The Doctrine of Sin, The Third Period 730-1517 A.D., The Doctrine of the Church of Rome

When discussing the doctrine of sin as maintained by the Church of Rome,—incidentally prior to the Reformation, the Church of Rome was the Church of God and of Christ in the midst of the world, bearing in mind that in 1054 this Church was split into two large parts, the Eastern half of which had its center in Constantinople and the Western half of which had its center in Rome,—we should call attention to the views of sin as entertained by the scholastics of the Middle Ages, by men such as Anselm, Abelard, Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus. 

Concerning Anselm, we read the following in the New Schaff-Herzog Religious Encyclopedia:

Anselm, Saint, of Canterbury: The father of medieval scholasticism and of the most eminent of English prelates; born at Aosta, Piedmont, 1033; died at Canterbury, England, April 21, 1109. He was wellborn and his parents were wealthy. While still a boy he wished to be a monk, but his father-a harsh man and unkind to his son forbade; his mother, a good and devout woman, had died early. When about twenty-three Anselm left home, and, after three years in Burgundy and France, went to Bee in Normandy, where his celebrated countryman, Lanfranc, was prior. Here he became a monk (1060). He succeeded Lanfranc as prior in 1063, and became abbot in 1078. . . . . He was canonized in 1494. 

Anselm is one of the most attractive characters of the medieval Church. He was preeminently a scholar, and considered the monastic life the happiest and best. When duty called, however, he did not shrink from assuming the burdens of administration and from mixing in the turmoils of statecraft, and he proved that steadfast rectitude is as efficacious as the devious ways of politicians. His honesty and simplicity were sometimes found embarrassing by diplomatic pontiffs and time-serving bishops. He was unfeignedly humble, kind of heart, and charitable in judgment, of spotless integrity, as zealous in good works as in the performance of duty, patient under trial and adversity. He was skillful in winning and training the young, achieved marked success as a teacher, and the common people were always on his side. In the history of theology he stands as the father of orthodox scholasticism, and has been called "the second Augustine." His mind was keen and logical, and his writings display profundity, originality, and masterly grasp of intellect.

As far as Anselm's conception of sin is concerned, Hodge writes as follows, Vol. II, 169:

This loss of original righteousness was universally regarded as a penal evil. It was the punishment of the first sin of Adam which came equally upon him and upon all his descendants. The question now is, What is the moral state of a soul destitute of original righteousness considered as a supernatural gift? It was the different views taken as to the answer to that question, which gave rise to the conflicting views of the nature and consequences of original sin.

Some said that this negative state was itself sinful. Admitting that original sin is simply the loss of original righteousness, it was nevertheless truly and properly sin. This was the ground taken by Anselm, the father of the scholastic philosophy and theology.

That the loss of original righteousness was universally regarded as a penal evil means that it was an evil inflicted by God as punishment. However, the question was, What is the moral state of a soul destitute of original righteousness considered as a supernatural gift. And the view of Anselm will become plain when viewed in the light of the views of others. Anselm believed that, although original sin is simply the loss of original righteousness, is therefore simply negative, the loss of what we once had, nevertheless this loss is truly and properly sin. Now we believe that sin is not merely negative. Spiritual blindness is not merely the absence of sight; spiritual deafness is not merely the failure to hear. That the sinner is dead does not simply mean that he is devoid of life. Of course, sin is negative. But we believe that it is more than this. Sin, according to the Word of God, is a power. And therefore we believe that it is better to say that sin is a positive lack. After all, according to the Word of God, sin rules over us, holds us in its grasp and dominion, and this can hardly be said of something that is exclusively negative. But it is nevertheless worthy of note that Anselm taught that this loss of original righteousness itself is truly and properly sin. 

Another of the scholastics was Abelard. Concerning his conception of sin, Hodge writes the following, Vol. II, 169 ff:

