by Young Oon Kim
Augustine On Original Sin
St. Augustine took Paul's references to sin, developed and systematized them. Hence, he is often praised or blamed as the father of the concept of original sin. His moral theology was greatly influenced by his controversies with two rival groups, the Pelagians and the Manichwans. Followers of Pelagius taught that God created man good; and that if we fall, we do so because of our personal sins. Children are born without sin and like Adam they fall from this original state of innocence because of their voluntary acts of wickedness. Therefore, there is no original sin which corrupted human nature and no sin which is inherited from our parents.
Disciples of the Persian prophet Mani held the opposite view. They taught that because we have bodies our souls are imprisoned in a hostile material realm and our lives are constantly corrupted by carnal lusts. We long for redemption from fleshly bondage. So to be saved means to refrain from all sexual intercourse or at least to keep from producing children. The best men and women practice total celibacy.
Pelagians began with the doctrine of God the Creator and minimized the need for redemption, Augustine declared. Mani's followers, on the other hand, began with the doctrine of the saving God and denied the basic goodness of the creation. As a North African bishop concerned about institutional Catholicism, Augustine saw how the Pelagians weakened the case for infant baptism while the Manichwans denied the sacrament of marriage. Hence, Augustine tried to work out a theology which recognized both the fallen nature of man and the goodness of the Creator. In doing so, he stressed two aspects of original sin: man's pride and his concupiscence. Protestant theologians have generally emphasized the first factor while Catholics have been more aware of the second.
If man's two fundamental loves -- "caritas" and "cupidity" -- are constantly at war with each other, how do we understand their relationship from God's standpoint? How can one reconcile the concupiscence of man with the sacrament of marriage? This was Augustine's problem.
In 418 A. D. Augustine wrote an important treatise on original sin which he sent to a married couple who had separated, the husband to become abbot of a monastery in Palestine and the wife to become a nun. In this booklet, Augustine stated that the grace of spiritual regeneration does away with the debt contracted by the contagion of carnal generation. 12 Why did Adam and Eve fall? Not simply because they fell prey to concupiscence but because they disobeyed God's commandment. Once Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they lost control of their bodies. Lust came from sin.
Augustine traced concupiscence to both "the subtlety of the Devil and the consent of man's will "Eve's deceiver" injected into the woman the cause of lust." 13 This made her a slave to concupiscence. As sinners, Adam and Eve gratified their wanton erotic impulses. God was not opposed to Adam and Eve's marriage. His words "Be fruitful and multiply" show that He placed "a benediction upon the fertility of marriage." If God had not intended for Adam to marry, He would have given him another man for a companion rather than a woman, says Augustine. However, the nuptial embrace of the first couple should have been unattended by prurient desire. They blushed and felt ashamed because they were subject to the lusts of the flesh. Consequently, their children were born with the contagion of sin because of the parents' unseemly desire.
In an earlier treatise on marriage (401 A. D.), Augustine stated that in the purity of Paradise, Adam and Eve would sooner or later have married, in obedience to God's command to be fruitful. However, their union would have been free of all sensual pleasure. Their bodies would be completely controlled by their reason and their will to have children.
Augustine's view of life in the garden of Eden prior to the Fall affected his understanding of man's future perfection in Paradise. In their perfected state, men will be free from all corrupt fleshly desires which lead to sin. When the kingdom of God comes on earth, every incentive to sin will have been purged from human nature.
At the same time, Augustine refused to deny the validity of marriage. True, marriage is tainted with concupiscence. It is also true, because of the sinful aspects of the sexual act, all children are conceived in sin and inherit the guilt of Adam and Eve. However, marriage is not evil. The child produced through the sexual act represents a creative work of God. The good of marriage has not been taken away by the evil presence of lust.
Augustine deserves praise for recognizing the sexual factor in Adam's fall as well as his awareness that concupiscence is still the root of man's present sinfulness. However, like many of those who interpreted the fall sexually, Augustine concluded that to be saved man must overcome his sexuality. He therefore implied that sex per se is sin. On this very point Augustine's doctrine of original sin has been attacked by many Christians. Perhaps he was still too much influenced by his early Manichwan training. In the light of Divine Principle he missed an important aspect of God's plan. He ignored the original divine intention to use Adam and Eve as the parents of a world wide family based on love for God and one another.
12 On Original Sin, 37.
13 1bid., 45.
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