With regard to my post from February 10th of this year concerning a “Restoration to Our Natural State“, you ask how I would reply to Saint Augustine when he writes about his Manichaean period:
“I still thought that it is not we who sin but some other nature that sins within us. It flattered my pride to think that I incurred no guilt and, when I did wrong, not to confess it…. I preferred to excuse myself and blame this unknown thing that was in me but was not part of me. The truth, of course, was that it was all my own self, and my own impiety had divided me against myself. My sin was all the more incurable because I did not think myself a sinner” (Confessions, Book V, Section 10).
My reply is twofold. I would point out first that the Bishop of Hippo is not here speaking about the disputed point of inherited guilt, which was the subject of my earlier comment, but rather about the origin and “position”, as it were, of sin within those who have in fact committed sins and are thus morally guilty. And what he underscores in so doing is precisely the issue that Orthodoxy is also keen on stressing—that of personal responsibility. Although we’re all of us born into a fallen world where, in the words of Metropolitan Kallistos, “it is easy to do evil and hard to do good” (The Orthodox Way, 62), we’re nonetheless innocent until we have ourselves chosen the evil.
It’s also surely worth noting that while the saint is obviously right to be on his guard against a hamartiology that would serve only to “flatter” and “excuse” the sinful ego, he can’t be right when he says that “it was all my own self”—unless, perhaps, we accentuate the past tense of his verb in this phrase. For it can’t be “all his self” that is sinful in the very instant of his self-examination; what he sees as object is no doubt responsible for its sinful, hence guilty, state, but the subject that sees this is not this.
As you know, Augustine drew much of the inspiration for his teaching from the writings of Saint Paul, but even Paul—even in Romans—was able to distinguish the evil lying “close at hand” from his own “inner man”, in whom he continued to “delight in the law of God” (Romans 7:21-22).