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57) Ancestral sin - the heresy

       of semi-pelagianism


57) Ancestral sin - the heresy of semi-pelagianism



The Orthodox would argue "We need God’s Energies to truly do good." thus their semi-Pelagian heresy is more complex than semi-Pelagianism.

Protestants would agree with Catholics about man being born with "a nature that tends toward doing evil" as a consequence of Adam's sin, but I think the vast majority of Protestants might deny we are "blamed for Adam's sin" or held responsible for it. Afterall Jesus joined humanity, and its obvious he was not blamed for Adams sin. I also believe Jesus himself was born with the nature of the unfallen Adam, and that this fact does not contradict the scripture and concept "tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin".


Like just about all Evangelical Christians and Protestants I believe unsaved mankind has a nature tending toward evil, and that this nature is a consequence of the fall of Adam and Eve in Eden. That unsaved man has such a nature is borne out by the records of his deeds in history. I do not however believe man is "guilty of the sin of Adam" that is an entirely different concept.

Please notice that the Oxford English Dictionary definition is as follows:


original sin

noun [ mass noun ] Christian Theology

the tendency to evil supposedly innate in all human beings, held to be inherited from Adam in consequence of the Fall. The concept of original sin was established by the writings of St Augustine.

Notice this definition does not include "man is guilty of Adam's sin". However I feel OED has misrepresented where the doctrine was established, and that is in scripture, rather Augustine (who was no saint) was one of the first to try to expound the subject outside of scripture.

Some people think the idea man can have a corrupted nature is unfair and therefore untrue, but I believe that is easily refuted. Is it not also possible to argue "it is unfair" for children to be brought up and reared by atheists, and people drunk on religion or in cults, or who are just plain immoral? Yet we know it is part of God's will for a free will world that this occurs as, well.... it is part of reality. It happens. It is here. 

When the tribes of Judah and Benjamin sinned against God, and went into the Babylonian Captivity, and Israel sinned and went into the Assyrian Captivity, did their offspring not have to bear terrible consequences for hundreds of years? The same with Cain, after he murdered his brother Abel he was forced to wander the earth, again affecting the lives of his children, indeed after Assyria Israel wandered the earth for centuries. The entire way children are brought up is forced upon them by their parents in the formative years. That mankind bore a consequence from the sin of Adam in Eden is therefore not a surprise or any more unfair. The temptations to sin in Assyrian and Babylonian Captivity were greater. If a woman had an illegitimate child in the old testament her seed was banned from entering the house of God for an entire 10 generations!


"Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me," Deuteronomy 5:9.

The doctrine of original sin nature is supported also by the entire concept of the new covenant in Jer 31: 31-33 where there is a need to replace the "stony heart" of the unsaved by the soft heart of the new birth.


Orthodox deny the whole concept of original sin for anyone (that is being born with a tendency toward doing evil as a consequence of the fall, not being BLAMED for the sin of Adam) they have a doctrine called "ancestral sin" that is variously argued as Pelagian or Semi Pelagian, I think they are probably Semi Pelagian, yet they oxymoronically say not only Mary had "ancestral sin" (a weakening of the will" BUT Christ himself was born with this and had to overcome it as we do, therefore it cannot be the equivalent of original sin.) Protestants probably usually say Jesus was born "fully man and fully God" but as the 2nd Adam had Adam's unfallen nature when born in his manhood. We have no statistics on the percentage ratio of Protestants and Evangelicals who believe Jesus was born with the first human nature of unfallen Adam, versus any other idea, and young Christians are likely to change their mind anyway as they develop in relationship and understanding of The Word.

Ancestral sin: The entire phrase is a misnomer, and I honestly believe it is a diversion tactic from discussing the core issue of what they really mean by "corruption". The concept differs from original sin firstly in that it emphasises 3 consequences of the Fall of Adam upon humanity not one:

1) Thereinafter was death

2) Thereinafter was passibility 

3) Thereinafter mankind's will was weakened.

The word passible means 

passible |ˈpasɪb(ə)l|

adjectiveChristian Theology

capable of feeling or suffering; susceptible to sensation or emotion:

If Adams very nature was corrupted (as Evangelicals say) he would be more susceptible to sin if emotional. The Orthodox often explain this as "a weakened will" but do not explain it as "a nature tending toward evil". But I do not think this is saying the same thing in pedantically different terms and rhetoric. They think man is essentially good. That could be inaccurately thought of as Pelagianism, but the Orthodox are actually Semi-Pelagian in doctrine, so it shows they believe the Fall produced, to use their term, "a weakening of our nature".

I believe their doctrine is wrong as

1) Holy scripture says we are born with sin nature

2) The whole history of the human race refutes the idea mankind is essentially good.

They often say " the 3 consequences of the fall are death, passibility, and corruption" but their theology on the meaning of corruption is second rate in its clarity.

