For 20 centuries, an ancient thought-process had reigned. Before 300 BC, Aristotle saw that the world and everything else which had been created stemmed from four causes. These four causes were to answer the four questions of: “Who made it?” “What was it made out of?” “How was it made?” and “What was it for?” By the time Modern Philosophy came around, a couple hundred years after the Reformation, these four causes went down to one, the first cause (who/from whence was it made?). David Hume categorized this as the cause. This cause, then, led to effects. In a way, the effects took the place of the third cause (how was it made?) as the immediate action of the first cause.
By Modern standards, the second cause (what was it made from?) and fourth cause (why was it made?) seem to have been left out of the picture entirely. And, since the world began to favor Rationalism over Empiricism, the individual became the first cause (instead of the Empiricist’s view of the individual simply being an effect). In Postmodernism, since the individual is the one who now chooses how to influence the world, as opposed to being influenced by the world, the power is in our hands. This is the current view of existentialism which may often lead to nihilism (if the individual is the first cause and they do not see themselves worth much then there is nothing greater than themselves to rely on).
In religion, this would be seen as the idolatry of self. As Aristotle observed, the identity of the first cause is meant to be aligned with the cause of all things. Aquinas would continue the revelation by understanding that this Cause was found in the Christ and the Creator, Lord of all. With this in mind, it is clear that Articles XIX and XX of The Augsburg Confession belong together.
The Cause of Sin
The writing of this Confession took place long before the terms of Rationalism and Empiricism had been introduced. Back then, the world was not quite as dichotomized in this fashion. The evident truth would be that the individual is both a cause and an effect.
God is the Creator and sustainer of nature. This places the cosmos, Earth, plants, animals, and the whole of mankind under His dominion and care. He is the Cause of all these things. Humanity is but an effect of His reach. Where, then, had sin come from?
Sin is located in the will of the wicked… the devil and ungodly people. It is within God’s almighty power to create a creature that can be a creator on its own. Do not misunderstand, humanity and the devil can only create out of the things that have been created around them. They do not have the free will to make something out of nothing. But, they have been given the power and will to make something else out of what they have been given. The first big effect of Satan had been temptation. The first big invention by man had been sin.
Without the proper control, the mind of man is bound to follow the mind of the world, turning the ultimate cause away from God and into himself. He soon mistakes the power to change with the power of authority and the source of rites with the source of will. It is no wonder that the German text insists that this is a perverted will.
In a mistaken identity, the cause of works is in the individual. The Reformers knew this. But, if good works were of man, man would be right in boasting of himself. And, if good works were of man, they would resemble the other great invention of man, sin. Instead, we are told to boast in the Lord. For, He has done great and marvelous things.
If it were up to man, good works would be turned into childish and needless things such as man-created holy days, unusual fasts, brotherhoods, pilgrimages, honoring saints, rosaries, monasticism, and so-forth, misdirecting the mind from God. Instead, mankind needs to focus on the works that are ordained by God such as the Ten Commandments and similar doctrine that may be taught usefully about all estates and duties of life.
During the writing of the Confessions, the culture had gone so far as to embrace man-made works. It would take time to unlearn them. It would take time to turn back (repent) to God. It would take time to see Him as the Cause again. With Him (and not man) as the Cause, it would take time to join faith and works together again.
With God as the Cause and faith as the way we understand that cause, the effect is good works. Faith is the tool used to fix our perverted eyes back to the Original Cause. And, even this faith is an effect of that same Spirit. Faith and works flow from God. He is the strength of our hearts and the security of our minds. That is why, without God, the works of the pagan are meritless.
It is only through this faith, this effect of God, that any action may have meaning, worth, or merit. It is only through this faith that our sins may be forgiven, that we may be reconciled with Him. If this were not true, redemption by Christ’s blood would be worth very little, and God’s mercy would not surpass man’s works.
This is a scary idea. If our works were actions and effects of our own, we would have nothing bigger than ourselves to cling to. We would have no source for hope, strength, and meaning. But, at the same time, those who have learned to live for the sake of themselves would despise this teaching. They would loathe the loss of control this ultimate truth brings to their world.
