A Laymen’s Commentary on the Epitome of the Formula of Concord: Original Sin

I. Original Sin.

The Principal Question in This Controversy.

1] Whether original sin is properly and without any distinction man’s corrupt nature, substance, and essence, or at any rate the principal and best part of his essence [substance], namely, the rational soul itself in its highest state and powers; or whether, even after the Fall, there is a distinction between man’s substance, nature, essence, body, soul, and original sin, so that the nature [itself] is one thing, and original sin, which inheres in the corrupt nature and corrupts the nature, another.

The origin of the controversy is from Matthias Flacius. Matthias was the most prominent of the gnesio-Lutherans “true Lutherans” who did not compromise the faith in the various theological battles that occurred after Luther’s death in 1547.  He was fighting against the Philipists, followers of Philip Melancthon who compromised with the Roman Catholics and eventually became crypto-Calvinists. The Philipists, as part of the compromises with Rome, had a somewhat Plegian view of original sin.  They believed that something good remained in man after the Fall, or that original sin was only a stain on man not a deep corruption.  Flacius in response to this went the completelu opposite direction and said that man is in essence and nature sin after the Fall.  As we will see the Formula refutes both of these stances and instead points to Scripture’s clear teaching that man is corrupted by sin but is not sin in and of himself. Despite the correct arguments of the Formula of Concord, Flacius remained obstinate in his heresy until death.

The essence of this controversy is as follows.  Is man in his nature and identity sin?  If not, is man merely stained with sin or still retain some good after the Fall?  What is the nature of the corruption of original sin?

Affirmative Theses.
The Pure Doctrine, Faith, and Confession according to the Aforesaid Standard and Summary Declaration.

2] 1. We believe, teach, and confess that there is a distinction between man’s nature, not only as he was originally created by God pure and holy and without sin, but also as we have it [that nature] now after the Fall, namely, between the nature [itself], which even after the Fall is and remains a creature of God, and original sin, and that this distinction is as great as the distinction between a work of God and a work of the devil.

First, the Formula is careful to point out that there is a distinction between man’s nature and original sin.  Recall that man is created sinless prior to the Fall. Thus it is impossible for man to be identical with sin, else sin would be God’s creation. It is in the Fall that man is corrupted by Satan, but the nature of what it is to be man still remains as God’s creation. This distinction is critical as it distinguishes between God’s work and Satan’s work (Genesis 1-3).

3] 2. We believe, teach, and confess also that this distinction should be maintained with the greatest care, because this doctrine, that no distinction is to be made between our corrupt human nature and original sin, conflicts with the chief articles of our Christian faith concerning creation, redemption, sanctification, and the resurrection of our body, and cannot coexist therewith.

4] For God created not only the body and soul of Adam and Eve before the Fall, but also our bodies and souls after the Fall, notwithstanding that they are corrupt, which God also still acknowledges as His work, as it is written Job 10:8: Thine hands have made me and fashioned me together round about. Deut. 32:18; Is. 45:9ff; 54:5; 64:8; Acts 17:28; Job 10:8; Ps. 100:3; 139:14; Eccl. 12:1.

5] Moreover, the Son of God has assumed this human nature, however, without sin, and therefore not a foreign, but our own flesh, into the unity of His person, and according to it is become our true Brother. Heb. 2:14: Forasmuch, then, as the children were partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same. Again, 16; 4:15: He took not on Him the nature of angels, but He took on Him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren, yet without sin. 6] In like manner Christ has also redeemed it as His work, sanctifies it as His work, raises it from the dead, and gloriously adorns it as His work. But original sin He has not created, assumed, redeemed, sanctified; nor will He raise it, will neither adorn nor save it in the elect, but in the [blessed] resurrection it will be entirely destroyed.

7] Hence the distinction between the corrupt nature and the corruption which infects the nature and by which the nature became corrupt, can easily be discerned.

This distinction between man and sin must be maintained. If we do not we lose the entire creed and our hope of salvation.  It impacts Creation, Justification, Sanctification, and the Resurrection.

It impacts creation in that God creates the body and soul of Adam and Eve before the Fall.  He also still makes them after the Fall and claims their creation as His own.  If human nature was evil in itself then God would be guilty of creating evil, which is not possible.

