Thoughts on Original Sin by Tatha Wiley (2002) 3A

Chapter 3 of Wiley’s book covers St. Augustine and the tradition that followed. St. Augustine lived at a critical juncture in Western history.  Between 400 and 700 AD, the sword ended the entire Western world, from England to Persia.  Augustine lived at the beginning of the end.

Augustine defined Original Sin.  The question he addressed was: “Why Jesus the Messiah?”

His answer, supported by his own life story, was: “To redeem our own moral impotence.”   (This contrasted with the Pelagius, who argued, in concert with many Pagan philosophers, that we had moral potency.)

The next question was: “Who is responsible for our moral impotence?” (Because, if we were responsible, then the ‘Donatists’ were right to humiliate those who had wavered in the face of the intimidating yet waning Roman ideologues).

Augustine’s answer was: “Not us.  And yes us.  Because we share the consequences of Adam’s transgression, we are both not responsible and responsible.  We are not responsible for the fact that we need the sacraments.  But we are responsible for what we do once we are given sanctifying grace.

Then the question became: “Why do we share the consequences of Adam’s transgressions?”

Augustine’s answer was: “We are descended from Adam and Eve.  We are their descendants … er, children.”  Here, Augustine proposed an instrumental rather than a formal cause.  The instrument was whatever causes descent, er, children.

“Whatever” included copulation, as well as all the seamy machinations that induced the partners to commit the act.  How “material” and “twisted”.

Human sexuality is so twisted that the machinations may be more significant than the act itself.  Hey, I don’t mean “may be”.  I mean “are”.

Some Pagan cults associated sex with “death, ignorance and difficulty” and restraint with “immortality, knowledge, and integrity”.  Other Pagan cults relied on ritual sex in order to convert “death, ignorance and difficulty” into “immortality, knowledge and integrity”.

Does this fit the definition of “twisted”?


Thoughts on Original Sin by Tatha Wiley (2002) 2D

Why did the early Christians link infant Baptism and the Story of the Fall? From the point of view of Moderns, the link makes no sense at all.

Why would infant Baptism have anything to do with the Stories of Adam and Eve?

Why would people demand infant Baptism?

From the point of view of the ancient Pagans, however, the reason must have been obvious.  Here is my guess:

Women had ears.  Each mother knew that her helpless babe was once a beautiful immaterial good soul that now had descended into an innocent-appearing but material, hence “evil”, body.

They wanted to do whatever it took to bring appearance in line with form, innocence with innocence, and the Christians had a way to do that.  Baptism took the evil of the body away and gave the soul – the animating principle – sanctifying grace.

Baptism was Good News from the perspective of those raised in ancient worldviews of the descent of the soul.  Yet no one could explain why within the nascent Christian symbolic order.


Thoughts on Original Sin by Tatha Wiley (2002) 2C

Of course, the Fathers of the Church had none of the analytic tools that we have today.  Also, they had churches to run.

Nevertheless, we can see some of the Fathers wrestling with the nested result from the previous blog.  For example, (it seems to me that) Tertullian substituted “sex” for the “spirit-descent”.

No doubt the struggle went both ways, since the stories of Jesus could be trimmed to fit a “descent of the soul” model. (Except, of course, for the Resurrection business.)

I imagine that Genesis 1-11 became more and more important in the struggle against the appropriation of name of Jesus the Messiah by Gnostic (Pagan) thinkers.

The Story of the Fall of Adam and Eve works against the purely vertical and non-historical axis of the descent of the soul.  The Story of the Fall adds a horizontal and historical axis.  At the same time, this axis raises questions of its own.


Thoughts on Original Sin by Tatha Wiley (2002) 2B

Now, let me put this doctrine into a nested format.

At first, one would think that the spirit-descent is what puts the soul and body into context.  That is, it belongs to thirdness.  Then the “soul” belongs to the realm of possibility and “body” belongs to the realm of actuality.  The nested result is:

Spirit-descent (body (soul))

I prefer an alternate to the obvious.  The “soul as animating principle of the body” puts the “body” into context.  Then the “spirit-descent” is the possibility that makes the “body” possible.  The nested result is:


I prefer this alternative because it captures the sensibilities of many Pagan traditions.  For example, the Stoics tried to train the soul to discipline the body.  Why did the body need to be disciplined?  The flawed nature of the body was made possible by its descent.  Similarly, some Ascetics attempted to “peel the soul away from the body” through various techniques, thereby undoing the attachments to the body accrued by the descent.

