The Origins of Original Sin - Part VI

Daniel J. Castellano


Further Augustinian Doctrine: Juridical Aspects

6.1 Culpa, Reatus, Poena
6.2 Reatus or Liability for Concupiscence
6.3 Man Not Made for the Devil
6.4 All Sinned in Adam
6.5 Fate of Unbaptized Infants

6.1 Culpa, Reatus, Poena

Thus far we have taken care to render in the original Latin those juridical terms indiscriminately translated as “guilt.” When speaking of the supposed “guilt,” of the descendants of Adam for original sin, St. Augustine consistently uses the term reatus, not culpa. This is surely no coincidence, considering how voluminous his writings on the subject are. Likewise, he refers to the inheritors of original sin as reos. In Part V, we translated reatus as “liability,” which is as close as a single English term can approximate it. We will now give a more precise account of these terms, which had exact juridical meanings in Roman law.

Culpa means a fault of character or action. The term’s use in a moral or legal context implies moral responsibility, so it is something blameworthy. Our term “culpable,” which signifies moral responsibility for a bad action, accurately conveys the sense of the Latin. Culpa is often translated as “guilt,” though this should be understood primarily in the sense of objective culpability, not the subjective emotion of guilt or remorse. All punishable crimes originate in some fault. It is a judge’s role to determine the existence of that fault and to identify who is responsible for it.

In Roman law, the reo is the accused or the defendant. The term is derived from res or “thing,” to signify that this person is the subject or matter to be judged. The reatus is that which makes someone a reo, i.e., the charge or accusation. This is conceived as an inherent quality, not to be confused with the external act of indictment, or accusatio. In human affairs, trials are conducted to determine whether or not the facts support the accusatio, i.e., whether the reo truly bears reatus. In divine justice, however, the Judge knows all the facts with certainty, so there are no false accusations, and the reo truly bears the declared reatus as real responsibility for a real fault (culpa). Yet reatus means something stronger than mere responsibility, for it is a juridical designation that binds someone to an offense and its associated punishment. Thus I, like many others, have chosen to translate reatus as “liability,” a term of later origin derived from Latin ligare, “to bind.”

A reo is someone not yet judged, but who has a sentence hanging over him if he should be judged and found guilty, i.e. responsible or liable (reatus) for a fault (culpa). Once judgment occurs, a punishment (poena) is assigned in proportion to the reatus. Although divine justice never errs in its identification of a reatus, the accused (reo) will not be punished until the time of judgment. This opens the possibility that the accused may receive mercy before then, thereby being spared punishment.

In all the above, the reatus is a sort of surrogate for culpa. When we find someone liable, it is on account of the blameworthy fault or objective guilt. Later Scholastics would draw a distinction between the reatus culpa (liability for guilt) and reatus poena (liability for punishment), but this is foreign to classical Roman law.[1] The one who is liable (reatus) for a fault (culpa) is by the same fact a debitor deserving punishment (poena).

When discussing original sin, the distinction between culpa and reatus is important, since the fault (culpa) belongs to Adam, yet the reatus is carried by his descendants. There are many cases where one person may be liable for the fault of another: employers for their employees, parents for their children, owners for their animals. This does not violate the principle of Roman justice that there can be no penalty (poena) where there is no fault (culpa), since every reatus is ultimately referable to some culpa.

Although Roman law generally held that men are not held liable for the crimes of their fathers, this did not extend to the denial of honors to posterity. A man denied titles of honor because of treason or some other crime should also have these titles denied to his descendants by default (i.e., unless they should earn them anew on their own). Otherwise, we would hardly be penalizing him at all, since his concern for title is to secure his posterity.[2] There is no injustice in this, since honors are reward for loyalty to the sovereign, and no such reward is deserved where this is absent. This seems roughly akin to the case with Adam’s descendants, who have lost special favors or supernatural graces on account of his disobedience. This is not the same as being punished for his crime, though our own punishable sins arise from the vicious desires we have because of this lack of grace.

The Eastern Orthodox have generally objected to this line of analysis. This is not out of any aversion to Roman law, which governed even the Byzantine Empire, but due to a sensibility that divine justice transcends human juridical terms. While we can hardly deny that the mystery of divine judgment transcends our concepts, at the same time we should expect that eternal justice should at least be congruent with our sounder notions of human justice. Otherwise, the justice of God could give us no assurance of divine benevolence, if this “justice” were to mean something altogether alien to human understanding. With respect for the mystery of Divine Wisdom, we may nonetheless endeavor to show how the doctrine of original sin is at least consistent with justice as understood by wise men.

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6.2 Reatus or Liability for Concupiscence

Where God did… by a just sentence condemn the man who wilfully sins, together with his stock; there also, as a matter of course, whatsoever was even not yet born is justly condemned in its sinful root. In this condemned stock carnal generation holds every man; and from it nothing but spiritual regeneration liberates him. (On Original Sin, II, 44)

When God punished Adam for his sin, expelling him from Paradise, He at the same time applied the same condemnation to all of Adam’s posterity. This was just, not because children are culpable for the sins of their parents, but because no one deserves Paradise on their own merits. Adam’s nature no longer had the special graces or aids that made him suited for life in Paradise, so his offspring would naturally have the same deficiency. Yet St. Augustine seems to be making a somewhat stronger statement, saying that all the descendants of Adam were already present at the time of his condemnation, at least as a biological potential, that is, as “his stock” or a “sinful root.” This root being condemned, it follows that anyone born of that stock is also justly condemned. Here it seems that the “stuff” of humanity is condemned.

This unseemly consequence, difficult to reconcile with the basic goodness of created nature asserted in Genesis and admitted by St. Augustine elsewhere, results from attempting to give a positive biological cause of the transmission of original sin. Whenever St. Augustine or any of his successors tries to do this, there is a danger of treating original sin as though it were a positively existent quality or attribute of the human stock, rather than an absence or defect.

While it is true Christian doctrine that original sin is transmitted by carnal generation, it is perhaps misleading to make the generative act itself the bearer and transmitter of moral culpability. Natural generation does not transmit evil or guilt as positive entities, but only fails to transmit the supernatural grace necessary to overcome inclinations toward evil. Anyone born without this grace cannot deserve Heaven, and so is justly excluded from eternal life unless regenerated. St. Augustine is correct, then, to associate carnal generation with damnation and spiritual regeneration with eternal life, but this does not mean that we merit damnation by virtue of the lustfulness of the conjugal act, or by some existent quality of the human stock.

Concupiscence is still present in the baptized, but it is no longer held against us, on account of the remission of all sins committed before baptism.

In the unregenerate it is prejudicial (obest) to such an extent indeed, that, unless they are born again, no advantage can accrue to them from being born of regenerate parents. There of course remains in the offspring the vice of origin, so that it makes it accused (ream), even when the liability (reatus) of the self-same vice has been washed away in the parent by the remission of sins, until every vice which with consent ends in sin is consumed in the last regeneration… (On Original Sin, II, 44)

Manet quippe in prole, ita ut ream faciat, originis vitium; etiam si in parente reatus ejusdem vitii remissione ablutus est peccatorum, donec omne vitium cui consentiendo peccatur, regeneratione novissima consumatur…

The bold text is an original, literal translation of the Latin, correcting common misleading translations of reatus and vitium. Vice is a desire that results in sin only when we give our consent. Though no sin results when we do not consent, it is evident that vicious desire has no place at all after the final regeneration.

Although the liability (reatus) for original sin is removed from baptized parents, so they are no longer subject to punishment for the concupiscence of their flesh, still the defect of vicious desire is transmitted to their offspring. Baptism does not abolish concupiscence in the parents, so we may expect the same vicious desires to be present in their offspring by natural propagation. It is less obvious why the liability should be present in the offspring, though it has been remitted in the parents.

And thus there is a whole and perfect cleansing, in the self-same Baptismal laver, not only of all the sins remitted now in Baptism, which make us reos owing to the consent we yield to vicious desires (desideriis vitiosis), and to the sinful acts in which they issue; but of these said vicious desires (desideria vitiosa) also, which if not consented to by us, no liability of sin is contracted (nullus peccati reatus contrahitur), and which, though not in this present life removed, will yet have no existence in the life beyond. (Ibid., II, 44)

Sins make us reos, and therefore liable, insofar as we consent to vicious desires. Baptism also cleanses the vicious desires themselves, so that the baptised do not contract liability of sin (reatus peccati) from these desires as long as they consent to them. The implication is that the unbaptised would indeed contract such liability from vicious desire or concupiscence even if they do not consent. Although the baptised are cleansed of the liability of concupiscence, the vicious desires themselves remain in this life, and so are passed to their offspring, who are born liable for them.

And so the liability of that vice of which we speak (Reatus itaque vitii ejus de quo loquimur) will remain in the carnal offspring of the regenerate, until in them also it be washed away in the laver of regeneration. A regenerate man does not regenerate, but generates, sons according to the flesh; and thus he transmits to his posterity, not the condition of the regenerated, but only of the generated.

