I got behind in my posts last week and we’ve got a wonderful week ahead of us — so much so that I’d like to put each post at the top of each day! Well, last week’s busy-ness meant I didn’t get Alan Jacobs’ Original Sin online, so here it is. The chp swipes a line from The Vision of Tondal where the angel points to some in purgatory with these words: “These are the wicked, but not very.” Which words provide a line of thinking that goes out for a stroll in this chp: namely, yes, we are all sinners but some are not as bad as others.
Original sin is often involved in major church and cultural battles. Do you see an original sin battle at work today? Where?
And Jacobs jaunts from group to group: we start with two groups of Jewish theologians — those who believed in a strong sense of original sin, like R. Morteira, and those who thought all Israel would be saved, like Aboab the Kabbalist. Aboab developed a Jewish form of reincarnation (gilgul neshamot) so that the disobedient could come back and learn Torah faithfulness.
Dutch Calvinism was Augustinian, but this was only a development of the Reformers who each believed in original sin as the fundamental problem to be addressed by the gospel. Erasmus, though, in In Praise of Folly, thought the debate about how sin was transmitted absurd.
And this leads to an exceptional sketch of the rise of Janensism in France, a theological movement that was robustly Augustinian and that fought (and lost) its battles with the ruling Jesuits. Power has a way of winning. And tied into Janenism was Blaise Pascal and his famous Pensees, one of the most enduring theological reflections of all time.
Jacobs: “So, in the view of the Parisian Jesuits, original sin impedes us little or not at all in our quest for righteousness, in part because the righteousness we seek is such small beer” (115). For Pascal, fire and holiness and fear of God go to the very heart of the gospel. Jacobs summarizes Pascal: “Those who, like his Jesuit enemies, compromise the holiness of God and elevate the stature of fallen humanity do not know — and therefore prevent others from knowing — the miracle of divine grace” (116). Thus, for Pascal to know grace one must feel the weight of one’s sin.
And this leads to John Bunyan in his battles with Quaker (Nayler) and latitudinarian Anglican contemporaries (Fowler): those who defend the Augustinian view of original sin, so Jacobs argues, are in for a battle.