A Theory on the Nature of Original Sin

Anthony Zimmerman
Presented at the Annual Meeting of
The Japan Theological Society
Sophia University, 1977.
Reproduced with Permission

Note: This is an older version of the theory which was developed more extensively in later writings. The data are dated.


The writer wishes to state from the beginning that he would have no confidence in anything he writes or proposes, if it were not in harmony with the truths established by the Magisterium. Trying to learn the true facts about Original Sin can be compared to guiding a space ship to a landing on the moon. Unless the astronaughts are completely observant of all the physical laws involved, and also practice superb teamwork, their space ship will probably miss the target; and unless we watch all the sign posts of our Faith and of the Magisterium, we might miss the truth about Original Sin.

It is a sobering thought and a humbling consideration that the truths of the event of Original Sin were so clear to the original sinners, but are so obscure to us. Because we were not there, we have to sift all kinds theological and scientific data, and play the role of Sherlock Holmes to re-construct the event; we will be tempted to take short cuts, to disregard clues, to supply what is lacking in evidence by an excess of theological eloquence or a display of scientific pomposity. If we do everything correctly, however, and discover actual truths about the event, we will probably still know less, despite all our sophistication, then those who were actual witnesses to the event.


The Fathers of the Council of Trent , (1545-1563) did not reach agreement on the doctrinal aspects of original sin; pressed for time they issued five canons, which are anti-Pelagian in tone, similar to those of the Provincial Council of Orange (529) and the Provincial Council of Carthage (418). The canons stress the need to adhere to the doctrine about the necessity of supernatural grace for salvation, and the need for Baptism to obtain this grace. The Canons contain the following key elements:

It should not escape our attention that the Council of Trent did not incorporate the phrase about physical death which is found in the Provincial Council of Carthage. The Carthage Fathers condemned anyone who would state that people would have died a natural death whether Adam had sinned or whether not:

Quicumque dixerit, Adam primum hominem moralem factum ita, ut, sive peccaret sive non peccaret, moreretur in corpore, hoc est de corpore exiret non peccati merito, sed necessitate naturae, anathema sit, (DS 222).

There is no document to indicate that Pope Zozimus approved this Canon. Trent, omitting the mention of physical death, contented itself with the simple word death (mortem). Subsequent documents exercise the same restraint. I believe we should likewise exercise such restraint. The Fathers of Vatican II found a chapter prepared for them called "Original Sin in the Children of Adam" in the Schema for the Dogmatic Constitution "On Faithfully Guarding the Deposit of Faith." But this did not become part of the program of discussions and deliberations of the Council. Its elements, however, are found in other decrees. The Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium has the following passage:

By an utterly free and mysterious decree of His own wisdom and goodness, the eternal Father created the whole world. His plan was to dignify man with a participation in His own divine life. He did not abandon men after they had fallen in Adam, but ceaselessly offered them helps to salvation, in anticipation of Christ the Redeemer "who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature" (#2).

In Gaudium et Spes the Fathers affirmed explicitly that man was constituted originally by God in the state of holiness:

Although man was made by God in a state of holiness, from the very dawn of history he abused his liberty, at the urging of the Evil one. Man set himself against God and sought to find fulfillment apart from God #13).

We see again and again the teaching that God originally made man holy, with a participation in His own life; but that man fell from this state; and that man needs a Saviour to be restored to the state of holiness. Pope Paul VI summed up Catholic teaching in his Credo of June 30, 1968:

We believe that in Adam all have sinned, which means that the original offense committed by him caused human nature, common to all men, to fall to a state in which it bears the consequence of that offense, and which is not the state in which it was at first in our first parents, established as they were in holiness and justice, and in which man knew neither evil nor death. It is human nature so fallen, stripped of the grace that clothed it, injured in its own natural powers and subjected to the dominion of death, that is transmitted to all men, and it is in this sense that every man is born in sin. We therefore hold, with the Council of Trent, that original sin is transmitted with human nature, "not by imitation, but by propagation," and that it is thus "proper to everyone."

