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 been reading much of Augustine’s work lately as well as other Church Fathers, I felt that I should enter this discussion with a layman’s perspective. Since Dr. Wilson’s dissertation is available to freely view much 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.
Wilson’s Augustine on Psalm 51
On pages 264-265, Wilson states the following: “This verse (Psalm 51:5) appears prior to 411 CE in its traditional usage (e.g., Conf. 1.7; Enar.Ps. 51.10), before its transformation in Peccc. merit. 1.34 and 3.13, alongside Job 14.4 supporting paedobaptism and infant participation in the Eucharist.”
“Enar. Ps.” is the body of work of Augustine’s known as the “Ennarations of the Psalms” (or Expositions). They were sermons/lectures over the course of 30 years. Note above what Wilson says:
- The Expositions of Psalm 51 was written before 411 (when Augustine is said to have changed his theology).
- It was in “its traditional usage” at this point.
- Wilson would go on to say that the “in iniquities I was conceived” refers to the enjoyment of the sexual intercourse. He was referring to an Augustinian doctrine of concupiscence.
The Actual Augustine on Psalm 51
Now, let us analyze what Augustine actually stated about Psalm 51 and compare it with what Wilson asserted above.
10. For, behold, in iniquities I was conceived Psalm 51:5. As though he were saying, They are conquered that have done what thou, David, hast done: for this is not a little evil and little sin, to wit, adultery and man-slaying. What of them that from the day that they were born of their mother’s womb, have done no such thing? Even to them do you ascribe some sins, in order that He may conquer all men when He begins to be judged. David has taken upon him the person of mankind, and has heeded the bonds of all men, has considered the offspring of death, has adverted to the origin of iniquity, and he says, For, behold, in iniquities I was conceived. Was David born of adultery; being born of Jesse, 1 Samuel 16:18 a righteous man, and his own wife? What is it that he says himself to have been in iniquity conceived, except that iniquity is drawn from Adam? Even the very bond of death, with iniquity itself is engrained? No man is born without bringing punishment, bringing desert of punishment. A Prophet says also in another place, No one is clean in Your sight, not even an infant, whose life is of one day upon earth. For we know both by the Baptism of Christ that sins are loosed, and that the Baptism of Christ avails the remission of sins. If infants are every way innocent, why do mothers run with them when sick to the Church? What by that Baptism, what by that remission is put away? An innocent one I see that rather weeps than is angry. What does Baptism wash off? What does that Grace loose? There is loosed the offspring of sin. For if that infant could speak to you, it would say, and if it had the understanding which David had, it would answer you, Why do you heed me, an infant? Thou dost not indeed see my actions: but I in iniquity have been conceived, And in sins has my mother nourished me in the womb.
Apart from this bond of mortal concupiscence was Christ born without a male, of a virgin conceiving by the Holy Ghost. He cannot be said to have been conceived in iniquity, it cannot be said, In sins His mother nourished Him in the womb, to whom was said, The Holy Ghost shall come upon you, and the Virtue of the Highest shall overshadow you. Luke 1:35 It is not therefore because it is sin to have to do with wives that men are conceived in iniquity, and in sins nourished in the womb by their mother; but because that which is made is surely made of flesh deserving punishment. For the punishment of the flesh is death, and surely there is in it liability to death itself. Whence the Apostle spoke not of the body as if to die, but as if dead: The body indeed is dead, he says, because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. Romans 8:10 How then without bond of sin is born that which is conceived and sown of a body dead because of sin? This chaste operation in a married person has not sin, but the origin of sin draws with it condign punishment. For there is no husband that, because he is an husband, is not subject to death, or that is subject to death for any other reason but because of sin. For even the Lord was subject to death, but not on account of sin: He took upon Him our punishment, and so looses our guilt. With reason then, In Adam all die, but in Christ shall all be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15:22 For, Through one man, says the Apostle, sin has entered into this world, and through sin death, and so has passed unto all men, in that all have sinned. Romans 5:12 Definite is the sentence: In Adam, he says, all have sinned. Alone then could such an infant be innocent, as has not been born of the work of Adam.