In addition this impacts Justification for if man was evil in and of himself then Christ would have not been able to take on that human nature and redeem it.  Christ would in fact not be fully man as Christ is sinless.  However Christ is fully man as Scripture declares (John 1:1-18, Hebrews 2:5-18, 4:14-5:10). The old axiom from St. Gregory of Nazianzus (329-390) should be maintained “that which He has not assumed He has not healed”. If Christ is not fully human He could not redeem us and His death is for naught.

Likewise this also impacts Sanctification as God would be sanctifying sin if man was in his fundamental nature sinful.  Indeed He would also be resurrecting sin as well, which is impossible since Christ has destroyed sin (1 Corinthians 15:35-58). Thus the nature and the corruption must be distinct from each other.  To drive home the point let’s read an excerpt from the Solid Declaration on the same topic:

38] These passages clearly testify that God even since the Fall is the Creator of man, and creates his body and soul. Therefore corrupt man cannot, without any distinction, be sin itself, otherwise God would be a creator of sin; as also our Small Catechism confesses in the explanation of the First Article, where it is written: I believe that God has made me and all creatures, that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still preserves them. Likewise in the Large Catechism it is thus written: This is what I believe and mean, that is, that I am a creature of God; that He has given and constantly preserves to me my body, soul, and life, members great and small, and all my senses, mind, and reason. Nevertheless, this same creature and work of God is lamentably corrupted by sin; for the mass (massa) from which God now forms and makes man was corrupted and perverted in Adam, and is thus transmitted by inheritance to us.

39] And here pious Christian hearts justly ought to consider the unspeakable goodness of God, that God does not immediately cast from Himself into hell-fire this corrupt, perverted, sinful mass, but forms and makes from it the present human nature, which is lamentably corrupted by sin, in order that He may cleanse it from all sin, sanctify and save it by His dear Son.

40] From this article, now, the distinction is found indisputably and clearly. For original sin does not come from God. God is not a creator or author of sin. Nor is original sin a creature or work of God, but it is a work of the devil.

41] Now, if there were to be no difference whatever between the nature or essence of our body and soul, which is corrupted by original sin, and original sin, by which the nature is corrupted, it would follow either that God, because He is the Creator of this our nature, also created and made original sin, which, accordingly would also be His work and creature; or, because sin is a work of the devil, that Satan would be the creator of this our nature, of our body and soul, which would also have to be a work or creation of Satan if, without any distinction, our corrupt nature should have to be regarded as sin itself; both of which teachings are contrary to the article of our Christian faith. 42] Therefore, in order that God’s creation and work in man may be distinguished from the work of the devil, we say that it is God’s creation that man has body and soul; also, that it is God’s work that man can think, speak, do, and work anything; for in Him we live, and move, and have our being, Acts 17:28. But that the nature is corrupt, that its thoughts, words, and works are wicked, is originally a work of Satan, who has thus corrupted God’s work in Adam through sin, which from him is transmitted by inheritance to us.

43] Secondly, in the article of Redemption the Scriptures testify forcibly that God’s Son assumed our human nature without sin, so that He was in all things, sin excepted, made like unto us, His brethren, Heb. 2:14. Unde veteres dixerunt: Christum nobis, fratribus suis, consubstantialem esse secundum assumptam naturam, quia naturam, quae, excepto peccato, eiusdem generis, speciei et substantiae cum nostra est, assumpsit; et contrariam sententiam manifeste haereseos damnarunt. That is: Hence all the old orthodox teachers have maintained that Christ, according to His assumed humanity, is of one essence with us, His brethren; for He has assumed His human nature, which in all respects (sin alone excepted) is like our human nature in its essence and all essential attributes; and they have condemned the contrary doctrine as manifest heresy.

44] Now, if there were no distinction between the nature or essence of corrupt man and original sin, it must follow that Christ either did not assume our nature, because He did not assume sin, or that, because He assumed our nature, He also assumed sin; both of which ideas are contrary to the Scriptures. But inasmuch as the Son of God assumed our nature, and not original sin, it is clear from this fact that human nature, even since the Fall, and original sin, are not one [and the same] thing, but must be distinguished.

