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Book II - Chapter IX

Of Original Sin

We have examined the rock on which the Church of Rome professes to be built, and find that it is a quicksand. The infallibility is in the same unhappy predicament with the crocodile in the Indian fable,--it has not only to support itself, but all that is laid upon it to boot. Having disposed of it, we might be held, in point of form, as having disposed of the whole system. But our object being, first of all, to exhibit, and only indirectly to confute, the system of Popery, we proceed in our design, and accordingly now pass to the DOCTRINE of the Church. And, first, to her doctrine on the head of Original Sin.

The doctrine of original sin was one of the first points to be debated in the Council of Trent; and the discord and diversity of opinion that reigned among the fathers strikingly illustrates the sort of unity of which the Roman Catholic Church boasts. In discussing this doctrine, the council considered, first, the nature of original sin; second, its transmission; and, third, its remedy. On its nature the fathers were unable to come to any agreement. Some maintained that it consists in the privation of original righteousness; others, that it lies in concupiscence; while another party held that in fallen man there are two kinds of rebellion,--one of the spirit against God; the other, of flesh against the spirit; that the former is unrighteousness, and the latter concupiscence, and that both together constitute sin. After a lengthened debate, in which the fathers, not the Scriptures, were appealed to, and which gave abundant room for the display of that scholastic erudition which is so fruitful in casuistical subtleties and distinctions, the council wisely resolved to eschew the danger of a definition, and, despairing of harmonizing their views, promulgated their decree without defining its subject. "Whoever shall not confess," said the council, "that the first man, Adam, when he broke the commandment of God in Paradise, straitway fell from the holiness and righteousness in which he was formed, and by the offence of his prevarication incurred the wrath and indignation of God, and also the death with which God had threatened him, . . . . let him be accursed."1

The council was scarce less divided on the subject of the transmission of original sin. Wisely avoiding to determine the manner in which this sin is conveyed from Adam to his posterity, the council decreed as follows:--"Whoever shall affirm that the sin of Adam injured only himself, and not likewise his posterity; and that the holiness and justice which he received from God he lost for himself only, and not for us also; and that, becoming polluted by his disobedience, he transmitted to all mankind corporal death and punishment only, but not sin also, which is the death of the soul; let him be accursed"2

The council, then, were at one as regards the penalty of sin, which is death eternal; they were not less at one as regards the remedy, which is baptism. And so efficacious is this remedy, according to the Council of Trent, that in baptism--"the laver of regeneration," as they termed it,--all sin is washed away. In the regenerate, that is, in the baptized, there remains no sin. The council admitted that concupiscence dwells in all men, and in true Christians among the rest; but it also decided that concupiscence, which is a certain commotion and impulse of the mind, urging to the desire of pleasures which it does not actually enjoy," is not sin. On this part of the subject the council decreed as follows:--"Whoever shall affirm that this sin of Adam can be taken away, either by the strength of human nature, or by any other means than by the merit of our Lord Jesus Christ, the one Mediator, . . . or shall deny that the merit of Jesus Christ is applied both to adults and infants by the sacrament of baptism, administered according to the rites of the Church, let him be accursed."3 And again,--"Whoever shall deny that the guilt of original sin is remitted by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, bestowed in baptism, or shall affirm that that wherein sin truly and properly consists is not wholly rooted up, but is only cut down, or not imputed, let him be accursed."4

