Now Augustine saw the danger of freedom as so great that he produced the famous doctrine attutorium gratiae , the helping power of grace, which was given to Adam before he fell. He was not in pure nature (in puris naturalibus), namely the assisting power of grace. This assistance of grace made it possible for him to continue indefinitely in the direction of his will towards God. It made it possible for him. But you see this was a point where the Reformers fought against Augustine. This attutorium gratiae , this assisting power of grace, implied indirectly that nature in itself cannot be good, it must be fulfilled by supra-nature; that if man is in puris naturalibus, in pure nature, then he is so endangered that actually he must fall.
Therefore the supernature helps him. The Reformers had such an emphasis on human nature – very similar to the Renaissance, at the same time – that they declined this idea of a donum superadditum, a gift which was added to man’s nature. This is a very profound distinction, and behind this seemingly Scholastic terminology something is hidden, namely the question of the valuation of creation.
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.