Death in Paradise

Anthony Zimmerman
Dec. 7, 1999 (4378 words)
Publication pending
Reproduced with Permission

When the Fathers of the Council of Trent met in 1546 to clarify teachings on original sin, Cardinal del Monte, one of the three Papal Legates, proposed that they first of all study the work which had been done in this area in times past. They are to build on these teachings, and ought not debate speculatively about scholastic disputations. They should therefore collect and examine the decrees which the Church had accepted and approved at general and provincial councils (cf. Concilium Tridentinum, Angelus Massarellus, Vol. I, p. 166). Massarellus conducted the official protocol which provides us with priceless data about the deliberations.

Political realities had blocked efforts for several decades to assemble a general council of the Church for the purpose of responding to questions generated by the Protestant Reformation. Finally in November 1544 Pope Paul III (1534-1549) called the Fathers to Trent for the 19th General Council of the Church. Trent was a German city to the north of Italy on the road to Innsbruck, a great road which for over a thousand years had carried traffic between Rome and Germany. The Council was solemnly opened there on December 13, 1545, by the three Papal Legates, with thirty one bishops in attendance and forty-eight theologians and canonists and technical experts to assist them (Philip Hughes, The Church in Crisis 348).

The participants, assisted by theologians, set up procedures as follows: only bishops and generals of religious orders should have the right to vote, but not the designated theologians. When the designated theologians held an official debate in the presence of the Fathers, such a meeting was named a "particular congregation." When the Council members met to discuss the matter under the presidency of the Legates, this was called a "general congregation." A final and public meeting to vote on and then promulgate declarations and definitions was called a "session." Twenty five public sessions were held between 1545 and 1563, the year of the final closing (cf. Hughes op. cit., 350). The session on original sin which we study here is number five, completed on June 17, 1546.

By May of 1546 four public sessions had already taken place and procedures were well grooved. On the second of May, 1546, the three Papal Legates received their instructions from Pope Paul III to proceed with Session Five, on original sin and some disciplinary matters.

Political tensions abounded, threatening to interrupt the proceedings. To avoid needless confrontation the Council employed subterfuges. For example, the designated theologians might be asked to conduct unofficial preliminary debates among themselves outside the Council, in a separate building. They contributed to the Council's work, without raising a red flag to aggravate the Emperor. But after this warm-up, they could then present their focused views at the Council itself.

The Legates, highly capable, were Cardinal Cervini (the future Pope Marcellus II, 1555); Cardinal Del Monte (the future Julius III, 1549-1555); and Cardinal Pole. A good account of the proceedings is given in Hubert Jedin's A History of the Council of Trent. Also available is a copy of the official protocol and notes in Concilium Tridentinum (CT) written by Massarellus, secretary of the Council.

The Legates initiated deliberations on original sin by announcing the topic at a general congregation on May 21. The first unofficial debate by theologians was scheduled for May 24. The Legates presented to the designated theologians guideline topics or questions to begin deliberations (, 163-164; I, p. 439). Their content is as follows:

The Legates deliberately issued these guidelines to prevent the Council from becoming bogged down in disputations by partisans of scholastic theories. They put a tight rein on members to adhere resolutely to what can be found in Scripture and Tradition. A less disciplined approach risked igniting the explosive tinder of theological tensions between Seculars, Dominicans, Franciscans, Conventuals, Augustinians, Carmelites, Servites, and Benedictines - all with axes to grind about the nature of original sin. Thus begun auspiciously, discussions progressed rapidly. The thirty designated theologians addressed themselves to the above questions at meetings held on May 24 and 25. The Legates, notes Massarellus (164), praised them greatly for their contributions (maximopere laudati sunt).

Because the discussion by the theologians was not an official part of the Council proceedings, no protocol was recorded. A very sketchy summary of the responses recorded by Massarellus (CT,V,164-166) indicates the following contents: original sin is derived from the originating sin of Adam, is spread not through imitation but through propagation, exists in each person, and differs from other sins insofar as it is not contracted through an act of the will by individuals; its guilt and penalty are remitted through Baptism. The principle effects are temporal and eternal death, concupiscence exceeding the limits of reason, an inclination of the will to evil, ignorance, infirmity, loss of grace, and hatred by God (CT,V,164-166). Note that the theologians explicitly declared that "temporal death," which means physical death, is a result of original sin. This will be challenged before the final definition is formulated.


The Legates observed with disapproval that the theologians had not provided much documentation from Scripture and Tradition. At the May 28 session the Legates therefore mandated a public reading of pertinent Pontifical and Conciliar documents which they had assembled for this purpose. After the reading, they presented the documents to all the Fathers of the Council for further study (CT, I, 439; V, 169-172; Cf. Jedin II,142).