Therefore, be a man guilty of unbelief, or a perfect believer, he does not in either case beget faithful children, but sinners; in the same way that the seeds, not only of a wild olive, but also of a cultivated one, produce not cultivated olives, but wild ones. (Ibid., II, 45)

It is the inheritance of vicious desires that transmits liability to the offspring. Although these desires are not sinful unless accompanied by consent, we are liable to punishment by virtue of possessing them. Exclusion from heavenly life on their account is just, since their possession is incompatible with that life. Baptized parents have that liability removed in this life, and will have the desires themselves removed in the next. Since they still possess such desires here on earth, however, they transmit them to posterity by natural means, but the removal of liability is not transmitted. There is nothing remarkable about vicious desires and their concomitant liabiilty being inherited, once we recognize such desires as belonging to our wounded nature. The only mystery, if any, is not why vicious desires are inherited, but why the baptismal remission is not. Yet we have no reason to expect the supernatural benefit of baptism to be transmitted naturally from parent to offspring.

Note that it is not at all essential to St. Augustine’s doctrine so far to insist that we bear culpa or fault for original sin. Elsewhere, he will make the case that we bear culpa as all sinned in Adam, but that is not necessary to account for the transmission of liability (reatus), which can be explained simply by natural generation.

Since all born in natural generation receive the liability (reatus) of vicious desire, then all are subject to penalty (poena), as would be evident to anyone familiar with Roman juridical concepts. Baptism, by removing the liability, frees us from penalty, and this is why it has been portrayed as a liberation, akin to ransoming a captive.

So, likewise, his first birth holds a man in that bondage from which nothing but his second birth delivers him. The devil holds him, Christ liberates him… he holds him, who injected into the woman the cause of lust (tenet qui causam libidinis intulit feminae); He liberates him, who without any lust was conceived in the woman. (Ibid., II, 45)

Again, St. Augustine appears to indicate that sexual lust is the vicious desire that transmits liability for original sin. Yet this should be taken as an illustration or example of a more generalized concupiscence or vicious desires, all of which are in no less need of cleansing. Noteworthy is the role of the devil, portrayed as introducing the libidinous motive (causam libidinis), implying that such desire was not present before the temptation. Before raising biological objections, we should be reminded that the original human condition was endowed with supernatural graces, including immortality, and that our first parents are depicted in Genesis as innocent in their nakedness.

The very sacraments indeed of the Church, which she administers with due ceremony, according to the authority of very ancient tradition… show plainly enough that infants, even when fresh from the womb, are delivered from the bondage of the devil through the grace of Christ. For, to say nothing of the fact that they are baptized for the remission of sins by no fallacious, but by a true and faithful mystery, there is previously wrought on them the exorcism and the exsufflation of the hostile power, which they profess to renounce by the mouth of those who bring them to baptism.

Now, by all these consecrated and evident signs of hidden realities, they are shown to pass from their worst oppressor to their most excellent Redeemer, who, by taking on Himself our infirmity in our behalf, has bound the strong man, that He may spoil his goods; [Matt. 12:29] seeing that the weakness of God is stronger, not only than men, but also than angels. While, therefore, God delivers small as well as great, He shows in both instances that the apostle spoke under the direction of the Truth. For it is not merely adults, but little babes too whom He rescues from the power of darkness, in order to transfer them to the kingdom of God’s dear Son. [Col. 1:13] (On Original Sin, II, 45)

In addition to the manifest presence of vicious desires, the unbaptized are also subject to the hidden reality of bondage to the devil. The liturgical traditions of the Church attest that this bondage exists even for infants who have committed no personal sin. Ordinarily, one is said to be in bondage to the devil insofar as he sins. The mere presence of vicious desires should not establish this bondage, even if we accept the Augustinian position that the devil introduced such desires to humanity. After all, these desires remain in the baptized, though they are no longer in bondage to the devil. It is not immediately clear if this bondage is a simple consequence of our liability for vicious desires.

What is born in the flesh, either of a sinner or of a just man, is in both cases a sinner, St. Augustine says. (De Nuptiis, I, 21) Though we cannot inherit the personal will of another, we can inherit the vicious desires that induce us to sin. Even if we do not consent to these desires, we are liable for them, insofar as they are incompatible with heavenly life. “He that is begotten is no sinner as yet in act, and is still new from his birth; but in liability (reato) he is old. Human from the Creator, he is a captive of the deceiver…” (Loc. cit.) He is a captive insofar as he bears the concupiscence introduced by the devil, which prevents him for attaining heavenly life. Only when Christ redeems him, reopening the gates of heaven, is he no longer a captive.

It may be wondered how someone can be born a captive if his parents are freed or redeemed, since in ordinary human justice, the child of free parents is considered free, not a slave. As with the cultivated olive begetting wild olives, this is hard to accept a priori, but can be proved by experiment. The ancient practice of exorcising the devil’s power during the rite of Baptism, even for infants, should suffice to convince any Christian that our children are indeed born captive to the devil. St. Augustine asks: What could keep them under the power of the devil but sin? Yet if they have committed no personal sin, there remains only original sin whereby they are the devil’s captives. (De nuptiis, I, 22)

Both Julian of Eclanum and St. Augustine were familiar with the Peripatetic and Stoic schools of dialectics, and Aristotelian categories in particular. (Contra Iulianum, VI, xx, 64) Thus Julian objected that, per Aristotle, what inheres in a subject cannot exist without its subject, so the evil that inheres in the parents “cannot transmit its liability (reatum) to something else to which it does not extend, that is to say, to the offspring.” (Ibid., V, xiv, 51) St. Augustine replies:

Dialectics is not false but you do not understand its teaching. What you have taken from dialectics is true; things which inhere in a subject, such as qualities, cannot exist without the subject in which they inhere, as color or form inheres in a subject body. But they pass to other things by affecting them, not by emigrating, as Ethiopians beget black men because they themselves are black, although the parents do not transfer like a coat the color of their bodies to their offspring. (Loc. cit.)

If Julian’s objection were valid, it would be impossible for any parent to pass its qualities to its offspring. St. Augustine explains that the qualities are not separated from the parent and transferred to the offspring, but rather these qualities affect the generated offspring, causing it to have similar qualities. “By means of the quality of their own bodies, they affect the body which is propagated of them.” (Loc. cit.)

Similarly, he continues, corporeal qualities can pass into incorporeal beings, as we store corporeal forms in memory and carry them with us. This does not mean we separated the forms from their bodies. A reverse process is also possible, where forms pass from the spirit to the body. “The various colors of Jacob’s rods affected the mothers of lambs, and this passed to their souls; then passing from the souls of the ewes by the same kind of influence, those colors appeared in the bodies of the lambs.” (Loc. cit.) It is not that the colors migrate from the rods to the ewe’s minds to the bodies of the lambs, but there is a causal link effecting the generation of similar forms, first in the ewe’s mind, then in the lamb’s body. He quotes the medical authority Soranus, who said a Cyprian king, being deformed, “used at time of intercourse to place before his wife a portrait of an extremely handsome man, so that she, desiring its beauty, might absorb it, and this effect might be transmitted to the offspring she conceived.”

We now know that prenatal stimuli may make conception more likely, but they do not alter the quality of the offspring. Jacob’s method, if it worked by natural means, would have been effective only because he made the desired type of ewes more sexually receptive, and because crossing genetically recessive types generates more recessive offspring.

The ineffectiveness of prenatal stimuli does not seriously harm St. Augustine’s basic argument that qualities do not need to be transferred from the parent to the offspring by migration. It is also uncontroversial that a quality of the soul can affect a quality of the body, and vice versa. Thus there is no strong biological obstacle to his view that original sin, a fault of the soul, can be transferred to offspring by ordinary natural propagation; that is, “by affecting the offspring and by contagion.”

To prove that there was no sin in Christ, St. Peter thought it sufficient to say, “He did no sin.” (1 Peter 2:22). This implies, according to Julian, that “He who did not sin could not have had sin.” (Ibid., V, xiv, 57) In other words, one need only account for personal sin, not original sin. St. Augustine replies: “Entirely true, for certainly the adult would have committed sin if there was sin in the infant. The reason that, except for Him, there is no man who has not committed sin after reaching majority is that, except for Him, no man is without sin at the beginning of infancy.” (Loc. cit.) The absence of personal sin in Christ presupposes an exemption from original sin.

Julian’s point was that, per St. Peter, if someone is without personal sin, then he is without any sin. Therefore there is no other sin besides personal sin. St. Augustine answered that personal sin is only present in those with original sin. The only way to lack personal sin is to have no original sin. Therefore, the absence of personal sin is proof of the absence of original sin in the same person.

