Augustine’s View on the Nature of the Soul

 In Church Fathers, Church History, Nature of Man, Salvation

Now that we have established a foundation of why Augustine believes what he believes, let’s now examine Augustine’s view of the nature of the soul through his epistemological lenses. Augustine believed that there was an order to the soul. In an ideal sense, the soul of man is ordered in accord to God and His revealed will in Scripture, the reason of man discerning God’s will, and the desires of their heart and their emotions conforming to God’s will. As I said before, God is the standard of truth and goodness and man is able to discern this through reason (Romans 1:20). Reason is the faculty of the soul that God gave to humanity to discern how He designed the world to work physically and morally. However, Scripture is the written communication of God’s standard. It presents the righteousness of God. The desires of the heart are what we want and, in an ideal world, it’s God Himself and His will revealed in Scripture. Human flourishing reaches its peak living according to God’s will because that is the way God designed us to function because we were made to reflect God’s character. Finally, we have emotions. Emotions are how we respond to certain situations. In an ideal world, we respond with joy when are friends win in life and we respond with righteous anger against murder. Having a well-ordered soul is key to human flourishing and living in accord to God’s will leads to the most joy.

However, we do not live in an ideal world. As I stated before, Pelagianism categorically denied that man was born into sin. Augustine was the leading theologian behind the charge to defeat this heresy of the early church. He argued that man does have original sin. Man has inherited Adam’s sin as he argues this view through Romans 5:12, “Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” That one man through which sin came into the world was Adam. Adam is the federal head of the human race. He is our representative before God. In the Garden of Eden, God and Adam entered into a Covenant of Works, that if Adam obeyed God and did not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, he would inherit eternal life. However, Adam disobeyed God by eating of the fruit of the tree. There, Adam and Eve received the consciousness of good and evil which is why they hid from God because they knew they sinned and were unrighteous and thus guilty in His sight (Genesis 3:8). God found Adam and Eve and drove them out of the Garden and away from His presence (Genesis 3:24). Adam is the federal head of the human race and he began to reproduce with Eve, therefore the curse Adam received from God was imputed to humanity.

First, we must understand sin as a state and not merely as an act. Sin is missing the mark of the holiness and righteousness of God. Since, we’re born with original sin, our whole soul misses the mark of the holiness of God therefore we are separated from Him. Original sin causes the state of the soul to become fallen. Augustine would argue that, because of original sin, all faculties of the soul are defective and are out of order. Defective emotions are able to usurp our defective reason. To illustrate this point, we can look at the biblical example of Moses viewing an Israelite being beaten by an Egyptian. He had cause to be angry as this was a gross injustice against the Israelite. However, Moses let his anger, which was distorted because of sin,  get the best of him and as a result he murdered the Egyptian (Exodus 2:11-12). Murder is not in accord to reason. Augustine states in On Free Choice of the Will that, “sin is a turning away from reason.” According to Augustine, outward acts of sin are caused by inordinate desires of the heart. The desires of the heart are marred by sin therefore, it does not desire the will of God found in Scripture. In fact, by virtue of the soul’s separation from God because of sin, man does not desire God at all.

The soul and the will is enslaved to original sin. In the words of Christ in John 8:34, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” We see here “everyone who practices sin” which are the outward acts of missing the mark of the holiness of God. And then “is a slave to sin” which is the condition our soul that is in bondage to unrighteousness. The outward acts of sin that we commit are indicative of our soul’s sinful state. Now, if we are slaves to sin and sin is the condition in which our souls are in, and sin is the antithesis of God and the opposite of faith and obedience is unbelief and rebellion, that would mean that we’re enslaved to rebellion and outright rejection of God. But this slavery is not against our wills. We don’t desire him. We don’t want him. And that is a result of original sin. Augustine would prove this point by going to Romans 3:10-12, “as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Augustine categorically rejected autonomous free will. If left to ourselves, Augustine believes no one would choose to follow God or believe in the only One who reconciles man to God.

In Augustine’s situation, the depravity of man is the reason why Rome fell. The depravity of man is the reason why we’re drawn to believe false and heretical things about God. Looking at our world in recent history, the depravity of man is why the citizens of the United States enslaved Africans,  established the Jim Crow Laws and have murdered over 60 million babies since Roe v. Wade.

EDITORS’ NOTE: See also the rest of Austin Hobbs‘ series on Augustine: Epistemology, Nature of the Soul, and Hope.

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