Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Part II, Articles IX – XIII: Personal Religion
Of Original or Birth Sin
Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the fault and corruption of the nature of every man that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God's wrath and damnation. And this infection of nature doth remain, yea, in them that are regenerated, whereby the lust of the flesh, called in Greek phronema sarkos (which some do expound the wisdom, some sensuality, some the affection, some the desire of the flesh), is not subject to the law of God. And although there is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptized, yet the Apostle doth confess that concupiscence and lust hath itself the nature of sin.
Peccatum originis non est (ut fabulantur Pelagiani) in imitatione Adami situm, sed est vitium et depravatio naturae eiuslibet hominis ex Adamo naturaliter propagati, qua fit ut ab originali iustitia quam longissime distet, ad malum sua natura propendeat, et caro semper adversus spiritum concupiscat; unde in unoquoque nascentium iram Dei atque damnationem meretur. Manet etiam in renatis haec naturae depravatio, qua fit ut affectus carnis, Graece phronema sarcos (quod alii sapientiam, alii sensum, alii affectum, alii studium carnis interpretantur), legi Dei non subiiciatur. Et quanquam renatis et credentibus, nulla propter Christum est condemnatio, peccati tamen in sese rationem habere concupiscentiam fatetur Apostolus.
Composed in 1553 by English reformers.
Fr. Laurence Wells
At this point in the progression of the Articles, we move from the area of doctrine which was more or less agreed on by all sides in the 16th century, into the area which was then under dispute. Without a doubt, we will be reminded shortly that those disputes have not gone away. Therefore it may be helpful to review the purpose of this series. Our goal is quite simple: not to debate but to explicate. We wish to unfold in simple terms what the Articles actually say and to establish their place in the great mainstream of the Christian faith.
In Genesis 3, we encounter a haunting story of a man and a woman, presented as the earliest ancestors of the human family, who lived in moral innocence and in close fellowship with the generous loving God who had created them. They were, however, seduced by a malign power into a simple but fatal act of defiance of their Creator. That act almost (this adverb is important) destroyed the happy and intimate relationship they had enjoyed with the Creator. But even so, it had drastic and disastrous consequences. Not only was their moral innocence spoiled, but they were driven out of their original home into a hostile world. Exiled from God's presence, their simple but fatal act of defiance was quickly expanded by their offspring in hideous ways too numerous to list. It is important that the offspring of this archetypal couple do not begin life in the same happy circumstances, but must take their very origin as exiles in the harsh thorny world outside the Garden.
Somewhat oddly, this story was never mentioned again in the Old Testament (save one obscure passage in the Book of Hosea). But it still seemed to haunt the Hebrew Scriptures like a dark shadow, with the unrelenting themes of disobedience, judgment and exile. Genesis 3 served as a silent paradigm for the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. It remained an undeveloped theme, until
brought Genesis chapter 3 out of cold storage and unfolded it for us in Romans 5 and I Corinthians 15. These passages figure conspicuously in the Easter liturgy, in the great hymn "Exsultet" and in our Prayer Book's Easter Canticle. St Paul
Each of us must make up his mind what to do with the woeful tale in Genesis 3. Many earnest believers have long since dismissed it as primitive folklore, having no relevance to anything, and consequently they have packed away the doctrine of Original Sin into their theological attic, no longer finding it useful but not quite ready to throw it away. Many others have decided that Genesis 3 is a moral fable. "Let's not be like Adam and Eve, we can get things right and stay in the Garden." That was the essence of the Pelagian heresy, which Article IX alludes to as "the following of Adam." That heresy maintained that as Adam fell from his original innocence, so each of us begins life in an innocent state and suffers his own fall. "Every man is his own Adam" is the familiar Pelagian slogan, and we have a thousand pieces of modern literature devoted to the "loss of innocence" theme.