This holds only if it is impossible for one to have original sin and not personal sin. Here St. Augustine seems to ignore the tradition that St. John the Baptist was without personal sin, though he was conceived in original sin. Perhaps he would have thought this tradition is erroneous, as seemingly implied by the words of St. John himself: “I ought to be baptized by thee.” (Matt. 3:14) This also has implications regarding the Blessed Virgin. If she were without personal sin, then by the above principle, she should also be without original sin.

Earlier, St. Augustine confessed that the Blessed Virgin alone was given by Christ “an abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular.” (On Nature and Grace, I, 42) This refers to a total absence of personal sin, but by implication of his abovementioned thought, the Blessed Virgin must have also been cleansed of original sin. St. Augustine does not specify whether this grace was received at her conception or some time afterward.

In the same quotation, he declines to include St. John the Baptist as exempt from personal sin. Elsewhere, however, he remarks that the Church celebrates only the birthday of the Baptist among all the saints, for he alone was designated as prophet and precursor by Christ before he was born, at the Visitation. Many centuries later, Pope Innocent III (1208 AD) described this conferral of grace: “…and John the Baptist had been sent from Him holy and righteous and filled with the Holy Spirit in the womb of his own mother.” While it is not a doctrine of the Church that St. John committed no personal sin in life, this pious tradition may be explained on the supposition that he received a special grace from Christ at the Visitation, cleansing him of original sin and preserving him from personal sin, after conception yet before birth.

The evil present in the unbaptized at conception is not something for which they are morally culpable, but evil in the sense of deficiency. St. Augustine draws an analogy with those who are born feeble-minded. They did nothing to deserve being born this way, yet this is not unjust, merely a natural consequence of what they have contracted from their parents. Similarly, those born with the evil of original sin did not deserve to be born so, yet God is still just, for they have contracted from their parents something deserving penalty. (Contra Iulianum, VI, i, 2) We should keep in mind that the “penalty” of original sin is natural death (and corruptibility) and the loss of Heaven. Since no one without grace can deserve immortality and eternal blessedness, there is nothing unjust in this. To complain that we were not born with these gifts is to demand that all should be born in a supernaturally exalted state, rather than receive whatever we inherit naturally from our parents.

The evil of original sin is not an evil nature mixed with our nature, as the Manichaeans hold, but a defect in our nature. The presence of such defects in so many men is proof that the human origin is “vitiated” and there is a massa damnata. (Loc. cit.) After all, if the defects of men were only accidental occurrences after birth, we should not expect to see them so universally and from an early age. By far the more parsimonious conclusion is that these defects are contracted from birth, and so there is something defective in natural generation. The inherited defects in question are not personal sins, but only the disordered desires that lead to sin. The mass of humanity is damnata in the sense of being subject to penalty, but no one is definitively condemned (condemnatus; i.e., sentenced) until the day of divine judgment, just as a reo has not yet been convicted.

Nonetheless, even in this life, we already suffer the penalties of natural corruptibility and death. This could only be just if we truly bore the reatus of original sin.

But death reigned from Adam unto Moses, even over them also who have not sinned after the similitude of the transgression of Adam, who is a figure of him was to come. (Rom. 5:14)

The standard Christian interpretation of this verse is that even though Adam’s descendants did not eat of the tree, the death that was a consequence of that food was among them. Thus they are said to be dead in sin. St. John Chrysostom calls it “..that sin which comes from the disobedience of Adam, which has defiled all.” (Contra Iulianum, I, vi, 27)

St. Augustine offers an additional interpretation, by splitting the verse in half. “But death reigned from Adam unto Moses, even over them also who have not sinned.” Why? “After the similitude of the transgression of Adam, who is a figure of him was to come.” St. Augustine infers that Adam gave posterity “the form that those begotten through his carnal concupiscence should die from the contagion of the personal sin.” (Ibid., VI, iv, 9) This is not explicitly supported by the current verse.

Elsewhere in Scripture, we find: “Great labour is created for all men, and a heavy yoke is upon the children of Adam, from the day of their coming out of their mother’s womb, until the day of their burial into the mother of all.” (Eccl. 40:1) How can this yoke be just, St. Augustine asks, unless there is some evil in infants? (Contra Iul., VI, iv, 11) Since infants are incapable of personal sin, this evil would be something for which they are liable, though not necessarily culpable.

Julian took the position that Adam’s sin was a unique event that harmed him alone and not the human race. Infants would not be born in Adam’s corrupted state. It is likely in this context that he raised the examples of exceptional creatures with unique characteristics (e.g., the crocodile alone can move its upper jaw; the salamander alone can withstand fire). St. Augustine retorts that such examples prove that general rules might have exceptions, so there could be an exception to the rule that faults are not inherited, or that ‘Natural things cannot be transformed by an accident.’ Only one exception would falsify such statements. (Contra Iul., VI, vi, 16)

Julian finds it problematic that the descendants of Adam should be able to pass on a trait that they do not have, since the original sin pertains to Adam, and especially in the baptized, who supposedly have been cleansed of original sin. “A parent cannot transmit to his offspring that which he himself does not have.” Yet this is not always true, for we find that parents with mutilated members have intact offspring, thereby passing on traits they do not have.

Against the philosophical maxim, ‘Natural things cannot be transformed by an accident,’ St. Augustine finds the following exception: “Our elders report they both knew and saw Fundanius, a Carthaginian orator, who accidentally lost the sight of one eye and generated a son with one eye.” (Loc. cit.) What was accidental in the father was natural in the son. The same Fundanius had another son born with two eyes, showing also that a parent may transmit a trait he does not have.

The story of Fundanius may have been a real occurrence, if we accept that the son had only one useful eye. Fundanius did not lose his eye, but only his sight in one eye, so this could have occurred by a hereditary disease. There are hereditary optic neuropathies, more commonly in males. In this case, however, we would not have true inheritance of an accident. (Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, or LHON, would not be a candidate, since this depends on mitochondrial DNA, transmitted maternally.) Coincidence is also a possibility.

On the other hand, Charles-Édouard Brown-Séquard famously showed that the epileptic effects of traumatic spinal cord lesions were heritable in pigs. This finding has never been adequately explained or refuted. The phenomenon could be epigenetic, since it is possible for postnatal changes in gene function to be passed to offspring, even though gene structure does not change. [Michael J. Aminoff. Brown-Sequard: An Improbable Genius Who Transformed Medicine (Oxford Univ. Press, 2010) p.193] If we are to take a biological view of the heritability original sin, we would not have to show that offspring are inheriting an accidentally acquired genetic structure from Adam, but only a different way of expressing the genes. Since sin has to do with how we use our faculties more than the introduction of new faculties, this would seem an apt analogy.

It would be perilous, however, to use such examples as indicating more than the mere philosophical possibility of inheriting accidental properties. If we were to take the view that original sin corresponds to some concrete gene or gene expression, we should have to acknowledge that there would be no biological guarantee that all humans will inherit this same characteristic. It is much more cogent to think of inherited original sin as a privation or lack of supernatural grace, without which we cannot subject our natural desires to right reason.

St. Augustine consistently rejects the Manichaean interpretation of evil as something substantive. This opens him to Julian’s charge that infants are inheriting evil qualities without substance, though philosophy teaches that accidents without substance are impossible. He responds that good and evil qualities may pass from one substance to another, not by migrating, but by affecting the substance. (Contra Iul., VI, xi, 36) This is an impressively astute account of biological heredity, which agrees with modern understanding of how genetics works. A parent does not transmit its traits to offspring by substantially moving the traits into the offspring, but by affecting the zygote in such a way that it will produce those traits itself.

Although man’s body is also sanctified in sacred baptism, it is sanctified so that through the remission of sins he is not obnoxium for past sins, nor for the concupiscence of the flesh which exists in him. Every man at birth is necessarily obnoxius of this concupiscence, and will be until death, if he is not reborn. (Contra Iulianum, VI, xiv, 44)

The term obnoxius (lit., “facing injury”) means punishable, i.e., liable to be punished. Man is born subject to penalty for the sinful desire in him, though he is not culpable for this desire nor for Adam’s sin. Baptism removes this liability, but not concupiscence, so the children of the baptized are born in liability.

So people are truly saved by baptism, since they are freed from the penalty of original sin, that is, they are no longer liable (obnoxius) for it. (Ibid., VI, xiv, 44)

It can never be just for there to be liability that is not consequent to some guilt (culpa), but perhaps it is possible that one person may be liable for the guilt of another. Elsewhere, St. Augustine gives the examples of the thousands who died from pestilence as a result of David’s sin. (2 Sam. [2 Kgs.] 24:15), and the penalty suffered by those under interdict because of one person’s usurpation. (Ibid., VI, x, 28) In the first case, the punishment was directed at David (see v.12-13); i.e., there is a corporate solidarity of David and his kingdom. When the king sins, all suffer. This is no more unjust or unfitting than that all should suffer under a foolish government. In the second instance, all who live in the lands of a local lord who has rebelled against the central government fall under interdict, losing the benefits of citizenship. The people are punished for the rebellion of one. Again, this is not unjust, but a simple consequence of the fact that their leader has withdrawn his loyalty to the state, thereby depriving them of membership in that polity, and its concomitant benefits.

