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The Thomist 66 (2002): 201-29 THE CHRISTOLOGICAL TURN IN RECENT LITERATURE ON ORIGINAL SIN KEVIN A. MCMAHON Saint Anselm College Manchester, New Hampshire FOR MOST OF ITS HISTORY, the locus classicus for the discussion of original sin, antedating even Augustine with whom the phrase "original sin" first appears, was Romans 5:12.1 Recent years, however, have seen this passage supplanted by another drawn from the Pauline corpus, namely, Colossians 1:16.2 The Romans passage had long been taken as proof of our union in the first man and his sin, but it is our antecedent relation to Christ that has occupied the attention of contemporary 1 For the use of Romans 5:12, see Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 3.9.64; Origen, Contra Ce/sum 6.36; Ambrose, De excessu fratris Satyri 2.6; Rufinus, &positio symboli 23. Itwas in hisAdSimplicianum 1.1.10 thatAugustine first coined the phrase peccatum originale. 2 Authors as diverse as Henri Rondet (d. Original Sin: The Patristic and Theological Background, trans. Cajetan Finegan, O.P. [NewYork: Alba House, 1972), 264) andJuan Luis Segundo (Evolution and Guilt, trans. John Drury [New York: Maryknoll, 1974], 83) have made explicit use of the passage. With most, one finds the passage unmistakably at work, though without direct citation (e.g., Karl Rahner, "The Sin of Adam," Theological Investigations 11, trans. DavidBourke [London: Darron, Longman & Todd, 1974; NewYork: The Seabury Press, 1974], 255). It is not necessary for the purposes of this paper to enter into the debate concerning the authorship of Colossians. Questions about the letter's authenticity first arose in the early nineteenth century, and both sides continue to have their defenders. A summary of the arguments may be found in Werner G. Kiimmel, Introduction to the New Testament, trans. Howard C. Kee (rev. ed.; Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1975), 340-46. Kiimmel himself favors attribution to St. Paul. For a look at some of the more recent contributors to the debate, see ThomasJ. Sappington, RevelationandRedemption at Colossae, Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series, ed. David Hill and David E. Orton, vol. 53 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991), 22-24. All biblical passages quoted in this paper will be taken from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. 201 202 KEVIN A. MCMAHON theology. "Original sin," writes Brian McDermott, "says something profound and true about human history, insofar as it can be thought of sine Christo." But in fact, he continues, the world is not without Christ and it never has been. "Structurally, thanks to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, all of history is in Christo and ad Christum."3 The idea of the primacy of Christ and the universal offer and action of his grace ab initio, to which sin has always been subsequent and subordinate, has been the predominant influence in Catholic work on original sin over the past thirty years. And with the ascendancy ofthis Christocentrism, one may argue, reflection on sin has returned to its roots. For it is precisely Christ whom Paul takes as the key to understanding the nature and extent of sin.4 There is, however, still another benefit that has come with the new emphasis on Christ, beyond that of reminding us how much more the grace of God has abounded "in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ" than sin has condemned (Rom 5:15). It is the benefit of shifting attention away from the issue of the first man's sin, or the first couple's, or whether there was a first couple rather than a first human community, or whether human communities have arisen separately in different places at different times, or whether any sin has or could implicate the entire race, has or could be transmitted, or whether there could possibly have been such a place as paradise and in what sense human sin may have affected creation. All these questions have proven to be somewhat embarrassing in the face of contemporary science. If the central claim is that all grace is gratia Christi and that, in one way or another, everyone is in need of it, then the issue of whether and how this universal need is...


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