And then there are many who believe that the story of Adam is a fine bit of fiction which does not point up a real Fall within clock-time history, but simply serves to illustrate an unfortunate tendency which we all share. They tell us we are prone to disease, but not really sick. That point of view damaged our Prayer Book in the 1928 revision. From 1549 and in every revision until 1928, the Baptismal Office contained the clear language, "Dearly beloved, forasmuche as all men bee conceived and borne in sinne, and that no manne borne in sinne, can enter into the kingdom of God except be be regenerate, and borne anewe of water and of the holy ghost..." As moralistic theology undermined the doctrines of grace in the Anglican Churches, the robust language of the first Prayer Book proved embarrassing. The Proposed English Book of 1928 softened the language, "seeing that all men are from their birth prone to sin, but God willeth all men to be saved, for God is love." The American revision that same year, our hallowed "1928 BCP," was more forthright in simply deleting the Biblical language altogether.
If our trust in Genesis 3 has been undermined by a skeptical view of Holy Scripture and by the incurable virus of Pelagianism, the doctrine of Original Sin can be strongly argued from the New Testament. We have a series of texts asserting the sinlessness of Christ which indirectly assert the universality of the human sinful condition. Sin, let us recall, is more than a generic name for a certain category of behaviors; it is our plight, our condition, our predicament. What person can doubt that Psalm 51:5 ("Behold, I was shapen in wickedness, and in sin hath my mother conceived me") describes a deadly universal problem which has no human solution? We did not become sinners by committing some particular sinful act. We began to sin because of a fatal defect in our soul's DNA.
In two key passages (Romans 5 and I Corinthians 15) St Paul sets up a contrast between Adam and Christ. In Romans he wrote,
"Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, death spread to all men because all sinned....for if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for man... For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification...." Paul argues this principle with relentless logic in a passage too long to quote, Romans 5:12--21. He hammers home by the repetition of the word "one." One man, one trespass, one man's disobedience, with dire consequences for all the human race. This is contrasted with "one man's obedience" which makes many righteous.
Paul also develops this antinomy in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, "For as by man came death, by a man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive."
Here we have a picture of two human families. First, the family of Adam, born into exile and guilt, thanks to the first ancestor's unique disobedience, living from the moment of conception under his curse, sharing his ultimate doom. Second, the new humanity of Jesus the second Adam, salvaged by His unique act of obedience, blessed with an undeserved gift of new life, ultimately sharing His glory.
It will not do to say that "Adam is Every-man." Paul's logic stands or falls with his perception that Adam was a historical figure and his "one trespass" was an event which took place in clock time. The parallel between Adam and Christ is absolutely precise. If "Adam is every-man," then Christ is equally every-man. If "every man is his own Adam," then every human can be his own Christ.
At this point permit me to retract, slightly, my statement above that the Old Testament never mentioned again the sorrowful tale of Genesis 3. The arguments of Paul in Romans and I Corinthians, which eventually became labeled Original Sin, were not original with him. In II Esdras we read:
"The same fate befell all of them: just as death came upon Adam, so the flood upon them [of Noah's generation]. .... For the first Adam, burdened with an evil heart, transgressed and was overcome, as were also all who were descended from him, as were also all who descended from him. Thus the disease became permanent.... (II Esdras 3:10, 21). It would be difficult to argue that Paul was influenced by this text, since II Esdras was actually written after the Fall of Jerusalem, and is therefore less ancient than Paul's Epistles. But this little known passage shows that such theological ideas were not peculiar to Paul. Some of the strongest statements concerning human depravity come from the mouth of Our Lord Himself. "For out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander" (Matt. 15:19).
Before summarizing, let me offer two final comments. As noted above in the history of some unfortunate revisions in our Prayer Book Baptismal Office, Anglicans have shown a certain hesitation with and resistance toward the doctrine of Original Sin. C. B. Moss objects to the theory of Our Lady's Immaculate Conception because it would have the effect of dogmatizing Original Sin. Frequently it is claimed that the language of Article IX, "very far gone from original righteousness" softens the more thunderous pronouncements of the Calvinists. It should be pointed out that the underlying Latin expression is "longissime quam," an idiom which really means "as far gone as possible," a hyperbole which Calvinist Confessions guarded against.
