In the history of Christianity this condition has been characterized in many ways ranging from something as insignificant as a slight deficiency, or a tendency toward sin yet without collective guilt, referred to as a "sin nature," to something as drastic as total depravity or automatic guilt by all humans through collective guilt.
Catholic tradition regards original sin as the general condition of sinfulness (lack of holiness) into which human beings are born, distinct from the actual sins that a person commits. Different views exist as to whether a person bears real guilt or personal responsibility only for actual sins that they personally commit, while being tempted by original sin, or whether they bear actual guilt for the sins of ancestors.
The prevailing view in Eastern Orthodoxy, as is also Roman Catholic doctrine, is that man bears no guilt for the sin of Adam. They prefer to use the term "ancestral sin", which indicates that "original sin is hereditary. It did not remain only Adam and Eve's. As life passes from them to all of their descendants, so does original sin. We all of us participate in original sin because we are all descended from the same forefather, Adam. An important exposition of the belief of Eastern Christians identifies original sin as physical and spiritual death, the spiritual death being the loss of "the grace of God, which quickened (the soul) with the higher and spiritual life Others see original sin also as the cause of actual sins: "a bad tree bears bad fruit" (Matthew 7:17, NIV), although, in this view, original and actual sin may be difficult to distinguish. Man sins not because of any innate proclivity to sin, but out of the fear of death, death being the consequence of the first sin.
Original sin is said to result from the Fall of Man, when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit of a particular tree in the Garden of Eden. This first sin ("the original sin"), an action of the first human beings, is traditionally understood to be the cause of "original sin", the fallen state from which human beings can be saved only by God's grace. This is also called Adam and Eve sin.
The Apostolic Fathers and the Apologists mostly dealt with topics other than original sin. The doctrine of original sin was first developed in second-century Bishop of Lyon Irenaeus's struggle against Gnosticism. The Greek Fathers emphasized the cosmic dimension of the Fall, namely that since Adam human beings are born into a fallen world, but held fast to belief that man, though fallen, is free. It was in the West that precise definition of the doctrine arose. Augustine of Hippo taught that original sin was transmitted through the concupiscence (roughly, lust) that accompanied sexual reproduction, weakening the will and making humanity a massa damnata (mass of perdition, condemned crowd). In Augustine's view (termed "Realism"), all of humanity was really present in Adam when he sinned, and therefore all have sinned. Original sin, according to Augustine, consists of the guilt of Adam which all human beings inherit. As sinners, human beings are utterly depraved in nature, lack the freedom to do good, and cannot respond to the will of God without divine grace. Grace is irresistible, results in conversion, and leads to perseverance.
In the struggle against Pelagianism, which denied the doctrine of original sin, the principles of Augustine's teaching was confirmed by many councils, especially the Second Council of Orange in 529. Some of the followers of Augustine identified original sin with concupiscence, but this identification was challenged by the eleventh-century Saint Anselm of Canterbury , who defined original sin as "privation of the righteousness that every man ought to possess", thus separating it from concupiscence. In the twelfth century the identification of original sin with concupiscence was supported by Peter Lombard and others, but was rejected by the leading theologians in the next century , chief of whom was Thomas Aquinas. He distinguished the supernatural gifts of Adam before the Fall from what was merely natural, and said that what it was the former that were lost, privileges that enabled man to keep his inferior powers in submission to reason and directed to his supernatural end. Even after the fall, man thus kept his natural abilities of reason, will and passions. Rigorous Augustine-inspired views persisted among the Franciscans, though the most prominent Franciscan theologians, such as Duns Scotus and William of Ockham, eliminated the element of concupiscence.
The Council of Trent, while not pronouncing on points disputed among Catholic theologians, condemned the teaching that in baptism the whole of what belongs to the essence of sin is not taken away, but is only cancelled or not imputed, and declared that the concupiscence that remains after baptism not truly and properly sin in the baptized, but can only be called sin in the sense that it is of sin and inclines to sin.
In 1567, soon after the close of the Council of Trent, Pope Pius V went beyond Trent by sanctioning the Aquinas's distinction between nature and supernature in Adam's state before the Fall, condemned the identification of original sin with concupiscence, and approved the view that the unbaptized could have right use of will.
From about the 18th century, belief about original sin has tended to become softened, but has persisted in some form as in Immanuel Kant's idea of "radical evil".
Augustine's formulation of original sin was popular among Protestant reformers, such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, and also, within Roman Catholicism, in the Jansenist movement, but this movement was declared heretical by the Roman Catholic Church.
Like other traditional church doctrines, original sin has been denied or reinterpreted by various modern Christian denominations (such as the Unity Church) and theologians (such as Matthew Fox). Under such different views, Augustine's example of newborn babies would suffer the temptation to sin from their nature, but would not bear any guilt because of not actually committing sins of their own.
There are wide-ranging disagreements among Christian groups as to the exact understanding of the doctrine about a state of sinfulness or absence of holiness affecting all human beings, even children, with some Christian groups denying it altogether.
By his sin Adam, as the first man, lost the original holiness and justice he had received from God, not only for himself but for all human beings.
Adam and Eve transmitted to their descendants human nature wounded by their own first sin and hence deprived of original holiness and justice; this deprivation is called "original sin".