One of the most significant comments the Eastern Orthodox will make is "We deny the default setting for humanity is damnation". However without grace, just being mortal sets you outside of the "right" to enter Paradise for everlasting time with God himself. The fact is if you use the word "corruption" that is the end of the matter, corruption is corruption. 

ancestral sin differs from Calvinist ideas by (quite rightly) saying that the doctrine that mankind became "totally depraved" in nature is too extreme, but they believe also the Arminian definition of man being "depraved" but not "totally" goes too far too, and that man is essentially good in nature, the closest idea in western theology being the term Semi-Pelagianism, in that where Arminians say man cannot make the first steps toward goodness without God, the Eastern Orthodox believe man, and fallen Adam, only had a weakened will after the Fall, and is essentially still good (most all agree Adam had a nature tending toward Good before the Fall)

This is made complex as the division with Catholic theology on it becomes embarrassing to both sides, considering there were supposed to be one church once. Subsequently there will always be a culture of denials about any division on it. 

Semi-Pelagianism. perhaps the best western theological term that expresses the Eastern Orthodox Churches view on the nature of human free will, as they rejected Pelagianism in the 430 council of Ephesus.



in combination with "ancestral sin", versus the human nature of free will  in combination with "original sin" as expressed in the most common Evangelical and Protestant belief called Arminianism.

There are 3 views of mans corrupt state:
1) Calvinism = man is totally depraved (heresy)
2) Evangelical & Protestant Arminianism = man is depraved, but not totally, he can accept the gospel by free will, BUT he cannpt take the first steps toward God himself, and only under God's drawing power can he be saved. (true = moderate)
3) Eastern Orthodox = ancestral sin has a less corrupted concept of mans nature than Arminianism (based on original sin instead). Thus quote
denoting the doctrine that the first steps towards good can be taken by the human will, though supervening divine grace is needed for salvation. It was (questionably) attributed to John Cassian (d.435),


The answer to this is definitely No!!!

The Eastern Orthodox want to continually imply Evangelicals, Protestants and Catholics all say we are guilty of the actual sin of Adam, They do this simply to deceive, as if they stay on topic their house of cards collapses. Catholics can go and make their own defence. If they do say we are guilty of the actual sin of Adam, it is wrong of them. Sometimes the Eastern Orthodox make a really good case to prove Catholics do believe the error  we are guilty of the actual sin of Adam. 

But the fact is most Evangelical and Protestant theology does NOT say we are held as guilty of Adam's actual sin by God. We are not. It is simply that the three consequences as we see them of the Fall are

1) Death

2) Toil and sorrow

3) To be born with a corrupted nature that specifically tends toward doing evil. 

We avoid altogether grouping all three under a silly inappropriate misnomer such as "ancestral sin", a phrase loaded with nothing but confusion.


Roman Catholics, as far as I understand, believe an extra thing happened after Adam fell - grace was removed from him, and, they say, only in baptism from a priest is that grace given back.



The vast majority of Evangelicals I think would tend to believe that babies are born with God's "covering grace" (and that is a precise theology term they use) in this sense - if they die as babies, or as children before the age God holds them responsible (that is when they grow up) they are covered by the grace they will not be damned.

I agree with this "covering grace doctrine" myself, but I think that the most likely outworking of what this means is that these babies and children who die will go into the Millennium Kingdom where their free will will also be tested as ours is. That is definitely not the persuasion of most Evangelicals and Protestants however, who might tend to just say "all such babies and children are saved" by which they mean will go into the Paradise of God untested as we are. Frankly I think the Millennium has been missed by almost all theologists in all denominations as the most likely answer to this. Sorry if saying that makes you think I am heretical simply because I have this non stereotypical persuasion.

I think it is best expressed in 4 points:


1) Adam and Eve: let children and babies down by disobeying and bringing sin nature, increased suffering, and death into the world.

2) The vast majority of parents let children and babies down by being determined to bring them up in false religion, atheism etc.



3) God gives all babies and children "covering grace" meaning he will definitely not damn them if they die (and most likely this means they will go into the Millennium kingdom, as will all babies and children still alive when Christ returns). The thing is I believe it is for God to say at what age a person is held responsible, I very much doubt indeed God has some fixed universal age in mind.

4) The second Adam, Jesus, did not let them down, unlike the first Adam he was a total success in all he did, and offers all children and babies "the free gift of eternal life in the gospel" when they grow-up, indeed we know some children accept Christ as Saviour in their youth, and would then simply be in a state of salvation. Children tricked into believing the false gospel of Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism (tri-synergism) would still be under "covering grace" as they are not at a responsible age.


The Calvinist views on this subject are diabolically corrupt and evil. But I think there are interesting things to be discussed in their theology in the terms used by the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian church, that is Sublapsarian Calvinism and Supralapsarian Calvinism.

The difference between the western held doctrine of "original sin" and the different Orthodox definition of "ancestral sin" is tricky to define precisely, but is very important to understand, as it has great relevance to how we perceive many other subjects such as

1) The nature of Adam, before and after the Fall.

2) The nature of babies and children.

3) The nature of man, before and after salvation,  

4) The definition of being born again,

5)  The nature of Mary, the mother of Jesus (and her mother).

