The Doctrine of Sin, The Second Period—250-730 A.D., The Pelagian Controversy, The Augustinian System

In our preceding article we. were calling attention to Schaff’s presentation of Augustine’s conception of the consequences of sin. In that church father’s view, the consequences of sin, both for Adam and his posterity, are comprehensive and terrible in proportion to the heinousness of the sin itself. Augustine particularizes the consequences of sin under seven heads. The first four are negative. We quoted them in our preceding article, and they are: loss of the freedom of choice, obstruction of knowledge, loss of the grace of. God and the loss of paradise. We now continue with this quotation of Schaff, Vol. III, 826 ff.:

5. Concupiscentia, 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. And, incidentally, this is the only possible interpretation of this passage, namely to refer this as experienced by the regenerated child of God—H.V.) 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 sarks (flesh), 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 (of the soul—H.V.) 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 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. (these are interesting observations concerning this conception of Augustine; and how true that this church father had suffered bitter experiences of this tyranny during the early years of his life—H.V.) To this element of sin in the act of procreation he ascribes the pains of child-birth, 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.

With this last statement of Schaff one must be in complete agreement. The doctrines of original sin and hereditary guilt are certainly Augustinian. To understand the Augustinian system one must certainly place emphasis upon these fundamental truths. 


Concerning this, Schaff has the following, pages 829 ff.:

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 propagation 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.

These three theories are known as the Traducian, Creation and Pre-existence theories. Whereas sin is not merely a thing of the body, but primarily of the spirit, this question of the origin of the human soul very naturally asserts itself. 

We need not busy ourselves too long with the theory of Pre-existentianism. It never found much support among theologians. Schaff writes concerning this theory that it 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. Rev. Hoeksema writes in his explanation of the Heidelberg Catechism, Vol. I, 154, that this theory taught that all the souls were actually created in Adam, and that therefore all human individuals really sinned in our first father and in him became corrupt. Be this as it may, it appears that Augustine (to which we will call attention later) held to the view that all human souls were actually in Adam, and he based this upon the last part of Romans 5:12, translating it as we also read it in the Dutch: “in whom all have sinned.” However, this theory, originated by Plato, and more fully developed by Origin, never found much support among theologians. It has no support in the Scriptures. 

A second theory is known as Traducianism. This theory of the origin of the human soul taught that the whole man, body and soul, is born from the parents in each individual instance. It proceeded from the idea that soul and body constitute the whole man. The main objection that can be lodged against this theory concerns our conception of the incarnation of the Son of God. If the whole man, person and nature, soul and body, is conceived and born from the parents, then one finds himself in a dilemma as far as the Christ is concerned. Then one of two possibilities must apparently be true: either Christ was not a complete man, or He was two persons, a human as well as a Divine person. He certainly did not get His person from Adam. 

The third and final view is known as Creationism. This conception theorizes that the body comes from the parents, while the soul is created by God in each individual instance. It is not difficult to lodge objections against this conception. If it be true that only the human body comes from the parents, how can one account for the striking similarities between a child and its parent, not only as far as the body is concerned, but also as far as the soul is concerned? Children resemble their parents, not only physically, but also with respect to traits of character. Besides, how must we explain the teaching of our Heidelberg Catechism, that a corrupt offspring comes from a corrupt stock? If God creates each individual soul, how does that soul become defiled and polluted with sin? And, as far as Christ is concerned, did not He assume the entire human nature from the virgin, Mary? It is interesting to note that Pelagius and his followers were creationists. Pelagius, we know, denied the organic unity between Adam and the human race.