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History of the Christian Church, Volume III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 311-600.
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§ 156. Answers to Pelagian Objections.


To these positive arguments must be added the direct answers to the objections brought against the Augustinian theory, sometimes with great acuteness, by the Pelagians, and especially by Julian of Eclanum, in the dialectic course of the controversy.

Julian sums up his argument against Augustine in five points, intended to disprove original sin from premises conceded by Augustine himself: If man is the creature of God, he must come from the hands of God good; if marriage is in itself good, it cannot generate evil; if baptism remits all sins and regenerates, the children of the baptized cannot inherit sin; if God is righteous, he cannot condemn children for the sins of others; if human nature is capable of perfect righteousness, it cannot be inherently defective.18191819    Contra Julianum Pelagianum, l. ii. c. 9 (§ 31, tom. x. f. 545 sq.).

We notice particularly the first four of these points; the fifth is substantially included in the first.

1. If original sin propagates itself in generation, if there is a tradux peccati and a malum naturale, then sin is substantial, and we are found in the Manichaean error, except that we make God, who is the Father of children, the author of sin, while Manichaeism refers sin to the devil, as the father of human nature.18201820    Comp. as against this the 2d book De nuptiis et concup.; Contra Jul. l. i. and ii., and the Opus imperf., in the introduction, and lib. iv. cap. 38.

This imputation was urged repeatedly and emphatically by the sharp and clear-sighted Julian. But according to Augustine all nature is, and ever remains, in itself good, so far as it is nature (in the sense of creature); evil is only corruption of nature, vice cleaving to it. Manichaeus makes evil a substance, Augustine, only an accident; the former views it as a positive and eternal principle, the latter derives it from the creature, and attributes to it a merely negative or privative existence; the one affirms it to be a necessity of nature, the other, a free act; the former locates it in matter, in the body, the latter, in the will.18211821    “Non est ulla substantia vel natura, sed vitium.” De nupt. et concup. l. ii. c. 34 (§ 57, x. f. 332).“Non ortum est malum nisi in bono; nec tamen summo et immutabli, quod est natura Dei, sed facto de nihilo per sapientiam Dei.” Ibid. lib. ii. c. 29 (or § 50, tom. x. f 327). Comp. particularly also Contra duas Epist. Pelag.ii. c. 2, where he sharply discriminates his doctrine alike from Manichaeism and Pelagianism. These passages were overlooked by Baurand Milman, who think that there is good foundation for the charge of Manichaeism against Augustine’s doctrine of sin. Gibbon; (ch. xxxiii.) derived the orthodoxy of Augustinefrom the Manichaean school! Augustine retorted on the Pelagians the charge of Manichaeism, for their locating the carnal lust of man in his original nature itself, and so precluding its cure. But in their view the concupiscentia carnis was not what it was to Augustine, but an innocent natural impulse, which becomes sin only when indulged to excess.

2. If evil is nothing substantial, we should expect that the baptized and regenerate, in whom its power is broken, would beget sinless children. If sin is propagated, righteousness should be propagated also.

But baptism, according to Augustine, removes only the guilt (reatus) of original sin, not the sin itself (concupiscentia). In procreation it is not the regenerate spirit that is the agent, but the nature which is still under the dominion of the concupiscentia. “Regenerate parents produce not as sons of God, but as children of the world.”  All that are born need therefore regeneration through the same baptism, which washes away the curse of original sin. Augustine appeals to analogies; especially to the fact that from the seed of the good olive a wild olive grows, although the good and the wild greatly differ.18221822    De peccat. mer. et remiss. ii. cap. 9 and c. 25; De nuptiis et concup. i. c. 18; Contra Julian. vi. c. 5.

3. But if the production of children is not possible without fleshly lust, must not marriage be condemned?18231823    Comp. against this especially the first book De nuptiis et concupiscentia (tom. x. f. 279 sqq.), written 418 or 419, in order to refute this objection. Juliananswered this in a work of four books, which gave Augustineoccasion to compose the second book De nuptiis et concup., and the six books Contra Julianum, a.d.421. Julianpublished an answer to this again, which Augustinein turn refuted in his Opus imperf., a.d.429, during the writing of which he died, a.d.430.