The elements to be considered in theories about original sin have been brought together here by Pope Paul VI. The theory to be proposed here must take them into account. Although this summary of teachings of the Magisterium is not comprehensive, it should be sufficient for the purposes of this paper.


1. When God endowed man originally with the supernatural gift of participation in His own divine life, he also took care to instruct man about this gift and about the responsibilities which it implies; these instructions came in the form of revelation since the message was out of reach of unaided human reason.

2. This revelation came either in the form of public revelation given to one who would be commissioned to communicate it the others; in which case he would have to show them proofs of credibility; or it came in the form of private revelation to each individual directly, sufficient to enable the person to achieve his supernatural goal. If public, as I think more likely, then it was designed to be preserved within a hierarchical religious community, whose head would be endowed with the charisma of infallibility in matters of Faith and Morals. If private, it was designed for a kind of Pentecostal community where the individuals join others in worship drawn by their common inner experience of light and Faith. Finally, it could have been public as well a private, in which the authenticity of the public revelation would be guaranteed to the individual by immediate infused knowledge, rather than through such external evidence as miracles and prophesies. For the purposes of this paper, the last has the same value as the first, since it would also be ordained towards a hierarchical religious body.

St. Thomas describes this revelation and infused knowledge as follows:

Now no one can instruct others unless he has knowledge, and so the first man was established by God in such a manner as to have knowledge of all those things for which man has a natural aptitude. And such are whatever are virtually contained in the first self-evident principles, that is, whatever truths man is naturally able to know. Moreover, in order to direct his own life and that of others, man needs to know not only those things which can be naturally known, but also things surpassing natural knowledge; because the life of man is directed to a supernatural end: just as it is necessary for us to know the truths of faith in order to direct our own lives. Wherefore the first man was endowed with such a knowledge of these supernatural truths as was necessary for the direction of human life in that state. (S.T. I, q. 94, art. 3.)

3. God's revelation directed man to build the kind of religious community which would be a stable and adequate guarantee of the preservation of supernatural life among its members, and of its nurture among the children born into the community. In fact, this was an essential condition which God must require if He is to confer supernatural gifts to each new member of the community automatically at the time of generation.

4. Somehow man did not build the kind of community which God required as a condition of bestowing justice to the members of the race at the time of generation; or he built it, but failed to maintain it later on. This was Original Sin. Was it one grave sin by one man or a joint sin by the first couple? Or a failure to establish a proper religious community through fault of the leader, or through the fault of the people, or of both? Was it functioning for a time, but then deteriorated beyond the hope of self-restoration? At any rate, the condition which God had to impose was not kept by man.

The holiness of God then obliged Him to refuse to give grace automatically to each individual at the time of generation. His precious gifts would be wasted and unappreciated if given automatically; He would be "casting pearls to swine."

6. God then adopted the alternate plan, whereby He bestows grace through the merits of our Redeemer, Christ, only upon persons who step forward to receive it (or whose parents or guardians do so in their stead). But He made one notable exception, namely when He bestowed a fulness of grace upon her whom we call the Immaculate Conception.


The time table indicating the age of man has had to be re-adjusted on three occasions during the past two decades, due to the findings of members of the Leakey family. On July 17, 1959, Mary Leakey, while working with her husband Louis at Tanzania's Olduvai Gorge, came upon part of a skull and two teeth; it was in the midst of a floor where manufactured tools were also found. By means of the use of Potassium-Argon dating technique, the skull was found to be 1.75 million years old. Fragments of an even older hominoid fossil were found; and older tools as well; the tools at the bottom of the bed can hardly be distinguished from naturally occurring rocks, being as crude or cruder than those of any known tradition. In ascending layers the tools of the Oldowan tradition continue, until the "hand-axe" is found, which is widely distributed through the Middle Pleistocene of the Old World (500,000 - 100,000 years ago). Other finds include a Pithecanthropus type fossil about 500,000 years old, associated with tools of that age found elsewhere. This would set the human origins back to beyond 1.75 million years ago, although the Leakeys were inclined to believe that the human tool-makers were not Australopithecenes, but men whose form would be closer to ours.1

