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Original Sin, the Great Unknown

3/2/2005 - 6:00 AM PST

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Interview With Father Pedro Barrajón

ROME, MARCH 2, 2005 (Zenit) - Is original sin an invention of the Church?

This question will be in focus this Thursday and Friday at a symposium in Rome. The initiative, organized by the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University, will bring together theologians as well as psychologists and sociologists, explains Legionary Father Pedro Barrajón, professor of theological anthropology, in this interview with us.

Q: In his book "Memory and Identity," John Paul II frequently mentions the topic of original sin. Has this congress been organized because of the publication of the Pope's latest book?

Father Barrajón: In reality, we didn't know that John Paul II's book was a reflection on the topic of evil and sin in the light of Christ's redemption.

The coincidences were rather fortuitous or, better, providential because the meeting will be enriched by the Holy Father's profound reflections on sin and evil with the mystery of the Redemption as background.

Let's not forget that he dedicated his first encyclical, "Redemptor Hominis," to Christ as redeemer, as the one who redeems man from sin and from all the evils that assail him in a special way in this critical moment of history.

Q: Why did you choose such a challenging topic?

Father Barrajón: The congress on original sin will be interdisciplinary, that is, it will consider this complex and delicate topic, in the first place, in the light of revelation, the history of theology and the magisterium, but it will also try to show the implications of an ecumenical, philosophical, cultural, pedagogical, psychological and even scientific nature of a topic such as original sin.

I am thinking in this connection of Number 25 of the encyclical "Centesimus Annus," in which the Pope, after recalling the events that convulsed the world in the year 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall, contemplates the providential action of God, Lord of history, which leaves room for man's freedom, and inserts a profound reflection on original sin, recalling how this dogma helps us to understand human reality in all its complexity.

We have divided the congress into four important sections.

The first will study the topic from the biblical point of view.

The second part, which concerns dogmatic theology, will seek to present the "status quaestionis" of original sin, considering it under different perspectives: the Christological, in the light of the biblical topic of man as image of God, as well as that of theological anthropology, Mariology and soteriology. This part ends with a reflection on original sin in John Paul II's magisterium.

The third part of the congress will develop theological considerations of an ecumenical nature with two addresses on original sin in the Lutheran and the Orthodox tradition. Other addresses in this section refer to moral and spiritual theology.

The last section is dedicated to dialogue with the different sciences.

Q: It is difficult for the modern world to accept the idea of sin. Original sin is even more difficult to understand because it is hereditary. What do you have in mind in this regard?

Father Barrajón: In 1986, in the catecheses dedicated to explain the Creed, John Paul II wished to address in a special way the topic of original sin.

In one of them, that of September 24, the Pope affirmed that modern culture has strong reservations when addressing original sin because it cannot admit the idea of a hereditary sin connected with the decision of a founder of a family and holds that this concept is in opposition to a personalistic view of man.

But immediately after, he adds that it is precisely this ecclesial teaching on original sin that reveals itself of extreme importance for the man of today, who, after having rejected the faith on this matter, is unable to find reasons for the mysterious and anguishing implications of the evil he experiences daily and "ends by oscillating between hasty and irresponsible optimism and a radical and desperate pessimism."

The Church, instead, accepting the dogma of original sin, knows that within the human heart there is a tremendous struggle between good and evil and that only by uniting oneself to the victory of Christ the redeemer will humanity and the individual also be able to be victorious.

Christian realism does not hide this wound of human nature, but seeks to alleviate and heal it with the grace of Christ. That is why it maintains a serene and balanced view, which is then applied to education, and to moral judgments on family, social, economic, cultural and political situations.

Q: Some interpret Adam and Eve's sin as the discovery of science which rebels against God. In what way will you address ...

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