Sic et non on abilities to sin.

A: Why not see what can be said for the strongest position – Mary not only did not sin, but could not have.

B: But this is untenable: she had the same gifts as Adam, and Adam was certainly able to sin; and it’s impossible to be human and lack the ability to sin. But what’s your argument?

A: To set it up, consider these difference senses of “can”. If I say an axle can drive the car and the axle can rub on the bearing and light the car on fire, is the sense of “can” the same?

B: Yes, they’re both possibilities for the axle.

A: But one “can” arises only from a defect.

B: So that’s your argument: if something can happen because of a malfunction or sabotage, then, in the absence of this, it can’t happen.

A: Isn’t that right, though? We first sin because we’re surprised and slip or get carried away, or because the first things we know aren’t the best things, or because we can’t see how to combine our autonomy with our need for discipleship, etc.

B: But you solve one problem only to make the other more acute. If Mary couldn’t sin then how could Adam?

A: I’m not sure. I want to keep the idea that when something “can” happen only because of a defect, then removing the defect removes the “can” also. But then I’m stuck defending the idea that Adam could not sin, but did.

B: You could just deny that sin arises only out of defect.

A: No. This leaves open the possibility of sin even in the eschaton and even among the blessed.  But then this story of sin and repentance never needs to come to an end. Sin is an act, and actions follow from a previous order or disorder in the subject.

B: Maybe the “can” you’re targeting can’t be captured in the way you’re trying to capture it.

A: Why not?

B: All your examples of what “can” happen were really just probabilities. A faulty axle “can” ignite the gas tank in the same way a fair coin can come up heads or tails. But the moral “can” is not like this. The choice between good and evil is not merely a calculation of possible outcomes.

A: I don’t get it.

B: Denying that someone can sin is not the same thing as saying their actions are logically necessary.

A: But I can’t see the way forward from here. I can’t decide if we’ve made a basic mistake.

B: Let’s leave off for now then.






  1. Dylan said,

    December 8, 2015 at 3:34 pm

    “This leaves open the possibility of sin even in the eschaton and even among the blessed. But then this story of sin and repentance never needs to come to an end.”

    This seems to assume that the eschaton is nothing other than returning to the Garden. But isn’t it something else? Isn’t it not only becoming what we were, but even more so becoming what we were meant to become, but didn’t?

    In fact, the fathers insist that the *human* will of Christ was atreptos (unturnable toward sin) because he was not just human but a human perfected and deified due to the fact that he was also and firstly God, i.e. he is what we were meant to become or, as St. Paul put it, the last (eschatos) Adam. Similarly, St. John says, “when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).

    How this would relate to Mary, I’m somewhat uncertain. But I suppose one could say that through grace she was made unable to sin in the same way that we shall be like Christ in the eschaton, i.e. more than just like Adam (or, more appropriately, Eve) in the Garden.

  2. stevegbrown said,

    December 8, 2015 at 5:58 pm

    St Thomas points out that virtue, as it becomes perfected in the will makes the attainment (or adherence) to the good not more difficult, but easier. So, the more virtuous one becomes, the easier it becomes to remain in virtue. Perhaps there is a threshold beyond which the mind sees the sinful alternative as pathetically laughable. Is an adult really that much attracted to playing with something that they just had to have as a toddler? Look at the “Ecstasy of St Theresa” by Bernini. She doesn’t look all that free, in a sense, nor does she want to be. If the end (goal) of freedom in the will is the good, is it more akin to a magnet or a grapple?

    • JC TOO said,

      December 8, 2015 at 6:51 pm

      exactly. The End is the complete determination of the Will to the Good, such that true Freedom is eliminated, though paradoxically, the self feels more and more self-determined. That is the essence of Love. The Cross is both an act of the Triumph of the Will and total objective determination by the Other. If the Via Dolorasa is the Will’s final existential assertion of itself toward Love, the Crucifixion is the pure reception of Truth in Radical Passivity, the will free only to choose how to perceive an experience that is otherwise in almost every way, and maximally so, objectively determined.

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