This life of ours — if a life so full of such great ills can properly be called a life — bears witness to the fact that, from its very start, the race of mortal men has been a race condemned. Think, first, of that dreadful abyss of ignorance from which all error flows and so engulfs the sons of Adam in a darksome pool that no one can escape without the toll of toils and tears and fears. Then, take our very love for all those things that prove so vain and poisonous and breed so many heartaches, troubles, griefs, and fears; such insane joys in discord, strife, and war; such wrath and plots of enemies, deceivers, sycophants; such fraud and theft and robbery; such perfidy and pride, envy and ambition, homicide and murder, cruelty and savagery, lawlessness and lust; all the shameless passions of the impure — fornication and adultery, incest and unnatural sins, rape and countless other uncleannesses too nasty to be mentioned; the sins against religion — sacrilege and heresy, blasphemy and perjury; the iniquities against our neighbors — calumnies and cheating, lies and false witness, violence to persons and property; the injustices of the courts and the innumerable other miseries and maladies that fill the world, yet escape attention.
It is true that it is wicked men who do such things, but the source of all such sins is that radical canker in the mind and will that is innate in every son of Adam. For, our infancy proves with what ignorance of the truth man enters upon life, and adolescence makes clear to all the world how full we are of folly and concupiscence. In fact, if anyone were left to live as he pleased and to do what he desired, he would go through practically the whole gamut of lawlessnesses and lust — those which I have just listed and, perhaps, others that I refrained from mentioning.
[Nam quod ad primam originem pertinet, omnem mortalium progeniem fuisse damnatam, haec ipsa uita, si uita dicenda est, tot et tantis malis plena testatur. Quid enim aliud indicat horrenda quaedam profunditas ignorantiae, ex qua omnis error existit, qui omnes filios Adam tenebroso quodam sinu suscepit, ut homo ab illo liberari sine labore dolore timore non possit? Quid amor ipse tot rerum uanarum atque noxiarum et ex hoc mordaces curae, perturbationes, maerores, formidines, insana gaudia, discordiae, lites, bella, insidiae, iracundiae, inimicitiae, fallacia, adulatio, fraus, furtum, rapina, perfidia, superbia, ambitio, inuidentia, homicidia, parricidia, crudelitas, saeuitia, nequitia, luxuria, petulantia, inpudentia, inpudicitia, fornicationes, adulteria, incesta et contra naturam utriusque sexus tot stupra atque inmunditiae, quas turpe est etiam dicere, sacrilegia, haereses, blasphemiae, periuria, oppressiones innocentium, calumniae, circumuentiones, praeuaricationes, falsa testimonia, iniqua iudicia, uiolentiae, latrocinia et quidquid talium malorum in mentem non uenit et tamen de uita ista hominum non recedit? Verum haec hominum sunt malorum, ab illa tamen erroris et peruersi amoris radice uenientia, cum qua omnis filius Adam nascitur. Nam quis ignorat cum quanta ignorantia ueritatis, quae iam in infantibus manifesta est, et cum quanta abundantia uanae cupiditatis, quae in pueris incipit apparere, homo ueniat in hanc uitam, ita ut, si dimittatur uiuere ut uelit et facere quidquid uelit, in haec facinora et flagitia, quae commemoraui et quae commemorare non potui, uel cuncta uel multa perueniat?]
City of God [De Civitate Dei], Book 22, ch. 22 (22.22) (AD 412-416) [tr. Walsh/Honan (1954)]
(Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:
Concerning man’s first origin, our present life (if such a miserable estate can be called a life) does sufficiently prove that all his children were condemned in him. What else does that horrid gulf of ignorance confirm, whence all error has birth, and wherein all the sons of Adam are so deeply drenched, that none can be freed without toil, fear, and sorrow? What else does our love of vanities affirm, whence there arises such a tempest of cares, sorrows, repinings, fears, mad exultations, discords, altercations, wars, treasons, furies, hates, deceits, flatteries, thefts, rapines, perjuries, pride, ambition, envy, murder, parricide, cruelty, villainy, luxury, impudence, unchastity, fornications, adulteries, incests, several sorts of sins against nature (filthy even to be named), sacrilege, heresy, blasphemy, oppression, calumnies, circumventions, deceits, false witnesses, false judgments, violence, robberies, and suchlike out of my remembrance to reckon, but not excluded from the life of man? All these evils are belonging to man, and arise out of the root of that error and perverse affection which every son of Adam brings into the world with him. For who does not know in what a mist of ignorance (as we see in infants) and with what a crew of vain desires (as we see in boys) all mankind enters this world, so that if man were left unto his own election, he would fall into most of the aforesaid mischiefs?
