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History of the Christian Church, Volume III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 311-600.
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§ 152. The Augustinian System: The Primitive State of Man, and Free Will.


Augustine (354–430) had already in his Confessions, in the year 400, ten years before the commencement of the Pelagian controversy, set forth his, deep and rich experiences of human sin and divine grace. This classical autobiography, which every theological student should read, is of universal application, and in it every Christian may bewail his own wanderings, despair of himself, throw himself unconditionally into the arms of God, and lay hold upon unmerited grace.17781778    An ingenious but somewhat far-fetched parallel is drawn by Dr. Kleinert between Augustineand Faust, as two antipodal representatives of mankind, in a brochure: Augustin und Goethe’s Faust, Berlin, 1866. A more obvious comparison is that of the Confessions of Augustinewith the Confessions of Rousseau, and with Goethe’s Wahrheit und Dichtung. Augustine had in his own life passed through all the earlier stages of the history of the church, and had overcome in theory and in practice the heresy of Manichaeism, before its opposite, Pelagianism, appeared. By his theological refutation of this latter heresy, and by his clear development of the Biblical anthropology, he has won the noblest and most lasting renown. As in the events recorded in his Confessions he gives views of the evangelical doctrines of sin and of grace, so in the doctrines of his anti-Pelagian writings he sets forth his personal experience. He teaches nothing which he has not felt. In him the philosopher and the living Christian are everywhere fused. His loftiest metaphysical speculation passes unconsciously into adoration. The living aroma of personal experience imparts to his views a double interest, and an irresistible attraction for all earnest minds.17791779    Dr. Baur, in his posthumous Vorlesungen über the Dogmengeschichte, published by his son (1866, Bd. i. p. ii. p. 26), makes the fine remark respecting him: “With Augustinehimself everything lies in the individuality of his nature, as it was shaped by the course of his life, by his experiences and circumstances.” He should have added, however, that in so magnificent a personality as Augustine’s, that which is most individual is also the most universal, and the most subjective is the most objective.

Yet his system was not always precisely the same; it became perfect only through personal conflict and practical tests. Many of his earlier views—e.g., respecting the freedom of choice, and respecting faith as a work of man—he himself abandoned in his Retractations;17801780    Retract. l. i. c. 9. and hence he is by no means to be taken as an infallible guide. He holds, moreover, the evangelical doctrines of sin and grace not in the Protestant sense, but, like his faithful disciples, the Jansenists, in connection with the sacramental and strict churchly system of Catholicism; he taught the necessity of baptismal regeneration and the damnation of all unbaptized children, and identified justification in substance with sanctification, though he made sanctification throughout a work of free grace, and not of human merit. It remains the exclusive prerogative of the inspired apostles to stand above the circumstances of their time, and never, in combating one error, to fall into its opposite. Nevertheless, Augustine is the brightest star in the constellation of the church fathers, and diffuses his light through the darkest periods of the middle ages, and among Catholics and Protestants alike, even to this day.17811781    Baur, l.c. p. 32 f.: “From the time that Augustinedirected the development of the Christian system to the two doctrines of sin and grace, this tendency always remained in the Occidental dogmatics the prevailing one, and so great and increasingly predominant in the course of time did the authority of Augustinebecome in the church, that even those who had departed from his genuine teachings, which many were unwilling to follow out with rigid consistency, yet believed themselves bound to appeal to his authority, which his writings easily gave them opportunity to do, since his system, as the result of periods of development so various, and antitheses so manifold, offers very different sides, from which it can be interpreted.”

His anthropology may be exhibited under the three stages of the religious development of mankind, the status integritatis, the status corruptionis, and the status redemtionis.

