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


Original sin,18021802    Peccatum originals, vitium hereditarium. 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.18031803    De peccatorum meritis et remissione, l. iii. c. 7 (§ 14, tom. x. f. 78): “In Adam omnes tunc peccaverunt, quando in ejus natura illa insita vi, qua eos gignere poterat, adhuc omnes ille unus fuerunt.” De corrept. et gratia, § 28 (x. f 765): “Quia vero [Adam] per liberum arbitrium Deum deseruit, justum judicium Dei expertus est, ut cum tota sua stirpe, quae in illo adhuc posita tota cum illo peccaverat, damnaretur.” This view easily fell in with Augustine’s Platonico-Aristotelian realism, which regarded the general conceptions as the original types of individual things. But the root of it lay deeper in his Christian consciousness and profound conviction of the all-pervading power of sin. 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.18041804    “La première difficulté est,” says Leibnitz in the Theodicée, Partie i. 86, comment l’âme a pu être infectée du péché originel, qui est la racine des péchés actuels, sans qu’il y sit en de l’injustice en Dieu à l’y exposer.” 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 Traducian18051805    From tradux, propagator. The author of this theory is Tertullian, De anima, c. 27 (Opera, ed. Fr. Oehler, tom. ii. p. 599 sqq.): “Immo simul ambas [animam et corpus] et concipi et confici et perfici dicimus, sicut et promi, nec ullum intervenire momentum in concepta quo locus ordinetur. ... Igitur ex uno homine tota haec animarum redundantia.” Cap. 86 (p. 617): “Anima in utero seminata pariter cum came pariter cum ipsa sortitur.” Comp. c. 19 (anima velut surculus quidam ex matrice Adam in propaginem deducta); De resurr. carnis, c. 45; Adv. Valentin. c. 26 (tradux animae). With Tertullianthis theory was connected with a materializing view of the soul. 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. v. 3; Ps. li. 5; Rom. v. 12; 1 Cor. xv. 22; Eph. ii. 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.18061806    Jeromesays of the maxima pars occidentalium, that they teach: “Ut quomodo corpus ex corpore, sic anima nascatur ex anima, et simili cum brutis animalibus conditione subsistat.” Ep. 78 ad Marcell. Leo the Great declared it even to be catholica fides, that every man “in corporis et animae subetantiam fomari intra materna viscera.” Ep. 15 ad Turrib. Similarly among the Oriental fathers, Theodoret, Fab. haer. v. 9: ἡ ἐκκλησία τοῖς θείοις πείθομένη λόγοις,λέγει τὴν ψυχὴν συνδημιουργεῖσθαιτῷ σώματι.

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 (John v. 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.18071807    Jeromesays, appealing to John v. 17; Zech. xii. 1; Ps. xxxiii. 15: “Quotidie Deus fabricatur animas, cujus velle fecisse est, et conditor esse non cessat.” Pelagius, in his Confession of Faith, declares for the view that souls are made and given by God Himself.

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,18081808    The σῶμαinterpreted as σῆμα(sepulchre). Origen appeals to the groaning of the creation, Rom. viii. 19. 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.18091809    Lately the theory of pre-existence has found in America an advocate in Dr. Edward Beecher, in his book: The Conflict of Ages, Boston, 1853. Wordsworth has given it a poetic garb in his Ode on Immortality:
“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The soul that rises with us, our life’s star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar.”

Augustine emphatically rejects the doctrine of pre-existence,18101810    De civit. Dei, xi. 23. Ad Oros. c. Priscill. et Orig. c. 8. In his earlier work, De libero arbitrio (about 395), he spoke more favorably of Pre-existentianism. 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.18111811    Comp. Baur, Vorlesungen über die Dogmengeschichte, Bd. i. Th. ii. p. 31: “What essentially distinguishes the Augustinian system from that of Origen, consists only [?] in this, that in place of the pretemporal fall of souls we have the Adamic apostasy, and that what in Origen bears yet a heathen impress, has in Augustineassumed a purely Old Testament [certainly, however, also a Pauline] form.”

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.”18121812    De peccatorum mer. et remiss. l. ii. c. 36, § 59. He still remained thus undecided in his Retractations, lib. i. cap. 1, § 3 (Opera, tom. i. f. 4), where he honestly acknowledges: “Quod attinet ad ejus [animi] originem ... nec tunc sciebam, nec adhuc scio.” He frequently treats of this question, e.g., De anima et ejus origine De Genesi ad literam, x. 23; Epist. 190 ad Optatum; and Opus imperf. iv. 104. Comp. also Gangauf, l.c. p. 248 ff. and John Huber, Philosophie der Kirchenväter, p. 291ff. Huber gives the following terse presentation of the Augustinian doctrine: “In the problem of the origin of the soul Augustinearrived at no definite view. In his earlier writings he is as yet even unsettled as to the doctrine of pre-existence (De lib. arbitr. i. 12, 24; iii. 20 and 21), but afterwards he rejects it most decidedly, especially as presented by Origen, and at the same time criticizes his whole theory of the origin of the world (De civit. Dei, xi. 23). In like manner he declares against the theory of emanation, according to which the soul has flowed out of God (De Genes. ad. lit. vii. 2, 3), is of one nature (Epist. 166 ad Hieron. § 3) and coeternal (De civ. Dei, x. 31). Between creationism and generationism, however, he can come to no decision, being kept in suspense not so much by scientific as by theological considerations. As to generationism, he remembers Tertullian, and fears being compelled, like him, to affirm the corporeality of the soul. He perceives, however, that this theory explains the transmission of original sin, and propounds the inquiry, whether perchance one soul may not spring from another, as one light is kindled from another without diminution of its flame (Ep. 190 ad Optatum, 4, 14-15). But for creationism the chief difficulty lies in this very doctrine of original sin. If the soul is created directly by God, it is pure and sinless, and the question arises, how it has deserved to be clothed with corrupt flesh and brought into the succession of original sin. God Himself appears there to be the cause of its sinfulness, inasmuch as he caused it to become guilty by uniting it with the body (De an. et ejus orig. i. 8, 9; ii. 9, 13). All the passages of Scripture relevant to this point agree only in this, that God is the Giver, Author, and Former of souls; but how he forms them—whether he creates them out of nothing or derives them from the parents, they do not declare (lb. iv. 11, 15).—His doctrine, that God created everything together as to the germ, might naturally have inclined him rather to generationism, yet he does not get over his indecision, and declares even in his Retractations (i. 1, 3), that he neither know previously nor knows now, whether succeeding souls were descended from the first one or newly created as individuals.

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.



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