We will later see that St. Augustine avers a similar solidarity between Adam and his descendants. In this case, the solidarity is in human nature. Once Adam’s nature is corrupted (whether by a positive quality or mere privation), all who receive his nature by descent are likewise corrupted as a natural consequence, and are liable to suffer whatever penalty is due to such corruption. This penalty includes denial of eternal life, as corruption is incompatible with this. Those who are liable for this original sin and nothing else will not suffer much, if any, penalty beyond exclusion from Heaven. Of course, concupiscence frequently induces us to commit our own personal sins, and we become justly liable for these as well. We may also find analogy with the example of interdict, since Adam’s sin was one of disobedience or rebellion. As a result, he loses his “citizenship” in the kingdom of God, and so do we, insofar as we partake of his nature, which rebels against the good even in involuntary desire.

Yet St. Augustine generally prefers a simpler, more direct argument to establish that we are in fact liable for Adam’s sin. (1) It is inarguable that we suffer the penalty of Adam’s sin, both from observation of nature (i.e., people die and suffer, including infants, and have evil desires)and from the testimony of revelation (without Christ’s redemptive grace, all would be condemned). (2) If God is just, then we must somehow bear some guilt for this penalty. (3) Since the guilt is not our own, but properly of Adam, we bear this guilt only in the sense of being held liable for Adam’s sin.

It is obstinate and obdurate “to confess that sins are evil and yet deny that the lust for sins (concupiscentiam peccatorum) is evil, even when the spirit lusting (concupiscente) against it does not permit it to conceive and give birth to sins…” (Ibid., VI, xv, 48) (Note that the participle concupiscente is here used in a positive sense.) St. Augustine is saying that lust for sins is evil even when we do not consent, because it is a bad thing to have to war against such desires. This is why such desires are not present in the resurrection.

Still, the evil of desires to which we do not consent does not make us personally culpable. These desires are a penalty for Adam’ sin, not a crime for which we are culpable. Yet St. Augustine further says:

Must not an evil of this kind and so great bind man in death and carry him to final death merely because it is in him, unless its bond be loosed in that remission of all sins… (Loc. cit.)

Here concupiscence seems to be equated with original sin. Its presence, even if we do not consent to it (i.e., even those who did not sin after the likeness of Adam), makes us liable to the penalty of death. Thus concupiscence is at least a sign of liability for Adam’s sin.

Those baptized (lit., immersed) in Christ’s death will die to sin, since Christ was without sin. This merely restates the mystery of Redemption, without explaining it. The baptized lose every sin, but not every evil, so they retain concupiscence. “More plainly, he loses every liability for every evil, but not every evil. (Omni reatu omnium malorum caret, non omnibus malis.)” (Ibid., VI, xv, 49)

Only the concupiscence whereby the flesh lusts against the spirit is evil, not the good concupiscence where the spirit lust against the flesh. (cf Gal. 5:17) “Ignorance of evil is not always evil, but lust after evil is always evil… It is never possible that man’s good be lusted after by carnal concupiscence, since not even offspring itself is desired by the lust of the body, but by the intention of the soul…” Clearly, the irrational, unconscious aspect of sexual desire is regarded as always evil by St. Augustine. We are not desiring any good thereby, “unless the pleasure of the flesh is the good of man.” (Ibid., VI, xv, 50)

The ancient Greek philosophers Dinomachus and Calliphon, mentioned by Cicero and Clement of Alexandria, held that the end (telos) of man was both sensual pleasure (hedone) and moral duty (Gk. kathekon; Lat. honestas). According to Calliphon’s followers, virtue was introduced for sake of pleasure, but subsequently, on seeing its own beauty, it made itself equally prized with the first principle (i.e., pleasure). (Note the similarity with modern “scientific” accounts of the origin of morality, which would reduce everything to a hedonistic neurological reward system.) Cicero finds this position rebuked by recta ratio: “What, when the essence of morality (honestas) is to scorn pleasure (voluptate), will you couple morality with pleasure, like a human being with a beast?” (Academica, II, 139) The general incompatibility of moral duty and pleasure had been easily demonstrated by Chrysippus the Stoic. Cicero notes that the pursuit of pleasure leads to the ruin of “fellowship with mankind, charity, friendship, justice, and the rest of the virtues, none of which can exist unless they are free (gratuita), for virtue driven to duty by pleasure as a sort of pay is not virtue at all but a deceptive sham and pretence of virtue.” (Ibid., II, 140)

St. Augustine likewise considered the union of honestas and pleasure as the good to be a monstrous “compound of human and animal nature.” Even if his adversary Julian were to hold this ethic, “we shall be satisfied with your admission that one pleasure is lawful, another unlawful. The concupiscence which seeks both of them indiscriminately is evil, unless it be restrained from unlawful pleasure by lawful pleasure.” (Contra Iul., VI, xv, 50) In other words, even if one holds that the pursuit of carnal pleasure is compatible with virtue, it must still be admitted that some carnal pleasures are unlawful (i.e., perverse sexual acts, adultery, fornication). Since concupiscence of the flesh indiscriminately seeks lawful and unlawful pleasures, it is evil. Even if the pursuit of lawful carnal pleasure were not evil, concupiscence would still be evil, since it disregards moral distinctions, having equal regard for lawful and unlawful pleasure. The baptized do not lose the evil of concupiscence, but are free from its liability, and overcome it so that it does not draw them to what is unlawful.

When St. Augustine says the reatus of concupiscence is removed, he does not mean that concupiscence itself is absolved, as Julian sophistically supposes, but rather the person is freed from liability. (Contra Iul., VI, xvii, 51) Likewise, when the reatus of murder is removed from someone, we do not mean the reatus of murder itself, as though murder were no longer a crime deserving punishment. Clearly, St. Augustine regards concupiscence itself as the thing deserving punishment. The baptized are freed from liability because the evil thing is no longer associated with their person. This does not change the fact that the evil, of itself, deserves punishment.

This subtle distinction seems intelligible enough for ordinary personal sins. When we say that murder, of itself, deserves punishment, we do not mean that murder itself can be punished. Rather, whoever bears culpability for murder deserves punishment on account of how evil murder is intrinsically. Only in this way can the crime itself be said to have reatus. By analogy, St. Augustine regards concupiscence, i.e., vicious desire, to be evil in itself, so it likewise has reatus. Yet it is not obvious why the bearer of concupiscence should assume its reatus if he does not give his consent, and thus has no culpa.

A further difficulty of situating reatus in concupiscence itself is that it would seem to give evil a positive natural existence, akin to the opinion of the Manichaeans. St. Augustine distinguishes his view from the latter, however, by considering concupiscence as a fault of privation, like bad health.

I say that the fault by which the flesh lusts against the spirit is inborn in man, from his vitiated origin, as a kind of bad health. I say that conjugal modesty uses this evil well when it uses it for the purpose of generation; however, in this good use of evil we do not praise the evil itself, but him who uses it. The evil is not innocent, but the user… (Contra Iul.,, VI, xviii, 55)

Here we are talking specifically about sexual concupiscence. This is always evil, no matter how it is used. Yet there is no evil in the person who uses it well, though the concupiscence itself remains evil (malum). In what sense is well-used concupiscence evil? Using Augustine’s earlier argument, carnal lust is evil (malum) because it makes no distinction between lawful and unlawful pursuits. Yet there is no evil in the person who uses it well, implying that concupiscence is something extrinsic to the person as a moral agent. Our moral agency is confined to our rational will, for we have no personal sin where we do not give voluntary consent.

It may seem strange to ascribe moral evil to an involuntary desire detached from any willing subject. Here one cannot mean evil in the sense of culpability, which is necessary for sin in sensu strictu, but only as that which may induce someone to sin. In the kingdom of heaven, which admits no sin, there cannot exist anything which could possibly induce someone to sin. Thus concupiscence, though not strictly sinful in itself, is incompatible with eternal life, since it may lead to sin.

Sins that have passed in their action remain in reatu. That is, they are still juridical subjects even though their action has been completed. Conversely, Augustine says, concupiscence can remain in its action and pass away in reatu. (Contra Iul., VI, xix, 60) It is easy to show that rea and action need not be contemporaneous. One may persist without the other, as a criminal remains liable for his crime long after it has been committed. Likewise, if his crime is redeemed by paying a penalty or receiving pardon, this dispels the reatus but does not abolish the reality of the act. A sovereign may even pardon an illicit act that is ongoing, as when he allows an ordinarily ineligible person to hold some office. Similarly, God may pardon us of the penalty due to concupiscence even while concupiscence remains. Still, the concupiscence itself will have to be abolished in order for us to enter into the eternal reward.

