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from issue no. 03 - 2011

Spiritual reading/41

In September 2006, inaugurating the column “Spiritual Reading”, we began publishing the most important documents of the Magisterium of the Church on the doctrine of grace. On “the mystery and working of grace”, as Péguy said. We began with the excerpts from the Creed of the People of God by Paul VI (September 2006-May 2007), to then continue with the canons of the Council of Carthage in 418 (June-September 2007), with the Indiculus, the small Roman Catechism of the first half of the fifth century (October 2007-January 2008), with the canons of the Council of Orange in 529 (February 2008-September 2009), leading to the texts of St Ambrose, which express in the immediate transparency of prayer the contents of this same doctrine (October 2009-November 2010).

We continue with this issue to publish the documents of the Magisterium, proposing the decrees of the Council of Trent that reverently preserve and faithfully propose the Church’s teaching on grace in a definitive manner. We begin with the introduction and the first two canons of the Decree on Original Sin approved on 17 June 1546 (with a brief historical note explaining the genesis of the conciliar text).
The Decree of the Council of Trent has, among other things, its own “journalistic” relevance in relation to certain articles published recently in some newspapers, in which an account is presented of certain interpretations that deny the historical reality of original sin, considering it a theological invention of  St Augustine.
Always bearing in mind that the ordinary faithful realize from experience how completely reasonable it is “to remain in the teaching of Christ” (2 Jn 9), the observations that Augusto Del Noce published in his book Il problema dell’ateismo [The problem of atheism] (Bologna 1964) precisely about original sin prove a comfort to the intelligence of faith. The Catholic philosopher – after saying that modern atheism is not so much explained as a “radical secularization” of Christianity, as by a “re-understanding of the Christian novelty in ancient categories”, for which “evil is placed in the finiteness itself of the existing” – writes: “The choice that conditions all the categories and the whole development of rationalism is the refusal of the vision of sin as it is found exposed in Genesis. The religious criticism that demolishes the Bible by reducing it to legendary tales is in reality consequent on this choice. The explanation of the Bible that evil was introduced by us into the world through an act of freedom, is replaced by another for which the nexus of finitude and death is considered necessary. With which, in essence, you return to the explanation of evil contained in Anaximander’s fragment”.
Either the evil that we see in the world was introduced by an act of human freedom, by “a grave sin of pride and disobedience”, as stated in the Catechism of Saint Pius X, or evil coincides with the creation itself and therefore “is of God and in God”, as Hegel says. Tertium non datur.
In the words of the beloved apostle in his second letter, we can say (cf. 2 Jn  9): Either you remain in the doctrine of Christ and thus remain in God or you go beyond and you fall into gnosticism or gnosis, or rather, as is more accurate to say, into false gnosis.
Historical note*
Original sin was the first dogmatic question addressed by the Council of Trent. The impetus to deal with it came on  21 May 1546 from the papal legates Del Monte, Pole and Cervini, who were exclusively entitled to propose the topics. Of course, by re-emphasing the doctrine of original sin it was intended to blunt the errors in its regard that the Protestants had borrowed from the Gnostics and Pelagians. According to the procedure of the progress of work, the issue was first discussed in the “congregation of theologians”, convened early in the morning (5am!) on 24 May. Thirty-two in number, almost all belonging to the great religious orders, the theologians ended the debate the following day. On 28 May the “general congregation” took place, that is the meeting of the Council fathers with the right to vote, in which Del Monte introduced the basic outline to the fathers. They worked on it from 31 May to 5 June, in successive general congregations. The first draft of the decree – prepared with the help of some bishops and theologians, by the legates themselves, who had pledged themselves to use only expressions already approved by the councils and Catholic doctors – appeared on 8 June. After a few adjustments were made to it, the definitive text of the decree was promulgated on 17 June 1546, in the fifth solemn session of the Council, held in Trent, in the Cathedral of San Vigilio.
* By Lorenzo Cappelletti, published in 30Giorni, No 1, January 1994, p. 71.
Decretum de peccato originali
Ut fides nostra catholica, «sine qua impossibile est placere Deo» (Eb 11, 6), purgatis erroribus in sua sinceritate integra et illibata permaneat, et ne populus christianus «omni vento doctrinae circumferatur» (Ef 4, 14), cum serpens ille antiquus, humani generis perpetuus hostis, inter plurima mala, quibus Ecclesia Dei his nostris temporibus perturbatur, etiam de peccato originali eiusque remedio non solum nova, sed etiam vetera dissidia excitaverit: sacrosancta oecumenica et generalis Tridentina Synodus in Spiritu Sancto legitime congregata, praesidentibus in ea eisdem tribus Apostolicae Sedis legatis, iam ad revocandos errantes et nutantes confirmandos accedere volens, sacrarum Scripturarum et sanctorum Patrum ac probatissimorum conciliorum testimonia et ipsius Ecclesiae iudicium et consensum secuta, haec de ipso peccato originali statuit, fatetur ac declarat:
1. Si quis non confitetur, primum hominem Adam, cum mandatum Dei in paradiso fuisset transgressus, statim sanctitatem et iustitiam, in qua constitutus fuerat, amisisse incurrisseque per offensam praevaricationis huiusmodi iram et indignationem Dei atque ideo mortem, quam antea illi comminatus fuerat Deus, et cum morte captivitatem sub eius potestate, «qui mortis» deinde «habuit imperium, hoc est diaboli» (Eb 2, 14), totumque Adam per illam praevaricationis offensam secundum corpus et animam in deterius commutatum fuisse: anathema sit.

