Sämtliche schriften und briefe series II, volume 3
Deutsche Akademie der Wissenschaften (ed)
pp 247-248

Date: 1696 (?)

Translated from the French

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[A II 3, p247]

     Sir, I return to you with thanks the Conjectures sur le peché Originel [Conjectures on Original Sin].1 The author is right to reject Flacius' opinion and right to say that what is substantial in the soul is not corrupted.2 And I even think it can be granted that the depravity of human nature through sin is nothing other than the infection of the source of thoughts. But when the author claims that original sin consists only in the thoughts themselves,3 and that there is no other disorder, it seems he says a little too much. I think, however, that he ought to be explained favourably through himself, since by thoughts he means not only the act of thought but also habits and dispositions, and this, I think, is what he calls habitual thoughts.4
     In the soul, a distinction must be made between the essence and essential properties on the one hand, and the accidental modifications on the other. But the modifications must also be distinguished into qualities and into actions or passions. Qualities are enduring, but actions or passions are transitive. These qualities are dispositions, habits, or inclinations to action and [A II 3, 248] passion, and are also either born with us or acquired. In this way, when these distinctions are considered properly all the difficulties disappear by themselves. It is clear that what is essential in the soul is not changed, otherwise the soul would be destroyed. Therefore, original sin could not be anything other than what is called among philosophers habitus innatus [innate habit], whereof the subject is the substance itself along with its faculties, in which evil has taken root, since it is enduring and thus consists not only in thoughts but also in the source that produces them. Now, to inquire more specifically into what this habit is, it may be said that there are ideas in the understanding and inclinations in the will which are born with the man and which, in corresponding to the imperfections of the body, make it so that man is inclined to evil. And the author himself acknowledges that one can be born not only with the idea of something but also with an inclination or aversion that accompanies a corporeal idea.5 Thus man, in this state of corrupt nature, has the disposition to be easily struck only by the confused feelings of sensible goods and evils until he disabuses himself by experience or instruction, whereas in a more sublime state he had more distinct sentiments, which prevented him from restricting himself to the senses and other particular goods. However, it must be believed that there was still a vicissitude of thoughts even in this state of universal nature, and that the mind cannot always be bound to intelligible things, sometimes humbling itself to enjoy sensual objects. And it was in this state that it was snatched by sin. So when the author asks about the origin of Adam's sin,6 the answer must be that it came from the imperfection or original limitation of creatures, which prevents them from being gods.


1. [Samuel Sauvage], Conjectures sur la nature du peché originel avec la refutation de l'opinion de Flacius (Helmstedt: Salomon Schnorr, 1696). The book is a response to Matthias Illyricus Flacius, Disputatio de originali peccato et libero arbitrio ([Bremen], 1562).
2. Flacius had argued that when Adam fell his substantial form was changed or corrupted from the image of God to the image of the devil, which Flacius refers to as a perverted form. In response, Sauvage claims that original sin did not affect the substance of the soul and its being formed in the image of God, but rather affected some of the soul's qualities, such as the insights of the understanding in relation to God and natural things, the uprightness of the will, the purity of its affections etc. [Sauvage], Conjectures sur la nature du peché originel, 8, cf. 22, 25.
3. "Man's wickedness consists not in the corruption of faculties in themselves but only in the corruption of his thoughts." [Sauvage], Conjectures sur la nature du peché originel, 9, cf. 12, 14.
4. See [Sauvage], Conjectures sur la nature du peché originel, 22, 24.
5. See [Sauvage], Conjectures sur la nature du peché originel, 29.
6. See [Sauvage], Conjectures sur la nature du peché originel, 18.

© Lloyd Strickland 2018