“Cardinal” Ratzinger Denies Catholic Teaching on Original Sin:

For Ratzinger, Original Sin is not a Deprivation of Sanctifying Grace in Human Souls Transmitted by Natural Generation but a Damage in Human Relationships Encountered by Every Human Being

In a Lenten sermon given in 1981 in the cathedral of Munich, Germany, “Cardinal” Joseph Ratzinger said the following:

“In the Genesis story that we are considering, still a further characteristic of sin is described. Sin is not spoken of in general as an abstract possibility but as a deed, as the sin of a particular person, Adam, who stands at the origin of humankind and with whom the history of sin begins. The account tells us that sin begets sin, and that therefore all the sins of history are interlinked. Theology refers to this state of affairs by the certainly misleading and imprecise term ‘original sin.’ What does this mean? Nothing seems to us today to be stranger or, indeed, more absurd than to insist upon original sin, since, according to our way of thinking, guilt can only be something very personal, and since God does not run a concentration camp, in which one’s relative are imprisoned, because he is a liberating God of love, who calls each one by name. What does original sin mean, then, when we interpret it correctly?
“Finding an answer to this requires nothing less than trying to understand the human person better. It must once again be stressed that no human being is closed in upon himself or herself and that no one can live of or for himself or herself alone. We receive our life not only at the moment of birth but every day from without–from others who are not ourselves but who nonetheless somehow pertain to us. Human beings have their selves not only in themselves but also outside of themselves: they live in those whom they love and in those who love them and to whom they are ‘present.’ Human beings are relational, and they possess their lives–themselves–only by way of relationship. I alone am not myself, but only in and with you am I myself. To be truly a human being means to be related in love, to be of and for. But sin means the damaging or the destruction of relationality. Sin is a rejection of relationality because it wants to make the human being a god. Sin is loss of relationship, disturbance of relationship, and therefore it is not restricted to the individual. When I destroy a relationship, then this event–sin–touches the other person involved in the relationship. Consequently sin is always an offense that touches others, that alters the world and damages it. To the extent that this is true, when the network of human relationships is damaged from the very beginning, then every human being enters into a world that is marked by relational damage. At the very moment that a person begins human existence, which is a good, he or she is confronted by a sin-damaged world. Each of us enters into a situation in which relationality has been hurt. Consequently each person is, from the very start, damaged in relationships and does not engage in them as he or she ought. Sin pursues the human being, and he or she capitulates to it.”

(Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, ‘In the Beginning…’: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall, trans. Boniface Ramsey, OP [Eerdmans, 1995], pp. 71-73; view scan of pp. 72-73 here.)

To be fair to Fr. Ratzinger, we have gone through the trouble of acquiring a copy of the original German edition of this book, and we found the English translation to be a bit sloppy. For fairness’ and accuracy’s sake, therefore, we share below the German original text where the faulty Ramsey translation distorts Ratzinger’s thought to a significant extent, and then we produce our own more accurate English translation.

German original text:

“Die Theologie hat für diesen Sachverhalt das sicher mißverständliche und ungenaue Wort ‘Erbsünde’ gefunden.

“Weil es so ist, gilt: Wenn das Beziehungsgefüge des Menschseins vom Anfang her gestört wird, tritt jeder Mensch fortan in eine von der Beziehungsstörung geprägte Welt ein. Mit dem Menschsein selbst, das gut ist, fällt ihn zugleich eine von der Sünde gestörte Welt an.”

(Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Im Anfang Schuf Gott, new ed. [Freiburg: Johannes Verlag, 1996], pp. 72-73; view scan here.)

Our translation:

“For this state of affairs theology has found the certainly mistakable and imprecise word ‘original sin.'”

“Because this is so, the following applies: If the relational structure of being human is disturbed from the beginning, every human being henceforth enters a world shaped by relational disturbance. With the very fact of being human, which is [a] good, man is immediately assailed by a world disturbed by sin.”

German is a difficult language to translate. To further help the reader to understand our own translation properly, let it be said that “state of affairs” is meant to denote here a “set of circumstances and facts,” which is what the German word Sachverhalt denotes. Secondly, the official Ramsey translation falsely renders the word mißverständlich as “misleading.” But “misleading” in German is irreführend. An accurate translation of the word mißverständlich is “mistakable,” for the word mißverständlich literally means “misunderstandable,” that is, “lending itself to being misunderstood.”