Conspicuously missing from the documents is canon 1 of Carthage 418, the one so dear to St. Augustine. Canon 2 of Carthage 418 is cited, and Carthage 418 is mentioned by name among the documents (cf. CV,170). This fact makes the omission of the famous Canon 1 of Carthage 418 all the more remarkable. That Canon 1 had declared that Adam would not have died physically had he not sinned. Carthage had made it a priority declaration, and St. Augustine had used it as a prime weapon against Pelagius. But the Papal Legates apparently did not circulate it at Trent. It reads as follows:

All the bishops established in the sacred synod of the Carthaginian Church have decided that whoever says that Adam, the first man, was made mortal, so that, whether he sinned or whether he did not sin, he would die in body, that is he would go out of the body not because of the merit of sin but by reason of nature, let him be anathema.

Although that canon was excluded, specific parts of canon 2 of Carthage (418), and canon 2 of Orange (529) were read at the general congregation on 28 May 1946. Massarellus, in the protocol (CT,V, 171), placed parentheses around that part of the Orange text which refers to physical death. The battle was now engaged. Evidently there would be controversy about that part, and the protocol gave it special treatment by enclosing in parenthesis the term "death...of the body." By the tactic of the parenthesis the Legates put the Fathers on special alert to ponder about physical death, whether it is connected with original sin.


A general congregation followed on May 31. Among the forty-six Fathers who either made interventions or gave their opinions about the contents of part one, only one mentions the subject of physical death. The Superior General of the Servites asserted that physical death (mors temporalis) is a punishment for original sin (CT,V, 176). When discussing part two, also only one mentioned ejection from paradise and death as punishment for the sin. No discussion about this is noted.

In the summary of the total deliberations, Massarellus states that the Fathers had responded to part one by inferring that God punished Adam for his sin by inflicting "the kind of death with which God had threatened him." That takes the heat off the Council. With such a wording the Council could avoid explicit mention of physical death, and allow the Scriptures and Tradition to speak for themselves. Massarellus records in the protocol that many speakers had asked the Legates to compose the decrees in accord with earlier decisions of councils.

After celebrating the Feast of the Ascension on June 3, a general congregation followed on Friday, June 4, to continue discussion on part two of the propositions. Due to the summer heat sessions would henceforth be reduced to a duration of three hours (CT,V, 185). Physical death now finally came up for discussion. A delegate declared that four effects of original sin are listed in a well known document: 1) it closes the doors of heaven to the person; 2) brings eternal damnation; 3) makes the person impotent to resist vice, and 4) subjects the person to temporal death. Baptism, he commented, removes the first three effects. But it does not remove the fourth effect, namely physical death. However that effect will also be removed finally, when the last enemy of all will be destroyed (cf. 1 Cor 15:26: "The last enemy to be destroyed is death").

Why does Baptism not immediately free us from physical death by the merits of the grace of Christ? continued the speaker. St. Augustine, he said, answers this in The City of God 13:4. If Baptism were to free us from our mortality, our faith could not be not be what it must be. For faith must be based on the hope of things unseen. If Baptism would make us suddenly immortal, faith would vanish because of the dramatic results which we could see with our eyes (CT,V, 191). That is, if everybody who is baptized at the font would walk away with an immortal body, such an effect would be so notorious as to become an obstacle to freely given faith. There is no record in the protocol indicating that anyone agreed or disagreed.

Discussion, centering mostly on concupiscence, continued through June 5. In his summary of the two day discussion Massarellus says nothing about physical death, except for the statement made that the death of Christ frees us from the power of Satan, from the powers of hell, from death, from weaknesses, and that it effects a total remission of sins (CT,V, 195). "Death" is not specified further, whether it be physical or spiritual.

On June 6 Massarellus leaked a preview of the coming draft to three influential Fathers, and to two Franciscan and two Dominican theologians. On June 7 the three Papal Legates submitted this Draft One, which they had composed, to the Council members (CT, I, 439; V, 196-197). The Papal Legates reserved the right to present proposals, which the members could then debate. Draft One, read and examined at a general congregation on June 8, had four canons; we confine our attention to the subject of death in the draft of canons 1 and 2.

Canon 1. If anyone does not profess that Adam ... truly incurred the wrath and indignation of God (from which death followed), with which God had previously threatened him [brackets in text]... (CT,V, p. 196).

Canon 2. If anyone asserts...that he incurred because of this sin of disobedience only death and penalties of the body...but not the sin, anathema sit.

