The Ancestral Sin and our Regeneration
By Saint Symeon the New Theologian.
1. Man Lost The Truth After He Was Banished From Paradise
Because Adam believed the devil who had told him his lies, and tasted of the tree of knowledge, therefore, as one who had believed a liar, he fell away from the truth. After this, human nature labored a great deal seeking the truth but could not find it. This is dearly confirmed by all the wise men of Greece, who could by no means harmonize, unify, and direct on the right path the varieties of human wisdom, despite the fact that many used means for this end and wrote a multitude of lenghy works in which they examined virtue and vice from all points of view.
Truth is from God. It is contained in the Word of God, and it is attained by the grace of Christ. Grace in Christ Jesus, by its unutterable power, simplified the many separate and complex views, corrected and united them in a kind of physical and unshakable unity, showing thereby that all other means and approaches for this are ineffective, impractical, and useless. Those w’ho are guided by these means embark on investigations in order to find the truth, but they do not succeed in finding it: it rightly is concealed from them. For since man of his own will and without any violence accepted a lie and believed it, he was condemned to seek the truth and not to find it; to run in pursuit of it and not to attain it. And in addition, since truth has been concealed from us because we believed lies, in the same way truth is again found by us when we believe in truth. Adam believed a lie which was hidden and not obvious; but we believe in a great and evident mystery — in God Incarnate. That lie in itself contained an implausibility because it went against the direct commandment of God; while this great mystery of the Incarnation of Christ has the witness of its truth from the name of God. That lie, as soon as Adam believed that it was truth, was immediately revealed as a lie, because the one who believed it was cast down by it into corruption and death; while this mystery, being believed, is revealed as truth because it delivers the one who believes it from corruption and death, since by its power sin is taken away from the believer and there is given to him the blessed state, or righteousness. Thus both the truth and the lie are evident by their ends.
2. The Sin Of The Devil And The Sin Of Adam
If you will understand what kind of sin the devil committed, and what kind Adam committed, you will find nothing else but pride alone. But the devil and Adam became proud by reason of the great glory which they were vouchsafed in abundance. Being clothed with glory, not after humility and disgrace, for this very reason they became proud. They had never seen humility and did not know what this humility and disgrace might be which follow when one is thrown down from the heights of glory; therefore, not having the fear which comes from this happening, they became proud. Just think, then, how great was the humility of the Lord Jesus when He, being God, humbled Himself even to voluntary death and died on the Cross a death which served as punishment for the worst kind of people. And thus, there was one sin, pride, and one virtue, great humility. But who among us, since we now find ourselves in such belittle- ment and poverty, will begin to be proud, unless he be senseless and a fool ? In the present life no one has the divine power in himself to manifest a brilliant glory, and there is no one who is clothed with glory before humility and disgrace; but every man who is born in this world is bom inglorious and insignificant, and only later, little by little, advances and becomes glorious.
3. A Man Is Sinful From His Very Conception
Therefore, if anyone, having experienced beforehand such disgrace and insignificance, shall then become proud, is he not senseless and blind? That saying that calls no one sinless except God, even though he has lived only one day on earth, does not refer to those who sin personally, because how can a one- day old child sin ? But in this is expressed that mystery of our Faith, that human nature is sinful from its very conception. God did not create man sinful, but pure and holy. But since the first-created Adam lost this garment of sanctity, not from any other sin but from pride alone, and became corruptible and mortal, all people also who come from the seed of Adam are participants of the ances tral sin from their very conception and birth. He who has been born in this way, even though he has not yet performed any sin, is already sinful through this ancestral sin.
4. And Man Is Reborn By The Holy Spirit In Holy Baptism
For this reason there has come another birth, or rebirth, which regen erates man through Holy Baptism by the Holy Spirit, again unites him with the Divine nature as it was when he was created by the hands of God, restores all the powers of his soul, renews them and brings them to the condition in which they were before the transgression of first-created Adam; in this way it leads him into the Kingdom of God, into which no one unbaptized can enter, and en lightens him with its light and grants him to taste its joys. Thus each one who is baptized again becomes such as Adam was before the transgression, and is led into the noetic Paradise and receives the commandment to work it and keep it — to work it by fulfillment of the commandments of Jesus Christ Who has recreated him, and to keep it by the keeping of the grace of the Holy Spirit which was given to him through Holy Baptism, confessing that the power of this grace which dwells in him fulfills together with him the commandments of Christ. In this consists the keeping. And as it is impossible for a house to stand without a foundation, so also it is impossible for the soul which believes in Christ to manifest a God-pleasing life if in it there will not be laid as a founda tion the grace of the Holy Spirit. For fasting, and vigils, and sleeping on the floor, and prostrations, and praying, and every other suffering of evil is nothing without Divine grace. And if you hear that anyone after evident Christian works has fallen away from Christ, know that at that time he was without the grace of God. For the Holy Spirit gives life to the soul, as the soul gives life to the body; and the soul becomes strong, firm, and constant.