Next, the German word Erbsünde has “original sin” as its official English equivalent. Nevertheless, there is a difference between the two terms as far as their literal meaning goes. Erbsünde literally means “sin of inheritance” or “inherited sin.” This is very important, for Fr. Ratzinger is saying that the term “inherited sin” by itself lends itself to being misunderstood and is imprecise. But this is false. Since original sin is something we “inherit” from our parents in virtue of being members of the human race, there could hardly be a more fitting term than “inherited sin” or “sin of inheritance.” Fr. Ratzinger, however, believes the term to be misleading because, as his “explanation” of original sin shows, he does not in fact believe it to be an inherited sin, that is, he does not believe that original sin is transmitted through natural generation. For him, inherited/original sin is a matter of damaged human relationships, of “sin bringing forth sin” (German: “Sünde bringt Sünde hervor“) in a world shaped and disturbed by sin.

But this is Ratzingerian New Theology — modern Existentialism mixed with Catholicism — , and it is at grave odds with the Catholic understanding of original sin as consisting in a lack of sanctifying grace in the human soul that is transmitted at conception to every member of the human race precisely because he is human and thus necessarily shares in the original sin of Adam. The Church teaches that there was only one miraculous exception to this: the immaculately-conceived Blessed Virgin Mary, from whom the Blessed Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true man, drew flesh (Gal 4:4) and was also, of course, without stain of any sin or guilt. Yet, even this miracle was only made possible by the merits of the Redemption of Jesus Christ (cf. Lk 1:47), applied to the soul of the Blessed Mother ahead of Its actual accomplishment.

The Catholic teaching that original sin is transmitted through natural generation is dogmatic, and thus its doubt or denial constitutes heresy. Note that although “Cardinal” Ratzinger, now claiming to be “Pope” Benedict XVI, acknowledges some concept of “original sin” in his book, the concept of original sin he holds to is a false one and conflicts with the Catholic teaching on original sin as a real sin transmitted by natural generation.

Reality Check: What does the Holy Catholic Church teach on Original Sin?

By [Christ’s] death that bond of death introduced into all of us by Adam and transmitted to every soul, that bond contracted by propagation is broken, in which no one of our children is held not guilty until he is freed through baptism.

(Pope St. Zosimus, Epistle Tractatoria ad Orientalis Ecclesias, Denz. 109a)


I. If anyone does not confess that the first man Adam, when he had transgressed the commandment of God in Paradise, immediately lost his holiness and the justice in which he had been established, and that he incurred through the offense of that prevarication the wrath and indignation of God and hence the death with which God had previously threatened him, and with death captivity under his power, who thenceforth “had the empire of death” [Heb. 2:14], that is of the devil, and that through that offense of prevarication the entire Adam was transformed in body and soul for the worse, let him be anathema.

2. If anyone asserts that the transgression of Adam has harmed him alone and not his posterity, and that the sanctity and justice, received from God, which he lost, he has lost for himself alone and not for us also; or that he having been defiled by the sin of disobedience has transfused only death “and the punishments of the body into the whole human race, but not sin also, which is the death of the soul,” let him be anathema, since he contradicts the Apostle who says: “By one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death, and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned” [Rom. 5:12].

3. If anyone asserts that this sin of Adam, which is one in origin and transmitted to all is in each one as his own by propagation, not by imitation, is taken away either by the forces of human nature, or by any remedy other than the merit of the one mediator, our Lord Jesus Christ, who has reconciled us to God in his own blood, “made unto us justice, sanctification, and redemption” [1 Cor. 1:30]; or if he denies that that merit of Jesus Christ is applied to adults as well as to infants by the sacrament of baptism, rightly administered in the form of the Church: let him be anathema. “For there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved . . .” [Acts 4:12]. Whence that word: “Behold the lamb of God, behold Him who taketh away the sins of the world” [John 1:29]. And that other: “As many of you as have been baptized, have put on Christ” [Gal. 3:27].

4. “If anyone denies that infants newly born from their mothers’ wombs are to be baptized,” even though they be born of baptized parents, “or says they are baptized indeed for the remission of sins, but that they derive nothing of original sin from Adam, which must be expiated by the laver of regeneration” for the attainment of life everlasting, whence it follows, that in them the form of baptism for the remission of sins is understood to be not true, but false: let him be anathema. For what the Apostle has said: “By one man sin entered into the world, and by sin death, and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned” [Rom. 5:12], is not to be understood otherwise than as the Catholic Church spread everywhere has always understood it. For by reason of this rule of faith from a tradition of the apostles even infants, who could not as yet commit any sins of themselves, are for this reason truly baptized for the remission of sins, so that in them there may be washed away by regeneration, what they have contracted by generation. “For unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” [John 3:5].


