St. Augustine stands as arguably the most influential theologian in the Western Christian world, and perhaps even the whole of Christendom. Every Christian theological tradition seems to want to claim Augustine for their own, as we see Augustine’s writings popping up in scholastic thinkers like St. Thomas and Bl. John Duns Scotus, in French Ressourcement theologians like Henri de Lubac, and also throughout the Protestant world. It is in the Protestant understanding of Augustine that we find an intriguing suggestion, particularly coming from the Calvinist tradition. John Calvin cites Augustine throughout his Institutes of the Christian Religion, his own masterful work of systematic theology. It is Augustine who Calvin often uses to support his own view of Original Sin, free will, and predestination. For this reason, Augustine has sometimes been referred to as a Proto-Calvinist—a “Calvin before Calvin”. But does this claim hold water? Is John Calvin really just repeating what Augustine has already said, or is there something fundamentally different in what Calvin preaches? In order to answer this question, we will be examining both Augustine’s and John Calvin’s doctrines on Original Sin, and I will demonstrate that Calvin’s doctrine differs greatly from that of Augustine, and rather that Calvin is adopting a radically new understanding of Original Sin.
In order to best understand how Calvin’s doctrine differs from St. Augustine, we ought first to establish a clear understanding of what it is that St. Augustine teaches. We begin, then, with Augustine’s views on Original Sin, and the affects Original Sin has on human nature. Dr. Jesse Couenhoven, an associate professor of moral theology at Villanova University, breaks down Augustine’s view on Original Sin into five key elements: primal sin, man’s solidarity with Adam, inherited sin in the form of common guilt and concupiscence, the penalty for sin, and the transmission of sin from one generation to the next. Because Augustine’s views on Original Sin can be difficult to tease out of his texts—as his thoughts on it are often scattered throughout various works, and only briefly stated—we will take each of these five elements in turn in order to gain a fuller understanding.
We begin then with what Couenhoven has called “primal sin”, or the actual historical event in which Adam sinned. Drawing on Augustine’s Answer to Julian, Couenhoven notes that Augustine distinguishes between mere sin, or sin which is done out of pure free will, and “sin that is the punishment of sin”. This second sense is how Augustine views Original Sin, as it is as a result of Adam’s mere sin that there is sin in us—the sin we inherit is the punishment for the mere sin of Adam. But in order to explain how Adam’s sin is fundamentally different from our own sin, Augustine makes clear that Adam and Eve were created as good. There was no guilt in Adam and Eve before the Fall. Rather, they existed in a state of, what Couenhoven calls, Original Innocence. They were not incapable of sinning, for if that were so the Fall never would have occurred, but they had the full capability to avoid sinning. It is due to their state of Original Innocence, their complete lack of a predisposition toward sin, which allows us to classify this primal sin as “mere sin”.
Though the idea that one in such a state of innocence and grace would still sin seems, to Augustine, wholly inexplicable. Adam and Eve were created with properly-ordered wills and the grace to love God (as well as a warning that if they disobeyed God they would die). Thus that they would sin seems nonsensical. Nevertheless, we know from Scripture that they did, in fact, sin. Couenhoven notes that some theologians have attempted to describe this primal sin as carnal. But Augustine finds this view wholly untenable. As Couenhoven says:
"[Augustine] argues that disobeying a direct command from God when life was so blessed would be thinkable only for those who had already begun to be proud in their inner hearts (Gn.Litt. XI.30.39; C.Jul.imp. I.71). The beginning of all sin is pride, the desire to live by the rule of self (Civ.Dei XII.6; Gn.Litt. XI.5.7). Eating the fruit, then, was merely the external expression of the sin that already lay within (Civ.Dei XIV.13, 42; Gn.Litt. XI.5.7). Thus, the evil will is prior to the evil act, and the cause of sin arises not in the flesh, but in the soul (Civ.Dei XIV.3, 13)."
