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History of the Christian Church, Volume III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 311-600.
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§ 155. Arguments for the Doctrine of Original Sin and Hereditary Guilt.


We now pass to the proofs by which Augustine established his doctrine of original sin and guilt, and to the objections urged by his opponents.

1. For Scriptural authority he appealed chiefly and repeatedly to the words in Rom. v. 12, ἐφ ̓ ωὟͅ πάντες ἥμαρτον, which are erroneously translated by the Vulgate: in quo18131813   822  Which presupposes ἐν ωὟͅ.The whole verse reads in the Vulgate: “Propterea, sicut per unum hominem peccatum in hunc mundum intravit et per peccatum more, et ita in omnes homines mors pertransiit, in quo omnes peccaverunt.” Comp. Augustine, De peccat. merit. et remissione, i. 8, 10; Op. imperf. ii. 63; Contra duas Ep. Pel. iv. 4; De nupt. et concup. ii. 5. Pelagius explained the passage (ad Rom. v. 12): “In eo, quod omnes peccaverunt, exemplo Adae peccant,” or per imitationem in contrast with per propagationem. Juliantranslated ἐφ ̓ ωὟͅ propter quod. Comp. Contra Jul. vi. 75; Op. imperf. ii. 66. omnes peccaverunt. As Augustine had but slight knowledge of Greek, he commonly confined himself to the Latin Bible, and here he referred the in quo to Adam (the “one man” in the beginning of the verse, which is far too remote); but the Greek ἐφ ̓ ωὟͅ must be taken as neuter and as a conjunction in the sense: on the ground that, or because, all have sinned.18141814    Ἐφ ̓ ωὟͅ (= ἐφ ̓ οἷς ) is equivalent to ἐπὶ τούτῳ ὅτι, on the ground that, presupposing that, propterea quod. So Meyer, in loco, and others. R. Rothe (in an extremely acute exegetical monograph upon Rom. v. 12-21, Wittenberg, 1836) and Chr. Fr. Schmid (Bibl. Theol. ii. p. 126) explain ἐφ ̓ ωὟͅ byἐπὶ τούτῶ ωὝστε, i.e., under the more particular specification that, inasmuch as. Comp. the Commentaries. The exegesis of Augustine, and his doctrine of a personal fall, as it were, of all men in Adam, are therefore doubtless untenable. On the other hand, Paul unquestionably teaches in this passage a causal connection between sin and death, and also a causal connection between the sin of Adam and the sinfulness of his posterity, therefore original sin. The proof of this is found in the whole parallel between Adam and Christ, and their representative relation to mankind (Comp. 1 Cor. xv. 45 ff.), and especially in the pavnte” h]marton, but not in the ejf j w| as translated by the Vulgate and Augustine. Other passages of Scripture to which Augustine appealed, as teaching original sin, were such as Gen. viii. 21; Ps. li. 7; John iii. 6; 1 Cor. ii. 14; Eph. ii. 3.

2. The practice of infant baptism in the church, with the customary formula, “for remission of sins,” and such accompanying ceremonies as exorcism, presupposes the dominion of sin and of demoniacal powers even in infancy. Since the child, before the awakening of self-consciousness, has committed. no actual sin, the effect of baptism must relate to the forgiveness of original sin and guilt.18151815    Comp. De nuptiis et concup. i. c. 26 (tom. x. f. 291 sq.); De peccat. mer. et remiss. i. c. 26 (§ 39, tom. x. fol. 22); De gratia Christi, c. 82, 33 (x. 245 sq.), and other passages. The relation of the doctrine of original sin to the practice of infant baptism came very distinctly into view from the beginning of the controversy. Some have even concluded from a passage of Augustine(De pecc. mer. iii. 6), that the controversy began with infant baptism and not with original sin. Comp. Wiggers, i. p. 59. This was a very important point from the beginning of the controversy, and one to which Augustine frequently reverted.

Here he had unquestionably a logical advantage over the Pelagians, who retained the traditional usage of infant baptism, but divested it of its proper import, made it signify a mere ennobling of a nature already good, and, to be consistent, should have limited baptism to adults for the forgiveness of actual sins.

