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§ 5. Augustinian Doctrine.

The Philosophical Element of Augustine's Doctrine.

There are two elements in Augustine's doctrine of sin: the one metaphysical or philosophical, the other moral or religious. The one a speculation of the understanding, the other derived from his religious experience and the teaching of the Holy Spirit. The one has passed away, leaving little more trace on the history of doctrine than other speculations, whether Aristotelian or Platonic. The other remains, and has given form to Christian doctrine from that day to this. This is not to be wondered at. Nothing is more uncertain and unsatisfactory than the speculations of the understanding or philosophical theories. Whereas nothing is more certain and universal than the moral consciousness of men and the truths which it reveals. And as the Scriptures, being the work of God, do and must conform their teachings to what God teaches in the constitution of our nature, doctrines founded on the twofold teaching of the Spirit, in his word and in the hearts of his people, remain unchanged from generation to generation, while the speculations of philosophy or of philosophical theologians pass away as the leaves 158of the forest. No man now concerns himself about the philosophy of Origen, or of the new Platonists, or of Augustine, while the language of David in the fifty-first Psalm is used to express the experience and convictions of all the people of God in all ages and in all parts of the world.

The metaphysical element in Augustine's doctrine of sin arose from his controversy with the Manicheans. Manes taught that in was a substance. This Augustine denied. With him it was a maxim that “Omne esse bonum est.” But if esse (being) is good, and if evil is the opposite of good, then evil must be the opposite of being, or nothing, i.e., the negation or privation of being. Thus he was led to adopt the language of the new Platonists and of Origen, who, by a different process, were brought to define evil as the negation of being, as Plotinus calls it, στέρησις τοῦ ὄντος; and Origen says, πᾶσα ἡ κακία οὐδέν ἐστιν, and evil itself he says is ἐστερῆσθαι τοῦ ὄντος. In thus making being good and the negation of being evil, Augustine seems to have made the same mistake which other philosophers have so often made, — of confounding physical and moral good. When God at the beginning declared all things, material and immaterial, which He had made, to be very good, He simply declared them to be suited to the ends for which they were severally made. He did not intend to teach us that moral goodness could be predicated of matter or of an irrational animal. In other cases the word good means agreeable, or adapted to give pleasure. In others again, it means morally right. To infer from time fact that everything which God made is good, or that every esse is bonum, that therefore moral evil being the negation of good must be the negation of being, is as illogical as to argue that because honey is good (in the sense of being agreeable to the taste) therefore worm-wood is bad, in the sense of being sinful. Although Augustine held the language of those philosophers who, both before and since, destroy the very nature of sin in making it mere limitation of being, yet he was very far from holding the same system. (1.) They made sin necessary, as arising from the very nature of a creature. He made it voluntary. (2.) They made it purely physical. He made it moral. With him it includes pollution and guilt. With them it included neither. (3.) With Augustine this negation was not merely passive, it was not the simple want of being, it was such privation as tended to destruction. (4.) Evil with Augustine, therefore, as was more fully and clearly taught by his followers, was not mere privation, nor simply defect. That a stone cannot see, involves the negation of the power of vision. But it is not 159a defect, because the power of vision does not belong to stones. Blindness is a defect in an animal, but not sin. The absence of love to God in a rational creature is sin, because it is the absence of something which belongs to such a creature, and which he ought to have. In the true Augustinian sense, therefore, sin is negation only as it is the privation of moral good, — the privatio boni, or as it was afterwards generally expressed, a want of conformity to the law or standard of good.

Augustine's Reasons for making Sin a Negation.

In thus making sin negation, Augustine had principally two ends in view. (1.) To show that sin is not necessary. If it were something existing of itself, or something created by the power of God, it was beyond the power of man. He was its victim, not its author. (2.) He desired to show that it was not due to the divine efficiency. According to his theory of God's relation to the world, not only all that is, every substance, is created and upheld by l rod, but all activity or power, all energy by which positive effects are produced, is the energy of God. If sin, therefore, was anything in itself, anything more than a defect, or a want of conformity to a rule, God must be its author. He, therefore, took such a view of the psychological nature of sin, that it did not require an efficient, but as he often said only a deficient cause. If a man, to use the old Augustinian illustration, strike the cords of an untuned harp, he is the cause of the sound but not of the discord. So God is the cause of the sinner's activity but not of the discordance between his acts and the laws of eternal truth and right.164164See, on Augustine’s theory, Müller, Lehre von der Sünde, vol. i. pp. 338-349. Ritter’s, Geschichte der Christlichen Philosophie, vol. ii. pp. 337-425.

The Moral Element of His Doctrine.

