A dire analysis of human nature
An overly optimistic one


Thesis #27 of 95. Man is composed of body, soul and spirit. The human’s spirit is also referred to in Scripture as the heart or inner man


1Thes5:23 – Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ

Rom8:16 – The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God  

 Rom7:22-23 – I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man but I perceive a different law in my bodily members warring with the law in my mind and bringing me into captivity to the sinful law that is in my bodily members


There is considerable overlap with this thesis and the ones covered in recent posts. Again, the key point is that contrary to Augustine’s teaching upon which so much theology has been based, the human being comprises body, soul and spirit – one of “Aug’s twos-for-threes” referred to in my recent ditty. For especially after his fracas with Pelagius, the fearsome bishop was insistent that God had failed to provide mankind with any effectual enlightening or enabling spiritual faculties following the Fall. Consequently, he believed every soul to be doomed to perdition, apart from an act of sovereign grace reserved for the minority: “Many more are to be left under punishment than are delivered from it in order that it may thus be shown what was due to all”. By “punishment”, Augustine was referring to eternal torment of the soul. Surely a delight to the Adversary’s ears, for such teaching maligns the Creator’s character as much as it demonizes humanity. It profoundly disfigures God’s providential care of the world that His Son suffered so agonizingly to save, turning the Christmas angels’ message of “good news of great joy for all people” into a cosmic catastrophe.

Such was the consequence of this sainted churchman’s rejection of any positive role for natural law (innate spiritual enlightenment/enablement) combined with his bipartite anthropology. The latter also had the effect of confounding Paul’s teaching on human nature, especially the critical passage in Romans 7 concerning the conflict of flesh and spirit within man, impacting upon the very nature and process of salvation itself. For example, where Paul writes in Rom8:13 that “if you live in accordance with the instincts of the flesh you shall die, but if by the spirit [note#2] you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live”. Clearly, the Holy Spirit once present in an individual does not thereafter act independently, effectively becoming a human faculty, otherwise it would follow that every Christian would attain an equal and perfected state of sanctification. Rather He is the divine Enabler with whom the believer must cooperate. Indeed, the God-given human spirit (whose existence Augustine had denied) has been provided to all men to enlighten them such that they possess effectual free will to act with integrity and compassion, even at times altruism, but not to attain what the bible means by “salvation” (previous thesis/post).

So, Pelagius went too far and compromised the gospel if he actually taught that man had an innate ability to avoid sin altogether, being effectively able to master his own flesh (Paul’s “body of this death”) through a life of asceticism. For Paul makes clear that as a result of the Fall, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is required to overcome the malign moral influence of the procreated intellectual vessel (body and brain) with which the eternal soul/spirit are temporarily associated (Rom7:24-25). Whilst innate spiritual faculties may enable a person to fulfil the spirit of God’s Law (Gal5:14; Rom2:14) and be finally accepted as a citizen of God’s Kingdom through the exercise of compassionate love towards their fellow man (cf. Mt25:34-40), common grace/natural law cannot provide what is necessary to experience a two-way living relationship with God whilst in mortal flesh. Celestial grace and the spiritual resources of the gospel are required to “possess one’s own vessel in sanctification and honour(1Thes4:4). Such who do shall attain a scarcely imaginable degree of glory, providing they persevere in the Faith and gain victory over the morally malign intellectual vessel their soul currently inhabits: “He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat with My Father on His throne” (Rev3:21).

So much for Pelagius’s overly optimistic assessment of fallen human nature and its innate spiritual potentialities, yet virtually all Augustine’s distinctive teachings [note#2] need to be deconstructed if the munificence of God’s providential intentions towards those He created in His own image is to be perceived. Such has been an irksome (for many) but necessary facet of my book, in which I commented: “A bible-based articulation of God’s munificent providence will taste as sweet as honey in the mouth of every child of God, whilst in the gut there will be a bitterness and an urge to be rid of what had historically been understood concerning the harshness of God’s justice and the limited nature of His salvific intentions [cf. Rev10:10]. The true scope of God’s plan of loving goodness will redound even more to His glory, for it is entirely dependent on the atoning death of the Son He adores, the length, breadth and height of whose love passes all knowledge”. [Excerpt from The Little Book of Providence chapter one].


Note#1 – Likewise Rom8:4 – “The requirement of the law is fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the spirit”. The early scribes who penned the Textus Receptus knew Paul to be referring to the human spirit not the Holy Spirit, hence πνεῦμα, not Πνεύμα [Rom8:4 Greek]

Note#2 – I emphasize “distinctive teaching” for as a Catholic, the Bishop of Hippo taught much that was faithful to the written and verbal tradition of the Apostolic Fathers, not least his reaffirmation of the sacerdotal nature of the Church, the Eucharistic sacrifice and the substantial presence of Christ’s body and blood at the altar [].

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