13 June, 2011

Vincent of Lerins on Original Guilt

"For who ever before that profane Pelagius attributed so much antecedent strength to free will as to deny the necessity of God’s grace to aid it towards good in every single act? Who ever before his monstrous disciple Cœlestius denied that the whole human race is involved in the guilt of Adam’s sin?"

Vincent of Lerins (+445), Exposition of 1 Tim. vi. 20. from his 'Commonitory', Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series II, Vo. XI, ch. XXIV, para62.

Note: This is a particularly important citation apropos the Eastern Orthodox, who generally deny that any inheritance of guilt was passed on to the human race as a legacy of Adam's original sin. The chief legacy of original sin for the Orthodox is mortality [see John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology, (London 1974), p145 (the main reason for this difference appears to centre on the interpretation of Romans 5:12)] and sensuality. Hence the general Orthodox non-comprehension of Western debates about forensic justification and the necessity of the imputation of Christ's righteousness to the believer, and in the place of these concerns their emphasis on the process of theosis or deification, by which the believer comes to share in God's holiness and is thus made fit for heaven.

Yet Vincent clearly believes in original guilt, and regards it as entirely orthodox, and he also claims that before Pelagius's disciple Coelestius no-one denied it. Whether or not this is strictly true, it is certainly an interesting comment coming from one usually associated with the semi-Pelagianism of the early monks of southern France and even nominated by the Orthodox as a representative of "Western Orthodoxy", a line of Western theologians supposedly untainted by the errors of Augustinianism. The questions raised by Vincent's remark invite further research - MH.
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