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Sin breaks man’s covenant with God

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on Jesus Christ
General Audience, Wednesday 29 October 1986 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. In the catecheses of the present series we have the truth about original sin continually before our eyes. At the same time we seek to view the reality of sin in the overall dimension of human history. Historical experience confirms in its own way what is expressed by revelation—sin is continually present in the life of every person. From the point of view of human knowledge it is present as moral evil, with which ethics (moral philosophy) is more directly concerned. But in their own way other branches of anthropological science of a more descriptive nature, such as psychology and sociology, are also concerned with it. One thing is certain—moral evil (as well as moral good) belongs to human experience—and this is the point of departure for all the other sciences that intend to study it as an object of experience.

2. At the same time, however, one must observe that, apart from revelation, we are not in a position to perceive fully or to express adequately the essence of sin (or of moral evil as sin). Only against the background of the relationship instituted with God through faith can the full reality of sin become understandable. In the light of this relationship let us seek to develop and deepen this understanding.

In the case of revelation and especially of Sacred Scripture, the truth which it contains about sin cannot be presented except by returning to the "beginning" itself. In a certain sense even "actual" sin, pertaining to the life of every person, becomes fully understandable in reference to that "beginning," to that sin of the first man. This is not only because what the Council of Trent calls "the spark of sin" (fomes peccati), the consequence of original sin, is the basis and source of personal sins in man, but also because that "first sin" of our first parents remains to a certain extent the "model" of every sin committed personally by man. The "first sin" was also in itself a personal sin; hence the individual elements of its "structure" are found in some way in every other human sin.

3. The Second Vatican Council recalls: "Although he was made by God in a state of holiness, from the very onset of his history man abused his liberty...and sought to attain his goal apart from God" (GS 13). In these words the Council treats of the sin of our first parents committed in the state of original justice. However, all the sins committed throughout history reflect those same essential elements, as a result of the moral weakness that the human race has inherited. Understood as a personal act of man, every sin contains a particular "abuse of freedom," that is, an evil use of freedom, of free will. As a created being, man abuses his free will when he uses it against the will of his Creator, when in his behavior "he lifts himself up against God," when he seeks "to attain his goal apart from God."

4. Every human sin repeats the essential elements, which from the very beginning constitute the moral evil of sin in the light of the revealed truth on God and man. They are presented in a degree of intensity different from that of the first sin, committed in the state of original justice. Committed after original sin, personal sins are conditioned by the state of inherited inclination to evil ("the spark or incitement of evil desire"), in a certain sense already at the very point of departure. However, this situation of inherited weakness does not cancel human freedom. Every actual (personal) sin is a real abuse of freedom, contrary to the will of God. The degree of this abuse may vary. The different degrees of guilt of the sinner also depend on this. In this sense one must apply a different measure for actual sins, when it is a question of evaluating the degree of evil contained in them. From this, too, derives the difference between "grave" sin and "venial" sin. Grave sin is also "mortal" because it brings about the loss of sanctifying grace in the one who commits it.

5. Speaking about Adam's sin, St. Paul describes it as "disobedience" (cf. Rom 5:19). The same is valid for every actual sin committed. Man sins by transgressing God's commandment, therefore he is "disobedient" to God as supreme lawgiver. In the light of revelation this disobedience is at the same time a breaking of the covenant with God. God, as we know him from revelation, is the God of the covenant. Precisely as God of the covenant, he is lawgiver. He inserts his law in the context of the covenant with man, making it a fundamental condition of the covenant itself.

6. Thus it was in that original covenant, which, as we read in Genesis (cf. Gen 2-3), was violated "in the beginning." This appears still more clearly in the relationship of the Lord God with Israel at the time of Moses. The covenant made with the Chosen People at the foot of Mount Sinai (cf. Ex 24:3-8) contains as its constitutive part the Commandments, the Decalogue (cf. Ex 20; Dt 5). They constitute the fundamental and inalienable principles of behavior of every person in regard to God and in regard to creatures, especially to human beings.

7. According to St. Paul's teaching in his Letter to the Romans, these fundamental and inalienable principles of conduct, revealed in the context of the covenant of Sinai, are "written in the heart" of every human being, even independently of the revelation made to Israel. The Apostle wrote: "When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them" (Rom 2:14-15).