The Pelagians, however, were justly offended by the revolting inference of the damnation of unbaptized infants, which is nowhere taught in the Holy Scriptures, and is repugnant to every unperverted religious instinct. Pelagius inclined to assign to unbaptized infants a middle state of half-blessedness, between the kingdom of heaven appointed to the baptized and the hell of the ungodly; though on this point he is not positive.18161816    “Quo non eant scio, quo eant nescio,” says he of unbaptized children. He ascribed to them, it is true, salus or vita aeterna, but not the reguum coelorum. Aug. De pecc. mer. et remissione, i. 18; iii. 3. In the latter place Augustinesays, that it is absurd to affirm a “vita aeterna extra regnum Dei.” In his book, De haeresibus, cap. 88, Augustinesays of the Pelagians that they assign to unbaptized children “aeternam et beatam quandam vitam extra regnum Dei,” and teach that children being born without original sin, are baptized for the purpose of being admitted “ad regnum Dei,” and transferred “de bono in melius.” He evidently makes salvation depend, not so much upon the Christian redemption, as upon the natural moral character of individuals. Hence also baptism had no such importance in his view as in that of his antagonist.

Augustine, on the authority of Matt. xxv. 34, 46, and other Scriptures, justly denies a neutral middle state, and meets the difficulty by supposing different degrees of blessedness and damnation (which, in fact, must be admitted), corresponding to the different degrees of holiness and wickedness. But, constrained by the idea of original sin, and by the supposed necessity of baptism to salvation, he does not shrink from consigning unbaptized children to damnation itself,18171817    De pecc. orig. c. 31 (§ 36, tom. x. f. 269): “Unde ergo recte infans illa perditione punitur, nisi quia pertinet ad massam perditionis?” De nupt et concup. c. 22 (x. 292): “Remanet originale peccatum, per quod [parvuli] sub diaboli potestate captivi sunt, nisi inde lavacro regenerationis et Christi sanguine redimantur et transeant in regnum redemtoris sui.” De peccat. merit. et remissione, iii. cap. 4 (x. 74): “Manifestum est, eos [parvulos] ad damnationem, nisi hoc [incorporation with Christ through baptism] eis collatum fuerit, pertinere. Non autem damnari possent, si peccatum utique non haberent.” though he softens to the utmost this frightful dogma, and reduces the damnation to the minimum of punishment or the privation of blessedness.18181818    Contra Julianum, l v. c. 11 (§ 44, tom. x. f. 651): “Si enim quod de Sodomis sit [Matt. x. 15; xi. 24] et utique non solis intelligi voluit, alius alio tolerabilius in die judicii punietur quis dubitaverit parvulos non baptizatos, qui solum habent originale peccatum, nec ullis propriis aggravantur, in damnatione omnium levissimafuturos? ” Comp. De pecc. meritis et remissione, l. i. c. 16 (or § 21, tom. x. 12): “Potest proinde recte dici, parvulos sine baptismo de corpore exeuntes in damnatione omnium mitissima futuros.” He might have avoided the difficulty, without prejudice to his premises, by his doctrine of the election of grace, or by assuming an extraordinary application of the merits of Christ in death or in Hades. But the Catholic doctrine of the necessity of outward baptism to regeneration and entrance into the kingdom of God, forbade him a more liberal view respecting the endless destiny of that half of the human race which die in childhood.

We may recall, however, the noteworthy fact, that the third canon of the North-African council at Carthage in 418, which condemns the opinion that unbaptized children are saved, is in many manuscripts wanting, and is therefore of doubtful authenticity. The sternness of the Augustinian system here gave way before the greater power of Christian love. Even Augustine, De civitate Dei, speaking of the example of Melchisedec, ventures the conjecture, that God may have also among the heathen an elect people, true Israelites according to the spirit, whom He draws to Himself through the secret power of His spirit. Why, we may ask, is not this thought applicable above all to children, to whom we know the Saviour Himself, in a very special sense (and without reference to baptism) ascribes a right to the kingdom of heaven?

3. The testimony of Scripture and of the church is confirmed by experience. The inclination to evil awakes with the awaking of consciousness and voluntary activity. Even the suckling gives signs of self-will, spite, and disobedience. As moral development advances, the man feels this disposition to be really bad, and worthy of punishment, not a mere limitation or defect. Thus we find even the child subject to suffering, to sickness, and to death. It is contrary to the pure idea of God, that this condition should have been the original one. God must have created man faultless and inclined towards good. The conviction that human nature is not as it should be, in fact pervades all mankind. Augustine, in one place, cites a passage of the third book of Cicero’s Republic: “Nature has dealt with man not as a real mother, but as a step-mother, sending him into the world with a naked, frail, and feeble body, and with a soul anxious to avoid burdens, bowed down under all manner of apprehensions, averse to effort, and inclined to sensuality. Yet can we not mistake a certain divine fire of the spirit, which glimmers on in the heart as it were under ashes.” Cicero laid the blame of this on creative nature. “He thus saw clearly the fact, but not the cause, for he had no conception of original sin, because he had no knowledge of the Holy Scriptures.”



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