Translation – The Writings against Julian – Vol 1 p23

Translation from the work of St Severus by Father Peter Farrington

Who does not know that all of these eminent Teachers have said, following the Divine Scriptures, that the Son and Word of God, who is before the ages, at the end of time, was incarnated and made man of the Holy Spirit and of the Mother of God, Mary, ever Virgin, without any change and alteration?

Meaning that he was hypostatically united to a flesh, endowed with an intelligent soul – elements which constitute our humanity – to the exclusion of sin, which is not considered inherent to the constitution and nature of humanity, since it is a weakness and a disease of the mind that has deviated, by the exercise of his free will, towards illegitimate desires. Indeed, affected also, by this infirmity, and because his thoughts had turned towards sensual pleasure, that Adam was overcome by the savour of the fruit of the tree which was forbidden to him!

Now, infirmity is a defect of health, this infirmity also is the alteration of a mind which has abandoned sound preoccupations. If, therefore, some-one takes the side of maintaining healthy thoughts, pleasing to God, he will be free from sin and weakness. It is known that on the other hand, that sin, which results from a defect and an alteration of health, is a thing without substance or hypostasis.

Therefore, as long as he enjoyed health, that is, as long as he was observing the divine precept, Adam did not bear in him any trace of sin. But when, by a voluntary impulse, he had diverted his mind towards the attractions of sensual pleasure, and had become the slave of the abominable desires, the fact that he had strayed from the right path, it is said and understood that he had been subjected to sin.

Commentary

This is an interesting and helpful passage from St Severus in his continuing resistance to the ideas of Julian of Halicarnassus. Julian considered that all weakness in our humanity was due to sin and a mark of guilt, therefore he wanted to exclude the Lord Jesus, the Word incarnate, from any necessary participation in our natural weakness.

St Severus, in this extract, shows us what sin consists of, and its relation to our human experience. He reminds us, in the first section, that all of the Fathers, following the Scriptures, teach that the Word of God was incarnated and made man of the Holy Spirit and of the Mother of God, Mary, ever Virgin, without any change and alteration. And in the second section, as I have formatted his text here, he shows what this incarnation means. He was hypostatically united to a flesh, endowed with an intelligent soul – elements which constitute our humanity – to the exclusion of sin, which is not considered inherent to the constitution and nature of humanity.

This is important. He is speaking about the Word of God uniting himself to our humanity, that humanity which he received from the Virgin Mary. He has united himself to every aspect of our humanity – flesh with an intelligent, that is rational and thinking and willing soul. But he is without sin. How can this be, if he has become human as we are? St Severus expresses the mind of the Church when he explains…

Sin is not considered inherent to the constitution and nature of humanity, since it is a weakness and a disease of the mind that has deviated, by the exercise of his free will, towards illegitimate desires.

What he is saying here is that sin is not any part of human nature, and so when our Lord Jesus Christ became truly and completely man, it was necessary that he also inherit sin, because sin is not a constituent of human nature. But of course we have all sinned, and sin is part of our own human experience. What is sin then, if it is not part of our human nature? St Severus explains, it is a weakness and disease of the mind, so that using our free will we turn to illegitimate desires. So sin is not part of our human nature, but becomes part of our human experience, because we use our free will to desire sensual pleasure, to desire to please ourselves.

If sin was a part of our human nature then we would not be responsible for sinning. But St Severus insists…

Now, infirmity is a defect of health, this infirmity also is the alteration of a mind which has abandoned sound preoccupations. If, therefore, some-one takes the side of maintaining healthy thoughts, pleasing to God, he will be free from sin and weakness.

When we sin, it is not because we must, but because each of us has chosen to abandon sound preoccupations. This turning to sin, using our free will on sinful desires, brings about in us a defect of health. We cannot blame God as if we were unable to make such a choice. Indeed, he says that when we focus on healthy thoughts, pleasing to God, then we are free from sin and weakness. He is not speaking here about the possibility of never sinning at all. But he is speaking about the responsibility for sin being our own, because it is a matter of our choices and desires, our use of the will God has given us, and is not a matter of our human nature. We know that as we concentrate on life in union with God we discover that we are able to sin less often, and live a life more pleasing to God. Therefore we know that sin is not part of our nature, but a wrong use of what God has given us.

Sin is not a thing at all. Sin, which results from a defect and an alteration of health, is a thing without substance or hypostasis. It exists in the use of the will for unworthy desires, and as we sin, our mind and will become less healthy, and more diseased. But we cannot be contaminated in our human nature by sin, and St Severus means especially that the Word of God could not become sinful in becoming truly man like us, because sin does not exist in our human nature, but in the use of our mind and will.

This is why St Severus says…

Therefore, as long as he enjoyed health, that is, as long as he was observing the divine precept, Adam did not bear in him any trace of sin.

Freedom from sin is a matter of Adam preserving himself in obedience, and in spiritual health. He could have continued in this way forever, had he chosen to do so.

But when, by a voluntary impulse, he had diverted his mind towards the attractions of sensual pleasure, and had become the slave of the abominable desires, the fact that he had strayed from the right path, it is said and understood that he had been subjected to sin.

How did sin come into his life, and into human experience? It was by a voluntary impulse. It was by a movement of his mind and will towards sensual pleasure, in his case the fruit of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It was this movement of his own free will that caused him to become not only someone who had disobeyed God, but someone who was becoming the slave of abominable desire, since his sin had introduced an infirmity, a sickness, a disease, not into his human nature, but into the working of his mind and will. It is because of this that Adam is said to have become subject to sin, not because sin had contaminated his human nature, otherwise Christ, the Word of God incarnate, would also have become contaminated when he became man in our own flesh.

In the same way, St Severus instructs us that sin is not part of our human nature. It is not only human to sin. Far from it. It is a turning of our mind and will away from health and life and God, and is the antithesis of what it means to be human. Therefore we are ourselves responsible for our sins, we bring about our own increasing sickness, while our human nature is not sinful, since sin is not considered inherent to the constitution and nature of humanity.

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