Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Controversialist's Temptation

“Certainly nothing jolts us more rudely than this doctrine, and yet but for this mystery, the most incomprehensible of all, we remain incomprehensible ourselves.” So wrote Blaise Pascal concerning original sin.  In his book on the subject, Jacobs explains that one of the reasons it became so jolting was the doctrine's unfortunate appendages, results of the late Augustine - not at hist best - getting cornered into debate with the hotheaded Julian of Eclanum. This is familiar territory, but I've never seen it put quite this way:
And so, because a brilliant and devout old bishop could not resist the controversialist’s temptation – to take even a caricature of his views and defend it to the death, rather than show dialectical weakness – the whole doctrine of original sin, in Western Christianity anyway, got inextricably tangled with revulsion toward sexuality and images of tormented infants.  And there has never been a full and complete disentangling.
Or to put it otherwise, the unnecessary accretions onto the doctrine of original sin offer some of its most convincing proof.