[tr. Healey (1610)]
That the whole human race has been condemned in its first origin, this life itself, if life it is to be called, bears witness by the host of cruel ills with which it is filled. Is not this proved by the profound and dreadful ignorance which produces all the errors that enfold the children of Adam, and from which no man can be delivered without toil, pain, and fear? Is it not proved by his love of so many vain and hurtful things, which produces gnawing cares, disquiet, griefs, fears, wild joys, quarrels, lawsuits, wars, treasons, angers, hatreds, deceit, flattery, fraud, theft, robbery, perfidy, pride, ambition, envy, murders, parricides, cruelty, ferocity, wickedness, luxury, insolence, impudence, shamelessness, fornications, adulteries, incests, and the numberless uncleannesses and unnatural acts of both sexes, which it is shameful so much as to mention; sacrileges, heresies, blasphemies, perjuries, oppression of the innocent, calumnies, plots, falsehoods, false witnessings, unrighteous judgments, violent deeds, plunderings, and whatever similar wickedness has found its way into the lives of men, though it cannot find its way into the conception of pure minds? These are indeed the crimes of wicked men, yet they spring from that root of error and misplaced love which is born with every son of Adam. For who is there that has not observed with what profound ignorance, manifesting itself even in infancy, and with what superfluity of foolish desires, beginning to appear in boyhood, man comes into this life, so that, were he left to live as he pleased, and to do whatever he pleased, he would plunge into all, or certainly into many of those crimes and iniquities which I mentioned, and could not mention?
[tr. Dods (1871)]
This very life, if life it can be called, pregnant with so many dire evils, bears witness that from its very beginning all the progeny of mankind was damned. For what else is the meaning of the dreadful depth of ignorance, from which all error arises, which has taken to its bosom, so to speak, all the sons of Adam in its dark embrace, so that man cannot be freed from that embrace without toil, pain and fear? What is the meaning of the love of so many vain and harmful things, from which come gnawing cares, passions, griefs, fears, mad joys, discords, strifes, wars, plots, wraths, enmities, deceits, flattery, fraud, theft, robbery, perfidy, pride, ambition, envy, murder, parricide, cruelty, ferocity, vileness, riotous living, disorderly conduct, impudence, shamelessness, fornication, adultery, incest and so many outrageous and foul forms of unnatural vice in each sex which it is indecent even to mention, sacrilege, heresies, blasphemies, perjuries, oppressions of the innocent, calumnies, deceptions, duplicities, false witness, unjust verdicts, violence, brigandage and all the other evils which come not to mind, but still do not pass from this life of men? Yes, these are misdeeds of bad men, for they spring from that root of error and perverse love with which every son of Adam is born. Indeed, who does not know with what ignorance of truth, manifest already in infancy, and with what excess of vain desire, which begins to appear in childhood, man comes into this life, so that if he is allowed to live and do as he likes, he falls into all, or many, of these misdeeds and crimes which I have rehearsed, and others which I was unable to rehearse?
