The discussion of sin, grace, and human freedom alters and never stays the same from one time period to another because the people who discuss these ideas are always changing. In human society, nothing is ever stagnant, especially ideas. Although sin, grace, and freedom absolutely exist in this reality, scholars have formed different beliefs regarding the natures of these topics by drawing from the Scriptures and their own experiences. This phenomenon will continue, and there will be even more theological debate so long as Scriptures exist and as long as history continues to run its course.
According to class lectures, St. Augustine writes in 412 A.D. The City of God in response to people blaming Christianity for the Sack of Rome. Using philosophical ideas that he had encountered, such as his opposition to Manicheism, Augustine defends Christianity and places the blame of Rome’s fall on humanity since Christianity has no concern for secular matters (class lectures). Augustine promotes that all of creation is good and that humans possess an ontological primacy of goodness by writing that …God is certainly not the author and creator of falsehood. Rather it means that man was created right… (Augustine 101). However, he writes that humanity became corrupted by sin when the first humans …followed the will’s own pattern and not God’s (Augustine 102). According to class lectures, Augustine describes sin as a slave master that drives people into desiring something that is not best for them. Augustine believes that humans are so corrupted by sin and so disconnected from God that he claims, …when man lives according to man and not according to God, he is like the devil… (Augustine 101). Despite this outlook, Augustine acknowledges that there is still hope through grace.
From Augustine’s point of view, grace can be described as medicine given by God because it offers salvation and freedom to remedy humanity’s broken state since …an evil is eliminated…by the healing and restoration of the substance… (Augustine 102). By receiving grace from the divine, people can find true freedom to perform good actions since …the decision of the will is truly free only when it is not a slave to faults and sins (Augustine 102). Augustine believes that humans cannot achieve salvation on their own and that they need God’s gifts in the forms of freedom and grace to achieve that goal.
To contrast with Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas perceives humanity with more optimism in his Summa Theologiae. According to class lectures, society was experiencing an era of prosperity due to the Crusades ending and due to the creation of the first universities. Aquinas lived during a period when scholars desired to unite faith with reason through scholasticism (Cory and Hollerich 277). Aquinas proved to be a staunch supporter of scholasticism, claiming that there is a natural order known to humans through reason and that there is a supernatural order that humans can know through faith. (Cory and Hollerich 281). This approach to theology causes Aquinas to contrast with Augustine. Aquinas agrees with Augustine that sin is the result of human action and that all humans have a status of original sin (Cory and Hollerich 281), but Aquinas disagrees with the claim that sin has damaged humanity to such an extent that they cannot perform any good. According to class lectures, Aquinas believed that humanity can perform good due to the freedom given to them because God created humans as secondary agents with free will. Like Augustine, Aquinas saw grace as given by God (Cory and Hollerich 281) but did not emphasize its ability to bring salvation. Rather, grace acts like a supplement that aids humans in understanding God by perfecting their nature and by helping them to transcend into the supernatural (Cory and Hollerich 281). Both Aquinas and Augustine touch on the same subjects, but their viewpoints cannot be anymore polarizing. This phenomenon possesses logical merit if one considers the backgrounds behind their works. Augustine wrote about humanity in a pessimistic manner because society was experiencing a tragic event with the Sack of Rome. In contrast, Aquinas’s optimistic outlook coincides with society flourishing.
The ideas of Augustine make a return through the work of Martin Luther in the 1500s in northern Germany (class lectures). During this time period, the Catholic Church promoted nominalist theology, the belief that earning salvation is like a contract where people do their end of the bargain to receive a reward (class lectures). The Church began selling indulgences to convince the masses that they can go to Heaven for a price (class lectures). Because Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk (class lectures), he rejected these practices and believed …that a person cannot help himself by his works to get from sin to justice… (Martin Luther 189) due to humanity’s corrupt nature. Martin Luther describes sin as unbelief in Christ through actions and through internal thoughts (Martin Luther 187). This status of sin that humans possess originates from Adam’s mistake in introducing original sin where he …made us heirs of sin… (Martin Luther 189). To receive salvation, grace must be attained, but it can only be given by God as a gift (class lectures). Due to this reasoning, Martin Luther explains the importance of loving God and having faith since Faith is a work of God in us, which changes us and brings us to birth anew… (Martin Luther 187). According to class lectures, Martin Luther ties all these concepts together in justification by grace through faith where faith gives a person grace which leads to salvation. Freedom is the goal, and it involves dedicating everything to God, eagerly doing good, and living a good life without fear of punishment (Martin Luther 190). All of Martin Luther’s teachings stem from his disagreements with the Church and Christians of his time.
Theologians have discussed the same topics but have reached completely different conclusions. This phenomenon occurs because human society continues to grow and change. They will continue to form new ideas to try and understand the unknown.