[Article II(I):] Of Original Sin

Written in Latin by Philip Melanchthon (1531)

Translated from the Latin into German by Justus Jonas (1531)

English Translation by Ambrose and Socrates Henkel (1851), Revised by W. F. Lehmann (1854)

Link to Bente/Dau Translation from Latin (1921)

[1] Nor do the adversaries object to the second article, concerning original sin; yet they censure our definition, in which we assert what original sin is; though we merely spoke of it incidentally in that place.

Immediately in the outset your Imperial Majesty will perceive, that our opponents, while they frequently do not comprehend or understand anything relative to this all important subject, often maliciously and intentionally pervert our words, or misconstrue our meaning. For although we have stated in the most simple and clear manner, what original sin is, or is not, yet they have out of malice and ill-will, intentionally, given an improper construction to the plainest and most simple language.

For thus they say: "You declare original sin to be this, that we are born with a mind and heart in which there is no fear of God, or confidence in him,--but this is actual guilt, and an act itself, or actualis culpa; therefore it is not original sin." [2] It is by no means difficult to perceive and to judge, that such cavilling proceeds from the theologians, and not from the counsels of the Emperor. Now although we are able very easily to confute these envious, dangerous, and wanton constructions; yet, in order that all upright and honorable men may understand that we teach nothing improper in this respect, we request them to examine our former German Confession, presented at Augsburg; this will sufficiently prove, that we teach nothing new or unheard of. For thus it is written in that Confession:--"We teach, that since the fall of Adam all men who are naturally engendered, are conceived and born in sin; that is, that they all are from their mother’s womb, full of evil desires and propensities, and can have by nature no true fear of God, no true faith in God."

[3] From this it is evident, that we maintain, with respect to all that are born of flesh, that they are unfit for all things pertaining to God, do not sincerely fear him, and cannot either believe or trust in him. We here speak of the inborn evil character of the heart, not only of actual guilt, or of real crimes and sins; for we say, that in all the children of Adam there are evil inclinations and desires, and that it is not in the power of anyone to prepare his heart of himself, to know God, or sincerely to confide in, or fear Him.

We are, however, desirous of hearing what can be censured here. For pious and upright men who love truth, perceive, without any doubt, that this is correct and true. In this sense we say in our Latin Confession, that in natural man there is not potential; that is, not sufficient virtue, or ability, even in innocent children, who are also incapable from Adam, ever to fear and love God sincerely. But in adults or grown persons, there are acts and actual sins, besides the innate evil disposition of the heart.

Hence, when we speak of innate evil desires, we mean not only the acts, the evil works, or fruits, but the evil inclinations within, which continue, so long as we are not born anew through the Spirit and faith. [4] But we shall hereafter show more fully, that we have described original depravity, namely, what it is and is not, according to the ancient and usual manner of the scholastics, and that we have employed no unusual terms. I must however first show why I have preferred these terms, and not others, particularly in this place.

Thus our adversaries themselves speak upon this subject in their schools, and acknowledge that evil desires constitute the material or materiale as they term it, of original sin. Wherefore, as I wished to define what original sin is, I could not pass over this, especially at this time, when some speak of these innate evil desires more like heathens, according to philosophy, than to the divine Word or holy Scriptures. [5] For some declare, that original sin in human nature is not an innate corruption, but merely a defect and an imposed charge or burden, which all the descendants of Adam must bear on account of his sins, (not their own,) and that therefore all are mortal, but did not themselves by nature, and from their mothers’ womb, inherit sin.

They say, moreover, that no one is condemned eternally on account of original sin or depravity alone; but precisely as bondmen and bondservants are born of a bondmaid, not on account of any fault in themselves, but because they must endure and bear the misfortunes and misery of their mother, though born as other men without blemish; in like manner original sin is not an inborn evil or sin, but merely a defect, an encumbrance which has come upon us from Adam, but of ourselves we are not involved in sin and inherited wrath.

