“The Augustinian Revolution in Theology” Part IV

In this week’s extended quote from Pastor Allin he asks some questions about the relationship between Baptism and how sin is transmitted to children of the baptized. If parents have been baptized, thereby having their sin remitted, how can they pass sin along to their children? Pastor Allin believes Augustine’s teaching on this point to be self-contradictory. I’m not sure if it is (I’m sure Augustine would have denied a contradiction) but it’s a good question.

Here is Pastor Allin:

Inevitably at this point there arises this question. How can baptized parents transmit this mass of evil to their children? It is worth noting that baptism, being “for the remission of sin,” had so far helped Augustine’s argument in proof of original sin. Now it is seen as a double-edged weapon, capable of recoiling on its author. For if baptism, as Augustine held, eradicates all sin whatever, in thought, word, and deed, then how can those parents, in whose case the contagion has been wholly removed, continue to spread it in undiminished intensity? How can moral and spiritual death result from an agent who has passed from death to life? That baptism is not a disinfectant merely, but that, in Augustine’s view, it uproots all sin whatsoever appears plain. (a) All sin in thought, word, and deed is destroyed in baptism. (b) And yet perdition, damnation, necessity to sin, total loss of moral freedom, eternal death, etc., are communicated to all infants whatsoever, by those very parents in whom all sin has been destroyed! Evidently we are here in a region where ordinary modes of reasoning are dispensed with, else, in addition to other difficulties, it might be pointed out how very perplexing is the transfer of all the evils (with their infinite attendant horrors), born of sexual desire from the parents, who feel it, to the infant, who feels nothing. To be sure, we are told that libido in the baptized parent is called sin, but it is not sin, yet it has a “reatus [liability]” which “valet in generato [is generated in it].” (c) This is, I think, substantially the explanation offered of the serious difficulty. On such subtleties as these, we are asked to believe, do the eternal destinies of the human race depend.

The embarrassment of the impartial critic is not lessened by the fact that Augustine himself scents a difficulty here. Even he finds it not easy to make “both ends meet.” He intimates, in several passages, that Providence has arranged an illustration or explanation of the difficulty by ordering that from the seed of an olive a wild olive springs. (d) Whether this digression into natural history is very successful the reader can decide for himself. Those who are dissatisfied are offered an excursus into the domain of physiology, and are bidden to take note that circumcised parents produce uncircumcised offspring. (e) Out of the cloud of words in which Augustine wraps this unsavory question it transpires clearly that there is in marriage an “inevitable malum [inevitable evil (?)],” for the plain reason that there is libido, or concupiscentia [lust], or membrorum inobedienta [members of disobedience]. On this point he speaks often and with emphasis. Characteristically he bids the married malo bene uti – to make good use of the evil. He calls offspring one of the goods of marriage, an odd statement, seeing that every child qua de concubito nascitur carnem esse peccati [which is born of the flesh of a sin of intercourse], (f) and is the devil’s captive (g) till baptized. There is an evil without which even honorable marital intercourse cannot exist. (h) There is in marriage mala libido [evil libido] which may well be used. (i) There is a “vitium [vice]” which propagates vice. (j)

The Augustinian Revolution in Theology
By Thomas Allin

Pp. 150-153

For a list of all posts in this series please see: Posts Quoting From Thomas Allin’s “Augustinian Revolution in Theology”


(a) “Contra Duas Epistolas Pelagianorum libri ad Bonifacium quatuor,” i. 13. [St. Augustine’s language in this passage is by no means clear. – ED.]
(b) “Ep.,”187, c. 8; see “Contra Duas Epistolas Pelagianorum libri ad Bonifacium quatuor,“ iii. 3; “De Nuptiis et Concupiscentia ad Valerium libri duo,” i. 33; “De Peccatorum meritis et remissione et de Baptismo parvulorum ad Marcellinum libri tres,” i. 39.
(c) “De Nuptiis et Concupiscentia ad Valerium libri duo,” i. 23; “Contra Duas Epistolas Pelagianorum libri ad Bonifacium quatuor,“ i. 13.
(d) “Contra Duas Epistolas Pelagianorum libri ad Bonifacium quatuor,“ i. 6; “De Nuptiis et Concupiscentia ad Valerium libri duo,” i. 19; “Quod dimissum est in parente trahatur in prole, miris quidem modis fit, sed tamen fit [Which had been drawn in the offspring in its first parent, in wonderful ways, but through this, however, is],” ii. 34.
(e) “Contra Julian,” vi. 7; “Ecce circumcises tradit nascenti de se quo caruit in se [Look, they are cut from the diseases in itself gives birth].”
(f) “De Nuptiis et Concupiscentia ad Valerium libri duo,” i. 12.
(g) Ibid, i. 20.
(h) “Ep.,” 184; “Conjuges, etiam bene utentes vitio, non possunt ita generari, ut possit sine vitio [The couple, also to the use of a fault, they can not be generated, so that it can be through no fault of].”
(i) “Contra Julian,” iii. 7.
(j) “Contra Iulianum opus imperfectum libri sex” ii. 57; cf. “De Gratia Christi et de Peccato Originali contra Pelagium, ad Albinam, Pinianum, et Melaniam libri duo,” 34-38.

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