The ground taken by others of the schoohmen was that the loss of original righteousness left Adam precisely in the state in which he was created, and therefore in punk naturalibus (i.e., in the simple essential attributes of his nature). And as his descendants share his fate, they are born in the same state. (let us notice this, inasmuch as this is of great importance, H.V.) There is no inherent hereditary corruption, no moral character either good or bad. The want of a supernatural gift not belonging to the nature of man, and which must be bestowed as a favor, cannot be accounted to men as sin. Original sin, therefore, in the posterity of Adam can consist in nothing but the imputation to them of his first transgression. They suffer the punishment of that sin, which punishment is the loss of original righteousness. According to this view, original sin is paena but not culpa. It is true that the inevitable consequence of this privation of righteousness is that the lower powers of man's nature gain the ascendancy over the higher, and that he grows up in sm. Nevertheless there is no inherent or subjective sin in the new-born infant. There is a natural proneness to sin arising out of the original and normal constitution of our nature, and the absence of original righteousness which was a frenum, or check by which the lower powers were to be kept in subjection. But this being the condition in which Adam came from the hands of his Creator, it cannot be in itself sinful. Sin consists in assent and purpose. And, therefore, until the soul assents to this dominion of its lower nature and deliberately acts in accordance with it, it cannot be chargeable with any personal, inherent sm. There is therefore no sin of nature as distinguished from actual sin. It is true, as the advocates of this theory taught, in obedience to the universal faith of the Church and the clear doctrine of the Bible, that men are born in sm. But this is the guilt of Adam's first sin, and not their own inherent corruption. They admitted the correctness of the Latin version of

Romans 5:12,

which makes the Apostle say that all men sinned in Adam. But they understood that passage to teach nothing more than the imputation of Adam's first sin, and not any hereditary inherent corruption of nature. This was the theory of original sin adopted by Abelard, who held that nothing was properly of the nature of sin but an act performed with an evil intention. As there can be no such intention in infants there can be, properly speaking, no sin in them. There is a proneness to sin which he calls vitium; but sin consists in consent to this inclination, and not in the inclination itself. He admitted original sin as a punishment, or as the guilt of Adam's sin, but this was external and not inherent. This view of the subject was strenuously maintained by some of the theologians of the Roman Church at the time of the Reformation, especially by Catharinus and Pighius.

This conception of sin is very different from that set forth by Ansehn. Anselrn taught sin, although simply the loss of original righteousness, is nevertheless truly and properly sin. But this view declares that the loss of original righteousness left Adam precisely in the state in which he was created. And mankind shares this fate of Adam; all men are born in the same state. There is no inherent hereditary corruption, no moral character either good or bad. It is true that, because of this lack of righteousness, the lower powers of man's nature gain the ascendancy over the higher, and that man grows in sin. Sin consists in assent and purpose. Only when the soul assents to this dominion of the lower nature and deliberately acts in accordance with it, can it be chargeable with any personal, inherent sin. Children, therefore, are not born in sin. This view was maintained by Pighius, a bitter opponent of Calvin. This, of course, is Pelagianism, and it is well that we understand this. 

Thirdly, we call attention to the view of sin as held by Thomas Aquinas. Hodge writes that Aquinas, although approaching much nearer to Augustine than the other theologians of his age, taught a certain synergism which enters into all other systems. This synergism is very dangerous, a being able to cooperate with the grace of God. Thomas Aquinas was born in 1224 and died in 1274. He was a Dominican monk, the Doctor Angelicus of the schoolmen, and by far the most influential theologian in the Latin Church 'since the days of Augustine. His "Summa Theologiae" was long regarded as a standard work among Romanists, and is still referred to as an authority both by Romanists and Protestants. What did he teach? Hodge writes concerning this doctrine of Aquinas the following, Vol. II, 171 ff:

He taught (1) That original righteousness was to Adam a supernatural gift. (2) That by his transgression he forfeited that gift for himself and his posterity. (3) That original righteousness consisted essentially in the fixed bias of the will towards God, or the subjection of the will to God. (4) That the inevitable consequence or adjunct of the loss of this original righteousness, this conversion of the will towards God, is the aversion of the will from God. (5) That original sin, therefore, consists in two things, first, the loss of original righteousness and second, the disorder of the whole nature. The one he called the formale and the other the materiale of the original sin. To use his own illustration, a knife is iron; the iron is the material, the form is that which makes the material knife. So in original sin this aversion of the will from God (as a habit), is the substance of original sin, it owes its existence and nature to the loss of original righteousness. (6) The soul, therefore, after the loss of its primal rectitude, does not remain in puris naturalibus, but is in a slate of corruption and sin. Most frequently, in accordance with the usus loquendi of his own and of subsequent periods, this positive part of original sin is called concupiscence.

We will pause here. As Hodge remarks, it is of the utmost importance what Aquinas means when he speaks of concupiscence. It is used in many different senses. To this, the Lord willing, we will call attention in our following article.

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