No; marriage, and the consequent production of children, are, like nature, in themselves good. They belong to the mutual polarity of the sexes. The blessing: “Be fruitful and multiply,” and the declaration: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh,” come down from paradise itself, and generation would have taken place even without sin, yet “sine ulla libidine,” as a “tranquilla motio et conjunctio vel commixtio membrorum.”  Carnal concupiscence is subsequent and adventitious, existing now as an accident in the act of generation, and concealed by nature herself with shame; but it does not annul the blessing of marriage. It is only through sin that the sexual parts have become pudenda; in themselves they are honorable. Undoubtedly the regenerate are called to reduce concupiscence to the mere service of generation, that they may produce children, who shall be children of God, and therefore born again in Christ. Such desire Augustine, with reference to 1 Cor. vii. 3 ff., calls “a pardonable guilt.”  But since, in the present state, the concupiscentia carnis is inseparable from marriage, it would have been really more consistent to give up the “bonum nuptiarum,” and to regard marriage as a necessary evil; as the monastic asceticism, favored by the spirit of the age, was strongly inclined to do. And in this respect there was no material difference between Augustine and Pelagius. The latter went fully as far, and even farther, in his praise of virginity, as the highest form of Christian virtue; his letter to the nun Demetrias is a picture of a perfect virgin who in her moral purity proves the excellency of human nature.

4. It contradicts the righteousness of God, to suppose one man punished for the sin of another. We are accountable only, for sins which are the acts of our own will. Julian appealed to the oft-quoted passage, Ezek. xviii. 2–4, where God forbids the use of the proverb in Israel: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge,” and where the principle is laid down: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.”18241824    Aug. Opus imperf. iii. 18, 19 (tom. x. 1067, 1069). Augustine’s answer is unsatisfactory.

On the individualizing principle of Pelagius this objection is very, natural, and is irrefragable; but in the system of Augustine, where mankind appears as an organic whole, and Adam as the representative of human nature and as including all his posterity, it partially loses its force. Augustine thus makes all men sharers in the fall, so that they are, in fact, punished for what they themselves did in Adam. But this by no means fully solves the difficulty. He should have applied his organic view differently, and should have carried it farther. For if Adam must not be isolated from his descendants, neither must original sin be taken apart from actual sin. God does not punish the one without the other. He always looks upon the life of man as a whole; upon original sin as the fruitful mother of actual sins; and he condemns a man not for the guilt of another, but for making the deed of Adam his own, and repeating the fall by his own voluntary transgression. This every one does who lives beyond unconscious infancy. But Augustine, as we have already, seen, makes even infancy subject to punishment for original sin alone, and thus unquestionably trenches not only upon the righteousness of God, but also upon his love, which is the beginning and end of his ways, and the key to all his works.