In sum, instead of spirit-descent acting to bring the soul into the body, spirit-descent makes the accrual of the material body by the immaterial soul possible.  The spirit-descent acts like trapdoor that sends the good blissful soul crashing down to earth.  The spirit-descent is as unpredictable as any natural or divine phenomena.

And more horrifying, the spirit-descent defines the person’s fate.


Thoughts on Original Sin by Tatha Wiley (2002) 2A

The Way of Jesus the Messiah spread within the Pagan Roman Empire.  It confronted a wide range of Pagan doctrines and philosophies.  Yet this variety had common ideas.  One common doctrine explained how each one of us came to be.  This idea is still held in the Shia branch of Islam.

It goes like this:  Before the person, her (or his) soul was an immaterial being in divine bliss high in the celestial realm.  Then her soul starts to fall, according to a spiritual gravity.  The soul runs into and accrues matter on the way down.  The descent is never smooth, leaving her soul without some capacities that other souls have.  When the descent is complete, the little tyke emerges from the womb, her soul animating her body and held there by the spirit of the descent, the fated trajectory of her tumble.

Thus, this newborn infant who looks so innocent is really a divine soul descended into material matter.

And, some would add, the “divine” is “good” and the “material” “evil”.


Thoughts on Original Sin by Tatha Wiley (2002) 1C

Now, let us apply the tool of “nestedness” to the following definition:

“Judgment is a relation between ‘what is’ and ‘what ought to be’”.

Looks easy.  The obvious answer is:

Relation (“what is” (“what ought to be”))

This makes sense if “what ought to be” made “what is” possible, such as:

Hungry (act of eating (food will satisfy hunger))

But then, it would not make sense if “what is” made “what ought to be” possible, such as:

Earning ( making money (working))

Instead, relation (“what ought to be” (“what is”)) does the trick.

What if Person A was hiding a surprise gift for Person B, then

“So B does not find it” (hidden gift (locating a good hiding spot))

Here, “what ought to be” (“what is” (relation))

“So B does not find it” puts “hidden gift” into context.

“Locating a good hiding spot” makes the “hidden gift” possible.

So, judgment can get complicated, even though it may be expressed with such simplicity.

What does this mean?

Judgment is the most flexible three-element being.

“Nestedness” is a very useful semiotic tool for investigating judgments.

And finally, I am guessing that Original Sin has something to do with Judgment.


Thoughts on Original Sin by Tatha Wiley (2002) 1B

If the previous blog sounded too technical, rest easy.

“Nestedness” is a way to depict precission.

In precission: “Thirdness emerges from secondness and secondness emerges from firstness”

The nested form looks like this:

Thirdness (secondness (firstness))

In these blogs, I am focusing on “judgment” as a type of thirdness.

“Judgment” (thirdness) puts “a situation” (secondness) into context or relation.

And “potential” (firstness) makes “the situation” (secondness) possible.

In terms of nestedness:

Judgment (situation (potential))

This is the semiotic tool that I will use.


Thoughts on Original Sin by Tatha Wiley (2002) 1A

For the next blogs, discussing Tatha Wiley’s Original Sin (2002), I will rely on a foundational semiotic tool: “precission”.

Charles Sanders Peirce formulated precission as a way to describe a crucial relation between his three categories of being: thirdness, secondness and firstness.

The categories are both simple and difficult to comprehend.

Thirdness is the realm of sign, mediation and judgment.  Every being in thirdness brings at least two other beings into relation.  Three elements are required, hence the term: “thirdness”.  Beings in thirdness cannot be seen, heard, smelled, tasted or touched.  They are purely relational.

Secondness is the realm of actuality, cause and effect, brute force, and situations.  This is the realm of the senses, plus more, since many physical processes cannot be sensed.  Consider the idea of phenomena.  “Phenomena” require “something to be observed” and “an observer”.  At least two elements are required, hence the term: “secondness”.

Firstness is the realm of possibility, potential, purpose, essence, design and implications.   Imagine walking up to someone and asking: “What is the matter?”  This “what” can be seen, heard, smelled, tasted or touched, but that is not what the question is about.  The question is about what could happen.