Even with that having been said, we still have no proper explanation for why primal sin occurred, and Augustine acknowledges that no such explanation exists. The advent of primal sin is wholly unreasonable. We know it arose from a disordered desire for lesser goods, but the desire itself is entirely without sense when we recognize that Adam and Eve were created by God with the end of resting in God. The sin was a falling away from God.
This primal sin resulted in a corruption of man’s nature, but it must be noted that Augustine is not saying that man is wholly corrupted by this sin—that man’s nature is so wholly altered by sin so as to make it evil and hated by God. Rather, Augustine views that human nature is severely harmed by this sin in every way. Couenhoven draws on Augustine’s Retractions to point out that this view is not one of complete depravity, but ought to be understood instead as “we are ‘half dead’”, or rather that humanity is severely deformed due to sin and requires healing grace in order to restore us to our proper condition. Man is so deformed that he has taken on such a powerful disposition toward sin that the only method of reorienting our will is through grace. While Adam existed in a state of perfect harmony between his soul and his body, that primal sin has resulted in a discord between the two.
Solidarity with Adam
But how is Adam’s sin contracted to us? Certainly Adam’s sin is terrible, and we can see how the penalties for that sin ought to affect him, but how can we suffer the same penalties? It is in answering this question that we come to the second key element of Augustine’s doctrine of Original Sin: man’s solidarity with Adam. Here we encounter Augustine’s view of the “seminal things” of us which existed in Adam. We did not all exist individually in Adam, as we did not receive our own individual form until we were begotten by our parents. But Augustine does say, in The City of God, that there was something of us which did exist: “. . . but already the seminal nature was there from which we were to be propagated; and this being vitiated by sin, and bound by the chain of death, and justly condemned, man could not be born of man in any other state.” We must take note of this idea of the seminal things, as it is clear Augustine does not want to say the sin of Adam is merely the breaking of a covenant—it is not a matter of considering Adam to have acted as a representative of humanity who could either “ratify or break the treaty for all of us.” Rather there is something of our nature which exists already in Adam, and thus our natures incur the same penalty which he incurred. This is what Augustine calls the “common life” of souls in Adam, which is made distinct from our proper lives as individuals in our own bodies.
We never really get a thorough treatment of this from Augustine. Couenhoven notes that Augustine’s views on this are scattered across several works, and even then they are stated with an element of mystery surrounding them. It must be noted that Augustine is not advocating for a traducianist view of the soul, even though he never fleshes out how each individual actually did exist in Adam beyond the notion of the “seminal nature”. “Thus, in a statement that might just as well apply to himself, he tells his opponent Julian, ‘if you cannot understand this, believe it’.”
At this point we must ask: How are children affected by this contracted Original Sin? If every soul was in Adam and share in his sin, is each child simply weakened by the tendency to sin, as the Pelagians held, or is there also a share of guilt involved for that sin? Augustine takes both of these views, agreeing that the primal sin causes a weakness in the souls of Adam’s progeny which results in a tendency toward sin, but also that because every man was in Adam in the primal sin, every soul is therefore guilty of that same sin. Here is where we come to the third key element of Augustine’s doctrine of Original Sin: inherited sin.
In looking at this, we immediately notice that Augustine’s element of inherited sin relies heavily on how he views our solidarity with Adam. He uses the term mass damnata, the “damned mass”. The entire human race was in Adam in that primal sin, and thus the entire human race is guilty of that sin and damned together. This mass includes even the elect—those who are saved from this damnation by the grace of God. This view is far from a forensic understanding of imputed guilt, which we will see later when we discuss the view of John Calvin. Instead, Augustine holds that we are guilty because we participated in the act of the primal sin. “Thus, Adam’s sin and ours are one and the same.”