[6] In order, then, to show that a doctrine so unchristian did not meet our approbation, I have employed these words:--All men from their mothers’ womb are full of evil desires and inclinations; and therefore I also call original sin a disease, for the purpose of showing that not a part merely, but the whole man with his whole nature, is born in sin, with a hereditary constitutional disease. [7] Hence we denominate it not merely an evil desire, but also maintain, that all men are born in sin, without fear of God and without faith. Nor do we add this without cause. The scholastics treat of original sin, as if it were but a trivial, slight defect, and do not understand what original depravity is, or in what light the holy Fathers (ecclesiastical writers) considered it.

When the sophists endeavor to define what original sin is, what the fomes or evil propensity is, they say, among other things, in their usual superficial manner, that it is a defect in the body, and propound the questions, "Whether this defect was first communicated to Adam by poison from the forbidden fruit in Paradise, or by the afflation of the serpent?" Again, "Whether the medicine continues to aggravate the disease?" With such litigious questions they have quite confounded and suppressed the principal point, and the most important question as to what original sin is.

[8] Therefore, in speaking of original sin, they omit the most essential and necessary part, and take no notice at all of our real and principal misery, namely, that we human beings are all born with such a nature, that we neither know, see, nor observe God or his works, that we despise him, that we do not fear and trust in him sincerely, and that we hate his judgments. Again, that all of us by nature flee from God, as from a tyrant, and are displeased with, and murmur against his will; and that we do not confide in, or venture anything upon, the goodness of God, but ever rely more upon our wealth, our property, our friends. This active hereditary contagion, by which our whole nature is corrupted, by which we all inherit such hearts, minds, and thoughts from Adam, as are immediately opposed to God and to his First and Greatest Commandment, the scholastics pass over in silence.

They speak of this subject, as if human nature were uncorrupted and capable of greatly reverencing God, of loving him above all things, of keeping his commandments, etc., and do not see that they contradict themselves. [9] For if we were able by our own strength to do these things, namely, to reverence God highly, to love him sincerely, to keep his commandments, what would this differ from being a new creature in Paradise, entirely pure and holy? [10] Now if we are capable, by our own strength, of accomplishing so great a thing as to love God above all things, to keep his commandments, as the scholastics boldly assert, what then is original depravity? And if, by our own power, we can become righteous, then is the grace of Christ unnecessary. What need would we have of the Holy Spirit, if we, by human ability, could love God above all things, and keep his commandments?

[11] Here we can all perceive, how absurdly our adversaries speak of this important subject. They acknowledge the minor defects of our sinful nature, but take no notice of the very greatest hereditary misery and wretchedness, of which all the Apostles complain, of which the holy Scriptures everywhere speak, and all the Prophets exclaim, as the 14th Psalm and several others say: "There is none that is just, no not one; there are none who seek after God; there is none that doeth good, no, not one;" Psalm 5:9: "Their throat is an open sepulcher; they flatter with their tongues; the fear of God is not before their eyes." And certainly the holy Scriptures show plainly that all this has not suddenly flown upon us, but is inherent in us from our birth.

[12] But while the scholastics mingle much philosophy with Christian doctrine, and have much to say about the light of reason and the actibus elicitis, (self-elected acts,) they make too much of freewill and our own works. Upon this subject they taught, that men become just before God, by a life externally honest; and did not perceive the innate impurity within the heart, [13] which no one discovers, except through the Word of God alone, which the scholastics very sparingly and rarely employ in their books. We also say that it is to some extent within our power to lead a life externally honest; but not to become just and holy in the sight of God.

[14] These are the reasons, why, in defining original sin, I made mention of innate evil lust, and stated, that by his own natural powers no man is able to fear God, or to trust in him. For I desired to show, that original sin also includes this evil, namely, that no man knows or reverences God, that none can sincerely fear, love, and trust in him. These are the chief characteristics of his hereditary contagion, by which through Adam we are all directly opposed to God, to the First Table of Moses, and to the greatest and highest divine commandment.

