Mormonism, Original Sin, and the ancient heresy of Pelagianism
The Mormon denial of the traditional Christian doctrine of original sin is one of the more distinctive aspects of this group, who claim to be Christian, but whose denial of so many central Christian doctrines indicate that they as a group cannot be considered Christian. The traditional doctrine of Original Sin is held in common by all Christian denominations. The denial of this doctrine by the Mormons puts this group in a position which is contrary to Scripture, Tradition and unsupported by reality.
The Mormon denial of original sin is based on a few flimsy assumptions which will be discussed here and in a second paper.
First, however, this paper will look at the true teaching on Original Sin, continue with a discussion of some of the errors of the LDS position, and lastly examine a heresy of the early centuries, (Pelagianism) to show that the erroneous Mormon view on original sin has much in common with an old heresy.
A subsequent paper will refute the specific points of the LDS position.
What is Original Sin?
First, here is a quote from the Catholic Encyclopedia article Original Sin :
“Original sin may be taken to mean: (1) the sin that Adam committed; (2) a consequence of this first sin, the hereditary stain with which we are born on account of our origin or descent from Adam.From the earliest times the latter sense of the word was more common, as may be seen by St. Augustine’s statement: “the deliberate sin of the first man is the cause of original sin” (De nupt. et concup., II, xxvi, 43). It is the hereditary stain that is dealt with here. As to the sin of Adam we have not to examine the circumstances in which it was committed nor make the exegesis of the third chapter of Genesis.”
It is important to note that the common meaning of “original sin” is the second one given above, i.e. the stain or consequence of Adam’s sin for the rest of humanity. This is how the term will also be used in this paper. Admittedly, the term can be confusing since it does not refer to a personal sin we have committed, but rather to a state of deprivation due to the effect of Adam’s sin. However, once this is clear, then confusion can be avoided. Original sin is contracted by babies when they are conceived in the womb; it is not something committed by them. Hence it is not valid for Mormons to deny original sin by saying �how can a baby commit sin?� This is because original sin refers to a contracted loss of inheritance of grace, not a committed personal sin on the baby�s part.
Original sin refers to a lost inheritance. God gave Adam supernatural grace before the Fall when he lived in the Garden of Eden. Adam could eat from the tree of life, and so remain immortal. He was not allowed, however, to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The Charge of Unfairness
The Mormons make a number of false assumptions about the story of the Fall of Adam.One such assumption is the idea that original sin means that God is unfair, punishing us all for something Adam did.
The reply to this is as follows. God bestowed on Adam all his natural faculties. Adam did not have any entitlement to supernatural grace, to immortality, to fellowship with God. It was only because God in His graciousness gave these to Adam that Adam had them at all. Adam did not have any natural right to them. This is a critical point. If my boss, who pays me every week, comes to me on Monday and says “here are some tickets to a show or the theatre for Friday night; take your family along.” But on Tuesday I get caught wasting time on the job. The boss then says “I’ll take those tickets back.” Now, is the boss being unfair to my family? Of course not. The relationship between me and my boss is broken and so I must pay the punishment. If my family suffer as a result, it is my fault, not the boss’s.
Similarly with original sin. Adam sinned, and by doing so broke the relationship between himself and God. It is Adam who is the cause of original sin in the rest of the human race. We have lost the inheritance of supernatural grace, but Adam is to blame for this loss, not God. So when we are born, we are without this supernatural grace which was our inheritance until Adam blew it. This is what original sin means: we are born without our inheritance.
The whole idea of the test was to see if man would freely submit himself to the will of God. And he failed.
‘The Fall was necessary’ argument.
Another flimsy assumption of Mormonism is to suggest that without the Fall Adam and the rest of the human race would be stuck forever in the garden of Eden, and never make it to heaven. Thus they say the Fall was necessary, and even worse, they claim that God willed the Fall. Mormons make the mistake of thinking man was not made in a state of holiness, but had to “progress” to holiness. On the contrary, man was created in a state of holiness, destined to be “divinized” in glory in heaven but his disobedience lost this inheritance.