In 1969, Richard Leakey, son of Louis and Mary, came upon an almost complete skull of an early hominid near the shores of Lake Rudolf. Tests indicated that the volcanic tuft in which it was found is 2.6 million years old, give or take a possible 260,000 years. Not far away tools were found, choppers and sharp-edged flakes of basalt, chipped by hand in the distant past. A second skull was also found of about the same age, but of somewhat different shape. Richard thought it might be the "real human" he was seeking, who made the tools (being reluctant to concede humanity to the first skull he found there, a Pithecantanthropine type. That set the human clock back to a beginning of at least 2.6 million years ago.2

In November, 1975, Mary Leakey announced findings which she had made in the summer of 1974, at Laetoli in Tanzania. She had unearthed bones from eight adults and three children. Radioactive dating indicated an age of from 3.35 to 3.75 million years ago. The teeth, which seem clearly human, indicate that they were meat eaters. Mary reported that these creatures would have been "not unlike ourselves" though little more than 5 feet tall, with much shorter life spans, and somewhat smaller brains (Time, "Science" Nov. 10, 1975). The evidence now lines up as follows:

Ancestor of Homo Sapiens found by Mary Leakey, 3.35-3.75 million years old. Data not yet in.

Australopithecus: At least 2.6 million years old; perhaps four feet tall, walking erect, weighing 50-80 pounds, with +500 cc brain size. He is found with tools which were manufactured to standard shapes and sizes, and taken to a habitat on the plane, far from their source, and also in the open where protection from predators must have been devised culturally. (His bi-pedal locomotion was slower than that of predatory quadrupeds, and his canines did not project.) Despite the reluctance of the Leakeys, some others ''credit humanity to the Australopithecines. As stone tools, and some fossils indicate, man fanned out from his original African locale to include the entire tropics of the Old World;"pebble tools of late Villafrancian date are found from Cape Town, to England, from southwestern Europe via the Middle East and India to Southeast Asia and Indonesia."3 From which a conclusion is drawn that:

With the extreme ends of the occupied range nailed down and relative cultural uniformity, at least as indicated by stone tools, throughout the area, it looms as highly probably that a single successful hominid, a Paranthropus type of Australopithecine, spread throughout the southern temperate and tropical parts of the entire Old World before the Middle Pleistocene, and provided the base for all subsequent human evolution.4

[NB: July 2000: Further fossil data presented in 1977 is omitted here because it is now out of date. Footnotes (5-10) that were formerly part of the deleted text are also omitted from the text. but are left in the list of footnotes.]

Although it has often been debated whether the living races of man are all one species or whether they can be regarded as distinct species, it is now agreed that there is only one species; no detectable sterility results from race crossing. All belong to the species Homo Sapiens.

Beginning about 40,000 years ago, Homo Sapiens dominated in Europe, and his remains lie directly above those of Neanderthal Man, whose remains range from about 70,000 40,000 years ago. The Homo Sapiens who replaced Neanderthal Man, left deposits of three main cultures in France, classed as "Upper Palaeolithic". It is described as follows:

Upper Palaeolithic people were more elaborately equipped than their predecessors; they worked bone, their flint tools were delicately worked blades, they used spears and harpoons with detachable heads, invented a spear-throwing device,, made sewn clothes of skin or fur, and in open country they constructed tents and huts. Above all, they are notable for their artistic achievements, such as cave-paintings of Lascaux, probably connected with some hunting ritual. They adorned themselves, for example, with necklaces made of pierced shells, animals' teeth, and occasionally amber. Like all Palaeolithic peoples, they did not cultivate plants or domesticate animals, but obtained their food by hunting wild animals, particularly bison, horse, reindeer, and mammoth, and by gathering edible plants.11


It is conceivable that God inserted a time-lag between the time of ensoulment and of engracement; that is, that God first created rational humans without elevating them to the supernatural state; and when He saw fit He elevated the man who would be our ancestor, whereas other human beings became extinct, or were somehow fitted into the Divine Plan. The writer confesses that he was inclined to propose this opinion when he wrote the first draft of this paper several years ago; suggesting that engracement occurred to Homo Sapiens about 40,000 years ago, to one pair or an integrated social group; and that, these, the ancestors of all now living on earth, were the perpetrators of Original sin. The humans before them were not elevated to grace in this supposition, theorizing that God wished to wait until they had developed a fuller sense of responsibility and awareness. I argued tentatively that they may not have developed sufficiently before that time to be able to bear a serious responsibility, and therefore they were unable to commit a serious fault and original sin. They were classified as "children" or "minors" unable to be answerable for serious matters in the moral field.

