Was Sin Accidental?
A metaphysician seeks to understand the nature of reality. What is it that constitutes a table, a Coca-Cola, a roll of toilet paper, etc.. For instance, a roll of toilet paper as a substance might be said to have the properties of whiteness, roundness and softness (if it is Charmin). The toilet paper is a substance which has certain properties. A substance is simply something that can have properties but that cannot be had by any other thing. For instance, the hair on my head has the properties of softness, brownness and possibly many others. My hair, however, cannot be had by anything else, thus it is not a property. This is not to be confused with the property of being my hair, which can be had. However, my hair may not always possess the property of brownness or even softness. One day it may possess the property of grayness or whiteness, but it will always possess the property of being hair, whatever that may look like. Note that this model seems to indicate that there are different types of properties.
This sort of study has had much practical application for the study of original sin and its relation to the nature of Christ. Thomas V. Morris, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, provides an ingenious metaphysical theory for navigating around the problem of original sin for Christ. In his book, The Logic of God Incarnate, Morris articulates the differences between what many philosophers have termed essential properties and accidental properties. Yet what are the differences between these properties and what, if any, are the practical implications for the nature of Christ?
The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (CDP) defines them as following:
Essential property- A property is essential to an entity if, necessarily, the entity cannot exist without being an instance of the property (eg. Being a number is an essential property of nine) .
Accidental property- A property is accidental to an individual if it is possible for the individual to exist without being an instance of the property (eg. being the number of planets is an accidental property of nine).
Morris believes that sin is an accidental not an essential property of humanity. Therefore, Christ could have all the essential properties of humanity without being tainted by sin. It is in my opinion that Morris is onto something here. Understanding sin as an accidental property would seem to correlate to Adam and Eve both being without sin until they exercised their will to disobey God. It was upon disobedience that sin was predicated, instantiated, or had by Adam and Eve as an accidental property, one that is common to all humanity but is not essential to being human (as is the case with Christ). How does this theory hold up under philosophical scrutiny? Does anyone have any thoughts as to what might be good or bad about this theory?
In conclusion, much could be said concerning exactly what the essential properties of God are and exactly how they cohere with the essential properties of man. However, I have not pursued this since the recent topics (of this site) have been addressing the “original sin” of man. As always, for those of you brave enough to venture there…please do so!