The doctrine of the Fall must necessarily be a fundamental one in every system of theology: it formed the starting point in those meagre systems which existed in the pagan world. But it is not enough that we give it a place in our scheme of truth;--it must be rightly and fully understood, otherwise all will be wrong in our system of religion. Should we fall into the mistake of supposing that the injury sustained by man when he fell was less than it really is, we will, in the same proportion, underrate the extent to which he must be dependent upon the atonement of Christ, and overestimate the extent to which he is able to help himself. It may be seen, then, that an error here will vitiate our whole scheme, and may lead to fatal consequences. It becomes important, therefore, to state accurately, though succinctly, the opinions held by modern writers in the Church of Rome on the doctrines of the Fall and Divine Grace. The authors of those systems of theology which are used as text-books in the training of the priesthood have not very distinctly stated in what they conceive original sin to consist. In this they have followed the example of the Council of Trent. Dens defines it simply to be disobedience.5 Bailly cites the opinions which have been held on this question by various sects, and more especially the doctrine of the Standards of the Presbyterian Church, which make "the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell" to consist "in the guilt of Adam's first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called original sin;" and though he condemns all these opinions, he offers no definition of his own, but takes farewell of the subject with some observations on its abstruseness, and the inutility of prying too curiously into the qualities of things.6 We know of no writer of authority in the Roman Catholic Church, since the days of Bellarmine at least, who has spoken so frankly out on the doctrine of the Fall as the present occupant of the chair of theology in the University at Rome. We shall state the opinions of M. Perrone as clearly and accurately as we are able; and this will put the reader in possession of the Roman Catholic doctrine on this important subject. M. Perrone, in his published prelections, teaches that the first man was exalted to a supernatural state by the sanctifying grace of his Creator; that this integrity or holiness of nature was not due to man, but was a gift freely conferred on him by the divine bounty; so that God, had he pleased, might have created man without these endowments. Accordingly, man, by his sin, says M. Perrone, lost only those superadded gifts which flowed from the liberality of God; or, what is the same thing, man by his sin reduced himself to that state in which he would actually have been created had not God added other gifts, both for this life and for the other.7

M. Perrone fortifies his statement by an appeal to the opinions of Cardinals Cajetan and Bellarmine, both of whom have expressed themselves on the subject of the Fall in terms very similar to those employed by the Professor in the Collegio Romano. The difference, says Cajetan, between fallen nature and pure nature,--not nature as it existed in the case of Adam, who was clothed with supernatural gifts, but nature, as the Romish divines phrase it, in puris naturalibus,--may be expressed in one word. The difference is the same as that which exists between the man who has been despoiled of his clothing, and the man who never had any. "We do not distinguish between the two," argues the Cardinal, "on the ground that the one is more nude than the other, for that is not the case. In like manner, a nature in puris naturalibus, and a nature despoiled of original grace and righteousness, do not differ in this, that the one is more destitute than the other; but the great difference lies here, that the defect in the one case is not a fault, or punishment, or injury; whereas in the other,--that of a fallen nature,--there is a corrupt condition, and the defect is to be regarded as both a fault and punishment."8When the Cardinal uses the phrase, "a corrupt condition," he means to express an idea, we apprehend, which Protestants would more fittingly designate by the terms "denuded condition;" for certainly the Cardinal intends to teach that the constitution of man has not suffered more seriously by his fall than would the body of man by being stript of its clothing. The same doctrine is taught by Bellarmine, who holds, that the nature of fallen man, the original fault excepted, is not inferior to a human nature in puris naturalibus.9

