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History of the Christian Church, Volume III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 311-600.
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§ 153. The Augustinian System: The Fall and its Consequences.


To understand Augustine’s doctrine of the fall of man, we must remember, first of all, that he starts with the idea of the organic unity of the human race, and with the profound parallel of Paul between the first and the second Adam;17961796    Rom. v. 12 ff.; 1 Cor. xv. 22. that he views the first man not merely as an individual, but at the same time as the progenitor and representative of the whole race, standing to natural mankind in the same relation as that of Christ to redeemed and regenerate mankind. The history of the fall, recorded in a manner at once profound and childlike in the third chapter of Genesis, has, therefore, universal significance. In Adam human nature fell, and therefore all, who have inherited that nature from him, who were in him as the fruit in the germ, and who have grown up, as it were, one person with him.17971797    De civit. Dei, l. xiii. c. 14: “Omnes enim fuimus in illo uno, quando omnes fuimus ille unus, qui per feminam lapsus est in peccatum, quae de illo facta est ante peccatum.” Compare other passages below.

But Augustine did not stop with the very just idea of an organic connection of the human race, and of the sin of Adam with original sin; he also supposed a sort of pre-existence of all the posterity of Adam in himself, so that they actually and personally sinned in him, though not, indeed, with individual consciousness. Since we were, at the time of the fall, “in lumbis Adami,” the sin of Adam is “jure seminationis et germinationis,” our sin and guilt, and physical death is a penalty even upon infant children, as it was a penalty upon Adam. The posterity of Adam therefore suffer punishment not for the sin of another, but for the sin which they themselves committed in Adam. This view, as we shall see farther on, Augustine founds upon a false interpretation of Rom. v. 12.


I. The Fall. The original state of man included the possibility of sinning, and this was the imperfection of that state. This possibility became reality. Why it should have been realized, is incomprehensible; since evil never has, like good, a sufficient reason. It is irrationality itself. Augustine fixes an immense gulf between the primitive state and the state of sin. But when thought has accomplished this adventurous leap, it finds his system coherent throughout.

Adam did not fall without temptation from another. That angel, who, in his pride, had turned away from God to himself, tempted man, who, standing yet in his integrity, provoked his envy. He first approached the woman, the weaker and the more credulous. The essence of the sin of Adam consisted not in the eating of the fruit; for this was in itself neither wrong nor harmful; but in disobedience to the command of God. “Obedience was enjoined by that commandment, as the virtue which, in the rational creature, is, as it were, the mother and guardian of all virtues.” The principle, the root of sin, was pride, self-seeking, the craving of the will to forsake its author, and become its own. This pride preceded the outward act. Our first parents were sinful in heart, before they had yet fallen into open disobedience. “For man never yet proceeded to an evil work, unless incited to it by an evil will.” This pride even preceded the temptation of the serpent. “If man had not previously begun to take pleasure in himself, the serpent could have had no hold upon him.”

The fall of Adam appears the greater, and the more worthy of punishment, if we consider, first, the height he occupied, the divine image in which he was created; then, the simplicity of the commandment, and ease of obeying it, in the abundance of all manner of fruits in paradise; and finally, the sanction of the most terrible punishment from his Creator and greatest Benefactor.

Thus Augustine goes behind the appearance to the substance; below the surface to the deeper truth. He does not stop with the outward act, but looks chiefly at the disposition which lies at its root.


II. The Consequences of the primal sin, both for Adam and for his posterity, are, in Augustine’s view, comprehensive and terrible in proportion to the heinousness of the sin itself. And all these consequences are at the same time punishments from the righteous God, who has, by one and the same law, joined reward with obedience and penalty with sin. They are all comprehended under death, in its widest sense; as Paul says: “The wages of sin is death;” and in Gen. ii. 17 we are to understand by the threatened death, all evil both to body and to soul.

Augustine particularizes the consequences of sin under seven heads; the first four being negative, the others positive:

1. Loss of the freedom of choice,17981798    Of course not in indifferent things of ordinary life, in which the greatest sinner is free to choose, but in reference to the great religous decision for or against God and divine things. which consisted in a positive inclination and love to the good, with the implied possibility of sin. In place of this freedom has come the hard necessity of sinning, bondage to evil. “The will, which, aided by grace, would have become a source of good, became to Adam, in his apostasy from God, a source of evil.”

2. Obstruction of knowledge. Man was originally able to learn everything easily, without labor, and to understand everything aright. But now the mind is beclouded, and knowledge can be acquired and imparted only in the sweat of the face.

3. Loss of the grace of God, which enabled man to perform the good which his freedom willed, and to persevere therein. By not willing, man forfeited his ability, and now, though he would do good, he cannot.

