« Coming series on Saint Augustine by Dr. James D. Gifford Jr. | Main | Augustine and Southern Baptists: Part 2: Augustine and Divine Omnipotence by Dr. Jim Gifford »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Ben Simpson

Bro Jim,

Thank you for your work on this! It looks to be an interesting series. Already my mind is wondering three things just from this introduction:

1) I'll trust that you have done the research and take you at your word that Augustine "introduced some novel ideas into Christian doctrine—ideas that had never been taught by Christians before his time." Should that itself cast a questioning shadow over his teaching?

Given that he was writing in the late 4th and early 5th centuries, he was still at the fountainhead of Christianity. Doctrine was still developing. About 30 years before he was born, the council of Nicaea deliberated. About 20 years after his death, the council of Chalcedon deliberated. During his lifetime, the New Testament canon was finally considered to be closed. My point is that Augustine was still an early church father. We should not be surprised that he formulated doctrine that earlier Christianity had not, especially given that theologizing is often a response to controversy. It all just took time to develop.

What's more, as you rightly point out, Augustine enjoyed "the ability to write and teach in safety and security over his long life." The Edicts of Toleration and Milan, which commanded Christian persecution to cease in the Roman empire, had only been in effect for around 75 years when Augustine began writing. This, of course, means that the previous church fathers were more occupied with persevering than theologizing. Augustine simply had the time to put forth "novel" ideas that his predecessors didn't.

Finally, is there any debate that Augustine was not a brilliant theologian? Certainly, he was. Therefore, again, we should not be surprised that he introduced "novel" ideas that his perhaps less brilliant or at least less engaged predecessors didn't put forth.

2) You imply that the other early church fathers didn't teach what Augustine taught, but did they teach contrary to what Augustine taught? While I'll take you at your word that some of Augustine's theology was "novel," were they contradictory to the previous church fathers?

3) It seems that you are going to argue that aspects of Augustine's theology are problematic because the preceding early church fathers didn't teach what he taught, but isn't that looking to the wrong authority? The question shouldn't be,"Does Augustine agree with the previous early church fathers?" Rather the question should be, "Does Augustine agree with Scripture?"

I look forward to reading the series!

peter lumpkins

Hi Ben,

Good questions to Dr. Gifford. I look forward to his response as he stewards his time to engage us.

Ken Hamrick

Dr. G.,

I hope you will address the fact that original sin via realistic participation in Adam was first taught by Tertullian, and came down through Ambrose and Hilary.

I, too, look forward to reading your series.

Jim G.

Hi Ben,

Thanks so much for your questions. I’ll try to address them as clearly as I can.

Of course you are correct that Augustine’s life coincides with the most fruitful era (4th-5th centuries) of Christian doctrinal development. Moreover, Augustine’s context and background had considerable differences as compared to both his contemporaries and predecessors. It is well known that his situation and approach to theology differs somewhat to other fathers (i.e. being a Western North African, dealing with some of his local problems, his using Latin rather than Greek, etc.). I think those things are givens and will shape his approach in a unique way.

I’ll address your last question first. Yes, Scripture should be the governing authority. We Baptists agree to that and I believe the church fathers did as well. What we must remember is that the best of the pre-Augustinian fathers were doing their best to understand Scripture too. They had already developed a framework (the rule of faith) in which to understand it which evolved into the early creeds. What Augustine did, in my opinion, was to introduce a novel way of reading Scripture that had not been seen in the fathers before him. I will also argue that such a reading, in its original form, did not come from Scripture itself but from his pre-existing philosophical commitments and his attempts to answer the philosophical problem of evil woven in the heat of polemics. One of the purposes of my research is to examine his methodology to see if such a reading of Scripture is methodologically and historically sound and to weigh it with the then-existing methodology. Certainly I would think that the burden of proof rests with the innovator, and that the novel approach is the one that would have to be more closely examined.

Given that, I believe that Augustine did indeed teach contrary to that which he inherited from the earlier fathers. Though Augustine flirted heavily with divine determinism, no father before him taught it. The early fathers were unanimous that humans possessed what we would call libertarian freedom in most instances, even if they did not articulate it the way we would today. Though I will say more about it in part 3, the pre-Augustinian fathers (and all the way down to today’s Eastern Orthodox) have a completely different concept of original sin that does the Augustine-influenced west.