[15] And we have here taught nothing new. The old scholastics, if we understand them correctly, have said precisely the same thing. For they say, that original sin is the want of the original purity and righteousness of Paradise. But what is justitia originalis, or original righteousness in Paradise? [16] Righteousness and holiness in the scriptures, always imply, that we are not only to observe the Second Table of the Decalogue, to do good works, and to serve our neighbor; but the Scriptures call him pious, holy, and righteous, who keeps and observes the First Table--the First Commandment--that is, who sincerely fears and loves God, and trusts in him.

[17] Therefore, the purity and incorruptness of Adam did not consist only of perfect physical health and purity of blood, or of unimpaired powers of the body, as they say, but the greatest excellency of this noble first creature was a bright light in the heart to know God and his works, true fear of God, truly sincere confidence in him, and in all respects a correct, reliable understanding, and a heart well disposed towards God and all divine things.

[18] This the holy Scriptures also testify, when they say, that man was created after God’s own image and likeness, Gen. 1:27. For what else is this, but that the divine wisdom and righteousness, which are of God, were formed in man, through which we know God, through which the brightness of God was reflected in us; that is, that these gifts, namely, a true, clear knowledge of God, true fear of and confidence in him, etc., were given to man when he was first created?

[19] For thus Irenaeus and Ambrose also interpret the image and similitude of God, when, in speaking at large upon this subject, they say among other things: "The soul in which God is not always, is not formed after his image." [20] And Paul in his epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians, sufficiently shows, that nothing but the knowledge of God, and true integrity and righteousness before him, is meant in the Scriptures by the image of God.

[21] And Longobard says distinctly, that "The righteousness first created in Adam, is the image and likeness of God, which he formed in man." [22] I recite the opinions and declarations of the ancients, which create no difficulty in the interpretation of Augustine respecting the image of God. [23] Wherefore, when they say what original sin is, and declare, that it is the want of the original righteousness of man, they mean that man is corrupted not only in his body, or in the lower and less important faculties; but that he has also lost by it those higher gifts, namely, true knowledge of God, true love and confidence in him, and the power,--the light in his heart,--which creates in him love and desire for all this. For the scholastici or theologians themselves teach in the schools, that the acquisition of this same inborn righteousness would have been impossible for us, without special gifts and the aid of grace.

In  order  to  be  plainly  understood,  we  call  these  gifts,  namely,  fear  of  God,  knowledge  of  and confidence in him. From all this it clearly appears, that in defining what original sin is, the ancients coincide with us precisely; and that it is their opinion, that by it we have been brought into misery, are born without a good heart that truly loves God, and are unable to perform any pure or good work of ourselves.

[24] Precisely the same opinion is also expressed by Augustine, when he states what original sin is, which he usually calls an evil lust; for he designs to show, that since the fall of Adam, instead of righteousness, evil desires are innate in us. For, as by nature we are born in sin, not fearing or loving God, nor trusting in him, we do nothing, since the fall, but trust in ourselves, despise God, or flee from him in terror.

Hence the words of Augustine also embrace the meaning of those who say, that original sin is the want of original righteousness; that is, evil lust, which, instead of this righteousness, adheres to us. [25] And this evil lust is not merely a corruption or disorganization of the original perfect physical health of Adam in paradise, but also an evil propensity and inclination, through which, in our very best and highest powers and in the light of our reason, we are nevertheless carnally minded and alienated from God. Nor do those know what they say, who teach, that man is enabled by his own strength to love God above all things, and who must at the same time acknowledge, that so long as this life continues, evil lust still remains, so far as it is not entirely mortified by the Holy Ghost.

