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Ancestral Sin
22-08-2007, 08:09 AM,
Ancestral Sin
Dear all

I am researching the issue of the nature of the Fall and of the humanity which our Lord united to Himself in the incarnation, especially using St Cyril and St Severus.

I see that Father John Romanides wrote a work called 'Ancestral Sin' which deals with some of these issues looking especially at the earliest Fathers and the Eastern perspective in comparison with the Western and Augustinian.

Has anyone read this book and can they recommend it?

As ever

22-08-2007, 09:07 AM,
ancestral sin
Dear Peter,
Yes, Fr Romanides has written some very hard-hitting works on this subject, and rejects the Augustinian view as being non-Christian. A good approach to this would be his article "Original Sin according to St Paul"
which can be found on <!-- w --><a class="postlink" href=""></a><!-- w -->
Good reading!
Kirk Yacoub
24-08-2007, 10:41 AM,
Ancestral/Original Sin
Dear Peter, Dear Kirk,

Asking one of my Catholic friends what they actually teach on Original Sin, he recommended this from their catechism:
Quote:405 Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam's descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin - an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence". Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ's grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle.

How different is this from what we hold?

In Christ,

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
01-09-2007, 04:44 PM,
Dear Peter,

I am currently reading through St Philxenos' Ascetic Discourses. The particular passage I assigned for today's reading seems pertinent to this thread. From 'Discourse 1' (i.e. the prologue):

Quote:Now those lusts which fight against us in the beginning of our youth are well known, and also those which war against us in the middle of youth, and at the end of the period of youth. And those which fight against us in the beginning, and middle, and end of [our] manhood, and those [which fight against us] in the stage which is after manhood in the self-same manner, even from the beginning until the end of this period, are well known; and also those passions, which in the time of old age war against us until our going forth from the world, and also what are those which come into being from us in infancy and childhood in emotions and natural movements, before the discernment of freewill hath been moved in it, and before we arrive at the knowledge which distinguisheth virtues from vices.

St Philoxenus is obviously using some very loaded terms here. He uses the term "passion", which he seems to equate with "lust" and other desires which "fight against us" (and which are hence "sinful"?)--though that equation does not necessarily preclude the existence of "good" or even "neutral" passions. He then goes on to state that these passions "come into being from us", which possibly suggests that, though they affect us early on in life, we are not in fact "born with" them since they are subsequent to our birth (and hence their being "born" from us in a sense). Then there is his use of another loaded expression, "natural movement", which clearly suggests involuntariness, but which otherwise is unclear. I guess there are a number of anthropological conclusions that can be drawn. I am inclined to reading this in light of St Severus' anthropology as summarised by Roberta Chestnut in her Three Monophysite Christologies, but do not want to risk imposing my prejudice on the text.

Needless to say, a Philoxenian scholar who is well-acquainted with the wider context of St Philoxenus' anthropology and particularly the Syriac context of this work, would be very helpful to us at the moment. But for now, I have simply tagged this particular passage with a bright yellow marker and am hoping that further reading may shed more light on it.