According to that scheme, our ancestors passed through two gates: one from the animal world to the human world when they became persons by receiving souls; and another when they were elevated to the supernatural state, after millions of years in the natural state. Since then, however, I find it more congenial that humanization and elevation occurred simultaneously, probably around 4,000,000 years ago, and probably to our ancestors in Africa. Worthy of note is the opinion that these ancestors must have been black because they needed the melanin as protection against the noon-day sun when they found hunting the best time; and that the color faded when this protection was no longer essential, under clothing and in the temperate zones.12


About 4,000,000 years ago the Hominoidea genus had developed to the most advanced state of any animal on earth; God saw that the time had come to make man. One pair wandered off from the group, (or was it a single male, or maybe an animal village?). Then God said:"Let us make man in our image and after our likeness" (Gen 1:26). He breathed into them the breath of His life, and they looked at each other with intelligence as they looked into each other's eyes. They knew for the first time that "I am I" and "You are You". God helped them to develop a language to communicate the thoughts which welled up within them; and helped them in every way necessary for them to function as rational beings in human society.

Over and above all this, God revealed Himself personally to them, as their Father. Whenever He came to speak with them, they felt their hearts burning within them as God explained to them the meaning of life, the dignity of man, inalienable rights, absolute values, precepts of individual and social responsibility. They were to create a social milieu favorable to the cultivation of God's gifts, so that all the children born to them could share in this close friendship with God. They must forge an ecclesial community.

Then came disaster. Man sinned against his God, and God drove them from His presence. But He did not abandon them. Instead He took even greater pity on them,, and promised to send a Redeemer. Someday the angels would sing: "Glory to God in the heavens and peace on earth to those on whom his favor rests"(Luke 2:14). Someday God's people would chant on, the Vigil of Easter: "0 felix culpa, quae talem ac tantum meruit habere Redemptorem!"


How did dawn man live, separated from the warm religious community with God at its center? They experienced that their animal neighbors, although physically like themselves, could not comprehend their speech; they had their senses meshed completely with the whirling gears of material things, and could not stand off to view themselves as persons apart from the material world. In the course of time man made the separation from the animals not without some sadness; man went his own way, learning to outwit the duller competitors for food; in the course of time he was laboriously working out economic, social, and psychological problems, things which had seemed to be so much easier when he was with God.

It would be millions of years before he would learn to read and write, to count systematically, even to control fire so that he could live in caves, and move into the temperate climates. The greatest event came about 10,000 years ago when man learned to plant and harvest food crops, and to domesticate animals to help him. But life during these millions of years was not without its merit and comfort. Since the life style was simple, it was not impossible to understand the moral code which would enable people to live together as a society, and to maintain itself. This is not mere speculation, because we have examples of this kind of life existing even today. [NB July 2000: In the meantime I switched to the theory that Homo Sapiens, perhaps some 200,000 years ago, was the ancestor who committed original sin. This is based on the reasoning that rapid human speech, and therefore responsible and adult human reasoning, began with Homo Sapiens, not with the earlier human predecessors. See e.g. the book Evolution and the Sin in Eden, 1998.]


It has been my good fortune to know one who has not only studied the culture of primitive peoples, but who has spent months and years living with some of them, and has even been initiated into tribes after performing the prescribed rites. Father Martin Gusinde, my SVD confrere, often spoke to me about his experiences, and helped me to write about related matters. What he and others have learned about the life of primitives is good reference for us, I believe, when studying the problem of the moral and religious life of peoples after original sin was committed, and before modern civilization was developed.

