I - Original Sin

And, to begin with, a controversy has occurred among some theologians of the Augsburg Confession concerning Original Sin, what it properly [and really] is. For one side contended that, since through the fall of Adam man’s nature, and essence are entirely corrupt, the nature, substance, and essence of the corrupt, man, now, since the Fall, or, at any rate, the principal, highest part of his essence, namely, the rational soul in its highest state or principal powers is original sin itself, which has been called nature-sin or person-sin, for the reason that it is not a thought, word, or work, but the nature itself whence, as from a root, spring all other sins, and that on this account there is now, since the Fall, because the nature is corrupt through sin, no difference whatever between the nature and essence of man and original sin.

But the other side taught, in opposition, that original sin is not properly the nature, substance, or essence of man, that is, man’s body or soul, which even now, since the Fall, are and remain the creation and creatures of God in us, but that it is something in the nature, body, and soul of man, and in all his powers, namely, a horrible, deep, inexpressible corruption of the same, so that man is destitute of the righteousness wherein he was originally created, and in spiritual things is dead to good and perverted to all evil; and that, because of this corruption and inborn sin, which inheres in the nature, all actual sins flow forth from the heart; and that hence a distinction must be maintained between the nature and essence of the corrupt man, or his body and soul, which are the creation and creatures of God in us even since the Fall, and original sin, which is a work of the devil, by which the nature has become corrupt.

Now this controversy concerning original sin is not unnecessary wrangling, but if this doctrine is rightly presented from, and according to, God’s Word, and separated from all Pelagian and Manichean errors, then (as the Apology says) the benefits of the Lord Christ and His precious merit, also the gracious operation of the Holy Ghost, are the better known and the more extolled; moreover, due honor is rendered to God, if His work and creation in man is rightly distinguished from the work of the devil, by which the nature has been corrupted. In order, therefore, to explain this controversy in the Christian way and according to God’s Word, and to maintain the correct, pure doctrine of original sin, we shall collect from the above-mentioned writings the thesis and antithesis, that is, the correct doctrine and its opposite, into brief chapters.

  1. And first, it is true that Christians should regard and recognize as sin not only the actual transgression of God’s commandments; but also that the horrible, dreadful hereditary malady by which the entire nature is corrupted should above all things be regarded and recognized as sin indeed, yea, as the chief sin, which is a root and fountain-head of all actual sins. And by Dr. Luther it is called a nature-sin or person-sin, thereby to indicate that, even though a person would think, speak, or do nothing evil (which, however, is impossible in this life, since the fall of our first parents), his nature and person are nevertheless sinful, that is, thoroughly and utterly infected and corrupted before God by original sin, as by a spiritual leprosy; and on account of this corruption and because of the fall of the first man the nature or person is accused or condemned by God’s Law, so that we are by nature the children of wrath, death, and damnation, unless we are delivered therefrom by the merit of Christ.

  2. In the second place, this, too, is clear and true, as the Nineteenth Article of the Augsburg Confession teaches, that God is not a creator, author, or cause of sin, but by the instigation of the devil through one man sin (which is a work of the devil) has entered the world, Rom. 5, 12; 1 John 3, 7. And even at the present day, in this corruption [in this corruption of nature], God does not create and make sin in us, but with the nature which God at the present day still creates and makes in men original sin is propagated from sinful seed, through carnal conception and birth from father and mother.

  3. In the third place, what [and how great] this hereditary evil is no reason knows and understands, but, as the Smalcald Articles say, it must be learned and believed from the revelation of Scripture. And in the Apology this is briefly comprehended under the following main heads:

  4. That this hereditary evil is the guilt [by which it comes to pass] that, by reason of the disobedience of Adam and Eve, we are all in God’s displeasure, and by nature children of wrath, as the apostle shows Rom. 5:12ff ; Eph. 2:3.

