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TRINJ28NS (2007) 115-139

AUGUSTINE AND THE JUSTIFICATION DEBATES:


APPROPRIATING AUGUSTINE'S
DOCTRINE OF CULPABILTY
GERALD HIESTAND*
The doctrine of justification by faith has often been viewed at
least since the Protestant Reformationas the doctrine upon which
the church stands or falls. Calvin, whose articulation of the doctrine
has had perhaps the most enduring legacy within Protestant
thought, called it the "hinge" upon which religion turns. Luther
likewise viewed the doctrine of justification by faith as central to true
Christian theology. This emphasis of the Reformers, though perhaps
diminished in wider Protestant thought, has yet retained a
significant, indeed central, place within evangelicalism. And though
evangelicals have long guarded this sacred doctrine of the
Reformation, the last number of decades has seen it come under new
scrutiny. Though the debates have surely emerged in the broader
field of theology, it is in the realm of NT scholarship that the
sharpest tremors are being felt. New Testament scholars N. T.
Wright, James D. G. Dunn, and Robert Gundry, are but a few of the
evangelical theologians adopting a newer view of justification that
leaves no room for the imputation of Christ's legal, volitional,
righteousness.1 Further, there is a growing willingness among NT
scholars to view justification as more than the declarative act of God
whereby the Christian is pronounced righteous. Increasingly the
concepts of regeneration and sanctification are being blended into
this central doctrine.2
In light of the current controversy, the recent justification
debates would profit considerably by contributions from the field of
*Gerald Hiestand is a pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel in Rolling Meadows,
Illinois, and president of The Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial Theology.
1
See N. T. Wright, Tlie Climax of tire Covenant (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993); James
D. G. Dunn, Jesus Paul and t)\e Law, Studies in Mark and Galatians (Louisville: John
Knox, 1990); Robert Gundry, Justification, Wliat's at Stake in tlte Current Debates (ed.
Mark Husbands and Daniel J. Treier; Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004), 18-46; as
well as an analysis of his thoughts by John Piper in Piper's work, Counted Righteous In
Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 2002).
2
See Gordon T. Smith, former Dean of Regent College, who writes, "We define
justification too narrowly when we speak of it in purely forensic termsthat we gain
a good or right standing before God, with no actual or substantial change in our
being" (Beginning Well, Christian Conversion and Authentic Transformation [Downers
Grove: InterVarsity, 2001], 21).

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historical theology. New Testament scholarship is heavily influenced


by the reigning paradigms (both within and outside of
evangelicalism) of recent Pauline studies. Though not uninformed
regarding historical theology, NT scholars are interacting largely
with the biblical text and the writings of other NT scholars.3 Though
as evangelicals we must always allow the text to serve as the final
authority regarding any soteriological conclusion, we do well to
consider the contributions of history's greatest theologians.
Establishing continuity between contemporary interpretations of
Paul's doctrine of justification and the broader historical context
provides needed credibility to those scholars attempting to establish
"new" interpretations of Pauline thought. Failure to run these new
interpretations through the grid of historical theology may result in a
theology that repeats the many mistakes of the past. The following
paper therefore, attempts to bring Augustine's soteriology to bear on
the current debate, most notably his doctrine of culpability as it
relates to his doctrine of justification
This paper will be divided into two main sections. The first
section will discuss Augustine's doctrine of culpability as seen in his
treatment of original sin, and conclude briefly with the impact it has
upon his doctrine of justification. The second section of the paper
will seek to appropriate Augustine's soteriology in light of wider
evangelical soteriology generally and Reformed4 thought
specifically.
Further, my analysis of Augustine's soteriology will draw
primarily from his anti-Pelagian writings. Certainly Augustine's
^here are, of course, notable exceptions to this general statement. Husbands and
Treier's work includes a chapter by Mark Seifrid that addresses historical concerns,
"Luther, Melanchthon, and Paul on the Question of Imputation: Recommendations for
the Current Debate," 137-52. Similarly, Stephen Westerholm offers an overview of
Augustine, Calvin, Luther, and Wesley in his work, Perspectives Old and New on Paul:
Vie Lutlieran Paul and His Critics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 3-86.
4
The label "Reformed" is by no means a uniform label that can be easily applied
to all theologians who trace their soteriological heritage back to the Reformation. Not
only does discontinuity exist between Calvinistic and Lutheran theology, but also
between early and later expressions of these two systems as well. The difficulty
therefore, of even establishing a standard of belief for the Reformed label is immense.
For the purposes of this thesis therefore, it will be helpful for the reader to understand
that I am using the label "Reformed" to signify that particular train of Reformed
thought which, beginning with Calvin, maintains the classic "doctrines of grace"
(TULIP), and grounds justification solely in a non-essential righteousness. In spite of
the insistence that regeneration and sanctification necessarily precede and follow
justification respectively, clearly within this line of Reformed soteriology the
righteousness that justifies and merits eternal life is non-essential/ontological. It is
this imputed, external righteousness, as opposed to any essential, internal
righteousness, that serves as the basis of justification in Reformed soteriology. Further,
inasmuch as the main concern is a discussion of the Reformed doctrine of justification,
my use of the term "Reformed" will denote a theologian's soteriology rather than his
ecclesiology. Consequently, I will occasionally refer to contemporary theologians as
"Reformed" inasmuch as their understanding of justification is harmonious with the
above understanding, even though they themselves may not be Reformed in all
aspects of their ecclesiology (e.g.. Piper, Erickson, Grudem, etc.).

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writings extend beyond these works. Yet inasmuch as we are


discussing his doctrines of sin and justification, his anti-Pelagian
writings must remain central to the discussion. They are
soteriologically focused, reflect his mature thought, and speak
directly and often to the subject of justification.
And finally, it might be helpful for the reader to note that this
paper is driven primarily by pastoral/ pietistic concerns. Ultimately I
will suggest that the Reformed movement away from Augustine in
the area of justification has contributed to a popular level theological
environment that often overlooks the necessity of spiritual
regeneration and life change, and often minimizes the centrality of
the resurrection as a key component of the gospel.
I. AUGUSTINE, CULPABILITY,
AND THE LOGIC OF ORIGINAL SIN
Any doctrine of justification that does not consciously begin
with a doctrine of culpability runs the risk of being built upon an
uncertain foundation. It should come as no surprise, then, to
discover that Augustine's doctrine of justification is rooted heavily in
his doctrine of original sin, for his doctrine of justification provides
the solution to the problem that his doctrine of original sin creates.5
It is of central importance at the outset to note that I will be
attempting in this paper to arrive specifically at Augustine's
understanding of culpability. I will deal only briefly with his
doctrine of justification (yet tie implications for this doctrine will be
quickly evident). I will argue that Augustine sees humanity's chief
culpability before God as essential6 even before it is legal. By this I
5
Far from being a polemical device framed solely for the occasion of the Pelagian
controversy, I believe Augustine's concept of original sin to be well established prior
to the beginning of the fifth century. Paul Rigby, who argues that Augustine's
doctrine of original sin can be found in his Confessions (397-400) writes, "Augustine's
doctrine of original sin is an explicit premise of this theological system from the start"
(Original Sin in Augustine's Confessions [Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 1987], 7).
Running counter to traditional Augustinian scholarship, Athanase Sage contends that
Augustine's doctrine of original sin was developed as a polemical device in response
to the Pelagian controversy. My arguments follow Rigby and the traditional
interpretation of Augustine's theological progression. For a refutation of Sage, see
Rigby, pp. 7-28 specifically, though his entire book is dedicated to counteracting
Sage's central thesis. See also Eugene Portalie, A Guide to tlte Tliought of Saint Augustine
(Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1960), 181-84.
6
Essentialist language can be rather messy, and discussions regarding ontology
have been rninimized in contemporary philosophy. Though acknowledging the
difficulties of essentialist language, I nonetheless maintain the appropriateness of the
terms "essential" and "ontological" as useful when discussing Augustine's doctrine of
culpability. Though Augustine does not frequently use these exact terms, his
understanding of culpability and original sin almost demands descriptors of this
nature. For Augustine, the culpability of sin is not limited to the will, but relates to the
very substance of the individual. Further, these terms are helpful in providing a
contrast with the strictly judicial/forensic understanding of justification that is
advanced by Calvin and later Reformed theologians.