Yet, a Christian should find consolation in this belief. In the midst of worldly conflict, there is security in God’s peace. There is a certainty in His will. There is reality in His effects. Although, mankind has become accustomed to completing its own works, its own effects, becoming its own cause, its struggle can enter solitude in the revelation that all the works which yield salvation have been accomplished for us by the One who made us.
This does not mean that the faith is a sterile faith, believing solely in things that have happened and are complete. It is not merely a faith in history but also the effect of history. It is founded in the aspect of what God’s actions mean for us today. This sort of faith is an active faith, it lives in us, pointing us to our source, directing us back to God. Without faith, human nature does not call upon God, nor expect anything from Him.
Nothing in man is harmless. Instead, human nature seeks to trust in human help. But, without the Holy Spirit, human desires are too weak to do godly works. They push human beings into various sins, ungodly opinions, and open crimes. With the Spirit, God is made known to us, He works in us and through us. All good things come from Him.
Meditation on the Text
Hume’s simpler view of stripping down Aristotle’s Four Causes to solely Cause and Effect has proved useful thus-far. Making two points, observing action and reaction, influence and response instead of stretching out to four has kept the focus on the goal. It has made it easy to reflect on the source and the outcome. In relation to this theology, the cause is God and the effect is faith and Good works (through man). If the cause were to be man, the effect would be meritless, worthless and perverted works.
But, the picture is not complete. It is not as holistic as the view of antiquity. Although, it may tend to simplify things, it cuts out half of the areas of study. In everything that has been created, there must be (at least) four causes. This is due to the sentient nature of the creator. There is not just a cause and an effect, but a motive and a tool used to convey obtain the end result.
Those who wrote the Confessions were not immune to all four of these causes. They met as a source of creation, they worked through writing and speech, and their purpose was to proclaim and share their beliefs. It is at this point of the paper that we must meditate on the second cause, the material cause. Ironically, this material is not material at all. It is thought, spoken, written, and read, the material used to express the ideas of the Confessors was language. And, this language was split.
Specifically, in Articles XIX and XX, there are a good amount of variances. The first one that sticks out seems to be the German’s use of a “perverted will.” This particular phrase does not come out in Latin, nor does the underlying idea aside from an “evil” will. A perversion of will allows the possibility that the will had been once intended for good. It had been pure. But, something had caused the imperfection. An evil will could have also at one time been good, but the thought is not as heavily implied.
The German text also says that “As soon as God withdrew his hand, it [the will] turned from God to malice.” The Latin rephrases these words by saying that “Since it [the will] was not assisted by God… [it] turned away from God.” Both bear a reminiscence of a child taking its first steps. But, the German child goes from crawling and wobbling to becoming the rebellious teenager while the Latin child becomes the Prodigal Son. The German is an act against God, an anger and deep hate. While, the Latin, just falls away, it may ignore God, forgetting about Him completely. Both are true.
In honoring ones’ parents, it is proper to remember them. The German severely forgets who his parents are supposed to be. Instead of relying on them and trusting them, he stabs them in the back. While the Latin also forgets who their parent is, but instead of hating him, he leaves him right away. As soon as he began to walk, he started to run. He neglects the source of security and help. In both translations, it is evident that the offspring no longer retain the idea of what their relationship to their forbearer had been intended to be. And, either outcome may follow from that particular neglection.
In the twentieth Article, the focus shifts to what happens when the child is led back home. The Prodigal is no longer wasting his allowance in a far off land and the rebel has matured into the parent’s understanding. Now, the boy is ready to consider his priorities.
In the Latin and the German text both compile examples of things that should not make the top of the priority list. The German stresses that these particular things had been continuously “emphasized in all sermons.” Both translations, then, yearn for the emphasis to change to the matter of faith, which had not been preached “at all in former times” (German). They look for a proclamation instead of “a profound silence” (Latin).