Augustine’s view is often referred to as one of “common guilt”, as it is our common life in Adam which causes the same guilt laid upon Adam to be laid upon the whole human race. But this only speaks to the second sense of guilt in our question earlier. Augustine also speaks of Original Sin in the sense of an “inherited state of disordered desire and ignorance”—a state in which we have a tendency toward sin, and from which all of our personal sins arise. This relies entirely on Augustine’s view of participatory sin in Adam, as he thinks God would not allow human nature to be so fallen and corrupted if we were not already guilty of the primal sin. This sense of Original Sin is what Augustine refers to as “carnal concupiscence”, which is distinguished from mere “concupiscence”. Concupiscence is taken here to mean simply desire in general, and can be a good, as Augustine says “At times one ought to boast over what is called concupiscence, because there is also the concupiscence of the spirit against the flesh, and there is the concupiscence of wisdom”. Carnal concupiscence, on the other hand, refers to the desire for sin—to a disordered love for things which are contrary to our proper end.
Augustine makes clear that we relate to others through our love, and our desires. As Couenhoven states:
"[Sin] is a misrelation to God, as well as the good things that God has made. Original Sin is like other sin in this respect. It differs in that it is an inherited condition, and a corruption of human nature. In general terms, Original Sin is a fundamental disorientation, away from God and towards lesser goods. Augustine’s multi-purpose term for this corrupted orientation is carnal concupiscence. Thus, carnal concupiscence is disordered desire."
What must be clarified is that by “carnal” we are not referring merely to bodily things—Augustine does not take the position that all sin is due to the flesh. The weakness of our postlapsarian nature lies in both our flesh and in our soul. In his commentary on Genesis, Augustine says, “And thus the cause of [carnal concupiscence] is not to be found in the soul alone, but much less in the flesh alone. It arises, after all, from both”. This follows from his idea of the seminal nature which existed in Adam, where he says that man existed in Adam, in some seminal form, in both body and soul. Thus we see that Augustine holds that the carnal concupiscence speaks of the disordering of the entire human person, not simply the disorder of the body or merely the disorder of the soul.
Penalty for Sin
At this point, we must look more closely at the penalties incurred from the primal sin, the most evident of which is mortality—it was through sin that death was brought into the world, and thus death is the penalty for all mankind. Couenhoven also notes that we are now susceptible to disease, we have a disunity between our souls and our flesh, and we have a disunity between ourselves and others.
One interesting thing to note here, and which will come up later in our examination of John Calvin, how Augustine views the penalties for sin as applied to infants. We remember that Augustine holds to a view that all mankind participated in the primal sin. Thus while it may seem that infants would incur these penalties for someone else’s sin (namely, the sins of their parents), Augustine says that the penalties which infants suffer from are due to their very own sin in Adam. Couenhoven notes that this view is an attempt by Augustine to preserve the justice of God while avoiding the problem of evil.
Transmission of Original Sin
In speaking of how original sin is transmitted to all the human race, we recall that Augustine rejects both the Pelagian theory of imitation as well as the strict traducianist theory of natural generation of the soul. Instead, we see in The Literal Meaning of Genesis a sort of pseudo-traducianism, where he strips traducianism of its materialistic aspects (avoiding having to say that the soul is passed on by the parents) and creates what Couenhoven calls an “immaterial traducianism”. Augustine never fully adopts this view, as he could not account for how immaterial souls are passed from one generation to the next. Rather, he avoids the question of how the soul is propagated and instead says that the soul is “weighed down by the corrupted body produced by lustful sex”. This move by Augustine is once again his attempt to avoid saying that original sin is transmitted merely through imputation, as he firmly believes that all men were in Adam, ontologically speaking. “Thus, sexuality is vital to Augustine’s account of ontological solidarity with Adam; we were in Adam because we were in his seed.”
Perhaps the most interesting thing to note about Augustine’s theory of the transmission of Original Sin is his idea that parents can increase or decrease the presence of Original Sin in their offspring. In this, we find a social aspect to the transmission of sin, whereby the righteousness of the parents can lessen the Original Sin of the infant. The primal sin of Adam ensures that all of his progeny will suffer the presence of Original Sin, but Augustine adds this second element of social transmission, emphasizing that our own acts of sin (and virtue) have effects on our children.
