Sunday, July 31, 2005

Interlude: Caveat Emptor

I received a couple of questions about Zubiri's view of original sin that reminded me that I may be taken for granted my own conclusion that Zubiri's view can be reconciled with Catholic dogma. Since I believe myself to be a faithful Catholic in submission to the Magisterium, obviously I think that Zubiri's belief can be so reconciled, but on the other hand, it is not my intent to substitute my judgment for that of the Magisterium or for anyone's spiritual discernment. Just to make clear that these matters are simply my own fallible (although I hope well-intentioned) judgment, I wish to lay out what my position is on Zubiri's orthodoxy and what I understand to be the relevant magisterial teachings on the matter.

For the record, I have what some might consider a "liberal" view of our first parents. I do believe that there were actual human beings, Adam and Eve, and that Adam committed a personal sin substantially as described in the Genesis account that permanently affects the metaphysical standing of all subsequent human beings with respect to God. In other words, I do not believe that the account of original sin is some kind of moral parable referring to a kind of collective social sin as the "group monogenism" theory would suggest. But whether the metaphysical effect of that original sin is passed by generation through natural descendancy is, by my lights, a matter of legitimate diversity of opinion.

In the classical metaphysical account, original sin was passed by nature, and thus, it was a practical necessity that the corruption of nature be passed by generation. But the East has always had some difficulty with the Western suggestion that in being "sinners by nature," one might have actual personal guilt transmitted in this fashion. It would seem to me that all of this difficulty ultimately ties back to viewing metaphysics in terms of subject and relation rather than substantivity and respectivity. The only real options for "locating" the effects of original sin were individual person and shared human nature; the notion of real respectivity between subjects simply wasn't there. In Zubiri's case, the respectivity of human beings with one another is more complex than having a shared metaphysical nature, so while Zubiri's system is amenable to incorporating the patristic concepts, Zubiri's system also has explanatory power beyond the patristic view in areas where Greek metaphysics faces difficulties. I would analogize this situation to the paradigm shift from classical mechanics to relativity theory. Relativity reproduces the results of classical mechanics at velocities far from the speed of light, but it also provides better explanations where the older system faced difficulties (e.g., the perihelion of Mercury).

This is all well and good, but if original sin by generation has been dogmatized, then this explanation is inadequate regardless. The most relevant magisterial pronouncement on the matter would appear to be Pope Pius XII's Humani Generis (1950), which states inter alia the following:

36. For these reasons the Teaching Authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions, on the part of men experienced in both fields, take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter - for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God. However, this must be done in such a way that the reasons for both opinions, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, be weighed and judged with the necessary seriousness, moderation and measure, and provided that all are prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church, to whom Christ has given the mission of interpreting authentically the Sacred Scriptures and of defending the dogmas of faith.[11] Some however, rashly transgress this liberty of discussion, when they act as if the origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter were already completely certain and proved by the facts which have been discovered up to now and by reasoning on those facts, and as if there were nothing in the sources of divine revelation which demands the greatest moderation and caution in this question.

37. When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is no no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.[12]

As I read it, the difficulty is not with concepts other than the transmission of sin by natural generation in themselves, but rather, how to reconcile such concepts with the patristic testimony on the subject of original sin. It seems to me that the metaphysical explanation I have provided accounts for the Fathers' formulation of the dogma and preserves the essential dogmatic teaching on original sin. Indeed, it seems to explain both the Eastern and Western version without negating the truth of either view, which strikes me as being faithful to the Tradition in the larger sense. But that's just me, and I don't want to pretend that I'm the last word on the subject.

Zubiri seems to have taken a much stronger line. From his own training in biology, he concludes that monogenism is untenable. But as I said, it's not clear to me that this in any way differs from the Catholic position, especially given that he affirms Adam's sin both in being personal to him and in having universal effects that are not themselves personal. This is Zubiri's explanation from Christianity (© 2001-2005 by JoaquĆ­n Redondo. Permission to republish in any form is hereby granted, provided that source is acknowledged):

But here appears again the subject of sin. Because, at any event, there is in that will to origination, and in the entity originated by it, a sin of origin. What is all this about original sin?