About 20 tribes of very primitive people exist today, who are still in the food gathering stage of material culture, as were our ancestors until about 10,000 years ago. This special class of primitives get all their food, and material needs from nature's uncultivated expanses, neither tilling soil nor keeping cattle; they fish, hunt, grub roots, pick berries, collect insects, and use leaves, twigs and bark for various purposes. Wood, leather, vegetable fibers, bones, antlers, bast, animal sinews, and mussel shells are used for utensils, weapons, and tools. They have no stone artifacts, probably having abandoned them long ago because they were so heavy to carry during their unending migrant life. Dwellings are shelters of leaves and branches which are set up at night very quickly. Some of them live in the rain forests of the tropics (Pygmies), others in the desert (Bushmen), others in polar regions (Eskimos) and still others in isolated areas cut off from the rest of mankind by mountains and the sea (Southeastern Australians, Andamanese).13

Father Gusinde (died 1969) wrote as follows about one of his experiences with such. primitives. He does not believe that the primitives are poorly gifted people (who could not, e.g. carry a grave responsibility). From what he writes, it is right to infer, I believe, that ancient man may not have been as poorly endowed as we may be inclined to think he was:14

An idea seems to prevail everywhere that the so called primitive peoples are by nature poorly gifted or are at least far behind us in their entire development. 'To make such a statement or to hold such a general opinion is incorrect. Such ideas come into being when we of the white race allow ourselves to be influenced by external impressions, when we evaluate the economic life of the primitive peoples by their inability to read and write, and compare their low standards of living to the extraordinary progress of modern science. Thus, one should not rely merely on the perfection and quantity of his tools and possessions to evaluate a person. Spiritual values, his character and mental development, his knowledge and artistic talents, his religious activity and, to be sure, everything which makes up his world of thought makes him what he is. The standards which one should use for a person hold also for an entire group or race. It is, nevertheless, difficult for a scientist, and frequently even impossible for him, to penetrate into the mental and spiritual world of a primitive people and to understand them completely. However, if he is not successful in this, he will never attain a complete knowledge of a people. Cultural anthropology offers enough proof of how an amazing abundance of high spiritual values are connected with the miserable material state or standard of a primitive people.

Not many know that the famous natural scientist Charles Darwin, at that time a theological student of twenty years, while on a voyage around the world on the Beagle, spent some weeks passing through Cape Horn and came into contact with several Indians of Tierra del Fuego. He labeled these Indians as a transitional form between animals and men,"as man-eating creatures, devoid of any concepts of religion and morals. Some ninety years later the Government ofChile (at that time I was in the employ of the Chile Government as director of the anthropological division of the state museum in Santiago), directed me to study and investigate thoroughly the natives of Tierra del Fuego.

That was when I first seriously took up the study of these Indians. All alone and for two and one-half years I lived with and among these shy people, taking active part with them in their daily life and even in their secret ceremonies, of which previously the white race had never even heard. The following I report on the puberty rites of the Yamana, who comprise the most southern tribe of the Indians of Tierra del Fuego.

It was by mere chance that I, though for a long time close to my Indians, hit upon the concept of ciekhous. After some questioning about it, I learned that this meant the secret ceremonies for the adolescents. From that moment on I did not cease in my attempt to try to experience this strange set of rites myself. Some of the old people looked upon this as a profanation of their highly esteemed ceremonies. Finally, however, they gave in after I had offered rich gifts.

Ciekhous - as these rites are called - is first of all a continuation of the education and training which each child receives in the home of his parents. What is omitted there or cannot be attained is completed during these rites. Secondly, ciekhous is a sort of common schooling for boys and girls growing up into manhood and womanhood. While previously each child was brought up individually - the boy almost exclusively by his father and the girl by her mother - now they experience co-education. Here each adult member of the tribe, and especially and above all each close relative, exerts his influence on the candidate, seeks to improve or provide what he notices is lacking in the candidate's previous training. Finally the entire tribe seeks to make sure that the youth is sufficiently prepared for life ane is well trained.