According to St. Augustine, the reatus of concupiscence is not dispelled until baptism. This reatus, evidently, is not something confined to Adam’s sinful act, but pertains to all men before their baptism. Surprisingly, St. Augustine does not take the obvious route of saying that we bear reatus for Adam’s sin long after the act was committed. Instead, the reatus is due to concupiscence, which persists in its action even after the reatus is remitted. The action proper to concupiscence, to be clear, is not effecting sin with the consent of the will, but generating evil desires for us to fight. This bad quality (qualitas mala) exists in us even when we are not actually tempted, due to lack of an occasion, just as timidity is in a timid man even when he is not currently frightened. (Loc. cit.) The faculty exists even when it is not in use.

In this account, it would seem that baptism redeems liability not for Adam’s sin, but for the concupiscence that is a consequence of that sin. This substitution or identification between original sin and concupiscence seems problematic, as it ignores the requirement of justice that reatus must always be due to some sin in sensu strictu. There can be no reatus unless there is some preceding culpa. Perhaps concupiscence is a sign or effect of original sin, or even the means by which we receive the effects of Adam’s fault, but to say that baptism forgives concupiscence is to make an involuntary desire a sin. Concupiscence is a natural evil, much like bad health, but it is not a moral offense, since it is involuntary. It may be the object of sin or the antecedent of sin, but it is not sin itself.

Confusion between original sin and concupiscence is understandable, since the liability for original sin is transmitted through natural propagation, and we are all born with vicious desires that are incompatible with heavenly bliss. Further, it is evident from Scripture that our first parents did not experience concupiscence in the way that we do. This does not mean, however, that concupiscence is not a natural appetite, or even that it is a defect of our nature. Concupiscence as such has a positive natural role, but after Adam’s sin, it is in a disordered state. This disorder primarily results from its relation to our rational will, which alone is where sin proper resides. After our first parents transgressed, they lost their preternatural or supernatural gifts which gave them complete command over their sensual appetites, at least in the moral sphere. Worse, these appetites can now be directed to perverse purposes by our bad habits. While it is true that sensual appetites are indifferent to good and evil, this does not make them defective, for they perform a useful role, when subordinated to moral criteria. Still, our spiritual fault (lack of original grace) received from Adam enables us to develop bad mental habits that lead to perverse involuntary desires far beyond what nature would ordinarily induce in animals. This perverse desire, or evil concupiscence, is a consequence of original sin, but is not to be identified with it.

Another negative consequence of associating concupiscence too closely with original sin is that it practically forces St. Augustine to identify the latter as a positive quality, not a mere privation. Still, he may recognize that it is not the positive existence of concupiscence, but the fault of its disorder, that is blameworthy in man. Thus, shortly after calling concupiscence a qualitas mala, he refers to it as a fault (vitium). This vitium holds man in reatu, even if born of chaste spouses who make good use of concupiscence. (Loc. cit.)

The idea that vicious concupiscence is not sin, but merely a sign of bad spiritual health, is consistent with the consensus of early Christians, who drew a close association between spiritual salvation and health, an association that was emphasized in the miracles of the Gospels. Thus St. Augustine says: “The Lord not only forgives all our iniquities, but also heals all our diseases.” (Loc. cit.) In his view, such healing requires removal of all vicious desire. “When occasion for lusting arises, yet no evil desire is excited, not even against our will, we have full health.” (Loc. cit.) It can hardly be denied that Christians still have such desires even after baptism. Though these desires are not sinful, nor are they even accounted as sin (in the Augustinian system that regards concupiscence as having reatus in the unbaptized), they are still inconsistent with perfect health. St. Augustine sees the healing of Christians taking place in three stages, following a division of Luke 13:32: “Behold, I cast out devils and bring perfect health today and tomorrow, and the third day I am to end my course.” (1) Casting out devils refers to the remission of sins at baptism; (2) bringing perfect health refers to the progress of Christians in grace after baptism; (3) the third day or resurrection refers to the beatitude of incorruptible joy. With respect to concupiscence: (1) its reatus is removed; (2) Christians become more able to resist its temptations to sin; (3) the generator of temptations, i.e., concupiscence itself, is finally removed.

This talk of removing reatus begs the question: what exactly is the reatus? Julian denied it is a subject (subiectum), that is, a substance (substantia, be it spiritus or corpus), so it must be something that is in a subject (i.e., an accident, per Aristotle’s substance-accident distinction). Yet St. Augustine finds that the subject in which reatus inheres cannot be the mere conscience of the offender, as Julian suggests. If it exists in someone’s soul, where will it be in one who forgets his transgression and is not stung by his conscience? It is not in the body, since it is not an accident proper to bodies, nor in the soul, since it is forgotten. “Where, then, does it remain except in the hidden laws of God written somehow in the minds of angels…” (Ibid., VI, xix, 62) Thus the reatus only has existence with respect to divine law. Since it is not a quality of man’s body or soul, God may remove it without altering our nature qualitatively.

Making an analogy with temporal law, baptism washes away the “reatus written as in a bond (chirographus) in the knowledge of the spiritual powers through which punishment for sins is required.” We are freed from the debt (debito) of the bond (chirographus) by the blood of Christ. (Loc. cit.) The locus of the reatus is in heavenly knowledge of divine law, which requires penalties for sins. This fixed knowledge, as applied to our particular circumstances, may be conceived as a sort of written bond that we are bound to pay. All born in original sin are bound to pay the penalty of permanent exclusion from Heaven. We are freed from this bond by the blood of Christ, which does not alter the divine law, but makes satisfaction for what we owe. The mystery of Atonement is beyond our present scope of discussion, but suffice it to note that the “bond” redeemed is in Heaven, reflecting our obligations under divine law. It is not, as some early Fathers speculated (by analogy with ransomed captives), bondage to the devil in the sense that we owe anything to him for our liberation.

Since Christ was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Holy Spirit, He had no sinful flesh, only the likeness (similitudo) of sinful flesh, and so was not subject to the bond. (Ideo illi chirographo non venit obnoxius). (Loc. cit.) Likewise, those freed by Christ are not liable (obnoxios) to the bond. This makes possible a different approach to understanding the Redemption. Instead of seeing this as a substitutionary atonement, where Christ pays the penalty on all our bonds, it is because of our union with Christ, who was never under the bond of original sin, that we are also free from the bond. Liberation from sin begins in the Incarnation, making it more apparent how the Blessed Virgin has participated in the Redemption. This incarnational view of the Redemption found favor among many Greek Fathers.

At the risk of digression, we remark that the principal meaning of atonement (to make “at one,”) is reconciliation. God in Christ reconciled the world to Himself. (2 Cor. 5:19) Jesus was put forth by God to be a propitiator (i.e., one who conciliates or appeases) through faith in His blood. (Rom. 3:25) Christ is at once the priestly offerer and the spotless offering, effecting reconciliation between God and man. As St. Augustine taught elsewhere, God does not require the satisfaction of debt to be moved to mercy and reconciliation. (In Joannem, Tract cx, 6) On the contrary, His merciful charity is the cause of such satisfaction.

Christ’s sacrifice is pleasing to God not because of some divine zeal for penal satisfaction, but because He is obedient to the Father, even unto death. This sacrifice is an expression of charity, i.e., love of God and neighbor, as we are reminded in its Eucharistic celebration. “By his stripes we were healed…” (Isaiah 53:5), and these wounds are an expression of perfect charity or love (“Greater love hath no man…). It is this charity that appeases or satisfies God, not suffering as such.

Although the Crucifixion probably should not be understood as Christ receiving punishment in our stead, it is nonetheless true that His sacrifice took the place of our punishment, at least in the sense that it made us no longer liable to penalty. The mystery of how this was effected is beyond our present discussion. Still, it has been a universally received Catholic theological opinion that Christ’s sacrifice also accomplished full juridical satisfaction, by virtue of His infinite merit, though this penal satisfaction may be viewed as only secondary to the act of Redemption, which is a purely charitable, divinely initiated reconciliation. This should be especially evident to Catholic Christians, who view the Eucharistic sacrifice as the ever-present manifestation of divine charity, not restricted to a single point in time.

We are united with Christ’s sacrifice by faith, as the context of Romans 3:25 shows. This faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in our souls and bodies. Christ’s redemptive act extends to our flesh. “For you are bought with a great price. Glorify and bear God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6:20)

Even after baptism, iniquity is still present in a man if his higher powers serve the lower, or if the lower powers resist the higher, even if they do not prevail. “If man suffered this iniquity from an external enemy, another man, it would not exist in him, and it would be punished apart from him.” (Contra Iul., VI, xix, 62) Here St. Augustine shows that his position most naturally follows if, like Julian, we oppose Manichaeism. Since the evil in us is not some alien nature, but proper to us, we ourselves ought to be held liable for it. When God forgives us this liability, we are no longer subject to condemnation, but since it is not an alien nature, we do not lose it entirely: “since it is a sickness of our nature, so that it may be healed in us.” God allows the concupiscence to remain, since it is part of us, so that it may be healed in us, ultimately when we have perfect beatitude.

