Vol. 3, Chapter IX (Cont’d) – 150. The Pelagian System: Primitive State and Freedom of Man; the Fall


The peculiar anthropological doctrines, which Pelagius clearly apprehended and put in actual practice, which Coelestius dialectically developed, and bishop Julian most acutely defended, stand in close logical connection with each other, although they were not propounded in systematic form. They commend themselves at first sight by their simplicity, clearness, and plausibility, and faithfully express the superficial, self-satisfied morality of the natural man. They proceed from a merely empirical view of human nature, which, instead of going to the source of moral life, stops with its manifestations, and regards every person, and every act of the will, as standing by itself, in no organic connection with a great whole.

We may arrange the several doctrines of this system according to the great stages of the moral history of mankind.

I. The Primitive State of mankind, and the doctrine of Freedom.

The doctrine of the primitive state of man holds a subordinate position in the system of Pelagius, but the doctrine of freedom is central; because in his view the primitive state substantially coincides with the present, while freedom is the characteristic prerogative of man, as a moral being, in all stages of his development.

Adam, he taught, was created by God sinless, and entirely competent to all good, with an immortal spirit and a mortal body. He was endowed with reason and free will. With his reason he was to have dominion over irrational creatures; with his free will he was to serve God. Freedom is the supreme good, the honor and glory of man, the bonum naturae, that cannot be lost. It is the sole basis of the ethical relation of man to God, who would have no unwilling service. It consists according to Pelagius, essentially in the liberum arbitrium, or the possibilitas boni et mali; the freedom of choice, and the absolutely equal ability at every moment to do good or evil. The ability to do evil belongs necessarily to freedom, because we cannot will good without at the same time being able to will evil. Without this power of contrary choice, the choice of good itself would lose its freedom, and therefore its moral value. Man is not a free, self-determining moral subject, until good and evil, life and death, have been given into his hand.

This is the only conception of freedom which Pelagius has, and to this he and his followers continually revert. He views freedom in its form alone, and in its first stage, and there fixes and leaves it, in perpetual equipoise between good and evil, ready at any moment to turn either way. It is without past or future; absolutely independent of everything without or within; a vacuum, which may make itself a plenum, and then becomes a vacuum again; a perpetual tabula rasa, upon which man can write whatsoever he pleases; a restless choice, which, after every decision, reverts to indecision and oscillation. The human will is, as it were, the eternal Hercules at the cross-road, who takes first a step to the right, then a step to the left, and ever returns to his former position. Pelagius knows only the antithesis of free choice and constraint; no stages of development, no transitions. He isolates the will from its acts, and the acts from each other, and overlooks the organic connection between habit and act. Human liberty, like every other spiritual power, has its development; it must advance beyond its equilibrium, beyond the mere ability to sin or not to sin, and decide for the one or the other. When the will decides, it so far loses its indifference, and the oftener it acts, the more does it become fixed; good or evil becomes its habit, its second nature; and the will either becomes truly free by deciding for virtue, and by practising virtue, or it becomes the slave of vice. “Whosoever committeth sin, is the servant of sin.” Goodness is its own reward, and wickedness is its own punishment. Liberty of choice is not a power, but a weakness, or rather a crude energy, waiting to assume some positive form, to reject evil and commit itself to good, and to become a moral self-control, in which the choice of evil, as in Christ, is a moral, though not a physical, impossibility. Its impulse towards exercise is also an impulse towards self-annihilation, or at least towards self-limitation. The right use of the freedom of choice leads to a state of holiness; the abuse of it, to a state of bondage under sin. The state of the will is affected by its acts, and settles towards a permanent character of good or evil. Every act goes to form a moral state or habit; and habit is in turn the parent of new acts. Perfect freedom is one with moral necessity, in which man no longer can do evil because he will not do it, and must do good because he wills to do it; in which the finite will is united with the divine in joyful obedience, and raised above the possibility of apostasy. This is the blessed freedom of the children of God in the state of glory. There is, indeed, a subordinate sphere of natural virtue and civil justice, in which even fallen man retains a certain freedom of choice, and is the artificer of his own character. But as respects his relation to God, he is in a state of alienation from God, and of bondage under sin; and from this he cannot rise by his own strength, by a bare resolution of his will, but only by a regenerating act of grace. received in humility and faith, and setting him free to practise Christian virtue. Then, when born again from above, the will of the new man co-operates with the grace of God, in the growth of the Christian life.

Physical death Pelagius regarded as a law of nature, which would have prevailed even without sin. The passages of Scripture which represent death as the consequence of sin, he referred to moral corruption or eternal damnation. Yet he conceded that Adam, if he had not sinned, might by a special privilege have been exempted from death.

II. The Fall of Adam and its Consequences.

Pelagius, destitute of all idea of the organic wholeness of the race or of human nature, viewed Adam merely as an isolated individual; he gave him no representative place, and therefore his acts no bearing beyond himself.

In his view, the sin of the first man consisted in a single, isolated act of disobedience to the divine command. Julian compares it to the insignificant offence of a child, which allows itself to be misled by some sensual bait, but afterwards repents its fault. “Rude, inexperienced, thoughtless, having not yet learned to fear, nor seen an example of virtue,” Adam allowed himself to be enticed by the pleasant look of the forbidden fruit, and to be determined by the persuasion of the woman. This single and excusable act of transgression brought no consequences, either to the soul or the body of Adam, still less to his posterity who all stand or fall for themselves.