To address your first point, Augustine was blessed in that he lived in security his whole life. But he was not the only one who did so. To my recollection, Gregory of Nazianzus was not in danger, nor were the other Cappadocians. Cyril of Alexandria, Hilary of Poitiers, and Ambrose of Milan were safe. Even Irenaeus had a long period of relative safety in the second century as did Tertullian. Cyprian, Origen, and Athanasius faced persecution, but also had safe periods. I don’t think that being on the run caused the thinking of the pre-Augustinian fathers to suffer, nor did it stifle their reflection or creativity. Though all were important in the development of doctrine, none deviated from the tradition as Augustine did. Again, my use of the word “novel” is precise. “Novelty” is not equal to development or creativity; it is deviation from the received tradition. All of the pre-Augustinian fathers of note were creative and many were lucidly brilliant. None of them deviated from the tradition, in my opinion, as Augustine did. Part of the problem, I think, is how we view the “tradition.” To us, tradition is more often a negative thing (think Jesus denouncing the religious leaders of his day). But to the early church, tradition is both the authoritative teaching handed down by the apostles and the interpretive framework in which Scripture is understood. Any deviation from this tradition would be met with suspicion and resistance. Augustine met with both, but he was powerful enough in his world that he was not harmed by it.

I hope this helps,

Jim G.

Jim G.

Hi Ken,

You are correct that seeing original sin as real participation in Adam comes from Tertullian originally, and was a part of North African Christian anthropology by Augustine's time. To my knowledge, such an anthropology was never accepted by any of the Greek fathers.

Jim G.

peter lumpkins

Ben and Jim,

Dr. Gifford clarifies:

"Again, my use of the word “novel” is precise. “Novelty” is not equal to development or creativity; it is deviation from the received tradition" (my italics)

I may be entirely responsible for introducing the notion that Augustine "created" new doctrine rather than "deviated" from received doctrine. In my introductory description looking toward the series, I wrote:

"[Dr. Gifford] envisions five remaining articles... attesting to several theological innovations his research led him to conclude were created by the legendary Bishop of Hippo."

Hence, my deepest apologies for sowing an inaccurate notion into the fabric of the series.

P.S. I'll reword the original to reflect the change.

peter lumpkins


While I certainly don’t want to distract from the focus upon Augustine, Ken mentioned that “original sin via realistic participation in Adam was first taught by Tertullian” to which you granted Ken’s correct assertion—namely, “seeing original sin as real participation in Adam comes from Tertullian originally.” But a few quick references to Tertullian himself does not seem to bear out such a cut-n-dry warrant that the original sin doctrine per se—at least in its necessarily involving original guilt as in Augustine—actually began with Tertullian. The below quotes are long and clumsy but seem to illustrate what I’m suggesting:

For, as we have said before, the corruption of our nature is another nature having a god and father of its own, namely the author of (that) corruption. Still there is a portion of good in the soul, of that original, divine, and genuine good, which is its proper nature…  Thus some men are very bad, and some very good; but yet the souls of all form but one genus: even in the worst there is something good, and in the best there is something bad. For God alone is without sin; and the only man without sin is Christ, since Christ is also God. Thus the divinity of the soul bursts forth in prophetic forecasts in consequence of its primeval good; and being conscious of its origin, it bears testimony to God (its author) in exclamations such as: Good God! God knows! and Good-bye!1 Just as no soul is without sin, so neither is any soul without seeds of good.

Tertullian, "A Treatise on the Soul", trans. Peter Holmes In , in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume III: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson and A. Cleveland Coxe (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 220-21.

And so, according to the circumstances and disposition, and even age, of each individual, the delay of baptism is preferable; principally, however, in the case of little children. For why is it necessary—if (baptism itself) is not so necessary—that the sponsors likewise should be thrust into danger? Who both themselves, by reason of mortality, may fail to fulfil their promises, and may be disappointed by the development of an evil disposition, in those for whom they stood? The Lord does indeed say, “Forbid them not to come unto me.”Let them “come,” then, while they are growing up; let them “come” while they are learning, while they are learning whither to come; let them become Christians when they have become able to know Christ. Why does the innocent period of life hasten to the “remission of sins?”

