Wolfgang Musculus (1497-1563) on God foreseeing the fall of Adam, and the felix culpa


The logic of the Reformed doctrine of election left theologians with the obligation to show that God did not cause the fall. Wolfgang Musculus (1497-1563) states below the standard position that God foresaw humanity’s fall in Adam but did not cause it to occur. Adam had been created good but fell into sin of his own accord. Hence humanity has only itself – not God – to blame for its predicament.

Musculus was professor of theology at Bern, Switzerland, from 1559 until his death, having previously been converted to the Reformation faith through reading Luther and spending time in both Augsburg and Strasbourg. This excerpt is from his Loci communes sacrae theologiae:

“God’s ways are not like men’s ways, so that it must be thought that it happened to im, as it usually comes to us every day: our plans and acts promptly fall out far otherwise than we had intended. He created man in His image, upright and unimpaired. Who [is] so senseless as to say that He had not foreseen what would happen to man by the serpent’s persuasion? All therefore generally agree, and rightly, in this, that Adam’s sin had been foreseen and foreknown from eternity. Thus the lapse of the human race did not so occur as to be beyond the mind and intention of the Creator: which means that He is a sham creator in His work, as though the thing happened otherwise than He resolved…

[I]t is I think pretty clear that God refused to establish man’s felicity and salvation upon his first state and constitution such as it was, but established it on his (man’s) restoration predestined in Christ the Son, and He so arranged, that he should be redeemed and preserved neither by his knowledge of Himself (whence He even forbade him to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) nor by the worthiness and merits of his own righteousness, but by the sole grace and mercy of his free election, when otherwise ready to perish, by the intervention of His Son. The universal fall of the human race served to illustrate this grace of election. By the fall, before he had acquired any offspring, Adam fell into sin; and the result is that no mortal can be saved except by God’s mercy. In the next place also the wretchedness, corruption and perdition, which overtaking this lapse of our first parents now holds the whole human race, renders the power and might of divine providence much more splendid, while through Christ we are more happily restored after the fall than we had been when created, before we fell: just as on the day of resurrection, when we shall be raised from the dust of the earth and the corruptible shall put on incorruption and the mortal immortality, the might of God’s power will be declared much more gloriously, than if we were living for ever in this life devoid of corruption and death.”

– Wolfgang Musculus (1497-1563), Loci communes sacrae theologiae, p. 620-621

Musculus’ assertion that God having permitted the fall means that “we are more happily restored after the fall than we had been when created”, is no novelty of the 16th century. This idea is apprehended in the Latin phrase felix culpa, which can more or less be translated as “fortunate fall”. It can be traced back to Augustine (354-430), who in his Enchridion, viii, said  “For God judged it better to bring good out of evil than not to permit any evil to exist.” (in Latin: Melius enim iudicavit de malis benefacere, quam mala nulla esse permittere). Ambrose of Milan (c. 340-397) also spoke of the fortunate ruin of Adam in the Garden of Eden in that his sin brought more good to humanity (i.e. the grace of God in Christ, and the new creation) than if he had stayed perfectly innocent. This was picked up in the Middle Ages by Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), who in his Summa Theologica, III, 3, ad 3, said “God allows evils to happen in order to bring a greater good therefrom”, which underlines the causal relation between original sin and the Christ our Redeemer’s Incarnation.

Furthermore, we see in the Bible itself that in a number of places, though not a “fall”, God employed evil (which He himself did not cause, but were caused by men) for the greater good, such as, to give but two examples, with Joseph in Genesis, and most staggeringly of all, the pernicious murder of Christ on the cross, which was for the redemption of the world.

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