There is, therefore, according to this system, no original sin, and no hereditary guilt. Pelagius merely conceded, that Adam, by his disobedience, set a bad example, which exerts a more or less injurious influence upon his posterity. In this view he condemned at the synod of Diospolis (415) the assertion of Coelestius, that Adam’s sin injured himself alone, not the human race. He was also inclined to admit an increasing corruption of mankind, though he ascribed it solely to the habit of evil, which grows in power the longer it works and the farther it spreads. Sin, however, is not born with man; it is not a product of nature, but of the will. Man is born both without virtue and without vice, but with the capacity for either. The universality of sin must be ascribed to the power of evil example and evil custom.

And there are exceptions to it. The “all” in Rom_5:12 is to be taken relatively for the majority. Even before Christ there were men who lived free from sin, such as righteous Abel, Abraham, Isaac, the Virgin Mary, and many others. From the silence of the Scriptures respecting the sins of many righteous men, he inferred that such men were without sin. In reference to Mary, Pelagius is nearer the present Roman Catholic view than Augustine, who exempts her only from actual sin, not from original. Jerome, with all his reverence for the blessed Virgin, does not even make this exception but says, without qualification, that every creature is under the power of sin and in need of the mercy of God.

With original sin, of course, hereditary guilt also disappears; and even apart from this connection, Pelagius views it as irreconcilable with the justice of God. From this position a necessary deduction is the salvation of unbaptized infants. Pelagius, however, made a distinction between vita aeterna or a lower degree of salvation, and the regnum coelorum of the baptized saints; and he affirmed the necessity of baptism for entrance into the kingdom of heaven.

In this doctrine of the fall we meet with the same disintegrating view of humanity as before. Adam is isolated from his posterity; his disobedience is disjoined from other sins. He is simply an individual, like any other man, not the representative of the whole race. There are no creative starting-points; every man begins history anew. In this system Paul’s exhibitions of Adam and Christ as the representative ancestors of mankind have no meaning. If the act of the former has merely an individual significance, so also has that of the latter. If the sin of Adam cannot be imputed, neither can the merit of Christ. In both cases there is nothing left but the idea of example, the influence of which depends solely upon our own free will. But there is an undeniable solidarity between the sin of the first man and that of his posterity.

In like manner sin is here regarded almost exclusively as an isolated act of the will, while yet there is also such a thing as sinfulness; there are sinful states and sinful habits, which are consummated and strengthened by sins of act, and which in turn give birth to other sins of act.

There is a deep truth in the couplet of Schiller, which can easily be divested of its fatalistic intent:

“This is the very curse of evil deed,

That of new evil it becomes the seed.”

Finally, the essence and root of sin is not sensuality, as Pelagius was inclined to assume (though he did not express himself very definitely on this point), but self-seeking, including pride and sensuality as the two main forms of sin. The sin of Satan was a pride that aimed at equality with God, rebellion against God; and in this the fall of Adam began, and was inwardly consummated before he ate of the forbidden fruit.


151. The Pelagian System Continued: Doctrine of Human Ability and Divine Grace

III. The Present Moral Condition of man is, according to the Pelagian system, in all respects the same as that of Adam before the fall. Every child is born with the same moral powers and capabilities with which the first man was created by God. For the freedom of choice, as we have already seen, is not lost by abuse, and is altogether the same in heathens, Jews, and Christians, except that in Christians it is aided by grace. Pelagius was a creationist, holding that the body alone is derived from the parents, and that every soul is created directly by God, and is therefore sinless. The sin of the father, inasmuch as it consists in isolated acts of will, and does not inhere in the nature, has no influence upon the child. The only difference is, that, in the first place, Adam’s posterity are born children, and not, like him, created full-grown; and secondly, they have before them the bad example of his disobedience, which tempts them more or less to imitation, and to the influence of which by far the most — but not all — succumb.

Julian often appeals to the virtues of the heathen, such as valor, chastity, and temperance, in proof of the natural goodness of human nature.

He looked at the matter of moral action as such, and judged it accordingly. “If the chastity of the heathen,” he objects to Augustine’s view of the corrupt nature of heathen virtue, “were no chastity, then it might be said with the same propriety that the bodies of unbelievers are no bodies; that the eyes of the heathen could not see; that grain which grew in their fields was no grain.”

Augustine justly ascribed the value of a moral act to the inward disposition or the direction of the will, and judged it from the unity of the whole life and according to the standard of love to God, which is the soul of all true virtue, and is bestowed upon us only through grace. He did not deny altogether the existence of natural virtues, such as moderation, lenity, benevolence, generosity, which proceed from the Creator, and also constitute a certain merit among men; but he drew a broad line of distinction between them and the specific Christian graces, which alone are good in the proper sense of the word, and alone have value before God.