Augustine, Exposition of Psalm 51, Section 10
We will gladly grant that this was before 411.
Next, let us examine Wilson’s claim that it was in “traditional usage” at this time. This is an instance, again, that I believe Wilson is relying on the absence of “reatus” with regards to the guilt of original sin. But even though “reatus” may not be used, this passage is not one that I would see the Provisioinists or “traditionalists” agreeing with. Let us examine some of the statements from Augustine with more detail.
In this first statement, Augustine points out that infants have not committed adultery or murdered like David. But even to them they would “ascribe some sins”. Again I ask (as I have in previous posts) what sins the church would ascribe unto infants. They are guilty of no actual, personal sins – so of what sins are they guilty which are ascribed unto them?
What of them that from the day that they were born of their mother’s womb, have done no such thing? Even to them do you ascribe some sins, in order that He may conquer all men when He begins to be judged.
Moving along, Augustine will continue pressing his point that infants are born with guilt of sin. First, he would say that all men are born bringing punishment. He underscores this with a quote that even infants are unclean in God’s sight. Going further, Augustine says that “sins are loosed” through Baptism and it “avails the remission of sins.” He then asks a practical question – if infants are “every way innocent”, why do mothers rush them to the Church (for baptism)? I’m no expert in linguistics, but I also have a practical question. If infants are not innocent, as Augustine asserts, then what does that make them? In other words, what is the opposite of innocence? Yes, guilt. Augustine here, before 411, is claiming the “reatus” of original sin in the case of infants – they are not born innocent, so therefore they are born with guilt (“reatus”). And it is, further, a damnable “reatus” as we see that they are born with punishment upon them.
No man is born without bringing punishment, bringing desert of punishment. A Prophet says also in another place, No one is clean in Your sight, not even an infant, whose life is of one day upon earth. For we know both by the Baptism of Christ that sins are loosed, and that the Baptism of Christ avails the remission of sins. If infants are every way innocent, why do mothers run with them when sick to the Church?
As if Augustine didn’t consider himself clear enough, he would press on. One might make the argument that Augustine didn’t use the term “original sin” above. In fact, he hasn’t even said anything about Adam yet, and the onus is on me to prove that Augustine claimed that this lack of innocence (i.e. guilt) is due to the sin of Adam. By looking at the end of the very next paragraph, we see the following statement. As you can see, he says that all die in Adam and that sin entered the world through Adam. Note that Augustine appears to be using sin and death interchangeably here. He says that all sinned because of Adam. Finally, he would say that the only infant who could be deemed “innocent” (i.e. not guilty) would be one “not born of the work of Adam.” As always with the Psalms, Augustine is relating this to Christ. Jesus, according to Augustine, was the only innocent infant.
With reason then, In Adam all die, but in Christ shall all be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15:22 For, Through one man, says the Apostle, sin has entered into this world, and through sin death, and so has passed unto all men, in that all have sinned. Romans 5:12 Definite is the sentence: In Adam, he says, all have sinned. Alone then could such an infant be innocent, as has not been born of the work of Adam.
Regarding Dr. Wilson’s statement on concupiscence above, I would like to treat that in a follow-up post to this one.
I find it almost amazing that Dr. Wilson could read Augustine’s Exposition of Psalm 51 and make the assertions he did in his dissertation that Augustine was just promoting Wilson’s “traditional” understanding of original sin – that being original sin without damnable “reatus”. After reading through some of Augustine yourself, it should be clear that it is anything but Wilsonian “Traditionalism”. As I have shown, Augustine not only says that children are born guilty (with a lack of innocence) but that they are further born with punishment upon them which makes them need the washing of regeneration in baptism. Guilty persons (infants) in need of regeneration, according to Augustine’s understanding of the catholic faith, would face the punishment of damnation. And although Wilson does not specifically date this, he does say it is prior to 411. This puts these statements 2 or more years prior to the magical year of 412.Tags: chrisw-kenwilson