This will be the third in the series of blog posts on Augustine's views on nature and grace, as concerns the development of his deterministic views of providence.* Sorry it has taken me a little longer to get this one to Peter, but I had a family emergency last week that required a trip back to the motherland (West "By God" Virginia). Please continue to keep my family in your prayers.
The second presupposition in Augustine's thinking (after his overemphasis on divine omnipotence) is his infralapsarian view of humanity. Although the term infralapsarian technically belongs to the era of the Reformed scholastics of the seventeenth century, it nevertheless describes the essence of humanity as fallen and guilty in the eternal perspective of God. It is well-known in Augustinian teaching that he believed Adam and Eve had the free will not to sin; but once they sinned, they no longer possessed the freedom not to sin (non posse non peccare).
Once the fall occurred, thus Augustine reasoned, Adam and Eve became guilty (liable for punishment for their actions) and passed their guilt onto their offspring. He writes, "Now all men are a mass of sin, since as the apostle says 'In Adam all die (1 Cor 15:22)' and to Adam the entire race traces the origin of its sin against God. Sinful humanity must pay a debt of punishment to the supreme divine justice."1 For Augustine, it would be wrong not to punish, as Rist writes, "Augustine seems to think of justice primarily, if not exclusively, as the setting aright of what has become disordered, the restoring of a proper balance. It would offend that balance not to punish the guilty in proportion to their guilt."2 Because of the "mass of sin" language, Augustine does not consider election apart from the fall. Though the term is applied anachronistically, he is known as an infralapsarian.3
Along with his infralapsarian tendencies, Augustine held to doctrines of both original sin and original guilt. Augustine taught that original sin is all of humanity's participation in the sin of Adam. Original guilt is the liability of punishment for that participation, which includes more sinning and eventual death. As Peter Thuesen writes, "Indeed, in Augustine's mind, predestination ultimately came down to this: all humans are born terminally ill with sin and thus deserve damnation."4 Therefore, every human is born utterly sinful and under the sway of desire (concupiscentia)5, as well as justly condemned to eternal damnation due to the inherited guilt of Adam's sin. Augustine's doctrine of original sin frees God from the blame of evil, while his doctrine of original guilt upholds the beauty of the created order in the punishment of sinners.
Although the concept of original sin existed before Augustine, he shaped it into its familiar form in the Protestant and Catholic West. The Greek fathers saw sin more of an infection than a legal liability.6 The legal liability (guilt) was an innovation of Augustine. Even his spiritual father, Ambrose of Milan, held that though corruption is transmitted to his offspring, the guilt belongs solely to Adam.7 Augustine was insistent that guilt as well as corruption was transmitted to Adam's progeny. He relied again on his Latin translation of Romans 5:12 that in English reads "in whom [Adam] all sinned," while the Greek text renders "because all sinned."8 In the former (Latin) translation, humankind's real participation in Adam's sin and therefore a doctrine of original guilt immediately follows, while in the latter (Greek) translation, it does not. Nassif continues,
Prior to Augustine, others had stressed our solidarity with Adam, but none had depicted so vividly our guilty participation with Adam in his evil choice. Humanity was united in and with Adam to the extent that Adam's choice became the choice of all, and Adam's sin became the sin of all. Thus Augustine saddled human beings with both personal guilt and the evil consequences of the fall upon human moral nature.9
For Augustine, this guilty participation in Adam nullifies any possibility of good within the human will. He writes, "In one way God presents us with the ability to will and in another way he presents us the thing to be willed. As regards the ability to will, he wills it to be his and ours, his in terms of calling, ours in terms of following. But what we may actually will he alone gives, and that is, to be able to act well and to live happily always."10 To Augustine, anything that is good within humanity must come from God, because humanity is hopelessly trapped in his own wretched sinfulness.11 As Ogliari writes,
What prevails in the Bishop of Hippo's viewpoint now is the new interpretation of original sin, according to which humanity now shares in the guilt, i.e., in the culpability (reatus) of Adam's sin and not merely in the punishment (poena). Whereas the tradition of the Church had always considered guilt as something personal, resting on man's responsibility, Augustine introduced the notion of hereditary guilt, according to which all men are born in a sinful state and share in it. Adam's peccatum originale is no longer the symbol of human mortality and personal sin, but is regarded as an originalus reatus, a sin / guilt which is inherited. Confirmed by the presence of the concupiscentia carnis, it is a mark by which every man who comes into the world is affected, and which can only be expiated through baptism in Christ, the new Adam. As a result of this, great emphasis is laid on the individual person who thus becomes the privileged recipient of both the concrete consequences of Adam's original sin and the offer of grace. Salvation or damnation will be decided by either God's gratuitous bestowal of grace or by its imponderable restraining. Prisoner of his own interpretation of original sin, a radical shift in the concept of grace was but the consequential, logical step. Grace does not reflect primarily the superabundant generosity and mercy of God's heart, but appears to be the divine invincible tool whose main purpose (not without exaggeration) is to repair the damage caused by Adam's sin, and to restore the natura uitiata to its original destiny.12
In Augustine, grace becomes depersonalized at the same time salvation becomes individualized—an odd mixture indeed.