Reinforced by God with the revelation of the law in the context of the covenant, the moral order is already endowed with effectiveness in the law "written in the heart," even apart from the limits indicated by the Mosaic law and revelation. It can be said that it is inscribed in man's rational nature itself, as St. Thomas so very well explains when speaking of the "law of nature" [1] . The fulfillment of this law determines the moral value of human acts and insures their goodness. On the contrary, the transgression of the law "written in the heart," that is, in the rational nature of the human being, determines that human acts are evil. They are evil because they are opposed to the objective order of human nature and of the world, behind which stands God, its Creator.

8. In the light of the revealed law the nature of sin is set out in still greater relief. Man then possesses a greater awareness of transgressing a law explicitly and positively established by God. He is therefore aware of opposing God's will, and in this sense, of "disobeying." It is not merely a case of disobedience to an abstract principle of behavior, but to a principle in which the "personal" authority of God is formulated, to a principle in which God's wisdom and Providence are expressed. The whole moral law is laid down by God because of his solicitude for the true good of creation, and in particular for the good of the human person. It was precisely this good that was inscribed by God in the covenant which he made—both in the first covenant with Adam, and also in the covenant of Sinai through Moses, and finally, in the definitive covenant revealed in Christ and sealed in the blood of his redemption [2] .

9. Viewed against this background, sin as "disobedience" to the law is more clearly revealed in its nature of disobedience to a personal God—to God as lawgiver, who at the same time is a loving Father. Already profoundly expressed in the Old Testament (cf. Hos 11:1-7), this message will find its fullest formulation in the parable of the prodigal son (cf. Lk 15:18-19, 21). In any event, disobedience to God, that is, opposition to his creative and salvific will, including man's desire "to attain his goal apart from God" (GS 13), is an "abuse of liberty" (GS 13).

10. On the day before his passion, Jesus Christ spoke of the "sin" of which the Holy Spirit must "convince the world." He explained the essence of this sin in the words: "because they do not believe in me" (Jn 16:19). That "non-belief" in God is in a certain sense the first and fundamental form of sin, which man commits against the God of the covenant. This form of sin had already been manifested in original sin, spoken of in Genesis. The law given in the covenant of Sinai also refers to it, but in order to exclude it: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me" (Ex 20:2-3). The words of Jesus in the cenacle and the whole of the Gospel and the New Testament also refer to it.

11. This disbelief, this lack of trust in God who is revealed as Creator, Father and Savior, indicate that man, by sinning, not only transgresses the commandment (the law), but really "lifts himself up against" God himself, "seeking to attain his goal apart from God" (GS 13). In this way we can find at the root of every actual sin the echo, distant perhaps, but nonetheless real, of those words which were at the basis of the first sin. The words of the tempter presented disobedience to God as a way of being like God; of knowing, like God, "good and evil."

However, as we have already said, even in actual sin, when it is a case of grave (mortal) sin, man chooses himself in opposition to God. He chooses the creature in place of the Creator, and he rejects the Father's love as did the prodigal son in the first phase of his foolish adventure. To a certain extent every human sin is an expression of that "mystery of iniquity" (2 Thess 2:7) which St. Augustine summarized in the words: amor sui usque ad contemptum Dei—love of self to the point of contempt of God [3] .

[1]   cf. Summa Theol., I-II, q. 91, a 2; q. 94, aa. 5-6
[2]   cf. Mk 14:24; Mt 26:28; 1 Cor 11:25; Lk 22:20
[3]   De Civitate Dei, XIV, 28, PL 41, 436

After the Catechesis, Pope John Paul II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai pellegrini provenienti dalla Francia

Chers Frères et Soeurs,

Je vous salue avec joie, pèlerins de langue française, venus notamment de France, de Monaco et du Canada, et, a quelques jours de la solennité de la Toussaint, je vous souhaite de bien célébrer la multitude des élus qui nous encouragent sur le chemin de notre destinée céleste, tout en priant pour les défunts qui ont besoin de la miséricorde de Dieu. Avec ma cordiale Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai fedeli di espressione linguistica inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I wish to offer a special welcome to the groups of men and women Religious present at this audience, in particular the Superior General and members of the General Chapter of the Sisters of Notre Dame and the Christian Brothers taking part in an international renewal programme in Rome. May your lives of dedication to the Lord always serve to bear witness to the reality of God’s love for his people.