The Holy Scriptures, history, and Christian experience, by no means warrant such a favorable view of the natural moral condition of man as the Pelagian system teaches. On the contrary, they draw a most gloomy picture of fearful corruption and universal inclination to all evil, which can only be overcome by the intervention of divine grace. Yet Augustine also touches an extreme, when, on a false application of the passage of St. Paul: “Whatsoever is not of faith, is sin” (Rom_14:23), he ascribes all the virtues of the heathen to ambition and love of honor, and so stigmatizes them as vices. And in fact he is in this inconsistent with himself. For, according to his view, the nature which God created, remains, as to its substance, good; the divine image is not wholly lost, but only defaced; and even man’s sorrow in his loss reveals a remaining trace of good.

Pelagius distinguishes three elements in the idea of good: Power, will, and act (posse, velle, and esse). The first appertains to man’s nature, the second to his free will, the third to his conduct. The power or ability to do good, the ethical constitution, is grace, and comes therefore from God, as an original endowment of the nature of man. It is the condition of volition and action, though it does not necessarily produce them. Willing and acting belong exclusively to man himself. The power of speech, of thought, of sight, is God’s, gift; but whether we shall really think, speak, or see, and whether we shall think, speak, or see well or ill, depends upon ourselves.

Here the nature of man is mechanically sundered from his will and act; and the one is referred exclusively to God, the others to man. Moral ability does not exist over and above the will and its acts, but in them, and is increased by exercise; and thus its growth depends upon man himself. On the other hand, the divine help is indispensable even to the willing and doing of good; for God works in us both to will and to do. The Pelagian system is founded unconsciously upon the deistic conception of the world as a clock, made and wound up by God, and then running of itself, and needing at most some subsequent repairs. God, in this system, is not the omnipresent and everywhere working Upholder and Governor of the world, in whom the creation lives and moves and has its being, but a more or less passive spectator of the operation of the universe. Jerome therefore fairly accuses the Pelagians (without naming them) of denying the absolute dependence of man on God, and cites against them the declaration of Christ, Joh_5:17, concerning the uninterrupted activity of God.

IV. The doctrine of the Grace of God.

The sufficiency of the natural reason and will of man would seem to make supernatural revelation and grace superfluous. But this Pelagius does not admit. Besides the natural grace, as we may call his concreated ability, he assumes also a supernatural grace, which through revelation enlightens the understanding, and assists man to will and to do what is good. This grace confers the negative benefit of the forgiveness of past sins, or justification, which Pelagius understands in the Protestant sense of declaring righteous, and not (like Augustine) in the Catholic sense of making righteous;and the positive benefit of a strengthening of the will by the power of instruction and example. As we have been followers of Adam in sin, so should we become imitators of Christ in virtue. “In those not Christians,” says Pelagius, “good exists in a condition of nakedness and helplessness; but in Christians it acquires vigor through the assistance of Christ.” He distinguishes different stages of development in grace corresponding to the increasing corruption of mankind. At first, he says, men lived righteous by nature (justitia per naturam), then righteous under the law (justitia sub lege), and finally righteous under grace (justitia gratiae), or the gospel. When the inner law, or the conscience, no longer sufficed, the outward or Mosaic law came in; and when this failed, through the overmastering habit of sinning, it had to be assisted by the view and imitation of the virtue of Christ, as set forth in his example. Julian of Eclanum also makes kinds and degrees of the grace of God. The first gift of grace is our creation out of nothing; the second, our rational soul; the third, the written law; the fourth, the gospel, with all its benefits. In the gift of the Son of God grace is completed.

Grace is therefore a useful external help (adjutorium) to the development of the powers of nature, but is not absolutely necessary. Coelestius laid down the proposition, that grace is not given for single acts. Pelagius, it is true, condemned those who deny that the grace of God in Christ is necessary for every moment and every act; but this point was a concession wrung from him in the controversy, and does not follow logically from his premises.

Grace moreover, according to Pelagius, is intended for all men (not, as Augustine taught, for the elect few only), but it must first be deserved. This, however, really destroys its freedom. “The heathen,” he says, “are liable to judgment and damnation, because they, notwithstanding their free will, by which they are able to attain unto faith and to deserve God’s grace, make an evil use of the freedom bestowed upon them; Christians, on the other hand, are worthy of reward, because they through good use of freedom deserve the grace of God, and keep his commandments.”

Pelagianism, therefore, extends the idea of grace too far, making it include human nature itself and the Mosaic law; while, on the other hand, it unduly restricts the specifically Christian grace to the force of instruction and example. Christ is indeed the Supreme Teacher, and the Perfect Example, but He is also High-priest and King, and the Author of a new spiritual creation. Had He been merely a teacher, He would not have been specifically distinct from Moses and Socrates, and could not have redeemed mankind from the guilt and bondage of sin. Moreover, He does not merely influence believers from without, but lives and works in them through the Holy Ghost, as the principle of their spiritual life. Hence Augustine’s wish for his opponent: “Would that Pelagius might confess that grace which not merely promises us the excellence of future glory, but also brings forth in us the faith and hope of it; a grace, which not merely admonishes to all good, but also from within inclines us thereto; not merely reveals wisdom, but also inspires us with the love of wisdom.” This superficial conception of grace is inevitable, with the Pelagian conception of sin. If human nature is uncorrupted, and the natural will competent to all good, we need no Redeemer to create in us a new will and a new life, but merely an improver and ennobler; and salvation is essentially the work of man. The Pelagian system has really no place for the ideas of redemption, atonement, regeneration, and new creation. It substitutes for them our own moral effort to perfect our natural powers, and the mere addition of the grace of God as a valuable aid and support. It was only by a happy inconsistency, that Pelagius and his adherents traditionally held to the church doctrines of the Trinity and the person of Christ. Logically their system led to a rationalistic Christology.