Tertullian, "On Baptism", trans. S. Thelwall In , in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume III: Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson and A. Cleveland Coxe (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 678.

Whatever Tertullian believed about original sin, it seems so thoroughly dissimilar to what I understand is being proposed about Augustine’s original sin/guilt duplex that it is not too much to conclude Tertullian did not teach Augustinian original sin. I did a quick check of Dr. Harwood’s dissertation and sure enough, he deals at length with the very issue concerning whether Tertullian embraced imputed original guilt and concludes he did not. He also cited Cambridge scholar, Eric Osborne, in his book Tertullian, First Theologian of the West, a volume from which I’d already found a juicy affirmation online. Harwood approvingly quotes Osborne’s conclusion:  "While Tertullian displays the origins of the idea, one cannot attribute the later doctrine of original sin to him." (Harwood diss. p.132).

A fuller quote can be found here (captured from p. 167 in Osborne's book) and here.

At best, then, it seems only a disputable claim that Tertullian taught Augustinian original guilt. 

Jim G.

I agree Peter. I think that Tertullian and other western fathers who embraced a real participation in Adam's sin did so without discussing original guilt. I planned on saying more about that in my third post.

All Christians believe in original sin in some form. There is considerable disagreement on what original sin actually means. The most common western (Latin, Roman Catholic, and much of Protestantism) view is that there is either real or federal participation in Adam's sin. Original guilt, as understood by Augustine and his progeny, need not follow automatically from original sin. Though Augustine inherited the doctrine of real participation in Adam from his western forebears, he made some modifications to that doctrine that was a novel advancement in the development of the doctrines of nature and grace. More clarity to come in the third post.

Thanks for the clarification.

Jim G.

Ken Hamrick

Peter & Jim,

The point I was trying to make was that the inherited guilt of Augustine's doctrine of original sin was simply the natural and logical development of realistic participation (or immaterial union of origin) in Adam. While the later Calvinists (Turretin and beyond) divorced the two ideas, discarding realistic participation (in favor of nominalistic imputation) and kept original guilt, what both Augustine and the early Reformed Church held was that these two ideas are inseparable---men can only be held guilty for participating and not merely for being "represented." Therefore, Augustine's doctrine of original sin was not some innovation, but simply the next step in the normal development of the North African anthropology.

Ken Hamrick


You said, "Though Augustine inherited the doctrine of real participation in Adam from his western forebears, he made some modifications to that doctrine that was a novel advancement in the development of the doctrines of nature and grace."

Why would you not agree that believing that all men really participated in Adam's sin would eventually and naturally be developed into the idea of a guilt resulting from that real participation?

Jim G.

Hi Ken,

I have a couple of reasons for not agreeing that original guilt is the natural development of original sin via real participation.

First, way too many people in church history have disconnected them. It is not a passing fad to hold one and not the other. Centuries of history provides examples of people who do not see a natural progression.

Second, and more importantly in my book, Augustine did not draw only on real participation for his own foundation of original guilt, in my opinion. I think there is more involved and I will explain it more fully in the third post.

Jim G.

peter lumpkins


Granted. You state your point to be, "the inherited guilt of Augustine's doctrine of original sin was simply the natural and logical development of realistic participation...in Adam" (emphasis added). While you may presume Augustine's original guilt to simply be both the natural and logical development of an incipient view of original sin such as Tertullian might have accepted, I think it would be good to demonstrate your point. Is Augustine's universally inherited sinful guilt a necessary inference from what Tertullian embraced? If it is a necessary inference, then please explain how it could not be otherwise? If it is not a necessary inference, then how do you insist Augustine's doctrine of original sin was simply the natural and logical development of realistic participation...in Adam"? Why wouldn't Jim's thesis be on every front just as viable that Augustine took liberties with the received tradition so forceful that we have every right to conclude that Augustine actually deviated away from good and proper inferences of the received tradition, a deviation so potent we call them innovations and/or perhaps even new teachings?