[26] We have, therefore, been thus particular in our description of original sin, in describing and expressing, both the evil lust and the want of original righteousness in Paradise; and we add, that this want is found in the descendants of Adam not trusting sincerely in God, nor fearing and loving him: and that the evil lust is our natural opposition to the Word of God with our whole mind, heart, and disposition, not only seeking all kinds of sensual enjoyments, and trusting in our own wisdom and righteousness, but entirely forgetting God, and feeling for him but little, yea, no reverence at all. [27] Not only the ancient Fathers, such as Augustine and others, but even the latest intelligent teachers and scholastics maintain, that these two conditions together constitute original sin, namely, the want of righteousness, and evil lust. For thus St. Thomas says, that "Original sin is not only a want of original righteousness, but also an inordinate desire or lust in the soul. Therefore it is," continues he, "not a mere want, but also aliquid positivum" (a real, positive, existing evil; a corrupt habit--Detzer). [28] And Bonaventura says plainly: "If it be asked, what original sin is, the right answer is: unrestrained evil lust. It may also correctly be answered, that it is a want of righteousness,"--the one including the other.

 [29] Hugo also intends the very same thing, when he says, that “Original sin is blindness in the mind, and evil lust in the flesh.” Here he wishes to show, that we descendants of Adam are all so born as not to know God, that we despise him and do not trust in him, yea, that we flee from, and hate him. [30] Hugo desired to comprise this briefly in the words, “ignorantia in mente,” blindness or ignorance in the mind. Besides, the declarations of the latest teachers also harmonize with the holy Scriptures. For Paul sometimes clearly calls original sin a want of divine light, etc.,--as in 1 Cor. 2:14: "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God;" [31] and in other places he calls it evil lust, as in Rom. 7:5,23, where he says: "But I see another law in my members," etc. This evil lust brings forth all kinds of evil fruit.

I could here adduce many more passages from the Scriptures, upon these two points, but in a case of truth so evident I deem it unnecessary. The intelligent will readily perceive, that, to be without the fear of God, and to have no confidence in him in our hearts, are not only actus, or actual sin, but an innate want or destitution of divine light and of everything good--continuing so long as we are not born anew of the Holy Ghost and enlightened by him.

[32] What we have hitherto written and taught in regard to original sin, is not new, or adverse to the teachings of the holy Scriptures and of the universal, holy Christian church; but we are bringing to light again, the necessary, strong, and clear passages of the holy Scriptures and of the Fathers, which were suppressed by the awkward disputes of the sophists; and we earnestly desire to restore Christian doctrine to its purity. For it is evident that the sophists and scholastics did not understand what the Fathers meant by the words, "want or destitution of original righteousness."

[33] It is, however, very necessary to treat properly and correctly of this subject, and to define what original sin is; for no one can sincerely long for or desire Christ, and the inestimable treasures of divine grace and favor, of which the Gospel speaks , without knowing and acknowledging his wretchedness and disease; as Christ says, Matt. 9:12,--Mark 2:17: "They that be whole need not a physician." All holy, honorable life or conduct, all the good works ever performed by man on earth, are mere hypocrisy and abomination before God, unless we first perceive and acknowledge, that we are miserable sinners by nature, obnoxious to the displeasure of God, and neither fear nor love him. [34] Thus says the Prophet, Jer. 31:19: "After that I was instructed, I smote upon my thigh;" and Psalm 116:11: "All men are liars;" that is, they are not rightly disposed towards God.

[35] Here our adversaries violently decry Dr. Luther, because he wrote, that original sin remains even after Baptism; and they add, that this article was justly condemned by Leo X.

But here your Imperial Majesty will clearly perceive, that they treat us with the greatest injustice. Because our adversaries understand very well, in what sense Dr. Luther says: original sin remains after Baptism. For he has ever clearly taught, that holy Baptism extirpates and removes the entire guilt and hereditary debt (Erbpflicht) of original sin; although the material (as they call it) of the sin, namely, the evil propensity and lust, remains.