To attain this the candidates are removed from the direct supervision of their own parents and are placed in the charge of a special director of these secret rites, with a few adults who take part in the ceremonies.

Every three or four years some fifteen to thirty families get together and select these youths who must go through the ciekhous.Somewhere in a hidden place on some outlying island they erect a hut for them. This is fashioned with boughs and branches, bound together by strips of leather and twigs. The ground plan of the hut is a long oval. At each end there are low openings covered by A leather curtain. From one end to the other there is a long open fire which burns and glows without interruption. Along the narrow stretches at both sides of the open fire branches are strewn, and each candidate is given his own place. Here, forming two rows, they sit throughout the day facing the fire. At night they sleep in their designated place, well-satisfied with their narrow confines.

I, like the other three candidates, was led to the hut and roughly jostled into it by the watchers. At the entrance was the effigy of a so-called spirit, horrible enough to make us shudder. Then they shoved me to my place and here I saw on either side of me my so-called sponsors or patrons, a man and a woman. The candidate is entrusted to their care during the entire period. My sponsors now began to work on me, just as the others did on their respective candidates. I had to crouch down on the thin layer of branches on the ground, both knees bent, and hold my arms crossed over my chest, my head bowed. "In this position you must remain all the while" my sponsors told me in no uncertain terms. I was not allowed to move, was not allowed to scratch myself or brush away an insect. Secretly my sponsor had placed a beetle on my skin and then watched to see how I reacted. Had I twitched, I would have been immediately punished with a severe blow to my ribs. I was not even allowed to move my eyes, could not laugh or frown, although the people frequently said comical things. We were being schooled in self-restraint and composure.

Sleep at night was restricted to hardly five hours and always in this crouching position. For the first week our food consisted of a small fish and twice a day a handful of water. Later we were given a little more. We were supposed to learn to get along with but little nourishment and to stand hunger. Naturally there was strict silence for all candidates, even though these ceremonies last for more than four months. Not for a fraction of a moment was the candidate ever removed from his sponsor, never left alone.

One day passed like another. About five o'clock in the morning we were roughly awakened from sleep and then kept remaining in that crouched position until about ten o'clock. Now some young men led us out, either to the beach or to the steep cliffs or into the woods. This was for the purpose of learning how to fling the harpoon well, how to sneak up on a sea lion, how to get the eggs of the cormorants out of holes in the high cliffs, etc. At the same time, though elsewhere, capable women taught the girls how to steer a canoe, to dive down to the floor of the sea or lake to bring up sea urchins and snails, and to learn other things needed for life. When we returned to the hut after hours of long and tiring training, we had to resume again the uncomfortable position. It was then that we usually received our first meager portion to eat. This was all to break our own will, and to refresh us for the long instructions ahead.

These instructions began around seven o'clock in the evening. Crouched on the ground we formed a half-circle around the old master, a venerable and awe-inspiring old man, who transmitted to us the age-old wisdom of the Yarnana tribe. He spoke with the conviction of an old and experienced man. His admonitions dwelt on the clear and rich foundation or basic idea: Eachof us must become a good and industrious person.He had in mind the highly-treasured morality in each individual person, also the versatility and agility necessary for all the practical demands of life. Time and time again it was repeated to us: "Follow willingly and faithfully all the advice which we give you here even to the smallest detail. Follow these instructions through your entire life. Be industrious in your daily work... Do it willingly and quickly. Arise early in the morning for then you will. accomplish the necessary tasks of life more perfectly. Be respectful to old people. Help the orphaned children. To the sick, who cannot rise from their bed of pain, bring food and refreshment. If a blind man meets you, take him by the hand and lead him to his hut. If he stumbles or is awkward, do not laugh. Others will praise you for your charity and say to you: 'He is a good man.'. Help the little children who need direction. Lead them back to their mothers, even though they may be the children of parents who are your enemies. If a visitor comes into your hut, receive him as a friend and give him what he needs. Others, will do the same to you. Seek not only your own advantage, but also that of others. He who is greedy is not looked upon favorably by us Yamanas. Undertake to help people in their work on your own initiative. No one will ask you to assist. But just open your eyes and you will soon notice where you can help. Do not gossip in your hut about what you saw or heard elsewhere. Important things you should tell and not keep to yourself, but never any empty chatter. Only too easily can something be exaggerated or truth be desecrated. Later people will investigate who the gossiper was. and will find you guilty. Do not mingle with the trash of other tribes. Do not visit frequently, but always show yourself helpful where needed. Be of few words. Remember, others also have a heart with human feelings. If you plunge them into. sorrow, they feel pain. No one likes to be talked about unfavorably. And finally, do not forget these admonitions. Think of them every morning when awakening and live. by them throughout the day."