Great is this mystery. Let man be reverent before it, let him pay heed to it and preserve it. By this grace of the Holy Spirit there is performed in the heart the sacrifice of praise, and the heart itself is made pure, contrite, and hum ble, and knowing that it has nothing of its own it cannot be exalted in pride. This humility of a heart that is contrite and belittles itself, this humility that is true and not for show, out of vainglory, is precisely the sacrifice of praise which is offered to God. Impure before the Lord is not every sinner, but rather every one who is highminded and proud, because there is no one without sin. But one who is humble of heart is righteous and acts righteously, for he is filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit which instructs him in every good and strengthens it in him. This grace gives to him that holy thing without which no one may behold the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). Therefore it is said: Let the impious one be taken away, lest he see the glory of the Lord (Isaiah 26:10). And who is this impious one? The one who is high-minded, in whom the degree of impiety is equal to the degree of his pride; and, on the contrary, in the one who is humble of heart, the degree of piety is equal to the degree of his humility.
But who is this one who is humble of heart? Not the wise man, not the one who knows much, not the scholar, not the artist, not the workman — but he who has the grace of the Holy Spirit which, cleansing the soul of every sin and teaching it to live righteously and God-plcasingly, gives to it true wis dom and knowledge and ability to act.
5. What Was It That The Kings And Prophets Desired Before The Coming Of Christ?
It was for this that the Son of God became man and died, giving Him self as redemption for the whole of human nature. However, His death was an indispenable sacrifice also for the pious ones who died before His coming in the flesh. For after the transgression of Adam no one even among the righteous could be saved, since all men were subject to the sin of the forefather Adam, to corruption and death, and the fiery sword allowed no one into the Paradise from which Adam had been banished, since those holy mansions of Paradise receive only souls which are immaculate and pure from every sin, as the Apos tle says: Neither doth corruption inherit incorruption (I Cor. 15:50). Therefore, it was necessary that the incorruptible Son of God, by means of His corruptible flesh, should be given as a sacrifice so as to redeem those righteous ones from corruption. For by themselves they could not again come into the incorruption from which Adam had fallen away; but this was the work of the great dispen sation of Christ, which was performed with true judgment and righteousness. And for those who were born after the Nativity of Christ, He also is a sacrifice and food by means of the communion of the most pure Mysteries, in which he renews and recreates man through the union into which He enters with those who receive Communion; and by the unutterable power of the creative Divinity He most intimately joins them with Himself and penetrates them with Himself, that is, makes them gods by grace, just as fire through its penetration makes into fire those hard bodies which receive it and are penetrated by it, as for example, iron, bronze, and similar things, it makes fire. However, He does not change their nature, but causes only that they, as long as they are in such union with the fire, are themselves fire. And this is what the prophets, kings, and righteous ones desired who were before Christ, since they foresaw those who were to be flesh of the flesh of Christ, and bone of His bones, and they saw themselves deprived of such a great good thing.
6. A Spiritual Father Should First Of All Instruct Those Coming To Confession And Teach Them The Mystery Of Faith, And Then Lay Upon Them A Penance
For those who have been instructed in this great mystery of Christian ity and, having understood it, have become believers and faithful to it and later fell, being men who bear flesh — there is no other means to restore what has been lost than repentance in everything in which they have sinned. They should hasten to the spiritual physician and, having confessed their sin and opened their wound to him, they should with submission and desire accept the penance which is in accordance with the canons, such as their spiritual father will lay upon them, because these penances unloose the bonds of sin and serve for the wounds as a suitable treatment for the soul, so that they may be healed. It is essential, I say, that those who sin after Baptism bear a penance, because they have already been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift (Heb. 6:4), that is, in experience have known the power of Christ, and therefore they should have manfully stood against temptation and not sinned, as the Apostle says, Sin shall not have dominion over you, for ye are not under sin, but under grace (Rom. 6:14).
