Fascination with wickedness obscures what is good, and roving desire perverts the innocent mind.
Wisdom of Solomon 4:12

Monday, June 4, 2012

Ancestral Sin pt 1

 © John S. Romanides

[ This article originally appeared in the St. Vladimir's Seminary Quarterly, Vol. IV, Nos. 1 and 2, 1955-6. ]

I. Fallen Creation
St. Paul  strongly affirms  the belief that  all things created  by God are good.[1] Yet,  at the  same time,  he insists  on the  fact that not  only man,[2]  but also all of creation has fallen.[3]  Both man and creation are awaiting  the final redemption.[4]  Thus,  in spite  of the fact  that all things created  by God are good,  the devil has temporarily[5] become the "god of this age."[6]  A basic presupposition of St. Paul's thought is that althought the  world was created by God and as such  is good, yet now there rules  in  it the  power  of  Satan. The  devil,  however, is  by no  means absolute, since God has never abandoned His creation.[7]
Thus, according to St.  Paul, creation as it is is not what God intended it to be--"For the creature  was made subject to vanity...by reason of him who hath  subjected  the  same."[8]  Therefore,  evil  can  exist,  at  least temporarily, as a parasitic  element alongside and inside of that which God created originally  good. A  good example of  this is one who  would do the Good according  to the "inner man," but finds  it impossible because of the indwelling power  of sin in the flesh.[9]  Although created good and still maintained and  governed by God, creation as it is  is still far from being normal or  natural, if  by "normal" we  understand nature according  to the original and final destiny of creation. governing this age, in spite of the fact that God Himself is still sustaining creation and creating for Himself a remnant,[10] is the devil himself.[11]

To  try  to read  into  St.  Paul's thought  any  type of  philosophy of  a naturally  well balanced  universe with  inherent and  fixed moral  laws of reason, according to which men can live with peace of mind and be happy, is to do  violence to the apostle's faith. For St. Paul,  there is now no such thing as a natural world with an inherent system of moral laws, because all of creation  has been subjected to the vanity and  evil power of Satan, who is ruling  by the powers of  death and corruption.[12]  For this reason all men  have become  sinners.[13] There  is no  such thing  as a man  who is sinless simply because he is living according to the rules of reason or the Mosaic  law.[14]  The  possibility of  living according to  universal reason entails, also, the possibility of being without sin. But for Paul this is a myth, because  Satan is  no respecter of  reasonable rules of  good conduct[15] and has under  his influence all men born under the power of death and corruption.[16]

Whether  or not  belief  in the  present, real  and  active power  of Satan appeals to  the Biblical  theologian, he cannot ignore  the importance that St. Paul  attributes to the power  of the devil. To  do so is to completely misunderstand  the problem  of  original sin  and its  transmission  and so misinterpret the  mind of  the New Testament  writers and the  faith of the whole ancient Church. In regard to the power of Satan to introduce sin into the  life of every  man, St.  Augustine in combating  Pelagianism obviously misread St.  Paul. by relegating the power  of Satan, death, and corruption to the background and  pushing to the foreground of controversy the problem of  personal  guilt in  the  transmission  of original  sin, St.  Augustine introduced a  false moralistic  philosophical approach which  is foreign to the thinking  of St. Paul[17] and which was  not accepted by the patristic tradition of the East.[18]

For St.  Paul, Satan is not simply a negative power  in the universe. He is personal with will,[19] with thoughts,[20] and with methods of deception,[21] against whom Christians must wage and intense battle[22] because they can still  be tempted by him.[23] He is active in  a dynamic manner,[24] fighting for  the destruction of creation  and not simply waiting passively in a restricted corner  to accept those who happen to rationally decide not to follow  God and the moral laws inherent in  a natural universe. Satan is even capable of transforming himself into an angel of light[25]. He has at his disposal  miraculous powers  of perversion[26] and has  as co-workers whole armies of invisible powers.[27] He is the "god of this age,"[28] the one who deceived the  first woman.[29] It is he who led man[30] and all of creation into the path of death and corruption.[31]