As proof of this destiny to glory (with or without the Fall), Romans 8:29-30 reads:
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (NIV)
God predestined us to glory, to be “conformed to the likeness of His Son”. He did not predestine the Fall. He predestined us to be conformed to His Son in glory, with or without the Fall. The Fall made it necessary for the Son of God to become man.
God never predestined the Fall. God permitted the Fall; he did not require it; such an idea makes God to be the author of sin and suffering, which He is not. Mormonism here fails to distinguish between God’s permissive will, and God’s ordaining will. God permitted the Fall, He did not ordain that it must happen.
The Fall was entirely up to Adam’s free will, and he failed. Adam was deceived into thinking God was not being totally honest with him, in other words, that God did not really want what was best for Adam. Adam called God’s integrity into question, an act which led to his disobedience. If this is not sin, what is?
In the Catholic Encyclopedia article : Divine Providence we read how the Fathers of the Church treated of sin and its nature:
‘The question of Providence in the Fathers is almost invariably connected with the problem of evil. How can evil and suffering be compatible with the beneficent providence of an all-powerful God? And why especially should the just be allowed to suffer while the wicked are apparently prosperous and happy? Patristic solutions to these problems may be summed up under the following heads: ·
- Sin is not ordained by the will of God, though it happens with His permission. It can be ascribed to Providence only as a secondary result (Origen, “Contra Celsum”, IV, lxviii in “P.G.”, XI, 1516-7; St. John Damascene, “De fid. orth.”, ii, 21 in “P.G.”, XCIV, 95 sq.).
- Sin is due to the abuse of free will; an abuse which was certainly foreseen by God, but could have been prevented only by depriving man of his most noble attribute (Tertullian, “Adv. Marcion.”, II, v-vii in “P.L.”, II, 317-20; St. Cyril of Alexandria “In Julian.”, IX, xiii, 10, 11, 18 in “P.G.”, LXXIV, 120-1, 127-32; Theodoret, “De prov. orat.”, IX, vi in “P.G.”, LXXXIII, 662). ·
- Had there been no sin, physical evil would have been inconsistent with the Divine goodness (St. Augustine, “De div. quæst.”, lxxxii in “P.L.”, LX, 98, 99); nor would God permit evil at all, unless He could draw good out of evil (St. Augustine, “Enchir.”, xi in “P.L.”, LX, 236; “Serm.”, ccxiv, 3 in “P.L.”, XXXVIII, 1067; St. Gregory the Great, op. cit., VI, xxxii, XVIII, xlvi in “P.L.”, LXXV, 747; LXXVI, 61-2). · · <[SFW Comment : This point proves that God could not have willed the Fall, and that Adam’s sin wa sindeed a sin, not merely a ‘transgression’, a distinction Mormonism tries to make; see later).]
All physical evil, therefore, is the consequence of sin, the inevitable result of the Fall (St. John Chrysostom, “Ad Stagir.”, I, ii in “P.G.”, LXVII, 428, 429; St. Gregory the Great, op. cit., VIII, li, lii in “P.L.”, LXXV, 833, 834), and regarded in this light is seen to be at once a medicine (St. Augustine, “De div. quæst.”, lxxxii in “P.L.”, XL, 98, 99; “Serm.”, xvii, 4, 5 in “P.L.”, XXXVIII, 126-8), a discipline (“Serm.”, xv, 4-9 in “P.L.”, XXXVIII, 118-21; St. Gregory the Great, op. cit., V, xxxv; VII, xxix; XIV, xl in “P.L.”, LXXV, 698, 818, 1060), and an occasion of charity (St. Gregory the Great, VII, xxix)�.
(Note: Mormons may try to claim a distincion between ‘transgression’ and ‘sin’, saying that Adam transgressed , but did not sin. We shall see in the next paper that this is a false distinction.)
