Theology for the Masses

November 16, 2006

Power and Will

Filed under: Calvinism,Doctrine,Hypotheticals,Nature of God,Philosophy,Salvation — Henry Imler @ 12:14 am

This post will seek to examine and refute Augustine’s view of Original Sin and the ability of the will to choose to turn towards God. It was Augustine view, and the view of the reformers after him, that if one denies these tenants, then one is forced to adopt the views of Pelagius, namely that Jesus was just an enlightened man. I will employ three arguments to discount Augustine’s above claims. The first one involves a logical extension of the personhood of Jesus. The second argument demonstrates the need for a total free will as a prerequisite for sin. The third argument gives an alternate understanding of how God can cause faith and at the same time, faith can be freely chosen. Finally, an alternate view of soteriology will be given.


Augustine constantly condemns the following doctrine of Coelestuis and Pelagius in A Treatise on the Grace of Christ, and on Original Sin:

That Adam’s sin injured only Adam himself, and not the human race; and that infants at their birth are in the same state that Adam was in before his transgression (Augustine, “A Treatise on the Grace of Christ, and on Original Sin”).”

In maintaining the above as false, one can state his position as follows:

Adam’s sin did not just injure himself, but the whole human race; and that infants at their birth are injured in the manner that Adam was after his transgression.

In chapter 45 of book II, Augustine maintains humans were fundamentally corrupted on the ontological level. This word is not thrown around lightly; this change effected the race’s very being. The nature of humankind ever since the sins of Adam and Eve has been corrupted. The effect has two major ramifications, original sin, and total depravity. By total depravity, I mean not complete depravity, which is the soul’s inability to choose anything good; but rather the idea that men cannot choose God on their own accord. Augustine echoes the same sentiments in The Confessions; he quotes Job 14.4-5 to demonstrate that infants are sinful. He then details examples of their greed and jealousy to support his view (Augustine, The Confessions 9). Elsewhere in The Confessions Augustine details how his malformed desires snare his will to the point that he is hopelessly mired in sinful acts. Augustine, in espousing these doctrines, condemns each infant born to Hell and denies the freedom of the will in choosing God. Since some humans are saved, God causes the conversion instead of the humans.

If one is to adopt Augustine’s line of thinking, one must accept that one has original sin. This original sin taints our very souls from conception. We have inherited this sin from Adam. As descendants of Adam, all humans are born with original sin. Adam, in his sin died spiritually. I know of no way he could pass this sin along to others. Is there some genetic malfunction? If so, let science isolate this physical defect and eliminate it from the gene pool. Was it transmitted by some unnamed, ineffable metaphysical device? Rather than speculate on how it might have been transmitted, consider the following: why was not Jesus tainted with this sin? Is not Jesus supposed to be fully human and fully God in Augustine’s eyes? If He is fully human, then He must be tainted with original sin. If He is tainted with original sin, He cannot be a perfect sacrifice. Since He is the perfect sacrifice one of the previous tenants must be incorrect. Since it is true that He is fully human, it must not be true that all humans have original sin. This is the argument in standard form:

1. Either all humans have original sin or no humans have original sin.
2. If at least one human does not have original sin, all humans do not have original sin
3. Jesus was fully human
4. A necessary condition of a perfect sacrifice is a lack of sin.
5. Jesus was a perfect sacrifice.
6. Therefore, Jesus was without sin.
7. Jesus did not have original sin
8. Therefore Jesus was fully human and did not have original sin
9. Therefore, no humans have original sin.

To sum up, there is no ontological difference between Adam and any other human being. The lack of sin in Jesus is further evidence that there is no such thing as original sin. In order to be logically consistent, one must reject the idea of original sin and replace it with an idea of free will that allows one to choose or not to choose God once they have the capacity to make that choice. The heritage of sin still needs to be explained. If it is not carried by a mysterious metaphysical device or via physical heredity, then there remains one alternative: it is learned. I would go further and say that we have the same free will that Adam had, we are not tainted with original sin, and that is why Jesus was able to resist sin throughout His whole life.

The second argument maintains that full free will is a necessary condition for the occurrence of sin. Augustine says as much on in On the Free Choice of the Will, “Our will would not be a will if it were not in our power… We sin by our own wills. (Augustine, On Free Choice of the Will 77)” One must draw the following conclusion from these premises:

1. We sin by our own wills.
2. Our will would not be a will if it were not in our power.
3. Therefore, one has the power to sin or not to sin.