45] Thirdly, in the article of Sanctification Scripture testifies that God cleanses, washes, and sanctifies man from sin, 1 John 1:7, and that Christ saves His people from their sins, Matt. 1:21. Sin, therefore, cannot be man himself; for God receives man into grace for Christ’s sake, but to sin He remains hostile to eternity. Therefore it is unchristian and horrible to hear that original sin is baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity, sanctified and saved, and other similar expressions found in the writings of the recent Manicheans, with which we will not offend simple-minded people.

46] Fourthly, in the article of the Resurrection Scripture testifies that precisely the substance of this our flesh, but without sin, will rise again, and that in eternal life we shall have and retain precisely this soul, but without sin.

47] Now, if there were no difference whatever between our corrupt body and soul and original sin, it would follow, contrary to this article of the Christian faith, either that this our flesh will not rise again at the last day, and that in eternal life we shall not have the present essence of our body and soul, but another substance (or another soul), because then we shall be without sin; or that [at the last day] sin also will rise again, and will be and remain in the elect in eternal life.

48] Hence it is clear that this doctrine [of the Manicheans] (with all that depends upon it and follows from it) must be rejected, when it is asserted and taught that original sin is the nature, substance, essence, body, or soul itself of corrupt man, so that between our corrupt nature, substance, and essence and original sin there is no distinction whatever. For the chief articles of our Christian faith forcibly and emphatically testify why a distinction should and must be maintained between man’s nature or substance, which is corrupted by sin, and the sin, with which and by which man is corrupted. 49] For a simple statement of the doctrine and the contrary teaching (in thesi et antithesi) in this controversy, as regards the principal matter itself, is sufficient in this place, where the subject is not argued at length, but only the principal points are treated, article by article.

Formula of Concord Solid Declaration Article I 38-49

So far the Solid Declaration. Let’s continue with the Epitome:

8] 3. But, on the other hand, we believe, teach, and confess that original sin is not a slight, but so deep a corruption of human nature that nothing healthy or uncorrupt has remained in man’s body or soul, in his inner or outward powers, but, as the Church sings:

Through Adam’s fall is all corrupt,
Nature and essence human.

9] This damage is unspeakable, and cannot be discerned by reason, but only from God’s Word. 10] And [we affirm] that no one but God alone can separate from one another the nature and this corruption of the nature, which will fully come to pass through death, in the [blessed] resurrection, where our nature which we now bear will rise and live eternally without original sin and separated and sundered from it, as it is written Job 19:26: I shall be compassed again with this my skin, and in my flesh shall I see God, whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold.

Even though human nature and original sin are distinct that does not mean that original sin is minor.  It is a deep corruption of man, such that man can do no good. St. Paul is abundantly clear on this in Romans 3:9-20.

The hymn quoted here (which we have designated as the catechetical hymn for this article) is the first verse of “All Mankind Fell in Adam’s Fall” (LSB 562).  The translation here is a more direct translation of the German than the one in the Lutheran Service Book.  There are also multiple versions of this hymn due to differences of translation (for more details see: http://matthaeusglyptes.blogspot.com/2010/07/durch-adams-fall-new-translation.html)

The damage of the Fall cannot be fully comprehended or described.  We only perceive it fully via God’s Word (Psalm 19). The corruption is so deep that only God can separate it.  This He will do at the Resurrection.  There we will be purged of original sin and live life in the human nature (which we originally had but was corrupt) that God has made free from sin.

In the resurrection we will be able to see God in the flesh as humans (Job 19).  This cannot be done if the flesh is still sinful.  Thus humanity and original sin must be distinct even though original sin is a deep corruption of man and we cannot even perceive what man would be like without sin aside from the person of Christ.

Negative Theses.
Rejection of the False Opposite Dogmas.

11] 1. Therefore we reject and condemn the teaching that original sin is only a reatus or debt on account of what has been committed by another [diverted to us] without any corruption of our nature.

12] 2. Also, that evil lusts are not sin, but con-created, essential properties of the nature, or, as though the above-mentioned defect and damage were not truly sin, because of which man without Christ [not ingrafted into Christ] would be a child of wrath.

Original sin is not a mere debt but rather a corruption of man.  While a debt is owed to God, that is not the limit of what sin is. In addition the evil lusts and desires we have (concupiscence as we discussed in the Augsburg Confession) are sin as their origin is in original sin.  They are not mere facets of the original human nature.

