Evil Is Subordinate to Goodness
Pope Benedict XVI’s weekly general audience.
During his general audience on Dec. 3, Pope Benedict XVI pointed out that Paul’s teaching on Adam’s sin and its disastrous consequences for mankind was meant to emphasize the surpassing gift of grace that Jesus Christ bestowed upon mankind.
Dear brothers and sisters,
During today’s catechesis, we will reflect on the relationship between Adam and Christ, which St. Paul describes in a passage in the Letter to the Romans (5:12-21), where he traces the basic outline of the doctrine of original sin. Actually, Paul had already presented this relationship between Adam, the first man, and Christ in his First Letter to the Corinthians when speaking about faith in the Resurrection: “For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life. … The first man, Adam, became a living being, the last Adam a life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:22, 45).
In Romans 5:12-21, the comparison between Christ and Adam is articulated and clarified in greater depth. Paul recounts the history of salvation, from Adam to the Law, and from there, to Christ.
Here, the spotlight is not so much on Adam and the consequences of sin for mankind as on Jesus Christ and the grace that was abundantly poured out upon mankind through him. The repetition of “how much more” in relationship to Christ emphasizes the fact that the gift that has been received through him surpasses, in the long run, Adam’s sin and the consequences it had for mankind, so much so that Paul came to the following conclusion: “But where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more” (Romans 5:20).
Nonetheless, Paul’s comparison between Adam and Christ highlights the inferiority of the first man with respect to the predominance of the second.
On the other hand, Paul alludes to Adam’s sin precisely in order to point out the immeasurable gift of Christ’s grace. We might even say that, if it were not to show the centrality of grace, he would not have spent so much time discussing the fact that “through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death” (Romans 5:12).
There was a growing awareness of original sin in the faith of the Church precisely because it is inseparably connected to another dogma, the dogma of salvation and freedom in Christ. Consequently, we should never consider Adams’ sin and the sin of mankind separately from the context of salvation without understanding them within the perspective of justification through Christ.
However, as men and women in today’s world, we have to ask ourselves the following questions: What is this original sin? What does St. Paul teach, and what does the earth teach? Is this doctrine still sustainable today?
Many people think that, in light of the history of evolution, there is no place for original sin that was passed down throughout the entire history of mankind. As a result, both redemption and a Redeemer lose their foundation.
Therefore, does original sin exist or does it not? In order to respond to this question, we have to distinguish between two aspects of the doctrine of original sin.
There is an empirical aspect, a concrete and visible reality, which, I would say, is tangible for all people. There is also an aspect that remains a mystery and that touches upon the ontological foundation of the matter.
From an empirical standpoint, there is a contradiction in our inner being. On the one hand, man knows that he has to do good, and in his innermost being, this is what he desires to do. Yet, at the same time, he feels the impulse to do the opposite — to follow the path of his own selfish being — a path of violence, doing only what is pleasing to him, even though he knows that by doing so he is working against goodness, against God and against his fellow man.
St. Paul expressed this contradiction within our innermost being in the following terms in his Letter to the Romans: “The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want” (Romans 7:18-19).
This inner contradiction within our being is not a theory. We all experience it every day, as around us we see the second of these two wills prevail. We have only to think about the news we hear about daily that is the result of injustice, violence and lust. We see it every day. It is a fact.
Good and Evil
As a result of the power evil has over our souls, a foul river has developed within history, poisoning the landscape of human history.
Blaise Pascal, the great French thinker, spoke of a “second nature” that superimposes itself on our original nature, which is good. This “second nature” makes evil appear as normal to man. Thus, even the common expression — “It’s only human” — has a two-fold meaning. “It’s only human” might mean, “This man is good; he really acts as a man should act.” However, “It’s only human” might also signify deceit: Evil is normal; it is human. Evil seems to have become a second nature.
This contradiction within human beings and within our history aroused and arouses even today the desire for redemption. Indeed, the desire for the world to change — the promise of the creation of a world of justice, peace and goodness — is present everywhere.
In politics, for example, everyone speaks about the need to change the world and to create a more just world. This is the expression of our desire to be delivered from the contradiction we experience within ourselves.
Thus, the power of evil in the human heart and in the history of mankind is undeniable. Yet, how do we explain it?
With the exception of faith in Christ, there is one principal model in the history of thought for explaining it that has several variations. This model holds that human beings are inherently contradictory, carrying good and evil within themselves.