Pelagianism is a fundamental anthropological heresy, denying man’s need of redemption, and answering to the Ebionistic Christology, which rejects the divinity of Christ. It is the opposite of Manichaeism, which denies man’s capability of redemption, and which corresponds to the Gnostic denial of the true humanity of Christ.


152. The Augustinian System: The Primitive State of Man, and Free Will

Augustine (354-430) had already in his Confessions, in the year 400, ten years before the commencement of the Pelagian controversy, set forth his, deep and rich experiences of human sin and divine grace. This classical autobiography, which every theological student should read, is of universal application, and in it every Christian may bewail his own wanderings, despair of himself, throw himself unconditionally into the arms of God, and lay hold upon unmerited grace. Augustine had in his own life passed through all the earlier stages of the history of the church, and had overcome in theory and in practice the heresy of Manichaeism, before its opposite, Pelagianism, appeared. By his theological refutation of this latter heresy, and by his clear development of the Biblical anthropology, he has won the noblest and most lasting renown. As in the events recorded in his Confessions he gives views of the evangelical doctrines of sin and of grace, so in the doctrines of his anti-Pelagian writings he sets forth his personal experience. He teaches nothing which he has not felt. In him the philosopher and the living Christian are everywhere fused. His loftiest metaphysical speculation passes unconsciously into adoration. The living aroma of personal experience imparts to his views a double interest, and an irresistible attraction for all earnest minds.

Yet his system was not always precisely the same; it became perfect only through personal conflict and practical tests. Many of his earlier views — e.g., respecting the freedom of choice, and respecting faith as a work of man — he himself abandoned in his Retractations; and hence he is by no means to be taken as an infallible guide. He holds, moreover, the evangelical doctrines of sin and grace not in the Protestant sense, but, like his faithful disciples, the Jansenists, in connection with the sacramental and strict churchly system of Catholicism; he taught the necessity of baptismal regeneration and the damnation of all unbaptized children, and identified justification in substance with sanctification, though he made sanctification throughout a work of free grace, and not of human merit. It remains the exclusive prerogative of the inspired apostles to stand above the circumstances of their time, and never, in combating one error, to fall into its opposite. Nevertheless, Augustine is the brightest star in the constellation of the church fathers, and diffuses his light through the darkest periods of the middle ages, and among Catholics and Protestants alike, even to this day.

His anthropology may be exhibited under the three stages of the religious development of mankind, the status integritatis, the status corruptionis, and the status redemtionis.

I. The Primitive State of man, or the State of Innocence.

Augustine’s conception of paradise is vastly higher than the Pelagian, and involves a far deeper fall and a far more glorious manifestation of redeeming grace. The first state of man resembles the state of the blessed in heaven, though it differs from that final state as the undeveloped germ from the perfect fruit. According to Augustine man came from the hand of his Maker, his genuine masterpiece, without the slightest fault. He possessed freedom, to do good; reason, to know God; and the grace of God. But by this grace Augustine (not happy in the choice of his term) means only the general supernatural assistance indispensable to a creature, that he may persevere in good. The relation of man to God was that of joyful and perfect obedience. The relation of the body to the soul was the same. The flesh did not yet lust against the spirit; both were in perfect harmony, and the flesh was wholly subject to the spirit. “Tempted and assailed by no strife of himself against himself, Adam enjoyed in that place the blessedness of peace with himself.” To this inward state, the outward corresponded. The paradise was not only spiritual, but also visible and material, without heat or cold, without weariness or excitement, without sickness, pains, or defects of any kind. The Augustinian, like the old Protestant, delineations, of the perfection of Adam and the blissfulness of paradise often exceed the sober standard of Holy Scripture, and borrow their colors in part from the heavenly paradise of the future, which can never be lost.

Yet Augustine admits that the original state of man was only relatively perfect, perfect in its kind; as a child may be a perfect child, while he is destined to become a man; or as the seed fulfils its idea as seed, though it has yet to become a tree. God alone is immutable and absolutely good; man is subject to development in time, and therefore to change. The primal gifts were bestowed on man simply as powers, to be developed in either one of two ways. Adam could go straight forward, develop himself harmoniously in untroubled unity with God, and thus gradually attain his final perfection; or he could fall away, engender evil ex nihilo by abuse of his free will, and develop himself through discords and contradictions. It was graciously made possible that his mind should become incapable of error, his will, of sin, his body, of death; and by a normal growth this possibility would have become actual. But this was mere possibility, involving, in the nature of the case, the opposite possibility of error, sin, and death.

Augustine makes the important distinction between the possibility of not sinning and the impossibility of sinning. The former is conditional or potential freedom from sin, which may turn into its opposite, the bondage of sin. This belonged to man before the fall. The latter is the absolute freedom from sin or the perfected holiness, which belongs to God, to the holy angels who have acceptably passed their probation, and to the redeemed saints in heaven.