13] 3. We likewise reject the Pelagian error, by which it is alleged that man’s nature even after the Fall is incorrupt, and especially with respect to spiritual things has remained entirely good and pure in naturalibus, i. e., in its natural powers.

14] 4. Also, that original sin is only a slight, insignificant spot on the outside, dashed upon the nature, or a blemish that has been blown upon it, beneath which [nevertheless] the nature has retained its good powers even in spiritual things.

15] 5. Also, that original sin is only an external impediment to the good spiritual powers, and not a despoliation or want of the same, as when a magnet is smeared with garlic-juice, its natural power is not thereby removed, but only impeded; or that this stain can be easily wiped away like a spot from the face or pigment from the wall.

16] 6. Also, that in man the human nature and essence are not entirely corrupt, but that man still has something good in him, even in spiritual things, namely, capacity, skill, aptness, or ability in spiritual things to begin, to work, or to help working for something [good].

Pelagius (c. 360-418) was a British heretic that said that man still had the capability to be good after the Fall.  That essentially man could save or damn himself. We reject all forms of pelagianism.  That includes that original sin is a mere stain, or weakening of the natural powers of man.  Or that it hides the natural powers of man.  Or that there is anything in man that is good after the Fall.

Man is utterly corrupt and fallen after the Fall. There is no good in him but only evil.  We cannot do anything good or even make a start at it.

17] 7. On the other hand, we also reject the false dogma of the Manicheans, when it is taught that original sin, as something essential and self-subsisting, has been infused by Satan into the nature, and intermingled with it, as poison and wine are mixed.

18] 8. Also, that not the natural man, but something else and extraneous to man, sins, on account of which not the nature, but only original sin in the nature, is accused.

19] 9. We reject and condemn also as a Manichean error the doctrine that original sin is properly and without any distinction the substance, nature, and essence itself of the corrupt man, so that a distinction between the corrupt nature, as such, after the Fall and original sin should not even be conceived of, nor that they could be distinguished from one another [even] in thought.

Mani (216-276) was an Iranian heretic who taught dualism.  That there are two equal forces, good and evil, struggling against one another. We reject all forms of Manichaeism.  Good can exist without evil, and Satan and all the evil in the universe is nothing compared to God.  In the beginning no evil existed and in the Resurrection no evil will exist outside of Hell.

Original sin is not a thing in and of itself but rather a corruption and perversion.  It is not self sustaining.  Where one can have man apart from original sin, you cannot have original sin apart from man.

We also reject that original sin is somehow a thing that acts separate from the nature of a man.  When man sins, it is all of him that sins, not just the original sin. We also reject that original sin is the substance and nature of man, as we discussed previously.

20] 10. Now, this original sin is called by Dr. Luther nature-sin, person-sin, essential sin, not because the nature, person, or essence of man is, without any distinction, itself original sin, but in order to indicate by such words the distinction between original sin, which inheres in human nature, and other sins, which are called actual sins.

21] 11. For original sin is not a sin which is committed, but it inheres in the nature, substance, and essence of man, so that, though no wicked thought ever should arise in the heart of corrupt man, no idle word were spoken, no wicked deed were done, yet the nature is nevertheless corrupted through original sin, which is born in us by reason of the sinful seed, and is a fountainhead of all other actual sins, as wicked thoughts, words, and works, as it is written Matt. 15:19: Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts. Also Gen. 6:5; 8:21: The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.

22] 12. Thus there is also to be noted well the diverse signification of the word nature, whereby the Manicheans cover their error and lead astray many simple men. For sometimes it means the essence [the very substance] of man, as when it is said: God created human nature. But at other times it means the disposition and the vicious quality [disposition, condition, defect, or vice] of a thing, which inheres in the nature or essence, as when it is said: The nature of the serpent is to bite, and the nature and disposition of man is to sin, and is sin; here the word nature does not mean the substance of man, but something that inheres in the nature or substance.

23] 13. But as to the Latin terms substantia and accidens, because they are not words of Holy Scripture, and besides unknown to the ordinary man, they should not be used in sermons before ordinary, uninstructed people, but simple people should be spared them.

24] But in the schools, among the learned, these words are rightly retained in disputations concerning original sin, because they are well known and used without any misunderstanding, to distinguish exactly between the essence of a thing and what attaches to it in an accidental way.