The true Augustinian doctrine of sin was that which the illustrious father drew from his own religious experience, as guided and determined by the Spirit of God. He was, (1.) Conscious of sin. He recognized himself as guilty and polluted, as amenable to the justice of God and offensive to his holiness. (2.) He felt himself to be thus guilty and polluted not only because of deliberate acts of transgression, but also for his affections, feelings, and emotions. This sense of sin attached not only to these positive and consciously active states of mind, but also to the mere absence of right affections, to hardness of heart, to the want of love, humility, faith, and other Christian virtues, or to their feebleness and inconstancy. (3.) He 160recognized the fact that he had always been a sinner. As far back as consciousness extended it was the consciousness of sin. (4.) He was deeply convinced that he had no power to change his moral nature or to make himself holy; that whatever liberty he possessed, however free he was in sinning, or (after regeneration) in holy acting, he had not the liberty of ability which Pelagians claimed as an essential prerogative of humanity. (5.) It was involved in this consciousness of sin as including guilt or just liability to punishment, as well as pollution, that it could not be a necessary evil, but must have its origin in the free act of man, and be therefore voluntary. Voluntary: (a.) In having its origin in an act of the will; (b.) In having its seat in the will; (c.) In consisting in the determination of the will to evil: the word will being here, as by Augustine generally, taken in its widest sense for everything in man that does not fall under the category of the understanding. (6.) What consciousness taught him to be true with regard to himself he saw to be true in regard to others. All men showed themselves to be sinners. They all gave evidence of sinfulness as soon as they gave evidence of reason. They all appeared not only as transgressors of the law of God, but as spiritually dead, devoid of all evidence of spiritual life. They were the willing slaves of sin, entirely unable to deliver themselves from their bondage to corruption. No man had ever given proof of possessing the power of self-regeneration. All who gave evidence of being regenerated, with one voice ascribed the work not to themselves, but to the grace of God. From these facts of consciousness and experience Augustine drew the inevitable conclusion, (1.) That if men are saved it cannot be by their own merit, but solely through the undeserved love of God. (2.) That the regeneration of the soul must be the exclusive and supernatural work of the Holy Ghost; that the sinner could neither effect the work nor coöperate in its production. In other words, that grace is certainly efficacious or irresistible. (3.) That salvation is of grace or of the sovereign mercy of God, (a.) In that God might justly have left men to perish in their apostasy without any provision for their redemption. (b.) In that men, being destitute of the power of doing anything holy or meritorious, their justification cannot be by works, but must be a matter of favour. (c.) In that it depends not on the will of the persons saved, but on the good pleasure of God, who are to be made partakers of the redemption or Christ. In other words, election to eternal life must be founded In the sovereign pleasure of God, and not on the foresight of good 161works. (4.) A fourth inference from the principles of Augustine was the perseverance of the saints. If God of his own good pleasure elects some to eternal life, they cannot fail of salvation. It thus appears that as all the distinguishing doctrines of the Pelagians are the logical consequences of their principle of plenary ability as the ground and limit of obligation, so the distinguishing doctrines of Augustine are the logical consequences of his principle of the entire inability of fallen man to do anything spiritually good.

Taught by his own experience that he was from his birth guilty and polluted, and that he had no power to change his own nature, and seeing that all men are involved in the same sinfulness and helplessness, he accepted the Scriptural solution of these facts of consciousness and observation, and therefore held, (1.) That God created man originally in his own image and likeness in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, immortal, and invested with dominion over the creatures. He held also that Adam was endowed with perfect liberty of the will, not only with spontaneity and the power of self-determination, but with the power of choosing good or evil, and thus of determining his own character. (2.) That being left to the freedom of his own will, Adam, under the temptation of the Devil, voluntarily sinned against God, and thus fell from the estate in which he was created. (3.) That the consequences of this sin upon Adam were the loss of the divine image, and the corruption of his whole nature, so that he became spiritually dead, and thus indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all spiritual good. Besides this spiritual death, he became mortal, liable to all the miseries of this life, and to eternal death. (4.) Such was the union between Adam and his descendants, that the same consequences of his transgression came on them that fell upon him. They are born the children of wrath, i.e., in a state of condemnation, destitute of the image of God, and morally depraved. (5.) This inherent, hereditary depravity is truly and properly of the nature of sin, involving both guilt and corruption. In its formal nature it consists in the privation of original righteousness and (concupiscence) inordinatio naturæ, disorder of the whole nature. It is of the nature of a habitus as distinguished from an act, activity or agency. It is voluntary, in the sense mentioned above, especially in that it did not arise from necessity of nature, or from the efficiency of God, but from the free agency of Adam. (6.) That the loss of original righteousness and the corruption of nature consequent on the fall of Adam are penal inflictions, being the punishment of his first sin. (7.) That regeneration, or effectual calling, 162is a supernatural act of the Holy Spirit, in which the soul is the subject and not the agent; that it is sovereign, granted or withheld according to the good pleasure of God; and consequently that salvation is entirely of grace.