  5. Secondly, that it is an entire want or lack of the concreated hereditary righteousness in Paradise, or of God’s image, according to which man was originally created in truth, holiness, and righteousness; and at the same time an inability and unfitness for all the things of God, or, as the Latin words read: Desciptio peccati originalis detrahit naturae non renovatae et dona et vim seu facultatem et actus inchoandi et efficiendi spiritualia; that is: The definition of original sin takes away from the unrenewed nature the gifts, the power, and all activity for beginning and effecting anything in spiritual things.

  6. That original sin (in human nature) is not only this entire absence of all good in spiritual, divine things, but that, instead of the lost image of God in man, it is at the same time also a deep, wicked, horrible, fathomless, inscrutable, and unspeakable corruption of the entire nature and all its powers, especially of the highest, principal powers of the soul in the understanding, heart, and will, so that now, since the Fall, man inherits an inborn wicked disposition and inward impurity of heart, evil lust and propensity; that we all by disposition and nature inherit from Adam such a heart, feeling, and thought as are, according to their highest powers and the light of reason, naturally inclined and disposed directly contrary to God and His chief commandments, yea, that they are enmity against God, especially as regards divine and spiritual things. For in other respects, as regards natural, external things which are subject to reason, man still has to a certain degree understanding, power, and ability, although very much weakened, all of which, however, has been so infected and contaminated by original sin that before God it is of no use.

  7. The punishment and penalty of original sin, which God has imposed upon the children of Adam and upon original sin, are death, eternal damnation, and also other bodily and spiritual, temporal and eternal miseries, and the tyranny and dominion of the devil, so that human nature is subject to the kingdom of the devil and has been surrendered to the power of the devil, and is held captive under his sway, who stupefies [fascinates] and leads astray many a great, learned man in the world by means of dreadful error, heresy, and other blindness, and otherwise rushes men into all sorts of crime.

  8. Fifthly, this hereditary evil is so great and horrible that only for the sake of the Lord Christ it can be covered and forgiven before God in the baptized and believing. Moreover, human nature, which is perverted and corrupted thereby, must and can be healed only by the regeneration and renewal of the Holy Ghost, which, however, is only begun in this life, but will not be perfect until in the life to come.

These points, which have been quoted here only in a summary way, are set forth more fully in the above-mentioned writings of the common confession of our Christian doctrine.

Now this doctrine must be so maintained and guarded that it may not deflect either to the Pelagian or the Manichean side. For this reason the contrary doctrine concerning this article, which is censured and rejected in our churches, should also be briefly stated.

  1. And first, in opposition to the old and the new Pelagians, the following false opinions and dogmas are censured and rejected, namely, that original sin is only a reatus or guilt, on account of what has been committed by another, without any corruption of our nature.

  2. Also, that sinful, evil lusts are not sins, but conditiones, or concreated and essential properties of the nature.

  3. Or as though the above-mentioned defect and evil were not properly and truly sin before God, on account of which man without Christ [unless he be grafted into Christ and be delivered through Him] must be a child of wrath and damnation, also in the dominion and beneath the power of Satan.

  4. The following and similar Pelagian errors are also censured and rejected, namely: that nature, even since the Fall, is said to be incorrupt, and that especially with respect to spiritual things entirely good and pure, and in naturalibus, that is, in its natural powers, it is said to be perfect.

  5. Or that original sin is only external, a slight, insignificant spot sprinkled or a stain dashed upon the nature of man, or corruptio tantum accidentium aut qualitatum, i. e., a corruption only in some accidental things, along with and beneath which the nature nevertheless possesses and retains its integrity and power even in spiritual things.

  6. Or that original sin is not a despoliation or deficiency, but only an external impediment to these spiritual good powers, as when a magnet is smeared with garlic-juice, whereby its natural power is not removed, but only hindered; or that this stain can be easily washed away, as a spot from the face or pigment from the wall.

