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Sin involves the misuse of God’s gifts

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on Jesus Christ
General Audience, Wednesday, 3 September 1986 - in Italian, Portuguese & Spanish  

"1. Although the formulas of faith use few words when speaking of sin, the term and the concept of "sin" are found with greater frequency in Sacred Scripture. This proves that, while Sacred Scripture is the book of God and about God, it is also a great book about man. It takes him as he is, and as he experiences his existential condition. For sin belongs to man and to his history. It would be futile to attempt to overlook it or to give this obscure reality other names, or other interpretations, as has happened under the influence of the Enlightenment and of secularism. If sin is acknowledged as a reality, we recognize at the same time a profound bond between humanity and God. This is because the evil of sin does not appear in its true dimension outside this relationship between man and God, although it obviously continues to be present in human life and in history. Sin weighs down on man as an obscure and deadly reality. This happens all the more when it is not known, recognized and identified in its essence as denial of and opposition to God. Naturally the human person is the subject and agent of this choice. He can reject the dictates of his own conscience even without explicitly referring to God. But his insane and evil act acquires its full negative meaning only when it is seen against the background of man's relationship with God.

2. For this reason, Sacred Scripture describes the first sin in the context of the mystery of creation. In other words, the sin committed at the beginning of human history is presented against the background of creation, that is, of God's magnificent gift of existence. In the context of the visible world, man receives his existence as a gift ”as the "image and likeness of God", a rational being, endowed with intellect and will. Within the context of God's creative gift we can best see the essence of the first sin—man's free choice made with a misuse of these faculties.

Obviously we are not speaking here of the beginning of history as scientific theories describe it, but of the "beginning" as it appears in the pages of Scripture. Scripture uncovers in this "beginning" the origin of the moral evil which humanity experiences, and identifies it as sin.

3. The first narrative of the work of creation appears in Genesis 1:1-28, which is chronologically later than the narrative of Genesis 2:4-15. This first account underlines the original goodness of all that is created, and in particular the goodness of man, created by God as "male and female" (cf. Gen 1:27). It says several times in the description of creation, "God saw that it was good" (cf. Gen 1:12, 18, 21, 25). Finally, after the creation of man, it declares: "God saw what he had made, and behold it was very good" (Gen 1:31). The phrase indicates the goodness that belongs to such a being in accordance with the plan of the Creator, because it is a case of a created being in the image of God—rational and free.

4. This is the basis of the truth of faith which the Church teaches about the original innocence of man, his original righteousness (iustitia originalis). This is seen in the description given in Genesis of the human person as he came from the hands of God and lived in full intimacy with him (cf. Gen 2:8-25). The Book of Ecclesiastes also says that "God made man righteous" (Eccl 7:29). The Council of Trent taught that the first Adam lost the holiness and righteousness in which he had been established (Primum hominem Adam...sanctitatem et iustitiam, in qua constitutus fuerat, amisisse: Decree on Original Sin, DS 1511). This means that before sin, man possessed sanctifying grace with all the supernatural gifts that make him righteous before God. We may sum all this up by saying that man was in friendship with God at the beginning.

5. In the light of the Bible, the state of man before sin appears as a condition of original perfection. Genesis expresses this in a certain way by the image of "paradise" that it offers us. We may ask what the source of this perfection was. The answer is that it was found above all in friendship with God by means of sanctifying grace, and in the other gifts that in theological language are called preternatural, which were lost through sin. Thanks to such divine gifts, man, who was joined in friendship and harmony with his principle of being, had and maintained in himself an interior equilibrium. He was not worried about the prospect of decay and death. The "dominion" over the world, which God had given man from the beginning, was realized first of all in man himself, as dominion over himself. In this self-dominion and equilibrium he had the "integrity" (integritas) of existence, in the sense that man was intact and well-ordered in all his being. He was free from the triple concupiscence that inclines him to the pleasures of the senses, to coveting earthly goods, and to assert himself against the dictates of reason.

Therefore there was also order in his relationship with the other, in the communion and intimacy that make for happiness—as in the initial relationship between man and woman, Adam and Eve, the first couple and also the first nucleus of human society. The brief sentence of Genesis seems very eloquent from this point of view: "Now both were naked, the man and his wife, but they were not ashamed" (Gen 2:25).

6. The presence of original righteousness and perfection in the human person, created in the image of God, as we know from revelation, did not mean that man, as a creature endowed with liberty like the other spiritual beings, was exempted from the testing of his freedom right from the beginning! Revelation shows us the state of original righteousness of man before sin, in virtue of his friendship with God. The happiness of his existence derived from this. That same revelation also tells of the fundamental test that was reserved for man, and in which he failed.

7. Genesis describes this test as the prohibition to eat the fruit "of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." The text reads: "The Lord God gave this commandment to the man: 'You may eat of all the trees of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you must not eat, because on the day you eat of it, you shall certainly die'" (Gen 2:16-17). This means that from the very beginning the Creator reveals himself to a rational and free being as the God of the covenant and hence of friendship and joy, but also as the source of good and therefore of the distinction between good and evil in the moral sense.

