Saint John Climacus On Nature and Sin

One first and basic mistake that one can make when studying theology, or the Bible in general, is to assume that the Fall of man in the Garden has left us without any inclination at all to live for God, and that we are born with a completely depraved heart. There are many problems with this type of language, the first being that it does not give glory to God and His creative order. We know that after the Fall man lost a very special communion with God, but Chapter Four of Genesis shows that after the Fall, Adam’s children, Cain and Abel, gave offerings to the Lord! As we proclaim in the Creeds and Councils,  Christ is begotten and not made. He has been there from the beginning of creation and has not left us because we were somehow unworthy of Him. As the 13th century icon of Christ with Adam and Eve shows, He has always loved us!

We are created in the very image of God and it is important to note that our natural way of living is to live within the oneness of Christ. The Fall does not make our natural state depraved to where we have no desire for God. We are not destined to sin and the sin that we do acquire is literally able to be diminished through Christ.

It is a modern notion to understand that sin is only forgiven in a legal manner (so-called “justification”) and that we must simply prevent it from manifesting outwardly. It is the heart that God changes through our sanctification, which means that our souls actually become freed from these sinful properties. Sin is acquired by our senses, which is why we embrace the ascetic life of fasting, meditation, prayer, and service. Our “passions” are brought on by our own foolishness, so let us plead to God for Wisdom!

“Passion was not planted by God in nature,  for he is not the Creator of passions…God is not the cause of evil. Those who teach that passions are natural to the soul are wrong, not realizing that it is we who have turned natural things into passions. For example, by nature we have within us the seed necessary for child-bearing – but we have perverted this into fornication. Nature gave us the feeling of anger, which we are supposed to use against the Evil One – instead we use it against our neighbor…We have been given a longing for pleasure – but we use it for dissipation.” (St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent).