Come now, let us settle the matter," says the LORD.
"Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.
Isaiah 1, 18
For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring,
and my blessing on your descendants.
Isaiah 44, 3
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all
your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new
spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to
keep my laws.
Ezekiel 36, 25-27
And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified,
you were justified in the name of the LORD Jesus Christ
and by the Spirit of our God.
2 Corinthians 6, 11
In Catholic theology, original sin is regarded as the general state of sinfulness, that is the absence of sanctity and perfect charity into which all human beings are born. We read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that original sin is the natural state of “deprivation of the original holiness and justice” which we inherit as descendants of Adam and Eve. It is a sin that is contracted by all human beings by natural propagation, not a sin committed by them. Because original sin is a state or condition of our human nature and not a sinful act on our part, it “does not take on the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 405).
All Adam’s descendants are conceived and born in the state of original sin (Ps. 51:7). St. Paul tells us: “As sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men inasmuch as all men sinned” (Rom. 5:12). The apostle adds: “Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men” (Rom. 5:18). Physical death is a sign of spiritual death. Though physical death remains as a temporal penalty for our common sins against God, Christ restored humanity to spiritual life with God by his passion and death on the Cross. The second death - eternal damnation or separation from God - is no longer an irrevocable prospect for all human beings.
At any rate, original sin is the state of being deprived of supernatural grace. When Adam fell from the supernatural life with God, he fell into a defective state. Having fallen from grace, the supernatural life was something that he should have possessed as God destined him to. But since he lost it, his lower natural condition is what we call the state of original sin: the deprivation of the original sanctity and justice in which Adam was originally created by God in His goodness. Since the Fall, all his biological descendants are thus inclined, as natural members in the organic body of Adam, to evil: concupiscence of the eyes, the concupiscence of the flesh, and the pride of life.
Not unlike their primordial father, human beings tend to want to be like God, but apart from God, before God, and not in accordance with the will of God. Human acts that originate from this attitude may constitute mortal sins which deprive the soul of sanctity and justice before God through the original fall from grace. Thus, original sin is called sin only in an analogical sense: it is a sin "contracted" and not "committed" - a state and not an act. Only one's own personal sins carry with it the character of a personal fault and guilt by the natural proclivity to sin as a member of fallen humanity. Thus, original sin is called sin only in an analogical sense: it is a sin "contracted" and not "committed" - a state and not an act. Only one's own personal sins carry with it the character of a personal fault and guilt.
In the redemption of humankind, God restored sanctifying or justifying grace to all humanity by Christ's merits. Without this merciful act of God, man could never have retrieved that supernatural state above nature which is the end for which God destined him. The grace of redemption blots out the sin of Adam, although the moral and physical ill-effects of original sin remain after we are baptized. Dom Bruno Webb describes original sin as “some disease that has infected the original cell of the human body” which may “permeate every organ and cell of the body, as it grows forth from that [first] cell.” The original sin that we contract is like a “poison” that has “passed into every member of the human race”. The sin of Adam, therefore, is something that belongs to each member of the human race as such and is “our common heritage.”
In Romans 5:19, St. Paul writes: “Many (polloi) were made sinners. He isn’t contradicting himself by not using the word “all” (pantes), since what he means to say here as in verse 18 is that all people are subject to original sin, but not everyone rejects God. He certainly doesn’t mean to say in the distributive sense that everyone who has ever lived has sinned without exception, since infants and mentally disabled people cannot sin, at least not subjectively or with moral responsibility. The act of sin requires full knowledge and full consent on the part of the subject. But given the right circumstances, they might sin, since they fall short of God’s glory by their very lower nature as collectively part of humanity.
Infants and young children below the age of moral reason do in fact suffer and die, though they have never committed any personal sins in their short lives because all human beings are guilty of Adam’s sin by association. For this reason, the sacrament of Baptism is required for all of us, including infants and young children who haven't yet attained the age of moral reasoning, since the baptismal water washes away original sin and restores the soul to the original state of holiness and justice, despite the remaining moral ill-effects of this stain of sin.