Allow me an example: I've had plenty of my Methodist brothers through the years inform me when we occasionally discussed our theological peculiarities that my view of what's often called in SBC subculture the "eternal security of believers" necessarily implied an unhealthy dose of moral antinomianism. And, they spun a piece of yarn usually suggesting something similar to what you're suggesting concerning Tertullian & Augustine; namely, moral antinomianism was simply the natural and logical development of the "once saved, always saved" syndrome.

Another example could be cited, I think, to illustrate: I could argue, for instance, that Hyper-Calvinism is simply the natural and logical development of strict Calvinism (which, in the back of my brain, I might subconsciously hold to such a view, but tell no one, please!). Of course, my Calvinist brothers & sisters would immediately chastise me for making this proposal without showing how it necessarily is the case.

In short, I find it hard to grant your point that the inherited guilt of Augustine's doctrine of original sin was simply the natural and logical development of realistic participation in Adam without more than bare assertion.

Ken Hamrick


I'll wait for your continuation.

Ken Hamrick


Points well taken. Just to let you know where I'm coming from, I do not agree with inherited condemnation, but I do hold to a realistic union and participation in Adam. So I would agree that Augustine did deviate from the truth on that matter, but my interest is in preserving the realism---that the baby not be thrown out with the bathwater. It's not that inherited guilt is a necessary inference or development from Tertullian, but it is a reasonable and understandable conclusion. Tertullian taught traducianism, which means that the soul that sinned in Adam is propagated to us in such a way that we participated in his sin. With such a real participation in his sin, it was only a small step away to conclude that we all share in Adam's guilt just as we shared in his commission of sin. So then, while inherited guilt is not necessary to realistic participation, realistic participation is necessary , to inherited guilt. The discarding of the realistic participation was gradual and only happened through inconsistency and the influence of nominalism. In the end, where we are today, the denial of realistic union with the affirmation of imputed guilt has created many more problems than the Augustinian doctrine.

I'm sorry if that took you down a rabbit trail; but it seemed from Jim's opening post that he wanted not only to discard Augustine's original guilt but also his realistic participation. Additionally, I also hold to a meticulous divine providence and unconditional election (but not to any of the other 4 points of Calvinism).

Anyway, it looks like it will be an interesting series!

Ken Hamrick

Of course, I can't help but be a fan of any theologian who is a West-BG-Virginian! :)

peter lumpkins


I appreciate your perspective and the level of thoughtfulness you provide. With you, I think Dr. Gifford's articles afford us an occasion for great dialog and therefore anticipate a learning experience for all who participate in the discussion.

Nor will we hold it against you because you hold to meticulous divine providence and unconditional election. We all have a right to be wrong (just kidding!).

Grace brother...


This is very interesting and cannot wait to read next few installments. I am also learning some new big words. Thanks, Ken. :o)

Even if we allow for Tertullian's "traducianism" would there not still be a need to wash away the "participation" in Adam's sin for infants? Does anyone know Tertullians position on infant baptism?

Anyway, I have read some Augustine and several bios on him. I have often wondered if he found some sort of personal (yes, this is psycho babble) comfort in the "all material world is evil/all spiritual is good" Platonic paradigm because of some of the choices he made even after he became a believer. He sent his long time concubine away, whom he claimed he always loved, because of her social status he felt he could not marry her. This meant she was not able to see her own son. Some cruel stuff. This sort of fit in with his later views on sex, I think and the material world being evil.

peter lumpkins


I have Dr. Gifford's second piece and will post it 1st thing tomorrow. Sorry for the present interlude not having to do with Augustine.

Trust you will have a great weekend..

Ken Hamrick


If you'll read Peter's comment earlier, he had a quote from Tertullian where infant baptism is viewed as unnecessary.

Participation would not necessarily bring guilt because one did not participate as an individual, but only "within the loins" of ones father. Since the participation was corporate rather than personal, then the consequences too are corporate rather than personal (i.e., those penalties that fall on the race in the form of temporal consequences, such as the sin nature, mortality, etc.).

The comments to this entry are closed.