In this episode of the Philosophy Hour of Literary Tales we turn to Augustine’s elaboration on original sin and the fall of man in the City of God. Here we examine how the lust to control what is right and wrong for our own happiness is at the root of sin and how the “Fall of Man” is the disordering of reason (truth) and desire (love) in Augustine’s reading. In sum, to live by one’s own standards (of falsity) against the divinely ordained order of nature is the reality of sin.

St. Augustine of Hippo is, apart from St. Paul, perhaps the most influential theological voice in Western Christianity. Contrary to popular misconception, he is also recognized as a saint in Eastern Orthodoxy, though he does not carry as much weight on Eastern theology as he does in Western theology. Protestants, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Calvinists, in particular, also revere Augustine and claim his heritage as well as Catholics. He is regarded as one of the Four Original Doctors of the Church in Catholicism. He is called “The Doctor of Grace.”
Peter Paul Rubens, “The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man,” 1615. The Fall of Man becomes a topic of serious consideration in Book XIV in City of God. Contrary to popular belief, Augustine’s elaborations on the Fall of Man and Original Sin did not change over time. Instead, there are three identifiable periods in which he deals with the nature of grace, sin, and the Fall of Man: The Pelagian Controversy in the early 400s, The City of God, ca. 415-420, and the Semi-Pelagian Debates in the 420s. Throughout, Augustine emphasizes man’s free will in sinning and falling away, God’s grace in election, and single predestination. The Pelagian Controversies have a more Christological dimension in Augustine’s writing. In The City of God, Augustine devotes more time to the nature of Adam’s sin and what it means for us and our lives today.
Benjamin West, “The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden,” ca. 1791.
Abraham Bloemaert, “Cain Slaying Abel,” 1590s. The Murder of Abel by Cain is also discussed concerning the nature of sin and the Fall. According to Augustine, the lust to control which motivated Adam and Eve to sin in the Garden is passed on to all generations. This is the meaning of “Original Sin” and inherited depravity. All humans now have a disordered state of lust over love, relativism over truth, which governs their “soul” (rationality) and heart (desire). The lust to control for oneself what is good and true is the condition of original sin.

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