In like manner he distinguishes between absolute and relative immortality. The former is the impossibility of dying, founded upon the impossibility of sinning; an attribute of God and of the saints after the resurrection. The latter is the bare pre-conformation for immortality, and implies the opposite possibility of death. This was the immortality of Adam before the fall, and if he had persevered, it would have passed into the impossibility of dying; but it was lost by sin.

Freedom, also, Augustine holds to be an original endowment of man; but he distinguishes different kinds of it, and different degrees of its development, which we must observe, or we should charge him with self-contradiction.

By freedom Augustine understands, in the first place, simply spontaneity or self-activity, as opposed to action under external constraint or from animal instinct. Both sin and holiness are voluntary, that is, acts of the will, not motions of natural necessity. This freedom belongs at all times and essentially to the human will, even in the sinful state (in which the will is, strictly speaking, self-willed); it is the necessary condition of guilt and punishment, of merit and reward. In this view no thinking man can deny freedom, without destroying the responsibility and the moral nature of man. An involuntary, will is as bald a self-contradiction as an unintelligent intelligence.

A second form of freedom is the liberum arbitrium, or freedom of choice. Here Augustine goes half-way with Pelagius; especially in his earlier writings, in opposition to Manichaeism, which denied all freedom, and made evil a natural necessity and an original substance. Like Pelagius he ascribes freedom of choice to the first man before the fall. God created man with the double capacity of sinning or not sinning, forbidding the former and commanding the latter. But Augustine differs from Pelagius in viewing Adam not as poised in entire indifference between good and evil, obedience and disobedience but as having a positive constitutional tendency to the good, yet involving, at the same time, a possibility of sinning. Besides, Augustine, in the interest of grace and of true freedom, disparages the freedom of choice, and limits it to the beginning, the transient state of probation. This relative indecision cannot be at all predicated of God or the angels, of the saints or of sinners. It is an imperfection of the will, which the actual choosing of the good or the evil more or less surmounts. Adam, with the help of divine grace, without which be might will the good, indeed, but could not persevere in it, should have raised himself to the true freedom, the moral necessity of good; but by choosing the evil, he fell into the bondage of sin. Augustine, however, incidentally concedes, that the liberum arbitrium still so far exists even in fallen man, that he can choose, not indeed between sin and holiness, but between individual actions within the sphere of sinfulness and of justitia civilis.

Finally, Augustine speaks most frequently and most fondly of the highest freedom, the free self-decision or self-determination of the will towards the good and holy, the blessed freedom of the children of God; which still includes, it is true, in this earthly life, the possibility of sinning, but becomes in heaven the image of the divine freedom, a felix necessitas boni, and cannot, because it will not, sin. it is the exact opposite of the dura necessitas mali in the state of sin. It is not a faculty possessed in common by all rational minds, but the highest stage of moral development, confined to true Christians. This freedom Augustine finds expressed in that word of our Lord: “If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” It does not dispense with grace, but is generated by it; the more grace, the more freedom. The will is free in proportion as it is healthy, and healthy in proportion as it moves in the element of its true life, in God, and obeys Him of its own spontaneous impulse. To serve God is the true freedom.


153. The Augustinian System: The Fall and its Consequences

To understand Augustine’s doctrine of the fall of man, we must remember, first of all, that he starts with the idea of the organic unity of the human race, and with the profound parallel of Paul between the first and the second Adam; (Rom_5:12.; 1Co_15:22) that he views the first man not merely as an individual, but at the same time as the progenitor and representative of the whole race, standing to natural mankind in the same relation as that of Christ to redeemed and regenerate mankind. The history of the fall, recorded in a manner at once profound and childlike in the third chapter of Genesis, has, therefore, universal significance. In Adam human nature fell, and therefore all, who have inherited that nature from him, who were in him as the fruit in the germ, and who have grown up, as it were, one person with him.

But Augustine did not stop with the very just idea of an organic connection of the human race, and of the sin of Adam with original sin; he also supposed a sort of pre-existence of all the posterity of Adam in himself, so that they actually and personally sinned in him, though not, indeed, with individual consciousness. Since we were, at the time of the fall, “in lumbis Adami,” the sin of Adam is “jure seminationis et germinationis,” our sin and guilt, and physical death is a penalty even upon infant children, as it was a penalty upon Adam. The posterity of Adam therefore suffer punishment not for the sin of another, but for the sin which they themselves committed in Adam. This view, as we shall see farther on, Augustine founds upon a false interpretation of Rom_5:12.

I. The Fall. The original state of man included the possibility of sinning, and this was the imperfection of that state. This possibility became reality. Why it should have been realized, is incomprehensible; since evil never has, like good, a sufficient reason. It is irrationality itself. Augustine fixes an immense gulf between the primitive state and the state of sin. But when thought has accomplished this adventurous leap, it finds his system coherent throughout.