And upon all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially from England, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Hong Kong, Korea and the United States I invoke God’s choicest blessings of grace and peace in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Ad un gruppo di giapponesi 

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Dilettissimi pellegrini della diocesi di Urawa e membri del gruppo del Tempio Kozanji di Kyoto.

Preghiamo tutti affinché il nostro comune desiderio giunga fino al Cielo e affinché si stabilisca la pace nel mondo.

Con questo augurio vi benedico di cuore.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo! 

Ai pellegrini provenienti da Paesi di espressione tedesca 

Liebe Brüder und Schwestern!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung grüße ich von Herzen alle heutigen deutschsprachigen Audienzteilnehmer. Ich freue mich über eure so große Zahl und danke euch für die dadurch bekundete gläubige Verbundenheit mit dem Nachfolger Petri. Besonders grübe ich die großen Diözesanpilgerzüge mit den sie begleitenden Bischöfen: aus der Erzdiözese Paderborn und aus den Diözesen Essen und Münster, der Region Coesfeld; ferner die Pilgergruppen der Pfarreien St. Dionysius in Havixbeck, St. Elisabeth in Essen-Fronhausen und Heilige Drei Könige in Neuß anläßlich ihrer Pfarrjubiläen. Mein froher Gruß gilt weiter den zahlreichen Jugendlichen sowie den vielen anwesenden Kirchenchören und Musikgruppen, denen ich für ihre musikalischen Darbietungen bestens danke. Ebenso heiße ich aufrichtig willkommen die Gruppe von der Evangelischen Wirche in Westfalen.

* * *

Besonders Herlich grüße ich die große Pilgergruppe der Gemeinschaften der Heimatvertriebenen in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland mit ihren Apostolischen und Kanonischen Visitatoren, die zum ersten Mal eine gemeinsame Pilgerfahrt in die Ewige Stadt unternehmen.

Wie ich bei der Eucharistiefeier in Osnabrück im November 1980 gesagt hahe, haben ”harte Zeiten . . . bittere Wunden geschlagen; aber der Herr hat auch geheilt und geholfen“. Der Herr konnte das tun, weil ihr selbst ihm die Treue gehalten habt und euch von ihm habt führen lassen. Gerade in der Prüfung eures Lebensschicksals habt ihr die Kirche in einer besonderen Weise als eure tiefere, Gott selber uns als nie versiegende Quelle des Trostes und der Stärkung gegenwärtig und nahe ist. Möge euch auch diese gemeinsame Pilgerfahrt zu den Heiligen Stätten hier im Zentrum der katholischen Christenheit in eurer Treue und Liebe zur Kirche neu bestärken und dazu ermutigen, euch auch in den vielfältigen Anfechtungen des Alltags als wahre Jünger Jesu Christi zu bewähren. Euch allen, den genannten und nicht genannten Gruppen wie auch den Einzelpilgern aus den Ländern deutscher Sprache erteile ich für schöne und geistlich fruchtbare Tage in der Ewigen Stadt und für Gottes bleibenden Schutz und Beistand von Herzen meinen besonderen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di lingua spagnola 

Amados hermanos y hermanas,

Deseo ahora presentar mi más cordial saludo de bienvenida a todos los peregrinos de lengua española.

En particular, saludo al grupo de Hermanas Hospitalarias de Jesús Nazareno que hacen en Roma un curso de renovación espiritual. Que vuestra estancia en la Ciudad Eterna acreciente vuestro amor a la Iglesia y el sentido universal de vuestro apostolado.

Asimismo saludo al grupo de Religiosos Franciscanos procedentes de diversas Diócesis de América Latina, a quienes aliento a ser constructores de paz y fraternidad entre los hombres según el espíritu de su Fundador.

