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Augustine's Writings on Total Depravity: Origins of Islam and Calvinism

Updated: Jan 30, 2020

In Calvinism and Islam, the heretical doctrine of Total Depravity is explained in full detail, though it is described in different ways, using different words, in different languages. It is important to know how this doctrine came from the church fathers of Roman Catholicism and how it has influenced the formation of those religions. The focus today will be on Catholicism's influence on the creation of Islam because linking Catholicism with Calvinism is a no-brainer. John Calvin himself referred to the Augustine hundreds of times in his writings and commentaries. Though Catholicism and Islam have different mechanisms of describing how man got to where he is now, they both describe him in his current state as being without hope unless God chooses to have mercy on him.

Augustine of Hippo's Views on God's Foreknowledge of the Fall and Man After the First Sin

Augustine (354 - 430 A.D.) described his belief that the sin, violence, and damnation of men was foreknown by God, but that God decided to make them anyway. Notice that in each of these quotes from Augustine, he does not reference the Bible once.

(Augustine) City of God Book 12 Ch.22: "And God was not ignorant that man would sin, and that, being himself made subject now to death, he would propagate men doomed to die, and that these mortals would run to such enormities in sin, that even the beasts devoid of rational will, and who were created in numbers from the waters and the earth, would live more securely and peaceably with their own kind than men, who had been propagated from one individual for the very purpose of commending concord. For not even lions or dragons have ever waged with their kind such wars as men have waged with one another."

Though Augustine of Hippo never used the term "Total Depravity" to describe the state of the natural man after the fall, his writings that laid the foundation for the Catholic doctrine of Original Sin, which laid the foundation for the Calvinistic doctrine of Total Depravity, confirm that his belief was the same as those who use the term: that each man at conception is destined for Hell and eternal damnation unless God has mercy on him.

(Augustine) City of God Book 13 Ch.14: "For God (the Creator of nature, and not of vice) made man upright : who being willingly depraved and justly condemned, begot all his off- spring under the same depravation and condemnation : for in him were we all, when as, he being seduced by the woman, corrupted us all : by her that before sin was made of himself. We had not our particular forms yet, but there was the seed of our natural propagation, which being corrupted by sin must needs produce man of that same nature, the slave to death, and the object of just condemnation : and therefore in this came from the bad using of free-will, thence arose all this team of calamity, drawing all men on into misery (excepting God's saints) from their corrupted original, even to the beginning of the second death which has no end."

Augustine also explains that he believes that man is a slave to his own sinful lusts because of Adam and Eve's sin.

(Augustine) City of God Book 13 Ch 3: “We must confess, then, that had not our first parents sinned, they had not died : but sinning, the punishment of death was inflicted upon them and all their posterity : for they should not produce anything but what themselves were, and the greatness of their crime depraved their nature : so that that which was penal in the first man's offending, was made natural in the birth of all the rest : for they came not of man, as man came of the dust.”

(Augustine) City of God Book 13 Ch 3: “Therefore man's presumption and just sentence, adjudged him not to those imbecilities of nature : but his nature was depraved unto the admission of concupiscential inobedience in his members against his will : and thereby was bound to death by necessity, and to produce his offspring under the same conditions that his crime deserved. From which band of sin, if infants by the Mediator's grace be freed, they will only suffer the first death, of body ; but from the eternal, penal second death, their freedom from sin shall quit them absolutely.”

Augustine's belief in this extends all the way to the time when an infant is conceived, stating that they are sinners even if they have only lived for a day.

(Augustine) Augustine's Confessions Book 1 Ch 7: "'Hear me, O God! Woe to the sins of men!' When a man cries thus, thou showest him mercy, for thou didst create the man but not the sin in him. Who brings to remembrance the sins of my infancy? For in thy sight there is none free from sin, not even the infant who has lived but a day upon this earth."

John Calvin's References to Augustine

John Calvin's heretical, fatalistic view of God and the world stemmed form Augustine's writings, which inspired him to preach about a vengeful God who is completely controlling all events, both good and bad.

(John Calvin) The Institutes Book 3 Ch.23 Para.7: "I say, that God not only foresaw the fall of the first man, and in him the ruin of his posterity; but at his own pleasure arranged it."

(John Calvin) The Institutes Book 2 Ch.1 Para.4: "As the act which God punished so severely must have been not a trivial fault, but a heinous crime, it will be necessary to attend to the peculiar nature of the sin which produced Adam’s fall, and provoked God to inflict such fearful vengeance on the whole human race."