Adam did not fall without temptation from another. That angel, who, in his pride, had turned away from God to himself, tempted man, who, standing yet in his integrity, provoked his envy. He first approached the woman, the weaker and the more credulous. The essence of the sin of Adam consisted not in the eating of the fruit; for this was in itself neither wrong nor harmful; but in disobedience to the command of God. “Obedience was enjoined by that commandment, as the virtue which, in the rational creature, is, as it were, the mother and guardian of all virtues.” The principle, the root of sin, was pride, self-seeking, the craving of the will to forsake its author, and become its own. This pride preceded the outward act. Our first parents were sinful in heart, before they had yet fallen into open disobedience. “For man never yet proceeded to an evil work, unless incited to it by an evil will.” This pride even preceded the temptation of the serpent. “If man had not previously begun to take pleasure in himself, the serpent could have had no hold upon him.”

The fall of Adam appears the greater, and the more worthy of punishment, if we consider, first, the height he occupied, the divine image in which he was created; then, the simplicity of the commandment, and ease of obeying it, in the abundance of all manner of fruits in paradise; and finally, the sanction of the most terrible punishment from his Creator and greatest Benefactor.

Thus Augustine goes behind the appearance to the substance; below the surface to the deeper truth. He does not stop with the outward act, but looks chiefly at the disposition which lies at its root.

II. The Consequences of the primal sin, both for Adam and for his posterity, are, in Augustine’s view, comprehensive and terrible in proportion to the heinousness of the sin itself. And all these consequences are at the same time punishments from the righteous God, who has, by one and the same law, joined reward with obedience and penalty with sin. They are all comprehended under death, in its widest sense; as Paul says: “The wages of sin is death;” and in Gen_2:17 we are to understand by the threatened death, all evil both to body and to soul.

Augustine particularizes the consequences of sin under seven heads; the first four being negative, the others positive:

1. Loss of the freedom of choice, which consisted in a positive inclination and love to the good, with the implied possibility of sin. In place of this freedom has come the hard necessity of sinning, bondage to evil. “The will, which, aided by grace, would have become a source of good, became to Adam, in his apostasy from God, a source of evil.”

2. Obstruction of knowledge. Man was originally able to learn everything easily, without labor, and to understand everything aright. But now the mind is beclouded, and knowledge can be acquired and imparted only in the sweat of the face.

3. Loss of the grace of God, which enabled man to perform the good which his freedom willed, and to persevere therein. By not willing, man forfeited his ability, and now, though he would do good, he cannot.

4. Loss of paradise. The earth now lies under the curse of God: it brings forth thorns and thistles, and in the sweat of his face man must eat his bread.

5. Concupiscence, i.e., not sensuousness in itself, but the preponderance of the sensuous, the lusting of the flesh against the spirit. Thus God punishes sin with sin — a proposition which Julian considered blasphemy. Originally the body was as joyfully obedient to the spirit, as man to God. There was but one will in exercise. By the fall this beautiful harmony has been broken, and that antagonism has arisen which Paul describes in the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. (Augustine referred this passage to the regenerate state.) The rebellion of the spirit against God involved, as its natural punishment, the rebellion of the flesh against the spirit. Concupiscentia, therefore, is substantially the same as what Paul calls in the bad sense “flesh.” It is not the sensual constitution in itself, but its predominance over the higher, rational nature of man. It is true, however, that Augustine, in his longing after an unimpeded life in the spirit, was inclined to treat even lawful appetites, such as hunger and thirst, so far as they assume the form of craving desire, as at least remotely connected with the fall. Julian attributed the strength of animal desire to the animal element in the original nature of man. Augustine answered, that the superiority of man to the brute consists in the complete dominion of reason over the sensual nature, and that therefore his approach to the brute in this respect is a punishment from God. Concupiscence then is no more a merely corporeal thing than the biblical σάρξ, but has its seat in the soul, without which no lust arises. We must, therefore, suppose a conflict in the soul itself, a lower, earthly, self-seeking instinct, and a higher, god-like impulse.

This is the generic sense of concupiscentia: the struggle of the collective sensual and psychical desires against the god-like spirit. But Augustine frequently employs the word, as other corresponding terms are used, in the narrower sense of unlawful sexual desire. This appeared immediately after the fall, in the shame of our first parents, which was not for their nakedness itself, since this was nothing new to them, but for the lusting of the body; for something, therefore, in and of itself good (the body’s own enjoyment, as it were), but now unlawfully rising, through the discord between body and soul. But would there then have been propagation without the fall? Unquestionably; but it would have left the dominion of reason over the sensual desire undisturbed. Propagation would have been the act of a pure will and chaste love, and would have had no more shame about it than the scattering of seed upon the maternal bosom of the earth. But now lust rules the spirit; and Augustine in his earlier years had had bitter experience of its tyranny. To this element of sin in the act of procreation he ascribes the pains of childbirth, which in fact appear in Genesis as a consequence of the fall, and as a curse from God. Had man remained pure, “the ripe fruit would have descended from the maternal womb without labor or pain of the woman, as the fruit descends from the tree.”

6. Physical death, with its retinue of diseases and bodily pains. Adam was indeed created mortal, that is, capable of death, but not subject to death. By a natural development the possibility of dying would have been overcome by the power of immortality; the body would have been gradually spiritualized and clothed with glory, without a violent transition or even the weakness of old age. But now man is fallen under the bitter necessity of death. Because the spirit forsook God willingly, it must now forsake the body unwillingly. With profound discernment Augustine shows that not only the actual severance of soul and body, but the whole life of sinful man is a continual dying. Even with the pains of birth and the first cry of the child does death begin. The threatening of the Lord, therefore: “In the day ye eat thereof, ye shall die,” began at once to be fulfilled. For though our first parents lived many years afterwards, they immediately began to grow old and to die. Life is an unceasing march towards death, and “to no one is it granted, even for a little, to stand still, or to go more slowly, but all are constrained to go with equal pace, and no one is impelled differently from others. For he whose life has been shorter, saw therefore no shorter day than he whose life was longer. And he who uses more time to reach death, does not therefore go slower, but only makes a longer journey.”

