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St Augustine and `Original Sin'

Posted Dec 25, 2012 by kym Jones in General
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St. Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430), first developed the doctrine of  `original sin' in a logical and comprehensive format, and was eventually rewarded with the honorific `Doctor Gratiae' (Doctor of Grace) in 1298 A.D. Augustine was heavily influenced by Manichaeism and neo-Platonism, which declares that everything which is of this material plane of existence is so far removed from the One-in-all pantheistic god, that all things which are tethered to this plane of existence have lost all knowledge (gnosis) of their True, or Realistic (divine) Self. As the body is believed to be essentially evil, it therefore weighs down the soul, which yearns to break free from the confines of the body which corrupt it with its material essence.

Augustine's neo-Platonism compelled him to believe that the fall so hopelessly corrupted the souls of men, that man is incapable of making the `good' decision of choosing God. Therefore:

`Since Adam transmits death to his children by way of generation when he begets them mortal, it by generation that he transmits sin . . . (`Online Catholic Encyclopedia', art. `Original Sin in Scripture' & `The Nature of Original Sin'

In other words, Adam's sin is transmitted to us by genetic inheritance, thus making it impossible for us to ever overcome sin, for sin is the very essence of our mortal being. It eventually led to the idea of paying penance in the form of indulgences to the `Treasury of Merit', by which we are able to avoid the sinning of venal sins in the future; by paying penance for the souls that are suffering in purgatory, so the agony they endure in the flames of hell might be lessened. As venal sins are regarded as `lesser sins' that do not involve `grave sin' (such as murder),  then therefore God can be appeased by paying penance for sin. Murder is regarded as one sin by which no amount of penance can lesson one's suffering in hell-fire.  

Thus the idea that we are saved by the sacraments of the Church evolved, which essentially implies that one's belief in the sacrifice of Christ cannot of itself save us; simply because sin is the very essence of our souls. Therefore the idea of salvation by faith alone becomes degraded, as salvation becomes a difficult and arduous process, as we must appease a God Who is angry with us because of our sins. Therefore the only means by which we can achieve salvation is by doing good works that purify our sinful immortal souls, as our doing of good works are meritorious in one's salvation; for Christ is too impotent to save us. In this system we see the Greek logic from which this philosophical conception of salvation is derived, for Plato believed that as anything which is of the material world is corrupt, then the soul is weighed down and corrupted by the body, from which it yearns to break free from. Therefore in this life, men must do good works to purify the soul, so that at death, the immortal soul can return to the original divine home from which it originated, and once again be assimilated into the pantheist One God in All. 

Augustine's doctrine of `original sin' is derived from a rather narrow interpretation of Romans 5: 12, which states that:

`Wherefore, as by one man sin entered the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for all that all have sinned. . .

The following passage further explains this doctrine:

`(2) Adam by his fault transmitted to us not only death but also sin, "for as by the disobedience of one man (i.e., all men) were made sinners (Romans 5: 19) . . .'

(3) Moreover, the Apostle did not affirm that all men, in imitation of Adam, are mortal on account of their actual sins; since children who die before coming to the use of reason have never committed such sins; but he expressly affirms the contrary in the fourteenth verse: "But death reigned", not only over those who imitated Adam, but "even over them also have not sinned after the similitude of the transgression of Adam." Adam's sin, therefore, is the sole cause of death for the entire human race . . . We know that several of the Latin Fathers understood the words "in whom all have sinned", to mean, all have sinned in Adam . . . one man has transmitted to the whole human race not only the death of the body, which is the punishment of sin, but even sin itself, which is the death of the soul. Therefore . . . original sin is "the death of the soul", it is the privation of sanctifying grace.' (ibid.)

The studious reader will note that the `a priori' belief of the `natural immortality of the soul' necessitates that the `death' spoken of here refers solely to the death which we suffer when we reach the end of this mortal coil,  for "the death of the soul" can only refer to the soul being cut off from any hope of salvation forever, while nevertheless burning in endless torment in the fires of hell, for reason that the soul is naturally immortal and cannot die. 

Unfortunately, Augustine's bent toward Manichaeism and neo-Platonism compelled him to ignore the rest of the text, which is summarised in verses 18 and 19, and is in fact completely opposed to the doctrine of `original sin' which Augustine formulated, for this is how the text reads when the summary is included:

`Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned . . .Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation, even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one many shall be made righteous.' (Romans 5: 12, 18, 19.)

