On Original Sin
The Biblical Development and Interpretation of Sin in Judaism, St. Paul, and St. Augustine
St. Augustine of Hippo is arguably the greatest theologian of the Catholic Church. Naturally, many will look to St. Thomas Aquinas, but St. Thomas Aquinas stood on the shoulder of several patristic giants; what St. Thomas Aquinas wrote and concluded was generally written and concluded somewhere in the corpus of writings of the Church Fathers or Aristotle long before Aquinas walked this earth. The importance of St. Thomas Aquinas was his great synthesis of Augustinian and Patristic thought away from some of the metaphysical difficulties of Neoplatonism to Aristotelean metaphysics. St. Augustine is the most quoted Church Father in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the most quoted Father in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. During the theological uprise of the Reformation Martin Luther, John Calvin, or Ulrich Zwingli looked to St. Augustine’s authoritative teaching for insights—now, theologians from Han Urs Von Balthasar to modern evangelicalism look to reject St. Augustine’s authority.
Modern theologians are typically reacting against St. Augustine namely because of his teaching on sexual ethics, soteriology, and the doctrine of original sin with the massa damnata. Bishop Robert Barron explains in a forward of a new edition of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Dare We Hope All Men are Saved, “Balthasar affected a sort of Origenizing of Augustine, a nuancing of the massa damnata theology that, by the early twentieth century, was found increasingly incredible and, indeed, unscriptural.” Barron goes on to explain that through the means of the Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, the post-conciliar Catholic Church has developed away from Augustine’s doctrine on original sin and the massa damnata. However, Catholic Theologian Ralph Martin has responded in support of the Augustinian view. Martin finds himself being opposed to Barron’s assessment on the soteriological teachings from Augustine, Balthasar, and Vatican II. For clarification purposes, Martin has asked Barron to discuss the matter openly with him. Unfortunately, Bishop Barron has never addressed Martin’s objections or accepted his offer for further discussion.
What will be addressed here will be Barron’s assertion that Augustine’s position is ‘unscriptural’.