Thoughts on Original Sin by Tatha Wiley (2002) 4C

Anselm of Canterbury (d. 1109) considered Original Sin when feudalism reigned.  The keystones of feudalism were obedience and honor.  So the Lord was the first Lord.  Adam was the first subject of the Lord.  Adam disobeyed and so dishonored his Master.

One can almost feel the flutter as the ladies of the court looked up from their illuminated manuscripts, decorated in indigo and gold, to hear Anselm speak in that wonderful Medieval way.  One can almost smell the warning to the knights and dukes, always conniving in their service of the king: Disobey and you will be cast from the Eden that is England.

The price – the retribution – for Adam’s insult was to “no longer have the Lord as Master”.  As soon as the Eden disappeared behind the flaming sword, the descendants of Adam and Eve no longer had the supernatural gift (a faculty “of spirit”) of “Original Justice”.  This supernatural gift permitted the reason and will (the highest faculties “of nature”) to fulfill the transcendent purpose of humans: First, to obey God.  Second, keep justice.

Adam and Eve’s transgression was an act of “freedom” that covered over the true nature of “freedom”; “the absence of sin”.  In concert with Paul, Anselm concluded that “in Adam, all sinned” (Romans 5:12).

With the coming of Jesus the Messiah, freedom is restored.  His sacraments pour Sanctifying Grace into the faculties of the spirit.  Eat his flesh.  Drink his blood.  Look at those illuminations.  They tell the story in purple and gold.


Thoughts on Original Sin by Tatha Wiley (2002) 4B

Let us look at this synopsis in a nested frame:

The powers of humans that are “material” or “of nature” belong to the realm of possibility.

The powers of humans that are “not material” or “of spirit” belong to the realm of mediation, because they take what is material and turn it into a (distinctly different) actuality or “form”.

The “human exercising her faculties, powers and capacities” belongs to the realm of situation.

So the Medieval model of the human could be written as:

“Powers ‘of spirit’(exercise of powers(powers ‘of nature’))”

Remember, the Medieval could never have written their own model in this fashion, because the Peircean categories of thirdness, secondess and firstness had not been formulated.  By the time that Peirce formulated the categories, the medieval world was long gone.

Today, the Medieval world exists in the same way that the Roman world continued to exist during for Anselm; as fantasy, legend and ideal.


Thoughts on Original Sin by Tatha Wiley (2002) 4A

In the 1100 years between Augustine and the Council of Trent, the Idea of Original Sin both changed and stayed the same.  Chapter 4 covers some highlights.

Augustine wrote at the time when the Roman Empire (now officially converted to Christianity but still very much in the ancient Pagan milieu) was decentralizing.

Anselm, writing in England around 600 years later, wrote at a time when the Roman world was remembered through fantasy, legend and ideal.

Augustine wanted to protect Christianity from a host of Pagan assimilators.

Anselm just wanted to make sense of this concept of Original Sin.

The once Pagan concept of a hierarchy of natures had been internalized.  Human faculties, powers and capacities ranged from digestive to visionary.  At the low end, human natures were “material” or “of nature”.  At the high end, human natures were “not material” or “of spirit”.

The intellect and the will were faculties “of nature”.  The “capacity for justice” on the other hand, was “of spirit”.


Thoughts on Original Sin by Tatha Wiley (2002) 3I

In sum, it seems to me that many Modern Commentators interpret Augustine from their Modern point of view, not from the point of view of Augustine’s audience.  The people that Augustine called to Christ were steeped in Traditional, Magical, Stoic, Platonic, and Aristotelian thought.  Augustine should be seen as taking “what was familiar” and giving it a new twist.  It must have been exciting to hear him preach.

Ironically, the attitudes and ideas of Augustine’s audience have been lost over time, leaving no counterpoint to Augustine’s texts.  Still we can imagine.


Thoughts on Original Sin by Tatha Wiley (2002) 3H

The lack of thirdness in Augustine’s definition of concupiscence brings me to that category.

Augustine replaced “the need for an ascent of the soul” with “Original Sin”.  Original Sin has the same structure as a descent and ascent of the soul.  Yet the axis of movement is different.  Instead of moving back to the heavens, or the Celestial East, the Christian is to move towards Jesus the Messiah.  Baptism was the first Sacrament opening the vault of the body, pouring in Sanctifying Grace.  What happens after has the same self-denying characteristics of an ascent of the soul.

Augustine’s move set the stage for a new, Christian, way of looking at the “soul”.  The soul was not preexisting.  It did not descend into corrupt matter.  Instead, it was made, like pottery, by God.


Thoughts on Original Sin by Tatha Wiley (2002) 3G

In secondness, the realm of actuality, the Stoic “body” parallels “acts of moral impotence”.

The parallel makes sense in terms of the Pagan Worldview.  The Platonic “body” was not so much “the temple of the soul” as it was the “prison of the soul”.  The Divine World was good and immaterial.  Earthen Matter was evil and a thing to escape.  The goal of the individual was to ascend, to return to the source, and to leave this body behind.

Thus, Augustine’s parallel resonated with his listeners, who had converted from various Pagan religions.  Yet, there was a twist.