Notice carefully that the apostle Paul quite clearly tells us that by the `offence’ of one - that is Adam, judgment was passed upon all men and all men were condemned by the law. Now, if that were all that he were telling us, then this would be ample justification for the doctrine of  `original sin', and instead of the Gospel being good news, it instead becomes bad news, for according to Augustine's doctrine of `original sin', we would be condemned with little hope of salvation, for in Augustine's  view of salvation,  if Christ were to take upon Himself  `flesh' which is in fact regarded by Catholic theology as sin, then Christ would be a sinner by default, for Greek logic determines that the flesh of fallen man is hopelessly corrupt by genetic inheritance, which thus necessitates that therefore Christ must vicariously assume sinless flesh; which effectively quarantines His divinity from being tempted to sin - for temptation is in itself is accorded to be sin! Therefore Christ is declared to have assumed what is known in theological terms as the pre-lapsarian, or sinless flesh which Adam had before the fall. Thus Christ is made to be entirely unlike us, and is placed so far beyond our human experience, that we need the assistance of a Priest so that we may find Him.

Moreover, that most famous Scripture which was uttered by the `beloved disciple’ clearly teaches that `God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son’ to us! If Christ was truly given to us, then He has come all the way down from the lofty heights of heaven so that He might meet us where we need Him; that is in `flesh’ that was tempted to sin - for the doctrines of `original sin' and `vicarious atonement' go hand in hand - if one is to believe in one doctrine, one invariably believes in the other as well, simply because Augustine's Platonism determined that he must believe that as Adam's sin is transmitted to us by genetic inheritance, then therefore Christ must be quarantined from having this sin transmitted to Him by taking upon Himself the `sinless flesh' of Adam before the fall - which is flesh which cannot be corrupted by the material plane of existence in which we dwell; for the Greek philosophers viewed matter as inherently evil and therefore corrupt. This in turn led to a host of other doctrines, such as the doctrine of the `Immaculate Conception', which teaches that when Mary, the mother of Jesus was conceived, at the moment of her conception, `original sin' was not transmitted to her:

`The ancient writer of De Nativate Christi, found in St. Cyrprian's works, says: Because (Mary) being "very different from the rest of mankind human nature, but not sin, communicated itself to her.' (`The Glories of the Catholic Church: The Catholic Christian Vol. 1, Challoner, Brann & Shea, 1895, p. 172.)

Obviously, as this `human  nature' of Mary was totally unlike ours, it must have been `like' the human nature of Adam before He fell - and that same `human' nature was then passed on genetically from Mary to Christ.

`We affirm that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Word of God . . . . by being born of the virgin, thus taking to himself from her maternal womb a human nature of the same substance as hers. As far as the sublime mystery of the incarnation can be reflected in the natural order, the blessed Virgin, under the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost, by communicating to the Second Person of the adorable Trinity, as mothers do, a true human nature of the same substance with her own, is thereby really and truly his mother.' (`Faith of our Fathers', Cardinal Gibbons, 1917, p. 137.)

Thus we find that this `true human nature' which was transmitted from Mary to Christ is so unlike ours, that it has no real bearing on our humanity at all,  for we are not sinless, like Adam was when he communed with Jesus in the Garden of Eden. For Christ was no actor merely wailing his lines, as the doctrine of vicarious substitution teaches - for although law permits men to be pardoned from their crimes, no law on earth will allow an innocent man to substitute his life for another, for reason that his innocence of the crime merits no punishment - which is at odds with what is taught by the doctrine of  `vicarious substitution', which would be regarded as unlawful in any court of Law. So it is with Christ. If Christ were to merely assume the flesh of Adam before he sinned, then this flesh would not be subject to condemnation and it would be unlawful for Christ to substitute His `sinless' flesh for our fallen flesh. 

