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Vermigli and SSA (pt. 2)

This is continued from part 1. In part 1, I discussed Vermigli’s view of anthropology, or human composition. His view of this is intricately related to his view of original sin and indwelling sin, so it is worth going back and reviewing if you missed the last one!

Vermigli’s Definition of Original Sin

After grasping his anthropology, it is necessary to next understand his view of original sin. It is important to mull over Vermigli’s view of this because there are, again, dozens of views about original sin. In addition, I think most contemporary Christians do not have a firm understanding of what original sin is, or whether it is important to believe.

Before explaining original sin, I’ll note that Vermigli defines sin in general as, “everything that opposes the law and will of God” (p. 84). He proposes this so that he can explain why original sin is condemning sin, even if a person has not willingly acted a sinful act. He reasons that if sin is anything opposed to God’s law or will, and someone is born against God by nature, then they are in opposition to His revealed will for us, and therefore deserve justice.

For his own definition of original sin, Vermigli combines Augustine’s and Anselm’s definitions of original sin, saying,

“Original sin is the corrupting of the whole of human nature derived from the fall of the first parent and passed on to posterity through procreation, which, unless the gift of Christ gives aid, sentences all who are born in this state to almost infinite evils and eternal damnation.”

Vermigli, p. 35

Previously, Augustine had defined original sin in positive terms, as a corruption of human nature. According to Augustine’s definition, original sin is,”concupiscence interspersed among the flesh and limbs” (p. 21). The term concupiscence essentially means “lust”. Terming original sin as “lust” was confusing to some people because “lust” means inordinate or misplaced sexual desire (or a form of sinful, sexual affection). Vermigli argues that Augustine did not intend for the term to mean that original sin is only related to sinful, sexual desires. Instead, Vermigli argues that Augustine termed it concupiscence or lust because “in that vice the power of the disease shows itself more clearly” (p. 21). While concupiscence is originally a term used to describe one vice, Augustine means to use it as a term to represent something broader. In lust, or concupiscence, we see a visible picture of a bent, inward inclination against what is righteous and good. In it, we see the power, the prevalence, and the lawlessness of this inward, inclining sin. So, concupiscence becomes a symbol for the corruption of the whole person, not just in regards to misplaced sexual inclinations, but in regards to all turned, bent, or backwards inclinations against God’s law. Vermigli explains, “By the term concupiscence Augustine is not thinking of the act of lusting, but of the propensity, inclination, natural bent, and proclivity to the doing of evil.” (p. 22)

Meanwhile, Anselm had defined original sin in negative terms as “the lack of original righteousness” (p. 29). The schoolmen who follow Anselm discuss original righteousness, and argue that this privation or loss of original righteousness is original sin because this loss creates a defect that causes us to struggle and fight against the Law of God (p. 30). The term original righteousness itself is a loaded word, and we won’t go into the details here. Suffice it to say, original righteousness is the proper relationship of all the organs of the person (spiritual and bodily) to the dominion of God. The illustrations the schoolmen give to explain this loss of original righteousness are something like: an eye that can no longer see because it has lost a necessary part, or an ear that can no longer hear because a necessary part has been damaged. Just as defects can cause uselessness to the physical organ and damage to the person physically, so too a defect or damaging loss caused uselessness and damage to the person spiritually.

Vermigli thinks that both of these definitions are accurate, and may easily be reconciled with one another. He argues that these two may be reconciled because the loss of divine grace was a positive judgment of God, resulting in a corrupted nature. Vermigli says, “the withdrawal of divine grace was carried out by divine justice“. It isn’t just that humanity lost the gifts of their own accord, but they lost original righteousness and Spiritual gifts as a judgment by God against mankind. He reasons that this loss of divine grace is like the loss of a necessary part for health, say the optic nerve for the eye. Because of this deprivation of grace, the spiritual organs fail spiritually. This is the way that Anselm’s theory connects to Augustine’s theory. Vermigli writes, “As soon as God withdrew the gifts (the Spirit & heavenly gifts) bestowed upon man, immediately sin and corruption followed of their own accord” (p. 24).

In relation to this, I want to add a note that this is definitively not what Aquinas teaches about original sin. In Aquinas’ teaching, concupiscence is natural to humanity, and is only restrained by the gifts of God (donum superadditum). In Vermigli’s teaching, God removes the spiritual gifts as a punishment for sin, with the result that the naturally good affections are corrupted on account of weakness, but not on account of an inherent concupiscence. Another way to say this is: God’s judgment results in concupiscence. As he discusses this term, he always uses it to refer to the sinful inclination to reject God that results from God’s removal of His spiritual gifts to mankind. Vermigli argues, “Vice and corruption are joined to him [a human being] as accidents“, ie. not as essences to humanity that were in us originally or alter our essence now (p. 60).

That’s all for now about original sin. In the next post we will examine Vermigli’s view on the pervasiveness of original sin.

Continued in part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7.

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