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The Ancestral Sin: A Comparative Study of the Sin of Our Ancestors Adam and Eve According to the Paradigms and Doctrines of the First- and ... the Augustinian Formulation of Original Sin Paperback – 2002

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.6 out of 5 stars 10 reviews
34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Where did death come from? 5 Dec. 2008
By SKClimacus - Published on
This book is not really about sin, but its result: death. Or more specifically, Romanides' thesis is that Western and Eastern Christendom gave very different answers to the question: Where did death come from? The West, he argues, thought death came from God. The East said it came from the free-will of the devil and man. The result was a fundamental break at nearly all levels of theology between West and East.

So, for instance, in the West Satan became God's punishing agent, whereas the East saw him as the Evil One, the Enemy. In the West salvation became about escaping the wrath of God. In the East, it was about defeating sin, death, and the devil. In the West, the incarnation was ultimately about placating God's anger and justice. In the East, it was restoring corrupted human nature, and defeating death. The West encountered a problem understanding how faith and works could merit salvation. However, the East never questioned that salvation was completely unmerited because of God's unselfish and free love, and that we nonetheless needed to struggle ascetically for our own good, not to placate God, so as to overcome the parasitic sin reigning within us, and the demonic temptations attacking us from without.

All in all, a very thought provoking book. One that clearly shows that Orthodoxy is fundamentally different from Catholicism/Protestantism.
33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent 16 Mar. 2006
By Grigorii - Published on
Fr. John Romanides gives the best exposition on 'original sin' I've ever read. His exegesis of Scripture and the Fathers evidences his great mastery of these subjects. The ONLY reason why I did not give it 5 stars, is because the book is incomplete insofar as it only considers the very earliest Fathers and does not extend much beyond the 2nd 3d centuries.



A - the importance of the subject

B - theological method


Creation, Fall, and Salvation According to Greek Philosophy in General


God's Relations With The World

A - the creation ex nihilo and the divine freedom

B - the energy of God in the world

1. My Father worketh hitherto

2. God the Giver of life



A - introduction

B - satan and the omnipotence of God

C - satan and the fall

D - the war between God and satan

E - satan and the justice of God


The Destiny of Man

A - introduction

B - moral perfection

C - perfection and fall

D - immortality


Spiritual Man In The Image of God

A - carnal, animal, spiritual

B - image and likeness


The Ancestral Sin

A - the original state and the fall

B - the transmittal of death

C - "many were made sinners"

D - conclusion


Fr. Romanides wants the reader to understand that the Scriptural and Patristic testimony leaves nor room for the concept that God is in any way responsible for death; "God did not create death (Wisdom Ch. 1, 13)" and to adhere to the idea that God did makes all the difference between an Orthodox and Scriptural understanding of 'original sin' (which Fr. Romanides calls 'Ancestral Sin') and salvation, and an un-Orthodox or even heretical understanding of them.

He argues that salvation is to receive once again the life-giving (Uncreated) Energies of God, which we lost communion with by sin. We now commune with the energies of satan and his demons. This is in all essentials what is meant by 'Ancestral Sin'; our ancestors lost communion with God and we inherited their thusly damaged nature, which no longer lives by the Energies of God and thus is destined to die. For losing the life of God in us means that we are inevitably bound to die, in fact death allready 'abides in us' if we are empty of the divine life.

Salvation is thus not from God's just punishment, but from death and corruption. We are saved from the slavery of the 'evil one' who holds us captive under sin. Satan is the cause of sin, and by the ancestral sin he has power over us, and puts everything to work to keep us captive under sin. Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, has come to break this demonic rule and to set us free. Jesus defeats death by His death and destroys the devil's rule, and restores to us communion with the life-giving Energies of God.

It is important to realize that salvation involves our whole human being. It is not some spiritual (Platonic) thing. The resurrection of the body is a necessary and inevitable part of salvation.

I'de like to conclude saying that Fr. Romanides' work here under discussion is a powerful antidote to Anselmian/Juridical theories of salvation, by clear and consistent teaching of the true Scriptural and early Patristic understanding of 'original sin' and salvation.


18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How it all went wrong 12 Jun. 2010
By ecclesial hypostasis - Published on
The first thing that stands out about this book is that Romanides is extremely polemical. The number of times that 'the West' is singled out as being in error is too numerous to count. This may put some people off, but the context he was addressing was the Greek theological scene which he believed had been compromised by Western thinking. And it is a good thing that the Eastern tradition be allowed to speak with its proper voice, only then can we have fruitful dialogue.

His thesis is that the early church (and the true patristic tradition) views human sin as stemming from an attack by Satan which seduced us away from our destiny of communion with God and left us vulnerable to death. Death then becomes the root of continuing sin in the human race, since we are plagued by the fear and anxiety of mortality and the deceptions and passions that come from this state. Only Jesus, the perfect man in communion with God, can rise from the dead and destroy its power, allowing us to resume our destiny of 'theosis'. This view is contrasted with the Augustinian view of 'original sin' whereby God punished the human race with death in response to sin, cursing Adam and casting him out of his perfect state, and continuing to hold his descendants guilty. This leads to a more 'juridical' view of the purpose of Christ's death, as placating the wrath of God.