Adam and Eve died spiritually when they ate of the fruit on the forbidden tree of knowledge against God’s command (Gen 2:17). And, as a result, their spiritual deprivation was transmitted to all their biological descendants, except the Blessed Virgin Mary by her Immaculate Conception (Gen 3:15; Lk 1:28; 42, etc.). All of us are thus inclined to sin and eventually do sin because of the moral ill-effects of original sin. We further read in the Old Testament, a “man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble. Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” (Job 14:1, 4). All humanity is afflicted by the stain of original sin, including infants and young children, by natural propagation.
In acknowledgment of his sins, David cries out, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps 51:5). The Psalmist owns he wasn’t conceived and born in a natural state of innocence and remained in this state until he had committed his first sin. After all, Jesus himself tells us that our personal sins originate from the heart and our fallen condition (Mt 15:18-20). We have inherited the sin of Adam upon being conceived in our mothers’ wombs. From infancy, we are in dire need of being baptized to be saved from our sins.
Moreover, St. Paul teaches us sin came into the world through one man, Adam, and because of his sin, death entered the world (Rom 5:12). We can’t help but acknowledge our propensity towards evil and the need for God’s grace to be restored to friendship with him. Spiritual and physical death is the result of Adam’s sin in which we are all implicated by association. We all fall under the same condemnation together with Adam and Eve (Rom 5:16). The apostle adds that “by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” (Rom 5:19). He is affirming that original sin is passed on as part of our human condition. The hidden premise is that only God in the flesh could atone for our sins by the eternal sacrifice of Himself. Through this sacrifice, God has re-opened the gates of heaven. Access to the tree of life is no longer barred from us because of the tree of the Cross. By one man, Adam, came death, and by one man, the new Adam, came renewed life with God (1 Cor 15:21).
All humanity was spiritually dead because of sin, having lived in the disordered passions of the flesh until Christ not only sacrificed Himself to expiate sin and propitiate the Father but also merited the graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit to heal and restore us to friendship with God (Eph 2:1-3). We receive the initial grace of forgiveness and justice that is merited by our Lord and Savior when we are baptized. Through the sacrament of initiation, we actually die with Christ so that we, like Him, might be raised to newness of life through the operation of the Holy Spirit (Rom 6:4). By virtue of our baptism, we no longer suffer and die in vain. Since we now join our suffering and death with Christ, what were the physical penalties for original sin are now an efficacious means to be saved. In baptism, we literally die with Christ so that we may be raised with him on the last day (Col 2:12). What has transpired in our baptism is a supernatural reality. Baptism is a sacrament and not merely a symbolic ritual.
St. Paul is referring to the sacrament of Baptism when he says that we are “washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor 6:11). Our baptism restores us to the original state of justice and holiness that our primordial father had forfeited for all his progeny. The entrance to heaven is accessible to us by being baptized of water and Spirit. The washing or cleansing of baptism gives rise to our justification and sanctification. By being baptized in Christ, we “put on Christ” who himself isn’t just a symbol but a living person who dwells in our souls so that we can be righteous as he is righteous and pure as he is pure by the working of the Holy Spirit and His many gifts of grace in our lives (Gal 3:27; 1 Jn 3:3, 7). Through baptism, we are reborn from above and become children of God.
We know that the sacrament of baptism applies the salvation that Christ alone merited for the whole world personally to us. St. Paul writes: “He saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ so that we might be justified (or sanctified) by his grace and become heirs of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7). Baptism is salvific because the sacrament regenerates our souls. The cleansing water purifies us from the stain of sin. The Holy Spirit justifies us by His infused grace that effects an interior renewal without which we have no hope of being saved. By this interior transformation, we become heirs of eternal life and adopted children of God who partake of the divine image. Baptism marks a new life with God and is the beginning of a new life in Christ. By receiving this sacrament, we are now able to supernaturally merit eternal life by our deeds of grace and charity (Eph 2:8-10). Our righteous deeds are now necessary for salvation in and through Christ’s redeeming merits.
