'Once more into the breach' - - the Greek Fathers on Original Sin?

(George Brooks) #1

In honor of @Jon_Garvey, I thought I would see how close I can come to drawing out the differences between Augustine and Irenaeus regarding the doctrine of Original Sin. In a recent posting, Jon asserts that Irenaeus, who preceded Augustine, was the first to elaborate the doctrine of Original Sin. And yet, in my readings, I learned that the term Original Sin never appears in Irenaeus’ writings - - but first appeared in Augustine.

Nevertheless, one supposes that Irenaeus may well have articulated the doctrine without using that particular term… but it was also Augustine who first used Paul and Romans 5 to defend the idea. What exactly did Irenaeus actually write?

At the website, “Marked by Teachers”, there is a surprisingly nuanced discussion of Irenaeus vs. Augustine,
and the differences for how they answer the question of Original Sin, and their formulations of Original Sin.

Irenaeus (b. 130 d. 202 CE):
He did not attempt to refute the idea that God was the origin of natural evil. He … “believe[d] that God is partly responsible for Evil. Irenaeus saw evil as a necessary part of life, something that will eventually make us into better people.” He believed "humans were not created in a state of perfection but in a state of imperfection which will lead on to a state of perfection.

“Irenaeus states that human ‘goodness’ comes from humans’ response from making moral decisions in an imperfect world. When humans resist temptation, it is much more valuable as a ‘lesson learnt’ than if ‘goodness’ had been an intrinsic feature of human beings.”

“Irenaeus explains that humans did choose evil … [and] although evil clearly makes life difficult it is needed to help us understand what good is… To conclude, Irenaeus thought that the existence of evil actually serves an [intended] purpose… From this point of view, evil is a means to an end.”

Irenaeus did not refer to Paul or Romans 5 in the development of his views. Perhaps the most telling aspect of Irenaeus’ teachings is that he never once used the term “Original Sin”. The first use of the term was by Augustine.

In contrast -

St. Augustine (b. 354 d.430 CE):
Augustine used a different set of calculations. “As far as Augustine was concerned all creation is good and it expresses the perfection of God’s creativity and goodness… This implies that suffering and evfil were unknown within the World, and that any evil that is found is purely deprivation, not a substance - evil and unhappiness is the cause of lack of good and happiness. If evil was a substance, it would mean that God created it, which Augustine rejects.”

“If God caqnnot have created evil, Augustine traced back its origins to those creatures in the world that have free will - angels and human beings. … Original sin is classed, by Augustine’s standards, as Natural Evil and it was this that started the spread of ‘moral evil’. Therefore suffering is a fully deserved consequence of human sin… It also caused the world to become distanced from God and therefore we are living in a new ‘damaged’ environment, away from God, where evil grows… Augustine emphasised that [natural] evil is [both] a sin [and] a punishment for the sin previously committed by Adam and Eve.”

"Augustine concluded his argument by saying … God is not evil, God is merciful and just… If God were unfair we would all be sent to hell before our judgement… God sacrificed his own flesh and blood to save [the righteous].

Augustine referred to Paul and Romans 5 as the proof of his views. He also provided this formulation

[ from http://stmaryorthodoxchurch.org/orthodoxy/articles/ancestral_versus_original_sin ]:

“The only way to answer this is to say, as Augustine did to the young bishop, Julian of Eclanum (d. 454) that God’s justice is inscrutable (Cahill, 19955, p. 65). Logically, then, justice provides proof of inherited guilt for Augustine, because since all humanity suffers the punishment of death and since God who is just cannot punish the innocent, then all must be guilty in Adam.”
[ ^^You’ve got to be kidding! - GB’s note ]


When did the Greeks Object?

It seemed it took a long time to find Greek objections, per se. Perhaps the term “object” is too strong? Let’s say that the Greeks “differed”! So when did the Eastern churches start to “differ” on the doctrine of Original Sin? It looks like they “differed” from the very beginning!