Summary of points so far
- i) The traditional Christian doctrine of Original Sin is in no way ‘unfair’ as the supernatural graces of which man is deprived as its result, are graces to which he has no natural claim. God freely bestows graces,man does not earn a claim.
- ii) The Fall was certainly not “necessary”. To maintain the Fall was necessary makes God out to be the author of sin, which He cannot be. It also means Adam did not really have free will, if God had intended him to eat the fruit. But we know Adam did have free will: God had told him to be obedient and Adam disobeyed. If Adam did not really have free will before the Fall, then it casts a question on God’s integrity. The truth is: Adam has free will before the Fall, and he freely chose to sin by disobeying God. But Mormonism denies free will in order to deny the reality of Adam’s sin, instead pretending it was merely a ‘transgression’.
- iii) God predestined certain persons to eternal beatitude, with or without the Fall. Mormonism fails to explain Romans 8:29-30 which proves the predestination of the elect. Instead they try to claim the human race would be stuck in Eden for ever if it had not been for the Fall.
Next we shall have a look at the Effects of Original Sin. These are:
- death and suffering (physical evils, not sin)
- Concupiscence (baptism removes original sin, but not concupiscence, so concupiscence cannot be sin)
- Absence of sanctifying grace. Since this is in the moral order, it can be called sin.
The following extract from the Catholic Encyclopedia: Original Sin: expands on the above points:
“St. Anselm: “the sin of Adam was one thing but the sin of children at their birth is quite another, the former was the cause, the latter is the effect” (De conceptu virginali, xxvi). In a child original sin is distinct from the fault of Adam, it is one of its effects. But which of these effects is it? We shall examine the several effects of Adam’s fault and reject those which cannot be original sin:
- 1. Death and Suffering.– These are purely physical evils and cannot be called sin. Moreover St. Paul, and after him the councils, regarded death and original sin as two distinct things transmitted by Adam.
- 2. Concupiscence.- This rebellion of the lower appetite transmitted to us by Adam is an occasion of sin and in that sense comes nearer to moral evil. However, the occasion of a fault is not necessarily a fault, and whilst original sin is effaced by baptism concupiscence still remains in the person baptized; therefore original sin and concupiscence cannot be one and the same thing, as was held by the early Protestants (see Council of Trent, Sess. V, can. v).
- 3. The absence of sanctifying grace in the new-born child is also an effect of the first sin, for Adam, having received holiness and justice from God, lost it not only for himself but also for us (loc. cit., can. ii). If he has lost it for us we were to have received it from him at our birth with the other prerogatives of our race. Therefore the absence of sanctifying grace in a child is a real privation, it is the want of something that should have been in him according to the Divine plan. If this favour is not merely something physical but is something in the moral order, if it is holiness, its privation may be called a sin. But sanctifying grace is holiness and is so called by the Council of Trent, because holiness consists in union with God, and grace unites us intimately with God. Moral goodness consists in this that our action is according to the moral law, but grace is a deification, as the Fathers say, a perfect conformity with God who is the first rule of all morality. Sanctifying grace therefore enters into the moral order, not as an act that passes but as a permanent tendency which exists even when the subject who possesses it does not act; it is a turning towards God, conversio ad Deum. Consequently the privation of this grace, even without any other act, would be a stain, a moral deformity, a turning away from God, aversio a Deo, and this character is not found in any other effect of the fault of Adam. This privation, therefore, is the hereditary stain.”
Note that the Fathers say ‘grace is a deification.. a perfect conformity with God who is the first rule of all morality’. It is grace which was to be the instrument of the ‘divinization’ of Adam and his descendants. Mormons do not understand grace or divinization and hence think the Fall was necessary to enable man to ‘progress’ to their idea of ‘divinization’. But the Fathers meant by ‘divinization’ a transformation in glory and not in any sense ‘becoming God’ or becoming ‘a god’. This is, again, a failure of Mormonism to understand the nature of supernatural grace as the agent which glorifies and leads to union with God.
Be sure to check out what the Catechism says about the Fall of Adam and original sin.
