In the doctrine of the donum superadditum , something of the Greek .valuation of matter as the resisting power, is present. There is some of the Greek tragic feeling which enters here, the Jewish-Protestant-Christian affirmation of nature as good in itself.
Now if we see how Adam was formed, on the basis of all this, Augustine can say that the first man had the freedom not to fall, not to die, not to turn away from the good. In this stage he was at peace with himself – a profound remark in view of our modern depth psychology; he was at peace with all things and all men. There was no cupidity, no desire, in him, not even in sexual life. There was no pain in this state, not even in the situation of birth. . . . .In any case, it was very easy for him not to fall. There was no real reason for it, but astonishingly he did fall. And since there was no external reason for his fall, his fall started in his inner life. Sin, according to Augustine, is in its very start spiritual sin. Man wanted to be in himself, he had all the good possibilities, he had nothing to suffer, from which he would turn away; he had everything he needed, but he wanted to have all this by himself, he wanted to stay in himself, (therefore he turned away. And this is what Dr. Niebuhr calls “pride,” and what I prefer to call “hybris,” self-elevation. In this way man lost the assistance of grace and was left alone by grace. He wanted to be autonomous, to stand upon himself, and this meant a wrong love of himself, not the right love of himself; and this wrong love of himself cut off the love towards God. He says: “The beginning of all sin is pride; the beginning of pride is man’s turning away from God..” Or, if you say hybris instead of pride, then this is profounder, because pride often has the connotation of a special psychological character, and that is not what is meant here. The most humble people psychologically can have the greatest pride.
Now these statements show first of all that Augustine was aware that sin is something which happens in the spiritual realm, namely turning away from the Ground of Being to whom one belongs. It is not a naturalistic doctrine of sin. But more important than this, Augustine shows clearly the religious character of sin.
Sin for him is not a moral failure, it is not even disobedience – disobedience is a consequence but not the cause; the cause is: turning away from God, and from God as the highest good, as the love with which God loves Himself, through us. For this reason, since sin has this character – if you say “sins,” is easily dissolved into moral sins, but sin is first of all basically the power of turning away from God. For this very reason no moral remedy is possible. Only one remedy is possible: return to God. But this of course is possible only in the power of God, and this power is lost.
This is the state of man under the conditions of existence. The immediate consequence of man’s turning away from his highest good is the loss of this good. This loss is the essential punishment for man. Punishments in terms of educational or juristic terminology are secondary. For Augustine, the basic punishment is ontological. If God is everything positive, he power of being overcoming non-being, or the ultimate good – which is the same thing for him– then of course the only real punishment possible is the intrinsic punishment of losing this power of being, of non-participating any more in the ultimate good.