I. The Primitive State of man, or the State of Innocence.

Augustine’s conception of paradise is vastly higher than the Pelagian, and involves a far deeper fall and a far more glorious manifestation of redeeming grace. The first state of man resembles the state of the blessed in heaven, though it differs from that final state as the undeveloped germ from the perfect fruit. According to Augustine man came from the hand of his Maker, his genuine masterpiece, without the slightest fault. He possessed freedom, to do good; reason, to know God; and the grace of God. But by this grace Augustine (not happy in the choice of his term) means only the general supernatural assistance indispensable to a creature, that he may persevere in good.17821782    Grace, in this wider sense, as source of all good, Augustinemakes independent of sin, and ascribes the possession of it even to the good angels. Comp. De corrupt. et grat. § 32 (tom. x. 767, 768): “Dederat [Deus homini] adjutorium sine quo in ea [bona voluntate] non posset permanere si vellet; ut autem vellet, in ejus libero reliquit arbitrio. Posset ergo permanere si vellet: quia non deerat adjutorium per quod posset et sine quo non posset perseveranter bonum tenere quod vellet .... Si autem hoc adjutorium vel angelo vel homini, cum primum facti sunt, defuisset, quoniam non talis natura facta erat, ut sine divino adjutorio posset manere si vellet, non utique sua culpa cecidissent: adjutorium quippe defuisset, sine quo manere non possent.” We see here plainly the germ of the scholastic and Roman Catholic doctrine of the justitia originalis, which was ascribed to the first man as a special endowment of divine grace or a supernatural accident, on the ground of the familiar distinction between the imago Dei (which belongs to the essence of man and consists in reason and free will) and the similitude Dei (the actual conformity to the divine will). The relation of man to God was that of joyful and perfect obedience. The relation of the body to the soul was the same. The flesh did not yet lust against the spirit; both were in perfect harmony, and the flesh was wholly subject to the spirit. “Tempted and assailed by no strife of himself against himself, Adam enjoyed in that place the blessedness of peace with himself.” To this inward state, the outward corresponded. The paradise was not only spiritual, but also visible and material, without heat or cold, without weariness or excitement, without sickness, pains, or defects of any kind. The Augustinian, like the old Protestant, delineations, of the perfection of Adam and the blissfulness of paradise often exceed the sober standard of Holy Scripture, and borrow their colors in part from the heavenly paradise of the future, which can never be lost.17831783    Comp. several passages in the Opus imperf. i. 71; iii. 147; vi. 9, 17; Contra Jul. v. 5; De civitate Dei, xiii. 1, 13, 14, 21; xiv. 10, where he depicts the beatitudo and deliciae of Eden in poetic colors, and extends the perfection even to the animal and vegetable realms. Yet he is not everywhere consistent. His views became more exaggerated from his opposition to Pelagianism. In the treatise, De libero arbitrio, iii. c. 24, §§ 71, 72, which he completed a.d.395, he says, that the first human beings were neither wise nor foolish, but had at first only the capability to become one or the other. “Infans nec stultus nec sapiens dici potest, quamvis jam homo sit; ex quo apparet natumm hominis recipere aliquid medium, quod neque stultitiam neque sapientiam recte vocaris.” ...“Ita factus est homo, ut quamvis sapiens nondum esset, praeceptum tamen posset accipere.” On the other hand, in his much later Opus imperf. c. Julianum, l. v. c. 1 (tom. x. f. 1222) he ascribes to the first men excellentissima sapientia, appealing to Pythagoras, who is said to have declared him the wisest who first gave names to things.

Yet Augustine admits that the original state of man was only relatively perfect, perfect in its kind; as a child may be a perfect child, while he is destined to become a man; or as the seed fulfils its idea as seed, though it has yet to become a tree. God alone is immutable and absolutely good; man is subject to development in time, and therefore to change. The primal gifts were bestowed on man simply as powers, to be developed in either one of two ways. Adam could go straight forward, develop himself harmoniously in untroubled unity with God, and thus gradually attain his final perfection; or he could fall away, engender evil ex nihilo by abuse of his free will, and develop himself through discords and contradictions. It was graciously made possible that his mind should become incapable of error, his will, of sin, his body, of death; and by a normal growth this possibility would have become actual. But this was mere possibility, involving, in the nature of the case, the opposite possibility of error, sin, and death.