6) The human nature of Christ himself.


Finding a concise definition is difficult. The great western theological tomes that seek to give concise definitions, such as The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, are almost void of the jargon and rhetoric and theology terms used by Eastern Orthodoxy.


My own thoughts about why this is so are controversial. I believe it is because Catholicism has largely been influenced through Italy, into which the Book of Revelation says the spirits of Babylon (once in Iraq) have now transmigrated across the Earth into Rome, Italy, and Catholic countries. This drunken stupor of religion makes them very bold to make concise theological statements, without a care that the statements do not hold up to logical examination, as to them credulity is not recognisably different from Faith. The Orthodox however, are rooted more in Greece than Italy, a country known for its logic. This produces a paradoxical reaction, the Eastern Orthodox avoid giving concise definitions of their beliefs, as they see by doing so they can be logically be taken apart step-by-step. And thus a country like Greece, known for its logic, is now known for being slippery, and their avoidance of clarity. So we do not see the precision in theology from Greece and Russia as we see in Italy. They are however just as likely to use Greek sophistry in the Orthodox defence of their Faith, sophistry often based on oxymorons such as "and thus we see the Orthodox are saved by grace and works" an impossibility according to Romans 11:6, a scripture that so powerfully refutes their religion the Roman Catholics decided to chop half of the verse out of the bible.


My first impression on Eastern Orthodox "ancestral sin"

My first impression on Eastern Orthodox "ancestral sin", is that they think mankind is born with the same nature as unfallen Adam, that is tending toward goodness, but that, as Adam chose to sin, mankind has a percentage tendency (rather than a predisposition) to chose to sin by freewill, just as their first ancestor, and subsequent ancestors did. 

The history of the human race however is so evil, it calls into question the idea that unsaved mankind has a nature tending toward good, so the Eastern Orthodox, in order to maintain credibility, frame Catholics and Protestants by saying "original sin doctrine means you are guilty of Adams actual sin", which is not true.

I will see if my first impression of their doctrine is wrong as I research it.

I deny altogether that St Augustine is the originator of the doctrine..... its discussed in the new and old testament, for goodness sake, and so, personally, I could not give a hoot for what so called "saint" Augustine said. It is more relevant to discuss what Evangelical, Orthodox and Catholic doctrine is on it.

Being born with "a nature that tends toward evil not good" does not inherently mean you are being found guilty of Adam's actual sin, its not a permanent or essential characteristic of the situation, it is however a consequence of Adam's sin, or Fall. This may seem to some people as if God is being unfair allowing this, however, when you think about it, a parents decisions always affect the life of babies and children. Just the very country they live in can affect their children. If a parent gambles away all the family money, and they live in poverty, that could lead to more temptation for everyone as they begin to starve. etc etc etc. I do not wish to argue with the Almighty God. What I want to believe is what the bible teaches, and on this occasion I want to clearly describe Orthodox teaching.


though it is most certainly true of many Protestant and Evangelical churches that the guilt of Adam's actual sin is not "transmitted" to us all at birth (or even in the womb) is it really true of Catholics, or are modern Catholics once again masquerading as Evangelicals in theology, as their own theology falls apart?



"If anyone asserts that this sin of Adam, which in its origin is one, and by propagation, not by imitation, transfused into all, which is in each one as something that is his own... If anyone denies that by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ which is conferred in baptism, the guilt of original sin is remitted... let him be anathema." 


This sounds like a corruption of St Augustine.

its complex as Mary doctrine, her mother, and Jesus doctrines make it VERY different, but Protestant doctrine usually denies we are guilty of the sin of Adam, just inherit the consequence of a nature tending toward evil. Difficult as Protestant and Evangelical churches are so diverse we cannot quantify it as a % easily.

Whereas the Eastern Orthodox are prone to making blanket statements such as

"the harmful effects of Adam and Eve's sin affects us all" well..... obviously, but it does not address the issue of whether a baby that is born (or even in the womb) has a nature tending toward good, evil, or is somehow neutral.​

Funerals of children :

The Prayer of Absolution is not read in the Funeral for a Child (a special funeral used for children under the age of seven), since such young children are not generally held to be morally responsible for their sins, but is replaced by the following prayer:


O Lord, Who guardest little children in this present life, and hast prepared for them in the life which is to come a spacious place, even Abraham's bosom, and angelic abodes brightly radiant which befit their purity, wherein the souls of the righteous dwell: Do Thou, the same Lord Christ, receive the soul of Thy servant, the child, N., with peace. For thou hast said: Suffer the little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven. For unto Thee are due all glory, honour and worship, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.[3]:433–4


There are some real contradictory anomalies with this subject for the Orthodox considering their belief "Jesus purged the corporate human nature in the hypostatic union". Do they mean mankind was born semi Pelagian before the incarnation, and was Pelagian afterwards? Or did the living adult Pharisees at the time of the incarnation suddenly leap from Semi-Pelagian to Pelagian.


ALSO this would amount to a regeneration, yet they say that the regeneration happens in Chrismation.

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