Therefore in a legal and forensic sense He cannot qualify as our Saviour if he takes upon Himself this type of `flesh'. But if He is instead `made' in flesh in which Christ is instead subjected to the temptation to sin, then this type of flesh qualifies Him as our Saviour, and He is able to save to the uttermost those who flee to Him for salvation. Scripture tells us that this is the flesh which Christ was `made in, for while He was tempted to sin, He remained sinless, while at the very same time defeating sin `in the flesh', for `in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren' (Hebrews 2: 17). Praise God that the `agape' of the Father and Son is such that the Son came all the way down from the lofty heights of heaven, to meet us where we are, which is in my flesh and your flesh. Thus, that `flesh' of which He is `made' of is our flesh, and as our flesh is subject to the condemnation of the law, then He was `made' to be that which the very law condemns - which is then lawful, for that kind of flesh is subject to the condemnation of the law - and it is that kind of flesh, which is  my flesh and your flesh which He crucified on the cross.

`For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.' (Romans 8: 3.)

Thus, being made in the `likeness' of sinful flesh, Christ voluntarily brought Himself under the condemnation of the law, so that at Calvary, He did not make a mockery of the law by merely substituting His perfect life for our sinful lives, but on the cross literally became the sin of the entire world - and that is indeed lawful and infinitely qualifies Christ as our Saviour. But here we must exercise a word of caution:

`Now as to Christ's not having "like passions" with us: in the Scriptures all the way through He is like us and with us according to the flesh. He is the seed of David according to the flesh. He was made in the likeness of sinful flesh. Don't go too far. He was made in the likeness of sinful flesh; not in the likeness of sinful mind. Do not drag His mind into it. His flesh was our flesh; but the mind was "the mind of Christ Jesus" If he had taken our mind, how, then, could we ever have been extorted to "let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus?" It would have been so already. But what kind of mind is ours? Oh, it is corrupted with sin also. Look at ourselves in the second chapter of Ephesians . . . the third verse has this particular point in it . . . This man [Adam]  at the first had the mind of God; he forsook it and took the mind of Satan. In Jesus Christ the mind of God is brought back once more to the sons of men; and Satan is conquered.' (`1895 General Conference Sermon of Seventh-Day Adventist's', Sermon no. 17,  A.T. Jones, speaker.)

Indeed, John the Revelator , the `beloved disciple of Christ' begins his Gospel with an emphasis that differs from the other three writers of the Gospel, for he specifically focuses upon Christ Himself tabernacling among us in a `tent' of human flesh: 

`The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth' (John 1: 14.) 

However, the translation which reads `and dwelt among us' is not really an accurate translation, as it should read:

`And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us in a tent . . . '

John wrote the Book of Revelation under divine inspiration, in which we find the rich symbology of the Sanctuary service of the Old Testament is relegated to the Sanctuary service in the New Testament, in which Christ is depicted as ministering to fallen humanity in the Heavenly Sanctuary, and intimately connects the `flesh' which Christ assumed, with this ministration to us - for Scripture teaches that us that Christ is near to us, even at the door of our hearts, instead of so far away that we must enlist the aid of a Priest so that we might find Him. Unfortunately though, most Christians believe that anything which pertains to the Old Testament solely pertains to the `Old Covenant of works' which was made between God and Moses and therefore no longer applies, because we are now in the `New Covenant of Grace' - which thus means that this intimate connection between the Sanctuary service depicted in the Old Testament, and the ministration of Christ which is depicted to us specifically in the Book of Hebrews and the Book of Revelation, is broken, and has also been lost to humanity. For if it is true that the `Old Covenant' of works relates specifically to the Old Testament and the Jewish people of today, then why does John refer directly to the Hebraic Sanctuary of the Old Testament when he speaks of beholding `the glory of Christ as the only begotten of the Father', in a `tent' of flesh? For John is suggesting that just as it was in the Tent of the Tabernacle in which the pre-incarnate Christ revealed His glory to the Israelites as the Shekinah Presence, or Spirit of God in the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle, it was in a tent of human `flesh' that Christ revealed His glory to all humanity.

Other writers, such as Paul the apostle reveal that the way by which the glory of Christ is revealed to fallen man, is by saving fallen man in a `tent' of flesh which is very much like our own:

`Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself has suffered being tempted, he is able to help them that are tempted.' (Hebrews 2: 14-18)

Paul is emphatic that this is the only way by which Christ could save fallen man, so that He is able to save to the uttermost all who call upon His Name, for reason that whatever is not assumed cannot be saved. According to Scripture, Christ did not take upon Himself the lofty `nature' of unfallen angels who withstood the temptation to sin when Lucifer declared war in heaven, or the `nature' of  the unfallen Adam, who stood in the Garden of Eden and communed daily with God, but was instead born into this world four thousand years later, at which time He took upon Himself a human body which had been subject to the cumulative effects of four thousand years of the degradation of sin weakening the resolve of fallen man to live in harmony with the will of God. For if Christ had taken upon Himself the `nature' of the  unfallen angels, or His temptation was limited to innocent infirmities such as hunger and thirst, it would have been impossible for Him to give fallen man help where we need it most - which is in `the likeness of sinful flesh'.