This is the Augustinian system in all that is essential. It is this which has remained, and been the abiding form of doctrine among the great body of evangelical Christians from that day to this. It is of course admitted that Augustine held much connected with the several points above mentioned, which was peculiar to the man or to the age in which he lived, but which does not belong to Augustinianism as a system of doctrine. As Lutheranism does not include all the individual opinions of Luther, and as Calvinism does not include all the personal views of Calvin, so there is much taught by Augustine which does not belong to Augustinianism. He taught that all sin is the negation of being; that liberty is ability, so that in denying to fallen man ability to change his own heart, he denies to him freedom of the will; that concupiscence (in the lower sense of the word), as an instinctive feeling, is sinful; that a sinful nature is propagated by the very law of generation; that baptism removes the guilt of original sin; and that all unbaptized infants (as Romanists still teach and almost all Protestants deny) are lost. These, and other similar points are not integral parts of his system, and did not receive the sanction of the Church when it pronounced in favour of his doctrine as opposed to that of the Pelagians. In like manner it is a matter of minor importance how he understood the nature of the union between Adam and his posterity; whether he held the representative, or the realistic theory; or whether he ultimately sided for Traducianism as against Creationism, or for the latter as against the former. On these points his language is confused and undecided. It is enough that he held that such was the union between Adam and his race, that the whole human family stood their probation in him and fell with him in his first transgression, so that all the evils which are the consequences of that transgression, including physical and spiritual death, are the punishment of that sin. On this point he is perfectly explicit. When it was objected by Julian that sin cannot be the punishment of sin, he replied that we must distinguish three things, that we must know, “aliud esse peccatum, aliud pœnam, peccati, aliud utrumque, id est, ita peccatum, ut ipsum sit etiam pœna peccati, . . . . pertinet originale peccatum ad hoc genus tertium, ubi sic peccatum est, ut ipsum sit et pœna peccati.165165Opus Imperfectum, I. 47; Works, edit. Benedictines, vol. x., pp. 1495, d, and 1496, d. Again he says: “Est [peccatum] 163. . . . non solum voluntarium atque possibile unde liberum est abstinere; verum etiam necessarium peccatum, unde abstinere liberum non est, quod jam non solum peccatum, sed etiam pœna peccati est.166166Opus Imperfectum, V. 59, Works, edit. Benedictines, vol. x., p. 2026, b. Spiritual death (i.e., original sin or inherent corruption), says Wiggers, is, according to Augustine, the special and principal penalty of Adam's first transgression, which penalty has passed on all men.167167Augustinismus und Pelagianismus, edit. Hamburg, 1833, vol. i. p. 104. This is in exact accordance with the doctrine of the Apostle, who says: “In Adam all die,” 1 Cor. xv. 22; and that a sentence of condemnation (κρῖμα εἰς κατάκριμα) for one offence passed on all men, Rom. v. 16, 17. This Augustine clung to as a Scriptural doctrine, and as a historical tact. This, however, is a doctrine which men have ever found it hard to believe, and a fact which they have ever been slow to admit. Pelagius said:168168Apud Augustinum de Peccatorum Meritis et Remissionie, III. iii. 5; Works, vol. x., p. 289, a.Nulla ratione concedi ut Deus, qui propria peccata remittit, imputet aliena.” And Julian vehemently exclaims, “Amolire te itaque cum tali Deo tuo de Ecclesiarum medio: non est ipse, cui Patriarchæ, cui Prophetæ, cui Apostoli crediderunt, in quo speravit et sperat Ecclesia primitivorum, quæ conscripta est in cœlis; non est ipse quem credit judicem rationabilis creatura; quem Spiritus sanctus juste judicaturum esse denuntiat. Nemo prudentium, pro tali Domino suum unquam sanguinem fudisset: nec enim merebatur dilectionis affectum, ut suscipiendæ pro se onus imponeret passionis. Postremo iste quem inducis, si esset uspiam, reus convinceretur esse non Deus; judicandus a vero Deo meo, non judicaturus pro Deo.169169Opus Imperfectum contra Julianum, I. 50; Works, vol. x. p. 1501, a, b. To this great objection Augustine gives different answers. (1.) He refers to Scriptural examples in which men have been punished for the sins of others. (2.) He appeals to the fact that God visits the sins of parents upon their children. (3.) Sometimes he says we should rest satisfied with the assurance that the judge of all the earth must do right, whether we can see the justice of his ways or not. (4.) At others he seems to adopt the realistic doctrine that all men were in Adam, and that his sin was their sin, being the act of generic humanity. As Levi was in the loins of Abraham, and was tithed in him, so we were in this loins of Adam, and sinned in him. (5.) And, finally, he urges that as we are justified by the righteousness of Christ, it is not incongruous that we should be condemned for the sin of Adam.170170See Münscher’s Dogmengeschichte, vol. iv., p. 195. It will be observed that some of these grounds are inconsistent with 164others. If one be valid, the others are invalid. If we reconcile the condemnation of men on account of the sin of Adam, on the ground that he was our representative, or that he sustained the relation which all parents bear to their children, we renounce the ground of a realistic union. If the latter theory be true, then Adam's sin was our act as truly as it was his. If we adopt the representative theory, his act was not our act in any other sense than that in which a representative acts for his constituents. From this it is plain, (1.) That Augustine had no clear and settled conviction as to the nature of the union between Adam and his race which is the ground of the imputation of his sin to his posterity, any more than he had about the origin of the soul; and (2.) That no particular theory on that point, whether the representative or realistic, can properly be made an element of Augustinianism, as a historical and church form of doctrine.


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