With human nature so badly damaged in the fall, Augustine believed "human nature" could only be a metaphor in post-fall humanity.13 It became imperative that humanity could not merit salvation before God in the horribly fallen state, for that would imply that the omnipotent God would owe salvation to sinful humans.14 Moreover, as Lee writes, "These two conditions [the total inability of the human initiative and the total hiddenness of divine judgment], are only logical conclusions of Augustine's understanding of concupiscentia as the intrinsic evil principle of rebellion under the condition of limited salvation. If it is truly intrinsic, it would no doubt affect the whole operation of the human will."15 He continues, "In [Augustine's] words, 'The will itself can in no way be moved unless something suggests itself that would delight and induce the soul.' (To Simplician 1.2.22) Thus, considered psychologically, the human will is free, but the outcome of the willing is divinely arranged and therefore guaranteed."16 Lee here reiterates Augustine's view of moral evil—it is intrinsic to humanity in an infralapsarian way. After the fall, humanity is a mass that is only capable of sin.
Therefore, any power to do good must come from God and do so in a deterministic fashion, since humanity is utterly incapable of achieving it without the aid of divine grace. Such an innovation combined with an overemphasis on divine omnipotence led Augustine to the precipice of divine determinism.
Dr. Gifford is Head of Department of General Studies and professor of theology and church history at New Life Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC
*The present essay (Part 3A) was originally one with the following essay (Part 3B). I purposely divided Dr. Gifford's single essay into two parts for posting purposes. Any deficiencies in the flow between Part 3A and Part 3B are entirely due to my decision to separate the single piece into two parts.
1Augustine, To Simplician, 1.16
2Rist, Augustine, 273. Italics in original.
3John V. Fesko, Diversity in the Reformed Tradition: Supra- and Infralapsarianism in Calvin, Dort, and Westminster (Greenville, S. C.: Reformed Academic Press, 2001), 17. Rist, Augustine, 270, clarifies, based on Augustine’s assumption of the impossibility of God’s omnipotence being thwarted, that Augustine’s position on the infralapsarian issue held that “God’s original plan, formed ‘before the establishment of the world’ (Augustine, On the Predestination of the Saints, 17.34) allowed for the fact that that many would fail to respond (for whatever reasons) to the Redeemer and would thus fail to escape their due punishment. A possibility Augustine certainly ruled out is that God intended some (or all) of [those who failed to respond] to be saved, but was thwarted in that intention by man’s sin. Rather, his original intention was to intervene to save some and to allow the loss of others. Augustine was well aware of the distinction between an omnipotent God’s positively willing something and his being willing to let something happen (Augustine, Enchiridion 24.95)”
4Thuesen, Predestination, 20
5For more on concupiscentia, see the discussion in Lee, Augustine, Manichaeism, and the Good, 53–9.
6Bonner, Freedom and Necessity, 73.
7Nassif, “Toward a ‘Catholic’ Understanding,” 288. See also Lee, Augustine, Manichaeism, and the Good, 90, as he notes that though Ambrose is a popularly-discussed source for Augustine’s doctrine of predestination, Lee asserts that Ambrose did not hold the two prerequisites—the inevitability of personal evil and determinism—in high regard.
10Augustine, To Simplician 1.2.10. Quoted in Lee, Augustine, Manichaeism, and the Good, 84.
11Ogliari, Gratia et Certamen, 158.
13Augustine, Retractations, 1.10.3, as noted in Ogliari, Gratia et Certamen, 285 n. 458. Moreover, Rist, Augustine, 273–4, notes that Augustine saw the “pointless or seemingly pointless” suffering of the” innocent” children as proof that all humanity was hopelessly infected with inherited sin and guilt.
14Ogliari, Gratia et Certamen, 298.
15Lee, Augustine, Manichaeism, and the Good, 82.
Below are links to the entire series by Dr. Gifford:
- Coming Series on Saint Augustine and Southern Baptists by Dr. James D. Gifford Jr
- Augustine and Southern Baptists: an Introduction
- Augustine and Southern Baptists: Augustine and Divine Omnipotence
- Augustine and Southern Baptists: Augustine and Human Nature: Part 3A; Part 3B
- Augustine and Southern Baptists: The Upshot of Augustine's Assumptions: Divine Determinism
- Augustine and Southern Baptists: Augustine's Exegetical and Hermeneutical Method
- Augustine and Southern Baptists: Augustine's Critics and Legacy: Part A; Part B