Augustine makes the important distinction between the possibility of not sinning17841784    Posse non peccare, which at the same time implies the possibilitas peccandi Comp. Opus imperf. v. 60 (fol. 1278): “Prorsus ita factus est, ut peccandi possibilitatem haberet a necessario, peccatum vero a possibili,” i.e., the possibility of sinning was necessary, but the sinning itself merely possible. The peccare posse, says Augustine, in the same connection, is natura, the peccare is culpa. and the impossibility of sinning.17851785    Non posse peccare, or impossibilitas peccandi. The former is conditional or potential freedom from sin, which may turn into its opposite, the bondage of sin. This belonged to man before the fall. The latter is the absolute freedom from sin or the perfected holiness, which belongs to God, to the holy angels who have acceptably passed their probation, and to the redeemed saints in heaven.

In like manner he distinguishes between absolute and relative immortality.17861786    Between the non posse mori and the posse non mori, or between the immortalitas major and the immortalitas minor. The former is the impossibility of dying, founded upon the impossibility of sinning; an attribute of God and of the saints after the resurrection. The latter is the bare pre-conformation for immortality, and implies the opposite possibility of death. This was the immortality of Adam before the fall, and if he had persevered, it would have passed into the impossibility of dying; but it was lost by sin.17871787    Comp. Opus imperf. l. vi. cap. 30 (tom. x. fol 1360): “Illa vero immortalitas in qua sancti angeli vivunt, et in qua nos quoque victuri sumus, procul dubio major est. Non enim talis, in qua homo habeat quidem in potestate non mori, sicut non peccare, sed etiam possit et mori, quia potest peccare: sed talis est illa immortalitas, in qua omnis qui ibi est, vel erit, mori non poterit, quia nec peccare jam poterit.” De corrept. et grat. § 33 (x. f. 168): “Prima libertas voluntatis erat, posse non peccare, novissima erit multo major, non posse peccare: Prima immortalitas erat, posse non mori, novissima erit multo major, non posse mori: prima erat perseverantiae potestas, bonum posse non deserere; novissima erit felicitas perseverantiae, bonum non posse deserere.”

Freedom, also, Augustine holds to be an original endowment of man; but he distinguishes different kinds of it, and different degrees of its development, which we must observe, or we should charge him with self-contradiction.17881788    The distinctions in the Augustinian idea of freedom have been overlooked by Wiggers and most of the old historians, but, on the other hand, brought out with more or less clearness by Neander (in the Kirchengeschichte and in the Dogmengeschichte), by Ritter (Gesch. der christl. Philosophic, ii. p. 341 ff.), Jul. Müller (Die christl. Lehre von der Sünde, ii. 45 ff.), Joh. Huber (Philosophic der Kirchenväter, p. 296 ff.). Baur bases his acute criticism of the Augustinian system in part upon the false assumption that Augustine’s view of the liberum arbitrium was precisely the same as that of Pelagius. See below.