This point is an important one, and we make no apology for dwelling a little longer upon it. We would fain present our readers, in a few words, with a view of what the Church of Rome holds on the doctrine of grace as opposed to the sentiments of Protestant divines, premising that absolute accuracy is not easily attainable, Popish writers not having expressed themselves either very definitely or very consistently. In the following summary we take M. Perrone as our chief authority and guide, using almost his very words:--1st, The Roman Catholic Church teaches, in respect of the integrity of man, and the supernatural state to which he was raised, that he fell from that condition by sin, and lost his original righteousness, with all the gifts connected therewith. 2d, In respect of the supernatural state and the sanctifying grace bestowed on man, the Church of Rome teaches, that by his fall the soul of man came into a state of death, and that in respect of his integrity, both his soul and his body were changed for the worse. 3d, That by the fall the free will of man was weakened and biassed. 4th, With respect to those privileges and gifts of grace which were added to man's nature, and which are accidental to it, the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church is, that fallen man has been denuded of these privileges and gifts, and has come into that state in which, not reckoning his fault, he would have been had God not willed to exalt him to a supernatural position, and to confer upon him uprightness and other endowments; and has, moreover, sunk into that state of feebleness which is incident to human nature of itself. 5th, Hence the Church teaches, says M. Perrone, that man is unable, by any strength, or effort, or wish of his, to raise himself to his former supernatural state; and that for his recovery the grace of the Saviour is altogether necessary. 6th, This grace is wholly free, and is conferred on man, by the goodness of God, on account of the merits of Christ. 7th, Since, however, in man fallen, the free will, such as human nature viewed in itself demands, has been preserved, nor otherwise debilitated but as respects that state of uprightness from which he was cut off, the Church teaches that man is able freely to co-operate, either in the way of complying with God, exciting and calling Him by his grace, or in the way of resisting Him, if he chooses. The Church, therefore, rejects the doctrine of irresistible grace. 8th, From the same principle, that man by his fall has not become bereft of the power of will, flows the doctrine of the Church, that man is able to wish what is good, and to do works morally right, and that works performed without grace are not so many sins. 9th, The Roman Catholic Church teaches likewise, that in difficult duties, and when assailed by strong temptations, fallen man stands in need of "medicinal" grace, to enable him to fulfil the one and overcome the other, just as some assistance would have been necessary to unfallen man, had God not conferred upon him the faculty of uprightness, and elevated him to a supernatural condition.10

Unless we greatly mistake, we have now reached the fountainhead of the errors of Popery. We stand here beside its infant source. Thence those waters of bitterness go forth to collect the tributaries of every region through which they flow, till at last, like the river seen by the prophet in vision, from being a narrow and shallow stream, which one might step across, they become "waters to swim in,--a river that could not be passed over." How near to each other are situated the primal fountains of truth and error! Like twin sources on the summit of some Alpine chain, which a few yards only divide, yet lying on opposite sides of the summit, the flow of the one is determined towards the frozen shores of the north,--the current of the other to the aromatic climes and calm seas of the south; so between the Popish and the Protestant ideas on the doctrine of the Fall there is no very great or essential difference which strikes one at first sight. The sources of the two systems lie close beside each other; but the line that divides truth from error runs between them. From the first, therefore, they take opposite directions; and what was scarce perceptible at the outset becomes plain and palpable in the issue: the one results in the Roman papacy; the other is seen to be apostolic Christianity.

The divines of the Church of Rome conceive of humanity as existing, or capable of existing, in three states. The first is that of fallen man, in which we now exist; the second is that of simple humanity, or, as they term it, puris naturalibus, in which man, they affirm, might have been made; the third is that of supernatural humanity, or man clothed with those special gifts with which God endowed Adam. By his fall man brought himself down from the third or highest state to the first or lowest. But the theologians of the Roman school teach that man's condition now is in no respect worse than if he were in the middle state, or in puris naturalibus, except that he once was in a higher, and has fallen from it. His nature is not injured thereby: he has lost the advantages which he enjoyed in his higher condition; he is to blame for having thrown away these advantages; but as to any injury, or disorder, or ruin of nature, by the Fall, that he has not sustained;--he has come scathless out of the catastrophe of Eden. Of two men totally destitute of clothing,--to use Cardinal Cajetan's illustration,--the one is not more nude than the other; but the difference lies here,--the one never had clothing,--the other had, but has lost it, and therefore suffers a want he did not feel originally, and has acted very foolishly, or, if you will, very sinfully, in stripping off his vestments. But the loss of raiment is one thing,--the injury of his person is another; and just as a man may be deprived of his raiment, and yet his body remain sound, vigorous, and active as ever, so our deprivation of the supernatural gifts we enjoyed in innocence, in consequence of the Fall, has left our mental and moral nature as whole and sound as before. God might have made us in puris naturalibus at the beginning. And what has the Fall done? just brought us into that state in which God might have created us; except it be (and it is in this that original sin consists, according to the only consistent interpretation of the popish scheme) that it is our own fault that we are not in that higher state still. Whatever powers we would have had in puris natralibus of loving God, of obeying his will, and resisting evil, we have in our fallen state. We need assisting grace in our more difficult duties and temptations now, and we would have needed it in puris naturalibus. Thus we have fallen, and yet we have not fallen; for we are now what God might have made us at the beginning. On this point, as on every other, Rome requires us to believe contradictions and absurdities: her doctrine of the Fall is a denial of the Fall.