Besides, in all his writings respecting this material, he adds, that the Holy Ghost, given through Baptism, begins daily to mortify and blot out the remaining evil desires in us, and puts into the heart a new light, a new mind and spirit. [36] In the same sense Augustine also says: “Original sin is forgiven in Baptism, not that it becomes extinct, but it is not imputed.”

Here Augustine openly acknowledges, that this sin remains in us, although it is not imputed unto us. And this passage of Augustine afterwards so fully received the approbation of the teachers, as to be cited in the decrees. And in opposition to Julian, Augustine says: "The law, which is in our members, is put away by spiritual regeneration; and yet remains in the flesh, which is mortal. It is put away, for the guilt is entirely remitted through the Sacrament, by which the believers are born anew; and yet it remains--for it produces evil desires, against which the believer strives."

[37] Our adversaries know full well, that Dr. Luther thus believes and teaches; and as they cannot assail the doctrine itself, but must acknowledge its truth, they maliciously pervert his words, and misinterpret his meaning, in order to suppress the truth and to condemn it without a cause.

[38] The adversaries, moreover, deny that evil lust is a burden, and a penalty inflicted upon us, and contend, that it is not a sin which merits death and condemnation. On the contrary, Dr. Luther says, that it is such. I have stated above, that Augustine also speaks to the same intent, that original sin is innate evil lust. If this be an error, they may settle the point with Augustine.

[39] Besides Paul says, Rom. 7:7-8: "I had not known sin but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet." Here Paul plainly declares, that he did not know that lust is sin, etc. Again, Rom. 7:23: "I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin, which is in my members."

These are the indisputable and clear declarations of Paul, against which no gloss, no artful contrivance can avail,--and which no devils, nor men can overturn. [40] Here he clearly calls evil lust, sin; nevertheless, he says, that this sin is not imputed unto those who believe in Christ.--Yet in itself, it really is a sin, deserving death and eternal condemnation. [41] And there is no doubt, that this was the opinion of the ancient Fathers also. For Augustine disputed with, and contended earnestly against those who maintained, that the evil propensity and lust in man are not sin, are neither good nor bad, any more than having a black or white body.

[42] And if the adversaries contend, that the fomes, or evil inclinations are neither good nor bad, they do it in opposition not only to many passages in the Scriptures, but also to the whole church and all the Fathers. For every experienced Christian knows and feels, alas, that these evils,--namely, that we esteem gold, property, and all other things more highly than God, and pass on through life in imagined security,--are in us and born with us. They also know, that according to the nature of sensual security, we are always inclined to think, that God’s wrath and severity regarding sin, are not so great, as they really are; again, that we do not sincerely esteem the noble, inestimable treasures of the Gospel and the reconciliation of Christ according to their true value and excellency; that we murmur against the acts and will of God, when he does not immediately help us in afflictions, and comply with our desires; [43] and finally, that we daily experience a feeling of dissatisfaction with the prosperity of the ungodly in this world,--a feeling which David also, and all the saints lamented in themselves.

Besides, all men know, how easily their hearts are inflamed,--now with ambition,--now with anger and hatred,--and again, with impurity and unchastity.

Now if our adversaries themselves must acknowledge that such infidelity, such disobedience to God, is in the human heart, even if there be no entire consent, (as they say,) but only an inclination and a desire there, who will have the boldness to assert, that these gross propensities are neither good nor bad? For the Psalmist and Prophets, in the clearest terms, confess that they experienced these feelings.

But the sophists in the schools have treated this subject contrary to the clear, evident meaning of the Scriptures, and devised dreams and sayings taken from systems of philosophy, declaring, that we are neither good nor bad--blamable or praiseworthy on account of these evil desires. Again they say, that the evil desires and thoughts in our hearts are not sins, if we do not fully consent to them. This language in the books of the philosophers is applicable to external honesty before the world, and to external punishment before the world. For there it is true, as the jurists say, L. Cogitationis, thoughts are free, and exempt from punishment. But God searches into the heart; his judgments and his decisions are different.

