Recently, Dr. James White has been interacting quite a bit with Dr. Ken Wilson’s book (and dissertation) regarding Augustine’s “conversion” to a predestinarian. As I have read more Augustine and other Church Fathers than probably almost anyone else I know, I felt that I should enter this discussion with a layman’s perspective. Since Dr. Wilson’s dissertation is available to freely view most of it on Google Books, as linked above, I will use that as my source. All of my posts on this topic can be found here. Also, I have noticed that TurretinFan has entered the discussion with a blog post here.
Backing up a Decade or Two
In my previous post, I discussed the year 412 as it related to Augustine. I demonstrated that when Augustine began to discuss original sin during the Pelagian Controversy he believed his comments were in line with the faith guarded by the Church. In this post, I would like to back up first to the year 401 and then further back to 393.
The year 401 was when Augustine wrote his Confessions. It is also when he penned On Baptism, Against the Donatists which was a lengthy discussion (around 200 pages) on what the Church believed should happen with those who had been baptized in a heretical group but who then later came to faith and wished to be in the Christian Church. Augustine held the line with Cyprian who said that re-baptism should not happen – even if the person had been baptized by an Arian. However, this work on Baptism contained statements on several other related doctrines. It was one of the first times that Augustine would write about infant baptism, for instance. He also discussed what he believed, and understood, from the church universal – that baptism actually did something for the recipient. It is on a handful of these statements that I would like to turn our focus. Keep in mind that, according to Wilson’s thesis, Augustine supposedly changed his beliefs 10 years after this to begin speaking differently than he did previously. But an honest reading of the below statements compared with Augustine’s statements that I highlighted in my previous post will demonstrate that this may have been more of a shift in terminology rather than a shift in doctrine.
In Book I of On Baptism, Against the Donatists, Augustine discussed the remission of sins by baptism in sections 16-18. One of the keys to reading Augustine is that during the course of a work he will often go “off script” and begin discussing something that he will come back to later (or he will refer back to something that he previously stated – see below). For instance, in I.16 he stated that regeneration in baptism was “the being renovated from the corruption of the old man” so that “past sins” are remitted. He would even say in section 20 that if a person came to be baptized even while he was in the act of sinning by hating another person in his heart that the baptism was effective to wash away all of the previous “guilt” of sin prior and up to the point of baptism. Here is a good sample of sections 16-18:
16. If, therefore, we say that sins are not remitted there, how is he regenerate who is baptized among them? And what is regeneration in baptism, except the being renovated from the corruption of the old man? And how can he be so renovated whose past sins are not remitted? But if he be not regenerate, neither does he put on Christ; from which it seems to follow that he ought to be baptized again….
17. They think that they solve this question when they say: “There is then no remission of sins in schism, and therefore no creation of the new man by regeneration, and accordingly neither is there the baptism of Christ.” But since we confess that the baptism of Christ exists in schism, we propose this question to them for solution: Was Simon Magus endued with the true baptism of Christ? They will answer, Yes; being compelled to do so by the authority of holy Scripture. I ask them whether they confess that he received remission of his sins. They will certainly acknowledge it. So I ask why Peter said to him that he had no part in the lot of the saints. Because, they say, he sinned afterwards, wishing to buy with money the gift of God, which he believed the apostles were able to sell.
18. What if he approached baptism itself in deceit? Were his sins remitted, or were they not? Let them choose which they will. Whichever they choose will answer our purpose. If they say they were remitted, how then shall “the Holy Spirit of discipline flee deceit,” [Wisdom 1:5] if in him who was full of deceit He worked remission of sins? If they say they were not remitted, I ask whether, if he should afterwards confess his sin with contrition of heart and true sorrow, it would be judged that he ought to be baptized again. And if it is mere madness to assert this, then let them confess that a man can be baptized with the true baptism of Christ, and that yet his heart, persisting in malice or sacrilege, may not allow remission of sins to be given; and so let them understand that men may be baptized in communions severed from the Church, in which Christ’s baptism is given and received in the said celebration of the sacrament, but that it will only then be of avail for the remission of sins, when the recipient, being reconciled to the unity of the Church, is purged from the sacrilege of deceit, by which his sins were retained, and their remission prevented
Augustine, On Baptism, Against the Donatists, I.16-18
Later, in Book IV in sections 23-25 he discussed infant baptism. Keep in mind that he previously had defined “the sacrament of regeneration” as “the being renovated from the corruption of the old man“. The sacrament of baptism of the renovation of the old man is said to be given to infants. Baptism, as Augustine understood it, was the washing away of sin. As he wrote here in the year 401, he would also write much more about this in the year 412 when Pelagius said that infants were not baptized to remit their original sin. By taking that same language, Augustine would apply that to the baptism of infants.
