A Brief Analysis of Augustine of Hippo’s Studies and the Impact of the Doctrine of Original Sin Across Religions

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A brief Analysis of Augustine of Hippo Studies and the Impact of the Doctrine of Original Sin across Religions

Aline Schleifer Alves da Costa

University of Wyoming

Professor Seth Ward — Religion Studies

November 20th of 2016


Augustine of Hippo also known as Saint Augustine, Doctor of Grace among many other names, was a Christian theologian and philosopher who lived 354–430 CE1. He influenced western Christianity with his teachings. He was baptized in 386 CE and after that developed how own approach to Christianity and the philosophy within the matter. Within the catholic church Augustine is considered a Saint although Eastern orthodox churches have also used his teaching as bases for their own studies and illustrations of their faith. Among many of Augustine’s studies and works there is his contemplation of the Doctrine of Original Sin. Original sin, also called ancestral sin, is the Christian doctrine of humanity’s state of sin resulting from the fall of man, stemming from Adam and Eve’s rebellion in Eden, namely the sin of disobedience in consuming from the tree of knowledge of good and evil2. His works about original sin are based on five pillars:

The source of original sin as a primal sin that took place in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve;

Adam was the progenitor of race we have a bond of solidarity and therefore all the human race shares this sin with him;

From birth we all inherit sin: common guilt, and a constitutional fault of disordered desire and ignorance;

Because of sin, human race is weakened and they will experience death because of that as human powers are weakened, and finally;

The speculation of how sins and penalty are transmitted from generation to generation.

In the West, humanity likewise bears the “consequences” of the “original sin” of Adam and Eve. However, the West also understands that humanity is likewise “guilty” of the sin of Adam and Eve. The term “Original Sin” here refers to is the condition into which humanity is born, a condition in which guilt as well as consequence is involved.In the Orthodox Christian understanding, while humanity does bear the consequences of the original, or first, sin, humanity does not bear the personal guilt associated with this sin. Adam and Eve are guilty of their willful action; we bear the consequences, chief of which is death. Augustine believed in a system of predestination and grace which prevailed for many centuries until Luther’s reformation theses.

An overview of Augustine’s teachings and beliefs

Augustine defends that Eve and Adam’s self-center emotions made him eat from the tree of knowledge and that shows the lack of acknowledgement by them to accept the world as God had created it, with the respect for the hierarchy of beings as well of values. By eating the forbidden fruit Eve and Adam had their natures severely wounded, creating an effect in their human intelligence and free will, resulting in changes in affect and desire, including sexual desire. Augustine understood the actions of eating from the tree as a sin caused by Satan’s evil rooting their senses and therefore make them fall inot pride and a state of lack of wisdom. Augustine understood the consequences of this sin and the need for redemption by grace. He pointed out the weakness and mainly disobedience of the flesh to the spirit when it came to issues resulted from the original sin such as fornication.

Augustine taught for the Manicheans for nine years and taught original sin as carnal knowledge. Manichaeism was a dualistic religious movement founded in Persia by Mani, the “Apostle of Light”3. Augustine’s teachings are based on that human sexuality has been wounded, damage along side with the human nature, and requires redemption, a purification through Christ alone. According to the earlier mentioned in this text, one of the pillars for Augustine’s doctrine of original sin is based off that as humans and christian solidarity we all share of Adam’s sin, generation after generation, which he explains by how human kind is condemned by concupiscence as he regarded as passion of the body and soul. Augustine taught that the healing from this carnal knowledge is a possible process through conjugal acts. He expresses that continence can be achieved thanks to the grace of sacrament of christian marriage which becomes the remedy of such concupiscence.

Original sin across different religions and perspectives

In western Christianity the idea of original sin is implemented in teachings and in the journey of why Christians must repent. Augustine’s teachings weigh heavily on these. Christians believe that all humans are borne with the burden of sin, as everyone was and is a decedent of Adam, father of all, who was a sinner. Some Christians consider that even unborn children are bounded to the original sin of Adam. Only through baptism4 and a life of repentance can one reach salvation through the grace of Jesus Christ. This generalization is the founding structure when teaching to Christians the importance of reaching salvation: “By the disobedience of one man, many were made sinners.” (Romans 5:19, NIV). Western Christianity preaches that through the death of Christ all of humans now can have salvation: “As in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive.”(1 Corinthians 15:22, NIV). People that lived before Christ was born and sacrificed his life so humans could have a chance, either went to Limbo, a place of natural happiness in the next world and some to hell as the scripture states: “And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom. And the rich man also died: and he was buried in Hell.” (Luke 16:22, NIV). The only human to be preserved from this original sin, was Virgin Mary, who had to be uncorrupted so she could birth Christ; so she was created with Sanctifying Grace in her: “And the angel being come in, said to her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you: blessed are you among women.(Luke 1:28, NIV).

Considering the Jewish religion, original sin is foreign to the Jewish scriptures. In Devarin 30:15–16 God lays out his plans for humanity: “See, I set before you today life and good, and death and ill: in that I command you today to love YHWH5 your God, to walk in his ways and to keep his commandments, his laws and his regulations, that you may stay alive and become many and YHWH your God may bless you in the land that you are entering to possess”. Jewish people believe that people are capable to choose to sin or not to sin and that everyone is capable of returning to God and having its sins forgiven. For the Jewish sin literally means to miss the mark which means falling short from following the Torah, but it is not considered something that humankind is internally but something that humans do. For the Jewish the doctrine of original sin is invalid as there is a belief that humankind sins but humans are not born sinners.