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mean that Augustine views the sinful man as culpable before God
primarily because of what he is in his essence, due to his participation
in original sin, not chiefly because of what he has done by volitional
acts of the will (though ultimately for Augustine the two are not
separated). Sins of volition, though significant, only serve to deepen
the divine displeasure.
Though Augustine does not develop a systematic doctrine of
culpability, delineating between original sin as an act versus original
sin as a condition, his frequent comments about the guilt of original
sin demonstrate that he views culpability as primarily an
essential/ontological affair. He writes, "God therefore condemns
man because of the fault wherewithal his nature is disgraced/'7 and
again, "The fault of our nature remains in our offspring so deeply
impressed as to make it guilty/'8 and again "The guilt, therefore, of
that corruption [of nature] of which we are speaking . . . etc.,
(emphasis added)."9 Though it is true for Augustine that the
corruption of original sin itself was, in the first place, a form of
punishment meted out in response to Adam's sin, Augustine saw it
as locking humanity in bondage to the divine displeasure.10
This distinction between essential and volitional culpability
becomes particularly crucial in light of the current conversation on
justification, which often overlooks this foundational element. My
intent here is not to make a biblical or theological defense for
Augustine's understanding of culpability but to demonstrate the
way in which one's doctrine of culpability guides and directs one's
understanding of justification. In my estimation, many participants
in the justification debates, particularly Reformed theologians, have
not adequately explored this crucial subject, and are unconsciously
building a doctrine of justification solely upon a notion of volitional
culpability. The resulting articulation of justification, I will argue,
has in many respects overemphasized judicial cleansing and lost an
important ontological component, particularly as it is distilled down
to a popular level. Augustine's doctrine of culpability maintains the
7
On Original Sin, 11.46.254. Note: For ease of accessibility, all references to
Augustine's writings (unless otherwise indicated) will include Augustine's English
book titles and chapter numbers, and will include page numbers that correspond to
Philip Schaffs A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene FatJiers of the Christian
Church, Vol. V: Saint Augustine: Writings Against tie Pelagians (Edinburgh/Grand
Rapids: & Clark/Eerdmans, 1997).
8
Ibid., II.44.253.
9
Ibid., 11.45.253. By way of illustration, let us consider the ground of culpability in
a rabid dog. On what basis is the animal put down? A rabid dog is destroyed not
simply based upon its behavior (i.e., that it attacked a person). Rather its culpability is
grounded even more fundamentally in its corrupted condition. A rabid dog is worthy
of destruction by nature of its ruined ontology, apart from any act of volition.
Likewise for Augustine, it is primarily original sin as a condition of essential
corruption (rather than simply an act) that invokes the wrath of God and marks sinful
humanity for destruction.
10
This is in contrast to Reformed thought, which though not denying essential
corruption, tends to define the culpability of humanity as primarily a volitional, legal
affair regarding our failure to uphold the divine Law.

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need for both judicial cleansing and ontological renewal as a matter of


justice, and thus regeneration retains a central role in his
understanding of justification in a way that the Reformed paradigm
does not allow.
Augustine's doctrine of culpability is woven unmistakably
throughout his doctrine of original sin, most notably in four key
areas* his ontological realism, his understanding of concupiscence,
his treatment of sin as an act which depraves the nature, and his
views regarding infant baptism. We will address each in turn. Before
proceedmg however, it is necessary to flesh out a definition for
Augustine's use of the Latin term peccato originali (original sin)
A. Original Sin Defined

For Augustine, the expression "original sin" is used loosely to


refer to both the historical act of Adam's first sin (in which Adam's
descendants also participated), as well as the permanent indwelling
corruption that resulted from this act. It is both deed and
consequence.
Technically speaking, Augustine uses the expression to denote
the first sin of Adam, whereby he transgressed the divine law of
Eden and partook of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good
and evil. This deed however, is not Adam's alone, but is properly
assigned to all of Adam's descendants. Due to the ontological union
between Adam and his posterity, all sinned in Adam when Adam
sinned 11
More often, however, Augustine uses the expression to refer to
the resulting condition which stems from the first sinful act.
Inasmuch as original sin refers to the consequence of the deed,
Augustine uses the expression as synonymous with essential
corruption, or a corruption of essence. Augustine views original sin
as a fatal "wound," inflicted upon humanity by the first act of
disobedience. His understanding of original sin as both an act and
the resulting condition of that act can be seen in his comments
below. He writes
That wound, however, which has the name 0/[original] sin, wounds the
very life, which was being righteously lived. This wound was at
that fatal moment of the fall inflicted by the devil to a vastly wider
and deeper extent than are the sins which are known amongst men.
When it came to pass, that our nature having then and there been
deteriorated by that great sin of the first man, not only was made a
sinner, but also generates sinners; and yet the very weakness,
under which the virtue of a holy life has drooped and died, is not

On Forgiveness of Sins, and Baptism, 120 22 We need not develop Augustine's


concept of realism here as it will be discussed in detail below

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really nature but corruption; precisely as a bad state of health is not


a bodily substance or nature, but disorder, (emphasis added)12
Augustine's concept of original sin as both the act and the
consequence of that act demonstrates the inseparability of these two
components in Augustine's mind. For Augustine, Adam's first sin
resulted in "disease" and "corruption," a disordering of the
affections after the fashion of brute beasts, and a loss of control over
the natural body. By willingly choosing to transgress the law of God,
Adam plunged all of humanity into a state of spiritual death.13 The
result of this death is spiritual captivity to Satan, moral depravity,
and a lost knowledge of God. Augustine writes, "[Adam], in whom
all die . . . depraved also in his own person all who come from his
stock by the hidden corruption of his own carnal concupiscence"
(emphasis added).14 And again he calls original sin a "fatal flaw"
which has "so far prevailed, that men are born with the fault of
original sin" (emphasis added).15 And again, "The fault of the first
birth (that original sin which has been derived and contracted from
the concupiscence of the flesh)... etc."16
For Augustine, the result of Adam's fall is not couched in
primarily legal terms, but rather ontological expressions. Ultimately,
the defining characteristic of the corruption of original sin is spiritual
death.17 Indeed, it is this condition of spiritual death that results from
humanity's severed union with God and renders one culpable. Thus,
when Augustine speaks of infants "inheriting original sin," he not
only refers to their moral, volitional participation in Adam's first sin,
but their participation in the resulting corruption as well. The
language of original sin as ontological corruption far exceeds
Augustine's treatment of the topic in relation to Adam's first act of
disobedience.
B. Culpability and Augustine's Realism
An awareness of Augustine's realism is crucial for
understanding his broader soteriological paradigm, but it is
particularly important for understanding his doctrine of culpability.
Whereas many later Reformed theologians, influenced perhaps by
12

On Marriage and Concupiscence, II57 307


0 Forgiveness of Sins and Baptism, 120-21 22-23 In these chapters Augustine
details his understanding of onginal sin as an act which leads to essential corruption
( e , spiritual death) not only for Adam, but for all of his posterity
%bid, 1.1019
15
On Original Sin, II46 254
13

16
17

Ibid,I37278

Enchiridion, ch 26, as quoted in Philip Schaff, A Select Library of the Nicene and
Post-Nicene Fathers oftlie Christian Church, Vol 111 Saint Augustine On tlie Holy Trinity,
Doctrinal Treatises, Moral Treatises (Edinburgh/Grand Rapids & Clark/Eerdmans,
1997) Here Augustine clearly explains original sin to be both act and consequence, the
consequence summed up succinctly as "death "