[tr. Green (Loeb) (1972)]
As for that first origin of mankind, this present life of ours (if a state full of so much grievous misery can be called a life) is evidence that all the mortal descendants of the first man came under condemnation. Such is the clear evidence of that terrifying abyss of ignorance, as it may be called, which is the source of all error, in whose gloomy depths all the sons of Adam are engulfed, so that man cannot be rescued from it without toil, sorrow and fear. What else is the message of all the evils of humanity? The love of futile and harmful satisfactions, with its results: carking anxieties, agitations of mind, disappointments, fears, frenzied joys, quarrels, disputes, wars, treacheries, hatreds, enmities, deceits, flattery, fraud, theft, rapine, perfidy, pride, ambition, envy, murder, parricide, cruelty, savagery, villainy, lust, promiscuity, indecency, unchastity, fornication, adultery, incest, unnatural vice in men and women (disgusting acts too filthy to be named), sacrilege, collusion, false witness, unjust judgement, violence, robbery, and all other such evils which do not immediately come to mind, although they never cease to beset this life of man -- all these evils belong to man in his wickedness, and they all spring from that root of error and perverted affection which every son of Adam brings with him at his birth. For who is not aware of the vast ignorance of the truth (which is abundantly seen in infancy) and the wealth of futile desires (which begins to be obvious in boyhood) which accompanies a man on his entrance into this world, so that if man were left to live as he chose and act as he pleased he would fall into all, or most, of those crimes and sins which I have mentioned -- and others which I was not able to mention.
[tr. Bettenson (1972)]
This life itself, if it is to be called a life, attests, by the many great evils with which it is filled, that the whole mortal progeny of the first man stands condemned. What could show this more clearly than that dreadful and profound ignorance from which springs all the error which imprisons the sons of Adam in a dark place from which no man can be delivered without toil, pain and fear? Is this not proved by his love of so many vain and harmful things, from which come gnawing cares, disturbances, griefs, fears, insane joys, discords, litigation, wars, treasons, angers, hatreds, falsehood, flattery, fraud, theft, rapine, perfidy, pride, ambition, envy, homicides, parricides, cruelty, ferocity, wickedness, luxury, insolence, immodesty, unchastity, fornications, adulteries, incests, and so many other impure and unnatural acts of both sexes of which it is shameful even to speak; sacrileges, heresies, blasphemies, perjuries, oppression of the innocent, slanders, plots, prevarications, false witness, unrighteous judgments, acts of violence, robberies, and other such evils which do not immediately come to mind, but which are never far away from men in this life? Truly, these are the crimes of wicked men; yet they come forth from that root of error and perverse love which is born with every son of Adam. For who does not know how great is our ignorance of the truth, manifesting itself even in infancy? Who does not know with what an abundance of vain desires, beginning to appear in boyhood, a man comes into this life? So true is this that, if a man were left to live as he wished and do whatever he liked, he would fall into all, or certainly into many, of those crimes and iniquities which I mentioned and could not mention.
[tr. Dyson (1998)]
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Christ by his crucifixion demonstrated exactly what the assault of cruelty on the innocent means; and the subsequent services devised by the early church commemorated the beauty of the virtue that was slain and the beastliness shown by the slayer, and reiterated the warning that this was the kind of crime man was inherently likely to commit unless he watched himself. There could be no more proper medicine for the human disease. But the church has poured as much of the draft as possible down the drain by its attempts to account for the crucifixion of Christ as an atonement for the sins of man instead of a demonstration of them.
“Pleasure Be Your Guide,” The Nation, “Living Philosophies” series #10 (25 Feb 1939)
Adapted into Clifton Fadiman, I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Certain Eminent Men and Women of Our Time (1952).
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I am a democrat because I believe in the Fall of Man. I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that everyone deserved a share in government. The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they’re not true. And whenever their weakness is exposed, the people who prefer tyranny make capital out of the exposure. I find that they’re not true without looking further than myself. I don’t deserve a share in governing a hen-roost, much less a nation. Nor do most people — all the people who believe advertisements, and think in catchwords and spread rumours. The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.
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We begin to notice, besides our particular sinful acts, our sinfulness; begin to be alarmed not only about what we do, but about what we are. This may sound rather difficult, so I will try to make it clear from my own case. When I come to my evening prayers and try to reckon up the sins of the day, nine times out of ten the most obvious one is some sin against charity; I have sulked or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed. And the excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and unexpected; I was caught off my guard, I had not time to collect myself.
Now that may be an extenuating circumstance as regards those particular acts: they would obviously be worse if they had been deliberate and premeditated. On the other hand, surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. The rats are always there in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light.
Mere Christianity, “Let’s Pretend” (1952)
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