God might have made man, say the divines of the Roman Church, in a state of simple nature. We will not answer for the idea which Romanists may attach to this state; but it is not difficult to determine what only that state can be. A state of positive corruption it cannot be; for Romanists refuse this in the case even of fallen man. Neither can it be a state of positive grace, for this is the supernatural condition to which God raised him.11 It can only be a state of indifference, in which man is equally attracted or equally repelled by good and evil. We do not stay to enquire whether it was due to the Divine character to make man in this state,--equally ready to engage himself to God or to Satan; but we ask, was it possible? According to this theory, man's faculties are entire in their number and perfect in their functional action; and yet they are utterly useless. They cannot act,--they cannot make a choice; for if the man inclines to either side, it is because he is not in a state of indifference. If he chooses good, it is because he prefers it; if he chooses evil, it is because he prefers it to good, and so is not indifferent. But it may be objected that the idea is, that till the object is put before the man he is indifferent. But till the object be put before the man, how can it be known that he is in a state of indifference or no? Besides, existence is but a series of volitions; and to say that the man is in a state of indifference till he begins to will, is just to say that he is in a state of indifference till he becomes a man. We are again called upon to believe contradictions. The scheme of indifference supposes a man with a conscience able to discriminate between good and evil, and yet not able to discriminate between them,--with the faculty of will, and yet not able to will,--with the affection of love, and yet able neither to love nor hate; which is just as rational as to speak of a human frame exquisitely strung to pleasure and pain, and yet incapable of either sensation. There is only one way of placing a man in a state of indifference, and that is, by striking conscience and will dead in his breast. While the constitution of things is what it is, and while the powers of man are what they are, a state of indifference is an impossibility. God cannot make impossibilities.

We repeat, the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Fall is a repudiation of the Scripture doctrine of the Fall. This must necessarily affect the whole of the theology of that Church. It must necessarily alter the complexion of her views on the subject both of the work of the Son and the work of the Spirit. First, If man has not fallen in the Scripture sense, neither has he been redeemed in the Scripture sense. Our redemption is necessarily the counterpart of our loss; and in the proportion in which we diminish the one do we also diminish the other. Our natures have escaped uninjured, the Romish divines teach. We can still do all which we could have done in puris naturalibus, had we been created in that state. Man, if he but give himself to the work in earnest, may almost, if not altogether, save himself. He needs only divine grace to help him over its more difficult parts. The atonement, then, was no such great work after all. Instead of presenting that character of unity and completeness which the Scriptures attribute to it,--instead of being the redemption of lost souls from hopeless and irremediable bondage, by the endurance in their room of infinite vengeance due to their sins,--the work of Christ wears altogether the character of a supplementary performance. Instead of being a display of unbounded and eternal love, and of power also unbounded and eternal, it dwindles into a very ordinary manifestation of pity and good-will. Nay, it would not be difficult to show that it might have been dispensed with, with some not inconsiderable advantages; that it has stood much in man's way, and prevented the exercise of his own powers, knowing that he had this to fall back upon. May not this help us to understand why Romanists can so easily associate Mary with the Son of God in the act of redemption, and can speak of her sufferings as if they had been the better half of the world? May it not account, too, for the case with which the Church of Rome can find the material of satisfaction for sin in the works of those whom she calls saints? May it not account also for the thoroughly scenic character which the death of Christ bears, as exhibited in the Church of Rome? And may it not likewise account for the extent to which that Church has undervalued Christ in his character of Mediator, by associating with Him in that august office so many of mortal origin? For if man's nature be not inferior in its condition to that in which God righteously might have made it, the work of mediating between God and man is not so pre-eminently onerous and dignified.