7. The most important consequence of the fall of Adam is original sin and hereditary guilt in his whole posterity; and as this was also one of the chief points of controversy, it must be exhibited at length.


154. The Augustinian System: Original Sin, and the Origin of the Human Soul

Original sin, according to Augustine, is the native bent of the soul towards evil, with which all the posterity of Adam — excepting Christ, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of a pure Virgin — come into the world, and out of which all actual sins of necessity proceed. It appears principally in concupiscence, or the war of the flesh against the spirit. Sin is not merely an individual act, but also a condition, a status and habitus, which continues, by procreation, from generation to generation. Original sin results necessarily, as has been already remarked, from the generic and representative character of Adam, in whom human nature itself, and so, potentially, all who should inherit that nature, fell. The corruption of the root communicates itself to the trunk and the branches. But where sin is, there is always guilt and ill-desert in the eyes of a righteous God. The whole race, through the fall of its progenitor, has become a massa perditionis. This, of course, still admits different degrees both of sinfulness and of guilt.

Original sin and guilt are propagated by natural generation. The generic character planted in Adam unfolds itself in a succession of individuals, who organically grow one out of another. As sin, however, is not merely a thing of the body, but primarily and essentially of the spirit, the question arises, on which of the current theories as to the origin and propagagation of souls Augustine based his view.

This metaphysical problem enters theology in connection with the doctrine of original sin; this, therefore, is the place to say what is needful upon it. The Gnostic and pantheistic emanation-theory had long since been universally rejected as heretical. But three other views had found advocates in the church:

1. The Traducian or Generation-theory teaches that the soul originates with the body from the act of procreation, and therefore through human agency. It is countenanced by several passages of Scripture, such as Gen_5:3; Psa_51:5; Rom_5:12; 1Co_15:22; Eph_2:3; it is decidedly suitable to the doctrine of original sin; and hence, since Tertullian, it has been adopted by most Western theologians in support and explanation of that doctrine.

2. The Creation-theory ascribes each individual soul to a direct creative act of God, and supposes it to be united with the body either at the moment of its generation, or afterwards. This view is held by several Eastern theologians and by Jerome, who appeals to the unceasing creative activity of God (Joh_5:17). It required the assumption that the Soul, which must proceed pure from the hand of the Creator, becomes sinful by its connection with the naturally generated body. Pelagius and his followers were creationists.

3. The theory of Pre-existence, which was originated by Plato and more fully developed by Origen, supposes that the soul, even before the origin of the body, existed and sinned in another world, and has been banished in the body as in a prison, to expiate that personal Adamic guilt, and by an ascetic process to be restored to its original state. This is one of the Origenistic heresies, which were condemned under Justinian. Even Gregory of Nyssa, although, like Nemesius and Cyril of Alexandria, he supposed the soul to be created before the body, compares Origen’s theory to the heathen myths and fables. Origen himself allowed that the Bible does not directly teach the pre-existence of the soul, but maintained that several passages, such as the strife between Esau and Jacob in the womb, and the leaping of John the Baptist in the womb of Elizabeth at the salutation of Mary, imply it. The only truth in this theory is that every human soul has from eternity existed in the thought and purpose of God.

Augustine emphatically rejects the doctrine of pre-existence, without considering that his own theory of a generic pre-existence and apostasy of all men in Adam is really liable to similar objections. For he also hangs the whole fate of the human race on a transcendental act of freedom, lying beyond our temporal consciousness though, it is true, he places this act in the beginning of earthly history, and ascribes it to the one general ancestor, while Origen transfers it into a previous world, and views it as an act of each individual soul.

But between creationism and traducianism Augustine wavers, because the Scriptures do not expressly decide. He wishes to keep both the continuous creative activity of God and the organic union of body and soul.

Augustine regards this whole question as belonging to science and the schools, not to faith and the church, and makes a confession of ignorance which, in a man of his speculative genius, involves great self-denial. “Where the Scripture,” he says, “renders no certain testimony, human inquiry must beware of deciding one way or the other. If it were necessary to salvation to know anything concerning it, Scripture would have said more.”

The three theories of the origin of the soul, we may remark by way of concluding criticism, admit of a reconciliation. Each of them contains an element of truth, and is wrong only when exclusively held. Every human soul has an ideal pre-existence in the divine mind, the divine will, and we may add, in the divine life; and every human soul as well as every human body is the product of the united agency of God and the parents. Pre-existentianism errs in confounding an ideal with a concrete, self-conscious, individual pre-existence; traducianism, in ignoring the creative divine agency without which no being, least of all an immortal mind, can come into existence, and in favoring a materialistic conception of the soul; creationism, in denying the human agency, and thus placing the soul in a merely accidental relation to the body.