2. Si quis Adae praevaricationem sibi soli et non eius propagini asserit nocuisse, acceptam a Deo sanctitatem et iustitiam, quam perdidit, sibi soli et non nobis etiam eum perdidisse; aut inquinatum illum per inoboedientiae peccatum mortem et poenas corporis tantum in omne genus humanum transfudisse, non autem et peccatum, quod mors est animae: anathema sit, cum contradicat Apostolo dicenti: «Per unum hominem peccatum intravit in mundum, et per peccatum mors, et ita in omnes homines mors pertransiit, in quo omnes peccaverunt» (Rm 5, 12).
Decree concerning original sin
That our Catholic faith, “without which it is impossible to please God” (Heb 11, 6), may, errors being purged away, continue in its own perfect and spotless integrity, and that the Christian people may not “be carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Eph 4, 14); whereas that old serpent, the perpetual enemy of mankind, amongst the very many evils with which the Church of God is in these our times troubled, has also stirred up not only new, but even old, dissensions touching original sin, and the remedy thereof; the sacred and holy, ecumenical and general Synod of Trent – lawfully assembled in the Holy Ghost, the three same legates of the Apostolic See presiding therein – wishing now to come to the reclaiming of the erring, and the confirming of the wavering – following the testimonies of the Sacred Scriptures, of the holy Fathers, of the most approved councils, and the judgment and consent of the Church itself, ordains, confesses, and declares these things touching the said original sin:
1. If any one does not confess that the first man, Adam, when he had transgressed the commandment of God in Paradise, immediately lost the holiness and justice wherein he had been constituted; and that he incurred, through the offence of that prevarication, the wrath and indignation of God, and consequently death, with which God had previously threatened him, and, together with death, captivity under his power who thenceforth “had the empire of death, that is to say, the devil” (Heb 2, 14), and that the entire Adam, through that offence of prevarication, was changed, in body and soul, for the worse; let him be anathema.
2. If any one asserts, that the prevarication of Adam injured himself alone, and not his posterity; and that the holiness and justice, received of God, which he lost, he lost for himself alone, and not for us also; or that he, being defiled by the sin of disobedience, has only transfused death, and pains of the body, into the whole human race, but not sin also, which is the death of the soul; let him be anathema: whereas he contradicts the apostle who says; “By one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death, and so death passed upon all men, because (in him) all have sinned” (Rm 5, 12).

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