Final Section: The heresy of Pelagianism and its similarity to Mormon teaching on original sin
This final section is included as the ancient heresy of Pelagianism also denied Original Sin, and had some similarities with Mormonism’s teaching on this subject
Pelagianism (extracted from Catholic Encyclopedia: Pelagius and Pelagianism )
- 1. Even if Adam had not sinned, he would have died.
- 2. Adam’s sin harmed only himself, not the human race.
- 3. Children just born are in the same state as Adam before his fall.
- 4. The whole human race neither dies through Adam’s sin or death, nor rises again through the resurrection of Christ.
Pelagianism also taught that the Mosaic Law was as good a guide to heaven as the Gospel.
The teachings of Pelagius changed somewhat.These can be summarized as follows: (again, this is an extract from the Catholic Encyclopedia: Pelagius and Pelagianism )
- The first position which Pelagius held was that Adam would have died anyway, regardless if the Fall had happened or not, and his sin injured himself, not the whole human race. It was condemned at the Council of Carthage (see Romans 5:12 Adam transmits death with sin)
- Pelagian second position: parents transmit diesase to children, so parents transmit death. But they do not transmit sin. This was condemned at the Council of Orange, and again at Trent.This position is similar to the Mormon position.
- Pelagians then gave up equating sin with death so said Adam CAUSED sin in us, not, however, by hereditary transmission, but (they said), the sin of Adam in imitation of Adam. Again, condemned by Trent.
How Mormon doctrine resembles Pelagianism (with differences):
- Similarities: Mormons, like Pelagians, say Adam’s sin hurt himself, but not others. Mormons go so far as to say Adam’s transgression was necessary in order to avoid being stuck forever in Eden. Mormons, like Pelagians, say that death, not sin, is transmitted from parent to child. Mormons, like Pelagians, cannot say how a loving God who is all good could introduce death and suffering into the world if Adam was not really guilty of sin. The traditional Christian view, of course, is that Adam did really sin and lost his inheritance for himself and his children. See also Wisdom 2:24
“But by the envy of the devil death came into the world”.
Death came into the world, not by the will of God, to get people to “progress” but by the ‘envy of the devil’.
- Differences: Mormons say Adam’s sin was a not a sin, but a transgression, which was necessary for ‘progression’. Pelagius said Adam would have died anyway; Mormons do not say this.
How Romans 5:12,18-19 opposes the three Pelagian positions:
- Against position 1. The sin of Adam has introduced physical death. See also 1 Cor. 15:21, which refers to physical resurrection, so must refer to physical death.
- Against Position 2. Romans 5:19 says ‘all men were made sinners’ not ‘all men were made mortal’. So Pelagians cannot get away with speaking only of death.
This serves also as a refutation of the Mormon position on original sin.
- Against Position 3. Adam transmits death to his children by generation of them mortal, so too he transmits sin to them, by generation (this is not to say Adam generates the soul). Paul says both death and sin come at the same time, from the same cause. Pelagians say (position 3) that the child sins later in imitation of Adam. But then Adam’s causality of sin would differ from his causality of death; also Romans 5:18,19 includes all men, not just those who knew of his bad example.
Summary of this page:
- 1. The traditional Christian doctrine of original sin teaches that, as a result of Adam’s sin, man has lost his inheritance of supernatural grace, and has instead inherited death and suffering, concupiscence, and a state of sin. Without the aid of grace, provided by baptism, man cannot come into a right relationship with God.
- 2. Mormonism makes numerous false assumptions regarding the Fall: that original sin is an ‘unfair’ doctrine; that Adam did not sin, but merely ‘transgressed’; that Adam did not know right from wrong; that man would be stuck in Eden and never get to heaven without the Fall; that God willed the Fall.
- 3. Mormonism’s doctrine of the denial of Original Sin is a partial revival of Pelagianism.
The next paper will refute specific objections and alleged evidence for the Mormon doctrine in the early Church.
© Copyright Sean Hyland 2002
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