By freedom Augustine understands, in the first place, simply spontaneity or self-activity, as opposed to action under external constraint or from animal instinct. Both sin and holiness are voluntary, that is, acts of the will, not motions of natural necessity.17891789    Retract. i. c. 9, § 4: “Voluntas est qua et peccatur, et recte vivitur.” This freedom belongs at all times and essentially to the human will, even in the sinful state (in which the will is, strictly speaking, self-willed); it is the necessary condition of guilt and punishment, of merit and reward. In this view no thinking man can deny freedom, without destroying the responsibility and the moral nature of man. An involuntary, will is as bald a self-contradiction as an unintelligent intelligence.17901790    Here belong especially the first chapters of the treatises, De gratia et libero arbitrio (tom. x. fol. 717-721), of the Opus imperf. contra Julianum, and Contra duas epistolas Pelagianorum. In this sense even the strictest adherents of the Augustinian and Calvinistic system have always more or less explicitly conceded human freedom. Thus Cunningham, a Calvinist of the Free Church of Scotland, in his presentation of the Pelagian controversy (Hist. Theol. i. p. 325): ”Augustinecertainly did not deny man’s free will altogether, and in every sense of the word; and the most zealous defenders of the doctrines of grace and of Calvinistic principles have admitted that there is a free will or free agency, in some sense, which man has, and which is necessary to his being responsible for his transgressions of God’s law. It is laid down in our own [the Westminster) Confession, that ’God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that it is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined to good or evil.’ ” Dr. Shedd, an American Presbyterian of the Old School, in his History of Christian Doctrine, ii. p. 66, where he, in Augustine’s view, expresses his own, says: “The guilt of sin consists in its unforced wilfulness; and this guilt is not in the least diminished by the fact that the will cannot overcome its own wilfulness. For this wicked wilfulness was not created in the will, but is the product of the will’s act of apostasy. The present impotence to holiness is not an original and primitive impotence. By creation Adam had plenary power, not indeed to originate holiness, for no creature has this, but to preserve and perpetuate it. The present destitution of holiness, and impossibility of originating it, is due therefore to the creature’s apostatizing agency, and is a part of his condemnation.” Also, p. 80: “There is no author in the whole theological catalogue, who is more careful and earnest than Augustine, to assert that sin is self-activity, and that its source is in the voluntary nature of man. Sin, according to him, is not a substance, but an agency; it is not the essence of any faculty in man, but only the action of a faculty.” Neither Dr. Cunningham nor Dr. Shedd, however, takes any account of the different forms and degrees of freedom in the Augustinian system.