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nominalism,18 would not base the transmission of original sin upon


an ontological connection between Adam and his descendants,
describing it rather in legal and representative terms, Augustine
builds his doctrine of original sin squarely upon his ontological
realism.19 For Augustine, the whole of humanity was present within
Adam when Adam sinned, and thus all of humanity was affected by,
and in some measure responsible for, that one act. Just as Levi paid
tithes to Melchizedek while yet in the loins of Abraham, so too
Adam's posterity was present in, and participated in, the sin of its
first father (Heb 7:4-10).
In On the Soul and Its Origin, Augustine argues against
Vincentius Victor regarding the latter's teaching that each soul is
created directly by God and placed into the body. Victor argued this
as a means of refuting Augustine's doctrine of original sin, for if the
soul was created directly by God, the child would be born free of any
contamination that might otherwise have stemmed from a
genealogical link to Adam. Augustine himself claims ignorance of
the soul's origin20 (though he seems to strongly lean towards
traducianismi.e., the view that the soul is created indirectly by
God through the direct agency of the parent), but he contests Victor's
arguments on the grounds that Victor himself admits that the infant
must be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.21 How have infants
come into the need of baptism, Augustine asks? Victor suggests that
perhaps God has implicated them in the original sin of Adam, while
at the same time maintaining that it is not truly their own.22
Augustine strongly refutes such an idea, stating that it would be
wholly unjust of God to involve innocent souls in the sin of one with
18
I am using the expression nominalism here as synonymous with terminism and
intend to denote an anti-realist position regardmg the existence of particulars and
their relation to universale Following McGrath, terminists maintain that "there is no
genume or objective identity m the things which are not m themselves identical "
(Iustitia Die, A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification [2d ed, Cambridge
University Press, 1998], 168) Though I am not aware of any Reformed theologians
who adopt a full-orbed nominalism, the shift from Augustine's strong realism to a
later Reformed paradigm influenced by nominalism (seen particularly m Hodge) has
significant implications regarding imputation and the transmission of original sm
19
See Portalie, St Augustine, 204-13 See also Arthur Cushman McGiffert, A
History of Christian Thought (New York Charles Scnbner's Sons, 1933), 91-92
2
"Ow tiie Soul and Its Origin, 125 325 Augustine writes, "Wherefore I too, on my
side, say concerning my soul, I have no certain knowledge how it came mto my
body "
21
The practice of infant baptism had become so established in Augustine's day
that even many of Augustine's opponents felt compelled to acknowledge its necessity
This, of course, created problems for the Pelagian insistence that infants are born in
the same state of perfection as Adam Denymg that infants required the remission of
original sm, they were forced to develop alternative explanations for the practice,
many of which required very creative exegesis
22
Ibid, 19 318 In many ways, Victor's attempt at explaining the culpability of
infants parallels that of Charles Hodge and other Reformed theologians who, denymg
any realistic connection between Adam and his posterity, utilize a theory of legal,
federal headship

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whom they had nothing to do.23 This argument is particularly


significant regarding our present discussion, for it demonstrates the
extent to which Augustine saw an ontological connection between
Adam and his posterity as a necessary ground regarding the
culpability of original sin. For Augustine, Adam and his descendants
are all "one man," thus the sin of Adam is the sin of his descendants.
He writes,
Again, in the clause which follows, "In which all have sinned" ... if
you understand that sin to be meant which by one man sin entered
the world, "In which sin all have sinned" it is surely clear enough
that the sins which are peculiar to every man, which they
themselves commit and which belong simply to them mean one
thing; and that the one sn [original sin], in and by which all have
sinned,24means another thing: since all were that one man. (emphasis
added)
At the conclusion of this book, Augustine lists four precautions
that must be considered when discussing the origin of the soul. The
second precaution, pertaining to our present discussion, states that it
must not be taught that "the soul becomes sinful by another's
original sin."25 For Augustine, the descendants of Adam are bound
up in his sin, not simply by divine fiat, but because Adam's
descendants were truly present in Adam when he sinnedthey
were one with Adam, indeed all "were that one man." Thus the sin
of Adam is the sin of his descendants. Augustine writes, "Because
they were clothed with the flesh of him who sinned in his will they
contract from him the responsibility for sin . . . just as children who
put on Christ... receive from Him a participation in justice."26
Augustine's realism is also seen quite clearly in his contrast
between the fall of humanity and the fall of the angels. Noting that
all angels do not derive their nature from one original angel, he
writes, "They were not all, like men, involved by one original sin in
the bonds of inherited guilt and so made subject to the penalty
which one had incurred."27 Unlike humanity, which was created as a
whole within one man, the angels were created as individuals. Thus
the fall of humanity, which happened as a singular act for all people,
could not occur in the same manner for the angels. Not bound by
ontology to an original parent, each angel fell as he sinned
individually.
Coherence with neo-Platonism can be seen here, but the critic of
Platonic thought must not too quickly dismiss Augustine's arrival at
this doctrine as merely a synergistic incorporation of pagan
^Ibid., 1.7.318.
24
0w Forgiveness of Sins, and Baptism, 1.11.19.
^On tlie Soul and Its Origin, 1.34.330.
26
Unfinished Work Against Julian, VI (as quoted in Portalie, St. Augustine, 211, from
Migne's Patrologiae latinae, vol. 42, cols. 504-72). See also On Original Sin, chs. 43,252.
27
Enchiridion, ch. 28.

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philosophy into his Christianity (or the reverse). Augustine does not
appeal to philosophy in defense of his position, but rather the
Apostle Paul, particularly the apostle's comments found in Romans
5. In his treatise On Forgiveness of Sins, And Baptism, Augustine
makes extensive use of Paul's comments in Rom 5:12-21 to
demonstrate that sin is passed from parent to child through natural
generation rather than imitation. Because all of humanity was
substantially present in Adam when Adam sinned, all of humanity is
implicated in that one original sin. The Pauline expressions "for in
Adam all die" (1 Cor 15:22) and "because all sinned [in Adam]"
(Rom 5:12) are significant expressions for Augustine.28 That
Augustine sees his view of original sin as consistent with Pauline
teachings is evident from his writings.29
Eugene Portalie captures well the effect that this ontological
union between Adam and his descendants has on Adam's posterity.
Noting that Augustine was the first to use the word (Rom
11:16) in the pejorative sense of dough or mass, Portalie helpfully
captures some of Augustine's more vivid descriptors regarding
original sin: "[Augustine] calls the line of Adam a mass of slime; a
mass of sin, of sins, of iniquity; a mass of wrath, of death, of
damnation, of offense; a mass totally vitiated, damnable, damned."30
So then, Augustine's realism provides the philosophical/
theological foundation for his understanding of the culpability of all
people, but most significantly infants. Like a stream which flows out
of a body of water that has been polluted, so too every soul which
flows out of Adam is contaminated by original sin, for all were in
Adam when he was corrupted. Augustine's realism would be
adopted (though less significantly utilized) by the Reformers, but it
is not perhaps until Jonathan Edwards that a Protestant theologian
would once again incorporate such a strong realism into the
foundation of his soteriology.31

^See On Forgiveness of Sins, And Baptism, chs. 8-20,18-22, for Augustine's use of
Rom 5:12-21 in his treatment of original sin. Clearly from these chapters we can see
that Augustine's realism is being sourced in his interpretation of Paul, regardless of
his past attraction to neo-Platonism.
29
Though it is fashionable in philosophical/theological circles to reject
ontological realism, I believe there is merit in maintaining a biblically based, nuanced
realism that is able to serve as an interpretive grid through which to think about
original sin (and justification). That Augustine, Luther, Edwards, and to a lesser extent
Calvin (theologians who have contributed mightily to evangelical piety) find a use for
some sort of realism should give us pause before we too quickly dismiss it as
unwarranted.
30
Portalie, St Augustine, 212.
31
See Edwards's treatment of imputation in his Original Sin, ch. 3, which treats
the imputation of Adam's sin to his posterity in an almost identical manner as
Augustine. For Edwards, imputation follows essential corruption, rather than precedes
it. Adam's descendants are imputed sinners only because they have actually sinned in
Adam due to their natural, moral union.