Time and time again the old master pointed to the source of these admonitions, as he explained: "All that takes place in these ceremonies is not the invention of the Yamana themselves. It comes from Watauinewa (name for the highest deity), who made them known to our ancestors and also prescribed ciekhous.We act exactly according to his instructions, for he watches closely. So, observe all these admonitions and suggestions. To neglect these duties will bring early death. Watauinewa watches carefully, to see whether you obey and observe. This is his will."

When the youths after many weeks of training are released from the ciekhous,they are mentally and spiritually far better prepared for life than many elsewhere in, the world after a college education. To really learn the interior of these people one must undergo many personal sacrifices. I confess that I did not feel so well, or comfortable during all those long weeks. Through this experience, however, we now understand how these, the most primitive of all American aboriginies, could preserve themselves down through the centuries. They have a healthy natural morality which is founded on a vital belief in God.

It is noteworthy that among these primitive tribes, monogamy is the rule, there is freedom of choice in regard to choosing the marriage partner; fidelity to the marriage partner is strictly observed and enforced as a rule-, divorce is an exceptional thing if it can be found at all; onanism or any artificial form of birth control is not practiced; husband and wife divide the work and equal status of man and woman is thereby recognized and maintained; sex promiscuity before marriage is entirely absent, and if ever an unmarried woman becomes pregnant thru an unmarried man, they must marry; boys and girls are usually separated; e.g. at night a man watches over the boys who all sleep in a hut at one end of the settlement and a matron watches over the girls who sleep in a hut at the other end, in the case of the Bushmen. All wear clothing, at least the pubic covering; foul language is frowned upon by the elders and kept under control; parents love to have children and are so fond of them that they almost spoil them. And children are fond of their parents. "All who have studied the intimate lives of these primitives," writes Fr. Wilhelm Schmidt, S.V.D., founder of the journal Anthropos, "testify that children love their parents and show them tender gratitude, honor, and obedience."


Many of the primitives assert with emphasis that their code of behavior is not something invented by themselves, but that it was given to them by the Supreme Being; the majority belong to this group; some tribes, though not many, do not clearly relate their moral code to the Supreme Being. The same Fr. Schmidt writes:

Among all Pygmy peoples of whom we have fairly complete knowledge, and also among the Samoyeds, Ainu, North Central Californians, Algonquians, Tierra del Fuegians, and South-East Australians, the Supreme Being is the Author of the moral Code.... The extent of His activities in this respect is not the same among all peoples, but in general His commands extend to the conduct of ceremonies instituted by Him, prayer and sacrifice, obedience to elders, care for the life of man and avoidance of unjustifiable homicide; also sexual morality (avoidance of adultery, fornication, unnatural vices, pre-nuptial chastity), honesty and readiness to help those in need (the sick, the weak and the aged, and those with many children) ...

A large number of the tribes have a tradition that the Supreme Being created only one couple in the beginning, and thereby instituted monogamous marriage. To the first man the Supreme Deity gave numerous instructions in morals and manner of worship. This He did either directly or through a so-called culture hero, a medium between the Supreme Being and humanity. For a time the Creator dwelt with the first man on the earth, but afterwards ascended into the sky towards the east.