  7. They are rebuked and rejected likewise who teach that the nature has indeed been greatly weakened and corrupted through the Fall, but that nevertheless it has not entirely lost all good with respect to divine, spiritual things, and that what is sung in our churches, Through Adam’s fall is all corrupt, Nature and essence human, is not true, but from natural birth it still has something good, small, little and inconsiderable though it be, namely, capacity, skill, aptness or ability to begin, to effect, or to help effect something in spiritual things. For concerning external, temporal, worldly things and transactions, which are subject to reason, there will be an explanation in the succeeding article.

These and contrary doctrines of like kind are censured and rejected for the reason that God’s Word teaches that the corrupt nature, of and by itself, has no power for anything good in spiritual, divine things, not even for the least, as good thoughts; and not only this, but that of and by itself it can do nothing in the sight of God but sin, Gen. 6:5; 8:21.

In the same manner this doctrine must also be guarded on the other side against Manichean errors. Accordingly, the following and similar erroneous doctrines are rejected, namely: that now, since the Fall, human nature is in the beginning created pure and good, and that afterwards original sin from without is infused and mingled with the nature by Satan (as something essential), as poison is mingled with wine [that in the beginning human nature was created by God pure and good, but that now, since the Fall, original sin, etc. ].

For although in Adam and Eve the nature was originally created pure, good, and holy, nevertheless sin did not enter their nature through the Fall in the way fanatically taught by the Manicheans, as though Satan had created or made some evil substance, and mingled it with their nature. But since man, by the seduction of Satan through the Fall, has lost his concreated hereditary righteousness according to God’s judgment and sentence, as a punishment, human nature, as has been said above, is so perverted and corrupted by this deprivation or deficiency, want, and injury, which has been caused by Satan, that at present the nature is transmitted, together with this defect and corruption [propagated in a hereditary way], to all men, who are conceived and born in a natural way from father and mother. For since the Fall human nature is not at first created pure and good, and only afterward corrupted by original sin, but in the first moment of our conception the seed from which man is formed is sinful and corrupt. Moreover, original sin is not something by itself, existing independently in, or apart from, the nature of the corrupt man, as it neither is the real essence, body, or soul of the corrupt man, or the man himself. Nor can and should original sin and the nature of man corrupted thereby be so distinguished as though the nature were pure, good, holy, and uncorrupted before God, while original sin alone which dwells therein were evil.

Also, as Augustine writes concerning the Manicheans, as though it were not the corrupt man himself that sins by reason of inborn original sin, but something different and foreign in man, and that God, accordingly, accuses and condemns by the Law, not the nature as corrupt by sin, but only the original sin therein. For, as stated above in thesi, that is, in the explanation of the pure doctrine concerning original sin, the entire nature of man, which is born in the natural way of father and mother, is entirely and to the farthest extent corrupted and perverted by original sin, in body and soul, in all its powers, as regards and concerns the goodness, truth, holiness, and righteousness concreated with it in Paradise. Non tamen in aliam substantiam genere aut specie diversam, priori abolita, transmutata est, that is: Nevertheless the nature is not entirely exterminated or changed into another substance, which, according to its essence, could not be said to be like our nature [but is diverse in genus or species], and therefore cannot be of one essence with us.

Because of this corruption, too, the entire corrupt nature of man is accused and condemned by the Law, unless the sin is forgiven for Christ’s sake.

But the Law accuses and condemns our nature, not because we have been created men by God, but because we are sinful and wicked; not because and so far as nature and its essence, even since the Fall, is a work and creature of God in us, but because and so far as it has been poisoned and corrupted by sin.

But although original sin, like a spiritual poison and leprosy (as Luther says), has poisoned and corrupted the whole human nature, so that we cannot show and point out to the eye the nature apart by itself, and original sin apart by itself, nevertheless the corrupt nature, or essence of the corrupt man, body and soul, or the man himself whom God has created (and in whom dwells original sin, which also corrupts the nature, essence, or the entire man), and original sin, which dwells in man’s nature or essence, and corrupts it, are not one thing; as also in external leprosy the body which is leprous, and the leprosy on or in the body, are not, properly speaking, one thing. But a distinction must be maintained also between our nature as created and preserved by God, in which sin is indwelling, and original sin, which dwells in the nature. These two must and also can be considered, taught, and believed separately according to Holy Scripture.

