Reconciliatio et Paenitentia 14: The Mystery of Sin

Part Two, Chapter One commences with this numbered section. If that “one” seems confusing, I’ll refer readers to our outline from some weeks ago. The topic of sections 14 through 18 is The Mystery of Sin. Where we left off in the opening thoughts on this part, Pope John Paul II was introducing Genesis 11:1-9, the account of the Tower of Babel, into his narrative on reconciliation and penance.

14. If we read the passage in the Bible on the city and tower of Babel in the new light offered by the Gospel and if we compare it with the other passage on the fall of our first parents, we can draw from it valuable elements for an understanding of the mystery of sin. This expression, which echoes what St. Paul writes concerning the mystery of evil,(Cf 2 Thessalonians 2:7) helps us to grasp the obscure and intangible element hidden in sin.

That reflection in 2 Thessalonians 2 is worth drawing out:

For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. But the one who restrains is to do so only for the present, until he is removed from the scene. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord [Jesus] will kill with the breath of his mouth and render powerless by the manifestation of his coming, the one whose coming springs from the power of Satan in every mighty deed and in signs and wonders that lie, and in every wicked deceit for those who are perishing because they have not accepted the love of truth so that they may be saved.

Sin is indeed a mystery in our seeing. It would seem that rational beings could temper an expression of personal freedom, a quality which God seems to be generous in offering us. And yet evil persists, sometimes overtaking virtue in the world, and seemingly overturning even the works and creation of God.

The role of Jesus to destroy evil and death is drawn out here. It’s not just a matter of looking to and waiting for the Second Coming. It might seem a passive acquiescence to wrongs perpetrated on other people is seriously wrong, and a work of evil in itself.

Still, the mystery persists, seemingly to something beyond the mortal realm.

Clearly sin is a product of (human) freedom. But deep within its human reality there are factors at work which place it beyond the merely human, in the border area where (human) conscience, will and sensitivity are in contact with the dark forces which, according to St. Paul, are active in the world almost to the point of ruling it.(Cf Romans 7:7-25; Ephesians 2:2; 6:12)

Sometimes when this point is emphasized too much, it seems like passing the blame from human fault. Mystery yes, but loss of personal sense of sin: let’s not go there just yet.

This document is Copyright © 1984 – Libreria Editrice Vatican. The link on the Vatican site is here.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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