Also we sometimes encounter a curious distinction between "Original Sin" (understood as a mere tendency toward sin, a congenital weakness in the constitution of a moral neutral creature) and "Original Guilt" (an unpopular notion that Adam's guilt is shared by all the human family and each human being is born into his guilty status). The latter concept does not commend itself to a mind saturated with notions of democracy, equality, and human autonomy. It is difficult to comprehend by those whose world-view is shaped by nominalism. But the attempted disjunction of sin and guilt will not work, unless one wishes to make sin trivial. While there may be guilt-free ice cream, there is no guilt-free sin. Adam's sons were not only excluded from the Garden, but moreover labored under his curse. As hard a doctrine as this may be, it is both a realistic description of the human predicament and a faithful restatement of the faith of the ancient Church. In the Easter liturgy, in the Blessing of the Paschal candle, we find at the very beginning, "through Jesus Christ our Lord, who for us paid the debt of Adam to the Father eternal, and blotted out the handwriting of the olden trespass with his precious Blood."
To sum up and to initiate discussion:
At the outset of human history there was a primeval act of rebellion by our earliest ancestors, a mutiny of the creature against the Creator, which catapulted the entire human race into a situation of estrangement, alienation, hostility and consequently elicited the Divine wrath. This is a desperate and hopeless predicament, from which no human being can extricate himself. The rescue was aptly described by J. H. Newman:
O loving wisdom of our God,
When all was sin and shame,
A second Adam to the fight,
And to the rescue came.
O wisest love! That flesh and blood,
Which did in Adam fail,
Should strive afresh against the foe,
Should strive and should prevail.
Fr. Robert Hart
"Behold, I was shapen in wickedness, and in sin hath my mother conceived me." Psalm 51:5
Fr. Wells has defended the understanding of Original Sin that always has prevailed, though some may insist “in the west.” In this Article we still find no theological disagreement with the Church of Rome, the Lutherans or the Calvinists. However, the doctrine of Original Sin itself, like the authority of Scripture, was never a subject of dispute within the Church. The doctrine of Original Sin was considered by
to be the one dogma of Christian Faith that is self-evidently true in the eyes of all mankind everywhere. St. Augustine
The language of Article IX should not be considered disputable at all. It describes Original Sin as a fault we all inherit, not the loss of innocence by “following” Adam’s example of disobedience. That is, it is not that we followed Adam’s behavior, but that we inherited his sinfulness. Someone may object that anyone who is old enough to learn about the doctrine must already be aware of his own personal sins; and, so why should it matter whether we teach that sin is an inherited state?
First of all, Original Sin, like Creatio ex nihilo, is a revealed doctrine. It did not arise from men reasoning about the Scriptures, but from the very words of Scripture. Second, we need to know that our nature itself has been affected by sin to the point where we all are helpless if left to our own devices, and in need of the grace of God. The words in the confession from Daily Morning and Evening Prayer, “there is no health in us,” mean that we do not have in ourselves the power to heal this fatal disease.
It has been argued that the East and the West have very different beliefs about Original Sin. How truly authentic that point of view is I would rather not debate. Essentially, we are told, the western point of view places sin as the cause and death as the effect, and the eastern point of view sees it as the opposite. The words of
should here be quoted: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” What emerges from those words should not be cause for dispute about cause and effect, but the fact that sin and death are, for human beings, inseparable. They are like two sides of one coin. St. Paul
We are told also that the western view emphasizes guilt, and the eastern view emphasizes the tragic state of man. Again, just how accurate these dichotomies between “eastern” and “western” Christianity are, I do not care at this point to debate (let us just say that blaming the “Eastern Church” for modern ideas, is hardly justified). What really seems to be the problem has more to do with modern people and their sensibilities, so easily offended. “How could God accuse a cute little newborn baby of being a sinner?” (No one brings this up about the “terrible twos.”) That hypothetical question is more to the point than a supposed theological dichotomy; and, as we can see, it has no place in serious discussion- or it should not.
The other question is, does everyone inherit Adam’s guilt, or merely his consequential weakness? Is everyone being “punished” for what some ancient ancestor did? Again, we have the words of Scripture that teach clearly that every human being has sinned (except for Jesus Christ).
does not say that death has passed on all men because mortality leads to sin. He says something more startling: “All have sinned.” We need to look at this for all that it means. St. Paul
The words, “All have sinned” are, properly understood, so inclusive that we may say, with certainty, that even every human being not yet conceived, but who will be conceived, has sinned. If Levi paid tithes in Abraham, because Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek (as taught in Hebrews 7:9), then it is right to say that every human being sinned in Adam. That is, because the human race has sinned, all have sinned.