Having covered, thoroughly enough for our purposes, Augustine’s views on Original Sin, we must turn to John Calvin, who holds what many purport to be an extension of Augustine. Calvin extolls his doctrine of Original Sin in his Institutes, particularly in the first chapter of Book II. We recall earlier that Augustine viewed the primal sin not as causing a complete depravation of human nature, but as severely harming it—human nature is not made, as modern Calvinists call it, “totally depraved”, but is rather distorted, disordered, and weakened by Original Sin. Let us then look at one particular statement of John Calvin, where he discusses the state of unbaptized infants:
"For although [infants] have not yet produced the fruits of their own unrighteousness, they have the seed implanted in them. No, their whole nature is, as it were, a seed-bed of sin, and therefore cannot but be odious and abominable to God."
We see Calvin here taking a much stronger position on the results of the Fall. Our natures are not merely harmed and disordered by Original Sin, but we are so completely depraved that our offspring cannot be seen as anything but “odious and abominable” to God. Out postlapsarian nature causes a revulsion in God, and this is why we are deemed sinful. Thus, for Calvin, God has a kind of hatred for postlapsarian man, and it is because of this that we are damned.
We see the immediate contrast with Augustine here. Augustine certainly did not speak positively about our postlapsarian condition. We are guilty and deserving of condemnation, and our natures are severely harmed in every way by Original Sin. We are deformed, and “half dead”, and our nature requires the grace of God to be healed to its proper form and ordering. But Calvin takes another step to call us so completely depraved so as to be hated by God. “For our nature is not only utterly devoid of goodness, but so prolific in all kinds of evil, that it can never be idle. . . or, to express it more briefly, that the whole man is in himself nothing else than concupiscence.”
But Calvin’s departure from Augustine goes much further than the matter of the degree to which we are depraved. Augustine held that we have a solidarity with Adam not merely in some forensic and legal sense, but that the mass damnata is due to our actual participation in the primal sin. We actually existed in Adam, in our seminal natures, when the primal sin was committed, and thus our guilt stands the same as Adam, for we are participators in the very same act. Calvin takes a different view, and seems to want to say that Adam bears the whole of the blame—there was no participation by us in this act, but rather “not only in one fault, in a matter not pertaining to us, but by the corruption into which he himself fell, infected his whole seed”.
This section of the Institutes demonstrates Calvin’s radically different approach to Original Sin. Nowhere does he say that we were participators in the sin of Adam, but rather he is saying that Adam stood as a kind of representative of the human race. Thus the guilt of Adam’s sin is imputed onto every one of us. Calvin presents a striking theory of imputation which seems wholly incompatible with the Augustinian view of solidarity. He says that Adam was given the grace and endowments of God, and thus when he sinned, those endowments were lost for all of humanity.
"It should be enough for us to know that Adam was made the depository of the endowments which God was pleased to bestow on human nature, and that, therefore, when he lost what he had received, he lost not only for himself, but for us all. Thus, from a corrupt root corrupt branches proceeding, transmit their corruption to the saplings which spring from them." -John Calvin 
We see the connection here between Calvin’s view of the total and complete depravation of human nature and how that guilt is imputed to all mankind. Calvin holds Adam to be a representative of humanity, and when Adam broke his covenant with God, the endowments were removed from Adam, making him depraved in every way. Thus when Adam had children, those children were similarly depraved. This is not due to some participation those children had in the primal sin. Adam’s progenies do not incur guilt the way Augustine views it—that all of mankind was in Adam in their seminal natures, being active participants in that sin, and thus rightly called guilty for it. Rather, the primal sin was committed absent anyone but Adam himself, and Adam, being now depraved, passes on that depravation to his progeny as corrupt branches proceed from a corrupt root. Thus the guilt of the primal sin is not properly ours, for guilt can only be incurred by one who commits an act worthy of it, but rather the guilt of Adam is imputed onto us due to our generation from him.
This theory of imputation is something which seems entirely foreign to the works of St. Augustine. Augustine firmly holds that guilt can only be ascribed to one who is actually guilty—to one who has actually committed a guilt-worthy act. Calvin seems to be saying that our guilt is due to our depravity. God looks on us in our fallen state and is repulsed by us. We are utterly devoid of all goodness, and thus God hates us and damns us.
