From the Vault of the Australian Church Record, January 9, 1956.
39 Articles: Article 9 – Of Original or Birth-sin
Original Sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk) ; but it is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is ingendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation. And this infection of nature doth remain, yea in them that are regenerated; whereby the lust of the flesh, called in the Greek, phronema sarkos, which some do expound the wisdom, some sensuality, some the affection, some the desire, of the flesh, is not subject to the Law of God. And although there is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptised, yet the Apostle doth confess, that concupiscence and lust hath of itself the nature of sin.
The ninth Article introduces us to the important controversies of the sixteenth century. Already in Article VI we have been introduced to the problem of the source of authority which was widely agitated in those days. Now we are faced with an indication of the great cleavage in doctrine which separated the Roman Catholic Church from all the churches of the Reformed faith.
Whenever a major issue like this is presented for solution it is most important to pay attention to the precise language employed. It is particularly valuable where possible, to notice the passages in which identical terms are used in contradictory senses by both parties. Had sufficient care been taken to observe this salutary rule much misconception would have been avoided.
What then does the Article state concerning “Original or Birth Sin”? It is not “the following of Adam”— The Latin here makes the meaning plainer. Literally translated the Latin reads “Original sin is not . . placed in the imitation of Adam.” The following or imitation of Adam in the context can only mean “by a similar act of will.” We are forced, therefore, by the wording of the Article to distinguish between “Original Sin” and the sinful volition — the latter would be a following of Adam. This is made clearer by the reference to the Pelagian controversy. Pelagius taught that the sin of Adam hurts only himself. The Article, on the contrary, expounds its original statement by two further assertions. Original Sin is “a fault and corruption of nature” and this “fault and corruption” is naturally engendered of the offspring of Adam. Two Latin words here deserve special attention. The evil is spoken of as “depravity.” The word “corruption” is a translation of the Latin word “depravatio”.
“Depravatio” is a word frequently found in Reformed writers of the sixteenth century. It is not too much to say that the distinction here between “privatio” which may be rendered “loss” and “depravatio” which may be rendered “depravity” marks a cardinal element in the discussions at the period of the Reformation. The Article emphasises that there is more than “inability” in the condition in which a man finds himself. There is a real perversity of nature. The New Testament passage in Galatians, “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit” is adduced as evidence of this fact.
The second word that needs attention is the word “engendered” which is used to translate the Latin word “Propagati.” The evil does not arise from the sinful action but is a consequence of the very conditions under which an individual comes into existence. This is not only a direct refutation of Pelagianism, it is a carefully worded statement tracing evil in nature to the laws that govern propagation. The word “naturally” is evidently introduced to exclude the un-usual origin of our Lord Jesus Christ. He alone is without this inherent taint and He was not naturally engendered of the offspring of Adam. The Article avoids the unhappy phraseology of Augustine which led to the later idea that the very act of human generation was in itself sinful. It is at least doubtful if Augustine intended this harsh deduction to be made.
The “infection of nature” is so grievous that in everyone born into the world from the moment of birth it invites God’s wrath and damnation. Nor does regeneration remove this disability. Though condemnation is removed from them that believe and are baptised the remaining infection which the Apostle mentions hath of itself the nature of sin.
In the last clause of the Article the language of the Council of Trent is employed. In 1546 the Council of Trent condemned all who denied that “all of that which hath the true and proper nature of sin” is taken away in baptism. The Council employed the word “ratio” here for “nature” and this fact is the simplest explanation of the abandonment of the former word “ratio” in the latter clause of the Article. In a subsequent contribution the precise significance of the doctrine contained in the Article will be dealt with more fully.
This article from the ACR Vault is part of our Articulate series, listening to T.C. Hammond unpack the 39 Articles one by one.