Fr. Wells has emphasized that Adam is not “every man.” However, Adam is in every man, and every human being is also in Adam. In Adam we are sinners, mortal, unable to escape death. The inheritance of guilt comes because we are in Adam; that is, we were in the human race when the Fall took place, “and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Here we see the Biblical meaning of the One and the many.
The One and the many
uses the contrast between the One and the many in Romans chapter 5, he mentions the two fathers of the human race. He mentions the first Adam and the Last Adam (I Cor. 15:45 We must call Jesus by that name, the Last Adam. For there will come no other after Him). The language should take us to the Suffering Servant passage in the book of Isaiah: St. Paul
“But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:5,6)
Everywhere in that chapter we see that “He” (Hebrew-Hu, meaning a man, a male individual. The word is singular, not plural) took the weight of the sins of “the many.”
’s elaboration in the fifth chapter of Romans contradicts the idea of “Limited Atonement,” a doctrine wrongly attributed to Calvin,* that is corrected in the Book of Common Prayer (“…a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world”). The contrast in the Suffering Servant passage between “He” and the “many” whose sins He bore, is highlighted by Paul in these words: St. Paul
“For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ. Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” (vs.17-21)
The difference between the one, Adam, and the many is contrasted against the One, Christ, and the many. As
put it, “And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (I John 2:1,2) St. John
Before we get to what it means to be “in Christ” we need to see the condition from which we are saved. We begin our earthly life in Adam. Of course, the Gospel takes us to the remedy, to be born again of water and the Spirit, so as to be in the Everlasting Father (Isaiah 9:6) of the redeemed and new humanity. “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (I Cor. 15:21,22) Here too, we see Adam as the one, and “all” or the many; then we see Christ as the One, and “all” as the many.
If your modern sensitivities are offended, therefore, by the sentence of death upon all as sinners, how can you appreciate the justification and salvation that comes by the One, that is, Christ? The revelation of Scripture ties these two things together: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” Do you appreciate that by baptism you were taken out of the domain of darkness, and translated into the
(Col. 1:13)? Then, do not complain when faced with the revelation of how dark the darkness is from which you are rescued. kingdom of Christ
The state of sin
The question may be asked, how are all human beings sinners? Has a “sinful nature” been added to human nature as it was created? The way that some people use that expression, it can come across that way. However, what really happened is revealed to be something taken away. We see in Genesis that fallen man is forbidden access to the fruit of the tree of life, and is driven out of the garden. In fact, that is the sentence of death. We see also, “for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Gen. 2:17) yet, Adam lived on outside the garden for a very long time.
Therefore, we see that the condition of sin is a kind of death, more than mortality. It is not simply that this life will end, but that outside of Christ we do not have anything good enough and real enough to be called “life.” The state of sinful mankind outside of Christ is one of walking death (Eph. 2:1). The condition is a grave defect, the lack of righteousness, the lack of life in the spirit. What we call “sinful nature” is man made in the image of God, but lacking grace to be that image, to live up to what he was created to be. It is subtraction, not addition; for death is the subtraction of life, not the addition of corruption.
Even the saints, those who are in Christ by baptism, and even those who abide in Him by faith and obedience, are, at one and the same time, yet in Adam. As the German Reformer, Martin Luther phrased it, the Christian is simul justus et peccator (“Righteous and at the same time a sinner”). This is, by no means, debatable. It is the best we can hope for in this life, even as we cooperate in every way with the grace of God that is active in our lives by the Holy Spirit. Until the Last Day, when Christ will come to raise from the dead all who are His, we are, at best, in both fathers of humanity, the first Adam and the Last Adam.
Anyone who rejects the dogma of Original Sin simply refuses to accept the self-evident reality of his own life, as well as the revelation of God in Scripture.
* Calvin himself never taught the so-called “five points.” Concerning the doctrine itself, it does not follow that rejection of “Limited Atonement” must lead to Universalism. Christ “paid in full” the price of human sin (John 19:30, I John 2:2) . But, not everyone believes.