Do the XXXIX Articles of Religion Teach Total Depravity?

IX. Of Original or Birth-Sin.
Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam, (as the Pelagians do vainly talk;) but it is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the Spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation. And this infection of nature doth remain, yea in them that are regenerated; whereby the lust of the flesh, called in Greek, p¢vnæa sapk¢s, (which some do expound the wisdom, some sensuality, some the affection, some the desire, of the flesh), is not subject to the Law of God. And although there is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptized; yet the Apostle doth confess, that concupiscence and lust hath of itself the nature of sin.

X. Of Free-Will.
The condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith; and calling upon God. Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will.

XI. Of the Justification of Man.
We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only, is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.

XII. Of Good Works.
Albeit that Good Works, which are the fruits of Faith, and follow after Justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God’s judgment; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively Faith insomuch that by them a lively Faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.

XIII. Of Works before Justification.
Works done before the grace of Christ, and the Inspiration of his Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ; neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or (as the School-authors say) deserve grace of congruity: yea rather, for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.

Articles IX, X, XII, and XIII seem to suggest an Anglican teaching of total depravity. Taken to their full literal interpretation it would seem so. But let’s take Article IX first which says “it is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the Spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation”. What does it mean for the flesh to lust “always contrary to the Spirit”? When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit, they died by disconnecting themselves from the source of life. When we are born, we are born disconnected from the source of life. In this sense, man’s nature is inclined to evil that which is death, the final enemy to be defeated (Rev. 20:14).

Accordingly also, the words of the Angelic Doctor:

I answer that, The good of human nature is threefold. First, there are the principles of which nature is constituted, and the properties that flow from them, such as the powers of the soul, and so forth. Secondly, since man has from nature an inclination to virtue, as stated above (60, 1; 63, 1), this inclination to virtue is a good of nature. Thirdly, the gift of original justice, conferred on the whole of human nature in the person of the first man, may be called a good of nature.

Accordingly, the first-mentioned good of nature is neither destroyed nor diminished by sin. The third good of nature was entirely destroyed through the sin of our first parent. But the second good of nature, viz. the natural inclination to virtue, is diminished by sin. Because human acts produce an inclination to like acts, as stated above (Question 50, Article 1). Now from the very fact that thing becomes inclined to one of two contraries, its inclination to the other contrary must needs be diminished. Wherefore as sin is opposed to virtue, from the very fact that a man sins, there results a diminution of that good of nature, which is the inclination to virtue. (Summa Theologica, “First Part of the Second Part”, 85.1)

Our state of original justice is completely inclined to evil, this is true. But we retain an inclination toward virtue though it has been damaged.

Article X isn’t saying that we cannot do anything good without the sanctifying grace of God but we cannot do anything good without the preventing grace of God. Arminians take this Article a little bit more strictly and use it to argue that prevenient grace must override the effects of total depravity. An Anglo-Catholic would refer back to St. John of Damascus who says “Bear in mind, too , that virtue is a gift from God implanted in our nature, and that He Himself is the source and cause of all good, and without His co-operation and help we cannot will or do any good thing” (Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, ch. 30). So an Anglo-Catholic would be comfortable interpreting the act of prevenient grace as the state God has created us in, not as totally depraved of our free will faculties but as with these free will faculties still in function albeit broken.

What about Articles XII and XIII? John Henry Newman looks at these Articles more in depth.

Articles xii. & xiii.—”Works done before the grace of CHRIST, and the inspiration of HIS SPIRIT, [‘before justification,’ title of the Article,] are not pleasant to God (minimË Deo grata sunt); forasmuch as they spring not of Faith in JESUS CHRIST, neither do they make man meet to receive grace, or (as the school authors say) deserve grace of congruity (merentur gratiam de congruo); yea, rather for that they are not done as GOD hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin. Albeit good works, which are the fruits of faith, and follow after justification (justificatos sequuntur), cannot put away (expiare) our sins, and endure the severity of GOD’S judgment, yet are they pleasing and acceptable (grata et accepta) to GOD in CHRIST, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively Faith.”

Two sorts of works are here mentioned—works before justification, and works after; and they are most strongly contrasted with each other.

Works before justification, are done “before the grace of CHRIST, and the inspiration of His SPIRIT.”
Works before “do not spring of Faith in JESUS CHRIST;” works after are “the fruits of Faith.”
3. Works before “have the nature of sin;” works after are “good works.”