By reading his definition above, ask yourself, according to Augustine what sins were remitted from the child? What “corruption of the old man” were they renovated from? Augustine spoke this way in 401 and he would continue to speak this way after 412 but with different terminology as he began using “original sin” more. That typically happens in theology, and for anyone who might counter that new theological terminology wouldn’t appear so quickly as it did with Augustine, I would urge you to look at your own term “DUPIED”. In both cases, Augustine believed and taught the effectiveness of baptism in washing away the sin in both infants and adults. What sin did he believe that it washed away from infants? The only sin that he was aware of that the infants were tainted with – that of the sin of the first man, Adam. Here is why he said that infants should be baptized.
so in infants, who are baptized, the sacrament of regeneration is given first, and if they maintain a Christian piety, conversion also in the heart will follow, of which the mysterious sign had gone before in the outward body.
Augustine, On Baptism, Against the Donatists, IV.24
Now we will leave the 5th Century to go back into the 4th Century. Augustine’s first work was in 386. Just 7 years later in 393, as a Presbyter, Augustine was requested to publish the work Of Faith and the Creed from a discourse that he gave. This work was quite early in his writing career. In this work, Augustine is discoursing through the Apostles’ Creed. In Section 23, Augustine wrote that a part of the soul resists the Holy Spirit “in virtue of the custom of sins”. Accordingly, that custom of sinning (serving the law of sin) has become nature by man’s “mortal generation, by the sin of the first man.” Yes, Adam’s sin has come down through mankind causing there to be not just a custom but a nature to sin. Augustine would even say that the soul is called mortal because the death of the soul was the “first sin in Paradise”. Also, it should be noted that Augustine was here making a statement about Romans 7 (which was key to this discussion as we will see later regarding his Letter to Simplicianus that Wilson would discuss as another turning point in the mid 390’s).
Moreover, the soul, when as yet it lusts after carnal good things, is called the flesh. For a certain part thereof resists the Spirit, not in virtue of nature, but in virtue of the custom of sins; whence it is said, With the mind I serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. And this custom has been turned into a nature, according to mortal generation, by the sin of the first man. Consequently it is also written in this wise, “And we were sometime by nature the children of wrath,” that is, of vengeance, through which it has come to pass that we serve the law of sin…. For the soul also may thus in like manner be called mortal, even as it is designated corruptible in reference to vices of manners. For assuredly it is “the death of the soul to apostatize from God;” which is its first sin in Paradise, as it is contained in the sacred writings.
Augustine, Of Faith and the Creed, 23
I hope that the reader understands that I am not attempting a point-by-point rebuttal of Dr. Wilson’s work. Though I do currently have 4 more posts in drafts, this is only touching the tip of the iceberg. What I am attempting to do is to convey that Wilson has left out much in his dissertation as it relates to Augustine’s writings prior to 412. Correct me if I am wrong, but I could not locate anywhere that he referred to On Baptism, Against the Donatists (except for a brief mention on page 128) or Of Faith and the Creed. Yet we have just seen how Augustine was saying some of the same things as early as the year 393.
In this post, I have demonstrated that Augustine spoke about the inherited sin nature by the sin of the first man very early in his Christian life in the year 393. And then in 401 we could see Augustine discussing the need for remission of sins by baptism in infants. The remission of sins was to renovate them from the sins of the old man. Although one may not explicitly see Augustine speak of the damnable “reatus” in these works, what Augustine was saying is something that the “traditional” advocate would not be able to say while being consistent with their own writings. Could you say that “the custom of sinning has been turned into a nature of sinning according to mortal generation, by the sin of Adam”? That’s the language of Augustine before he explicitly wrote lengthy treatises on Original Sin.