As a hard-core Augustinian, I have a little joke I like to blurt out at Thomist parties: The African saint is particularly beloved by God, because he saved Him the trouble of having to inspire a third Testament. Then I express my gratitude for Aquinas’s life-long work while indexing Augustine’s insights. Fisticuffs usually follow.
While my jokes are just that, my absolute devotion to Augustine is not. It is no exaggeration to say that the foundations of Catholic theology are established in his writings. Grace, the Trinity, justification, the sacraments, the incarnation—it’s all there. But if there was one central point—a platform upon which the rest is built—it would have to be Augustine’s development of original sin. Without the Fall, after all, there would have been no need for redemption.
It has been said that original sin is the most obvious of all the Christian doctrines. This is certainly true. How else to explain the evil we see around us? Not just murder and rape and theft, but also all the petty, hidden evils that we ourselves perpetrate each day.
There is within us a terrible wound, an inability to choose what is right. “I do not understand my own actions,” Paul wrote in anguish. “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
The apostle understood that there is something in us that drives us to do the things we know to be evil, and only Christianity can fully explain the phenomenon. We sin because we’re injured. Like a wounded animal, we snap at those who try to help us. And so, our ability to choose the good has been devastated.
But the ravages of original sin are not confined to humanity; the Fall shattered the natural world as well. If you read my March 2005 column, you know that The Thin Red Line is my favorite film. The first lines of the movie—a voice-over from a main character—sum it up perfectly. “What is this war at the heart of nature? Why does nature vie and contend with itself?”
At the heart of nature, there is struggle—we saw this ourselves last year in the devastation of tsunamis and hurricanes. These were not wholly inexplicable events, nor were they calculated punishments from a vengeful God. Rather, they were the latest eruptions from a world that churns in its decay. The taint of corruption poured out from Adam and sank into the soil.
This world is dying, only the next will be eternal. Paul observed that “creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” We, in our own injury, must wait as well.
A point of business: This year, Crisis will move from an eleven-issue yearly schedule to ten, combining February and March into a single winter edition (just as our July and August issues are combined). In making this move, we follow similar magazines, most of which have had a ten-issue schedule for years.
However, you will not lose the eleven issues you’ve paid for. If you have a one-year subscription, we will add to it an additional month. If your subscription is for two years, we’ll add two. And so on.
To be perfectly honest, with a staff as small as ours, we’re perpetually falling forward—always in a state of chaos and rush, preparing for the next issue (our longsuffering writers can attest to this). With an additional month in the winter, we’ll be able to focus more fully on each issue, and you’ll have a better magazine.