Another way to say it: “Matter” makes “what is observed” possible.

Only one element is required, hence the term: “firstness”.

Precission is the relation of “emergence” between the categories:  Each category “emerges” or “precinds from” the immediate lower category.  Thirdness prescinds from secondness.  Secondness prescinds from Firstness.


Thoughts on Evolution and the Sin in Eden: A New Christian Synthesis (1998) 24

I finish my thoughts on Zimmerman’s book by speculating on what “Baptism for remission of sins” might mean after An Archaeology of the Fall.

In a way, Augustine was correct.  Humans have fallen from their natural state, where words were grounded in referentiality.  Now, there is no solid earth beneath us.  We are standing in mud.  We are mud.

If a person is anima joined to caro through the spiritual principle of gravity – er, descent – then one can say we land on water.  Each of us land in a sea of symbolic orders, ever shifting, exclusive domains interpenetrating exclusive domains, each domain calling the person to swim in their waters.

Baptism gets us onto a boat.  Baptism is like learning to swim.  Baptism is like finding land.  These three metaphors constitute a “remission of Original Sin” because, without it, there is only disorientation.  In a world without Jesus the Christ, who knows which way is up?

All the universal religions tell – in their own way – which way is up.  What makes Jesus unique is that he – himself – is the way up.  The Christian tradition has always proclaimed this.  For that reason, Jesus is problematic to all other symbolic orders.  Jesus has his hand in the water, ready to pull you up.

Of course, if there are only symbolic orders, then everything is relative.  Not so. Symbolic orders inspire us to construct indexes and icons that build social constructions that are anything but relative.  That is why the Progressives have worked to empty the courts, the legislatures, the executive suites, the media and the universities of anyone who is not Progressive.  That is the only way to do what they were created to do:  Control the destructive automatons.

Do you think Progressivism is the way up?  Of course you do.  We all do. There are so many expressions, reasons, feelings, and intuitions for why this way is up.  But these interlocking symbols are all only words.  You will realize their meanings only when the social constructions are actualized.

Will Baptism become tangible then?   Will we then need a hand to save us from drowning?  Who knows?  Ask a fatherless child.

Of course, this is only speculation.  Others, greater than me, will follow.

This concludes my thoughts on Zimmerman’s book.  God bless.


Thoughts on Evolution and the Sin in Eden: A New Christian Synthesis (1998) 23

The story of Pelagius and Augustine is full of intrigue.  After the Council of Diospolis (415 AD) gave Pelagius the green light, the Council of Carthage (418) disputed its findings.  Pope Zozimus issued his Tractoria (418) just as the curtain fell on the Roman Empire.

Eleven centuries later, at the Council of Trent, the question of Original Sin was raised.  Gone were the old models of the human as anima joined to caro by spiritus.  New models of the human were abounding.  It is amazing that the Council did as well as it did.  One of the two key canons of the Council of Carthage was presented. The other was disregarded.

What amazes me in reading Zimmerman’s end-of-life book is that his own work attempted the same turn as the Council of Trent.  He looked at the Council of Trent in the same way that it looked at the Council of Carthage, knowing that some of it would keep and some of it would not.  The last 450 years have been equivalent to 1100 years at the time of Trent.  Yet, Zimmerman could not do the sorting.

In a way, he did not have all the pieces of the puzzle of “where he stood”.  By 1998, when he published, details of the evolutionary trajectory of the hominids were becoming irrefutable.  When he published in 1998, it made sense that Adam – the first human – would have to be placed deep into the past, before the appearance of the first fossils of anatomically modern humans.   At this time, speech was regarded as one of Homo sapiens’ species-specific traits.  Evolutionary biologists considered the evolution of speech to be the same as the evolution of language (the biological capacity to talk).

In this, Zimmerman has been joined by a number of Christians exploring the question of “who Adam and Eve might have been”?

I write in 2012.  Details of the evolutionary trajectory of the hominids have not changed much.  Our understanding of talk has.  There has been a revolution in the field of semiotics.  Much of that is due to Thomas Sebeok and John Deely.

The evolution of talk differs from the evolution of language.  “Adam” – the first human – can now be distinguished from “Adam” – the person in the Story of Adam and Eve.  That is the premise of An Archaeology of the Fall.