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C. Culpability and Concupiscence

Though Augustine's realism may be deemed by many as


sufficient for explaining how Adam's descendants came to be
involved in original sin, he leans upon another concept as well:
carnal concupiscence. Augustine's comments regarding carnal
concupiscence will not resonate with the modern reader, but they do
provide key insights into his overall soteriology.32 Those favorable to
Augustine have tried to minimize the amount of credence he gives to
this idea,33 but it becomes evident from his writings that his
understanding of concupiscence serves a pivotal role in defending
his soteriology against the Pelagians. But before detailing how
Augustine utilizes the concept of concupiscence, let us first provide
some definition.
For Augustine, concupiscence is the shameful and natural
desires of fallen humanity.34 Present within the flesh (or natural
selfwhich includes more than just the body), concupiscence
signifies the "tinder" that gives occasion to the desires that arise out
of this fallen part of humanity. It is important here to note as well
that when pressed, Augustine distinguishes between concupiscence
and sin, though he most often uses the terms interchangeably. The
former is present in the flesh, or natural man, and pertains to a
corruption of a person's nature, whereas the latter refers to his or her
actions or deeds. For Augustine, concupiscence, if not mastered,
gives birth to sin. But it must be noted that for Augustine,
concupiscence need not give birth to sin in order for it to make one
culpable before God (the critical point developed below).
Though concupiscence includes all forms of fallen desires
(inordinate desires for comfort, food, drink, etc.), Augustine most
often links it to sexual desire, for it is through the ardor and illicit
passions of sexual desire that original sin is passed from parent to
child. Unfortunately, Augustine, along with many in the early
church, saw sexual desire as a result of Adam's fall. According to
Augustine, when Adam sinned he received from God by way of
32
Before too quickly dismissing Augustine's understanding of concupiscence as
simply an adverse reaction to his past life of sexual debauchery, we must understand
the way in which Augustine used it to combat attacks from his Pelagian opponents. A
proper understanding of Augustine's doctrine of concupiscence is helpful in not only
grasping the full implications of his ontological notion of culpability (and thus
justification) but also provides the context for understanding his famous comments
regarding imputation.
33
Portalie, St. Augustine, 211. Arguing that Augustine exaggerates the role of
concupiscence in original sin, Portalie does not see it as a primary foundation of
Augustine's system. He writes, "However, a more attentive study, especially of a
passage in the Incomplete Work Against Julian [which refers to Augustine's realism],
does away with this gross interpretation [of Augustine]." Portalie wrongly assumes
that Augustine understood his realism to eliminate any reliance upon carnal
concupiscence as a means of transmitting original sin. Augustine's lengthy comments
regarding the role of concupiscence suggest otherwise.
^On Marriage and Concupiscence, 1.28.275.

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punishment the loss of control over the members of his body (i.e., his
sexual organs). Prior to the fall, Augustine believed that sexual
reproduction could have taken place by an act of the will, a man
moving his members without passion much like he moves an arm or
leg, and would have been devoid of sexual desire (natural
concupiscence) as we presently experience it.35 But with these
members no longer in subjection, it became necessary for man to
wait upon lust (sexual concupiscence) in order to set these members
in motion. So though procreation was good and holy, through the
fall it had become intricately linked to carnal desire and could not
take place apart from it. (Augustine even considered marital
intercourse done for mere pleasure a venial sin, for it too could not
take place apart from carnal desire, but saw it as a necessary evil to
help safeguard against grosser immorality.)
Thus for Augustine, concupiscence is intricately and necessarily
connected to sexual reproduction, for it is only through carnal
concupiscence that sexual reproduction is even possible. This logic
then leads to his notorious connection regarding sex and original sin.
He writes, "Now from this concupiscence whatever comes into being
by natural birth is bound by original sin"36 and again, "the fault of
the first birth (that original sin which has been derived and
contracted from the concupiscence of the flesh) . . . etc."37 Infants,
born out of the union of shameful desire, are themselves infected by
the same shameful concupiscence, and thus by reason of the
concupiscence which is now inseparably bound to their very nature,
are an object of God's wrath.
This particular method by which Augustine explains how
infants came to be infected with original sin was not easily defended
against the Pelagians, who insisted that the Scriptures in no way
condemn sexual desire within the confines of marriage. Thus for the
Pelagian, since the sexual desire of procreation was not sinful, the
child was born free from the stain of original sin. It is unfortunate
that Augustine attempted to defend his understanding of original sin
by insisting that sexual relations within marriage could not occur
without sin, for he found himself in the awkward position of trying
to affirm that sex within marriage for the purpose of procreation was
both good and not good.
It is surprising that Augustine claims ignorance of the soul's
beginnings, since a view of traducianism would have lent support to
his view of original sin without relying so heavily upon such a
negative view of sexuality. Further, it would have been highly
consistent with his realism. It is in fact difficult to understand how
Augustine can maintain ignorance of the soul's origin, while also
appealing to a philosophical realism as a cause of original sin. The
latter seems quite dependent upon the former. Though Augustine
35

Ibid., 1.7.266.
Ibid 1.27.275.
37
Ibid., 1.37.278.
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would maintain an ontological union between parent and child, his


insistence at times that original sin was passed through the act of
reproduction, rather than simply the nature of the parent entangled
him in a debate regarding the propriety of sex within marriage that
could have likely been avoided.
Regardless of the effectiveness of Augustine's argumentation,
his insistence that carnal concupiscence is a means of propagating
original sin demonstrates the extent to which he views original sin as
a corruption of essence, rather than merely an isolated act of the first
man. And most significantly for our purposes, it provides insight
into his notion of culpability. Concupiscence itself, even as tinder
that has not yet ignited into actual sin, is still culpable before God
and worthy of damnation. He writes,
Carnal concupiscence is remitted, indeed, in baptism; not so that it
is put out of existence, but so that it is not to be imputed for sin.
Although its guilt is taken away, it still
remains until our entire
infirmity be healed, (emphasis added)38
And again he writes,
In the case, then, of those persons who are born again in Christ,
when they receive an entire remission of all their sins, it is of course
necessary that the guilt also of the still indwelling concupiscence should
remitted, in order that (as I said) it should not be imputed to them
for sin. (emphasis added)39
In both cases, Augustine refers to the guilt of concupiscence and
the necessity of it being remitted. This is telling in light of our overall
contention regarding the ultimate source of culpability. For
Augustine, sin need not be conceived in the will in order for it to
elicit guilt. It is enough that the "tinder" of sin be present in a
person's essence.
D. Culpability and the Nature of Sin
Augustine's debate with his Pelagian opponents as to whether
sin should be understood as an act or a substance helps to clarify his
understanding of culpability even further. In refutation of the
Augustinian conception of natural depravity, the Pelagians argued
that sin is not a substance but an act, and as such, cannot destroy or
mar human nature, nor be passed from parent to child. As moving
the arm does not change the arm, they argued, so the exercise of
one's will in a sinful act does not change the intrinsic nature of that
man nor render him or his offspring incapable thereafter of fulfilling
the Law and meriting God's favor. Pelagius writes,
38
39

Ibid., 1.28.275.
Ibid., 1.29.275.

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I think that before all other things we have to inquire what sin is,
some substance or wholly a name without substance, whereby is
expressed not a thing, not an existence, not some sort of body, but
the doing of a wrongful deed . . . how could that which lacks all
substance have possibly weakened or changed human nature? 40
That Augustine commonly refers to original sin as a condition
which is "transmitted," "inherited," and "contracted," by the infant
from the parent, lends itself to this Pelagian critique. But Augustine
is careful to explain that though original sin has no ontological
reality in and of itself, it is nonetheless intrinsically related to human
nature. Though perhaps not properly called a disease (as though it
were a substance) it can still be called a disease in that it refers to the
effects of a disease. Augustine agrees that sin is an act rather than a
substance.41 It does not exist as a thing, but rather can only be spoken
of as an act, or the absence of righteousness. Yet his agreement that
sin is not a substance, but rather an act, did not prevent him from
concluding that the act of sin had indeed mortally wounded human
nature. Using the analogy of eating, Augustine shows how it is
possible that an act (such as not eating) can change one's substance.
He writes,
Since then we have already learned that sin is not a substance, do
we not consider, not to mention any other example, that not to eat
is also not a substance? . . . to abstain then from food is not a
substance; and yet the substance of our body, if it does altogether
abstain from food, so languishes, that even if it be in any way able
to continue alive, it is hardly capable of being restored to the use of
that food.42
Though he grants to the Pelagians that the act of sin itself has
passed away, he insists that the effects of the act have not. Just as a
person can become so weak through lack of food that even the
presence of food avails him not, so too the soul has become too weak
through the loss of original righteousness to make use of God's
commands, which apart from grace serve only as reminders of
human sinfulness and inability.43 This one act of original sin has
resulted in a universal condition of essential depravity out of which
m

On Nature and Grace, 22.28.


