Blog Template Theology of the Body: Augustine's Problem with Total Depravity

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Augustine's Problem with Total Depravity

The first element of John Calvin's classic TULIP summary is the idea of total depravity. The proposal includes the following; human rebellion against God is total, and apart from the grace of God there is no delight in the holiness of God, and there is no glad submission to the sovereign authority of God; in this total rebellion everything humanity does is sin; furthermore, man's inability to desist from this rebellion, to submit to God and do good is total; and this rebellion is totally deserving of eternal punishment.

Although Calvin's innovation allegedly derives from the Augustinian doctrine of original sin, Calvin's conclusions do not reflect real allegiance to some of Augustine's most basic affirmations of the doctrines of creation and grace. Over and over again, Augustine insists that- as the Church has always believed- if we were as 'totally' depraved as Calvin alleged, then we would cease to exist altogether; this is because our very being is enjoyment of God's great goodness.

"And it was made clear to me that all things are good even if they are corrupted...all that is corrupted is thereby deprived of good. But if they are deprived of all good, they will cease to be.... if they are deprived of all good, they will cease to exist. So long as they are, therefore, they are good. Therefore, whatsoever is, is good. For good to be diminished is evil; still, however much it is diminished, something must remain of its original nature as long as it exists at all.. For no matter what kind or however insignificant a thing may be, the good which is its nature cannot be destroyed without the thing itself being destroyed. And even if the corruption is not arrested, it still does not cease having some good of which it cannot be further deprived. And if the corruption comes to be total and entire, there is no good left because it is no longer an entity at all. Wherefore corruption cannot consume the good without also consuming the thing itself.

Every actual being is therefore good... (and) only the foolish and unknowing can deny that it is still good even when corrupted. For whenever a thing is consumed by corruption, not even the corruption remains for it is nothing in itself, having no subsistent being in which to exist. From this it follows that there is nothing to be called evil if there is nothing good...every being, in so far as it has a being, is good.

...We find that the bad man is not bad because he is a man; rather, he is a good entity in so far as he is a man, evil (only) in so far as he is wicked. Therefore, if anyone says that simply to be a man is evil... he rightly falls under the prophetic judgment: woe to him who calls evil good and good evil. For this amounts to finding fault with God's work, because man is an entity of God's creation."

Augustine, Confessions and Enchiridion