Baptism is necessary for the forgiveness of sin, both original and personal. Recall, Ananias tells Paul, “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins” (Acts 22:16) Though Paul was converted directly by encountering Jesus on the road to Damascus, his acceptance of Jesus as “personal Lord and Savior” wasn’t enough to be forgiven of his sins and saved. He still needed to be baptized like everyone else if he hoped to be saved. We must be baptized for our sins to be forgiven. The phrase “wash away” originates from the Greek word apolouo ( ἀπολούω) which means an actual cleansing and removal of the stain of sin on the soul. We aren’t a pile of dung covered in snow, as Martin Luther erroneously put it. The baptismal water actually blots out the stain of sin and doesn’t merely cover it up while it remains.
Of course, there can be no forgiveness unless there’s repentance. St. Peter exhorts his audience to “repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” to have their sins forgiven and allow them to begin anew with a clean slate (Acts 2:38). This is because we are morally culpable for our personal sins and have all sinned because of our natural condition. Baptism is necessary for our salvation and isn’t just a symbolic ritual since we are called to repent. Repentance is a baptismal commitment that must be kept for the sacrament to be efficacious. Infants who are baptized are committed as well once they attain moral culpability. But, in the meantime, they have been justified and sanctified through the redeeming merits of Christ as children of God through the working of the Holy Spirit.
Baptism has a twofold effect: the forgiveness of sin and regeneration. Justification and sanctification go hand-in-hand. Our position before God is not only mended, but our personal relationship with Him is also restored as it was meant to be before Adam’s fall from grace. We read in the New Testament that in baptism “our hearts are sprinkled clean from an evil conscience” (Heb 10:22). A clean conscience comes from sincerely repenting and being spiritually renewed. The gifts of the Holy Spirit help transform our interior disposition. With forgiveness comes inner cleansing and healing. Without the assistance of the Holy Spirit, we can never hope to cast off the old self and put on the new, as St. Paul puts it. Baptism isn’t about exterior components in our salvation but about our interior lives. The sacrament is the “circumcision” of the New Covenant (Col 2:11-12).
The initial grace of justification and sanctification doesn’t benefit us unless our interior self is renewed daily. With repentance must come a firm desire of amendment as we grow in holiness and continue to strive for divine perfection. We aren’t saved simply by converting and putting our faith in what Christ has formally gained for us all but by persevering in grace now that our Lord and Savior has opened the gates of heaven for us to hopefully pass through. Baptism is necessary for our salvation because we receive the graces we need for our interior transformation through the sacrament. It isn’t a symbolic ritual that demonstrates we have placed our faith in our personal Lord and Savior and are thereby irrevocably saved. Baptism is the beginning of a life-long process of justification for each of us made possible by the redeeming merits of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Early sacred tradition
“He stood in need of baptism, or of the descent of the Spirit like a dove; even as He submitted to be born
and to be crucified, not because He needed such things, but because of the human race, which from
Adam had fallen under the power of death and the guile of the serpent, and each one of which had
committed personal transgression. For God, wishing both angels and men, who were endowed with
freewill, and at their own disposal, to do whatever He had strengthened each to do, made them so,
that if they chose the things acceptable to Himself, He would keep them free from death and from
punishment; but that if they did evil, He would punish each as He sees fit.”
St. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 88:4
“Every soul, then, by reason of its birth, has its nature in Adam until it is born again in Christ;
moreover, it is unclean all the while that it remains without this regeneration; and because unclean,
it is actively sinful, and suffuses even the flesh (by reason of their conjunction) with its own shame.”
Tertullian, On the Soul, 40
“Baptism is given for the remission of sins; and according to the usage of the Church, Baptism is given
even to infants. And indeed, if there were nothing in infants which required a remission of sins and
nothing in them pertinent to forgiveness, the grace of baptism would seem superfluous.”
Origen, Homily on Leviticus, 8:3
(post A.D. 244)
“If, in the case of the worst sinners and of those who formerly sinned much against God, when
afterwards they believe, the remission of their sins is granted and no one is held back from Baptism
and grace, how much more, then, should an infant not be held back, who, having but recently been
born, has done no sin, except that, born of the flesh according to Adam. He has contracted the
contagion of that old death from his first being born. For this very reason does he approach more
easily to receive the remission of sins: because the sins forgiven him are not his own but those of
another [from Adam].”
