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Enchiridion On Faith, Hope and Love
by Saint Augustine


CHAPTER XIII

BAPTISM AND ORIGINAL SIN

41. Since he was begotten and conceived in no pleasure of carnal appetite--

and therefore bore no trace of original sin--he was, by the grace of God (operating in

a marvelous and an ineffable manner), joined and united in a personal unity with

the only-begotten Word of the Father, a Son not by grace but by nature. And

although he himself committed no sin, yet because of "the likeness of sinful flesh"81

in which he came, he was himself called sin and was made a sacrifice for the

washing away of sins.

Indeed, under the old law, sacrifices for sins were often called sins.82 Yet he

of whom those sacrifices were mere shadows was himself actually made sin. Thus,

when the apostle said, "For Christ's sake, we beseech you to be reconciled to God,"

he straightway added, "Him, who knew no sin, he made to be sin for us that we

might be made to be the righteousness of God in him."83 He does not say, as we read

in some defective copies, "He who knew no sin did sin for us," as if Christ himself

committed sin for our sake. Rather, he says, "He [Christ] who knew no sin, he [God]

made to be sin for us." The God to whom we are to be reconciled hath thus made

him the sacrifice for sin by which we may be reconciled.

He himself is therefore sin as we ourselves are righteousness--not our own

but God's, not in ourselves but in him. Just as he was sin--not his own but ours,

rooted not in himself but in us--so he showed forth through the likeness of sinful

flesh, in which he was crucified, that since sin was not in him he could then, so to

say, die to sin by dying in the flesh, which was "the likeness of sin." And since he

had never lived in the old manner of sinning, he might, in his resurrection, signify

the new life which is ours, which is springing to life anew from the old death in

which we had been dead to sin.

42. This is the meaning of the great sacrament of baptism, which is

celebrated among us. All who attain to this grace die thereby to sin--as he himself is

said to have died to sin because he died in the flesh, that is, "in the likeness of sin"--

and they are thereby alive by being reborn in the baptismal font, just as he rose

again from the sepulcher. This is the case no matter what the age of the body.

43. For whether it be a newborn infant or a decrepit old man--since no one

should be barred from baptism--just so, there is no one who does not die to sin in

baptism. Infants die to original sin only; adults, to all those sins which they have

added, through their evil living, to the burden they brought with them at birth.

44. But even these are frequently said to die to sin, when without doubt they

die not to one but to many sins, and to all the sins which they have themselves

already committed by thought, word, and deed. Actually, by the use of the singular

number the plural number is often signified, as the poet said,

"And they fill the belly with the armed warrior,"84

although they did this with many warriors. And in our own Scriptures we read:

"Pray therefore to the Lord that he may take from us the serpent."85 It does not say

"serpents," as it might, for they were suffering from many serpents. There are,

moreover, innumerable other such examples.

Yet, when the original sin is signified by the use of the plural number, as we

say when infants are baptized "unto the remission of sins," instead of saying "unto

81Rom. 8:3.

82Cf. Hos. 4:8.

83II Cor. 5:20, 21.

84Virgil, Aeneid, II, 1, 20.

85Num. 21:7 (LXX).


the remission of sin," then we have the converse expression in which the singular is

expressed by the plural number. Thus in the Gospel, it is said of Herod's death, "For

they are dead who sought the child's life"86; it does not say, "He is dead." And in

Exodus: "They made," [Moses] says, "to themselves gods of gold," when they had

made one calf. And of this calf, they said: "These are thy gods, O Israel, which

brought you out of the land of Egypt,"87 here also putting the plural for the singular.

45. Still, even in that one sin--which "entered into the world by one man and

so spread to all men,"88 and on account of which infants are baptized--one can

recognize a plurality of sins, if that single sin is divided, so to say, into its separate

elements. For there is pride in it, since man preferred to be under his own rule

rather than the rule of God; and sacrilege too, for man did not acknowledge God;

and murder, since he cast himself down to death; and spiritual fornication, for the

integrity of the human mind was corrupted by the seduction of the serpent; and

theft, since the forbidden fruit was snatched; and avarice, since he hungered for

more than should have sufficed for him--and whatever other sins that could be

discovered in the diligent analysis of that one sin.

46. It is also said--and not without support--that infants are involved in the

sins of their parents, not only of the first pair, but even of their own, of whom they

were born. Indeed, that divine judgment, "I shall visit the sins of the fathers on

their children,"89 definitely applies to them before they come into the New Covenant

by regeneration. This Covenant was foretold by Ezekiel when he said that the sons

should not bear their fathers' sins, nor the proverb any longer apply in Israel, "Our

fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge."90

This is why each one of them must be born again, so that he may thereby be

absolved of whatever sin was in him at the time of birth. For the sins committed by

evil-doing after birth can be healed by repentance--as, indeed, we see it happen even

after baptism. For the new birth [regeneratio] would not have been instituted except

for the fact that the first birth [generatio] was tainted--and to such a degree that one

born of even a lawful wedlock said, "I was conceived in iniquities; and in sins did my

mother nourish me in her womb."91 Nor did he say "in iniquity" or "in sin," as he

might have quite correctly; rather, he preferred to say "iniquities" and "sins,"

because, as I explained above, there are so many sins in that one sin--which has

passed into all men, and which was so great that human nature was changed and

by it brought under the necessity of death--and also because there are other sins,

such as those of parents, which, even if they cannot change our nature in the same

way, still involve the children in guilt, unless the gracious grace and mercy of God

interpose.

47. But, in the matter of the sins of one's other parents, those who stand as

one's forebears from Adam down to one's own parents, a question might well be

raised: whether a man at birth is involved in the evil deeds of all his forebears, and

their multiplied original sins, so that the later in time he is born, the worse estate

he is born in; or whether, on this very account, God threatens to visit the sins of the

parents as far as--but no farther than--the third and fourth generations, because in

his mercy he will not continue his wrath beyond that. It is not his purpose that

those not given the grace of regeneration be crushed under too heavy a burden in

their eternal damnation, as they would be if they were bound to bear, as original

guilt, all the sins of their ancestors from the beginning of the human race, and to

pay the due penalty for them. Whether yet another solution to so difficult a problem

might or might not be found by a more diligent search and interpretation of Holy

Scripture, I dare not rashly affirm.

86Matt. 2:20.

87Ex. 32:4.

88Rom. 5:12.

89Deut. 5:9.

90Ezek. 18:2.

91Ps. 51:5.









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