As discussed, it is problematic to regard involuntary concupiscence as “iniquity&rdquo in the sense of being a sin deserving punishment. Nonetheless, St. Augustine’s more fundamental point remains, namely that the liability we bear for original sin is consequent to a fault or privation in our nature, which remains even after baptism removes the liability, as proved by the persistence of concupiscence in Christians.

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6.3 Man Not Made for the Devil

By allowing man to be born in sin, did God make man for the devil? St. Augustine answers that God made man for His own profound purposes. Just as He did not refrain from creating the devil though He knew the devil would sin, so did He allow man created good to sin and propagate that sin. God knew how to make good use of the devil’s evil, so He can do likewise with man’s evil, to further His own good and righteous works. By making some “vessels of wrath” he makes known the riches of his glory toward the vessels of mercy. (De nuptiis, II, 31, cf. Rom. 9:23)

Julian’s contention that men born in bondage to the devil would be “made for the devil” proves too much. St. Augustine retorts that the same objection could be made about any of the reprobate. Can Julian deny that the vessels of wrath are under the dominion of the devil, and that they are made by God? (Loc. cit.)

In another argument, Julian says St. Augustine makes parents as bad as murderers, giving birth to children under condemnation. St. Augustine responds rhetorically: why not go further and blame God?

…yet He does not cease to create those He has foreknown will burn in eternal fires, nor is aught but goodness imputed to Him because He creates them. Certain infants, even those baptized, He does not take from this life as adopted into the eternal kingdom, and does not confer on them the great benefit given him of whom we read: ‘He was taken away lest wickedness alter his understanding.’ [Wisd. 4:11] (Contra Iulianum, V, x, 43)

This foreknowledge (or more properly, knowledge from eternity) should not be confused with the notion that anyone is preordained to damnation no matter what they do. Still, the point remains that God foreknows who will be condemned and so presumably could prevent this by not creating these persons. If God is not to be blamed for creating those whom He foreknows to be reprobate, much less should we blame parents, who have no way of knowing in advance if their children will be saved or condemned. Thus St. Augustine says nothing is imputed to God but the goodness of his act of creation, though He foreknows the creature’s fate; similarly nothing is imputed to parents, ignorant of their children’s future, but the act of begetting. (Loc. cit.)

God created the heavens, earth, and all creatures in their substance, which is good as such. The devil is the prince of “this world” only in a restricted sense, meaning all men who are subject to eternal condemnation; i.e., he is the prince of sinners. It is only in this sense that unbaptized are “born to the world” and “belong by right to the devil.” (Ibid., VI, ii, 3)

The devil is the corrupter of substance, not its creator, and Christ the Mediator raises corrupted men from condemnation out of mercy, through election of grace, not in view of works past, present or future. “Otherwise, grace is no longer grace.” (cf. Rom 11:6) This is most obvious in case of infants, who have no works. (Contra Iul., VI, xix, 59)

St. Augustine rejects Manichaeism, which he understands as a mixture of two natures, one good and one evil. He says that Julian’s objections to his doctrine are actually consonant with Manichaeism. Julian claims ‘The root of evil cannot be located in the gift of God,’ and ‘Sins do not arise from a thing which is free from sin,’ and ‘Guilt cannot be produced from a work which does not have guilt.’ These claims all rest on the assumption that evils cannot come from goods, which implies that evils come only from evils, a basic Manichaean doctrine. Ironically, it is Julian’s doctrine that stands or falls with Manichaeism. (Ibid., VI, xxi, 66)

Cicero said of infants: “Man has been thrust into these miseries by nature, more a stepmother than a mother.” The Manichaeans point out many evils endured by infants, and say, “Since God is just and omnipotent, whence does His image in infants suffer such evils unless there is really, as we hold, a mixture of two natures, good and evil?” (Ibid., VI, xxi, 67) The Catholic answer is original sin. Without it, St. Augustine claims, there is either Manichaeism or the admission that “God is either impotent or unjust, since under His power His image in infants, with no personal or original sin to deserve punishment, is afflicted with such evils; for they cannot cultivate virtue through them, as you say about adults, who have the use of reason.” (Loc. cit.)

It may not be necessary to appeal to original sin to account for natural pains. Not all pains are inflicted as punishment, and since God does not owe anyone a life of perfect bliss, it is not necessarily unjust for Him to permit infants to suffer pains from accidents of nature or human choice. God permits many deliberate evils to go unpunished in this life, so He might very well tolerate natural evils.

St. Augustine concludes his response to Julian’s accusation of lingering Manichaeism (repeated for centuries by many careless scholars) in these forceful terms:

By your petulant words you do injury to the laver of regeneration which I received in the bosom of my Catholic mother. The baneful poison of the ancient dragon has become so much a part of you that you not only label Catholics with the infamous name of Manichaeans, but by your perverse teaching you also help the Manichaeans themselves. (Loc. cit.)

It is hardly credible that St. Augustine would imitate the Manichaeans deliberately, and given his repeated defense against the accusation, equally incredible that he could do so unknowingly.

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6.4 All Sinned in Adam

Thus far we have noted that the descendants of Adam bear reatus for the sin for which Adam was culpable. Yet how can we justly bear liability for the sin that another man willed? It would seem that “original sin” is a misnomer insofar as it implies that we can have a sin which we did not will. St. Augustine agrees that there can be no sin without will. The will, however, is that of Adam, and all of us willed because the whole human race was in Adam. This is a distinct claim from all that has gone before, for it tries to explain how the culpa, and not merely the reatus, pertains to us, as justice would seem to require.

The famous prooftext for this claim is Romans 5:12-19. In the Douay rendering of the Vulgate, we find:

Wherefore as by one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death; and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned. (5:12)

…by the offence of one, unto all men to condemnation… (5:17)

…by the disobedience of one man, many were made sinners… (5:19)

With these texts, St. Augustine successfully refutes the idea that sin and condemnation occurs by mere emulation of Adam. (De nuptiis, II, 47) This is expressly denied by the Apostle: “ But death reigned from Adam unto Moses, even over them also who have not sinned after the similitude of the transgression of Adam.” (Rom. 5:13) It need not follow, however, that all sinned in Adam. We have previously given other examples of how liability may be justly passed to other persons. It would suffice to say simply “that original sin had passed upon all men by generation.” (De nuptiis, II, 45)

The notion that all sinned in Adam, foreign to the minds of the Greek Fathers, relies on the Vulgate’s highly doubtful rendering of the Greek in Romans 5:12. The Greek terms εφ ‘ωι are translated as in quo (“in whom”). While this translation is not impossible, there are strong considerations against it. A much more likely translation is “inasmuch as all have sinned.” This rendering does not exclude St. Augustine’s theory that all sinned in Adam, but it does not provide an unambiguous proof.

It is unlikely that ‘ωι refers to the “one man” at the beginning of the verse, as this would be a highly awkward construction with all that intervenes. Further, it breaks the analogic parallelism evidently intended between the two halves of the verse. (1) One man brings sin into the world, and sin leads to death; (2) death is over all, as all have sinned. The second half reverses the order of the first, in a chiasmus structure common to the period.

To arrive at a more probable rendering, we can compare with other New Testament instances of εφ ‘ωι, three of which are Pauline:

…the place wherein (upon which) thou standest is holy ground. (Acts 7:33)
…burdened, because we would not be unclothed… (2 Cor. 5:4)
…I follow after, if I may by any means apprehend, wherein I am also apprehended by Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:12)
wherein which as you did also think… (Phil. 4:10)

Only St. Luke uses εφ ‘ωι in the physically literal sense of “on which.” St. Paul follows a common literary usage where εφ shows causal or temporal linkage, so it may be translated ‘because,’ ‘for’ ‘inasmuch,’ or ‘whereupon.’ The Douay translates the instances in Philippians as ‘wherein,’ not that the Vulgate in quo literally means “in where.” Rather, quo is the ablative of qui (“who, which”), in agreement with a literal rendering of the Greek. ‘Wherein’ in English means “in which,” following the Latin literally. The context, however, makes clear that this would be better translated as “for which” in Philippians 3:12 and “ inasmuch” in 4:10 (replacing ‘which’ with ‘that’).

This evidence agrees with our inference (held by most translators) that εφ ‘ωι in Romans 5:12 should be translated as “inasmuch as,” though “because“ (i.e., “for which reason”) would also be acceptable. The verse now reads: “…so death passed upon all men, inasmuch as all have sinned.”