In ancient times, this idea implied the existence of two equally original principles: a principle of good and a principle of evil. Such dualism was seen to be insurmountable; the two principles were on the same level, so this contradiction always existed, from the origins of being. Therefore, the contradiction within our being is merely a reflection of the opposition, so to speak, between two divine principles.
Visions of Despair
In the evolutionary and atheistic version of the world, this same vision returns in a new way. According to this concept, even if the vision of the human being is monistic, it assumes that human beings, as such, have borne both good and evil within themselves from the beginning.
Human beings themselves are not simply good, but open to good and evil. Good and evil are equally original. Human history only developed according to the model that was already present in all preceding evolution. What Christians call original sin is, in reality, only the mixed nature of our being, a blend of good and evil, which, according to this theory, belongs to the very fabric of our being.
In the final analysis, this is a vision of despair. If it is true, evil is invincible. In the end, all that matters is our self-interest. Any form of progress would necessarily have to be paid for with a river of evil, and anyone who wishes to serve progress would have to pay this price.
Ultimately, politics is based precisely on these premises, and we see the effects. This modern idea, in the end, can only create sadness and cynicism.
Again we ask ourselves: What does faith say, the faith to which St. Paul testifies? First of all, it confirms the contradiction between these two natures and the reality of the darkness of evil that weighs upon the whole of creation.
We heard Chapter 7 of the Letter to the Romans, and we can add Chapter 8. Evil simply exists. Yet, in contrast to the desolation of the dualism and monism that we briefly considered, in order to explain it, faith speaks to us about two mysteries of light and one mystery of darkness, which is, however, enclosed within the mysteries of light.
The first mystery of light is this: Faith tells us that there are not two principles, one good and one evil. There is only one principle, which is God, the creator, and this principle is good, solely good, without any shadow of evil.
Likewise, neither are human beings a mixture of good and evil. Human beings, as such, are good and, because of this, it is good to be; it is good to live. This is the joyful proclamation of faith: there is but one source, a source of good, the Creator.
For this reason, life is good. It is a good thing to be a man or to be a woman. Life is good.
Christ Has Set Us Free
There is also a mystery of darkness — of night — that follows. Evil does not arise from the source of being itself; it is not equally original. Evil arises from a freedom that was created — from a freedom that has been abused.
How was this possible? How did this happen? This remains obscure. Evil is not logical. Only God and goodness are logical — only they are light.
Evil remains a mystery. It has been presented in grandiose images, such as Chapter 3 of Genesis, with its vision of two trees, a serpent and of sinful man. It is a great image that leads us to speculate, but it cannot explain something that of itself is illogical.
We can guess, but not explain. Nor can we recount it as one fact next to another, because it is a much deeper reality. It remains a mystery of darkness — of night. However, a mystery of light is immediately added to it. Evil arises from a subordinate source.
God, with his light, is more powerful. For this reason, evil can be overcome. For this reason, the creature, man, is curable. The dualistic visions, just like the monism of evolutionism, cannot say that man is curable. But if evil arises only from a subordinate source, it remains true that man is curable. Moreover, the Book of Wisdom tells us that “the creatures of the world are wholesome” (Wisdom 1:14).
Finally, the last point is that man is not only curable, but is in fact cured. God introduced healing. He personally entered into history. He counteracted the permanent source of evil with a source of pure goodness. The crucified and risen Christ, the new Adam, has counteracted the foul river of evil with a river of light.
This river has been present throughout history: We see it in the saints — the great saints but also the humble saints, as well as the humble faithful. We see that the river of light that comes from Christ is present and is strong.
Brothers and sisters, it is the time of Advent. In the Church’s language, the word Advent has two meanings: presence and expectation. Presence: The light is present. Christ is the new Adam. He is with us and in our midst. The light already shines and we must open the eyes of our heart to see the light and to enter the river of light.
Above all, we must be grateful for the fact that God himself has entered history as a new source of goodness. But Advent also means expectation. The darkness of evil is still strong. For this reason, during Advent, we pray with the people of God of ancient times, Rorate caeli desuper (Drop down ye heavens from above).
With insistence we pray: “Come, Jesus. Come and give strength to light and goodness. Come where deceit, ignorance of God, violence and injustice reign. Come, Lord Jesus, give strength to goodness in the world and help us to be heralds of your light, agents of peace and witnesses of truth. Come, Lord Jesus!”
- December 14-20, 2008