Original sin is a topic that over the centuries has left its mark on Western culture, and its impact has not been confined to the religious sphere. This book describes the historical development of the doctrine of original sin from its beginnings in the thought of Augustine of Hippo, the African bishop who supplied a major framework for the concept, up to the threshold of modernity. Augustine's views were built up against a backdrop comprising the teachings of Paul the Apostle, Latin patristic traditions, and various expressions of religious heterodoxy. Hereditary sin as conceived by Augustine was at the centre of controversy for two major reasons: the possible transmission of guilt among generations, from father to sons; sin's link to sexuality, which had been irreparably compromised by Adam's transgression. The Middle Ages witnessed a weakening of these two debates within a new city-based culture, mindful towards the profane sciences developed in newly circulated Greek and Arab texts. During the Middle Ages the Garden of Eden was used as an anthropological laboratory, in which men and women lived in a state of primitive integrity, in contrast to their latter-day corruption.
Luciano Cova formerly taught History of Medieval Thought at the University of Trieste.