Regensburg (1541) on Original Sin

by Matthew Gaetano

As I hope to discuss in future posts, one of the clearest differences between Roman Catholic and Protestant soteriologies is how each confession thinks about original sin in the justified. Roman Catholics hold that it is taken away, while confessional Protestants believe that it remains (though, of course, it is not imputed). As Calvin says in response to Trent’s decree on original sin:

It cannot be denied without effrontery, that repugnance to the law of God is truly sin. But the Apostle affirms this of a disease remaining in the regenerate. It follows, therefore, that of its own nature it is sin, although it is not imputed, and the guilt is abolished by the grace of Christ. If the true standard of righteousness is to love God with the whole heart, and mind, and strength, it is clear that the heart cannot incline otherwise without declining from righteousness. Paul complains that he is hindered from doing the good which he would do. The law, I say, requires perfect love: we do not yield it. Our duty was to run, and we go on slowly limping. In this defect the venerable fathers find nothing which ought to be considered sin.

In light of this conviction and these clear statements of contrast in the mid-1540s, I remain somewhat perplexed not only that an agreement on original sin (article 4) was struck at the Colloquy of Regensburg, but also that–even with the work already done at Worms (1540-41)–this statement was “quickly agreed upon.” I was especially astonished that, as far as I can tell, the Regensburg agreement on original sin has not been translated into English. I have provided a (somewhat rough) version here for the sake of future discussion. It is based upon Martin Bucer’s account (2vff.), which was apparently somewhat controversial:

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On Original Sin
We say that original sin is the lack or defect of original justice that ought to be in us. But we understand that this original justice is to have, by the grace of God, the image and likeness of God according to which we were created, and which embraces the Holy Spirit and, from this Spirit, the knowledge and love of God. The defect of these things is to be destitute of grace and the spirit of God, or–to use the words of Paul–unbelief and disobedience (Romans 3, Galatians 3, and Romans 5).
Concupiscence we understand to be the corruption and inordinate disposition of human powers or the vicious inclination to evil. On account of this, it is called the law of the members, the law of sin, and also sin in Romans 7. Therefore, one must beware lest sin reign in your mortal body (Romans 6). And so, to the character (ratio) of original sin, we simultaneously and jointly require both the defect of original justice that ought to be there and the concupiscence or vicious habit, which, being joined to this lack, is not able not to spring up into every kind of actual sin in those who are not born again, in whom the devil is efficacious (Ephesians 2).
But we clearly distinguish original sin from actual sin. And thus we say that original sin consists in having the true lack of original justice joined with the vicious habit that inclines to sin. Whatever of sin is in us beyond that lack and the vicious habit that breaks out into some act–whether it comes to be by thought or speech or external work or by the omission of an act or a work that we owe–we call this actual sin.
Therefore, original sin taken according to its own proper ratio [character, nature], as a root is distinguished from the fruit, passes through Adam to all his posterity and has reigned unto death (Romans 5). And it comes by propagation alone to be the property of all of us who are born, as the Apostles says, although they had not yet been born or done anything evil, etc. (Romans 9). Likewise, in Romans 5, he says that death has reigned from Adam even in those who did not sin. And, nonetheless, it is true that this bare lack of the justice owed which also has the the vicious habit attached to it is a reality (res) or sin worthy of death. This is because God does not see His own image or knowledge or love of Himself in a human being oppressed by this sin. And, accordingly, we are all born by nature sons of wrath (Ephesians 2), such that even infants who die without being born again are not immune from the damnation which is constituted by the lack of the divine vision and light.
For even though there remains in those of us who are born a certain vestige of the image of God, which we call the light of nature by which we rise to any knowledge of God whatsoever, nonetheless, because this vestige is very small on account of the gravity of the contamination, it happens that God does not acknowledge it. It is entirely inefficacious for doing any spiritual and true justice, though it is sufficient for condemning those not subject to the justice of God (Romans 1).
But this original sin is dissolved through the laver of regeneration and renewal in the word of life, through the merit of the passion of Christ (Ephesians 5). For, by baptism, the guilt of this evil is dissolved through the merit of Christ, and the grace of God is restored. Moreover, the force of concupiscence is repressed with the granting of the spirit of Christ who excites new and holy motions in man, as the Apostles teaches in Romans 5: just as, through the offense of one, evil was propagated to all men unto condemnation, so also, through the justification of one, the gift is propagated to all men unto the justification of life. Just as, through the disobedience of one, we many were constituted sinners, so, through the obedience of one, many will be constituted just. Again, in chapter 6, he says, we have been buried through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so also we might walk in the newness of life.
Accordingly, although after baptism there remains in those born again the material of sin, that is, concupiscence, which is certainly a grave infirmity and the root of all bitterness, nonetheless, the formal [element], which is the guilt, is removed. For we are thus released through baptism, we have put on Christ, and we are re-formed unto the image of the son of God, at least in an inchoate way. As the Apostle has said, He who gave Himself up for the Church so that He might sanctify her who has been cleansed through the laver in the word. [The Apostle also has said,] whoever among you is baptized in Christ, you have put on Christ. For this reason, on account of the merit of the passion of Christ and Christ Himself dwelling in the saints, the rest of this evil will not be imputed as sin. Neither is there sin which binds them by any guilt–which has been taken away on account of Christ–as long as it does not break out into some act or thought or concupiscence, or into some omission of an owed act. As it is said, therefore, there is nothing of damnation in those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh. For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has liberated me from the law of sin and death (Romans 8).
Hence, Augustine rightly uses these formulas of speech: “The guilt contracted at birth is dissolved at rebirth” (Spirit and Letter). Likewise, in Against Julian, Bk. 2: “That law of sin, which is in the members of this body of death, has been remitted in spiritual regeneration and remains in the mortal flesh. It is remitted because the guilt has been released in the sacrament by which the faithful are born again.” He also says, “the baptized are without every guilt.” Again: “the baptized are without any guilt of all evil things.”  Additionally, writing to Boniface, he says, “Baptism gives every pardon (indulgentia) of sins and removes the crimes; it does not merely shave them off.” And against this opinion, that holy bishop wrote many other things.
And so it must be diligently taught with Augustine that the law of sin and the concupiscence that remains in the saints–if it bears from itself no evil fruit –is not sin that still possesses them with some guilt. For every guilt of [such a person] has been taken away by Christ.
But, with the same author, Augustine, it must also be acknowledged and taught that this evil is called sin by the apostle. And this is not only because it has been brought in by sin, but also because it inclines to sin and involves him in disobedience against the lordship of the mind. For the same man of God (in Against Julian, bk. 5, chap. 3) thus writes, “the concupiscence of the flesh against which the good spirit desires (concupiscit) is also sin because it involves him in disobedience against the lordship of the mind, and it is a penalty of sin because it has been rendered unto the merits of disobedience, and it is the cause of sin by the defection of the one who consents or by the contagion of the one who is born.” And in Against Julian, bk. 2: “Although it is not now called sin in the same way because that makes one guilty but because it is made by the guilt of the first man and because, in rebelling, it strives to draw us to guilt except the grace of God helps us through our Lord Jesus Christ, lest dead sin rebels in such a way that, in conquering, it revives and reigns.”
But, at once, whenever it erupts and bursts forth into some vicious act that scorns or hates the judgment of God and distrusts His promises and rages against God–and even much smaller motions by which any delight or assent or tolerance whatsoever approaches–there comes to be actual sin in us, which needs new remission or non-imputation. And our infirmity is so great and the root of this bitterness that is left in us is so fecund that we succumb to concupiscence frequently–with the root of bitterness proffering bitter fruits–that is, the neglect of God and perverse desires. For this reason, it is necessary that all the saints, as long as they are in this life, have need of saying, forgive us our debts, etc., and, if we say that we have no sin, etc. And so concupiscence that is in those not born again differs from the concupiscence which is still in those born again in that the former has a conjunction to the guilt of eternal death, but, from the (latter) concupiscence of those born again, the guilt has been taken away by Christ. As the (former) [concupiscence of those not born again] afterwards violently seizes the impious, the faithful struggle against the (latter) [concupiscence of those born again] and mortify it. But the (former) [concupiscence of those not born again] is the matter of ruin for the reprobate, just as the (latter) [concupiscence of those born again] is for us the exercise of humility and faith.
Therefore, since the guilt is removed and the concupiscence that rises perpetually against the spirit remains, both must, therefore, be diligently explained to the people in popular sermons. The first must be explained so that the people recognize the benefit of the grace of Christ and so that they praise the fact that God does not impute this for evil. Then, having recognized and properly considered the great infirmity that remains, they might more fully permit and offer themselves wholly–from day to day–for healing by Christ the physician. And since they ought to will that not even illicit desires exist in themselves, even if they do not obtain this while they are in the body of this death, they should persevere in continual penance and prayer for pardon. Finally, this should be preached so that they think about what a great and what sort of domestic enemy must be fought. As a consequence, they might always and more zealously implore the help of the Spirit of the Lord and know for themselves that they must be vigilant and must press hard to crucify and mortify their flesh with all its vices and its concupiscence. Conversely, with no less zeal is the force of the grace received in baptism to be celebrated magnificently. Thus, it must be taught that it is greater, as long as it is exercised with faith, than is our residual infirmity, because that infirmity and viciousness can be crucified and mortified up to the full victory in the future age. As [Scripture] says, God sent His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin condemned sin in the flesh so that the justice of the law might be fulfilled. Likewise, it says, Brothers, we are not debtors of the flesh in order to live according to the flesh. Similarly, it says, As many as are led by the spirit of God, they are the sons of God (Romans 8).

