Fr. Flatley: Three cheers for the Doctrine of Original Sin!


This is the sixth in a series of teachings and reflections offered by the moderator of spiritual formation for the Jefferson City diocese:

We learn in the exquisite creation stories from our Sacred Scriptures that our first parents walked through a beautiful, serene garden, hand-in-hand with their Creator.

However, because of the sin of pride, they fell from that perfect grace and unity and ran for cover with feelings of shame and fear.

Their disobedience is labeled Original Sin.

Our Sacred Tradition, handed down from generation to generation, teaches that we “inherit” this Original Sin, and we do not inherit this sin through any fault of our own.

It is crucial to understand this.

Dreadful misunderstandings of this doctrine have not always been helpful. This is especially unfortunate, because it is a doctrine that reveals the tender compassion and care the Father provides us through Christ.


God the Father thinks of everything.

Are we to despair because we are morally flawed? Have we been born in error, deserving of some punishment?

These ideas truly are a dreadful misunderstanding of this teaching.


Sisters and brothers, we are beloved children of God, the crown of creation!

In the ancient Greek language, which the New Testament was written in, the word hamartia is used for sin.

This same word is used in archery! It means “to miss the mark.”

Let’s be honest, we all miss the mark sometimes ... we are all sinners saved by grace.

In a dictionary, sin is defined as an immoral act, considered to be a transgression against divine law.

Sin can be individual and/or corporate or collective. We are responsible for our personal sins, and we are called to repent from them.

This Original Sin is not the result of any willful action of ours. It simply is ... it is universal, and it affects every human being.

It might best be defined as the Universal Human Condition.

 It is our fallen nature, and it is very real.

Both Augustine and Aquinas define the consequence of this inherited condition as:

  • Illusion — we do not know where to find true happiness, and look for it in all the wrong places and ways;
  • Concupiscence — when we find something we think will make us happy, we can’t get enough of it; and
  • Weakness of Will — here we identify with St. Paul, when he cries out, “I do not understand myself, for I do the very things I swear I will not do.”

Many social sciences try to explain this human condition, as well. Philosophy, evolution and even modern psychology weigh in on this.

In recent years, we have heard from psychologists that 98% of families are somewhat “dysfunctional.”

No one has ever met the other 2% that are not dysfunctional, because they do not exist!

Only Christian Faith offers the path out of this troubling human condition we inherit.

It is Christ who delivers us. If we cling in humility to Christ, grab hold of his cloak and do not let go, this Savior of ours delivers us from all sin.

The Good Shepherd will lead us back to the perfect grace and unity that our first parents enjoyed.

As Christ so often says, “Your faith has saved you.”

Fr. Flatley is pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Jefferson City.