A second form of freedom is the liberum arbitrium, or freedom of choice. Here Augustine goes half-way with Pelagius; especially in his earlier writings, in opposition to Manichaeism, which denied all freedom, and made evil a natural necessity and an original substance. Like Pelagius he ascribes freedom of choice to the first man before the fall. God created man with the double capacity of sinning or not sinning, forbidding the former and commanding the latter. But Augustine differs from Pelagius in viewing Adam not as poised in entire indifference between good and evil, obedience and disobedience but as having a positive constitutional tendency to the good, yet involving, at the same time, a possibility of sinning.17911791    This important distinction is overlooked by Baur, in his Kirchengeschichte vom 4-6ten Jahrhundert, p. 143. It takes off the edge from his sharp criticism of the Augustinian system, in which he charges it with inconsistency in starting from the same idea of freedom as Pelagius and yet opposing it. Besides, Augustine, in the interest of grace and of true freedom, disparages the freedom of choice, and limits it to the beginning, the transient state of probation. This relative indecision cannot be at all predicated of God or the angels, of the saints or of sinners. It is an imperfection of the will, which the actual choosing of the good or the evil more or less surmounts. Adam, with the help of divine grace, without which be might will the good, indeed, but could not persevere in it, should have raised himself to the true freedom, the moral necessity of good; but by choosing the evil, he fell into the bondage of sin.17921792    Comp. respecting this conception of freedom, the treatise, De libero arbitrio (in Opera, tom. i. f. 569 sqq.), which was begun a.d.388, and finished a.d.395, and belongs therefore to his earliest writings; also, De correptione et gratia (especially cap. 9-11), and the sixth book of the Opus imperf. c. Julianum. Also Contra duas epistolas Pelag. l. ii. c. 2 (tom. x. f. 432), where he opposes both the Manichaean denial of the liberum arbitrium and the Pelagian assertion of its continuance after the fall. “Manichaei negant, homini bono ex libero arbitrio fuisse initium mali; Pelagiani dicunt, etiam hominem malum sufficienter habere liberum arbitrium ad faciendum praeceptum bonum; catholica [fides] utrosque redarguit, et illis dicens: Fecit Deus hominem rectum, et istis dicens: Si vos Filius liberaverit, vere liberi eritis.” Augustine, however, incidentally concedes, that the liberum arbitrium still so far exists even in fallen man, that he can choose, not indeed between sin and holiness, but between individual actions within the sphere of sinfulness and of justitia civilis.17931793    Contra duas Epist. Pelag. ii. c. 5 (or § 9, tom. x. f. 436): “Peccato Adae arbitrium liberum de hominum natura periisse non dicimus, sed ad peccandum valere in hominibus subditis diabolo, ad bene autem pieque vivendum non valere, nisi ipsa voluntas hominis Dei gratia fuerit liberata, et ad omne bonum actionis, sermonis, cogitationis adjuta.” Also, De gratia et libero arbitrio, c. 15 (x. f. 184): “Semper est autem in nobis voluntas libera, sed non semper est bona. Aut enim a justitia libera est, quando servit peccato, et tunc est mala; aut a peceato libera est, quando servit justitiae, et tunc est bona. Gratia vero Dei semper est bona.” Dr. Baur, it is true (Die christl Kirche vom Anfang des 4ten bis Ende des 6ten Jahrhunderts, p. 140), is not wholly wrong when he, with reference to this passage, charges Augustinewith an equivocal play upon words, in retaining the term freedom, but changing its sense into its direct opposite. “Meaningless as it is,” says Baur, “to talk in this equivocal sense of freedom, we however see even from this what interest the idea of freedom still had for him, even after he had sacrificed it to the determinism of his system.” The Lutheran theolgians likewise restricted the liberum arbitrium of fallen man to the justitia civilis, in distinction from the justitia Dei, or spiritualis. Comp. Melanchthon, in the Confessio Augustana, art. xviii. The Formula Concordiae goes even beyond Augustine, and compares the natural man in spiritualibus et divinis rebus with a “status salis,” “truncus,” and “lapis” nay, makes him out yet worse off, inasmuch as he is not merely passive, but “voluntati divinae rebellis est et inimicus ” (pp. 661 and 662).

Finally, Augustine speaks most frequently and most fondly of the highest freedom, the free self-decision or self-determination of the will towards the good and holy, the blessed freedom of the children of God; which still includes, it is true, in this earthly life, the possibility of sinning, but becomes in heaven the image of the divine freedom, a felix necessitas boni, and cannot, because it will not, sin.17941794    De corrept. et gratia, § 32 (x. 768): “Quid erit liberius libero arbitrio, quando non poterit servire peccato? ... § 33: Prima libertas voluntatis erat, posse non peccare, novissima erit multo major, non posse peccare.” it is the exact opposite of the dura necessitas mali in the state of sin. It is not a faculty possessed in common by all rational minds, but the highest stage of moral development, confined to true Christians. This freedom Augustine finds expressed in that word of our Lord: “If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” It does not dispense with grace, but is generated by it; the more grace, the more freedom. The will is free in proportion as it is healthy, and healthy in proportion as it moves in the element of its true life, in God, and obeys Him of its own spontaneous impulse. To serve God is the true freedom.17951795    “Deo servire vera libertas est;” a profound and noble saying. This higher conception of freedom Augustinehad substantially expressed long before the Pelagian controversy, e.g., in the Confessions. Comp. also De civit. Dei l. xiv. c. 11: “Arbitriam igitur voluntatis tunc est vere liberum, quum vitiis peccatisque non servit. Tale datum est a Deo: quod amissum proprio vitio, nisi a quo dari potuit, reddi non potest. Unde veritas dicit: Si vos filisliberaverit, tunc vere liberi eritis, Id ipsum est autem, ac si diceret: Si vos Filius salvos fecerit, tunc vere salvi eritis. inde quippe liberatur, unde salvatur.”



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