Revista Studii Teologice


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"Ortodoxia, între naşterea cu păcat şi moartea fără păcate"

Orthodoxy, between Sinful Birth and Sinless Death

Autor(i): pr. Ilie TOADER

One of the dogmatics chapters of Romanian Orthodox textbooks still influenced by Western scholasticism, concerns Adamic sin and the consequences of this original sin on the mankind. Under the generic name of original sin, what we have inherited from Adam is presented, depending on the author (or even by the same author, depending on the chapter), either as a „sinful state”, or a propensity for sin because of our corrupt nature, or as an actual sin with which any person is born. This inconsistency among Orthodox theologians (not only Romanian ones) deepened during the 20th century, dividing Eastern dogmatists into two hardly reconcilable camps – on the one hand, the supporters of birth with the original sin, on the other those of birth with a propensity for sin, that is only with the consequences of Adamic sin – both sides, however, defending their own arguments too feebly, as proves the confusion that still persists. The present study intends to prompt a re-evaluation of this tenet from a genuinely Orthodox perspective, rooted in the Holy Scripture and Eastern Tradition, with a pastoral goal: finding an answer about the children who die unbaptized. The stake is actually this challenge: ascertaining the fate of those pitiful human lives lost before they passed from the midwife’s arms into the priest’s.
The notion of ancestral sin, understood as an hereditary, real, multiple, collective or impersonal sin, is alien to Eastern Fathers of the first four Christian centuries. The author who spread this teaching in patristic literature, dissipating – according to some non-Orthodox theologians – the „confusion” of Christian Eastern Fathers, is Blessed Augustine. Before him, the Holy Fathers considered that only „death passed upon all men” (Romans 5,12), not sin too, and that man inherits only the corrupt nature of his ancestors, inevitably inclined towards sin and also mortal, that there are no sins of the human nature nor unhypostatic nature, and finally that God truly respects man’s freedom. In speaking of the consequences of Adamic sin on humankind, the Holy Fathers employ a vast range of synonyms to express the same reality – „the fallen state” – understood as ontological degradation and death.
On the contrary, Blessed Augustine, influenced by the anthropological pessimism of the Manicheism he had embraced in his youth, and also by the Pelagian controversy which radicalized his thinking, put forth and imposed in subsequent theology a position completely different from that of the Eastern Fathers: namely, that man is born with a mortal sin. Whereas Pelagius saw in Adam’s sin only a personal one, that did not harm his successors in any way, Augustine went so far as to assert that Adam’s sin was impersonal, a sin of all people, and that all Adam’s descendants are born not only with a degraded, mortal nature, but also with that original sin, too. The debate inevitable extended to the childern that died unbaptized. In response to Pelagius’ statement that children „are born in the state of Adam before the sin”, in no way affected by the disobedience of their ancestor and needing no Baptism, Augustine extended the solidarity with the „one Adam” so far that he asserted that deprived of Baptism, children „will go to the eternal fire, together with the devil”.
Appropriating Augustine’s position, Catholic theologians attempted to impose on the Eastern ones the same view on unbaptized children, in the union attempts following the schism, but they were unsuccessful. However, Orthodox theologians (in Romania) later adhered to the notion of infants’ doom, during the infelicitous period of „scholastic captivity of Orthodox theology”, when they began consulting Catholic catechisms. So did Peter Mogila, who, following Petrus Canisius, stated in his Confession of Faith that „whoever has not been baptized, is not free from sin, but is a son of eternal wrath and torment”.
Roman-Catholic theology then changed its position towards children who die unbaptized, releasing them from hell and placing them in a purgatory where they were spared punishment, but also denied eternal bliss. Many Orthodox dogmatists complied withis view, as shows the Romanian academic textbook: „infants who die unbaptized cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven, because of the ancestral sin, but neither do they undergo positive punishment, because they have no personal sins”.
The present study aims to confront this latest answer of Romanian-tradition Orthodox theology with Scriptural, Patristic and archaeological evidence, raising several questions, resulting in a new position on the matter: can we not hope for the prematurely lost infants to be saved through the prayers of parents and the intercession of saints? Or, precisely because Baptism was not possible for the Old Testament righteous or in the case of children dying prematurely, «the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these»? If „there is no one who lives and does not err”, and every man – pagan or Christian, according to St. Paul’s distinction – answers to the Righteous Judge for the deeds „according to his law” (Romans 2,11-15), is there not a different divine judgment for those who have not had a chance to live (that is, become aware of their own free existence), or to sin (that is, assume responsibility for their existence)? Is this not another level of existence, distinct from that of non-Christians of those „under the Law of grace”? Will the one who has not discernment or a Law, be judged according to the Law of Christians or that of the pagans, or rather according to the fatherly love of God, who created us precisely in order to share His boundless love, who being forsaken by us, „sent His Son to death” in order to bring us back to live in Him?

Dialog teologic
Pagini: 227-268