Therefore if  Christ were to closely identify with His brethren, it was essential that He be made like  His brethren, so that we might be sure our Elder Brother has been tempted by the same temptations which we are tempted with, yet victoriously overcame them by constantly being connected with His Father by the Holy Spirit of the Father. Therefore, while the `flesh' which He assumed was assailed by the `accuser of the brethren' (the Devil) and was tempted to sin, His Divine Mind which He shared with the Father by the Holy Spirit of the Father was a bulwark of righteousness which was more than able to overcome the temptations of the devil. For this reason, in Philippians 2: 5 we are exhorted to simply let this same mind that was in Christ Jesus be in us, for that same mind is our bulwark against the sins that so easily beset us. But we cannot force His mind into our mind; to try to do so is legalism, for our selfish mind must instead die to self, so that by beholding, we may be changed by the selfless mind of agape that is `in Christ'.  It is only by beholding Christ that a heart-felt appreciation of the cross is experienced, and our natural attributes which have resulted from the fall, which is to say the selfish mind which we have inherited from Adam (or `old man of sin' of sin, as Paul calls it); will die to sin and is thus crucified with Christ on His cross. Thus, as we draw closer to Christ, we no longer want to do the sins that formerly entrapped us, as Christ imparts the same `agape' love into our hearts that impelled Him to die on the cross for our sins, for by some mysterious process of alchemy that changes the desire of our hearts, `by beholding, we are changed'(2 Corinthians 3: 18) .

In the original Greek, the word which John uses to describe the flesh is the Greek word `sarx'. He uses this word when He tells us that the `the word became flesh (sarx) and dwelt among us in a tent', and again when he says that:

`Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God' (1 John 4: 2).

It is also precisely the same word which the apostle Paul uses when he says:

`Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage' (Hebrews 2: 14).

Therefore the `flesh' which Paul speaks of is the same `flesh' which John speaks of, for if it were not so, he would have informed us by using an entirely different word! But he does not - he employs the word `sarx', and it was in the `sarx' that Christ was made like unto His brethren, and it was in the `sarx', that He crucified sin! John is emphatic when he stresses that anyone who teaches that Christ did not come in the `sarx' is not of God, and this is the spirit of antichrist:

`And every spirit that confesses not that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof all of you have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.' (1 John 4: 3.)

The reason why this fearful judgment is passed upon those who believe that Christ came in flesh which cannot be tempted to sin, is simply because this reflects their own belief that sin cannot be overcome by the Spirit of Christ dwelling within us. Thus sin is perpetuated forever, and a mockery is made of the declaration: 

`I write unto you, young men, because ye are strong and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.' (1 John 2:14) 

This belief is reflected by the Apologists of the second and third centuries, such as Justin Martyr. Although Justyn  assiduously fought against  a Gnostic sect called the Docetists who believed that Christ was a mere phantom who seemed to manifest Himself in flesh (original Greek; `dokeo' - to seem); but this was merely an illusion, for they believed that it was impossible for God to manifest Himself in `flesh' such as we have, without corrupting His divine nature. Ironically, men such as Justin believed that the `flesh' which Christ manifested Himself could not be tempted to sin, and it is this belief which John regarded as antichrist. And why? Because if Christ had assumed `flesh' which had not been tempted to sin (which is the flesh of Adam before the fall), then this flesh of the sinless Adam which is mysteriously substituted for ours in the form of  `vicarious substitution' cannot save us, for in order to provide a complete atonement for sin, that which is saved must first be assumed - and if Christ came in the `flesh' of Adam before the fall, then this is the only flesh which can be saved, for our `flesh' is entirely different to that of a sinless Adam before he `fell' into sin! The doctrine of `vicarious substitution' therefore leaves us with a `Saviour' who is too impotent to save anybody, for ironically the sinless Adam didn't require saving in the first place!