Augustine viewed sin as a privation, a non-thing. As cold is to heat and
darkness to light, so sin is the absence of righteousness rather than the presence of
some tangible quality. And though Augustine clarifies his position, the Pelagians were
right in accusing Augustine of often speaking of sin as though it were a substance.
Augustine concedes that such language is not entirely accurate, yet argues that it is
permissible to speak of sin in this way inasmuch as we often speak of cold or darkness
as a substance, yet understand them in a technical sense to be a privation of a
substance. See also Eugene TeSelle, Augustine the TJteologian (Eugene, Ore.: Wipf and
Stock, 2002), 144.
42
On Nature and Grace, 22.128.
43
See On the Spirit and the Letter, 34.97. "The Law was therefore given, in order
that grace might be sought; grace was given, in order that the law might be fulfilled."
41

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128

neither Adam nor his descendants are capable of returning apart


from the grace of Christ.
It is of particular interest to note as well that Augustine's
analogy emphasizes the effect of an act (ontological corruption) over
and above the act itself. Augustine's argumentation here illustrates
well his conception of original sin and culpability as grounded in
essence.
E. Culpability and Infant Baptism
And finally, perhaps nothing more strongly confirms the idea
that Augustine roots culpability in essential corruption (as opposed
to volition) than does his staunch insistence regarding the necessity
of infant baptism. We need not address at length the issue of
Augustine's sacramental theology, but it is necessary to mention
here that he views the rite of baptism as the divine means of spiritual
regeneration. He frequently refers to baptism as "the laver of
regeneration" and maintains that it is through the rite of baptism
that God unites the Christian to Christ and endows him with new
life.
Augustine so strongly believes in the reality of the transmission
of original sin that he believes unbaptized infants are condemned to
hell because of it. He writes, "If you wish to be catholic, refrain from
believing, or saying, or teaching that 'infants which are forestalled by
death before they are baptized may yet attain to forgiveness of
original sin.'"44 Most significantly, Augustine is quick to affirm that
infants are not condemned because of individual, volitional sins. He
writes,
Infants require the same benefits of the mediator, in order that,
being washed by the sacrament. . . they may be reconciled to God
. . . and be saved. . . . But from what if not from death . . . ? And
inasmuch as they do not commit any sin in the tender age of infancy
by
their actual transgression, original sin only is left, (emphasis added)4^
Again Augustine writes, "Now, inasmuch as infants are not held
bound by any sins of their own actual life, it is the guilt of original sin
which is healed in them by the grace of Him who saved them by the
laver of regeneration" (emphasis added).46 As seen from Augustine's
realism, every individual is born with the concupiscence of his first
father present in his nature and is thus essentially corrupted. This
corruption, present in one's nature, need not manifest itself in the
will in order to make infants "by nature children of wrath."47 So
44

0 tlie Soul and Its Origin, 12.348.


0/z Forgiveness of sins, 1.40.30. See also 15.20.
46
Ibid., 1.40.24.
A7
Enchiridion, ch. 33. Augustine writes, "And so the human race was lying under
just condemnation, and all men were children of wrath . . . by reason of their original
sin"
45

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129

though infants are not capable of volitional sins, they remain under
the just wrath of God until such time as they are baptized for the
remission of that "original corruption." It is the state of spiritual
death, a consequence of original sin, which brings about the just
wrath of God.
It might be argued that Augustine views the wrath of God as
kindled against man in regard to an act of the willAdam's one act
of disobedience (as opposed to essence strictly)since all of
humanity sinned volitionally in Adam. But this is true only insofar
as it relates to the first sin of Adam whereby all sinned. It is clear
from Augustine's stance on the necessity of infant baptism that
active, volitional sins after birth are not a necessary element of
culpability.48 And now we arrive at the crux of our paper.
//. AUGUSTINE, CALVIN, AND THE LOGIC OF JUSTIFICATION
As stated at the outset, one's understanding of culpability drives
one's articulation of justification. The connection between culpability
and justification will be examined below, demonstrating the
inseparable link that exists between the two. To this end, the
soteriology of Augustine, Calvin, and Hodge will be briefly
examined.
A. Augustine and Justification
Essential justification becomes for Augustine the solution to the
essential culpability of original sin. Just as man sins himself into a
depraved condition, and is thus condemned, he is justified through
faith in Christ into a righteous condition, and thus inherits eternal
life. Essential healing is not simply necessary as a corollary of
48
I have not attempted a detailed exploration of the philosophical framework
within which Augustine constructed his theology and the influence it had upon his
doctrine of sin, but some prekirtinary comments are in order. First, the overarching
backdrop of neo-Platonism's depiction of the fall of humanity away from the true
celestial forms must surely play some role in Augustine's thought (if even
unconsciously). In Platonic thought, the souls of men are tainted because they have
fallen away from, and lost sight of, the true ideal heavenly forms. In falling out of the
heavens, humanity has "congealed" and become encrusted in physical, carnal bodies.
Salvation then, in Platonic thought, is the reunification of the soul to the ideal forms,
whereby the soul gains freedom from the limitations of the physical existence. It is an
essential salvation, a transcending of the earthly sphere into the heavenly sphere.
Similarly for Augustine, humanity's final salvation is found in its eternal and
uninhibited union with the divine nature. In Adam, humanity fell away from this
union into death. Much like the separation of food from the body results in physical
corruption, so too the separation of God from humanity resulted in spiritual
corruption. For Augustine then, reunion with the divine nature becomes as much a
means as an end, for it is only in our reunion with God via the Holy Spirit that we are
healed from our moral depravity and thus made capable of enjoying complete and
eternal union with God in the blessed realm. Those who refuse to be cured from this
essential corruption will forever endure that condition (in all of its consummated
fullness) in the eternal judgment of the lost.

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salvation, but is necessary as a ground of salvation. Justification,


which for Augustine occurs by grace through faith and apart from
works, must do more than forgive volitional sins and provide correct
legal standing before God in relation to the Law.49 It must somehow
address the subject of ontology as a matter ofjustice.
Augustine writes, "For what else does the phrase 'being
justified' signify than 'being made righteous'by Him of course,
who justifies the ungodly man, that he may become a godly one
instead?"50 He frequently uses the terms "born again,"
"regeneration," and "remission of sins" as synonymous with
justification.51 When Augustine does distinguish between
justification and regeneration, he grounds the former in the latter.
One is made righteous (i.e., justified) by being regenerated. He
writes, "If Christ alone is He in whom all men are justified, on the
ground that it is not simply the imitation of His example which
makes men just, but his grace which regenerates men by the Spirit,
etc."52 Analogously, being justified is the result of being regenerated,
just as the state of being born is the result of the act of being born. To
be justified then, for Augustine, speaks to both the singular act53 of
God whereby the sinner is spiritually regenerated, as well as the
state of being that the regenerated person now possesses (i.e., he is
now regenerated, justified).54
49
Ibid, 16 89 Augustine writes, "Now it is freely that he [the unrighteous] is
justified therebythat is on account of no antecedent ments of his own works
it is
bestowed on us, not that we have done good works, but that we may be able to do
them
not that we have fulfilled the law, but m order that we may be able to fulfill
the law " For my full treatment on Augustine's doctrine of justification, see Gerald
Hiestand, "Augustine and the Justification Debates, Did Calvin Step Too Far m the
Right Direction?" [M A Thesis, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 2005], 72-95)
50
On the Spirit and the Letter, 45102
51
See On Forgiveness of Sins, and Baptism, 162 40, and 54 below
52
0n Forgiveness of Sins, and Baptism, 119 22 See also II43 62, "so the generation
of the Spirit of grace through the one man Jesus Christ, draws to the justification of
eternal life all who, because predestinated, partake of this regeneration "
53
Most interpreters of Augustine view his doctrine of justification as both an
event and a process See McGrath, Iustitia Dei, 36, and David Wright's, "Justification m
Augustine," m Justification in Perspective, Historical Developments and Contemporary
CMlenges (ed Bruce L McCormack, Grand Rapids Baker, 2006), 70-72 For my part, I
do not see progressive justification m Augustine While it is certainly true that he
speaks of growth m righteousness, his actual use of lustificare seems semanbcally
limited to initial regeneration and conversion Regardless, such a distinction is not
critical for our purposes here Against McGrath, et al, see Louis Berkhof, Tlte History
of Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids Baker, 1937)
54
Wnght suggests that Augustine views the initial event of justification as
primarily consisting m the forgiveness of sms, the pardoning of guilt {Justification in
Augustine, 60) Whe Wright is correct that Augustine links the remission of sins to
justification so as to make them synonymous, Wright fails to consider that for
Augustine, the remission of sins is an ontological affair, identical to regeneration For
Augustine, the remission of sms has to do with more than the mere pardoning of guilt
(though he does occasionally use the expression m this limited sense) Most
frequentlyat least m his anti-Pelagian writingsAugustine uses the expression
remission of sins as a way of speaking about the removal of the corruption of original
sm Discussmg the necessity of infant baptism, Augustine uses the expressions.

