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§ 3. The Doctrine of the Early Church.

The theories already considered are called philosophical, either because they concern the metaphysical nature of sin, or because 150they are founded on some philosophical principle. The moral at theological doctrines on the subject are so designated because they are founded on what are assumed to be the teachings of our moral nature or of the word of God. So far as the early Church is concerned, the doctrine respecting sin was stated only in general terms. In almost all cases the explicit and discriminating doctrinal affirmations received their form as counter statements to erroneous views, So long as the truth was not denied the Church was content to hold and state it in the simple form in which it is presented in the Bible. But when positions were assumed which were inconsistent with the revealed doctrine, or when one truth was so stated as to contradict some other truth, it became necessary to be more explicit, and to frame such an expression of the doctrine as should comprehend all that God had revealed on the subject. This process in the determination, or rather in the definition of doctrines was of necessity a gradual one. It was only as one error after another arose in the Church, that the truth came to be distinguished from them severally by more explicit and guarded statements. As the earliest heresies were those of Gnosticism and Manicheism in which, in different forms, sin was represented as a necessary evil having its origin in a cause independent of God and beyond the control of the creature, the Church was called upon to deny those errors, and to assert that sin was neither necessary nor eternal, but had its origin in the free will of rational creatures. In the struggle with Manicheism the whole tendency of the Church was to exalt the liberty and ability of man, in order to maintain the essential doctrine, then so variously assailed, that sin is a moral evil for which man is to be condemned, and not a calamity for which he is to be pitied. It was the unavoidable consequence of the unsettled state of doctrinal formulas, that conflicting statements should be made even by those who meant to be the advocates of the truth, — not only different writers, but the same writer, would on different occasions, present inconsistent statements. In the midst of these inconsistencies the following points were constantly insisted upon. (1.) That all men in their present state are sinners. (2.) That this universal sinfulness of men had its historical and causal origin in the voluntary apostasy of Adam. (3.) That such is the present state of human nature that salvation can be attained in no other way than through Christ, and by the assistance of his Spirit. (4.) That even infants as soon as born need regeneration and redemption, and can be saved only through the merit of Christ, These great truths, which lie at the foundation of the gospel, entered 151into the general faith of the Church before they were so strenuously asserted by Augustine in his controversy with Pelagius. It is true that many assertions may be quoted from the Greek fathers inconsistent with some of the prepositions above stated. But the same writers in other passages avow their faith in these primary Scriptural truths; and they are implied in the prayers and ordinances of the Church, and were incorporated at a later period, in the public confessions of the Greeks, as well as of the Latins. Clemens Alexandrinus147147Pædagogus, III. 12; Works, edit. Paris, 1641, p. 262, c. says: τὸ γὰρ ἐξαμαρτάνειν πᾶσιν ἔμφυτον καὶ κοινόν. Justin says,148148Dialogus cum Tryphone Judæo, 88; Works, edit. Cologne, 1636, p. 316, a. Τὸ γένος τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἀπὸ τοῦ Ἀδὰμ ὑπὸ θάνατον καὶ πλάνην τὴν τοῦ ὄφεως ἐπεπτώκει, although he adds, παρὰ τὴν ἰδίαν αἰτίαν ἐκάστου αὐτῶν πονηρευσαμένου. Origen says,149149In Epistolam ad Romanos, lib. v. § 1; Works, edit. Wirceburgi, 1794, vol. xv. p. 219.Si Levi . . . . in lumbis Abrahæ fuisse perhibetur, multo magis omnes homines qui in hoc mundo nascuntur et nati sunt, in lumbis erant Adæ, cum adhuc esset in Paradiso; et omnes homines cum ipso vel in ipso expulsi sunt de Paradiso.” Athanasius says,150150Expos. in Psalmos; on Ps. l. (li.), 7. Πάντες οὐν οἰ ἐξ Αδὰμ γενόμενοι ἐν ἁμαρτίαις συλλαμβάνονται τῇ τοῦ προπάτορος καταδίκη — δείκνυσιν ὡς ἐξ ἀρχῆς ἡ ἀνρθρώπων φύσις ὐπὸ τὴν ἀμαρτίαν πέπτωκεν ὑπὸ τῆς ἐν Εὔᾳ παρα βάσεως, καὶ ὑπὸ κατάραν ἡ γέννησις γέγονεν. Ambrose says,151151In Epistolam ad Romanos, v. 12; Works, Paris, 1661, vol. iii. p. 269, a.Manifestum itaque in Adam omnes peccasse quasi in massa: ipse enim per peccatum corruptus, quos genuit omnes nati sunt sub peccato. Ex eo igitur cuncti peccatores, quia ex ipso sumus omnes.” Cyprian says:152152Epistola, lxiv. edit. Bremen, 1690, p. 161, of third set.Si . . . . baptismo atque a gratia nemo prohibetur; quanto magis prohiberi non debet infans, qui recens natus nihil peccavit, nisi quod secundum Adam carnaliter natus, contagium mortis antiquæ prima nativitate contraxit? qui ad remissam peccatorum accipiendam hoc ipso facilius accedit, quod illi remittuntur non propria, sed aliena peccata.” Again he says: “Fuerant et ante Christum viri insignes, sed in peccatis concepti et nati, nec originali nec personali caruere delicto.” These writers, says Gieseler,153153Kirchengeschichte, edit. Bonn, 1855, vol. vi. p. 180. taught that through Christ and his obedience on the tree was healed the original disobedience of man in reference to the tree of knowledge; that as we offended God in the first Adam by transgression, so through the second Adam we are reconciled to God; that Christ has freed us from the power of the devil to which we were subjected by the sin of Adam; that Christ has regained for 152us life and immortality.154154Irenæus, V. xvi. 3; Works, edit. Leipzig, 1853; vol. i. p. 762. “Obediens factus est ad mortem autem crucis, Phil. ii. 8: eam quæ in ligno facta fuerat inobedientiam, per eam quæ in ligno fuerat obedientiam sanans . . . . In primo quidem Adam offendimus, non facientes ejus præceptum; in secundo autem Adam reconciliati sumus, obedientes usque ad mortem facti.” And again, Ibid. V. xxiii. 1, p. 546: “Quotiam Deus invictus et magnanimis est, magnanimem quidem se exhibuit ad correptionem hominis, et probationem omnium. . . . . ; per secundum autem hominem alligavit fortem et diripuit ejus vasa et evacuavit mortem, vivificans eum hominem, qui fuerit mortificatus.” It is not maintained that the Greek fathers held the doctrine of original sin in the form in which it was afterwards developed by Augustine, but they nevertheless taught that the race fell in Adam, that they all need redemption, and that redemption can only be obtained through the Lord Jesus Christ.155155J .G. Walch: De Pelagianismo ante Pelagium. J. Hern: De Sententiis eorum Patrum quorum auctoritas ante Augustinum plurimum valuit. Neander’s Church History, vol. i. Gieseler’s Kirchengeschichte, vol. vi. Shedd’s History of Christian Doctrine. Also Münscher’s, Meyer’s, and Klee’s Dogmengeschichte.


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