Moreover, the chief articles of our Christian faith urge and compel us to preserve this distinction. For instance, in the first place, in the article of Creation, Scripture testifies that God has created human nature not only before the Fall, but that it is a creature and work of God also since the Fall, Deut. 32:6; Is. 45:11, 54:5, 64:8; Acts 17:25; Rev. 4:11.

Thine hands, says Job, have made me and fashioned me together round about; yet Thou dost destroy me. Remember, I beseech Thee, that Thou hast made me as the clay; and wilt Thou bring me into dust again? Hast Thou not poured me out as milk and curdled me as cheese? Thou hast clothed me with skin and flesh, and fenced me with bones and sinews. Thou hast granted me life and favor, and Thy visitation hath preserved my spirit. Job 10:8-12.

I will praise Thee, says David, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Marvelous are Thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from Thee when I was made in secret and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance yet being unperfect, and in Thy book all my members were written which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them, Ps. 139:14-16.

In the Ecclesiastes of Solomon it is written: Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit to God, who gave it, Eccl. 12:7.

These passages clearly testify that God even since the Fall is the Creator of man, and creates his body and soul. Therefore corrupt man cannot, without any distinction, be sin itself, otherwise God would be a creator of sin; as also our Small Catechism confesses in the explanation of the First Article, where it is written: I believe that God has made me and all creatures, that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still preserves them. Likewise in the Large Catechism it is thus written: This is what I believe and mean, that is, that I am a creature of God; that He has given and constantly preserves to me my body, soul, and life, members great and small, and all my senses, mind, and reason. Nevertheless, this same creature and work of God is lamentably corrupted by sin; for the mass ( massa) from which God now forms and makes man was corrupted and perverted in Adam, and is thus transmitted by inheritance to us.

And here pious Christian hearts justly ought to consider the unspeakable goodness of God, that God does not immediately cast from Himself into hell-fire this corrupt, perverted, sinful mass, but forms and makes from it the present human nature, which is lamentably corrupted by sin, in order that He may cleanse it from all sin, sanctify and save it by His dear Son.

From this article, now, the distinction is found indisputably and clearly. For original sin does not come from God. God is not a creator or author of sin. Nor is original sin a creature or work of God, but it is a work of the devil.

Now, if there were to be no difference whatever between the nature or essence of our body and soul, which is corrupted by original sin, and original sin, by which the nature is corrupted, it would follow either that God, because He is the Creator of this our nature, also created and made original sin, which, accordingly would also be His work and creature; or, because sin is a work of the devil, that Satan would be the creator of this our nature, of our body and soul, which would also have to be a work or creation of Satan if, without any distinction, our corrupt nature should have to be regarded as sin itself; both of which teachings are contrary to the article of our Christian faith. Therefore, in order that God’s creation and work in man may be distinguished from the work of the devil, we say that it is God’s creation that man has body and soul; also, that it is God’s work that man can think, speak, do, and work anything; for in Him we live, and move, and have our being, Acts 17:28. But that the nature is corrupt, that its thoughts, words, and works are wicked, is originally a work of Satan, who has thus corrupted God’s work in Adam through sin, which from him is transmitted by inheritance to us.

Secondly, in the article of Redemption the Scriptures testify forcibly that God’s Son assumed our human nature without sin, so that He was in all things, sin excepted, made like unto us, His brethren, Heb. 2:14. Unde veteres dixerunt: Christum nobis, fratribus suis, consubstantialem esse secundum assumptam naturam, quia naturam, quae, excepto peccato, eiusdem generis, speciei et substantiae cum nostra est, assumpsit; et contrariam sententiam manifeste haereseos damnarunt. That is: Hence all the old orthodox teachers have maintained that Christ, according to His assumed humanity, is of one essence with us, His brethren; for He has assumed His human nature, which in all respects (sin alone excepted) is like our human nature in its essence and all essential attributes; and they have condemned the contrary doctrine as manifest heresy.

