The Doctrine of Sin, The Third Period 730-1517 A.D., Doctrine of the Church of Rome

In our preceding article we had begun to call attention to the view of sin as held by Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas was the Doctor Angelicus of the schoolmen, and by far the most influential theologian in the Latin Church since the days of Augustine. Anselm taught that original sin, although simply the loss of original righteousness, is nevertheless truly and properly sin. Others, however, including Abelard, took the position that the loss of original righteousness left Adam precisely in the state in which he was created, and, as his descendants share his fate, they are born in the same state. There is therefore no inherent hereditary corruption, no moral character either good or bad. This, of course, is Pelagianism. It is true that, because of this lack of righteousness, the lower powers of man’s nature gain the ascendancy over the higher, and that man grows in sin. Sin consists in assent and purpos6. Only when the soul assents to this dominion of the lower nature and deliberately acts in accordance with it, can it be chargeable with any personal, inherent sin. And children, therefore, are not born in sin. Aquinas, according to Hodge, although approaching much nearer to Augustine than the other theologians of his age, taught a certain synergism which enters into all other systems. As we noted in our preceding article, he taught that original sin consists in two things, first, the loss of original righteousness and, second, the disorder of the whole nature. The one he called theformale and the other he called the materiale of original sin. Aquinas, therefore, taught that sin is more than simply the loss of what Adam originally possessed in Paradise. And we concluded our article with the observation that this positive part of original sin is called concupiscence. It is of the utmost importance what Aquinas means when he speaks of concupiscence. 

We now again quote from the Systematic Theology of Hedge, Vol. II, 172, ff:

Most frequently, in accordance with the usus loquendi (currently in use, H.V.) of his own and of subsequent periods, this positive part of original sin is called concupiscence. This is a word which it is very important to understand, because it is used in such different senses even in relation to the same subject. Some by concupiscence mean simply the sexual instinct; others, what belongs to our sensuous nature in general; others, everything in man which has the seen and temporal for its object; and others still, for the wrong bias of the soul, by which, being averse to God, it turns to the creature and to evil. Everything depends therefore on the sense in which the word is taken, when it is said that original sin consists, positively considered, in concupiscence. If by concupiscence is meant merely our sensuous nature, then original sin is seated mainly in the body and in the animal affections, and the higher powers of the soul are unaffected by its contamination. By Thomas Aquinas the word is taken in its widest sense, as is obvious from its equivalents just mentioned, aversion from God, corrupt disposition, disorder, or deformity, of the powers of the soul. As to the constituent elements of this original corruption, or as he expresses it, the wounds under which our fallen nature is suffering, he says, they include, (a) Ignorance and want of the right knowledge of God in the intelligence. (b) An aversion in the will from the highest good. (c) In the feelings or affections, or rather in that department of our nature in which the feelings are the manifestations, a tendency to delight in created things. The seat of original sin, therefore, with him is the whole soul. This concupiscence or inherent corruption, is not an act, or agency, or activity, by a habit, i.e., and immanent inherent disposition of the mind. Finally, original sin is a penal evil. The loss of original righteousness and the consequent disorder of our nature, are the penalty of Adam’s first transgression. So far the doctrine of Thomas is in strict accordance with that of Augustine. His discussion of the subject might be framed into an exposition of the answer in the “Westminster Catechism” which declares the sinfulness of that estate into which men fell, to consist in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature. The point of difference relates to the degree of injury received from the apostasy of Adam, or the depth of that corruption of nature derived from him. This Thomas calls a languor or weakness. Men in consequence of the fall are utterly unable to save themselves, or to do anything really good in the sight of God without the aid of divine grace. But they still have the power to cooperate with that grace. They cannot, as the Semi-Pelagians taught, begin the work of turning unto God, and therefore need preventing grace, but with that grace they are enabled to cooperate. This makes the difference between the effectual (irresistible) grace of Augustine, and the synergism which enters into all other systems.

