Thursday, November 25, 2010

Augustine on Adam's sin

Advent is nearly here and I shall try to revive my custom of publishing a seasonal Latin hymn. Here is one from three years ago (actually from as long ago as the 12th century). It begins Fregit Adam interdictum – Adam broke God’s commandment, and left the punishment of his sin to all his descendants. One of the themes of Advent is the reminder of this original sin, as well as what follows from it – the hope for a saviour, the virgin birth, the defeat of sin and the Devil.

Below is a passage from Augustine’s City of God, which proves that original sin exists. The evidence for it is the ‘host of cruel ills’ which the world is filled with. These can be restrained by laws and punishments, but law and punishment is itself a means of restraining the evil desires that we are born with. Even great innocence is not a sufficient protection against the evil of this world, for God permits even young infants to be tormented in this life, teaching us ‘to bewail the calamities of this life, and to desire the felicity of the life to come’.

At the end he observes that as well as the gift of grace, there is also the gift of philosophy which – he cites Cicero with apparent approval – is the greatest gift that the gods have given to man.

“That the whole human race has been condemned in its first origin, this life
itself, if life it is to be called, bears witness by the host of cruel ills with
which it is filled. Is not this proved by the profound and dreadful ignorance
which produces all the errors that enfold the children of Adam, and from which
no man can be delivered without toil, pain, and fear? Is it not proved by his
love of so many vain and hurtful things, which produces gnawing cares, disquiet,
griefs, fears, wild joys, quarrels, lawsuits, wars, treasons, angers, hatreds,
deceit, flattery, fraud, theft, robbery, perfidy, pride, ambition, envy,
murders, parricides, cruelty, ferocity, wickedness, luxury, insolence,
impudence, shamelessness, fornications, adulteries, incests, and the numberless
uncleannesses and unnatural acts of both sexes, which it is shameful so much as
to mention; sacrileges, heresies, blasphemies, perjuries, oppression of the
innocent, calumnies, plots, falsehoods, false witnessings, unrighteous
judgments, violent deeds, plunderings, and whatever similar wickedness has found
its way into the lives of men, though it cannot find its way into the conception
of pure minds?

These are indeed the crimes of wicked men, yet they
spring from that root of error and misplaced love which is born with every son
of Adam. For who is there that has not observed with what profound ignorance,
manifesting itself even in infancy, and with what superfluity of foolish
desires, beginning to appear in boyhood, man comes into this life, so that, were
he left to live as he pleased, and to do whatever he pleased, he would plunge
into all, or certainly into many of those crimes and iniquities which I
mentioned, and could not mention?

But because God does not wholly desert those whom He condemns, nor shuts up in His anger His tender mercies, the human race is restrained by law and instruction, which keep guard against the ignorance that besets us, and oppose the assaults of vice, but are themselves full of labor and sorrow.

For what mean those multifarious threats which are
used to restrain the folly of children? What mean pedagogues, masters, the
birch, the strap, the cane, the schooling which Scripture says must be given a
child, "beating him on the sides lest he wax stubborn," Sirach 30:12 and it be
hardly possible or not possible at all to subdue him? Why all these punishments,
save to overcome ignorance and bridle evil desires-these evils with which we
come into the world? For why is it that we remember with difficulty, and without
difficulty forget? learn with difficulty, and without difficulty remain
ignorant? are diligent with difficulty, and without difficulty are indolent?
Does not this show what vitiated nature inclines and tends to by its own weight,
and what succor it needs if it is to be delivered?

