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Vol I No. 1
From the Quarterly

More on the Fall

by William J. Martin

 

 

st-augustine-of-hippo

Perhaps the greatest thinker to study the matter of man’s original state of righteousness and his subsequent Fall was St. Augustine of Hippo. As with all questions related to Scripture, and the story of man’s nature, sin and redemption, Augustine engaged in a exhaustive meditation upon the text. The text for him was the most reliable source of information regarding man’s story, because it records not only the problem but also the solution in the light of Divine Wisdom revealed to Moses. In fact Augustine maintains that the only way to understand man’s story is via the solution. The solution is that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. The Word is God’s Wisdom that is enfleshed in the person of Jesus Christ. Because it is through this Wisdom alone that man is reconciled to the Father, it is also through this Wisdom alone that man understands God’s original purpose for man and his rejection of it.

So Augustine tries to understand the human condition through the Wisdom of God or through the Mind of Christ. As he contemplates the original condition and subsequent fall of man, he finds three possible states that man endured. First he says that the original man had been able not to sin and not to die –posse non peccare et mori. So had Adam been obedient and responsible, he could have enjoyed a life without sin and without the physical and tangible death of the body. Man was in possession of an heavenly body –as William Law puts it, which is nothing more than saying that he was ruled and governed exclusively by God’s will and not the creation around him. The capacity not to sin and not to die depended upon an adhesion of the soul to God’s Word and not to the external and visible world. The potential reward for this state would be perfected when man was non posse peccare et mori –not able to sin and die.

But man rejected this possibility and chose to disobey God. And so man rejects God’s original intent. The consequence is that man enters into a condition where he is not able not to sin and not able not to die- non posse non peccare et mori. Because he has chosen or willed to disobey God, he corrupts his nature. His nature was originally established and grounded in the Good alone; now he has chosen to see and experience both the Good and its absence- Evil. Goodness or the Divine Grace alone is life; it is known and experienced when the Divine Wisdom defines and informs man’s life. If the Divine Wisdom is rejected, the goodness that is life is lost. Goodness is equated with life since whatever is, is from God. Whatever is not, is without God, and thus lifeless . Sin is without God, and thus is counted as qualitatively lifeless and dead. Man chose or willed to be his own judge of what is right, good and true. As a result he has displaced God and his Wisdom, and thus his sin is rewarded with its desire –man begins to die the moment he sins.

Augustine maintains that all men were in some way in Adam when he first sinned. That is to say that Adam is human nature as created and related to God. This is something very hard to grasp. What Augustine wants to suggest is all men were present and part of Adam when he sinned. St. Paul says that through one man sin entered the world. (Romans v. 12) Adam’s Original Sin is, according to the Catholic Catechism, the general condition of sinfulness, that is the absence of holiness and perfect charity, into which humans are born. Adam embodies and manifests the human condition in relation to God before and after the Fall. Human beings bear no personal guilt for Adam’s sin- according to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, the Churches of the East, and the Church of England before she began to sin. What Adam passes on to his progeny- i.e. all men, is distorted, imperfect, and weakened human nature. We are all in Adam since we are born into a state of sin and alienation from God. We can all be in Christ if we are reborn into a state of regeneration through Baptism and habitual righteousness and communion with God through Scripture and Sacrament. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Cor. xv. 22)  

 

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