In Islam there is no original sin, the belief is that everyone is born pure and it is the own person that corrupts itself. According to Islam Allah sees that people might think about sinning but once they choose not to that is considered a good deed. Often Muslims will say that the Bible refutes the idea of original sin by using the verse of Ezekiel: “The person who sins will die The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself”. (Ezekiel 18:20, NIV), and also: “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.” (Deuteronomy 24:16, NIV). In the Qur’an text it is clear that one cannot bear the burden of a past sin, acted by someone else: “…No person earns any (sin) except against himself (only), and no bearer of burdens shall bear the burden of another…” (Quran 6:164).

From the Qur’an readings it is possible to observe that Adam repented and God, Allah, forgave him: Then Adam received Words (of forgiveness) from his Lord, and He accepted his repentance. Verily, He is the One Who repeatedly accepts repentance, the Most Merciful.” (Quran 2:37). If a person sins, and truly repents, this person shall find a way to an all-merciful and ever-merciful God. The Prophet Muhammad said: “Indeed if a believer sins, a black spot covers his heart. If he repents, and stops from his sin, and seeks forgiveness for it, his heart becomes clean again. If he persists (instead of repenting), it increases until it covers his heart…” (Ibn Maajah)6.


Throughout the years, scholars, theologians and philosophers have been analyzing different ways in which Augustine’s teachings and beliefs can fit or are unfit to the teachings and preaching of different faiths and the impact they have within each of religion and believer of that religion. It is allegedly one of the most important foundations of Western Christianity that keeps Christians aiming for salvation and being better in order to achieve salvation, something that would have been effortless had Adam and Eve not sinned at the Garden of Eden. In addition there would be no pain, disease or death if the original sin had not taken place. Humanity pays to this day, according to these teachings, the high cost of being a descendant of a sinner. For Jewish and Islam the basis of sin and repentance are not revolving the idea of original sin. While Jewish believe that it is up to the humankind to make their choices of sinning or not, humans can become sinners but are not born sinners. Similarly Islam preaches that it is the world and actions of humans after they become able to rationalize, understand and discern between right and wrong, or good and evil that sins take a toll in their fate after death. Islam does not belief in original sin but it could very possibly be explained as the original forgiveness as Adam sinned and his heart was heavy and stained but it was through repentance that Allah showed Himself as a merciful God and washed away Adam’s sin, giving him another chance.

Although they hold different views of original sin and ideology of repentance and salvation, all of these religions here mentioned approach original sin differently and use their scriptures to prove their faith and the grounding texts for each religion teachings. Nonetheless each becomes important to its followers becoming not only a sentiment of faith and hope but as well as a form of living their lives accordingly to those beliefs.



Adbusalam, M. “The Original Sin (1/2).” January 16, 2006. Accessed November 20, 2016. https://www.islamreligion.com/articles/13/original-sin-part-1/.

Boyce, James and Ogden Publications. “Utne.” May 14, 2015. Accessed November 19, 2016. http://www.utne.com/mind-and-body/st-augustine-and-original-sin-ze0z1505zken.aspx.

Bibliography:Castor, Trevor. “Sin According to Islam.” Accessed November 19, 2016. http://www.zwemercenter.com/guide/sin-according-to-muslims/.

Couenhoven, Jesse, Center, and Philosophy Documentation. “St. Augustine’s Doctrine of Original Sin.”Augustinian Studies 36 (2005): 359–96. Accessed November 19, 2016. http://www.academia.edu/1958072/St._Augustines_Doctrine_of_Original_Sin.

HaTorah, Derech. “Original Sin.” Accessed November 21, 2016. http://pathoftorah.com/jewish-apologetics/original-sin/.

“Manichaeans.” September 14, 2014. Accessed November 20, 2016. https://www.google.com/search?q=manichaeans&rlz=1C1AOHY_enUS710US710&oq=manichaeans&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l5.1775j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8.


Archimandrite. “Book Review The Place of Blessed Augustine in the Orthodox Church”. Orthodox Tradition. II(3&4): 40–43. Retrieved on 2016–11–17

“Gregory Palamas’ Use of Augustine’s De Trinitate for Original Sin and its Application to the Theotokos & Scholarius’ Palamitico-Augustinianism of the Immaculate Conception (Stockholm 28.VI.15)”. Retrieved 2016–11–20


Rachel-Esther bat-Avraham. “Jewish POV: Original Sin.” YouTube. March 22, 2015. Posted November 21, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qh6gbjC-GEc.

1The American Heritage College Dictionary. Boston, MA:Houghton Mifflin Company. 1997. p. 91. ISBN 0–395–66917–0.

2Jesse Couenhoven, Center, and Philosophy Documentation, “St. Augustine’s Doctrine of Original Sin,”Augustinian Studies 36 (2005), accessed November 19, 2016, http://www.academia.edu/1958072/St._Augustines_Doctrine_of_Original_Sin.

3 “Manichaeans,” The New World Encyclopedia, September 14, 2014, accessed November 20, 2016, https://www.google.com/search?q=manichaeans&rlz=1C1AOHY_enUS710US710&oq=manichaeans&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l5.1775j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8.

4 Jesse Couenhoven, Center, and Philosophy Documentation, “St. Augustine’s Doctrine of Original Sin,” Augustinian Studies 36 (2005), accessed November 19, 2016, http://www.academia.edu/1958072/St._Augustines_Doctrine_of_Original_Sin.

5 “Original Sin,” Path of Torah, accessed November 21, 2016, http://pathoftorah.com/jewish-apologetics/original-sin/ and Rachel-Esther bat-Avraham, “Jewish POV: Original Sin,”YouTube, March 22, 2015, posted November 21, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qh6gbjC-GEc.

6 “The Original Sin (1/2),” The Religion of Islam, January 16, 2006, accessed November 20, 2016, https://www.islamreligion.com/articles/13/original-sin-part-1/.

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