We also find that this theory of imputation makes the transmission of Original Sin a complete non-issue. There is no reason to account for the transmission of Original Sin, and thus Calvin never quibbles about the origin of the soul. “Why feel any anxiety about the transmission of the soul, when we know the qualities which Adam lost he received for us not less than for himself, that they were not gifts to a single man, but attributes of the whole human race?” Calvin’s theory of imputation holds that Adam stood as a representative of humanity, and thus his guilt is imputed onto us. He has no need to account for the origin of the soul, for the transmission of Original Sin and the penalties thereof is not of our own personal guilt, but of imputed guilt.
John Calvin stands as one of the most prominent figures of the Protestant Reformation—perhaps even on-par with Martin Luther himself. But as we have seen, his understanding of Original Sin relies on a theory of imputation. This imputation is completely foreign to St. Augustine, and any attempt to call Augustine a proto-Calvinist, at least in the sense of his understanding of Original Sin and the state of the postlapsarian human nature, seem almost completely unfounded. Calvin discards any idea that man is personally guilty for the sin of Adam—there is no participation in the primal sin. Calvin further views the postlapsarian human nature to be so utterly depraved and devoid of any goodness whatsoever that it is repulsive to and hated by God. Though Calvin himself seems to rely on Augustine’s writings significantly in his own account of Original Sin, Calvin’s doctrine on Original Sin stands as a radical departure from anything which could properly be called “Augustinian”.
 Couenhoven, Jesse. "St. Augustine's Doctrine of Original Sin." Augustinian Studies 36, no. 2 (2005): 364.
 Couenhoven makes the distinction between the event of the first sin, and the condition of Original Sin. In order to keep the distinction clear, he uses “primal sin” to refer to the former while using “Original Sin” to signify the latter.
 Ibid, 366
 This is the position taken by John Calvin. Calvinists often argue that Augustine held to this same view, in order to set up Augustine as a sort of “Calvin before Calvin”. The error of this view of Augustine will be explained later.
 Ibid, 167
 This is a view stressed very heavily by Augustine in his later Anti-Pelagian writings. The Pelagians held that man could become virtuous and righteous through his own merit—through his own efforts and works. Augustine stresses the necessity of grace, an idea which is picked up on later by St. Thomas in his Treatise on Grace in the Summa Theologica.
 Augustine of Hippo. The City of God. Translated by Marcus Dods. New York: Modern Library, 1993. XIII, 14
 Couenhoven, 367
 This is also contrasted with the Pelagian view, which held that man’s solidarity with Adam lies only in imitation. Augustine wants to stress that all men have sinned in the first man not due to imitation, but because all men were actually in Adam in some seminal form.
 Ibid, 368
 Traducianism, primarily championed by Tertullian, would hold that the soul is transmitted through natural generation—that the child not only receives the material body from the father and mother, but also the soul. Augustine’s views on this will be covered later, in our discussion of the transmission of Original Sin.
 Ibid, 368
 Ibid, 369
 Ibid, 370
 Ibid, 371
 Ibid, 372
 Ibid, 373
 Ibid, 372
 Ibid, 373
 This is a view more commonly adopted by the Gnostics, who hold that the body is inherently evil, while the soul remains good. Thus any sin which is committed is due to the corruption of the soul by the body, and we ought to desire to be rid of our bodies so that we can perfect our goodness in pure spiritual existence.
 Augustine of Hippo. On Genesis: On Genesis: A Refutation of the Manichees, Unfinished Literal Commentary on Genesis, The Literal Meaning of Genesis. Translated by Edmund Hill. Edited by John E. Rotelle. Vol. 13. The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century. Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2002. “The Literal Meaning of Genesis”, X, 12,20
 Ibid, X, 11,18
 Couenhoven, 382
 Ibid, 384; The Literal Meaning of Genesis, X, 11, 18
 Couenhoven, 384
 Ibid, 385
 Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Translated by Henry Beveridge. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008. II, 1,8
 Couenhoven, 167
 Calvin, II, 1,8
 Calvin, II, 1, 6
 Calvin, II, 1, 7