Resolving the Problem of the Original Sin Using the Work of Augustine and Calvin as a Guide.

According to the biblical narrative, the problem of sin historically goes back to the primeval era of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. If one reflects on the Bible carefully, the sin of Adam to a curious and critical mind like Augustine and, subsequently, Calvin far outweighs the metaphoric representation of the mere eating of a fruit. From time immemorial, no one has decoded the nature of the fruit that Adam and Eve ate or the name of the fruit. Some familiar artistic paintings we have around tried to depict the fruit as an apple, but we know that cannot be true! It is mere guesswork because, according to the biblical description of the Garden of Eden, apple trees may not survive in such a location due to climatic conditions if the location is precisely the same as the place in our present physical world.

Our continued frustration is that today, nobody knows what the fruit looks like or whether we still have similar fruit in the world among the range of edible fruits around the globe. At best, we may receive comfort in the hope that the fruit is perhaps a figurative expression of a mystery that no one accurately records in its full details. Unfortunately, the only traceable leftover from this classic Edenic garden drama is the weight of condemnation and the generational consequences manifested in perpetuity. One cannot but be bewildered at precisely what could be the real nature and the consequential magnitude of that Adamic sin. Augustine spent most of his life asking, whence is evil? He didn’t find a truly validly acceptable answer throughout his lifetime.

In its narrative, the Bible depicts sin as simply eating the fruit of both the knowledge of good and evil. This must be symbolic and somewhat paradoxical because of the dilemma and the potential of co-habitus of sudden awareness and evil simultaneously, which underscore the theology of the Manichean, which Augustine has to wrestle with. This background, nonetheless, I believe is very crucial in my attempt to possibly proffer a logical but not an exhaustive or permanent solution to the age-long controversy surrounding the complexities of the original sin in the work of Augustine and later in Calvin’s work in the medieval and the reformation era of the Church.

I must admit that original sin is still a mystery, and Augustine and Calvin are only making a concerted effort to fix the jigsaw puzzle. I wish to argue in this essay that Augustine and Calvin are confronted or concerned about the same issue, but each one tries to address it from a different perspective. Their perceptual view of the original sin can rightly be described as two men who were asked to describe the water in a cup of water, and each man told it this way; one saw it as half full while the other saw it as half empty. If I were to be their umpire, I would suggest both were right. The only difference is their perspective. I am compelled to point out that Augustine sees original sin as half empty while Calvin sees it as half full!

What is Original Sin?
Original sin, according to John Calvin, may be defined as “a hereditary corruption and depravity of our nature, extending to all the parts of the soul, which first makes us obnoxious to the wrath of God, and then produces in us works which in scripture are termed works of the flesh.” Fortunately, Augustine and Calvin agree fundamentally on this definition but differ on the specific nature and interpretation of flesh. One can argue that there seems to be a possible overlap in Augustine’s and Calvin’s understanding of the original sin. Yet, arguably, they also differ in some ways.

In his article on Calvin’s modification of Augustine’s doctrine of original sin, Vorster argued that “Augustine’s view on human nature led him to believe that all human beings are in a physical solidarity with Adam and hence when he sinned, all sinned and were guilty.” He argues that “though Calvin defines sin as a hereditary corruption in all parts of the human, he does not use Augustine’s biological categories to explain original sin and the transmission thereof.” If care is not taken, the duo’s work may deceive us into thinking that Augustine and Calvin are probably saying the same thing, but a closer study of their work leaves a trace and a mark of point of departure, too.

The second point of departure of Augustine and Calvin’s understanding of original sin is that while Augustine could not see any connection between God and the origin of evil and had attributed the existence of evil to an unexplainable phenomenon that has no cause, Calvin, on the other hand, attributed sin to God’s permission of it and even, suggested that God ordained it. Calvin argued that man’s election and reprobation are not a result of the fall but were ordained before it and were non-consequential to it.
However, Augustine argues that man became condemned when he fell in Adam, who sinned by the abuse of his free will. He proclaimed that God foresaw the fall but did not orchestrate its happening.
Now that I have defined the original sin from the viewpoint of Augustine and Calvin, demonstrating the possible overlap and not altogether shying away from their point of divergence. I am compelled to illustrate the effect of the original sin further.

Augustine located the effect of sin on guilt and condemnation, which is punishable by God having violated God’s standard law through disobedience. He argues that the corruption and the crippling effect of sin is on human nature. This view is precisely in accordance with the position of Apostle Paul in Romans 5:12, which says:

“Therefore, just as sin entered this world by one man through sin, so death passed into all men, in whom all sinned.”

Augustine made it abundantly clear that all the future generations were somehow and somewhere located in their progenitor’s loins at the time of the fall, and as a result, all humankind participated in the original sin of Adam. Although Calvin shared this view of Augustine’s original sin as an inheritance of the human race and the utter corruption of human nature, as already carefully identified and documented in this essay, a substantial difference still exists in their perception and subsequent interpretation.
Wrapping it up, Augustine and Calvin were convinced that the original sin leading to humanity’s fall differs from the ordinary daily sin of man that arises daily from the orientation of the will.

According to Augustine, the fall led to the weakening of all man’s faculties, so he became prone to disease, unable to control the desire of the flesh, and thereby subjected to death. At this stage, a little more background study concerning the sphere of influence in Augustine’s and Calvin’s lives can provide rich information about how their opinion and ideology were shaped.
In Augustine’s life, four significant areas of influence formed his ideology, not in a linear progression but in a cyclic manner. Manicheism refers to those who believe in the doctrine of the dualism of good and evil or light and darkness. Pelegianism is those who believe in the idea of predestination.

Donastism refers to the Puritans who believe in the validity of the sacraments. Finally, Neoplatonism refers to those who believe in God as the one and absolute being who is immutable, incorruptible, and indestructible. Neoplatonism propagates the doctrine of the hierarchy of being and posits that the farther away a being is from God, the more the potential of the being to experience corruption, while the closer the being is to God, the more like God it becomes.
These four cycles of idealism shaped the worldview and Augustine’s understanding of the concept of the original sin. Because of the influence of these groups on Augustine, we notice that his thought pattern underwent a dramatic shift between 396 and 397 AD. Ernesto, as observed by Bonaiuti and Giorgio LaPiana. The duo, in their article in Harvard Theological Review, wrote about the shift in Augustine’s view of sin and documented in these few words:

The thought of Augustine of the two ethical categories of sin and grace is of importance in the history of Christian theology. His system of grace and predestination prevailed for many centuries, although not without strong opposition, and underwent, through scholastic elaboration, substantial changes to save the freedom of the will, and finally it reappeared in the conception of the spiritual life shaped by Luther and the other teachers of the reformation.

In the Catholic tradition, this thought of Augustine is at the very basis of the ethical, ecclesiological, and sacramental systems; in the Christian but non-Catholic movements, this doctrine, interpreted in a rather paradoxical way, gave a starting-point to the reformation. No wonder, therefore, that in the history of Christian dogma, no doctrine has been so largely and deeply explored and discussed, as has the Augustianian doctrine of sin and restoration.

If you are passionate about writing and understanding the power to shape culture through writing, please contact us immediately, and our representatives will walk you through how you can join our team of writers at the Africana Leadership Digest.

Olusegun Osineye
Author: Olusegun Osineye

Olusegun Osineye earned his Doctor of Ministry (DMin) in Transformational Leadership from Boston University. He's passionate about creatively adding value to the black race by utilizing life's simple philosophy for their flourishing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Previous Article

Saint Augustine on Sin

Next Article

Fulfillment of life Through Intentional Growth and Discernment

Related Posts