(John Calvin) The Institutes Book 1 Ch.16 Para.8: "In short, Augustine everywhere teaches, that if anything is left to fortune, the world moves at random. And although he elsewhere declares (Quæstionum, lib. 83). that all things are carried on, partly by the free will of man, and partly by the Providence of God, he shortly after shows clearly enough that his meaning was, that men also are ruled by Providence, when he assumes it as a principle, that there cannot be a greater absurdity than to hold that anything is done without the ordination of God; because it would happen at random. For which reason, he also excludes the contingency which depends on human will, maintaining a little further on, in clearer terms, that no cause must be sought for but the will of God. When he uses the term permission, the meaning which he attaches to it will best appear from a single passage (De Trinity. lib. 3 cap. 4), where he proves that the will of God is the supreme and primary cause of all things, because nothing happens without his order or permission."

Similarities with Islam

Islam correctly does not believe in Original Sin, but its teachings create the same environment that the doctrine of Original Sin creates. Islam does teach that God made man with the ability to sin and also had the foreknowledge to know he would cause destruction. It also teaches that God creates some people to be evil throughout the course of their lives.

(Islam) Quran 2:30 Abdel Haleem Translation: "30 [Prophet], when your Lord told the angels, ‘I am putting a successor on earth,’ they said, ‘How can You put someone there who will cause damage and bloodshed, when we celebrate Your praise and proclaim Your holiness?’ but He said, ‘I know things you do not.’"

- Compare to City of God Book 12 Ch.22

(Islam) Quran 12:52-53 Abdel Haleem Translation: "52 [Joseph said, ‘This was] for my master to know that I did not betray him behind his back: God does not guide the mischief of the treacherous. 53 I do not pretend to be blameless, for man’s very soul incites him to evil unless my Lord shows mercy: He is most forgiving, most merciful.’"

- Compare to City of God Book 13 Ch.3 Second Quote

If "man's soul incites him to evil" unless God shows mercy and there is no evidence that Islam teaches that man's mind changed after the fall, then it can only be concluded that God created man with the knowledge of good and evil from the beginning. It was not like, in true Christianity, where God created man perfect, but because of Adam's first sin, all mankind now knows how to do good and evil.

The Quran also states that a man's good deeds will not make up for his disbelief, showing that a person needs to both believe in Islam and do good deeds in order for God to be happy with him.

(Islam) Quran 47:1-2 Abdel Haleem Translation: "1 God will bring to nothing the deeds of those who disbelieve and bar others from the way of God, 2 but He will overlook the bad deeds of those who have faith, do good deeds, and believe in what has been sent down to Muhammad––the truth from their Lord––and He will put them into a good state."

However, the Quran also states that a person is not able to believe unless God wants him to.

(Islam) Quran 10:99-100 Abdel Haleem Translation: "99 Had your Lord willed, all the people on earth would have believed. So can you [Prophet] compel them to believe? 100 No soul can believe except by God's will, and he brings disgrace on those who do not use their reason."

(Islam) Quran 76:29-31 Abdel Haleem Translation: "29This is a reminder. Let whoever wishes, take the way to his Lord. 30But you will only wish to do so if God wills–– God is all knowing, all wise– – 31He admits whoever He will into His Mercy and has prepared a painful torment for the disbelievers."

(Islam) Quran 17:45-46 Abdel Haleem Translation: "45[Prophet], when you recite the Quran, We put an invisible barrier between you and those who do not believe in the life to come. 46 We have put covers on their hearts that prevent them from understanding it, and heaviness in their ears. When you mention your Lord in the Quran, and Him alone, they turn their backs and run away.

So, regarding infants, there is not a 100% blanket statement that can be made to say that they either go to Paradise or Hell. In Islam, it depends on what passages you cite, the circumstances for how the child died, and even what the child would have done if he had lived longer. More about this topic can be read here.

The reason why each of these explanations given by Roman Catholic, Calvinist, and Islamic sources are so complex and convoluted is because both religions are trying to make people feel utterly helpless without them, and therefore become emotionally reliant on their institutions. It is quite the opposite of what true Christianity teaches.

True Christianity is simple: man chooses to sin by his own will, and can receive permanent forgiveness for all of his sins by simply believing on Jesus Christ. It's easy, it's simple and God has made it available for everybody.

(True Christianity) 2 Corinthians 11:2-4 King James Version: "2 For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. 3 But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. 4 For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him."

This post is part of the series The Hard Truth About Calvinism and Islam under The Catholic Origins of Calvinism and Islam

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