Now, if there were no distinction between the nature or essence of corrupt man and original sin, it must follow that Christ either did not assume our nature, because He did not assume sin, or that, because He assumed our nature, He also assumed sin; both of which ideas are contrary to the Scriptures. But inasmuch as the Son of God assumed our nature, and not original sin, it is clear from this fact that human nature, even since the Fall, and original sin, are not one [and the same] thing, but must be distinguished.

Thirdly, in the article of Sanctification Scripture testifies that God cleanses, washes, and sanctifies man from sin, 1 John 1:7, and that Christ saves His people from their sins, Matt. 1:21. Sin, therefore, cannot be man himself; for God receives man into grace for Christ’s sake, but to sin He remains hostile to eternity. Therefore it is unchristian and horrible to hear that original sin is baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity, sanctified and saved, and other similar expressions found in the writings of the recent Manicheans, with which we will not offend simple-minded people.

Fourthly, in the article of the Resurrection Scripture testifies that precisely the substance of this our flesh, but without sin, will rise again, and that in eternal life we shall have and retain precisely this soul, but without sin.

Now, if there were no difference whatever between our corrupt body and soul and original sin, it would follow, contrary to this article of the Christian faith, either that this our flesh will not rise again at the last day, and that in eternal life we shall not have the present essence of our body and soul, but another substance (or another soul), because then we shall be without sin; or that [at the last day] sin also will rise again, and will be and remain in the elect in eternal life.

Hence it is clear that this doctrine [of the Manicheans] (with all that depends upon it and follows from it) must be rejected, when it is asserted and taught that original sin is the nature, substance, essence, body, or soul itself of corrupt man, so that between our corrupt nature, substance, and essence and original sin there is no distinction whatever. For the chief articles of our Christian faith forcibly and emphatically testify why a distinction should and must be maintained between man’s nature or substance, which is corrupted by sin, and the sin, with which and by which man is corrupted. For a simple statement of the doctrine and the contrary teaching ( in thesi et antithesi) in this controversy, as regards the principal matter itself, is sufficient in this place, where the subject is not argued at length, but only the principal points are treated, article by article.

But as regards terms and expressions, it is best and safest to use and retain the form of sound words employed concerning this article in the Holy Scriptures and the above-mentioned books.

Also, to avoid strife about words, aequivocationes vocabulorum, that is, words and expressions which are applied and used in various meanings, should be carefully and distinctly explained; as when it is said: God creates the nature of men, there by the term nature the essence, body, and soul of men are understood. But often the disposition or vicious quality of a thing is called its nature, as when it is said: It is the nature of the serpent to bite and poison. Thus Luther says that sin and sinning are the disposition and nature of corrupt man.

Therefore original sin properly signifies the deep corruption of our nature, as it is described in the Smalcald Articles. But sometimes the concrete person or the subject, that is, man himself with body and soul, in which sin is and inheres, is also comprised under this term, for the reason that man is corrupted by sin, poisoned and sinful, as when Luther says: “Thy birth, thy nature, and thy entire essence is sin,” that is, sinful and unclean.

Luther himself explains that by nature-sin, person-sin, essential sin he means that not only the words, thoughts, and works are sin, but that the entire nature, person, and essence of man are altogether corrupted from the root by original sin.

However, as to the Latin words substantia and accidens, a church of plain people ought to be spared these terms in public sermons, because they are unknown to ordinary men. But when learned men among themselves, or with others to whom these words are not unknown, employ such terms in treating this subject, as Eusebius, Ambrose, and especially Augustine, and also still other eminent church-teachers have done, because they were necessary to explain this doctrine in opposition to the heretics, they assume immediatam divisionem, that is, a division between which there is no mean, so that everything that is must be either substantia, that is, a self-existent essence, or accidens, that is, an accidental matter which does not exist by itself essentially, but is in another self-existent essence and can be distinguished from it; which division Cyril and Basil also use.