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil recalls symbolically the absolute limit which man, as a creature, must recognize and respect. Man depends on the Creator and is subject to the laws by which the Creator has established the order of the created world, the essential order of existence (ordo rerum). Man is also subject to the moral norms which regulate the use of freedom. The primordial test is therefore aimed at the person's free will, at his freedom. Will man confirm the fundamental order of creation in his conduct, and recognize the truth that he himself is created—the truth of the dignity that belongs to him as the image of God, but also the truth of his creaturely limitation?

Unfortunately, we know the results of the test—man failed. Revelation tells us this, but it sets this sad news within the context of the truth of the redemption, so that we can look with confidence to our merciful Creator and Lord.

After the Catechesis, Pope John Paul II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai pellegrini francesi

Je suis heureux de saluer tous les pèlerins de langue française presenta à cette audience, les religieuses - parmi lesquelles les Sœurs de la Sainte Famille de Bourdeaux -, les groupes paroissiaux, les pèlerinages diocésains, les familles. Je recommande au Sauveur vos intentions. Je le prie de vous donner la paix et la joie, à son service. Et je vous donne de tout cœur ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai gruppi di espressione inglese

I extend very cordial greetings to the group of pilgrims from Taiwan. I hope that your visit to Rome will be a time of personal enrichment and growth in faith.

It is a special joy to welcome the new students of the North American College. You have come to Rome to prepare for the ministerial priesthood. In doing this, you are responding to the call of Christ who said: “It was not you who chose me, it was I who chose you”. From the outset, your vocation is a gift from the Lord. It is he who calls you and it is he who will show you the way. Your studies, your prayer, your life in community are intended to bring you to an ever deeper knowledge and love of our Savior. I assure you of my prayers. With the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, I encourage you: “Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who inspires and perfects our faith”.

And upon all the English-speaking visitors I invoce grace and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ai pellegrini tedeschi

Nach diesen kurzen Ausführungen grüße ich sehr herzlich alle Pilger und Besucher der heutigen Audienz; unter ihnen besonders die Romwallfahrt der Diözese Eichstätt unter der Leitung ihres Oberhirten Bischof Braun sowie die Mitglieder der Katholischen Männerbewegung der Steiermark aus der Diözese Graz-Seckau. Möge euch diese Pilgerfahrt zu den Gräbern der Apostel in eurem Glauben bestärken und euch ermutigen, auch im Alltag, am Arbeitsplatz und in der Gesellschaft für Christus freimütig Zeugnis zu geben. Von Herzen erteile ich euch allen meinem besonderen Apostolischen Segen.

Ad alcuni gruppi di lingua spagnola

Deseo saludar a los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española, venidos de España y de América Latina. De modo especial a las Religiosas Josefìnas de la Santísima Trinidad, que celebran el primer centenario de su fundación; que vuestra labor docente vaya acompañada de un auténtico testimonio de amor y entrega a Cristo y a los hermanos.

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Saludo igualmente a los oficiales, cadetes y tripulación del Buque Escuela “Libertad”, de la Armada Argentina. Que vuestra singladura por los mares del mundo conformen vuestras vidas al servicio de la Patria y de cada uno de sus ciudadanos.

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También quiero saludar al Coro de la Universidad para la Paz, de Costa Rica. Colaborad con vuestro canto, y sobre todo con vuestra vida, en la construcción de la paz, ese don tan precioso y deseado por todos.

A todos vosotros, peregrinos de lengua española, imparto de corazón la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai numerosi pellegrini di lingua portoghese 

Ao saudar, cordialmente, todos os presentes de língua portuguesa, com votos de felicidades, graça e paz, em Cristo, congratulo-me com os Sacerdotes da Arquidiocese de Braga, em Portugal - entre os quais um colaborador directo da Santa Sé, Dom Manuel Monteiro de Castro - que vieram a Roma para celebrar as bodas de prata da sua Ordenacão sacerdotal.

Parabéns, queridos Padres! Que esta data, que quisestes assinalar de modo tão significativo, avive em vós a constência do dom, a generosidade e a alegria de servir como ministros, “capazes de ensinar aos outros”, com as obras e a vida, que Cristo vos ama e os ama: Ele é o “Redentor do homem”! Com a minha Bênção Apostólica, extensiva aos vossos familiares.