He introduced his own version of “concupiscence”.  Instead of the person’s weaknesses coming from the hard knocks of a descending soul accreting a body, they came from a prior descent, the Descent of Adam and Eve.

This removed the spirit-descent and replaced it with “the readily observable consequences of a historical moment”.

It also removed the “soul” as the normal context that animates the “body”.   Concupiscence is “soul-less”.  As soon as one puts an animating principle over “the moral impotence that is the body”, one is constructing a delusion.


Thoughts on Original Sin by Tatha Wiley (2002) 3F

The parallels in firstness explain why Augustine struggled to depict a huge Fall, a Fall so big that it would feel like a descent.

At the top, before the Fall, Adam and Eve were in the state of Original Blessedness, where even their sexual organs were at the command of reason.

Of course, this is impossible, given the nested form of “concupiscence”.  I put “no normal context” instead of “Original Sin” because, well, the workings of the sexual organs have a way to avoid contextualization.  This fact made Augustine the butt of jokes by rowdy agnostics for centuries.

Still, Augustine’s logic defying claim served a purpose.  It elevated the perception of height for the start of the Fall.  “Original Blessedness” had to be at least as high as “the Blissfulness of the Platonic Soul before its Descent”.

A literal “descent from Adam and Eve” deepens the pit of the Fall, far deeper than “the Platonic Body that Receives the Soul”, for now the poor babe – that sweet innocent – comes from the reason-less heaving of body parts plus, some sort of flaw in the seed.  That babe comes from concupiscence itself.

Baptism was needed just to get back to innocence.

Today, this makes no sense.

However, it makes sense if Augustine was speaking in a world of Greek and Roman Paganism.  The conversion of the Empire to Christianity did not provide a remedy for the collapse of the Western Roman Civilization.  It gave a shelter for people desperate enough to abandon their ancestral ways.

The parallels in firstness show that Augustine took the Platonic model and re-oriented it.  The axis of descent was no longer set by gravity, but by a Celestial Axis; the Axis between the Father and the Son; the Axis that is the Holy Spirit; plus another Earth-based Axis; between Adam and Jesus; the Transgressor and the Redeemer; the Fallen and the Savior.

Augustine altered the heights and depths of the Platonic model.

The “union of spirit with descent” that allowed the soul to animate the body was thus transformed.  At the same time Augustine spoke to the Platonists and Stoics, he was taking their model from them.

The resulting model was evocative and stunningly superior to more primitive explanations carried into the West by the invading tribes.  Thus Augustine preserved the soul of a dying civilization by drawing it into his own Christian perspective.


Thoughts on Original Sin by Tatha Wiley (2002) 3E

Now, I want to explore a deeper slight of hand that I see in Wiley’s discussion of Augustine’s thought.

Recall the widespread Stoic and Platonic idea that the human came into being when the soul descended into the body.  Here, the soul, the principle of animation, belongs to the realm of thirdness; the body to secondness, the spirit-descent to firstness.

Let me compare the Pagan idea to the nested forms presented in previous blogs on Augustine; concupiscence and Original Sin:

Soul( body (spirit-descent) )    Stoic

No context (acts of moral impotence (this flaw – this spirit – in human nature that allows me to desire the good while at the same time drawing me away to my own gratification which is the consequence of the Fall))

Original Sin (acts of moral impotence (descent from Adam and Eve))

In the next three blogs, I will talk through these parallels.


Thoughts on Original Sin by Tatha Wiley (2002) 3D

Impulsive acts of self-gratification should not be contextualized because they are, for wont of a better word, stupid.

But so many try to make sense out of stupidity.  In doing so, they create symbolic orders that hide certain varieties of concupiscence beneath veils of normality.  Some become “blind” to the very real consequences.  Others address the “issues” in the same symbolic order (that is fancy-talk for “the blame game”).

Both result in death, ignorance and loss of integrity.


Thoughts on Original Sin by Tatha Wiley (2002) 3C

Now, let me look at this in terms of nestedness:

In terms of actuality, Augustine focused on acts of moral impotence.

This pattern of moral impotence situates humans as descended from Adam and Eve and thereby sharing the consequences of the Fall.

In terms of possibility, Adam’s transgression potentiates our moral impotence.

Acts of moral impotence(the consequences of Adam’s transgression) defines “concupiscence”.

Con” is Latin for “with”.  “Cupere” is Latin for “to desire”.  “Scence” stands for “the condition of”.  “Acts of moral impotence” situates “this flaw – this spirit – in human nature that allows me to desire the good while at the same time drawing me away to my own gratification”.

Augustine’s concept of Original Sin puts the above discussion into context as:

Original Sin(acts of moral impotence(descent from Adam and Eve))

Original Sin(concupiscence())

Original Sin(acts of moral impotence(a flaw – a spirit – in human nature that allows me to desire the good while at the same time drawing me away to my own gratification)

Only the greatest philosophers can perform such slights of hand.

Through the term “concupiscence”, “descent from Adam and Eve” equaled “a flaw in human nature”.

This suggests the possibility that “concupiscence” may be an “empty term” that stands for “a thing that cannot be contextualized” because it is purely situational.

Does that not sound like the nature of self-gratification?