This correction leaves some important Augustinian arguments untouched. It is still the case that all men have sinned, since no one can doubt that all are subject to death. This means that even infants have sin in them, since they too can die. As they have no personal sin, there can only be inherited original sin. Further, as not all have sinned in imitation of Adam (5:13), it is clear that we do not inherit Adam’s sin by imitation. The sin in the last part of Romans 5:12 definitely includes original sin, so the phrase “all have sinned” takes on import, as it appears that we are in some sense the subjects of original sin. This at least suggests, if it does not clearly indicate, that we somehow participate in Adam’s sin.

How can a sin be ascribed to persons who did not will it? St. Augustine is not suggesting that we somehow were personally present in Adam, as part of some incarnate version of the Neoplatonic world-soul. He accepts that “There can be no sin of man without the act of free will,” since original sin depended on Adam’s act of free will. Yet Julian’s statement ‘A man is not held liable for another’s sins.’ needs qualification. He again cites the Biblical proof that for David’s sin a thousand men fell in battle who had not sinned and were not even aware of David’s crime.

In a way, the sins of our parents are said to be another’s sins, and in a way, they are also our own. They are another’s by right of ownership of the action; they are ours by means of contagion of the offspring. If this were false, the heavy yoke upon children of Adam from the day of their coming out of their mother’s womb [Eccli. 40:1] would in no way be just. (Contra Iul., VI, x, 28)

Although Adam and Eve alone own the action of original sin, their sin belongs to us insofar as we are affected by it as a contagion. As before, this argument seems to rely on some theodicy, for the only way we could justly bear the penalty of original sin is if somehow the sin were in us. This still does not clearly explain how a “contagion” can confer liability.

“The commission of personal sins is not the same as the contagion of another’s sin…” (Ibid., VI, ix, 24) The last part of Romans 5:12, whether we translate it as “in whom all have sinned” or “inasmuch as all have sinned,” cannot be confined to personal sin, since not all have personal sin, yet all have original sin, insofar as our nature is affected by it. All died in Adam, so that Christ might die for all, and “if one died for all, then all were dead,” [2 Cor. 5:14] including infants. No matter how we render Romans 5:12, the Apostle clearly teaches that all died in Adam, so even infants must be “dead” before redemption. It does not matter if we cannot understand how the contagion of sin is transmitted; we know it must be so if we accept the Apostle’s words.

Julian says that each will receive according to his works. On what account, then, St. Augustine asks, are infants saved? Julian is inconsistent if he admits that infants can receive the kingdom of God from another’s work, but cannot receive evil from another’s sin. The Apostle says that those who believe may receive the kingdom, but those who do not are condemned. How can an infant believe, except by the act of another? (Ibid., VI, x, 29)

This rhetorical argument might be countered by noting that God may freely grant grace to those who have not earned it, but it need not follow that they can be held liable for another’s sin, at least not in justice. Yet here St. Augustine is only countering Julian’s claim that such moral transference is absolutely impossible, as if it were contrary to reason or nature. He will need further argument to show it is just.

First, he notes that it is consistent with divine benevolence to be born flawed in body or soul, as we see with monstrous or deformed births. Concupiscence must be regarded as one such flaw, for though perhaps it is not constantly rebelling, even Julian seems to admit that sometimes it does rebel. Even on Julian’s supposition that we can overcome this by our will, is it not a penalty merely to have to wage such warfare? (Ibid., VI, x, 30)

In this life, even the baptized are subjected to evils, so one can hardly avoid the fact that humans are born under a yoke of affliction. Yet if God is just, there must be “in infants guilt (culpam) deserving such punishment (poenam)” (Ibid., VI, x, 31) Here, for the first time, St. Augustine clearly says there is culpa in infants, as opposed to mere reatus. He does this on the basis that justice demands there be some culpa for every poena. Yet the culpa that is in infants, we have just seen, is not their own by action, but Adam’s. It is theirs only by contagion. It is only after making this distinction that St. Augustine dares to ascribe culpa rather than reatus to the descendants of Adam.

The Apostle unequivocally teaches that we are all condemned in our nature: “We were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” [Eph. 2:3] (Ibid., VI, x, 33) This indicates that the reatus is in our nature, and at least suggests that the culpa may be in there also.

St. Augustine finally offers an explanation of how we are all culpable for Adam’s sin toward the end of Contra Iulianum. While expounding “in whom all have sinned,” he notes that Julian, who accepted the Latin rendering, interpreted it differently as “because of whom all have sinned.” (Ibid., VI, xxiv, 75) St. Augustine counters that a man does not commit personal sin because of Adam’s sin, but for some immediate cause; e.g., a murderer kills because he wants gold; Cain killed because he envied his brother. Rather, the Apostle means that “all men have sinned by way of origin in one man, as it were in common, in the oneness of the mass.” (Loc. cit.)

This is a sufficiently important expression that we should parse the Latin. In context, Julian denies the verse should be understood thus, so we discard the negative and the main clause, leaving: in uno homine omnes homines peccasse… originaliter, et tamquam in massae unione communiter. The first unusual word is originaliter, an adverbial form of ‘origin,’ so it modifies the verb. Thus we sinned by our origin. In other words, we have sinned by virtue of our descent from Adam. How can this be so? A second adverb is added, communiter. That is to say, we sinned jointly in the unity of the mass.

This need not mean that each of us was personally present in germine when Adam sinned. Rather, when Adam sinned, the human race sinned, for he and his wife were the human race. Since all partake of the same corrupted nature, we all sin jointly, not at some moment near the dawn of creation, but throughout all history on earth. St. Augustine is asserting a continuous solidarity of the human race in its corrupted nature. Indeed, such a solidarity is presupposed by any sensible interpretation of Christ’s redemptive act. The only innovation here is using that solidarity to express how the culpa for original sin is shared by the whole human race.

To uphold the view that “all have sinned” by our origin from Adam, it is necessary to refute Julian’s view that the Apostle is speaking only of our personal sins:

…if the Apostle had been talking about the imitation of sin, it would have been more fitting to say that sin passed to all men because there had first been Adam’s example, and he would have added that it passed to all men in that all have sinned by imitation of that one man. (Ibid., VI, xxiv, 77)

Julian complained that if the Apostle meant what Augustine says, he would have stated it more explicitly. The response above shows that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. St. Paul was not writing for Julian or Augustine, so we should not expect either doctrine to be stated explicitly. Instead we should look to his context.

The context of Romans 5:12, repeated throughout the passage, is that through one man the wrath of God fell upon human race, and through another man the reconciliation of the human race with God was achieved. St. Augustine repeatedly cites Romans (as any reader can glean for himself) to prove that all, not just many, are said to be condemned in Adam and delivered in Christ. Once this is conceded, it must be acknowledged that this includes infants without personal sin, which leaves only original sin by which we are condemned.

More generally, he shows that it is consistent with reason, revelation, and justice that we have the culpa of Adam in us. He does not prove, however, that this really must be the case. The Orthodox, among others, would object to this strange way of speaking, where we are guilty of a sin that we did not commit in act.

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6.5 Fate of Unbaptized Infants

It is not necessary to insist that we have our own culpa for original sin, rather than Adam’s culpa and our reatus, in order to determine Augustinian doctrine regarding the fate of unbaptized infants. In either case, all are born liable to the penalty of the loss of Heaven. It is this poena damni (“penalty of loss”) and nothing more to which infants without personal sin are liable, though St. Augustine also speculated that there might be some minimal amount of sensible pain associated with this loss.

Since Hell was generally conceived in terms of horrific pains and tortures to punish the damned, those who held this Augustinian position were mocked as tortores infantium (“torturers of infants”). St. Augustine himself was aware of this criticism, so he defended his teaching from this caricature.

On one front, he retorts that the Pelagians make a cruel defense of infants, for they would not bring infants to Christ for salvation. “Let him grant that Jesus is Jesus even to infants…” (De nuptiis II, 60) Far from ignoring Christ’s demand that the children be brought to Him, St. Augustine invokes it here. Christ’s desire to save even infants presupposes that they are in need of saving. He is the Redeemer of all, even of infants. Those who would teach that baptism is unnecessary for infants would keep them away from Christ, contrary to His command.

In a similar vein, he responds to Julian, saying the latter would honor God by denying that Christ is the Savior of infants. “You say my teaching is deformed and groundless that it tries to ascribe injustice to God, the creation of man to the Devil, a substance to sin, and conscience without knowledge to infants.” (Contra Iulianum, V, i, 3) Far from being deformed, St. Augustine’s doctrine proclaims the One who is “beautiful before the sons of men.” [Vulg. Ps. 44:3] Scripture teaches, “Man is like to vanity and his days pass away like a shadow,” [Vulg. Ps. 143:4] not without reason, but through previous sin. This actually upholds divine justice, showing how it is not injust that even infants suffer the many and great evils we constantly observe. (Loc. cit.)