What these primitives say about the origin of their moral code is acceptable, I believe. Granted that all memory and tradition of the original event has disappeared during the ensuing span of time, nevertheless man received from God an intellect which sees things as God sees them, and which recognizes that good must be done and evil must be avoided because of man's relationship to the Absolute; with some initial help at the beginning from God the Teacher, man's intellect grasped the essentials of the moral code and never really lost it; his in-built moral code is his intellect and will; the stories about how God taught man at the beginning are all probably etiological reconstructions, as is the inspired story in Genesis; but the essentials of the moral code contained in the stories must have come from God the Teacher, not only before Original Sin was committed, but also through God's kind contact with man since the event.


This paper first outlines the essential teachings of the Magisterium about Original Sin; it then theorizes that the nature of Original Sin was the failure to form and/or maintain the type of ecclesial community which God wanted, so that He could deposit the gifts of grace with safety to the new members who enter the race. So far as the writer is aware, this is a new attempt to describe the nature of Original Sin. Thereafter the paper presents anthropological data, and then suggests that Original Sin may date back to around 4,000,000 years ago [later amended to perhaps 200,000 years ago]. The final section suggests the manner of life which man may have experienced between the time of Original Sin around 4,000,000 years ago, and the very recent times since the invention of crop-raising and domestication of animals. That is, it describes the actual life of pockets of primitive peoples who survive from the pre-crop-raising and domesticated animal era. The writer hopes that the theory, in its main lines, can survive criticism from the theological and scientific viewpoints, and that it has internal consistency.

The writer wishes to add a final consideration: if it is indeed true that man's Original Fault was the failure to build the kind of ecclesial community which God wanted as a condition for elevating man at the time of generation; then we are also, in a sense, guilty of Original Sin if we do not build a Church in which God's people can be educated with safety and security, and launched unerringly towards heaven. And since society is now more complex than at man's beginnings, it is imperative that civic life be ordered suitably so that man can exercise his moral life smoothly, and without excessive trial and scandal. If we today, because of our neglect and malice, do not form the needed religious community, and do not set up the needed civic machinery on the local, national, and international levels, we are no better than Adam; we are still committing Original Sin through our actual sins. And as Adam therefore needed the overwhelming goodness and kindness of Christ Our Saviour to make him worthy of eternal life, then so do we.


1 C. Loring Brace, THE STAGES OF HUMAN EVOLUTION, one of the series books of Foundations of Modern Anthropology Series, Marshall D. Sahlins, Editor. Prentice Hall, 1967, p. 37. [Back]

2 Cf. NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, May 1970, "In Search of Man's Past at Lake Rudolf" by Richard E. Leakey, pp. 712-732. [Back]

3 Brace, 70. Cf. Chapter: "The Australopithecine State" pp. 59-70. [Back]

4 Brace, p. 70. [Back]

5 Cf. Brace, "The Pithecanthropine Stage" pp. 71-81; cf. also, e.g. Gavin de Beer, A HANDBOOK ON EVOLUTION, London: Trustees of the British Museum of Natural History pp. 84 ff. Also Alfred S. Romer, THE PROCESSION OF LIFE, World Publishing Co., New York, 1968, pp.291 ff; Jacobs and Stern, GENERAL ANTHROPOLOGY, Barnes and Noble, 1968, pp. 86 ff. [Back]

6 Cf. Brace,"The Neanderthal Stage" pp. 71-81; cf. parallel sections indicated in note 5 above. [Back]

7 Cf.e.g. Brace, "The Modern Stage" pp. 97-108. [Back]

8 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, May 1970, p. 719. [Back]

9 Brace, 22. cit. p. 62. [Back]

10 Brace, p. 55. [Back]

11 Gavin de Beer, A HANDBOOK ON EVOLUTION, p. 93. [Back]

12 Brace, p. 75. [Back]

13 Cf. "Sexual Morality among Primitives" CHRISTIAN FAMILY, November, 1957, pp. 6-9; 31-32. The magazine is now out of print. The article was researched together with Dr. Gusinde, and published by the present writer. [Back]

14 Dr. Martin Gusinde, SVD, "Retreat into the Unknown" in CHRISTIAN FAMILY, January 1950, pp. 6-9. [Back]

15 Cf. article indicated in note 13. [Back]