Above all, there is no obligation to think that the whole of mankind descends from just one couple. Monogenism is an interpretation, and that is all it is, an interpretation, besides there is no obligation to affirm it. Also, it would be biologically improbable that the whole of mankind, which covers such extraordinary dimensions in the biosphere, would proceed from only one couple. That would be absolutely improbable. Humanity proceeds from several, multiple couples. Then we can assume that it proceeds at least from a unique group of couples. And in this case we would have what I would call a group monogenism. For example, Rahner, a great theologian has suggested this1. But it seems chimerical to me, who has ever suggested that the Pithecanthropus of Java and the Archanthropus of Morocco constitute a group? There would be not one group, but several groups. In other words, I do not believe there is a one couple monogenism, or even a group monogenism.

At any rate, humanity, which has been sprouting by evolution and by the intrinsic and exigent action of God in many {227} points of the Earth has become involved in a mass of sin. Our question is, in what does the originating characteristic of this sin consist? Let us be aware in this problem that it is precisely by the body that human beings are open to each other and to the whole world. Men form groups and resemble God precisely by that dimension of corporeity man’s own reality has. Hence, this corporeity is not a corporeity consecutive to what man is, but it is a constitutive corporeity. Man constitutively would never be turned (in the form he has to be) towards other men if it were not because of his body.

From this follows, on the one hand, that the original sin, which was certainly personal in Adam, is not personal in the rest of men. No one has been born with a sin for which he is personally responsible. That is chimerical. No one has been born with a personal sin. It will then be said that it is a kind of hereditary epidemic. It is not said that way, but in the end the immense majority of the classical expositions of original sin deal with it as if it were a sickness that man is always inheriting. No, that is completely chimerical.

The original sin is not a personal sin or a natural epidemic. It is something different. In Spanish we can say it quite well, it is a preparatory stage for peccability (Sp. estadio primero de empecatamiento). Man is born with a constitutional structure, with respect to other men, prepared for peccability. Certainly, not because of each man, but because of those that naturally constituted the origin of humanity. Man is born in a situation prepared for peccability as the result of a personal rejection by those who constituted the exordium of humanity. It has left men constituted in such a way that they possess the molding or the result of this {228} rejection. The result of this rejection is not a rejection. No one has a rejection of God because of original sin. But also there is no full possession of the Trinitarian life. Then, what is it? It is precisely a Trinitarian life lived with a deprivation. Man in original sin has no act of rejection; he has a state ready for peccability, which formally consists in a privation, in the privation of the fullness of the Trinitarian life.

The Genesis account (Gn 3) is completely legendary, no doubt about it. But what it is trying to say is that precisely because of that, moral evil had its beginning. Man, in one form or another, personally lost in all those who performed an act of rejection, the positive relationship with God, and he began to live and establish himself on Earth on the basis of that rejection. Everything else belongs, of course, to the literary and conceptual genre of the text of Genesis.

Taken from every possible angle, in each person or in history, the question from the part of God is of a will to deiformity staged for peccability. Staged for peccability, i.e., that each man is virtually someone who has the possibility of being an anti-God. And he is so precisely by virtue of his own Trinitarian structure. As I said above, this is a stupendous and extreme paradox, precisely the reality of the condemned man. Man has the possibility of acquiring the stage ready for peccability, of being in a state of peccability, and living his Trinitarian life with respect to God rejecting it. That is the reason why the radical sin is precisely the sin of pride.

I think that suffices to make plain the doctrinal issue in order to allow individuals to make their own judgment. Coming as I do from a background in physics, I have a great deal of respect for the way Zubiri, himself scientifically trained, handles both metaphysical and theological issues. But it is not my intent to advocate for "modernism" in any sense nor to lead anyone into error, so I urge people to take their own responsibility for evaluating whether they consider this position to be a tenable interpretation of Catholic dogma.