As a result of original sin, human nature is weakened in its powers, subject to ignorance, suffering and the domination of death, and inclined to sin (this inclination is called "concupiscence").
Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that in "yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state … original sin is called "sin" only in an analogical sense: it is a sin "contracted" and not "committed"—a state and not an act" (404). This "state of deprivation of the original holiness and justice … transmitted to the descendants of Adam along with human nature" (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 76) involves no personal responsibility or personal guilt on their part (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 405). Personal responsibility and guilt were Adam's, who because of his sin, was unable to pass on to his descendants a human nature with the holiness with which it would otherwise have been endowed, in this way implicating them in his sin.
Though Adam's sinful act is not the responsibility of his descendants, the state of human nature that has resulted from that sinful act has consequences that plague them: "Human nature, without being entirely corrupted, has been harmed in its natural powers, is subject to ignorance, suffering and the power of death, and has a tendency to sin. This tendency is called concupiscence" (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 77), but is distinct from original sin itself, since it remains even when original sin is remitted.
The Church has always held baptism to be "for the remission of sins", and, as mentioned in Catechism of the Catholic Church, 403, infants too have traditionally been baptized, though not guilty of any actual personal sin. The sin that through baptism was remitted for them could only be original sin, with which they were connected by the very fact of being human beings. Based largely on this practice, Saint Augustine of Hippo articulated the teaching in reaction to Pelagianism, which insisted that human beings have of themselves, without the necessary help of God's grace, the ability to lead a morally good life, and thus denied both the importance of baptism and the teaching that God is the giver of all that is good.
The Roman Catholic Church did not accept all of Augustine's ideas, which he developed to counter the claim by Pelagius that the influence of Adam on other human beings was merely that of bad example. For instance, the Church did not adopt the opinion that involvement in Adam's guilt and punishment takes effect through the dependence of human procreation on the sexual passion, in which the spirit's inability to control flesh is evident. Rather, the Church teaches that original sin comes to the soul simply from the new person taking his nature from one whose nature itself had original sin. In this way, the Church argues that original sin is not imputing the sin of the father to the son; rather, it is simply the inheritance of a wounded nature from the father, which is an unavoidable part of reproduction.
The Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary is that Mary was conceived free from original sin: "the most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin. The exceptional character that Catholic doctrine attributes to the conception of Mary thus depends on the reality of original sin. If, as some hold, original sin did not exist, not only she, but all human beings would be conceived "immune from all stain of original sin".
It is also taught among us that since the fall of Adam all men who are born according to the course of nature are conceived and born in sin. That is, all men are full of evil lust and inclinations from their mothers’ wombs and are unable by nature to have true fear of God and true faith in God. Moreover, this inborn sickness and hereditary sin is truly sin and condemns to the eternal wrath of God all those who are not born again through Baptism and the Holy Spirit. Rejected in this connection are the Pelagians and others who deny that original sin is sin, for they hold that natural man is made righteous by his own powers, thus disparaging the sufferings and merit of Christ.
Original sin, therefore, seems to be a hereditary depravity and corruption of our nature, diffused into all parts of the soul, which first makes us liable to God's wrath, then also brings forth in us those works which Scripture calls "works of the flesh" (Gal 5:19). And that is properly what Paul often calls sin. The works that come forth from it--such as adulteries, fornications, thefts, hatreds, murders, carousings--he accordingly calls "fruits of sin" (Gal 5:19-21), although they are also commonly called "sins" in Scripture, and even by Paul himself.The Methodist Church, founded by John Wesley, upholds Article VII in the Articles of Religion in the Book of Discipline of the Methodist Church:
Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and of his own nature inclined to evil, and that continually.
Because of this conundrum, Protestants believe that God the Father sent Jesus into the world. The personhood, life, ministry, suffering, and death of Jesus, as God incarnate in human flesh, is meant to be the atonement for original sin as well as actual sins; this atonement is according to some rendered fully effective by the Resurrection of Jesus.
In the Old Testament, in the Book of Ezekiel, God's people are rebuked for suggesting that the children would die/suffer for their father's sins:
The Lord then gives examples of a good father with a bad son, of a good son with a bad father, etc. and states:
God concludes: "house of Israel, I will judge each of you according to your own ways … Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit" (Ezek. 18:30-31, TNIV).
Many Restoration movement churches and individuals, however, do believe that Adam's sin made us depraved (that is, with a tendency towards sin) without making us guilty of Adam's sin. Man is predisposed towards sin, but though every person sins, they are not intrinsically forced to sin.
And our father Adam spake unto the Lord, and said: Why is it that men must repent and be baptized in water? And the Lord said unto Adam: Behold I have forgiven thee thy transgression in the Garden of Eden. 54 Hence came the saying abroad among the people, that the Son of God hath atoned for original guilt, wherein the sins of the parents cannot be answered upon the heads of the children, for they are whole from the foundation of the world.
Furthermore, Mormons hold that little children are incapable of committing sin and, as such, have no need of (saving) baptism until age eight when they can discern right from wrong, and are thus capable of sin and can be held accountable. Little children who die before reaching the age of accountability (even though they are unbaptized) are automatic heirs of salvation and are saved in the Celestial Kingdom of God through the atonement of Jesus Christ.
Those who are incapable of understanding right from wrong, such as mentally handicapped persons, are also saved under the atonement of Jesus Christ without baptism.