155. Arguments for the Doctrine of Original Sin and Hereditary Guilt

We now pass to the proofs by which Augustine established his doctrine of original sin and guilt, and to the objections urged by his opponents.

1. For Scriptural authority he appealed chiefly and repeatedly to the words in Rom_5:12, ἐφ ̓ ᾧ πάντες ἥμαρτον, which are erroneously translated by the Vulgate: in quo omnes peccaverunt. As Augustine had but slight knowledge of Greek, he commonly confined himself to the Latin Bible, and here he referred the in quo to Adam (the “one man” in the beginning of the verse, which is far too remote); but the Greek ἐφ ̓ ᾧ must be taken as neuter and as a conjunction in the sense: on the ground that, or because, all have sinned. The exegesis of Augustine, and his doctrine of a personal fall, as it were, of all men in Adam, are therefore doubtless untenable. On the other hand, Paul unquestionably teaches in this passage a causal connection between sin and death, and also a causal connection between the sin of Adam and the sinfulness of his posterity, therefore original sin. The proof of this is found in the whole parallel between Adam and Christ, and their representative relation to mankind (Comp. 1Co_15:45.), and especially in the πάντες ἥμαρτον, but not in the ἐφ ̓ ᾧ as translated by the Vulgate and Augustine. Other passages of Scripture to which Augustine appealed, as teaching original sin, were such as Gen_8:21; Psa_51:7; Joh_3:6; 1Co_2:14; Eph_2:3.

2. The practice of infant baptism in the church, with the customary formula, “for remission of sins,” and such accompanying ceremonies as exorcism, presupposes the dominion of sin and of demoniacal powers even in infancy. Since the child, before the awakening of self-consciousness, has committed no actual sin, the effect of baptism must relate to the forgiveness of original sin and guilt. This was a very important point from the beginning of the controversy, and one to which Augustine frequently reverted.

Here he had unquestionably a logical advantage over the Pelagians, who retained the traditional usage of infant baptism, but divested it of its proper import, made it signify a mere ennobling of a nature already good, and, to be consistent, should have limited baptism to adults for the forgiveness of actual sins.

The Pelagians, however, were justly offended by the revolting inference of the damnation of unbaptized infants, which is nowhere taught in the Holy Scriptures, and is repugnant to every unperverted religious instinct. Pelagius inclined to assign to unbaptized infants a middle state of half-blessedness, between the kingdom of heaven appointed to the baptized and the hell of the ungodly; though on this point he is not positive. He evidently makes salvation depend, not so much upon the Christian redemption, as upon the natural moral character of individuals. Hence also baptism had no such importance in his view as in that of his antagonist.

Augustine, on the authority of Mat_25:34, Mat_25:46, and other Scriptures, justly denies a neutral middle state, and meets the difficulty by supposing different degrees of blessedness and damnation (which, in fact, must be admitted), corresponding to the different degrees of holiness and wickedness. But, constrained by the idea of original sin, and by the supposed necessity of baptism to salvation, he does not shrink from consigning unbaptized children to damnation itself, though he softens to the utmost this frightful dogma, and reduces the damnation to the minimum of punishment or the privation of blessedness. He might have avoided the difficulty, without prejudice to his premises, by his doctrine of the election of grace, or by assuming an extraordinary application of the merits of Christ in death or in Hades. But the Catholic doctrine of the necessity of outward baptism to regeneration and entrance into the kingdom of God, forbade him a more liberal view respecting the endless destiny of that half of the human race which die in childhood.

We may recall, however, the noteworthy fact, that the third canon of the North-African council at Carthage in 418, which condemns the opinion that unbaptized children are saved, is in many manuscripts wanting, and is therefore of doubtful authenticity. The sternness of the Augustinian system here gave way before the greater power of Christian love. Even Augustine, De civitate Dei, speaking of the example of Melchisedec, ventures the conjecture, that God may have also among the heathen an elect people, true Israelites according to the spirit, whom He draws to Himself through the secret power of His spirit. Why, we may ask, is not this thought applicable above all to children, to whom we know the Saviour Himself, in a very special sense (and without reference to baptism) ascribes a right to the kingdom of heaven?

3. The testimony of Scripture and of the church is confirmed by experience. The inclination to evil awakes with the awaking of consciousness and voluntary activity. Even the suckling gives signs of self-will, spite, and disobedience. As moral development advances, the man feels this disposition to be really bad, and worthy of punishment, not a mere limitation or defect. Thus we find even the child subject to suffering, to sickness, and to death. It is contrary to the pure idea of God, that this condition should have been the original one. God must have created man faultless and inclined towards good. The conviction that human nature is not as it should be, in fact pervades all mankind. Augustine, in one place, cites a passage of the third book of Cicero’s Republic: “Nature has dealt with man not as a real mother, but as a step-mother, sending him into the world with a naked, frail, and feeble body, and with a soul anxious to avoid burdens, bowed down under all manner of apprehensions, averse to effort, and inclined to sensuality. Yet can we not mistake a certain divine fire of the spirit, which glimmers on in the heart as it were under ashes.” Cicero laid the blame of this on creative nature. “He thus saw clearly the fact, but not the cause, for he had no conception of original sin, because he had no knowledge of the Holy Scriptures.”