This holy Synod declares nevertheless that it is not its intention to include in this decree, where original sin is treated of, the blessed and immaculate Virgin Mary mother of God, but that the constitutions of Pope SIXTUS IV of happy memory are to be observed, under the penalties contained in these constitutions, which it renews.

(Council of Trent, Decree on Original Sin, Denz. 788-792)


“Original sin” is the hereditary but impersonal fault of Adam’s descendants, who have sinned in him (Rom. v. 12). It is the loss of grace, and therefore of eternal life, together with a propensity to evil, which everybody must, with the assistance of grace, penance, resistance and moral effort, repress and conquer. The passion and death of the Son of God has redeemed the world from the hereditary curse of sin and death. Faith in these truths, which in your country are today the butt of the cheap derision of Christ’s enemies, belongs to the inalienable treasury of Christian revelation.

(Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge, n. 25)

Some may argue that perhaps Fr. Ratzinger simply does not know what the Catholic Church teaches on original sin. The objection, of course, is absurd, but we will respond to it nonetheless: As a priest and putative bishop, cardinal, and even Pope, Fr. Ratzinger has every responsibility in the world to be informed about the Catholic Church’s teachings, especially if he presumes to instruct others in the Catholic Faith. And as the supposed “enforcer of orthodoxy,” a position he held from 1981 until 2005 under John Paul II, it was his foremost responsibility to know Catholic teaching inside out. So the objection regarding supposed ignorance is absolutely untenable.

But even if Fr. Ratzinger should in one place or another teach the true meaning of original sin and its transmission by natural generation, the fact that he has denied it so conspicuously in a sermon that was, in part, centered on this very topic, shows his true colors. For look at the warning of Pope Pius VI in 1794:

[The ancient doctors] knew the capacity of innovators in the art of deception. In order not to shock the ears of Catholics, the innovators sought to hide the subtleties of their tortuous maneuvers by the use of seemingly innocuous words such as would allow them to insinuate error into souls in the most gentle manner. Once the truth had been compromised, they could, by means of slight changes or additions in phraseology, distort the confession of the faith that is necessary for our salvation, and lead the faithful by subtle errors to their eternal damnation. This manner of dissimulating and lying is vicious, regardless of the circumstances under which it is used. For very good reasons it can never be tolerated in a synod of which the principal glory consists above all in teaching the truth with clarity and excluding all danger of error.

Moreover, if all this is sinful, it cannot be excused in the way that one sees it being done, under the erroneous pretext that the seemingly shocking affirmations in one place are further developed along orthodox lines in other places, and even in yet other places corrected; as if allowing for the possibility of either affirming or denying the statement, or of leaving it up the personal inclinations of the individual – such has always been the fraudulent and daring method used by innovators to establish error. It allows for both the possibility of promoting error and of excusing it.

It is as if the innovators pretended that they always intended to present the alternative passages, especially to those of simple faith who eventually come to know only some part of the conclusions of such discussions, which are published in the common language for everyone’s use. Or again, as if the same faithful had the ability on examining such documents to judge such matters for themselves without getting confused and avoiding all risk of error. It is a most reprehensible technique for the insinuation of doctrinal errors and one condemned long ago by our predecessor St. Celestine who found it used in the writings of Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople, and which he exposed in order to condemn it with the greatest possible severity. Once these texts were examined carefully, the impostor was exposed and confounded, for he expressed himself in a plethora of words, mixing true things with others that were obscure; mixing at times one with the other in such a way that he was also able to confess those things which were denied while at the same time possessing a basis for denying those very sentences which he confessed.

In order to expose such snares, something which becomes necessary with a certain frequency in every century, no other method is required than the following: Whenever it becomes necessary to expose statements that disguise some suspected error or danger under the veil of ambiguity, one must denounce the perverse meaning under which the error opposed to Catholic truth is camouflaged.

(Pope Pius VI, Bull Auctorem Fidei, introduction)

This is what we hope to have accomplished by exposing Fr. Ratzinger’s denial of the Catholic teaching on original sin.

Given Fr. Ratzinger’s errors about original sin, try to imagine what this does to the dogma of the necessity of baptism for salvation and the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Not surprisingly, the same Joseph Ratzinger also denies the dogma of infant baptism.

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