The protocol presents a number of alternative drafts and formulas, in two of which death of the body as well as of the soul is mentioned (CT,V, p. 198). The Fathers now had to choose. On Tuesday June 8, after a preliminary reading of the draft proposed by the Legates, discussions followed on that day, and were continued on the next morning. In the summary of the interventions Massarellus reveals a significant development: many of the Fathers had requested that "death of the soul" be substituted for "death of body and soul": "Cui pro poena debetur utraque morsetc., multi petierunt dici quod mors est animae (italics his, CT,V,208). By this sentence in the protocol Massarellus makes it clear that "many" of the Fathers asked that "death of the body" as punishment for original sin be excluded from the definition. Their intervention prevailed. This sentence indicates that the Council of Trent knowingly avoided a definition which would teach that death of the body is a punishment for original sin.

Pressed for time, a general congregation was held on June 14, the Monday after Pentecost. Cardinal Del Monte apologized for calling the meeting on the holiday, as time was short. He asked Massarellus to read the amended draft which took into account the recent discussions. New amendments, those made since June 8, were set off clearly. Canon 2 was now amended to read "death of the soul," instead of "death of body and soul" (CT,V,218).

Trent's canon 2, using part of a canon of Orange II (529), casually mentions death of the body as a common belief. Then by astute wording the Council avoids defining explicitly that physical death is a punishment for original sin. Trent allowed the popular belief to remain in place, though without taking a stand on the question.

The Fathers, who had heard the previous discussions that physical death was one of the punishments of original sin, were certainly aware that it was a belief hallowed by the authority of Saint Augustine, prevalent in scholastic theology, and that it was a persuasion held dear by Christians. Perhaps believers are inclined to hesitate to attribute to God an original plan that includes physical death for humans, even if original sin had not been committed. Trent worded the definition discreetly to avoid offending pious ears, but did not make this popular belief into a part of the definition to be held by the Church.


The finally amended draft was read to the Assembly on the evening of June 16, at which time a preliminary vote was taken. Last minute maneuvers to obtain a definition of the Immaculate Conception failed. The date for the next session was set for July 29. The usual censure against those who were absent from the Council was approved. Cardinal del Monte asked all present to attend the great session of the next day. All was now ready for promulgation of the decrees on the following day, June 17, Thursday within the Octave of Pentecost. A weary secretary Massarellus signed his protocol with the remark: "Dimittitur congregatio hora prima noctis." I think it means that they closed the meeting at 1:00 AM in the wee hours of June 17. The Communion Fast from food and drink had presumably begun at midnight. Shed a tear of thanks for the gallant Fathers of Trent.

The 4 Cardinals, 9 Archbishops, 49 Bishops, 2 Abbots, 3 Superiors General (Jedin II,161; cf. CT,I, 439) gathered on morning of June 17 for public Session V of the Council of Trent to promulgate the Decree on Original Sin, and regulations about reading of Holy Scripture and preaching. The Session began with the celebration of a Solemn High Mass in honor of the Holy Spirit. The celebrant was Bishop Allesandro Piccolomini, and the preacher was Marcus Laureus, O.P., whose sermon was "more remarkable for ingenuity than depth of thought" (Jedin II,161). He spoke loftily about the Church as the Paradise of the virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit.

After Mass the vote was taken. The vote on the on original sin was positive and near unanimous. It is now a doctrine of the Church. The two canons which concern us read:

Trent, Canon 1: If anyone does not profess that Adam, the first man, by transgressing God's commandment in paradise, at once lost the holiness and justice in which he had been constituted; and that, offending God by his sin, he drew upon himself the wrath and indignation of God and consequently death with which God had threatened him, and together with death captivity in the power of him who henceforth "has the power of death" (Heb. 2:14) i.e., the devil; and that "the whole Adam, body and soul, was changed for the worse through the offence of his sin" anathema sit (DS 1511; Dupuis 508).

Trent, Canon 2: If anyone asserts that Adam's sin harmed only him and not his descendants and that the holiness and justice received from God which he lost was lost only for him and not for us also; or that, stained by the sin of disobedience, he transmitted to all mankind only death and the sufferings of the body but not sin as well which is the death of the soul, anathema sit...(DS 1512; Dupuis 509).

[Note: the above section is essentially copied unchanged from Chapter 7 of the author's book EVOLUTION AND THE SIN IN EDEN. What follows is considerably modified or completely new.]


Today the English translation of CCC 1008 and 1018 and of GS #18 makes it appear that the Church now goes one step farther than Trent by stating categorically that Original Sin initiated physical death itself. Indeed, the translation is in harmony with the current popular belief. The translated word immune from bodily death is disputable, however, as we shall see.

As a consequence of original sin, man must suffer "bodily death, from which man would have been immune had he not sinned" (CCC 1018, cf. GS #18).

