Council of Trent on Original Sin

I love the Council of Trent. It’s probably my favourite council. It synthesized medieval theology, reformed so many abuses, and set the Catholic Church’s course for the next four hundred years. And more importantly, it’s the only council that is also a man’s name and a fashion label. (Trent Nathan anyone?)

So I’m continuing my thankless crusade to make people read Trent, whether you want to or not. In that vein, I present a summary of the fifth session of the council on Original Sin.

William Blake, God Judging Adam, date unknown

William Blake, God Judging Adam, date unknown

1. The first man, Adam, “transgressed the commandment of God in Paradise”. He “immediately lost the holiness and justice” he had been created in and he incurred “the wrath and indignation of God, and consequently death” and came under the captivity of the devil, “who thenceforth had the empire of death.” Because of this, “the entire Adam… was changed, in body and soul, for the worse.”

2. Adam not only injured himself but also “his posterity”; he didn’t just lose that original holiness for himself alone, but also for us. “Being defiled by the sin of disobedience”, Adam transmitted not only physical death “and pains of the body into the whole human race” but also sin, “which is the death of the soul.”

“Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned.” (Rom 5:12)

3. This “sin of Adam” is one “in its origin” and is “transfused into all by propagation” and not merely “by imitation”. This sin cannot be taken away “either by the powers of human nature, or by any other remedy than the merit of the one mediator, our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath reconciled us to God in His own Blood”. This merit of Jesus Christ “is applied both to adults and to infants by the sacrament of baptism.”

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29)

“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Gal 3:27)

4. Infants should be baptised and they should be baptised because they are born in Adam, deriving from him Original Sin, and therefore their sins are in “need of being expiated by the laver of regeneration.” 

The rule of faith, “from a tradition of the apostles”, is that “even infants, who could not as yet commit any sin of themselves” are “truly baptised for remission of sins” and that original sin, “which they… contracted by generation” (by birth) is “cleansed away by regeneration.” (by rebirth) 

“Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (Jn 3:5)

5. “By the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ”, conferred in baptism, “the guilt of original sin is remitted” and “the true and proper nature of sin” is taken away. “For, in those who are born again, there is nothing that God hates; because, There is no condemnation to those who are truly buried together with Christ by baptism into death; who walk not according to the flesh, but, putting off the old man, and putting on the new who is created according to God, are made innocent, immaculate, pure, harmless, and beloved of God, heirs indeed of God, but joint heirs with Christ; so that there is nothing whatever to retard their entrance into heaven.”

Nonetheless, concupiscence or an inclination to sin remains in the baptized. This is “left for our exercise” and “cannot injure” those who do not consent to it, but who “resist manfully by the grace of Jesus Christ; yea, he who shall have striven lawfully shall be crowned.”

Bartolome Murillo, Baptism of Christ, c. 1665 (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin)

Bartolome Murillo, Baptism of Christ, c. 1665 (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin)

So what to make of all this? I think Trent wants us to remember three things:

  1. Original sin is transmitted as part of our human nature and it affects both our body and soul. Without Christ, we don’t just happen to sin – we are sinners and that’s why we sin.
  2. Original sin is washed away by the Precious Blood of Christ and this happens through Baptism. This is such an awesome gift of grace that even newborn babies can be reborn in Christ.
  3. Baptism gets rid of original sin completely and we are perfect in God’s sight. With Christ, we are not sinners but children of God. Still, we have that inclination to sin but that’s not sin itself and Christ gives us every grace we need to resist sin – no matter what! What an incredible joy, but also what a huge responsibility!

So thanks Trent!

“Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death.” (James 1:13-15)

“Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Co 10:12-13)


3 responses to “Council of Trent on Original Sin

  1. You’re right, of course, about Trent. Once the church was forced to reform, it did a thorough and very good job of it. It may have been Luther’s best result.

  2. Pingback: What the Council of Trent Actually Said… | The Back of the World·

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