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It is important to point out here that Augustine is not simply


saying that regeneration grants one the ability to merit eternal life
through the subsequent completion of good works (though he
maintains this as well), but that a regenerated ontology in and of
itself, apart from any further act of volition, serves as a legitimate
ground of merit in inheriting eternal life. This is seen in his
conception of infant baptism, where he maintains that regenerated
infants (via baptism) are qualified to merit eternal life, not by reason
of good works, but by reason of a healed essence. Eternal life is in
some way merited according to ontology itself.55 When we grasp
Augustine's concept of ontological culpability, we can understand
the heavy emphasis upon regeneration in his soteriology. For
Augustine, justification involves an inward change in the
constitution of the sinner as a matter ofjustice, precisely because both
culpability and merit is grounded in the sinner's essence. Once one
grants Augustine's logic regarding essential culpability, the logic of
essential justification becomes almost inevitable. As we shall see in a
moment, even Calvin, whose formal treatment of justification denies
any essential component, cannot avoid Augustine's conclusion when
discussing justification in relation to the essential corruption of
original sin. To Calvin's doctrine we now turn.
B. Calvin and Justification
Though both the Reformed paradigm and Augustine maintain
the absolute necessity of regeneration, only for Augustine does it
serve as a ground of justice. The distinction between the two is not
incidental. The Reformed paradigm beginning with Calvin, though
maintaining the absolute necessity of regeneration in salvation,
justification, regeneration, and remission of sins interchangeably. He writes "'In God,'
however, he declares are the 'works of him wrought, who cometh to the light,'
because he is quite aware that his justification results from no merits of his own, but
from the grace of God. 'For it is God,' says the apostle, 'who worketh in you both to
will and to do of His own good pleasure/ This then is the way in which spiritual
regeneration is effected in all who come to Christ from their carnal generation. . . . He
left it open to no man to settle such a question by human reasoning, lest infants
should be deprived of the grace of the remission of sins" (emphasis added) (On
Forgiveness of Sins, and Baptism, 1.62.40). And again he writes, "A full and perfect
remission of sins takes place only in baptism [i.e., justification], that the character of
the actual man does not at once undergo a total change, but that thefirst-fruitsof the
Spirit in such as walk worthily change the old carnal nature into one of like character
by a process of renewal, which increases day by day, until the entire old nature is so
renovated that the very weakness of the natural body attains to the strength and
incorruptibility of the spiritual body" (Ibid., 11.44.62). Here Augustine clearly speaks
of the remission of sins in ontological terms.
55
See Hiestand, Augustine and Justification, 55-66, 142-44, where I argue that
though Augustine speaks of the merit of good works in relation to eternal life, he
seems to ultimately tie merit to ontology, in much the same way that Luther ties
together good works and faith, who argues that works are the visible incarnation of
the invisible faith (Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4, Vol. 26,
Lutiier's Works [St. Louis: Concordia, 1963], 265,261-68).

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insists that it does not serve as a ground of merit in inheriting eternal


life.56
Calvin, in his formal treatment of justification, makes it very
clear that justification is devoid of any essential component.
Emphatically denying that justification entails any kind of essential
righteousness, Calvin insists that the righteousness of justification is
nothing more than the forgiveness of sins. Three times in his
comments against Oslander (who maintains that justification and
regeneration are identical), Calvin appeals to Paul's treatment of Ps
32:1-2. His comments in these instances make it very difficult to
suppose that Calvin's notion of justifying righteousness entails
anything other than a non-essential righteousness. Two of these
passages will be quoted at length so as to give the full context of
Calvin's argument. He writes,
Paul says: "That man is declared blessed by David whom God
renders acceptable or to whom he imputes righteousness apart
from works, as it is written: 'Blessed are they whose transgressions have
been forgiven/" There he is obviously discussing not a part ofjustification
but the whole of it Further, he approves the definition of it set forth
by David when he declares those men blessed to whom free pardon
of sins is given. From this it is clear that the righteousness of which he
speaks is simply set in opposition to guilt (emphasis added) 5 '
A n d again he writes concerning the same text of scripture,
First I conclude that they are accounted righteous who are
reconciled to God. Included is the means: that God justifies by
pardoning. . . . Where Paul says that righteousness without works is
described by David in these words, "Blessed are they whose
transgressions are forgiven," let Oslander answer me whether this
be a full or half definition. Surely Paul does not make the prophet bear
witness to the doctrine that pardon of sins is part of righteousness, or
merely a concomitant toward the justifying of man; on the contrary, he
includes the whole ofrighteousnessinfreeremission, declaring that man
blessed whose sins are covered, whose iniquities God has forgiven.

56
Hodge writes, "The reformers maintained that by justification the Scriptures
mean something different from sanctification. . . . justification, instead of being an
efficient act ciianging tlie inward ciiaracter of the sinner is a declarative act. . . . that the
sinner is just, i.e., that the law no longer condemns him, but acquits and pronounces him
to be entitled to eternal life" (emphasis added) (Systematic Tlieology [Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1973], 3:119). See also Calvin who writes, "In Christ we have boldness and
access with confidence through . . . faith in him. This surely does not take place
through the gift of regeneration, which, as it is always imperfect in this flesh, so
contains in itself manifold grounds for doubt. Therefore we come to this remedy: that
believers should be convinced that their only ground of hope for inheritance of a Heavenly
Kingdom lies in tiie fact that, being engrafted in the body of Christ, tliey are freely accounted
righteous" (emphasis added) (Institutes of the Christian Religion [ed. John T. McNeill;
Philadelphia, Pa.: Westminster], III.13.5.768).
57
Ibid., 729.

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133

and whose transgressions God does not charge to his account,


(emphasis added)58
Throughout his treatment of justification, Calvin is adamant that
justification entails nothing other than judicial righteousness. But
Calvin's acknowledgement of ontological culpability, particularly as
it relates to his treatment of original sin, creates inconsistencies in his
doctrine of justification.59 For Calvin, like Augustine before him,
original sin includes essential culpability apart from volition. When
discussing original sin from an Augustinian perspective, then, Calvin
employs an Augustinian logic regarding justification, equating
justification with regeneration. Concerning original sin and infant
baptism, Calvin writes,
Therefore to become heirs of life, we must have communion with
him. Again, since it is written in another passage that we are all by
nature subjects of God's wrath . . . we must departfromour nature
before God's kingdom can be opened to us. . . . If they are born sinners,

as both David and Paul affirm, either they remain unpleasing and
hateful to God, or they must be justified. And what further do we
seek, when the judge plainly declares that entry into heavenly life
opens only to men who are born anew? (emphasis added)60
Here Calvin seems to make justification synonymous with
regeneration! Or at the very least he ascribes the blessedness of
heaven to spiritual regenerationsomething that he clearly and
often denies in his formal treatment of justification. Yet in my mind
this inconsistency is almost mandated by his affirmation of essential
culpability. And again, discussing the corruption of original sin he
describes righteousness as being "transfused" by the Spirit. He
writes,
The hope of life is restored in Christ. But it is well known that this
occurs in no other way than that wonderful communication
whereby Christ transfuses into us the power of his righteousness.
As it is written elsewhere, "'his Spirit is life to us because of
righteousness."61
Again it seems that the tight logic of essential culpability
necessitating essential justification is too evident for even Calvin to
ignore. Though Calvin formally denies that justification entails any
essential element, his treatment of the topic in light of the ontological
culpability of original sin inadvertently forces him to counteract this
position. Whether Calvin is conscious of this discontinuity is unclear.
58

