In today’s reading, Augustine looks at the nature of fallen humanity – Adam was made good but fell by his will, he fell into sinfulness and produced depraved children, all humanity was in Adam – and then argues with the Platonists about death and the nature of the body. The Platonists argue that the soul is good and is dragged down by the body. Death, therefore, is a release from the burden of the body, and a human soul could not live in blessedness while united to a body. Augustine disagrees. God made the body and the soul and united them with purpose. Death separates what God has united and He can and does reunite soul and body for eternity at the resurrection of the dead. If He can make bodies and souls out of nothing, then surely He can remake bodies in such a way that they can live blessed in Heaven for eternity. While the Platonists see death as a release, Augustine maintains that death is a punishment for sin and that separating soul from body is an evil to the human person. God is a uniter, not a divider, and so humanity will live in eternity with united bodies and souls, united with God, in a united Heaven and earth.
This is a good vision. Again, Augustine is defending the body against Platonist arguments and so we cannot say that he is importing Platonist ideas into Christianity, and certainly not doing so uncritically. I still would want to explore whether his vision of eternal conscious torment is consistent with his own thought about the nature of death and evil, as I looked at in the previous post, but I see what Augustine is articulating here as a firmly Christian understanding of the nature of post-Fall humanity.
Today’s reading gets us into the doctrine of Original Sin, as well. Adam sinned, and since we are all in Adam, we have all fallen in Adam. We are all participants in his original sin and therefore all guilty before God. Also, we are all depraved in his sin. We are not born with a good nature but stuck in a bad culture that corrupts us. Instead, we are born sinners because we all existed in Adam and Eve. There is debate today about whether we can trust the Genesis account, given the state of scientific research around the origins of humanity – that is, scientists are saying that there appears to be multiple origins of humanity. If that is so, does it negate the doctrine of original sin? If all of humanity is not contained in Adam, then does Original Sin still make sense as a doctrine? Theologians are taking up this question now, and I have not looked carefully into the debates and have no clear answers. But, I would want to say that (1) Original Sin makes good sense of the human experience, (2) that we are philosophically and theologically united as common humanity in Adam and as New Humanity in Christ, and I would maintain that even if it were proved to me that humanity has multiple genetic origins, and (3) we must dialogue with the scientists and listen for God’s Truth as it presents itself in the truths that the scientists reveal. As it has been said, all truth is God’s truth. And all truths ultimately point us to God’s great Truth, Jesus the Christ. I am not convinced that multiple origins of humanity would negate the Truth of Jesus Christ, despite what we hear from some theological circles. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Light, and He will expose the truth about humanity and about Himself as He sees fit. At the same time, sometimes scientists make claims that they are unable to defend over the long term. Women and men of faith ought to listen well, but not because science always has it right. We listen well because God reveals Himself to us in the Scriptures, in His created world, in His image borne by the humanity He created, and in the truths that He makes known as we explore His world.
May He grant us ears to hear and eyes to see Him this day and this week. Blessings,