Inactivity, sloth, laziness, negligence, are vices which shun labor, since labor, though
useful, is itself a punishment.But, besides the punishments of childhood,
without which there would be no learning of what the parents wish,-and the
parents rarely wish anything useful to be taught,-who can describe, who can
conceive the number and severity of the punishments which afflict the human
race,-pains which are not only the accompaniment of the wickedness of godless
men, but are a part of the human condition and the common misery,-what fear and
what grief are caused by bereavement and mourning, by losses and condemnations,
by fraud and falsehood, by false suspicions, and all the crimes and wicked deeds
of other men? For at their hands we suffer robbery, captivity, chains,
imprisonment, exile, torture, mutilation, loss of sight, the violation of
chastity to satisfy the lust of the oppressor, and many other dreadful evils.
What numberless casualties threaten our bodies from without,-extremes of heat
and cold, storms, floods, inundations, lightning, thunder, hail, earthquakes,
houses falling; or from the stumbling, or shying, or vice of horses; from
countless poisons in fruits, water, air, animals; from the painful or even
deadly bites of wild animals; from the madness which a mad dog communicates, so
that even the animal which of all others is most gentle and friendly to its own
master, becomes an object of intenser fear than a lion or dragon, and the man
whom it has by chance infected with this pestilential contagion becomes so
rabid, that his parents, wife, children, dread him more than any wild beast!
What disasters are suffered by those who travel by land or sea! What man can go
out of his own house without being exposed on all hands to unforeseen accidents?
Returning home sound in limb, he slips on his own doorstep, breaks his leg, and
never recovers. What can seem safer than a man sitting in his chair? Eli the
priest fell from his, and broke his neck. How many accidents do farmers, or
rather all men, fear that the crops may suffer from the weather, or the soil, or
the ravages of destructive animals? Commonly they feel safe when the crops are
gathered and housed. Yet, to my certain knowledge, sudden floods have driven the
laborers away, and swept the barns clean of the finest harvest.

Is innocence a sufficient protection against the various assaults of demons? That
no man might think so, even baptized infants, who are certainly unsurpassed in
innocence, are sometimes so tormented, that God, who permits it, teaches us
hereby to bewail the calamities of this life, and to desire the felicity of the
life to come. As to bodily diseases, they are so numerous that they cannot all
be contained even in medical books. And in very many, or almost all of them, the
cures and remedies are themselves tortures, so that men are delivered from a
pain that destroys by a cure that pains. Has not the madness of thirst driven
men to drink human urine, and even their own? Has not hunger driven men to eat
human flesh, and that the flesh not of bodies found dead, but of bodies slain
for the purpose? Have not the fierce pangs of famine driven mothers to eat their
own children, incredibly savage as it seems? In fine, sleep itself, which is
justly called repose, how little of repose there sometimes is in it when
disturbed with dreams and visions; and with what terror is the wretched mind
overwhelmed by the appearances of things which are so presented, and which, as
it were so stand out before the senses, that we can not distinguish them from
realities! How wretchedly do false appearances distract men in certain diseases!
With what astonishing variety of appearances are even healthy men sometimes
deceived by evil spirits, who produce these delusions for the sake of perplexing
the senses of their victims, if they cannot succeed in seducing them to their

From this hell upon earth there is no escape, save through the
grace of the Saviour Christ, our God and Lord. The very name Jesus shows this,
for it means Saviour; and He saves us especially from passing out of this life
into a more wretched and eternal state, which is rather a death than a life. For
in this life, though holy men and holy pursuits afford us great consolations,
yet the blessings which men crave are not invariably bestowed upon them, lest
religion should be cultivated for the sake of these temporal advantages, while
it ought rather to be cultivated for the sake of that other life from which all
evil is excluded. Therefore, also, does grace aid good men in the midst of
present calamities, so that they are enabled to endure them with a constancy
proportioned to their faith. The world's sages affirm that philosophy
contributes something to this,-that philosophy which, according to Cicero, the
gods have bestowed in its purity only on a few men. They have never given, he
says, nor can ever give, a greater gift to men. So that even those against whom
we are disputing have been compelled to acknowledge, in some fashion, that the
grace of God is necessary for the acquisition, not, indeed, of any philosophy,
but of the true philosophy. And if the true philosophy-this sole support against
the miseries of this life-has been given by Heaven only to a few, it
sufficiently appears from this that the human race has been condemned to pay
this penalty of wretchedness. And as, according to their acknowledgment, no
greater gift has been bestowed by God, so it must be believed that it could be
given only by that God whom they themselves recognize as greater than all the
gods they worship.

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