3 thoughts on “Regensburg (1541) on Original Sin

  1. Thanks, Bob, for your interaction. Concupiscence does remain after baptism (according to both Roman Catholics and Protestants). While I hope to revisit some of the complexities of that disagreement in the future, which explains the (extremely brief) first paragraph, could you send along a source or two that confirm the language of “stain” for describing the character of the “remnants of original sin” in the justified? Trent says the following:

    “If any one denies, that, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is conferred in baptism, the guilt of original sin is remitted; or even asserts that the whole of that which has the true and proper nature of sin is not taken away; but says that it is only rased, or not imputed; let him be anathema. For, in those who are born again, there is nothing that God hates; because, There is no condemnation to those who are truly buried together with Christ by baptism into death; who walk not according to the flesh, but, putting off the old man, and putting on the new who is created according to God, are made innocent, immaculate, pure, harmless, and beloved of God, heirs indeed of God, but joint heirs with Christ; so that there is nothing whatever to retard their entrance into heaven. But this holy synod confesses and is sensible, that in the baptized there remains concupiscence, or an incentive (to sin); which, whereas it is left for our exercise, cannot injure those who consent not, but resist manfully by the grace of Jesus Christ; yea, he who shall have striven lawfully shall be crowned. This concupiscence, which the apostle sometimes calls sin, the holy Synod declares that the Catholic Church has never understood it to be called sin, as being truly and properly sin in those born again, but because it is of sin, and inclines to sin.”

    Note the word “immaculate” in the description of those who are “buried with Christ” and who have “put on the new [man].” This could be translated as “unstained.”

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