Saint Augustine supposes that all people are commanded to love God purely have not in the past and still do not always love God in that way or act out of pure love of God. People act for the sake of some good by may sin if it becomes the only possible good. He states: “with regards of all those things and others of like nature, sins are committed when, out of an immoderate liking for them, they are the least goods”1. When people act out of any other motive, they are in a state of sin. In that state, they are guilty and so are deserving of punishment in proportion to the extent of their guilt. Sinful people are often justly punished by God, through God’s mercy does at times redeem some from deserved damnation, and by the sacrifice of Christ, God offers redemption to all2.
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The explanation of sin is based on a biblical doctrine which states that because of the ignorance and weakness of the human condition brought on by Adam’ sin, no person can act consistently in a righteous way: ‘sin that dwells in me, sin that issues from the punishment of a more voluntary sin, for I was Adam’s son”3. Even those who want to follow God’s commandments find that they are unable to do so without God’s help. It is true that without God’s help, people shall surely all fall into sin and incur guilt. But the position at this point need not be that Adam’s sin left us all guilty, only that it left us weak and in need of help to avoid sin and guilt. Augustine clearly says that human beings are dominated by very powerful “desires” and that they simply do not have the strength or perseverance to ward off those desires and follow the path of righteousness4. Augustine states that “For the law of sins is force is habit, whereby a mind is dragged”5.
Augustine contrasts the perfection of God and the absolute dependence and sinfulness of people upon God’s mercy. Sins grow out of a shared perception of reality controlled by God and out of the shared needs of a consciousness associated with that perception. For Augustine, that human beings act voluntarily or have a free choice is not a basic form of behavior, but neither is it the least bit in doubt. Unless people act voluntarily, it makes no sense to say either that they sin or that they live rightly, and because God’s punishment is just, it follows that people deserve punishment and so are responsible for their actions. “It is good not to abuse your mercy but seek freedom to sin”6. Augustine underlines that people know that humans do in fact sin and that they are punished by God; and by the good doctrine, we know that God’s punishment is just.
In sum, Augustine supposes that the basis of God’s choice lies somehow in the sin of Adam, which leaves all humanity a single sin deserving of damnation: Humans are always acting for the sake of good, but if it is impossible to commit good, sin becomes the only possible way to behave. People sin because they are all born weak and are all born guilty. Adam’s sin makes people guilty.
- St. Augustine, The Confessions of Saint Augustine transl. John K Ryan. (Image; Image Books Ed edition, 1960), 71.
- Ibid, 180, 225.
- Ibid, 198.
- St. Augustine, The Confessions of Saint Augustine transl. John K Ryan. (Image; Image Books Ed edition, 1960), 124.
- Ibid, 190.
- Ibid, 95.