That Adam would have been immune from bodily death had he not sinned is a translation that teaches with a powerful impact, whether the translation is right or wrong. It shouts from the housetop that sin is wrong. Sin is moral corruption of the sinner's soul, and corruption of the body through death may be mystically associated with sin in the eyes of God as well as of man.

On the other hand suffering and death, though confrontational against our natural feelings, are not an unmitigated evil. Quite to the contrary, they become our supreme accomplishment, honor and ornament when we accept them with the help of Christ. Theologian Matthias Scheeben writes how our physical trials and death provide us with exceedingly important advantages over Adam and Eve who were supposedly free from physical pain and death:

In this respect, too, the order of grace established by Christ is more wonderful and splendid than that of the first Adam. As Adam had not merited grace, so he was not to have purchased the state of glory by suffering and death. God exacted of him no true sacrifice as the price of glory. Although the painless manifestation of tender love for God could avail as merit for glory, still for Adam heaven was given rather than bought, since it cost him nothing. The new Adam (Christ), on the contrary, has purchased grace itself for us by a true sacrifice; and although we do not recover integrity through Him along with grace, yet we are summoned to battle and sacrifice in order to storm heaven and thus win it. Are not this battle and this sacrifice more noble, more glorious, more sublime than the tranquil state enjoyed by Adam, seeing that he received his happy life entirely from the goodness of His Creator, without meriting it by a worthy return of service in the immolation of himself? (The Mysteries of Christianity,455).

Despite the merits of the long-standing belief that Original Sin initiated bodily death, are we puzzled by the fact that our present cosmos is not designed for human life which is immune from physical death? One response to the puzzle can be that God already foresaw that Adam would commit original sin, hence there was no need for God to design the cosmos for a condition which would never become real. I confess that this solution, although proposed by some people, does not please me.

Other considerations remain to be solved. We note that the CCC does not state that Adam was already immune from physical death before he sinned. Augustine and Thomas taught that he would have been spiritualized without undergoing bodily death if he had not sinned. Nor does the CCC teach that he enjoyed perpetual youth and freedom from various natural hardships during his life before sin. Many things remain unsaid and unresolved, if man's natural condition of dying a biological death began only after original sin.


Belatedly it has come to my attention that the normative Latin version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1008 and of Gaudium et Spes #18 differs from the English translation in what may be a cardinal and egregious mistake.

The English translation of the passage in GS #18 reads: "Moreover, the Christian faith teaches that bodily death, from which man would have been immune had he not sinned, will be overcome..." (Austin Flannery translation). CCC 1008 likewise quotes the passage in English in the same manner: "Bodily death, from which man would have been immune had he not sinned..." quoting GS 18.

But the Latin version of both GS #18 and CCC 1008 doesn't state immune from bodily death. Immunitas is a very proper Latin word. We should expect the normative Latin to use that word if that is what the Church teaches. At any rate the expected Latin word immunitas is not used here. The word subtractus is used instead: "Mors... corporalis, a qua homo si non peccasset subtractus fuisset..." That is "bodily death...from which man would have been withdrawn had he not sinned..." The Latin term suggests resurrection from the dead as a possibility in place of immunity from bodily death.

We read in Hebrews that Jesus prayed to be saved from death, and that God granted His request:

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear (Heb 5:7; RSV).

The passage states clearly that Christ prayed to be saved from death and that His prayer was answered by God. In other words, God did save Christ from death in response to His prayers. Nevertheless, Christ died a bodily death. What conclusion do we draw from this? The extremely significant conclusion is the truth that God saved Christ from death by raising Him from the dead.

The Latin text is normative, and translations must agree with it. The Latin allows the meaning, I propose, that God would have withdrawn Adam and Eve from bodily death by raising them back to life after they had died bodily. Because they were in the state of holiness and justice before their sin, their entrance to heaven was assured if they persevered in that state until their bodily death.

Hebrews 5:7 provides us with an example that salvation from bodily death can mean actual bodily death followed by a resurrection of the body.

Although the wording in CCC and GS #18 at first sight appears to reflect the belief, now in possession on the popular level, that Original Sin initiated bodily death itself, it is not absolutely impossible to interpret the words to mean the loss of a guarantee of resurrection from the dead. Perhaps that is even the correct way to read GS 18 and CCC 1008 upon deeper reflection, namely that a sinless Adam and Eve would have died bodily with assurance that they will rise again. Bodily death would be their window to glory.

Original sin, according to this proposal, did not initiate bodily death itself, but it deprived Adam and Eve of the state of grace and, as a consequence, they lost the absolute guarantee that their bodily death would be followed by a glorious resurrection.