"Come and incline your ear to the voice of your Mother who gives you life by the sweet music of her voice. Come and suck the sweet milk of Orthodox doctrine from the living breast of the Mother who bore you" - St Philoxenus of Mabug
04-09-2007, 09:23 AM,
ancestral sin
St Philoxenos is one of my favourite saints because he was so powerfully straightforward. Read his depiction of a glutton - not even the most incorrigible couch-potato could remain unmoved!
I think that the possible misunderstanding of what he is saying comes from the fact that, being a translation the word "passions" has to be used, but cannot, without a lengthy footnote, explain why he denotes all passions as being negative. It is quite simply because the passions he writes about are derived from our sinful, selfish nature, which can be summed up as
"I want , give me!" It took a lot of spiritual labour to identify, if not positive passions, then at least a positive aspect to some of the passions, for example anger, which can obviously be misdirected, and usually is, but which can be used as a weapon to fight against sin.
We are born into the natural world and "natural movements" are our responding to the non-spiritual, animal aspect of who we are. Lust for sex and food are "natural" to our fallen state,but drag down our spiritual, or real, selves.
Anyway, Roberta Chestnut's book "Three Monophysite Christologies" shows its uselessness by its very title because the three saints she deals with were not monophysites but Orthodox Christians.
I shall return to this another time.
Kirk Yacoub
06-09-2007, 09:06 AM,
ancestral sin
Returning to St Philoxenos of Mabbug and the passions, it is worth noting that the Eastern Orthodox theologian Fr Alexander Golitzin, in a paper entitled "The Image and Glory of God in Jacob of Serug's Homily 'On that Chariot that Ezekiel the Prophet Saw'" (<!-- w --><a class="postlink" href=""></a><!-- w -->) sharply criticizes Roberta Chestnut Bondi's "Three Monophysite Christologies". It is also worth noting that in a footnote Fr Golitzin writes: "I had the occasion to talk to Dr Chestnut Bondi a few years ago and was happy to learn that she no longer endorses
the opinions in her book that I shall be criticizing."
Regarding the term "Passion" and its equation with "lust", the glossary to the English edition of the Philokalia explains: "in Greek, the word signifies literally that which happens to a person or a thing, an experience undergone passively; hence an appetite or an impulse such as anger, desire or jealousy, that violently dominates the soul. Many Greek Fathers regard the passions as something intrinsically evil, a 'disease' of the soul: thus St John Klimakos affirms that God is not the creator of the passions and that they are 'unnatural', alien to man's true self...Other Greek Fathers, however, look on the passions as impulses originally placed in man by God, and so fundamentally good, although at present distorted by sin. On this second view, then, the passions are to be educated, not eradicated; to be transfigured, not supressed; to be used positively, not negatively."
St Philoxenos of Mabbug obviously adhered to the first school of thought. However, it seems to me that the division into two schools is a false dichotomy. If God placed within us necessary impulses - sexual desire for procreation, hunger and thirst to remind us to take required nourishment, anger to goad us into action against what is wrong - then He most certainly did not give us these things as passions which "violently dominate the soul." Divinely given impulses become passions because of our fallen state. If we look around us we see a world populated by people in the grip of ferocious passions. The question is: How do we tackle the passions so that they can be "educated... transfigured... used positively";
how do we quench the fire of the passions that dominate us so that they can become once again impulses that serve?
St Philoxenos of Mabbug, St John Klimakos and a host of other Church Fathers have taught us how to face up to the passions by recognizing that we are enslaved by them, that we must resist them by self-control engendered by fasting, prayer, vigil, and self-observation. It is true that every Church Father patiently repeats that, without Christ we can do nothing, but also that, without our own efforts, there is nothing for Christ to help.
There is such a thing as ancestral sin which weighs upon us. The simple example is the suffering inflicted on the offspring of those who have contracted syphilis. However, physical and mental suffering thus caused does not mean that the victim is any the more or less prone to sin than the rest of us. We tend towards sin because of our fallen state. But it would be wrong to point an accusatory finger at Adam and Eve. It is no use saying, "if it wasn't for Adam and Eve I'd be in paradise," because that presupposes that you, I, any of us are free from sin and suffering only because of someone else's misdemeanours. From that it is a short step to saying: "Why is God punishing me for what Adam and Eve did?"
thus pushing the blame onto God Himself. Both attitudes display the desire to depict ourselves as being good, sinless, and that everything that is wrong is the fault of someone else.
The primal sin was disobedience. This sin was compounded by a refusal to confess and accept blame. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent. Neither of them took the opportunity which God gave them to confess and say, "I sinned!" Neither begged for the mercy which would surely have been shown to them. Likewise, we too must blame ourselves. It is no good saying, "It wasn't me God, it was the fault of those passions you implanted in me!"
The writings of St Philoxenos of Mabbug are alive with the fire of the Holy Spirit which enabled the saint to teach us how to strive against the slavery of our lower, fallen selves. The Spirit, through the saint, enables us to stretch out a hand that implores for rescue as we say, "I have sinned Lord,
forgive me!"

Kirk Yacoub
06-09-2007, 07:33 PM,
Ancestral Sin
Dear Peter,

Yes, I have the book Ancestral Sin and I consider it an excellent book, if a little demanding for me. Someone of your theological acumen should appreciate it indeed. I thoroughly recommend it.


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