Ai pellegrini polacchi

Witam wszystkich pielgrzymów z Polski, w szczególności z parafii Najśiętszej Maryi Panny Matki Kościoła z Białego Prądnika - Kraków; z parafii Matki Bożej Królowej Polski oraz św. Józefa ze widnicy laskiej; z parafii św Teresy od Dzięciątka Jezus z Zabrza; z parafii św. Mikołaja z Pyskowic; z parafii Chrystusa Odkupiciela z Poznania; pielgrzymkę Klubu Inteligencii Katolickiej z Lublina oraz Klubu Inteligencji Katolickiej w Katowicach; pielgrzymkę kurialną z Opola; pielgrzymkę kwestorów szkól wyższych z Krakowa; prócz tego uczestników grup turystycznych PTTK ze Szczecina z campingu “Kapitol”, Gromady z całej Polski, Orbisu z Krakowa, PKS z Katowic . . . Wszystkim obecnym tutaj życzę błogosławieństwa Bożego, owoców tej pielgrzymki do Rzymu. Proszę bardzo pozdrowić wszystkich bliskich w Ojczyznie

Ai pellegrini italiani 

Mi è gradito salutare i sacerdoti ed i religiosi degli Istituti Missionari Italiani, che sono temporaneamente riuniti a Roma per un corso di aggiornamento sul tema “Dialogo tra il Messaggio cristiano e le culture”.

Il lavoro, a cui attenderete in questi giorni, merita incoraggiamento, perché voi volete servire sempre meglio la Chiesa, comunicando la salvezza di Cristo secondo modalità sempre più consone alle necessità del vostro ministero, a favore degli uomini del nostro tempo.

Invocando su di voi i doni dello Spirito Santo, vi accompagno con l’Apostolica Benedizione. 

* * * 

Ed ora una parola di saluto ai rappresentanti del Comitato Antiblasfemo dei Ferrovieri d’Italia. Mentre manifesto il mio apprezzamento per l’impegno che ponete nell’onorare il nome di Dio, e a farlo rispettare nel vostro ambiente di lavoro ed ovunque vi troviate a vivere, vi esorto a dare la vostra testimonianza di fede e di coerenza con sempre grande fermezza e buona volontà. Il Signore vi assisterà certo in quest’opera, oggi tanto necessaria.

Di cuore vi imparto la Benedizione Apostolica. 

Ai giovani 

Rivolgo ora un cordiale saluto ai ragazzi ed ai giovani qui presenti. Carissimi, in questo giorno in cui veneriamo il Papa San Gregorio Magno, il cui corpo riposa nella Basilica di San Pietro, mi è caro leggervi un suo pensiero, tratto da un commento alla parabola degli operai della vigna: “Siccome - egli dice - alcuni giungono alla vita buona nella fanciullezza, altri nell’adolescenza, o nella giovinezza, o nella vecchiaia, o nell’ultima età, si dice che gli operai sono chiamati alla vigna in ore diverse. Esaminate quindi, o fratelli, la vostra vita, e chiedetevi se siete già operai di Dio. Ciascuno ponga in esame le sue azioni e cerchi di vedere se lavora nella vigna di Dio”. Faccio miei tali appelli e vi esorto: ricercate la via della vera vita! Siate sempre i buoni operai del Signore! Sulla risposta concreta, che saprete trovare per questi impegni, scenda propiziatrice l’Apostolica Benedizione. 

Agli ammalati 

Saluto poi gli ammalati e quanti li accompagnano, dando loro un sincero ed affettuoso benvenuto. Saluto in particolare il gruppo accompagnato dalla Associazione “Cerchio Aperto” di Cagliari e il gruppo proveniente dalla Parrocchia San Giacomo Maggiore in Gela.

San Gregorio è detto “il grande” per la sua eccezionale attività di pastore, padre e maestro di fede in tempi assai difficili per la società e la Chiesa: una “grandezza” nata dalla cura incessante e sofferta, spiritualmente e fisicamente, che attingeva forza e vigore dalla fiducia appassionata e viva nel Cristo. Ebbene, carissimi ammalati, quanto più pesante avvertite la croce della sofferenza, tanto più intensa e certa diventa la vostra fiducia in Dio. E’ questo che fa veramente “grande” chi soffre, perché lo porta a riconoscere nel Signore l’unica vera forza dell’esistenza. Vi conceda Egli la pace che nasce da questo abbandono in Lui e vi accompagni la mia Benedizione Apostolica. 

Agli sposi novelli 

Desidero, infine, esprimere il mio sincero augurio agli Sposi Novelli. Chiamati da Dio a trasmettere la vita fisica, dovete impegnarvi, carissimi Sposi, a ricambiare un così grande dono, generandoLo con la fede e l’amore, proprio come osserva San Gregorio: “Fa nascere il Signore colui che lo comunica al cuore di chi ascolta. Diventa madre di Lui quando nell’anima del prossimo scaturisce l’amore di Dio portato dalla sua parola”. Beati voi se, insieme alla vita fisica, saprete infondere nei figli che il Signore vi darà l’amore di Lui, la fede in Lui, la vera somiglianza con Lui. Questa è la vostra grande missione.

Con i più fervidi auspici per questo impegno, vi imparto la mia speciale Benedizione.

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