Ibid., 739.
McCormack likewise argues for discontinuity between Calvin's sacramental
theology and his formal treatment of justification (Justification, Wliat's at Stake in the
Current Debates, 81-117).
60
Calvin, Institutes, IV.l 6.17.1340.
61
Ibid v IL1.6.248-49.
59

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Regardless, for Calvin, regeneration retains a significant place, even


if inconsistently, in his wider justification paradigm.
C. Hodge, Later Reformed Thought, and Justification
The movement of later Reformed thought toward contemporary
notions of imputation demonstrates (and affirms) the inseparability
between essential culpability and essential justification as well.
Reformed theologians after Calvin, seemingly aware that ontological
corruption demanded ontological justification, worked toward
providing a notion of culpability that, though not denying essential
corruption, no longer grounded culpability in that corruption.
Hodge for example clearly denies Augustine's realism as a basis of
imputation in original sin, and argues instead for immediate
imputation.62 This in turn greatly reduces Hodge's emphasis upon
essential culpability. For Hodge, as well as most other Reformed
theologians (with the notable exception of Edwards63), each
individual is condemned not through his own inherent essential
corruption stemming from a realistic union with Adam, but in that
Adam's volitional sin (as opposed to his essential corruption) is
passed to his descendants solely through imputation, Adam being
the federal representative of his race.64 Thus for Hodge and later
Reformed theology, the individual is condemned by the imputation
of Adam's volitional disobedience before he is actually essentially
sinful. In fact, the corruption of nature is actually the result/penalty
of imputation. Condemnation precedes natural corruption and is
based upon volition (i.e., Adam's sin).
Hodge's treatment of original sin neatly parallels the
contemporary Reformed doctrine of imputation in a way that
Calvin's treatment does not. Just as there need be no realistic
connection between Adam and his descendants for the imputation of
original sin, so also there need be no realistic connection between
Christ and the believer in justification. In many ways, one might
argue that the later Reformed doctrine of justification (as seen in
Hodge) is the triumph of Calvin's doctrine of justification proper
over his doctrine of justification contained within his sacramental
theology. But has this triumph been good for the church?
7//. APPROPRIATING AUGUSTINE'S DOCTRINE OF CULAPBILITY
My respect for Reformed soteriology is significant. In my mind,
few soteriological paradigms (with the exception of Augustine)
better capture the heart of Pauline thought than does a full-orbed
Reformed soteriology. Its contributions to evangelical piety cannot
62

Hodge, Systematic Ttieology, 2:193-205.


In my mind however, Edwards, like Calvin, does not consistently apply his
logic of imputation in original sin to his understanding of justification.
^See Hodge, Systematic Theology, 2:192-98.
63

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135

be overstated. And in an age when antinomianism is a matter of


concern among evangelicals, Reformed theology's emphasis upon
infallible grace, unmerited favor, and its insistence upon existential
righteousness are both necessary and refreshing. Yet in spite of my
great respect for the Reformed tradition, I cannot help but feel that
its treatment of justification is contributing to a general decay in
popular evangelicalism. Could it be that in spite of its insistence
upon existential righteousness and life change, there is something
inherent within the Reformed doctrine of justification that
counteracts the overall positive aspects of the Reformed paradigm? I
believe this to be the case. In closing then, I would comment upon
one significant area of deficiency that I see in Reformed soteriology
due to its denial (conscious or not) of Augustine's doctrine of
culpability and consequently his doctrine of justification: its lack of
emphasis upon the resurrection and regeneration as the central
elements of gospel proclamation.
A. What Has Happened to the Resurrection?

Without question, the resurrection of Christ was the central


feature of the apostolic witness. A quick read through the book of
Acts reveals that the "Gospel of Christ" was shorthand for the
"Gospel of Christ's resurrection" (cf., Acts 2:24; 3:15; 4:1, 10, 33;
10:34-43; 17:18, 32; 25:17; etc.,). And while certainly the death of
Christ was interpreted in the apostolic writings in such a way that it
was given profound soteriological significance, it does not appear
that the death of Christindependent of the resurrectionwas the
primary focus of the early church's proclamation. Certainly, the
Jewish rulers were not up in arms because the apostles were
preaching that Christ had died! Consequently, we do well to
examine any soteriological system in light of its ability to emphasize
Christ's resurrection through gospel proclamation. Any system that
explicitly or implicitly sidelines the resurrection in gospel
proclamation must be judged deficient.
Given the above criteria, Augustine's doctrine of justification
must be deemed superior to that of Reformed thought. When
Augustine speaks of Christ's resurrection in relation to the believer,
his manner of speaking is congruous with Paul's comments in Rom
6:1-14. Augustine's realism is evident. For Augustine, it is through
our realistic union with Christ in his death and resurrection via the
indwelling of the Holy Spirit that we are born again. In Augustine's
own words, we are "spiritually circumcised in the resurrection of
Christ" (i.e., regenerated/justified).65 All who are realistically present
with Adam in his sin die in him-, all who are realistically present with
Christ in his resurrection are regenerated in him. Thus for Augustine,
the resurrection possesses an instrumental role in securing
65

The Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, and on tlie Baptism of Infants, III.11.73.

136

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justification. The resurrection is not simply a validation of Christ's


atoning workit is the means by which Christ secures atonement.
When appropriated, this element of Augustine's soteriology moves
the resurrection to the center of gospel proclamation, for it is through
incorporation into Christ's death and resurrection that the sinner
finds the means of overcoming the culpability of ontological
corruption.66
The contemporary Reformed doctrine of culpability/justification
however, denies the resurrection any instrumental role in
redemption. It is telling that the Reformed doctrine of justification
focuses on the death of Christ virtually to the exclusion of his
resurrection. That neither Calvin nor Hodge, when formally
discussing the doctrine of justification feel any need to significantly
mention the resurrection, is an indication of how little import the
resurrection plays in their articulation of justification. Similarly,
contemporary Reformed theologians such as John Piper, James
White, R. C. Sproul, and Robert L. Reymond (but a few examples)
also find little need (if any) to mention the resurrection in their booklength discussions of justification.67 It is telling that the word
"resurrection" does not appear in the indexes of White's, Piper's, or
Sproul's books. Simply stated, the Reformed doctrine of justification
hangs upon the crucifixion, not the resurrection.
This absence of a significant utilization of the resurrection is seen
in the classic Reformed confessions as well. Note the Westminster
Confession's statement regarding justification, "Christ, by His
obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are
thus justified, and did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to His
Father's justice in their behalf" (emphasis added).68 "Full satisfaction"
66
In my estimation however, Augustine too readily ignores the logic of his own
system. In his soteriologically focused anti-Pelagian writings, he speaks more of the
believer's eschatological resurrection than he |does of Christ's. For Augustine, the
defining moment of salvation occurs when the dead sinner is incorporated (via
baptism and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit) into the living divine person of Christ.
Like a dead branch grafted into a living vine, the dead sinner is made alive through
incorporation into Christ. Consequently, it is Christ's incarnationhis nature as the
God man that is the primary vehicle of salvation. This is well and good, but one is
left with the subtle impression that salvation could have occurred independent of the
crucifixion and the resurrection. Yet, though Augustine's soteriology does not
significantly emphasize the resurrection of Christ, his conceptual framework lays the
groundwork for a soteriological system that makes robust use of the resurrection.
Indeed, this framework lies present and intactthough largely dormantin his
theology.
6
^ee Reymond's A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville:
Thomas Nelson, 1998), 739-56; John Piper's, Counted Righteous in Christ (Wheaton:
Crossway, 2002); James R. White's, The God Wlw Justifies, Tiie Doctrine of Justification
(Minneapolis: Bethany, 2001); and Sproul's, Faith Alone, The Evangelical Doctrine of
Justification (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002). Even the titles of Reymond's three chapters
on soteriology, labeled with the tag line "The Cross-work of Christ," illustrate the
priority of the cross over the resurrection in contemporary Reformed soteriology.
68
As quoted in Reymond's Systematic Tlieology, 740. The Confession does go on to
mention that "Christ did... die for their sins, andriseagain for their justification," yet