And since, among others, this, too, is an indubitable, indisputable axiom in theology, that every substantia or self-existing essence, so far as it is a substance, is either God Himself or a work and creation of God, Augustine, in many writings against the Manicheans, in common with all true teachers, has, after due consideration and with earnestness, condemned and rejected the statement: Peccatum originis est substantia vel natura, that is, original sin is man’s nature or substance. After him all the learned and intelligent also have always maintained that whatever does not exist by itself, nor is a part of another self-existing essence, but exists, subject to change, in another thing, is not a substantia, that is, something self-existing, but an accidens, that is, something accidental. Accordingly, Augustine is accustomed constantly to speak in this way: Original sin is not the nature itself, but an accidens vitium in natura, that is, an accidental defect and damage in the nature. In this way, previous to this controversy, [learned] men spoke, also in our schools and churches, according to the rules of logic, freely and without being suspected [of heresy], and were never censured on this account either by Dr. Luther or any orthodox teacher of our pure, evangelical churches.

Now, then, since it is the indisputable truth that everything that is, is either a substance or an accidens, that is, either a self-existing essence or something accidental in it, as has just been shown and proved by testimonies of the church-teachers, and no truly intelligent man has ever had any doubts concerning this, necessity here constrains, and no one can evade it, if the question be asked whether original sin is a substance, that is, such a thing as exists by itself, and is not in another or whether it is an accidens, that is, such a thing as does not exist by itself, but is in another, and cannot exist or be by itself, he must confess straight and pat that original sin is no substance, but an accidens.

For this reason, too, the Church of God will never be helped to permanent peace in this controversy, but the dissension will rather be strengthened and kept up, if the ministers of the Church remain in doubt as to whether original sin is a substance or an accidens, and whether it is rightly and properly named thus.

Hence, if the churches and schools are to be thoroughly relieved of this scandalous and very mischievous controversy, it is necessary that each and every one be properly instructed concerning this matter.

But if it be further asked what kind of an accidens original sin is, that is another question, of which no philosopher, no papist, no sophist, yea, no human reason, however acute it may be, can give the right explanation, but all understanding and every explanation of it must be derived solely from the Holy Scriptures, which testify that original sin is an unspeakable evil and such an entire corruption of human nature that in it and all its internal and external powers nothing pure or good remains, but everything is entirely corrupt, so that on account of original sin man is in God’s sight truly spiritually dead, with all his powers dead to that which is good.

In this way, then, original sin is not extenuated by the word accidens, [namely] when it is explained according to [the analogy of] God’s Word, after the manner in which Dr. Luther, in his Latin exposition of the third chapter of Genesis, has written with great earnestness against the extenuation of original sin; but this word serves only to indicate the distinction between the work of God (which our nature is, notwithstanding that it is corrupt) and the work of the devil (which the sin is that inheres in God’s work, and is the most profound and indescribable corruption of it).

Therefore Luther also in his treatment of this subject has employed the term accidens, as also the term qualitas [quality], and has not rejected them; but at the same time he has, with special earnestness and great zeal, taken the greatest pains to explain and to inculcate upon each and every one what a horrible quality and accidens it is, by which human nature is not merely polluted, but so deeply corrupted that nothing pure or incorrupt has remained in it, as his words on Ps. 90 run: Sive igitur peccatum originis qualitatem sive morbum vocaverimus, profecto extremum malum est non solum pati aeternam iram et mortem, sed ne agnoscere quidem, quae pateris. That is: Whether we call original sin a quality or a disease, it is indeed the utmost evil, that we are not only to suffer the eternal wrath of God and eternal death, but that we do not even understand what we suffer. And again, on Gen. 3: Qui isto veneno peccati originis a planta pedis usque ad verticem infecti sumus, siquidem in natura adhuc integra accidere. That is: We are infected with the poison of original sin from the sole of the foot to the crown of the head, inasmuch as this happened to us in a nature still perfect.

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