But, in the second place, if man is not fallen in the Scripture sense, neither does he need to be regenerated in the Scripture sense. Our regeneration is likewise the necessary counterpart of our fall. We have sustained, say the Romish divines, no radical derangement or injury of nature by the Fall;12we have been stript merely of those superadded gifts which God bestowed; and all that we need, in order to occupy the same vantage ground as before, is just the restoration of these lost accomplishments. Regeneration, then, in the Romish acceptation of the term, must mean a very different thing indeed from what it does among Protestants. With us it is a change of nature so thorough, that we can find no term to express it but that employed in the New Testament,--"a new creation." We believe that man has not only been stript of his raiment,--to use the metaphor which Romish rhetoric has supplied;--he has been wounded, he has bled to death, and he needs to be made alive again. But no such regeneration can be necessary in the view of those who believe that man has suffered no internal injury, and that he has lost only what he might have wanted from the beginning without prejudice to the soundness of his constitution. Now, may not this help us to understand the marvellous efficacy, as it appears to us, which Romanists ascribe to the sacrament of baptism? We believe them to hold that baptism can regenerate the man; but we are misled by their abuse of the term baptismal regeneration. They cannot hold this doctrine, for man needs no regeneration. Their error lies deeper than baptismal regeneration. It is not so much an error on the function of the baptismal rite, as an error on the yet more fundamental point of man's state. They cannot realize man as fallen, and therefore they cannot realize him as regenerated. All the regeneration he needs is not the creating of him anew, but the clothing of him anew,--the impartation of those superadded gifts which he has lost; and this, they believe, the sprinkling of a little water by the hands of a priest can effect. Baptism, then, restores man to the state in which he existed before the Fall. By baptism, the Church of Rome holds, original sin is taken away, and sanctifying grace, of which the Fall denuded man, is restored. Every man who is baptized, according to this doctrine, begins life with the same advantages with which Adam began it,--he begins it in a state of spotless and perfect innocence. At this early stage, then, even that of the Fall, do the Popish and Protestant theologies diverge,--diverge never more to meet. The one flows backward into the dead sea of Paganism,--the other expands into the living ocean of Christianity.

In the course of the debates in the Council of Trent, a momentous question was raised touching the conception of the Virgin. If, as the council had decreed, Adam had transmitted his sin to all his posterity, did it not follow that the Virgin Mary was born in sin? It is well known that since the twelfth century at least the Church of Rome has leaned to the doctrine of the "immaculate conception," according to which the humanity of the Virgin is as untainted by sin, and as holy, as is the humanity of the Saviour. Conflicting parties have always existed within the Church on this subject. Many and furious have been the wars they have waged with one another. The Franciscans have violently maintained the immaculate conception, and the Dominicans have as violently denied it. The most delicate management and the most skilful manoeuvring of the Pope have sometimes been unable to maintain the peace between these hostile parties, or to avert from the Church the flagrant scandal of open schism. In the seventeenth century, the kingdom of Spain was so violently convulsed by this question, that embassies were sent to Rome to implore the Pope to put an end to the war, and restore peace to the kingdom, by a public bull. The conduct of the Pope on this occasion illustrates the species of juggling by which he has contrived to keep up the idea of his infallibility. He issued no bull, because he judged it imprudent in the circumstances; but he declared that the opinion of the Franciscans had a high degree of probability in it, and must not be opposed publicly by the Dominicans as erroneous; while, on the other hand, the Franciscans were forbidden to treat the doctrine of the Dominicans as erroneous.13 The Council of Trent, though they debated the question, would come to no decision, but left the matter undetermined. To this day the question remains undetermined, proving a fertile source of fierce polemical wars, which break out every now and then, and rage with great violence. The revolution at Rome having set free the Pope from the cares of government, he employed his leisure at Gaeta in attempts to settle this great question, which so many renowned popes and so many learned councils had left undecided. He took the regular course to obtain the prayers of the Church and the suffrages of the bishops, in order to promulgate his bull. The Pope was engrossed by these deep theological inquiries when the success of Oudinot before the walls of Rome recalled him from the study of the fathers to the not less grateful work of issuing incarcerations and signing death-warrants. Should a second period of exile intervene, which is not improbable, the pontiff may even yet gather up the broken thread of his thoughts, and elaborate the bull which is to crown the blasphemies and idolatry of Rome, by decreeing that the Virgin Mary was as wonderfully conceived as was the Saviour, and that her humanity was as free from sin, as holy and undefiled, as is the humanity of our Lord. "Neither repented they of their idolatries."

