Feast Of Immaculate Conception – 8th DECEMBER
Were you born with original sin or in original sin? The difference is immense. Born with original sin means you are guilty; born in original sin you are innocent but surrounded by sin, becoming guilty only when you do wrong for the first time and then you share in the sin of the world.
We believe Our Lady never did wrong, lived a beautiful perfect life even though surrounded by the world’s sin – and how she suffered and saw her son suffer from that sinfulness and cruelty.
In the poem which opens the Bible, where God creates through the divine Word (“dabar” is the Hebrew, meaning a word which creates as it is spoken) we read that God saw all that was made and it was good: not on the first two days, but twice on the third day – and then, now look it up for yourself!
We are all created good! Everything is! God’s goodness, love and truth in everyone and every aspect of creation. That is the vision of the poet: the goodness of creation which we share from the beginning of life. We are conceived “immaculate”, innocent, beautiful: only when we commit our own original sin do we spoil the wonder of our being. Mary never did wrong, so the Church sees her innocence as never spoiled and we trace the beauty of her life from the beginning.
The key text for the Church’s teaching is in St Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 5 verse 12, where he speaks of our sharing the guilt of sin, going back to the first sin: our sinfulness joins us to the sins of the human race. Read Romans 5:12 and see it can be understood in two ways: (1) we are born guilty (with original sin); (2) we are born innocent (in original sin) but become guilty when we begin wrong-doing.
These two interpretations go back to the 1950’s and ‘60’s and a dispute between two schools of thought in Rome, the Biblicum and the Lateran University. At the Biblicum, Professor Lyonnet, a French Jesuit, favoured “in original sin”; at the Lateran, Professor Spadafora favoured “with”. Each claimed to translate St Paul’s thought which certainly can be understood and translated either way.
This was in our lectures in Rome in the 1960’s and I have always preferred Lyonnet’s interpretation – conceived and born innocent (in union with Our Lady “born in original sin, surrounded by sin but not guilty of it”). “God saw all that was made and it was good”. In the years of my priesthood, in teaching and preaching, I have followed that line of thinking; the sadness has been that few people seem to know that way of speaking about original sin. They should have heard it at school or in the Church because it has been open as Church teaching for over sixty years.
The world is wonderfully and challengingly different every generation, and the church is similar in gaining new knowledge, understanding, and the opportunity to grow in wisdom. Two little words “with” and “in” indicate a world of difference in understanding the lovely grace of Our Lady and the question of original sin.
“Immaculate Mary, I have shared your innocence. Help me to regain it in a new way. Pray for me.”