4. Loss of paradise. The earth now lies under the curse of God: it brings forth thorns and thistles, and in the sweat of his face man must eat his bread.

5. Concupiscence, i.e., not sensuousness in itself, but the preponderance of the sensuous, the lusting of the flesh against the spirit. Thus God punishes sin with sin—a proposition which Julian considered blasphemy. Originally the body was as joyfully obedient to the spirit, as man to God. There was but one will in exercise. By the fall this beautiful harmony has been broken, and that antagonism has arisen which Paul describes in the seventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. (Augustine referred this passage to the regenerate state.) The rebellion of the spirit against God involved, as its natural punishment, the rebellion of the flesh against the spirit. Concupiscentia, therefore, is substantially the same as what Paul calls in the bad sense “flesh.” It is not the sensual constitution in itself, but its predominance over the higher, rational nature of man.17991799    Not the “sentiendi vivacitas,” but the “ribido sentiendi, quae nos ad sentiendum, sive consentientes mente, sive repugnantes, appetitu voluptatis impellit.” C. Julianum, l. iv. c. 14 (§ 65, tom. x. f. 615). He illustrates the difference by a reference to Matt. v. 28. “Non ait Dominus: qui viderit mulierem, sed: quividerit ad conpiscendum, jam maechatus est eam in corde suo. ... Illud [videre] Deus condidit, instruendo corpus humanum; illud [videre ad concupiscendum] diabolus seminavit, persuadendo peccatum.” It is true, however, that Augustine, in his longing after an unimpeded life in the spirit, was inclined to treat even lawful appetites, such as hunger and thirst, so far as they assume the form of craving desire, as at least remotely connected with the fall.18001800    “Quis autem mente sobrius non mallet, si fieri posset, sine ulla mordaci voluptate carnali vel arida sumere alimenta, vel humida, sicut suminus haec aëria, quae de circumfusis auris respirando et spirando sorbemus et fundimus?” Contra Jul. iv. c. 14, § 68, f. 616. Julian attributed the strength of animal desire to the animal element in the original nature of man. Augustine answered, that the superiority of man to the brute consists in the complete dominion of reason over the sensual nature, and that therefore his approach to the brute in this respect is a punishment from God. Concupiscence then is no more a merely corporeal thing than the biblical σάρξ, but has its seat in the soul, without which no lust arises. We must, therefore, suppose a conflict in the soul itself, a lower, earthly, self-seeking instinct, and a higher, god-like impulse.

This is the generic sense of concupiscentia: the struggle of the collective sensual and psychical desires against the god-like spirit. But Augustine frequently employs the word, as other corresponding terms are used, in the narrower sense of unlawful sexual desire. This appeared immediately after the fall, in the shame of our first parents, which was not for their nakedness itself, since this was nothing new to them, but for the lusting of the body; for something, therefore, in and of itself good (the body’s, own enjoyment, as it were), but now unlawfully rising, through the discord between body and soul. But would there then have been propagation without the fall? Unquestionably; but it would have left the dominion of reason over the sensual desire undisturbed. Propagation would have been the act of a pure will and chaste love, and would have had no more shame about it than the scattering of seed upon the maternal bosom of the earth. But now lust rules the spirit; and Augustine in his earlier years had had bitter experience of its tyranny. To this element of sin in the act of procreation he ascribes the pains of childbirth, which in fact appear in Genesis as a consequence of the fall, and as a curse from God. Had man remained pure, “the ripe fruit would have descended from the maternal womb without labor or pain of the woman, as the fruit descends from the tree.”18011801    De civitate Dei, xiv. 26.

6.Physical death, with its retinue of diseases and bodily pains. Adam was indeed created mortal, that is, capable of death, but not subject to death. By a natural development the possibility of dying would have been overcome by the power of immortality; the body would have been gradually spiritualized and clothed with glory, without a violent transition or even the weakness of old age. But now man is fallen under the bitter necessity of death. Because the spirit forsook God willingly, it must now forsake the body unwillingly. With profound discernment Augustine shows that not only the actual severance of soul and body, but the whole life of sinful man is a continual dying. Even with the pains of birth and the first cry of the child does death begin. The threatening of the Lord, therefore: “In the day ye eat thereof, ye shall die,” began at once to be fulfilled. For though our first parents lived many years afterwards, they immediately began to grow old and to die. Life is an unceasing march towards death, and “to no one is it granted, even for a little, to stand still, or to go more slowly, but all are constrained to go with equal pace, and no one is impelled differently from others. For he whose life has been shorter, saw therefore no shorter day than he whose life was longer. And he who uses more time to reach death, does not therefore go slower, but only makes a longer journey.”

7. The most important consequence of the fall of Adam is original sin and hereditary guilt in his whole posterity; and as this was also one of the chief points of controversy, it must be exhibited at length.



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