Thus have we come to a leading characteristic of the system of Popery,--one that is already sufficiently distinct, but which will become more fully developed as we proceed,--the disposition to substitute the ordinances of the Church for the gospel,--the symbol for the truth,--the form for the principle,--the sacraments for Christ. The great doctrine of salvation through faith in the free grace of God is set aside, and the opus operatum of a sacrament is put in its room. "That it is faith that worketh in the sacrament, and not the sacrament itself," say the Romanists, "is plainly false; baptism giving grace, and faith itself, to the infant that had none before."14

1 Concil. Trid. sess. quinta,--Dec. de Peccato Originali.

2 Idem, p. 19.

3 Can. et Dec. Concilii Tridentini, p. 19.

4 Idem, p. 20.

6 Theol. Petri Dens, tom. i. p. 332,--Tractatus de Peccatis.

6 Theol. Moral. Ludovico Bailly, tom. 1. p. 302,--"In quo posita sit peccati originalis essentia?" Dublin, 1828.

7 We give M. Perrone's own words. "Jam vero juxta doctrinam Catholicam superius vindicatam, tum elevatio primi hominis ad statum supernaturalem per gratiam sanctificantem, tum integritas naturae non fuerunt humanae naturae debita, sed dona fuerunt gratuita homini a divina largitate concessa, ita ut Deus potuerit absolute sine illis hominem condere. Igitur homo per peccatum non amisit nisi ea quae superaddita a Dei liberalitate illius naturae fuerunt. Seu, quod idem est, homo per peccatum ad eum se redegit statum in quo absolute creatus fuisset, si Deus caetera dona minime addidisset, tum pro hac tum pro altera vita." (Praelectiones Theologicae, tom. i. p. 774.)

8 Card. Cajetan. in Comm. [quoted from Perrone's Praelectiones Theologicae, tom. i. p. 774.] "Quae (differentia inter naturam in puris naturalibus et naturam lapsam), ut unico verbo dicatur, tanta est quanta est inter personam nudam ab initio et personam exspoliatam."

9 Bellarm. Lib. de Gratia Primi Hom. cap. v. sec. 12. "Non magis differt status hominis post lapsum Adae a statu ejusdem in puris naturalibus, quam distet spoliatus a nudo, neque deterior est humana natura, si culpam originalem detrahas."

10 Perrone's Praelectiones Theologicae, tom. i. p. 1239.

11 Theologia Mor. Ludovico Bailly, tom. v. p. 318. "Vel crearetur [homo] in ordine ad finem naturalem, sine peccato sine gratia. (Idem, tom. v. p. 320.) Possibilis est status naturae purae, modo homo creari potuerit sine gratia sanctificante et sine donis ad finem supernaturalem seu visionem intuitivam conducentibus." Man, notwithstanding his innocence, Bailly holds, might have been liable to many miseries; and he appeals to the example of Christ and of the Virgin, who were without sin, and yet endured sufferings. (Theol. Mor. tom. v. p. 325.) Christ suffered as a surety; and, as regards the Virgin, Romanists have yet failed to prove that she was without sin.

12 The following statement is decisive on this point:--"Attamen haec ipsa natura, etiam post lapsum, ob amissionem hujus doni accidentalis, cujusmodi justitiam originalem esse diximus, nihil amisit de suis essentialibus." (Perrone's Praelectiones Theologicae, tom. i. p. 1386.)

13 Mosheim, cent. xvii. sect. ii. part. i. chap. i. s. 48.

14 Rheimish Testament, note on Gal. iii. 27.