St. Cyprian, Epistle to Fidus, 68:5
(c. A.D. 250)
“But if anyone were to think that the earthy image is the flesh itself, but the heavenly image some
other spiritual body besides the flesh; let him first consider that Christ, the heavenly man, when He
appeared, bore the same form of limbs and the same image of flesh as ours, through which also He,
who was not man, became man, that “as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.’ For
if He bore flesh for any other reason than that of setting the flesh free, and raising it up, why did He
bear flesh superfluously, as He purposed neither to save it, nor to raise it up? But the Son of God does
nothing superfluously. He did not then take the form of a servant uselessly, but to raise it up and save
it. For He truly was made man, and died, and not in mere appearance, but that He might truly be
shown to be the first begotten from the dead, changing the earthy into the heavenly, and the mortal
into the immortal.”
St. Methodius, On the Resurrection, 13
“Adam sinned and earned all sorrows;–likewise the world after His example, all guilt.
–And instead of considering how it should be restored,–considered how its fall should be pleasant
for it.–Glory to Him Who came and restored it!”
St. Ephraem, Hymns on the Epiphany, 10:1
“Through him our forefather Adam was cast out for disobedience, and exchanged a Paradise bringing
forth wondrous fruits of its own accord for the ground which bringeth forth thorns. What then? Some
one will say. We have been beguiled and are lost. Is there then no salvation left? We have fallen: Is it
not possible to rise again? We have been blinded: May we not recover our sight? We have become
crippled: Can we never walk upright? In a word, we are dead: May we not rise again? He that woke
Lazarus who was four days dead and already stank, shall He not, O man, much more easily raise thee
who art alive? He who shed His precious blood for us, shall Himself deliver us from sin.”
St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 2:4-5
“And this thought commends itself strongly to the right-minded. For since the first man Adam altered,
and through sin death came into the world, therefore it became the second Adam to be unalterable;
that, should the Serpent again assault, even the Serpent’s deceit might be baffled, and, the Lord being
unalterable and unchangeable, the Serpent might become powerless in his assault against all. For as
when Adam had transgressed, his sin reached unto all men, so, when the Lord had become man and
had overthrown the Serpent, that so great strength of His is to extend through all men, so that each of
us may say, ‘For we are not ignorant of his devices’ Good reason then that the Lord, whoever is in
nature unalterable, loving righteousness and hating iniquity, should be anointed and Himself’ sent,
that, He, being and remaining the same, by taking this alterable flesh, ‘might condemn sin in it,’ and
might secure its freedom, and its ability s henceforth ‘to fulfil the righteousness of the law’ in itself, so
as to be able to say, ‘But we are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwelleth
St. Athanasius, Against the Arians, I:51
“‘Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’
No one is expected: not the infant, not the one prevented by necessity.”
St. Ambrose, Abraham, 2,11:79
“Have you an infant child? Do not let sin get any opportunity, but let him be sanctified from his
childhood; from his very tenderest age let him be consecrated by the Spirit. Fearest thou the Seal on
account of the weakness of nature?”
St. Gregory Nazianzen, Oration on Holy Baptism, 40:17
“Evil was mixed with our nature from the beginning…through those who by their disobedience
introduced the disease. Just as in the natural propagation of the species each animal engenders its
like, so man is born from man, a being subject to passions from a being subject to passions, a sinner
from a sinner. Thus sin takes its rise in us as we are born; it grows with us and keeps us company till
St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Beatitudes, 6
(ante A.D. 394)
“This grace, however, of Christ, without which neither infants nor adults can be saved, is not rendered
for any merits, but is given gratis, on account of which it is also called grace. ‘Being justified,’ says the
apostle, ‘freely through His blood.’ Whence they, who are not liberated through grace, either because
they are not yet able to hear, or because they are unwilling to obey; or again because they did not
receive, at the time when they were unable on account of youth to hear, that bath of regeneration,
which they might have received and through which they might have been saved, are indeed justly
condemned; because they are not without sin, either that which they have derived from their birth, or
that which they have added from their own misconduct. ‘For all have sinned’–whether in Adam or in
themselves–“and come short of the glory of God.'”
St. Augustine, On Nature and Grace, 4
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved:
but he that believeth not shall he condemned.
Mark 16, 16