This conclusion is inconsistent in conjunction with his explanations in his later works as detailed above. It too necessarily rejects the possibility of original sin because sin must be within one’s power to will or not to will. It is not the case that infants have the power to sin or to not sin; therefore, it cannot be the case that an infant can sin.

After giving an alternate and more satisfactory account of original sin, there remains the task of how God is the cause of our salvation and not our will. How then, can one explain how actions can be freely chosen and still be caused? The answer lies in the perspective of the questioner. When viewed after the fact, all actions have a cause.

Consider the following example. A man approaches a bus stop and begins to read his newspaper. A second man stands next to him, staring blankly ahead, anticipating the long, cold ride home. As the bus approaches, a young child, the age of eight, has wandered away from his parent and is standing in the path of the bus, frozen in fear. The first man bolts across the sidewalk and scoops up the child before it was too late. The second man congratulates the first and wonders to himself why he was not the one to be the hero. What was the cause of the first man’s actions? What was the cause of the second man’s inaction? Were they determined beforehand? Was each a free choice? This is the problem of free will: “Are man’s actions freely made, or are they subject to causes and conditions like everything else? (Kant)” If man is free to choose his actions, as most want to believe, then he is responsible for them. However, if man’s actions are determined, then how can one be made to bear the responsibility for those actions? The notion of freedom is so engrained in the values of our culture; that to suggest that all of our actions, from the basic decisions to major life altering choices, are all a façade; is a very troubling notion.

Immanuel Kant summed up his version of the problem in the Prolegomena in the third antinomy in this way:

“Thesis: There are in the world causes through freedom.
Antithesis: There is no freedom, but all is nature. (Kant 75) “

The only two logical possibilities were that either freedom exists, or did does not exist and the world is purely casual. He proposed an interesting solution to the problem. He maintained that both could be true at the same time. This seeming contradiction is possible if each of the statements is applied to different worlds, the Noumenal and the Phenomenal. If this is correct, how does it play out? What is the structure of such a case?

Behind every possible choice that the will can make there are conditions. The man reading the newspaper at the beginning of this paper could have decided to do nothing. If he had decided to do nothing there would have been an array of causes and conditions that would have lead him to decide that choice. This principle is illustrated in the below diagram.

For each choice, no matter how small the probability that the choice would be made, there are causes and conditions that are actualized whenever the choice is actually made. Before the choice is made, multiple causes and conditions could be actualized by the will deciding what conclusion is reached. The will chooses which choice to make and in doing so, sets which causes and conditions determined the choice. This is how an active God prodding people to make the right choice can be considered to have caused their actions. In the actions where they do not choose to follow God, the cause is not God’s prodding.

It has been shown that the concept of original sin is not logically consistent with the personhood of Jesus or with the conditions necessary for sin. In addition, it has been shown that God can indeed be the cause of one’s salvation and it still is a free choice of the will. In doing so, is one compelled to accept Pelagius’ notion that Jesus was simply a good guide and not a substitutionary sacrifice? Let one say that humans are born innocent. That is, they are born with a clean slate. One is sure of three humans that were born this way, Adam, Eve, and Jesus. Once they have the ability to choose right from wrong, they are able to sin. Adam and Eve ended up choosing to sin relatively soon after they had the ability to do so. Since then every human, save Christ has also chosen to sin, except for those that die before they are able to sin. It is most likely that there is culture of sin and that all humans have slipped up in once they have a choice in the matter. Christ was able to choose to sin or not to sin. He was then unjustly crucified.

Because He was crucified unjustly, He was able to be the perfect sacrifice that God’s justice demanded in place of our sins. God allowed Christ to bear our sin, rather than we having to bear the penalty for it ourselves, the very essence of substitutionary atonement. This view emphasizes the love of God, the justice of God, the humanity of Christ, the God-ness of Christ, and the struggle that it was for Christ to go through with it. This is an example of how one can deny not being original sin and still believe in substitutionary atonement. Therefore, one can deny original sin and still not have to hold to Jesus merely being an exalted man.


Augustine, Aurelius. “A Treatise on the Grace of Christ, and on Original Sin.” 418 C.E. 17 10 2006

—. On Free Choice of the Will. Translated by Thomas Williams. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1993.

—. The Confessions. Translated by Henry Chadwick. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Kant, Immanuel. Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics that will be able to come Forward as Science. Translated by Paul Carus, and James W. Ellington. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2001.


1 Comment »

  1. Can you please give scriptural support for the idea that Jesus was fully man? I recall some NT verse stating (paraphrased): He was found in appearance like a man.

    Comment by April — May 29, 2007 @ 9:17 pm | Reply

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