Augustine on the origin of the soul and solidarity with Adam: In dialogue with Robert J. O'Connell

Ronnie Jae Rombs, Fordham University


O'Connell argued that Augustine followed Plotinus's doctrine that man is a soul that existed prior to the present life and fell into bodily life by its own sin. The dissertation first summarizes O'Connell's two basic theses, arguing that (1) O'Connell understood Augustine's conception of the soul's fall to be ontological and cosmogonic, since the fall of soul for Plotinus is the metaphysical ground for individuation and the coming-to-be of the sensible world. (2) After a period in which Augustine explicitly rejects the possibility of the soul's preexistence and fall, O'Connell argued that Augustine returned to the theory based upon the soul's prior unity in Adam as the justification against the Pelagians for the possibility of original sin and guilt. The second part of the dissertation argues first that Augustine's early ontological understanding of the ‘fall of soul’ developed. A Plotinian conception of the soul's fall in the young Augustine sits aside contrary principles of a Christian metaphysics rooted in the doctrine of creation ex nihilo . As the incompatibility between Christian and Plotinian metaphysics became apparent, Augustine's conception of the soul's fall developed into a moral, psychological claim. Secondly, an examination of his defense of original sin suggests that Augustine understood the soul to derive guilt from Adam Augustine's claim of the soul's unity in Adam at the time of his sin did not involve the ontological identity between the two, which would involve a return to the Plotinian theory. After his rejection of the ‘fallen soul’ theory, Augustine employs only the Pauline schema of derivation from Adam to justify original sin. Thus, ultimately the question of the soul's origin ceases to possess the theological import it initially held, since the question of original guilt had been answered in different terms: the older Augustine could remain undecided about the question of the origin of the soul without theological compromise.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Rombs, Ronnie Jae, "Augustine on the origin of the soul and solidarity with Adam: In dialogue with Robert J. O'Connell" (2003). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3083159.