If they had not disdained the grace of God which they had already known, then it would not have allowed them to sin. They made themselves guilty of the blood of Christ after they had cleansed their conscience from dead works so as to serve the living and true God. Therefore, they have need of a second cleansing through repentance, which is joined with labors and sweat, with groans and tears, so that each of them might say to God, Behold my lowliness and my toil, and forgive all my sins (Ps. 24:18). This is necessary not because God has need of the labors and sweat of the one who repents, but so that the one who is repenting, having received the grace of God without labor, might not again disdain it as before and might not for this be condemned eternally to burn in the unquenchable fire of hell.
But those who do not know the mystery of Christianity, which means the greater part of those who have been baptized, who are called “Christians’’ as being baptized but have not been taught the Christian teaching and remain totally ignorant, and, I will say so, unenlightened (enlightened by Baptism, but not enlightened by know-ledge), because they do not know and do not under stand in truth udiat the mystery of Christianity is — when such ones in repent ing confess their sins committed by them after Baptism, one should not bind their spirit too much and lay upon them difficult penances, because this will not be profitable for them, since they, being not instructed and not enlightened, and not having: knowledge of the mystery of Christ, cannot feel as is proper these bindings and penances. They believed in ignorance, and in ignorance they sinned, and inasmuch as they sinned without understanding, they cannot under stand as is fitting the sensibleness of their spiritual treatment.
And thus, for those who are instructed and enlightened and know f the mystery of Christianity, according to the measure of their knowledge and their sin, that is, judging by what kind of knowledge and awareness they have of the mystery of Christianity and how severe a sin they have committed — for these ones are required the bindings and the treatments and the scorching and the suffering of evil, that is, fasts, vigils, lying on the floor, bending of the knee, and the rest. But for those w f ho did not know and were not instructed in the mystery of Christianity, there are required in future instruction, announcement of the teaching of the faith, and enlightenment, and only after this the canonical penance. For it is senseless to bind and scorch, that is, to lay a penance accord ing to the canons upon one who is unable to feel, just as it is senseless to give treatment to a dead person.
However, as the divine Paul says, As many as have sinned in the laiv, that is, with knowledge of the mystery of Faith and Christianity, shall be judged by the law, that is, they must be judged and given penances according to all the strictness of the sacred canons. But those who have sinned without the law, that is, do not know everything that pertains to faith and that is essential for salvation and have not been instructed in it, shall also perish without the law (Rom. 2:12), that is, even without the application to them of all the strictness of the canons, they will perish (if they do not repent), even though they might uselessly offer in their defense the fact that they did not know how they w^ere obliged to act; for the Lord says, This Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations (Matt. 24:14). If in this way the nations are condemned (for ignorance), all the more will those Christians be condemned who, being in the enclosure of the Church of Christ, do not know the true teaching of Christian piety because they did not take care to be in structed in it in the proper way, out of carelessness and disdain for such a great work which was performed for us by the Son of God. For them, He, being God, became man and endured extreme mockery, dying on the Cross as if He were an evildoer.
7. Every Christian Must Receive A Divine Change
It is a great good thing to believe in Christ, because without faith in Christ it is impossible for anyone to be saved; but one must also be instructed in the word of truth and understand it. It is a good thing to be instructed in the word of truth, and to understand it is essential; but one must also receive Baptism in the name of the Holy and Life-giving Trinity, for the bringing to life of the soul. It is a good thing to receive Baptism and through it a new spiritual life; but it is necessary that this mystical life, or this mental enlightenment in the spirit, also should be consciously felt. It is a good thing to receive with feeling the mental enlightenment in the spirit; but one must manifest also the works of light. It is a good thing to do the works of light; but one must also be clothed in the humility and meekness of Christ for a perfect likeness to Christ. He who attains this and becomes meek and humble of heart, as if these were his natural dispositions, will unfailingly enter into the Kingdom of Heaven and into the joy of His Lord.
Moreover, regarding all those who are running on the path of God according to the order I have indicated, if it happens that natural death should cut off their course in the midst of this, they will not be banished from the doors of the Kingdom of God, and these doors will not be closed before them, according to the limitless mercy of God. But regarding those who do not run in such a way, their faith also in Christ the Lord is vain, if they have such. To Him may there be every glory, honor and worship, with His Unoriginate Father and the Life-giving Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.