A todas las personas, familias y grupos provenientes de España y de los diversos Paises de América Latina imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ad un pellegrinaggio proveniente da diverse diocesi della Polonia 

Witam serdecznie Księży Biskupów: księdza biskupa Rozwadowskiego, księdza biskupa Smoleńskiego oraz wszystkich pielgrzymów z Polski. W szczególności z parafii Najświętszego Serca Pana Jezusa w Bienczycach - Nowa Huta; pielgrzymów z archidiecezji warszawskiej, w szczególnosci prawników z Warszawy; pielgrzymkę katedralną z todzi; współpracowników misyjnych ksieży pallotynów z całej Polski; oraz uczestników grup turystycznych “Amicizia” i “Orbis”. . . . Ponieważ zblizamy się do uroczystości Wszystkich więtych, pragnę wraz z wami zwracać się w tych dniach do świętych waszego narodu, a ponieważ zbliżamy się także do Dnia Zadusznego - pragnę wraz z wami, drodzy Rodacy tu obecni i wszyscy w Ojczyźnie i na świecie, klęknąć na grobach naszych bliskich, naszych rodziców, gdziekolwiek one się znaidują, i wraz z całym Kościołem modlić się o wieczny odpoczynek dla tych naszych zmarłych braci i sióstr. 

Al coro “Synkròtima Vizantinis Musikìs” 

Saluto cordialmente il coro greco “Synkròtima Vizantinis Musikìs” che ha unito il suo canto di lode e di impetrazione alle voci di Oriente e di Occidente, che ad Assisi l’altro ieri si sono elevate a Dio per invocare la pace.

La nobile tradizione musicale, poetica e teologica che questo Coro ha rappresentato ad Assisi, fa parte del grande patrimonio spirituale cristiano. Ringrazio vivamente tutti i suoi componenti e auguro loro di cantare sempre la gloria di Dio con cuore fedele e con animo gioioso.

“Ho Theòs met’ymôn”.

Il Signore sia sempre con voi. 

A diversi gruppi di fedeli italiani 

Il mio pensiero va poi al gruppo del Rotary Club di Napoli Ovest, che celebra il centenario della sua fondazione. Formulo per il sodalizio napoletano un vivo augurio affinché tra i soci siano sempre esaltati quei valori della cultura, del bene sociale e dell’amicizia che stanno alla base del programma del Rotary.

A tutti il mio saluto e la mia Benedizione. 

* * * 

Rivolgo ora un saluto ai partecipanti al Convegno “L’Espressione Latina di Roma” che hanno tenuto in questa Città il loro primo incontro nazionale, sul tema “Quali valori ricerca l’uomo contemporaneo”.

Li incoraggio nel loro impegno di promuovere lo studio della lingua e della civiltà latina, mentre esprimo loro i miei più fervidi auguri. 

Ai giovani 

Un saluto particolare ai giovani qui presenti. Abbiamo ancora tutti viva nell’animo l’eco del grande incontro di preghiera, che la Chiesa ha vissuto ad Assisi insieme con uomini religiosi di tutto il mondo. E sono certo che voi, cari giovai, avete seguito in modo particolare questa nobile iniziativa di pace.

Vogliate anche voi, cari giovani, sentirvi coinvolti in questo vasto movimento spirituale, per dare ad esso il vostro contributo con la chiarezza delle vostre posizioni di credenti e con la disponibilità di uomini amanti della pace. Con la mia Benedizione. 

Agli ammalati 

E ora a voi, cari malati, il mio pensiero pieno di affettuosa stima e di ferventi augurio per la vostra salute. Con voi saluto le persone che vi assistono, incoraggiandole nella loro sollecitudine per voi.

Vi invito ad unire le vostre sofferenze alla grande corrente di preghiera che l’altro giorno si è innalzata ad Assisi da parte di tanti uomini, i quali si sono trovati gli uni accanto agli altri nell’implorare da Dio il dono incommensurabile della pace. Ed io vi segno, cari ammalati, con la mia Benedizione. 

Agli sposi novelli 

Anche voi, sposi novelli, siate i benvenuti a questo incontro! A voi pure desidero ricordare l’importanza della straordinaria Giornata di preghiera che la Chiesa ha vissuto ad Assisi. E vi invito ad unirvi alle intenzioni di quella Giornata, con le vostre fresche energie, piene di vita. La vostra fede cristiana non si lasci abbattere dalle difficoltà. Costruite la pace nel vostro nucleo familiare, e questa pace, come un flusso benefico, riscalderà molti altri cuori! Benedico il vostro amore.

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