The power of death  and corruption, according to Paul, is not negative, but on the contrary, positively  active. "The sting of death is sin,"[32] which in turn reigns in  death.[33] Not only man, but all creation has been yoked under its  tyrannizing power[34] and  is now awaiting redemption. Creation itself shall  also be delivered  from the slavery of  corruption.[35] Along with the  final destruction of all the enemies  of God, death--the last and probably  the greatest  enemy--will be  destroyed.[36]  Then death  will be swallowed  up in  victory.[37] For  St. Paul,  the destruction of  death is parallel to the destruction of the devil and his forces. Salvation from the one is salvation from the other.[38]

It  is  obvious from  St.  Paul's expressions  concerning fallen  creation, Satan, and  death, that  there is no room  in his thinking for  any type of metaphysical dualism, of departmentalization which would make of this world and intermediary  domain which for  man is merely a  stepping stone leading either into the presence of God or into the kingdom of Satan. The idea of a three  story universe,  whereby God  and His  company of saints  and angels occupy  the top floor,  the devil the  basement, and  man in the  flesh the middle,  has no  room in Pauline  theology. For  Paul, all three  orders of existence  interpenetrate. There  is  no such  thing as  a middle  world of neutrality where  man can live according to natural  law and then be judged for a life of  happiness in the presence of God or for a life of torment in the pits of outer  darkness. On the contrary, all of creation is the domain of God,  Who Himself cannot be  tainted with evil. But  in His domain there are other  wills which He has created, which  can choose either the kingdom of God or the kingdom of death and destruction.

In  spite of the  fact that creation  is of  God and essentially  good, the devil at the same  time has parasitically transformed this same creation of God into a temporary kingdom for himself.[39]  The devil, death, and sin are reigning in this world and not in another. Both the kingdom of darkness and kingdom  of light are  battling hand to  hand in  the same place.  For this reason, the  only true victory possible over  the devil is the resurrection of the  dead.[40]  There is no escape from  the battlefield. The only choice possible for every man  is either to fight the devil by actively sharing in the victory of Christ,  or to accept the deceptions of the devil by wanting to   believe  that   all   goes  well   and  everything   is   normal.[41]

[1] I Tim. 4:4
[2] Rom. 5:12
[3] Rom. 8:20
[4] Rom. 8:21-23
[5] I Cor. 15:26
[6] II Cor. 4:3
[7] Rom. 1:20
[8] Rom. 8:20
[9] Rom. 7:15-25
[10] Rom 11:5
[11] II Cor. 4:3
[12] I Cor. 15:56
[13] Rom. 3:9-12; 5:19
[14] Rom. 5:13
[15] II Cor. 4:3; 11:14; Eph. 6:11-17; II Thes. 2:8
[16] Rom. 8:24
[17] Col. 2:8
[18] e.g., St. Cyrill of Alexandria, Migne, P.G.t. 74, c. 788-789
[19] II Tim. 2:26
[20] II Cor. 2:11
[21] I Tim. 2:14; 4:14; II Tim. 2:26; II Cor. 11:14; 4:3; 2:11; 11:3
[22] Eph. 6:11-17
[23] I Cor. 7:5; II Cor. 2:11; 11:3; Eph. 4:27; I Thes. 3:5; I Tim. 3:6; 3:7; 4:1; 5:14
[24] II Cor. 11:14; 4:3; Eph 2:2; 6:11-17; I Thes. 2:18; 3:5; II Thes. 2:9; I Tim. 2:14; 3:7; II Tim. 2:25-26
[25] II Cor. 11:15
[26] II Thes. 2:9
[27] Eph 6:12; Col. 2:15
[28] II Cor. 4:4
[29] II Cor. 11:3; I Tim. 2:14
[30] Ibid.
[31] Rom. 8:19-22
[32] I Cor. 15:56
[33] Rom. 5:21
[34] Rom. 8:20
[35] Rom. 8:21
[36] I Cor. 15:24-26
[37] I Cor. 15:54
[38] Col. 2:13-15; I Cor. 15:24-27; 15:54-57
[39] II Cor. 4:3; Gal. 1:4; Eph. 6:12
[40] I Cor. 15:1 ff.
[41] Rom. 12:2; I Cor. 2:12; 11:32; II Cor. 4:3; Col. 2:20; II Thes. 2:9; II Tim. 4:10; Col. 2:8; I Cor. 5:10

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