This view of sin, we do not hesitate to say, is a dangerous conception and presentation of the truth. When one departs from the truth of the Word of God, his conception is the more dangerous the nearer he approaches to the truth of the Scriptures. In many ways the doctrine of Thomas Aquinas came so close to the doctrine of Augustine. The only point of difference between the former and the latter was a matter of degree, of emphasis. Aquinas spoke of the man’s corruption which he had derived from Adam as a languor or weakness. Men, in consequence of the fall, are unable to save themselves, or to do anything really good in the sight of God without the aid of Divine grace, but they still have the power to cooperate with that grace. They cannot begin the work of turning unto God and therefore need preventing grace, but they are able to cooperate with that grace. We recognize this, do we not. Our churches experienced this, also and. particularly in 1953. Indeed, so they said, the work of salvation is all of the Lord, BUT man is also responsible. To teach, as did Aquinas, that man cannot save himself or do anything that is really good in the sight of God, and then to say that he still has the power to cooperate with that grace of the Lord, surely means that the latter teaching is fundamentally a denial and setting aside of the former. Heresy has a subtle way of creeping into the church of God. We must always be on our guard against any synergism that enters into all other systems. As we shall see later, Arminianism is also characterized by this subtle perversion and denial of the fundamental truths of the Word of God. 

Besides calling attention to the views on sin by Anselm, Abelard and Aquinas, Hodge also calls attention to the doctrine of the Scotists. Of Scotus Hodge has the following, and again we quote:

Duns Scotus, a Franciscan, Professor of Theology at Oxford, Paris, and Cologne, where he died AD. 1308, was the great opponent of Thomas Aquinas. So far as the subject of original sin is concerned, he sided with the Semi-Pelagians. He made original sin to consist solely in the loss of original righteousness, and as this was purely a supernatural gift, not pertaining to the nature of man, its loss left Adam and his posterity after him, precisely in the state in which man was originally created. Whatever of disorder is consequent on this loss of righteousness is not of the nature of sin. Men, therefore, are born into the world in puris naturalibus (i.e., in the simple essential attributes of his nature, H.V.), not in the Pelagian sense, as Pelagians do not admit any supernatural gift of righteousness to Adam, but in the sense that they possess all the essential attributes of their nature uninjured and uncontaminated. As free will, i.e., the ability to do and to be whatever is required of man by his Maker, belongs essentially to his nature, this also remains since the fall. It is indeed weakened and beset with difficulties, as the balance wheel of our nature, original righteousness, is gone, but still it exists. Man needs divine assistance. He cannot do good, or make himself good without the grace of God. But the dependence of which Scotus speaks is rather that of the creature upon the creator, than that of the sinner upon the Spirit of God. His Endeavour seems to have been to reduce the supernatural to the natural; to confound the distinction constantly made in the Bible and by the Church, between the providential efficiency of God everywhere present and always operating in and wig natural causes, and the efficiency of the Holy Ghost in the regeneration and sanctification of the soul.

This view of Scotus, it seems to me, is very similar to that which was advocated by Abelard. And it also seems to me that this conception is not merely akin to the views of the Semi-Pelagians, but that of Pelagianism. Abelard taught that, properly speaking, inasmuch as there can be no evil intention in infants, there can therefore be no sin in them. When born, all men possess all the essential attributes of their nature uninjured and uncontaminated. And that Scotus advocated and defended this view of original sin was not due to ignorance, inasmuch as he was the great opponent of Thomas Aquinas. Indeed, notwithstanding the genius and writings of Augustine, Pelagianism had certainly made deep inroads into the hearts and minds of the church. The heresy of Pelagianism is so palatable to the natural man! 

Also of interest, is the following observation of Hodge:

The Dominicans and Franciscans became, and long continued the two most powerful orders of monks in the Roman Church. As they were antagonistic on so many other points, they were also opposed in doctrine. The Dominicans, as the disciples of Thomas Aquinas, were called Thomists, and the Franciscans, as followers of Duns Scotus, were called Scotists. The opposition between these parties, among other doctrinal points, embraced as we have seen, that of original sin. The Thomists were inclined to moderate Augustinianism, the Scotists to Semi-Pelagianism. All the theories however above mentioned, variously modified, had their zealous advocates in the Latin Church, when the Council of Trent was assembled to determine authoritatively the true doctrine and to erect a barrier to the increasing power of the Reformation.

And so the battle lines were drawn when the Council of’ Trent was convened. This council was convened to combat the rising tide of the Reformation. It may well be Rome’s counter reformation. The Reformation had exposed many obvious evils in the Church of that day. Efforts had to be put forth to counteract this rising tide of Protestantism. This explains the assembling of the Council of Trent. This council also considered the doctrinal position and teachings of the Church. Although striving to reform the Church, it also set itself to maintain the doctrinal positions and teachings of the Church. And so it also expressed itself on the subject of sin. To this, the Lord willing, we will call attention in our following article.