Creator?

‘For until the Law,’ the text states, ‘sin was in the world.’  When you hear the sounds ‘until the Law,’ understand them to mean all the way until the end of the Law, that is, up until the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  ‘Because sin is not imputed,’ it says, ‘when there is no law.’  And when was the law, which began with man himself, non-existent?  If there had been no Law, Adam indeed would not have been a transgressor, as the same Apostle makes clear: ‘Yet death reigned from Adam until Moses.’  Both of them had received a law.  But Adam transgressed soon after receiving it, and Moses, once he had received the Law, promulgated it to transgressors. As the Apostle says: ‘The Law was enacted on account of transgressions.’  Therefore, death reigned through the Law, because in its fierceness death devoured the transgressors more eagerly than the mere sinners. It devoured those men now fallen through their own sin, not only through that of their parent.

‘But death reigned,’ it says, ‘from Adam until Moses, even over those who did not sin after the likeness of the transgression of Adam’—because it kept on devouring not only the adults, but also the children. It kept on striking down not only the guilty, but also the innocent—I mean those free from their own personal guilt, not from their parent’s.  Consequently, their state was all the more pitiful, since the infant was paying the penalty of that father whose life he had scarcely begun to enjoy. And he who did not yet understand the world was expiating its sin.

Therefore, brethren, let us acquiesce in the fact that death has reigned through one man and because of one man’s sin, if all of us wish to be see free through One Man, and to have our very being through Christ. For, he who lives owes it to Christ, not to himself; and he owes to Adam the fact that he must die.


The above Sermon by St. Peter Chrysologus was taken from the “Fathers of the Church” series.