To sum up the Augustinian doctrine of sin: This fearful power is universal; it rules the species, as well as individuals; it has its seat in the moral character of the will, reaches thence to the particular actions, and from them reacts again upon the will; and it subjects every man, without exception, to the punitive justice of God. Yet the corruption is not so great as to alter the substance of man, and make him incapable of redemption. The denial of man’s capacity for redemption is the Manichaean error, and the opposite extreme to the Pelagian denial of the need of redemption. “That is still good,” says Augustine, “which bewails lost good; for had not something good remained in our nature, there would be no grief over lost good for punishment.”18251825    De Genesi ad literam, viii. 14. Even in the hearts of the heathen the law of God is not wholly obliterated,18261826    Rom. ii. 14. and even in the life of the most abandoned men there are some good works. But these avail nothing to salvation. They are not truly good, because they proceed from the turbid source of selfishness. Faith is the root, and love the motive, of all truly good actions, and this love is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost. “Whatsoever is not of faith, is sin.” Before the time of Christ, therefore, all virtues were either, like the virtues of the Old Testament saints, who hoped in the same Christ in whom we believe, consciously or unconsciously Christian; or else they prove, on closer inspection, to be comparative vices or seeming virtues, destitute of the pure motive and the right aim. Lust of renown and lust of dominion were the fundamental traits of the old Romans, which first gave birth to those virtues of self-devotion to freedom and country, so glorious in the eyes of men; but which afterwards, when with the destruction of Carthage all manner of moral corruption poured in, begot the Roman vices.18271827    The sentence often ascribed to Augustine, that “all pagan virtues are but splendid vices,” is not Augustinian in form, but in substance. Comp. the quotation and remarks above, §151. Dr. Baurstates his view correctly and clearly when he says (Vorlesungen über die Dogmengeschichte, Bd. i. Part 2, p. 342): “If, as Augustinetaught, faith in Christ is the highest principle of willing and acting, nothing can be truly good, which has not its root in faith, which principle Augustinethus expressed, using the words of the apostle Paul, Rom. xiv. 23: ’Omne, quod non ex fide, peccatum.’ Augustinejudged therefore all good in the will and act of man after the absolute standard of Christian good, and accordingly could only regard the virtues of the heathen as seeming virtues, and ascribe to anything pre-Christian an inner value only so far as it had an inner reference to faith in Christ.” Comp. also Baur’sGeschichte der christl. Kirche vom 4-6ten Jahrhundert, p. 153 ff. Neanderrepresents Augustine’s doctrine on heathen virtue thus (Church History, vol. iv. 1161, 2d Germ. ed., or vol. ii. p. 620, in Torrey’s translation): ”Augustinevery justly distinguishes the patriotism of the ancients from that which is to be called ’virtue,’ in the genuinely Christian sense, and which depends on the disposition towards God (virtus from virtus vera); but then he goes so far as to overlook altogether what bears some relationship to the divine life in such occasional coruscations of the moral element of human nature, and to see in them nothing but a service done for evil spirits and for man’s glory. He contributed greatly, on this particular side, to promote in the Western church the partial and contracted way of judging the ancient pagan times, as opposed to the more liberal Alexandrian views of which we still find traces in many of the Orientals in this period, and to which Augustinehimself, in the earlier part of his life, as a Platonist, had been inclined. Still the vestiges of his earlier and loftier mode of thinking are to be discerned in his later writings, where he searches after and recognizes the scattered fragments of truth and goodness in the pagan literature, which he uniformly traces to the revelation of the Spirit, who is the original source of all that is true and good, to created minds; though this is inconsistent with his own theory respecting the total corruption of human nature, and with the particularism of his doctrine of predestination.”

This view of heathen or natural morality as a specious form of vice, though true to a large extent, is nevertheless an unjust extreme, which Augustine himself cannot consistently sustain. Even he was forced to admit important moral differences among the heathen: between, for example, a Fabricius, of incorruptible integrity, and the traitor Catiline; and though he merely defines this difference negatively, as a greater and less degree of sin and guilt, yet this itself involves the positive concession, that Fabricius stands nearer the position of Christian morality, and that there exists at least relative goodness among the heathen. Moreover, he cannot deny, that there were before Christ, not only among the Israelites, but also among the Gentiles, God-fearing souls, such as Melchisedec and Job, true Israelites, not according to the flesh, but according to the spirit, whom God by the secret workings of His Spirit drew to Himself even without baptism and the external means of grace.18281828    Comp. De peccat. orig. c. 24 (§ 28, tom. x. f. 265), where he asserts that the grace and faith of Christ operated even unconsciously “sive in eis justis quos sancta Scriptura commemorat, sive in eis justis quos quidem illa non commemorat, sed tamen fuisse credendi sunt, vel ante diluvium, vel inde usque ad legem datam, vel ipsius legis tempore, non solum in filiis Israel, sicut fuerant prophetae, sed etiamextra eundem sicut, fuit Job. Et ipsorum enim corda eadem mundabantur mediators fide, et diffundebatur in eis caritas per Spiritum Sanctum, qui ubi vult spirat, non merita sequens, sed etiam ipsa merita faciens.” So the Alexandrian fathers saw scattered rays of the Logos in the dark night of heathenism; only they were far from discriminating so sharply between what was Christian and what was not Christian.

All human boasting is therefore excluded, man is sick, sick unto death out of Christ, but he is capable of health; and the worse the sickness, the greater is the physician, the more powerful is the remedy—redeeming grace.



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