It is said that Augustine was popular in the East. This may be true, but some of his doctrines were not. Frank Cross’s 2005 Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, in two different articles (“Double Procession of the Holy Spirit” and “Filioque” discuss Augustine’s endorsement of “the Spirit as coming from the Father AND THE SON”. At this time, the Greek Fathers had not yet developed a Greek wording that adequately embraced the Greek resolution of the mysteries of the Holy Spirit. The Latin Fathers had made up their mind well ahead of their Greek counterparts. Around 860, triggered by disputes Photios I and Ignatius (both of Constantinople) the Greek church had made up it’s mind that Augustine was wrong about “Filioque”.

But we digress, yes? How about Original Sin? When did the Greeks diverge from this doctrine? Well, apparently virtually from the moment Original Sin was articulated from Augustine - - because his doctrine was something new that the Greeks had never seen in their traditions and Christian heritage. And they weren’t going to change their whole view of sin just because of something Augustine said:


Google Books Link: To Wright’s book on INFANT BAPTISM in HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE

John Chrysostom (b. 349 d. 407 CE)

In David Wright’s book, Infant Baptism in Historical Perspective: Collected Studies (p.56-57, p.190, p.272-273), writes:

“John Chrysostom is the most explicit witness. In his Catechetical Instructions he enumerates ten gifts of baptism, to correct those who think that the only gift it confers is the remission of sins. 'It is on this account that we baptize even infants, although they have no sins, in order that they may be given further gifts of sanctification, righteousness, filial adoption …”

“The conclusion is inescapable. Although the evidence is not abundant (partly because infant baptism was clearly exceptional in the Greek Church for most of the 4th century), enough is available to establish that ‘one baptism for the remission of sins’ could not have been understood to encompass the baptism of babies.”[!!!]


“Cassander knew John Chrysosom’s homily to the newly-baptized only in Augustine’s quotation: et infantes baptizamus, quamvis peccata non habentes, which Augustine interpreted as excluding only sins of their own commission, not the stain of original sinfulness.” [However, … ] Not only Chrysostom but the Greek Fathers almost to a man never linked infant baptism with original sin."

"… Cassander thus remains happily unaware of the broad consensus of the pre-Nicene Fathers on the sinlessness of infants [FN 47], and the widespread convinction among the later Greek Fathers that infants were baptized not for the remissino of sins at all - - whether original or their own - - but to receive gifts and graces [FN 48]. Although they lacked the knowledge of the Fathers to support it, those Anabaptists who regarded infants as free from sin (Cassander names Obbe Phillips and Menno Simons [FN 49]) were closer to a patristic consensus than Cassander.

47: Cf Kurt Aland, Die Stellung der Kinder in der fruhen christlichen Gemeinden und ihre Taufe (Munich, 1967), pp. 17-21.
48: Cf. David F. Wright, ‘The Meaning and Reference of ‘One Baptism for the Remission of Sins’ in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed’, Studia Patristica 19 (1989), pp. 281-85.


“However unfamiliar we may be with the baptismal theology of these Greek Fathers, their reasons for baptizing babies were broadly those advanced by the Pelagians in their controversy with Augustine in the fifth century in the West. Although infant baptism is attested in the church from the late second century onwards, if not earlier, it was very much a rite in search of a theology until Augustine supplied it in his doctrine of original sin.”

“What, then, is the reference of ‘one baptism for the remission of sins’? The context of this statement is the early church’s bewildering hang-up over the problem of post-baptismal sin. The clause may be paraphrase as follows: in so far as baptism is given for the remissions of sins, a person may receive it only once. There may be, indeed there are, other means for the remission of sins after baptism, but baptism itself cannot be repeated for this purpose… Chrysostom’s explanation agrees with Cyril’s: ‘Since the old contract of debt is destroyed, let us be alert to prevent any second contract. For there is no second cross, nor a second remission by the bath of regeneration. There is remission, but not a second remission by baptism’.”

“So the baptismal clause in this fundamental creed turns out to have a very restricted reference. It’s ‘one baptism’ is not the ‘one baptism’ of Ephesians 4. It affirms not the common, single baptism that unites all the baptized, but the unrepeatability of the baptismal remission of sins.”

Why I Think Adam was a Real Person in History
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