Both translations continue with an explanation of what their church must teach in order to correct the unrighteous fallacy that has presented itself. They state that we cannot “obtain” (German) or “merit” (Latin) grace or “reconciliation” (German) and “forgiveness of sins” (Latin) on our own. The Church must teach a means to be made right with God.
Both sections then discuss that the church has taught that it is by our own means that we can be made right with God. “In former times” no “comfort” (German) or “consolation” (Latin) was achievable by this doctrine. Instead, “poor consciences [were driven] to their own works” (German) and were “vexed by the doctrine of works” (Latin) when they needed to hear “the gospel” (Latin). For, the Gospel teaches that it was not something that man could do to make himself right with God, but something that God had done to make man right with Himself.
The logical argument reaches the question of “What is faith?” or “What is the Gospel?” The German states that it is to “know that in Christ they have a gracious God [and] call upon him.” The Latin emphasizes that “they are reconciled to the Father through Christ [and] truly know God, know that God cares for them, and call upon him.” This calling upon God is an active thing, not a historical knowledge. “’Faith’ is to be understood not as knowledge, such as the ungodly have, but as trust that consoles and encourages terrified minds” (Latin). It is a “confidence in God—that God is gracious to us—and not merely such knowledge of these stories as the devils also have” (German).
The difference between translations is deeper than a difference between synonyms. German and Latin both represent their own unique history, background, and culture. A change in tongues is a change in understanding. The same can be said for the Reformers. Just as the understanding of the language affected the way they wrote the separate translations, the understanding of their historical context affected what they chose to say.
It has been stated that what made Augustine great was the controversy that arose around him. Without that conflict, the Saint may have been just another North African Theologian. The same may be true for Luther and his followers.
The Reformers had been caught up in a world ready to embrace penance and hardship. In all things, man was taught to act in the fear of God rather than from the love of God. The Mystics realized that they could not do the good that God had intended for them to do and believed that they must succumb to His Being. While, the Majority was left to try to save themselves from drowning although they had never been taught how to swim.
The cause, focus, and source of strength had moved from the Ultimate Source of God to the mortal source of man. There was no hope. Only silence was preached to vexed listeners. The good works of man was proclaimed as the punishment of God was revered. In this backwards world, the earth needed to be flipped around. Instead of humanity becoming the cause of their own good while the punishment of God had simply become an effect of their trespasses, the world needed to remember that God is the source of good while sin was an effect of man.
We are in that same position today. Instead of just good works being placed on mans’ shoulders, the individual has become their own personal Atlas. They are god and their effects are whims of their own being. Mankind has become the cause and the world is seen as their creation. Perhaps, this is the trouble in being made in the image of God.
The shift of practice may be due to the rise of Rationalism over Empiricism. But, Empiricists are often guilty of the same thing. The change may be an effect of Therapeutic Moral Deism, a slippery slope of using the Cause as an abused effect. But, the philosophy is also seen outside of the church. Perhaps, the confusion is just inherent to our sin-born nature and our own perverted wills.
In any case, if the individual remains as god, there is no outward source of security, identity, and meaning. It may be true that the creature can cause and effect, but it loses the other causes remembered so long ago. Who created this creator god? What had it been made from? How was it made? And, for what reason? These questions naturally linger within a person’s mind. A dichotomist worldview is not enough. In such a segmented perspective, there is no purpose. Good may be misconstrued into our own relative passions, childish endeavors, or needless fetishes (in any other word, sin). But, in acknowledging that the Cause comes from outside of us, good is a trustworthy thing. Its source is permanent, reliable, and true. It is possible to have good works.
I hope I have not lost you by translating this doctrine into the language of Modern Philosophy. But, that is what is needed in today’s world. Just as the German and Latin have previously accomplished in their own time, this language of Modern Philosophy may create an impact to a culture that speaks in Modern terms. The worry here is that it may be too late. Even the logic of Modernism seems to be neglected. Perhaps, now is the dawn of a new era, one of relativism and individualism. But, how can relativists and individualists see outside of themselves?
Just as the Reformer had been before them, they must be affected by a greater Cause.