HIESTAND: AUGUSTINE AND JUSTIFICATION DEBATES

137

regarding justice is accomplished through the crucifixion. No


mention is made here of any instrumental role the resurrection must
play in securing justification. In a similar vein, the Heidelberg
Catechism (1563) does not mention the resurrection as a basis/ means
of redemption, only the cross (note in particular questions 34, 37, 67,
86). Such an omission should not surprise us. For Reformed
theology, it is in the imputation of Chris?s righteousness (i.e., his
volitional righteousness and substitutionary death) that God's justice
is met and eternal life is merited.
Certainly this conspicuous absence of any significant mention of
the resurrection in Reformed soteriology speaks volumes about its
lack of centrality within the Reformed soteriological paradigm,
regardless of the extent to which Reformed theologians might later
insist to the contrary. The resurrection, when noted at all by
Reformed theologians in their discussion of justification, is most
often appropriated as merely vindication of Christ's satisfactory
work of redemption. It is a proof o redemption, but does not serve as
a means of redemption.69 It is God's final statement regarding his
acceptance of Christ's sacrifice. It becomes very difficult then to see
what direct role, if any, the resurrection really serves in the work of
redemption (particularly within a non-realist framework). This lack
of an instrumental role for the resurrection in Reformed thought is, I
believe, what so frequently marginalizes the resurrection (and thus
regeneration) in evangelical gospel witness.
B. The Reformed Doctrine of Justification and Gospel Proclamation
This absence of the resurrection in the Reformed/evangelical
doctrine of justification has led to the preaching of a gospel that often
fails to mention spiritual regeneration. One need only survey the
most popular evangelical tracts to observe that the resurrection,
regeneration, and life change do not always figure prominently in
the evangelical gospel message. Nor should we be surprised. Gospel
proclamation rightly seeks to address first and foremost one
fundamental question: How can the sinner find peace with an angry
God and merit eternal life? For most of evangelicalism the answer to
this basic question is not found in a doctrine of regeneration. It is not
found in a doctrine of sanctification. It is not found in Calvin's
spiritual union with Christ. For much of evangelicalism, the answer
to this most basic question is grounded in the Reformed doctrine of
justification. It is no wonder then, that popular evangelicalism's
evangelistic efforts reflect only that aspect of our soteriology which
it fails to explain how the resurrection serves any kind of instrumental role in
justification (yet there is no failure to explain how the cross effects justification).
69
See Wayne Grudem who writes, "When Christ was raised from the dead, it was
God's declaration of approval of Christ's work of redemption." One is led to believe
that Grudem sees the cross of Christ as the real work of redemption, with the
resurrection serving as simply a divine "stamp of approval" (Systematic Theology
[Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity, 2000], 615).

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138

addresses this central question. For wider evangelicalism, judicial


forgiveness of sins has become the absolute core of the gospel
message, for, in keeping with the Reformed tradition, it is in judicial
cleansing alonedistinct from regenerationthat one inherits
eternal life.
Though Reformed theologians may lament the loss of an
essential element in conversion and gospel proclamation, I believe
this loss is due to the fact that evangelicals are simply and
consistently following the core teaching of their Reformed heritage.
To be sure, much of evangelicalism neglects to incorporate a fullorbed Reformed soteriology, but it cannot be denied that the popular
evangelical doctrine of justification is essentially Reformed in its
insistence that legal/non-essential righteousness serves as the sole
basis of merit in inheriting eternal life. In too much of evangelical
soteriology, the resurrection and regeneration has been sidelined as a
non-essential element of the gospel. Augustine's understanding of
justification, I believe, alleviates this significant deficiency.
IV. CONCLUSION
If Augustine's basic conclusion regarding culpability can stand
the exegetical test (and I believe it can, particularly in light of Rom
5:12-19; Gal 3:21; and Eph 2:1-10), the implications for the doctrine of
justification are significant. For Augustine, a change of ontology is
not simply necessary as a corollary of salvation (as in Reformed
thought), but is necessary as a ground of salvation. When starting
from Augustine's premise regarding culpability, we can no longer
approach the doctrine of justification from the Reformed
presupposition that mere positive legal standing before God is
sufficient as the sole basis for meriting eternal life. The imputation of
Christ's mere volitional righteousness, as understood by Reformed
thought, cannot be sufficient for satisfying the justice of God and
meriting eternal life.
To be sure, Augustine understands the need for judicial
forgiveness regarding volitional sins, but the foundational element
of his doctrine of justification is centered on regeneration. It is
through new life (indeed the divine life), poured out through our
union with Christ via the Holy Spirit, that we inherit eternal life. It is
because "we are by nature objects of wrath," that it is said, "Unless a
man be born again he cannot enter the kingdom of God."
For too long evangelicalism has been versed in a naturalistic,
solely legal, and largely non-existential gospel. For many Christians,
Christ's work of judicial atonement resolves the issue of one's
standing before God but speaks little to one's existential experience.
Clearly something is missing from the heart of much of
evangelicalism. I find Augustine's emphasis upon regeneration to be
more existentially satisfying than that of popular evangelical
soteriology or even the Reformed thought from which it came.

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139

Perhaps it is time for Reformed theologians to once again look


critically at the legacy of the Reformed doctrine of justification and
be open to the suggestion that it retains a measure of culpability for
some of the deficiencies in the current state of evangelical piety.70
It is my hope that this paper will serve as an impetus toward
new directions in exegetical work regarding Paul's doctrine of
justification, particularly in light of Augustine's doctrine of
culpability.71 Augustine's understanding of justification need not be
embraced wholesale. There are elements of it that even I, though
generally positive toward his soteriology, find out of sync with
Scripture. Yet his doctrine of culpability, if embraced, demands that
more than mere legal cleansing serve as the ground of merit in
inheriting eternal life. And perhaps most importantly, Augustine's
subsequent doctrine of justification resonates strongly with the
Scripture's witness regarding both the centrality of the resurrection
and regeneration as foundational elements of the Abrahamic/New
Covenant promise. Could it be that Augustine's core understandings
of culpability, and thus justification, can be grounded in Scripture in
a way that has been largely overlooked by evangelical theologians? I
believe this to be the case and commend the pursuit of such an end
to those knowledgeable in this field.

70
The legacy of the Reformed doctrine of justification is a major theme of my
thesis (see 49 above), particularly ch 7, where I detail the progression of Reformed
thought from Calvin to Charles Ryne It is my contention that Calvin's movement
away from Augustine's doctrine of justification laid the foundation for the Free Grace
movement of dispensationalism and the anunomianism that so often accompanies it
See Hiestand, Augustine and Justification, 114-33
71
In my estimation, the New Perspective, though offermg a relatively fresh
understanding of Pauline soteriology, goes too far m its recontextualization of first
century Judaism The msistence of Sanders, Tom Wright, James Dunn, and others
that Paul was not contending against a proto-Pelagianism does not, m my mind, stand
the exegetical test I believe Augustine's paradigm, provides an alternative to both the
New Perspective as well as the more traditional Reformed interpretation of Pauline
thought For an introduction to the New Perspective debates from a Lutheran
perspective, see Westerholm's Perspectives Old and New on Paul Tlie Lutheran Paul and
his Critics (Grand Rapids Eerdmans, 2004 For a shorter critique of Wright's assertion
that Paul was contending against racial/social legalism, rather than worksrighteousness, see James Hamilton's article, " Wright and Saul's Moral
Bootstraps Newer Light on 'The New Perspective,'" TJ 25/2 (Fall 2004) 139-55 For an
in-depth book-length treatment see Justification and Variegated Nomism, Vol 1 (ed D
A Carson, Peter O'Brien, and Mark Seifrid, Grand Rapids Baker, 2001), and the
recently published vol 2

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