4. Works before “are not pleasant to GOD;” works after “are pleasing and acceptable (grata et accepta) to GOD.”

Two propositions, mentioned in these Articles, remain, and deserve consideration; First, that works before justification do not make or dispose men to receive grace, or as the school writers say, deserve grace of congruity; secondly, that works after “cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of GOD’S judgment.

As to the former statement,–to deserve de congruo, or of congruity, is to move the Divine regard, not from any claim upon it, but from a certain fitness or suitableness; as, for instance, it might be said that dry wood had a certain disposition or fitness towards heat which green wood had not. Now, the Article denies that works done before the grace of CHRIST, or in a mere state of nature, in this way dispose towards grace, or move GOD to grant grace. And it asserts, with or without reason, (for it is a question of historical fact, which need not specially concern us,) that certain schoolmen maintained the affirmative.
Now, that this is what it means, is plain from the following passages of the Homilies, which in no respect have greater claims upon us than as comments upon the Articles:–

“Therefore they that teach repentance without a lively faith in our SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST, do teach none other but Judas’s repentance, as all the schoolmen do, which do only allow these three parts of repentance,–the contrition of the heart, the confession of the moth, and the satisfaction of the work. But all these things we find in Judas’s repentance, which, in outward appearance, did far exceed and pass the repentance of Peter. . . . This was commonly the penance which CHRIST enjoined sinners, ‘Go thy way, and sin no more;’ which penance we shall never be able to fulfil, without the special grace of Him that doth say, ‘Without Me, ye can do nothing.’”—On Repentance, p. 460.

To take a passage which is still more clear:

“As these examples are not brought in to the end that we should thereby take a boldness to sin, presuming on the mercy and goodness of GOD, but to the end that, if, through the frailness of our own flesh, and the temptation of the devil, we fall into the like sins, we should in no wise despair of the mercy and goodness of GOD: even so must we beware and take heed, that we do in no wise think in our hearts, imagine, or believe, that we are able to repent aright, or to turn effectively unto the LORD by our own might and strength.” Ibid. part i. fin.

The Article contemplates these two states,–one of justifying grace, and one of the utter destitution of grace; and it says, that those who are in utter destitution cannot do anything to gain justification; and indeed, to assert the contrary would be Pelagianism. However, there is an intermediate state, of which the Article says nothing, but which must not be forgotten, as being an actually existing one. Men are not always either in light or in darkness, but are sometimes between the two; they are sometimes not in a state of Christian justification, yet not utterly deserted by GOD, but in a state of something like that of Jews or of Heathen, turning to the thought of religion. They are not gifted with habitual grace, but they still are visited by Divine influences, or by actual grace, or rather aid; and these influences are the first-fruits of the grace of justification going before it, and are intended to lead on to it, and to be perfected in it, as twilight leads to day. And since it is a Scripture maxim, that “he that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much;” and “to whosoever hath, to him shall be given;” therefore, it is quite true that works done with divine aid, and in faith, before justification, do dispose men to receive the grace of justification;–such were Cornelius’s alms, fastings, and prayers, which led to his baptism. At the same time it must be borne in mind that, even in such cases, it is not the works themselves which make them meet, as some schoolmen seem to have said, but the secret aid of GOD, vouchsafe, equally with the “grace and Spirit,” which is the portion of the baptized, for the merits of CHRIST’S sacrifice.

[But it may be objected, that the silence observed in the Article about a state between that of justification and grace, and that of neither, is a proof that there is none such. This argument, however, would prove too much; for in like manner there is a silence in the Sixth Article about a judge of the scripturalness of doctrine, yet a judge there must be. And again, few, it is supposed, would deny that Cornelius, before the angel came to him, was in a more hopeful state, that Simon Magus or Felix. The difficult then, if there be one, is common to persons of whatever school of opinion.]

2. If works before justification, when done by the influence of divine aid, gain grace, much more do works after justification. They are, according to the Article, “grata,” pleasing to GOD;” and they are accepted, “accepta” which means that GOD rewards them, and that of course according to their degree of excellence. At the same time, as works before justification may nevertheless be done under a divine influence, so works after justification are still liable to the infection of original sin; and, as not being perfect, “cannot expiate our sins,” or “endure the severity of GOD’S judgment.”

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About newenglandsun

A student. Male. Passionate. Easily offended. Child-like wonderer. Growing in faith, messing up daily.
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