25] For the distinction between God’s work and that of the devil is thereby designated in the clearest way, because the devil can create no substance, but can only, in an accidental way, by the providence of God [God permitting], corrupt the substance created by God.

Luther was imprecise in his language regarding original sin but not a heretic as he explained what he meant. Original sin is not the same as actual sin, which is what Luther was driving at.  Even if one could keep from actual sin their entire life (think of unborn children), still they would have original sin.  Original sin is the source of actual sin, and original sin damns as much as actual sin (Genesis 6:1-8, 8:20-22, Matthew 15:10-20).

The different uses of nature by Luther and other theologians can be confusing and can lead astray the simple.  Thus precision should be sought in this language.  Context is critical to understanding what is meant by nature when reading Scripture or theologians.

A useful Latin distinction can be used for this but should be reserved for those with understanding of the terms.  The ordinary person need not know them, else there may be confusion.  The Latin philosophical distinction is as follows. Human nature is the substantia (substance), in that it exists in itself.  Original sin is the accidens (nonessential quality), meaning it does not exist on its own.  Thus a great distinction can be made between God and the devil.  God alone can create things that exist in and of itself (substantia).  The devil can only produce corruptions (accidens) of the substance the God has made.

For further details on this distinction let’s look at the Solid Declaration:

60] But if it be further asked what kind of an accidens original sin is, that is another question, of which no philosopher, no papist, no sophist, yea, no human reason, however acute it may be, can give the right explanation, but all understanding and every explanation of it must be derived solely from the Holy Scriptures, which testify that original sin is an unspeakable evil and such an entire corruption of human nature that in it and all its internal and external powers nothing pure or good remains, but everything is entirely corrupt, so that on account of original sin man is in God’s sight truly spiritually dead, with all his powers dead to that which is good.

61] In this way, then, original sin is not extenuated by the word accidens, [namely] when it is explained according to [the analogy of] God’s Word, after the manner in which Dr. Luther, in his Latin exposition of the third chapter of Genesis, has written with great earnestness against the extenuation of original sin; but this word serves only to indicate the distinction between the work of God (which our nature is, notwithstanding that it is corrupt) and the work of the devil (which the sin is that inheres in God’s work, and is the most profound and indescribable corruption of it).

62] Therefore Luther also in his treatment of this subject has employed the term accidens, as also the term qualitas [quality], and has not rejected them; but at the same time he has, with special earnestness and great zeal, taken the greatest pains to explain and to inculcate upon each and every one what a horrible quality and accidens it is, by which human nature is not merely polluted, but so deeply corrupted that nothing pure or incorrupt has remained in it, as his words on Ps. 90 run: Sive igitur peccatum originis qualitatem sive morbum vocaverimus, profecto extremum malum est non solum pati aeternam iram et mortem, sed ne agnoscere quidem, quae pateris. That is: Whether we call original sin a quality or a disease, it is indeed the utmost evil, that we are not only to suffer the eternal wrath of God and eternal death, but that we do not even understand what we suffer. And again, on Gen. 3: Qui isto veneno peccati originis a planta pedis usque ad verticem infecti sumus, siquidem in natura adhuc integra accidere. That is: We are infected with the poison of original sin from the sole of the foot to the crown of the head, inasmuch as this happened to us in a nature still perfect.

Formula of Concord Solid Declaration Article I 60-62

1 All mankind fell in Adam’s fall,
One common sin infects us all;
From on to all the curse descends,
And over all God’s wrath impends.

2 Through all our pow’rs corruption creeps
And us in dreadful bondage keeps;
In guilt we draws our infant breath
And reaps its fruits of woe and death.

3 From hearts depraved, to evil prone,
Flow thoughts and deeds of sin alone;
God’s image lost, the darkened soul
Seeks not nor finds its heav’nly goal.

4 But Christ, the second Adam, came
To bear our sin and woe and shame,
To be our Life, our Light, our Way,
Our only Hope, our only Stay.

5 As by one man all mankind fell
And, born in sin, was doomed to hell,
So by one Man, who took our place,
We all were justified by grace.

6 We thank You, Christ; new life is ours,
New light, new hope, new strength, new pow’rs:
This grace our ev’ry way attend
Until we reach our journey’s end!

(LSB 562)

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