I believe that Romanides' analysis is substantially correct, and we do need to get away from the Augustinian interpretation and its variants. While he is very critical of Western theology, as a whole it does seem to be turning towards similar views to his own. Gustav Aulen's 'Christus Victor', written before this book, pointed out that Luther was in many ways trying to reinstate the dominance of the patristic view of the atonement over the scholastic Anselmian view. Since I was able to come to very similar conclusions to Romanides before reading his book or any other Eastern Orthodox work, I believe that the situation in the West is not as bleak as it is painted here, but yes there is a lot of work to be done.

This is a feisty piece of theology, filled with a vivid awareness of the power of the resurrection. A must read for those grappling with this serious topic.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Original Sin, Ancestral Sin 17 April 2012
By C. Taylor - Published on
EDIT (9/1/2012): I'm not going to rewrite this review, but I've since realized that Fr. Romanides' work is highly polemical and extremely anti-Western, often to the point of distorting Eastern Orthodox teaching (neglecting our substitutionary/juridical language and beliefs) as well Western teachings (falsely portraying the varied understandings of Original Sin; e.g. the Roman Catholics are in actuality quite similar to Eastern Orthodox regarding Original Sin). Be wary of this if you choose to read this.

The Ancestral Sin was written by Father John S. Romanides (1927-2001) as his doctoral dissertation at the University of Athens back in the 1950's, and this particular work is a translation by George S. Gabriel. It is overall a wonderful read that does an excellent job explaining the differences between the Western and Eastern understandings revolving around the "sin of our ancestors Adam and Eve." It is divided into chapters that discuss particulars that are foundational in order to understand the original sin and its ramifications on humanity. Examples are Satan, The Destiny of Man, God's Relations with the World, and so on.

The work deals with the topic in light of the witness of Scripture and the early Church Fathers; in this case, Romanides only uses the Fathers from the time of the New Testament until the death of St. Irenaeus (~202 AD). He does this for two reasons, which is stated in the Introduction; first he is attempting to mend the problems created by previous patristic studies that used "faulty presuppositions," as well as the importance of this period for setting the entire foundation for everything that was to come. I think further that this period is the most important when dealing with Protestants who often decry later theologians as having left the Apostolic teachings, and so this work is important because it shows that Apostolic and immediately Post-Apostolic thought were in agreement and are in agreement on the issues at hand - long before St. Augustine appeared on the scene and altered the theology of the Western Christians forever.

Fr John Romanides elaborates on a few topics of interest that elucidate the differences between the Western and Eastern traditions, with the latter in harmony with the early Church Fathers:

Theological Methods. Western Christianity is by and large derived from two fields: Greek philosophy and intellectualism/scholasticism, both of which were not used (to the extent that they are in the West, which makes a huge difference) by the early Church Fathers. Eastern Christianity's theological method is much more complex and tends to be vehemently anti-scholastic, mystical, and, as Romanides demonstrates, also decries much of the presuppositions of Greek philosophy.

Death. Western Christianity views death as a punishment inflicted upon humanity by God for sin (i.e. Original Sin). On the other hand, Eastern Christianity believes that death is the condition brought upon humanity by (1) Satan, and (2) humanity itself.

Atonement. Western Christianity views the Atonement as the act by which God the Son sacrificed himself in order to satisfy something to God the Father (e.g. his honor, his justice, etc.), and Protestants take this further with Penal Substitution with Christ being our substitute for the punishment God would have inflicted upon us (for our sins) otherwise. Eastern Christianity's Atonement is mostly focused on these aspects: the freeing of humanity from the captivity of Satan, the abolishment of death, and the descent of God to humanity so that humanity might ascend to God.

God. Eastern Orthodoxy understands God differently than Western Christianity, and the greatest cause of that is the Essence/Energies distinction which Romanides discusses. He goes into depth explaining that Western Christians believe there to be no distinction between his essence and his energies, and that the graces and energies by which he acts through to humanity are created. This is different from the Eastern tradition which makes the distinction between his essence and his uncreated energies, by which he acts upon existence and sustains it (this is in contrast to the West's created graces). He goes further into depth about this being a major reason for the West believing God is bound to act, for example, justly (i.e. being just is a descriptive of his very essence), and is bound to punish sin in order to fulfill his justice. The East, as Romanides explains, believes that his being just is not possible to be applied to his essence (for it is completely and eternally incomprehensible and beyond human understanding and definition) but is applied to his uncreated energies. Further it is the uncreated energies which deifies humanity and with which we become united through theosis.

These, and many more, topics are discussed in The Ancestral Sin.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars confusion about the availability of this book 2 Nov. 2013
By George Gabriel - Published on
It is not appropriate for me to write a review of The Ancestral Sin since I am the book's translator chosen by Fr. John Romanides. This is simply an effort to correct confusion about the book's availability. There is no scarcity of copies of this book, new and unused, and there never has been. The publisher recently printed its sixth edition. The retail price is $21.95 at several Orthodox booksellers. Inquire by email to
George S. Gabriel, Ph.D.
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