Once again, St. Augustine takes an empiricist stance. Against those who say it is impossible that a just God would allow infants to suffer, he notes two facts that no Christian can deny: (1) God is just; and (2) infants do in fact suffer in this world, under the natural order. Therefore it is not contrary to God’s justice that infants should partake of the suffering allotted to man on account of his sin. The Christian multitude believes in original sin not out of ignorance or lack of learning, but because they believe that God is supremely just. “And, because they see the sufferings of their own infants, they know that God, supremely just and supremely good, would not permit His image in infants to endure those evils if there were no original sin.” (Contra Iul., V, i, 4) As a pastor of souls, the bishop of Hippo understood the simple faith of the people, and here invokes it against philosophical doubt. To be a Christian is first to trust in God’s goodness; all other theses must be adapted to this central truth.

For those who love the kingdom of God, being forbidden to enter it is a great punishment. ‘God is just. What evil forbids His innocent image from entering His kingdom, if it be not the sin which entered into the world through one man?’ (Loc. cit.)

On another front, St. Augustine defends his doctrine from the charge that this poena damni is a cruel punishment, making condemned infants worse off than if they were never born. Julian cites as proof Christ’s words about His betrayer in Matthew 26:24. Yet it is no doctrine of the Church that all the damned are punished equally. Thus St. Augustine can reply:

But I do not say that children who die without the baptism of Christ will undergo such grievous punishment that it were better for them never to have been born, since our Lord did not say these words of any sinner you please, but only of the most base and ungodly. If we consider what He said about the Sodomites, which certainly He did not mean of them only—that it will be more tolerable for one than for another in the day of judgment, who can doubt that non-baptized infants, having only original sin and no burden of personal sins, will suffer the lightest (levissima) condemnation of all? I cannot define the amount and kind of their punishment, but I dare not say it were better for them never to have existed than to exist there.

But you, also, who contend they are, as it were, free of any condemnation, do not wish to think about the condemnation by which you punish them by estranging from the life of God and from the kingdom of God so many images of God, and by separating them from the pious parents you so eloquently urge to procreate them. They suffer these separations unjustly, if they have no sin at all; or if justly, then they have original sin. (Contra Iul., V, xi, 44)

St. Augustine is not motivated to condemn infants by some scrupulous legalism, but on the contrary, he wishes them to be saved by baptism. Were the necessity of this grace denied in the case of infants, their souls would be denied the means of salvation. If it is the central truth of Christianity that we can only be saved through the Mediator, then by keeping anyone way from Christ, we keep them away from salvation. Once this is admitted, Julian’s doctrine fails, for the exclusion from heaven is unjust if infants have no sin at all, and the only way the exclusion is just is if they can have some sin other than personal sin.

At this point, the only way one can deny there is original sin in infants is to say that men do not need to be saved by Christ until after they have committed some personal sin. In that case, Christ is not truly the Savior of all men. On the other hand, belief that unbaptized infants might be saved need not entail a denial of original sin, as long as we acknowledge that they must receive the grace of Christ by some extraordinary means.

The supposition that there is anyone on earth without sin is contradicted by the Septuagint version, cited by St. Augustine, of Job 14:5: “no one in the world is without stain, not even an infant who has been on the earth one day.” Even the Vulgate has in 14:4: “Who can make him clean that is conceived of unclean seed?” Either way, it is clear that no one is born free from sin. Once it is understood that all are in need of mercy, St. Augustine has only to add that God is free to bestow mercy on whom he wishes, great or small. (Ibid., V, xiii, 49) Otherwise, grace would not be grace, but wages due.

To be baptized is to die with respect to sin, so baptized infants must have been freed from some sin, St. Augustine argues. If it is objected that Christ died to sin, though He no sin of His own, St. Augustine replies that Christ died not to his own sins, but for ours. (Contra. Iul., VI, iii, 7) He cites Romans 6:10 in Latin, which may be parsed two ways:

Quod enim mortuus est peccato mortuus est semel.
For [in] that he died, he died to sin once [for all].
For [in] that he died to sin, he died once [for all].

The same ambiguity exists in Greek, as the indirect dative can come before or after the verb. In either case, we glean the same facts: that Christ died to sin in a single comprehensive act. The Latin semel, like the Greek ephapax, contains the implied sense of “once for all,” i.e., upon only one occasion, or all at once. Semantically, it is not that He died for all men, but that He died for all sin. Thus St. Augustine explains: “His death signified our sin through which death itself came.” (Loc. cit.)

When Christ died to death, so that He would be no longer mortal, He is said to have died to sin.

Through His grace we in the sinful flesh carry out what He signified in the likeness of sinful flesh, so that as He by dying to the likeness of sin is said to be dead to sin; so, whoever is baptized into Him dies to that same reality of which His flesh was a likeness. And as there was true death in His true flesh, so there is true remission in true sins. (Loc. cit.)

The reality of Christ’s redemptive death implies the reality of sins redeemed. In order for this to carry the import St. Augustine intends, one must also accept that Christ died for everyone, as the Apostle teaches elsewhere: “Since one died for all, therefore all died, and Christ died for all.” (2 Cor. 5:14-15) Nowhere in Scripture, St. Augustine notes, does it say that Christ died for any who were not sinners, so infants must be included among sinners, since Christ died for all. (Contra Iul., VI, iv, 8) The sin in these infants must be no less real than Christ’s redemptive death.

St. Paul clarifies elsewhere what is meant by “therefore all died” consequent to Christ’s death: “And when you were dead by reason of your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he brought to life along with him.” (Col. 2:13) He is not referring to death in the body, but death in sin. Thus when the Apostle said “all died,” he meant all were dead in sin, including infants. “Because of what death of infants did He die who died for none but the dead?” (Contra Iul., VI, iv, 8) Again, St. Augustine does not have disdain for infants, but on the contrary deep regard for them, for he insists that they too are among those Christ has come to save.

No Christian can contest that all the baptized have died to sin: “Know you not that all we, who have been baptized in Christ Jesus, are baptized in his death?” (Rom. 6:3) Since even infants are baptized, this apostolic dictum also applies to them: “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin may be destroyed, to the end that we may serve sin no longer.” (Rom. 5:6) If infants had no original sin in which to die, St. Augustine infers, they cannot have been baptized into Christ’s death when they were baptized in Christ, contrary to the Apostle. (Contra Iul., VI, iv, 10, 13) This belief is so central to Christianity, that he is able to tell Julian:

If you do not like the Christian faith, say so; you will not find another Christian faith. There is one man unto life; there is one unto death. The one is only man; the other is God and man. Through the one the world was made the enemy of God; through the other the world chosen from the world is reconciled to God. (Contra Iul. VI, 4, 10)

It is untenable for a Christian to deny that anyone can be saved from sin accept by Christ. The doctrine of original sin itself is well founded on the basis that all are born unto death and in need of redemption. Only through Christ, not by human virtues, can anyone be reconciled to God, that is to say, found blameless in His sight.

What would be the meaning of baptizing infants if Christ did not die for them? Even if we could not explain original sin, we would be bound by faith to accept it as fact: “Deny, if you dare, that he is born dead for whom you do not deny that Christ died. ‘One died for all, therefore all died.’” (Contra Iul., VI, x, 14) It is not necessary to understand how something is so to know that it is so. If you will not oppose the words of Apostle, “then remember you must believe without doubting, even if you do not understand.” (Loc. cit.) Pelagians, pretending to be generous to infants, are in fact keeping them from life by attacking “the faith of their parents through which alone they can be restored to life.” (Loc. cit.)

Again, St. Augustine appeals to the sensus fidelium, noting that he is but one of many who opposes Julian. The public was aroused against Julian for denying that those washed in baptism, including infants, are truly redeemed from the devil. (Contra Iul., VI, viii) Clearly, St. Augustine is motivated not by a desire to condemn infants, but to include them among the truly redeemed, as is consonant with the perennial faith of Christian parents.

This exposition would seem to entail the logical implication that unbaptized infants are condemned, at least in the minimal sense of the loss of Heaven. St. Augustine has shown that infants born in original sin do not merit Heaven by their own nature, but can be reconciled to God only through Christ’s supernatural saving grace. The necessity of this grace for salvation is attested by the Church’s practice of infant baptism. It may well be, however, though we have no positive evidence for it, that those unbaptized infants without personal sin may receive this grace extra-sacramentally, as in the case of baptism of desire by the parents.

Continue to Part VII


[1] Several authors have attributed this distinction to Justinian, but it is nowhere to be found in the Corpus Iuris Civilis, the Digesta included. It more likely originated among Latin jurists of the eleventh century. The distinction is justified insofar as reatus binds a person both to the fault (culpa) and its punishment (poena).

[2] See Ulpian, as quoted in Digestum 48.4.11 and

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