In the same manner, they have also connected other absurd sayings with this subject, namely: God’s creatures, and nature itself, cannot be intrinsically bad. To this assertion I do not object, when used where it is applicable. But it must not be employed to underrate the sin of original depravity. These sayings of the sophists have done unspeakable injury, by mingling with the Gospel, the philosophy and doctrines, which relate to our external conduct before the world. [44] They have taught these things not only in their schools, but without shame have preached them publicly before the people. And these ungodly, false, dangerous, and injurious doctrines had prevailed throughout the world: everywhere nothing was preached, but our own merit, and thus the knowledge of Christ and the Gospel were entirely suppressed.

[45] Dr. Luther therefore desired to teach and explain from the Scriptures, how deadly a crime original sin is before God, and what great misery we are born in; and that original sin as it remains after Baptism is, in itself, not indifferent, but that we need Christ the Mediator, in order that God may not impute it unto us, and the constant light and operation of the Holy Spirit, to mortify and remove it.

[46] Now although the sophists and scholastics teach otherwise, and teach contrary to the Scriptures, both concerning original sin and its penalty, when they say, that by his own powers man is able to keep the commandments of God; yet the penalty, imposed by God, upon the children of Adam, on account of original sin, is described in a very different manner in Genesis. For there human nature is not only doomed to death and other physical evils, but also subjected to the dominion of the devil. There the dreadful sentence is passed: "I will put enmity between thee and the women, and between thy seed and her seed:" etc. Gen. 3:15.

[47] Evil lust and the want of original righteousness, are sin and punishment. But death and other physical ills, the tyranny and dominion of the devil, are properly, the punishments (poenae) of original sin. For by original sin, human nature is given into the power of the devil, and is thus brought captive under his dominion; who confounds and misleads many great and wise men in this world, with horrible errors, heresies and other blindness, and impels man into all kinds of other vices.

[48] Now as it is impossible, to overcome this subtle and powerful spirit, Satan, without the aid of Christ, we cannot by our own strength, release ourselves from this imprisonment.

[49] All history, from the beginning of the world teaches, what an unspeakably great power the kingdom of the devil is. We see, that from the highest to the lowest, the world is full of blasphemy, gross errors, and impious doctrines against God and his Word. In these strong chains and fetters, the devil holds in miserable captivity many wise people, many hypocrites, who appear holy before the world. [50] The rest he leads into other gross vices, avarice, pride, etc.

Now, since Christ has been given unto us, to take away these sins and their heavy punishment, and for our benefit to overcome sin, death, and the kingdom of the devil, no one can sincerely rejoice in this great treasure, no one can understand the abundant riches of grace, till he feels the burden of our great inborn misery and wretchedness. Therefore our preachers dwelt upon this important point with the greatest diligence, and have taught nothing new, but simply, the plain words of the holy Scriptures, and the undeniable maxims of the Fathers,--Augustine and others.

[51] This, we think, ought to satisfy your Imperial Majesty, in regard to the wicked, puerile, and unfounded assertions of our adversaries; with which they assail our article unjustly and without cause. Let them continue cavilling as much and as long as they please, we know for a certainty, that we teach correct Christian doctrine, and coincide with the universal Christian church. If they introduce further wanton contentions, they will find, that men shall not be wanting here who, if it be the will of God, will reply to them and maintain the truth.

Our adversaries, for the most part, do not know what they maintain. How often do they speak and write contradictory to themselves? They do not understand even their own dialectics, (dialectica,) concerning the formal feature of original sin, that is, what original sin properly is in its essence; nor what the want of original righteousness is. We do not, however, propose, here to speak more in detail of their quarrelsome disputations, but merely to recite, in clear, common, and intelligible language, the sayings and opinions of the holy Fathers, whose doctrines we also teach.